Monday, May 13

War and Famine in Late Colonial Bengal

This was a raw read. A snippet: ]

A review of Hungry Bengal: War, Famine, Riots, and the End of Empire 1939-1946, by Janam Mukherjee.

Janam Mukherjee’s dissertation is a thorough study of late colonial Bengal in the context of war, famine, and riots leading up to the eventual dissolution of empire. The central argument of the dissertation is built on the claim that famine was the “most profound factor influencing the structural, political, social, economic and communal fabric of Bengal” during this period (p. 5). The author provides a vivid illustration of the famine’s “awesome magnitude” in terms of its impact on the socio-political landscape of Bengal (p. 7). Before proceeding to the core content of the work, the author makes three important revisions to our understandings of the famine: first, he complicates the chronology of the famine, which is otherwise more commonly referred to as the Bengal Famine of 1943. Secondly, he shows that the war efforts and business interests, both centered in Calcutta, were responsible in equal measure for the devastation that ravaged rural Bengal, thus leading to the famine. And by looking beyond the actual famine victims and drawing a more explicit link between rural and urban Bengal, this work also demonstrates that the Bengal Famine was indeed “man-made.” Finally, contrary to the claim that the famine victims “died without a murmur” (Sugata Bose,Agrarian Bengal: Economy, Social Structure, and Politics, 1919-1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) the author argues that by broadening the chronology of the famine the active resistance of the victims becomes evident.

I have spoken before about witnessing the raw hunger and pain in Calcutta when I was a teeny weeny chappie, around the war of independence in 1971. Seeing people fighting over scraps of food in the rubbish bins with dogs and others was a horrible sight. But to see that the British actually had direct responsibility over the death of millions of Bengali’s is a big big issue.


Here is the wiki entry for the Bengal Famine.

No comments: