ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Property and the Enduring State of Famines in Colonial India

A response to “Famines in India” (EPW, 26 June 2021) pushes for an interrogation of the character of the colonial state, mainly the rule of property, and its complicit role in engendering famine-like conditions.

Tirthankar Roy’s article “Famines in India” (EPW, 26 June 2021) attempts to make a departure from famine studies that have developed around the Bengal famine of 1943. Viewing the latter as a case of severe war rationing, he compares it with the famines from the mid-to-late 19th century in Deccan, caused due to acute water shortage and climate-related vulnerabilities. In Roy’s view, the overwhelming emphasis on Bengal has meant that “one year in the history of one region has attracted a great deal more writings than any other episode in India’s history” as more people died in the Deccan famine between 1870 and 1900 as opposed to Bengal in 1943. He goes on to argue that the singular focus on Bengal has allowed a framework on famines to develop that attributes the cause of the famine on imperial rule. This is since most scholarship blames Winston Churchill for what was a case of war rationing. According to Roy, such a reading of the Bengal famines leads to a temptation to suggest that replacing imperial rule with the emergence of democracy would result in famines to disappear.

Roy offers an alternate methodology, one where famines across space and time should be located amidst the debilitating effects of the climate and environment. According to him, ‘‘Politics, imperialism and policy were not unimportant factors behind these famines, but the immediate cause for them was environmental.”

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Updated On : 8th Jul, 2022
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