The late colonial Bengal province was marked by a series of traumatic crises and incidents, beginning with the outbreak of World War II, to the devastating famine of 1943, which literally ruined rural Bengal, followed by a period of communal violence. The famine of 1943-44 was a particularly critical conjuncture for the Bengal province, resulting in a massive death toll of famine victims and insufficient relief work from the provincial Bengal government as well as the British Colonial State. This led to complete dependence on relief or charity from various voluntary and non-state relief organisations for the famine-stricken
It provided an opportunity for organised political parties such as the All-India Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, as well as a multitude of cultural and community organisations, to get involved in relief and rehabilitation efforts for the famine victims. However, the ‘communalisation’ of the political milieu in the late colonial Bengal province influenced the various actors involved in this relief process, as both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League claimed to speak for the interests of their respective communities. Therefore, the distribution of relief, as well as the selective care of famine victims belonging to specific communities, provided a much-needed political space for the various political parties and organisations to disseminate community-based political mobilizations to expand their influence and popularity among their own targeted community and fulfil their agenda.
It is in this context that this talk aims to examine how a catastrophic crisis like the Bengal famine of 1943-44, which was devastating for some sections of the affected, proved to be significantly beneficial in terms of gaining political ground as well as creating community- based political propaganda for these non-state political actors and organisations involved in organizing relief for the famine victims during this time of distress and how it impacted the political fabric of Bengal Province in the aftermath of famine.
Sambit is a final year M.Phil. student at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His research project examines the Politics of Relief and Rehabilitation after the Bengal Famine of 1943 - 44. He earned his B.A. in History and M.A in History from Jadavpur University in 2018 and in 2020 respectively.
His current research interests include Global and Imperial History, Colonial South Asian History and Decolonization, Histories of Famine and Relief in South Asia, Communalism, Ethno- Religious Violence, and Identity politics.
All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.