Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bengal famine of 1943 and the caste system

My colleague brought to my attention the point that majority deaths were among artisans because of the famine and not in castes who had land or involved in agriculture in some way.

This was also mentioned in the Wikipedia article

As in previous Bengal famines, the highest mortality was not in previously very poor groups, but among artisans and small traders whose income vanished when people spent all they had on food and did not employ cobblers, carpenters, etc.

The explanation given, that artisans and small traders had no income as nobody spent money on their skills or wares, basically considers existence of artisans and small traders as a natural order of things in India as in any other society.

But that is never true in Indian society.

Those artisans and small traders were endogamous caste units. In other societies, artisans and small traders would have relations among farmers and others. Or in a village everybody would have been related to one another. Of course, there were class differences. But majority lower classes wouldn't have divisions based on occupations such that they would have kith and kin from the same occupational group.

Even class divisions are not natural order of things. However, consider a similar society in India. Would we have read that the majority mortality was among artisans and small traders in that case?

I would think there would have been less hoarding and more distribution of food because of kinship.

Considering the fact that the situation wasn't really bad for the poorest of the poor(who most likely involved in agriculture), I would think situation would not have been so worse for not so poor non-agricultural non-privileged castes. 

I certainly think the caste system was responsible for such caste specific deaths.

This is not the only moment of truth for the caste system where it failed spectacularly.

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