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STEPS Seminar: In the Eye of a Cyclone: The Dialectics of Social and Environmental Change in the Sundarban Delta
25th March 2014 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pmFree
Dr Debojyoti Das, ERC Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Dept. of History, Classics and Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London
Tropical Cyclones are a yearly event in the Bay of Bengal coastal seaboard. The deadliest cyclones in the world have formed here, including the 1970 Bhola super cyclone, which killed 500,000 people. The misery and destruction caused by cyclones along the coast of Bengal has been greater than anywhere else in the world, and the environmental and social problems that set the stage for disaster continue to be exceptionally severe. There is very little interest among social scientists in India to study cyclones from a range of disciplinary perspectives: historical, anthropological and economic. The extensive and sophisticated historiographies of environment in India do not deal at all with maritime hazards. Therefore, it is a case in point to analyse cyclones from a critical political, economic and ecological standpoint
I contend in this presentation that cyclone disasters, like any other natural calamity owing their origin solely to natural causes, are also politically and socially produced. Like revolutions and wars, they are moments of extreme stress that can reveal the underlying structures of social and political life. I want to rethink the cyclone in the Sundarban delta as trans-national disaster—as an event that are shaped, and in some sense created, by the unequal power relations characteristic of British imperial policies and the consequence of political violence triggered by partition and the creation of Bangladesh during 1947 and 1971 respectively, that led to the forced migration of people across the newly created national boundaries. There is a dialectical relationship between nature, society and disaster that lead to environmental change with deep impact on marginalised communities.