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Title: Ecology, economy and society in the eastern Bengal Delta, c.1840-1943
Author: Iqbal, K. I.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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This thesis argues that remarkable fluctuations in the economic and societal performance in colonial eastern Bengal were intimately related to changing ecological relations. During the nineteenth century, new alluvial lands were created by the fluvial actions of the rivers and huge tracts of land were reclaimed from the Sundarbans forest system. The internal dynamics of the new lands were matched by the external factor of the demand for commodity produce in the world market. The result was a successful commercialisation of agriculture which eventually played an important role in the upward social and economic mobility of ordinary cultivators. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, this formative role of nature, particularly the water regime, ceased to be operative for a number of natural and manmade factors. Particularly, the haphazard extension of railway embankments in a fluid deltaic environment and the importation and growth of the water hyacinth caused enormous obstacles to the free flow of numerous rivers and canals, which adversely affected traditional agriculture and navigation facilities. While the deteriorating ecological regime contributed to the shift from a relatively buoyant economy and society to a declining one, far-reaching changes took place in the social organisation of agrarian productions. In the nineteenth century proprietary (occupancy) rights rested with the peasant labourer who reclaimed land from alluvial formations and forests where he produced his cash and subsistence crops. In the course of early twentieth century, there emerged a new category of people who did not cultivate land themselves, but controlled the proceeds from it. Both rich peasants and the bhadralok, emerging from a Western-educated middle class, successfully attempted to shift the ordinary cultivators’ occupancy rights in their favour in order to secure a rent-receiving position. This process led to the growth of a large number of rent-receivers at the expense of the actual tillers of the land. Thus, while deterioration in the ecological regime of the Delta brought a decline in agricultural production and public health, a strained agrarian relation produced a landless and land-poor rural population which proved to be the easiest prey to the great Bengal famine of 1943.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available