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Title: Famine, state and society in North India, c.1800-1840.
Author: Sharma, Sanjay Kumar.
Awarding Body: School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 1996
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This thesis examines some of the lesser known aspects of the colonial state, indigenous society and the processes of transformation through the numerous reported instances of scarcity or famine, which affected north India in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The study begins by situating famine years in the context of the process of colonisation, and argues that British policy and changes in the economy and ecology rendered north Indian society more vulnerable to drought and famine. As a consequence, north India experienced the most severe famine of the colonial period in 1837-38, which this thesis analyses at length. The 1837-38 famine witnessed largescale crime and widespread food riots. An analysis of patterns of collective action to preserve rights regarding access to food and subsistence is contrasted with the ambiguity in official perceptions describing it as 'crime'. This is compared with the process of transition from a 'moral economy' to a market economy as experienced in England. This thesis also concentrates on other strategies of survival, e.g. migrations, religious conversions, prostitution, child-selling and famine-foods. This study traces the evolution of the notion that the state was responsible for the prevention of famines through provision of work on 'works of public utility'. It seeks to demonstrate that famine relief policies of the East India Company in the early decades of the nineteenth century were also shaped by notions of destitution and charity that informed the debates on the New Poor Law in Britain in the 1830s. This thesis argues that the experience of famine was entwined with the quest for legitimacy of rule by the colonial state. Although the state progressively advocated laissez-faire, its humanitarian and pragmatic concerns resulted in a series of interventionist policies. The famine situations contributed to the expansion and consolidation of the ideological and physical infrastructure of the colonial state. By claiming to be the ultimate and most effective source of philanthropy, the colonial state sought to transform rival indigenous notions of charity. The rhetoric of benevolence and patronage implied new responsibilities for the state, and increasingly it was called upon and obliged to act for the welfare of its subjects. However, the limits of colonial welfarism and modernity were apparent as the state neglected responsibilities towards growing structured poverty.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History