Environmental Disaster in Eastern Bengal: Colonial Capitalism and Rural Labour Force Formation in the Late Nineteenth Century
This chapter investigates the impact of colonial policies in the late Victorian era in lower Bengal delta, currently located in Bangladesh. It argues that colonial policy exacerbated the impact of “natural disasters,” creating mass indebtedness among the Indian peasantry, which worsened disaster-induced labour migrations. Colonial officials, preoccupied with economic and military concerns, paid little attention to the complex interplay of colonial policy, natural disasters, and peasant impoverishment. Natural disasters escalated the ongoing process of peasant oppression by landholding classes and moneylenders. The triad of government, moneylenders, and landlords that came to represent colonial capitalism at the lowest level combined to make small peasants into debt-ridden, land-poor agricultural workers trapped within a system of extraction of surplus for foreign commodity trade.