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Dusting the Layers: Evolution of Vulnerabilities

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Part of the Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research book series (AAHER)

Abstract

Historical analysis of the colonial discursive constructive of the Sundarbans offers two distinct kinds of narratives – a much-romanticised description of a wilderness at the one end and that of a wasteland, which needed to be converted into a productive asset on the other. Local historians differ from both on the basis of archaeological evidences, which suggest a sufficiently old history of human settlement, resource use and human-environment interactions in the region dating back to the fourth and fifth centuries. After being decimated by a combination of environmental causes (cyclones and earthquakes), human plundering and vandalism by Dutch, Portuguese, French and British revellers and pirates, British repopulated the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The aim was to earn profits from the timber and tax revenues from the land subsequently used for agricultural purposes. Construction of embankments was vital for this purpose to stop the saline water from flooding the lands twice daily during the high tides as a natural delta-building process. This seems to have permanently altered the geomorphological dynamics of the region which now incrementally interacts with the rapidly changing climate to co-create today’s sudden disasters and slow-onset hazards. Embankments, however, legitimised a colonial civilising mission that later shifted to a scientific forest management regime. The mission of nobility is preserved by the post-colonial state through conservation and embankments apart from using both as instruments of governance, control and reinforcing the State's authority on the socioecological system.

Keywords

  • Colonisation of Sundarbans
  • Scientific forest management
  • Embankments
  • Imperial narratives
  • History of settlement

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Fig. 3.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Anon 2009, ‘District Human Development Report, South 24 Parganas’, Development and Planning Department, Government of West Bengal, Kolkata.

  2. 2.

    This description, provided by Richard and Flint (1990) and Danda (2007), is originally from ‘Cultivation of Hindoostan’, published anonymously in February 1830 in the short-lived journal Kaleidoscope (Vol. II, Nov. VII) published by H. L. V. Derosio, possibly by Derosio himself. It was reprinted in Gautam Chattopadhyay (ed.), Bengal: Early Nineteenth Century (Selected Documents), (Calcutta: Research India Publications, 1978) pp. 95–99. Cited text is from p. 95.

  3. 3.

    http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/tiger-population-on-the-rise-india-estimated-to-have-more-than-2-000-big-cats/article1-1308706.aspx

  4. 4.

    World Bank 2014. Building resilience for sustainable development of the Sundarbans: strategy report. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

    http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2014/01/20162806/building-resilience-sustainable-development-sundarbans-strategy-report

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Ghosh, A. (2018). Dusting the Layers: Evolution of Vulnerabilities. In: Sustainability Conflicts in Coastal India. Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63892-8_3

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