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Feeding Workers in Colonial India 1919–1947

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Food Culture Studies in India
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This paper contributes to the growing body of studies about the links between governmentality, rights and food in colonial and post-colonial India. It first draws attention to the rich body of literature on the link between work and food between 1919 and 1947 in order show the diversity of the ways in which modernity was envisioned and to situate the centre of contemporary nutrition research, the laboratories at Coonoor in this production of ideas. The second part of the paper offers a case study for understanding how contemporary ideas became embodied locally. Jamshedpur, the location that the paper discusses was the major hub of industry and capital, and, due to the extent of control the management of Tata Iron and Steel Company exercised over it, it was also a unique political–social–economic space in late colonial India. It will be evident that it was the notion of coolie work that played a major part in limiting the introduction of food welfare and related aspects of scientific management at TISCO. Moreover, the paper highlights the role of gender in theorizing the link between food and work and in the related policy-making process.

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  1. 1.

    I acknowledge that Radha Kapuria was kind enough to help me in drafting the arguments of this paper in 2013. EFOP-3.6.1-16-2016-00022, a project co-financed by the European Union and the European Social Fund, provided financial support during the time of writing.

  2. 2.

    Berger (2013), Berger (2018).

  3. 3.

    Report of the Commission of Health Survey and Development (1946).

  4. 4.

    Field Service Hygienie Notes India, 19191, 19402, 19453.

  5. 5.

    The question of promoting Ayurvedic practices had a firm place on the agenda at the time when the Second World War broke out. The Health Section was called upon to answer several questions that members of the Legislative Council raised regarding the Ayurvedic and Tibbi College, homeopathic treatment, usage of medical titles and presence of various traditions. By the 1930s Ayurvedic versus scientific controversy had a long history. Indigenous practitioners had been mobilizing public opinion and lobby power available to them since the government introduced compulsory registration for medical practitioners in 1911. They did not only join the Swadeshi movement and adapt by setting up their own training institutions and exams. Technologies of advertisement also played a vital role in reorienting public opinion through consumption. See Sharma (2012).

  6. 6.

    Mukerjee (1944).

  7. 7.

    Such as the report of the Technical Committee of the Health Committee of League of Nations: The problem of nutrition volume II: Report on the physiological bases of nutrition, Geneva, 1936.

  8. 8.

    Nutrition Notes, Madras, 1948.

  9. 9.

    Bihar and Orissa Famine Code. Patna: 1930.

  10. 10.

    For detailed arguments on relationship between diversity of identities and large-scale industry see Sanchez (2016).

  11. 11.

    Tata Steel Archives Box no. 315 File no. 179 part II n. 230.

  12. 12.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 312 File no. 174 Part I n. 15–16.

  13. 13.

    Anurag Mallick: When you are in Steel City, also known as Jampot, be ready to be bowled over by food culture and quirky lingo,, 7 April 2015.

  14. 14.

    For details on the impact of settlement on the food economy see Das Gupta (2011).

  15. 15.

    For details on the impact of settlement on the food economy see Das Gupta (2011).

  16. 16.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 311. File no. 172 part II. n. 166.

  17. 17.

    See for example Pati (2016), Pandey (2019).

  18. 18.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 554 Padshah to A.J. Bilamoria 25 March 1919.

  19. 19.

    See Footnote 18.

  20. 20.

    Tata Steel Archive Welfare Box no. 512 The Scope of Welfare, its contribution and scientific value.

  21. 21.

    Portrait of Lady Gladys Mary Chatterjee (née Broughton) on whole plate glass negative. 21 June, 1927, Bassano and Vandyk Studios.

  22. 22.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 554 Tutwiler to A.C Chatterjee 1–2 June 1921.

  23. 23.

    The landing page of the Digital Canteen Management System of Tata Steel,

  24. 24.

    See Footnote 20.

  25. 25.

    Breman (1989). See Preface.

  26. 26.

    Fowler (1932): 26. In the article Fowler talked about the Energy-Nitrogen, the ENR, as a virtual currency that could replace gold as standard for currency.

  27. 27.

    Indian Council of Medical Research (1951).

  28. 28.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 313 File no 176. part 1 n. 147.

  29. 29.

    Tata Steel Archive Box no. 512 Note attached to Survey of the Maternity and Child Welfare Services.

  30. 30.

    In India, Bombay city was the first to introduce rationing in May 1943 and Calcutta followed only in January 1944. The scheme gradually extended to a large number of cities and overall to 60 million people. Rationing was an essentially urban measure and in tune with the spirit of the war effort the schemes gave preference to industrial work: workers received 50% extra rations above the prescribed amounts.

  31. 31.

    Index numbers showing the rise and fall in the cost of living in Bihar and Orissa 1927–28 and 1932–33, Superintendent Government Printing, Patna, 1928 and 1933 and Royal Commission on labor in India Report (1929), pp. 402–403.

  32. 32.

    Tata Steel Archives Box no. 152 File no. L87 n. 207–209.

  33. 33.

    Tata Steel Archives Box no. 315 File no. 179 part II n. 230.

  34. 34.

    Tata Steel Archives Box no. 152 File no. L87 n. 215.

  35. 35.

    Tata Steel Archives Box no. 152 File no. L87 n. 217.

  36. 36.

    For a detailed discussion of this aspect in later decades see: Siegel 2018.


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Balogh, R. (2021). Feeding Workers in Colonial India 1919–1947. In: Malhotra, S., Sharma, K., Dogra, S. (eds) Food Culture Studies in India. Springer, Singapore.

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