Weekly Seminar: The Curious Case of Sagor Island – the tussle between development and disaster
February 13, 2016
Benjamin Kingsbury from Victoria University of Wellington delivered a lecture on February 12, 2016 as part of Weekly Lecture Series at Interim Campus, Nalanda University which was attended by both the departments – School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environment Studies. The title for the talk was: “Development and Disaster: The Case of Sagor Island”.
Benjamin Kingsbury teaches history at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science & International Relations. At NU, Kingsbury presented the case study of Sagor Island Society from the year 1819 history of Calcutta when this joint-stock company of European and Indian merchants was established. The Society’s aim was to clear the mangrove forests of Sagor Island (at the mouth of the Hooghly River) and replace them with profitable paddy fields. He talked about the interests of private investors and the state in this project which overlooked the risk it brought to the new cultivators who stood a good chance of being washed away by a storm-wave from the Bay of Bengal. Kingsbury argued that such cyclone disasters are not simply natural phenomena, but need to be understood in their wider cultural, social, and economic contexts. According to his concluding remarks, in the case of the Sagor Island scheme, private speculation, imperial revenue demands, and the idea of ‘improvement’ all contributed to an unequal distribution of profit and risk, and, eventually, to the making of disaster.