Satyasundar Barik

Focus on the great famine of 1866 popularly known as ‘Naanka Durbikhya’

BHUBANESWAR: Imagine what would have been people’s reactions when tremors were felt in Orissa’s Balasore district in 1885.

People had rushed out of their houses in large numbers and prayed to their deities and had not returned to their houses till sun went down. They had not even taken food during whole day and dinners were prepared in the evening. This is what Utkala Dipika, Orissa’s first newspaper, reported on July 25, 1885.

Similarly, the same newspaper had given an account of 22,000 unofficial deaths in cyclone that had hit the state in the year 1885 while police records had put the death toll at 1780.

Moreover the then colonial rulers had spent a mind-boggling Rs. 3,27,633 towards repair of the breaches occurred on embankments when a disastrous flood hit three coastal districts in 1866.

First of its kind

For the first time, the State Archives here on Tuesday exhibited numerous information referring to rare official records and old newspapers clippings on natural calamities that had taken place during the 19th century.

As many as 33 exhibits comprising reports, newspaper clippings and official communications were displayed to make people aware as to how the State coped with the natural calamities before 1900 AD.

A prominent exhibit was the report of commissioners appointed for inquiry into the great famine in Bengal and Orissa in 1966. The record vividly described the colonial ruler’s followup action and employment generating programmes implemented in the aftermath of tragedy.

“The great famine of 1866 popularly known as ‘Naanka Durbikhya’ has been well focused.

The Britishers became conscious about their role after the famine and undertook several measures to improve the economic development of the state,” Superintendent of State Archive Debraj Pradhan said.

He said it could have been termed turning point of the State’s intervention in natural calamities.

Abstracts from reports of two eminent newspapers such as Utkala Dipika and Sambalpuri Hitesini were placed prominently in the exhibition.

As per the 1897 Famine Expenditure Report, the colonial rulers paid Rs. 10,150 to 4300 men, women and children as wages that were part of relief measures. Besides, 50 persons were given free food. “We have changed little in managing calamities even after 150 years. Whatever the old records say there have been a lot of similarities in relief and resettlement programmes undertaken then and now,” Culture Minister Surya Narayan Patro said after inaugurating the exhibition.