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CSAMES Brown Bag Lecture: "Art, Famines and Democracy: Chittoprasad Bhattacharya (1915 - 1978)"
In a paper titled 'Democracy as a Universal Value,' Amartya Sen argued, as he and others had before, that in a democracy with institutions like the free press famines are relatively unlikely to occur.
In his words:
'Famines are easy to prevent if there is a serious effort to do so, and a democratic government, facing elections and criticisms from opposition parties and independent newspapers, cannot help but make such an effort. Not surprisingly, while India continued to have famines under British rule right up to independence ' they disappeared suddenly with the establishment of a multiparty democracy and a free press. ' a free press and an active political opposition constitute the best early-warning system a country threaten by famines can have.'
In this paper I will argue that in contexts like alien rule when people do not have access to a free press they turn often to the arts to articulate criticisms, and represent the material conditions constitutive of human suffering. Specifically, I will focus on the representations of the Bengal famine of 1943 by artist Chittoprasad Bhattacharya (1915-1978). His pen and ink drawings I will argue, were an effort at a visual education about the effects of famine when large swathes of the affected population were non-literate.