‘Na’Anka Durbhikshya’ – revisiting the darkest chapter in Odisha history

Bhubaneswar: ‘Na’Anka Durbhikshya’ or the Orissa famine of 1866 killed over a million people in eastern India. However, not much is known about this famine and it also finds no mention in even the densest tomes on Indian history.

To provide an insight into the condition and the suffering of the people, an exhibition of photographs, sketches and newspaper reports was inaugurated at the State Archives in Odisha capital today.

On display are newspaper reports published in the overseas media between 1866-1868 along with sketches, cartoons, drawings and photographs, sourced from British archives.

Th exhibition organised by INTACH, was inaugurated by state Culture Minister Ashok Chandra Panda.

Panda said that ‘Na’Anka Durbhikshya’ was a dark forgotten chapter of Odisha’s history. “Even though the events that happened have been pushed to one corner of history, it has been a part of Odia consciousness and subconscious ever since,” he added.

S. K. B. Narayan, Convener of INTACH, said that even today, 150 years after the Great Famine, Odisha faces regular threats of natural calamities like drought, flood and cyclone, and crop failure.

He said that the exhibition would be taken to the other INTACH chapters of Bhadrak, Balasore and Baripada.

Anil Dhir, who has curated the exhibition, said that a suitable memorial of the Great Famine should be set up. “The famine was not an accident of nature. It was not providence; rather it was a series of mistakes. For many decades after the Great Famine, it was simply a dark and even humiliating experience which the survivors, and the survivors of the survivors, had little wish to recall, the anguish of a past in which men and women barely survived,” he said.

Dhir said that we owe the dead as much respect and honour as we give to any brave action or any other defining moment of our history. “The Great Famine was a cataclysm on a scale never witnessed in this nation before. And yet people endured, survived, emigrated and above all remembered,” he said.

The Na’Anka should have been a wakeup call; several lessons should have been learnt. Every regime of Odisha has been discussing the eradication of poverty and backwardness since 1866. We are still one of the most poverty-ridden states, with our marginalised farmers bearing the brunt of misery. Crop failures still result in suicides, and there is rampant malnutrition and at times starvation deaths too, he added.

Ramesh Mohapatro, Convener of the Pipili Sanskrutika Parishad, said that a suitable memorial will be set up in Pipili in memory of the million who perished in the famine.

Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, State Convener of INTACH, was of the opinion that a correct history of the famine and the post-famine years should be written.

He said that valuable information can be collected from various sources in India and abroad. “The British Parliamentary Debates, the Famine Commission Report and contemporary writings of the time should be studied. The suffering of the victims has found place in the history and folklore of the State, being passed on from generation to generation,” he added.

Shashanka Sekhar Das, the Limca Book of Record holder for the largest collection of newspapers in India, was felicitated on the occasion.

The exhibition will remain open from 10 am to 5 pm till April 6.

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