Bhabani Bhattacharya’s ‘SO MANY HUNGERS!’
from the Human Rights Point of View
Dr. Krushna Ch. Mishra
Kh. Kunjo Singh (2002) observes: “Strongly influenced by the Tagorean and Gandhian ideals and inspired by the vision of a just social order, Bhattacharya wrote novels for social purpose and political value. Indeed, he portrays full-blooded men and women, the peasants and the down-trodden as victims of social forces, but possessing the strength of re-making their mother-land into a new India.” (p.181) It is in this context important to reiterate that Bhabani Bhattacharya was keen to bring an end to the cult of unjust social order that turned large masses of peasants and the down-trodden into poor and hapless victims of the social forces as available under the colonial rule. He was more alert about the remaking of India; he was optimistic about the birth of a new India following Gandhi who had “transfigured the image of India and turned national idealism from its futile adulation of the past to face the reality of India as she was poor, starving and helpless, but with an untapped potential of unlimited possibilities. “(Kripalini 1968:79-80) Human Rights movement in India is very strongly aware how the necessity to bring about a just social order is very important. To-day instances are legion of how and about which issues human rights bodies are expressing their deep concern.
Some such issues are starvation deaths, unjust and inhuman treatment towards women, callousness of the government and administration about the public distribution and delivery system, consumer exploitation etc. Very often the rules in several areas are being exposed to public criticism as continuing to be colonial in temper and singled out for appropriate corrections. A definite consciousness is on the rise about how Free India’s government, public leaders, business houses, bureaucracy have to be brought to a way so that the pattern of exploitation running down from the colonial times may be changed in favour of nationally and socially productive service.
Gandhian ideas in their application could show the issues Gandhi showed concern about are verily the issues before the human rights watchers and activists to-day. Gandhi as an anti-colonial activist has been described by Ashis Nandy (see Leela Gandhi 2001) at par with Frantz Fanon. In the context of our discussion Gandhi needs to be recognised as the champion of human rights causes because of his proper study of colonialist purposes and programmes as essentially inhuman as well as dehumanising. Fighting for the several rights and several freedoms including the ‘freedom to be free’, Gandhi was untiring in his efforts to convince that colonialists were the worst offenders against humanity and violators of human rights. Bhattacharya in his efforts to make his art socially relevant and useful is very forceful when in SO MANY HUNGERS!, he shows how Kajoli’s father and brother Kanu, the peasants were arrested by the colonial police for their participation in the Civil Disobedience movement or when he talks of the mass participation of men and women in the Quit India movement of 1942 voluntarily seeking arrest by the colonial rulers. The success of the tactics of propaganda and agitation in a peaceful way about which Bhattacharya talks of conforms to the accepted ways of the present day human rights groups all over the globe.
By taking up the issue of 1943 Bengal famine and by showing how men and dogs would fight for rubbish for food, how man would eat root and twig and leaf in a desperate bid to survive, how the money-minded business people like Samarendra Basu would sell rice at high and unaffordable prices, how women like Kajoli in sympathy for her family would not hesitate to turn into prostitutes (though Kajoli changed her mind and became a newspaper vendor), how village after village would be empty of people in their flight to cities or wherever it could be for a crumb of bread. Bhattacharya has tried to make the message reach the readers that colonial administration in its neglect of the Indian subjects and in its gross lack of responsibility in the situation made of the famine of 1943 the worst tragedy that any nation would like to remember only in hatred and fear – hatred against the callous and careless exploiters among the base and inhuman colonial masters and fear about free India’s days not becoming that nightmarishly tragic once again. Informing, sensitising, convincing, canvassing and agitating into the appropriate nature of desired action are the certain definite ways in which a work of literature could serve the people and the world.
Battacharya’s SO MANY HUNGERS! moves the readers with the photographic description of the tragedy of men, women and children dying in tens of thousands. The novel exposes the colonial criminality and savagery as something grossly inhuman and utterly inexcusable. It presents the tragedy of the innocent Kajoli family as ‘the premonition and symbolic shape of devastation affecting the whole Bengal.’ (Singh 2002:81) By all this, SO MANY HUNGERS! definitely arouses the pity, sympathy, fear, anger and spirit of general revulsion and agitation in the readers. To this end it would never be quite out of frame to look upon this novel of Bhattacharya as a significant Human Rights document of lasting value.
UNESCO pointed out that out of 128 countries where Jews lived before Israel was created in 1948, only one country, India, did not persecute them and, allowed them to prosper and practise Judaism in peace and in public.