ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Colonial Railways

This is with reference to the special article by Laxman D Satya on “British Imperial Railways in Nineteenth Century South Asia” (EPW, 22 November 2008). The article informs us about the impact colonial railways had on the labour class but in a sweeping manner. When the author states that the Indian railway during the colonial period was highly labour-intensive and highly colonised, that requires an insight of the sociological aspects of the colonial economy and not an analysis of the structure of that economy. There is a dearth of studies on socio-cultural aspects of the colonial economy. Either the social impact of that economy goes largely missing in economic history or is given a passing reference, as in the article.

The pitiable saga of the Indian labourer associated with the colonial railway needs to be addressed within the colonial economic structure. This would concurrently bring to the surface the picture of exploitation and mass deprivation emanating from colonial projects. Also, constructing the history of railways from the labourers’ point of view would certainly provide a connection to the missing links. So far, official records and non-official written records have proved largely insufficient in providing a complete picture. This lacuna is now gradually being covered by oral sources, which helps in providing at least original information, individual level experiences and a variety of perspectives on the same theme. Hence, oral sources, like contemporary testimonies of railway workers and related folklore, would form an indispensable part of primary sources in constructing the history of colonial railways from below.

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