Dr Abhijit Sarkar

  • Environmental histories of South Asia.
  • Histories of medicine, science, and technology in South Asia.
  • Histories of family planning and birth control in South Asia.
  • Histories of humanitarianism and humanitarian relief works in South Asia.
  • Histories of famines, famine-relief, and food in South Asia. 
  • Histories of Hindutva (Extreme Hindu Conservatism)

My recent publications deal with a very wide range of themes in the history and anthropology of modern South Asia. My book on the politics of humanitarianism in the particular form of famine-relief, and the politics of food-austerity laws and rationing in India, is under book-contract signed with Routledge, forthcoming in 2021 (now available for pre-ordering).  

My article on how the Great Bengal Famine of 1943–1944 and relief activism during it fed the politics of the Hindu Mahasabha (a right-wing Hindu conservative party), is in press with the journal Modern Asian Studies, published by Cambridge University Press.


Plague Hospital

My article on reflexive gaze in the photographs of plague hospitals in colonial Bombay has been accepted for publication in the book edited by Christos Lynteris, to be published by Manchester University Press in 2020. I have also completed my preliminary research into photographic representations of funeral processions, excarnation and cremation of plague corpses in India.  

My invited article on wartime state intervention in food consumption and popular responses in India during 1939-1945 will be published in the special issue of the journal Global Food History on food rationing during World War II.

I am currently writing on two themes. The first is a socio-cultural history of the debates on birth control methods in women’s magazines during the Emergency Rule in India between 1975 and 1977. The second is an environmental history of earthquakes in late colonial and early independent South Asia, 1930-1950.

Featured Publication

Beyond Famines: The Wartime State, Society and Politicization of Food in Colonial India, 1939-1945 (Empire and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-2000), Rouledge (forthcoming)

The Second World War represents a particularly important moment in the development of the postcolonial Indian state’s welfare policies. Wartime measures regarding state-provisioning of food far outlived the war, and became permanent fixtures of the post-war and post-colonial structure of governance in India. Long after the war had finished and even as far as today, the post-colonial Indian adopted food austerity measures as part of its campaign to ‘remake’ Indian diets, for instance asking Indian citizens to accept substitute foods in place of rice and wheat to ease the pressure on these staple grains. This book charts the germination of these policies during the conflict.


Sarkar, Abhijit, Beyond Famines: The Wartime State, Society, and Politicization of Food in Colonial India, 1939-1945, London & New York: Routledge, 2021, now available for pre-ordering.

Sarkar, Abhijit, ‘Fed by Famine: The Hindu Mahasabha’s Politics of Religion, Caste, and Relief in Response to the Great Bengal Famine, 1943-1944’, Modern Asian Studies, 2020, in press.

Praises for the Article:

Anonymous reviewer 1: ‘This is an extremely accomplished piece of research which adds considerably to our understanding of the direct links between communal politics and the famine. . . The article is very deeply researched, well-argued and substantiated.’

Anonymous reviewer 2: This deeply researched article makes two important points: 1) that the Hindu Mahasabha made far greater inroads into ‘communal famine relief’ than has hitherto been realised, and that b) this relief work forged links between the Mahasabha and the neighbourhood gangs who were involved in the Calcutta Killing. The argument rests on a rich body of primary sources, many of them hitherto unseen; and the author shows a detailed command of the secondary literature of Bengal in this period, which is to be applauded.’

Anonymous reviewer 3: ‘This is an excellent article which makes a compelling case for the connections between Bengali politics and the famine of 1943. It is based on close readings of original archival materials and private papers … There is a lot of work behind this article which has wide appeal to readers thinking about famine, Indian politics, ethnic violence, food distribution etc. … overall this is an excellent article which is making an important advance on knowledge about the Bengal famine.’

Sarkar, Abhijit, ‘Reflexive Gaze and the Construction of Meanings: Photographing Plague Hospitals in Colonial Bombay’, in Christos Lynteris (ed.), Plague Image and Imagination, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, forthcoming in 2020.

Sarkar, Abhijit, review of Hungry Bengal: War, Famine and the End of Empire, by Janam Mukherjee, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, in South Asian History and Culture, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2018. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19472498.2017.1357977?needAccess=true

Sarkar, Abhijit, ‘Dining with the State: Wartime State Intervention in Food Consumption and Popular Responses in India, 1939-1945’, invited article for the special issue on World War II Food Rationing, Global Food History, forthcoming in 2020.

Sarkar, Abhijit, ‘Disposing Bodies: Photographic Representations of Funeral Processions, Excarnation and Cremation of Plague Corpses in India’, article in progress, manuscript to be submitted to the journal Social History of Medicine.

Sarkar, Abhijit, review of Dalit Studies by Ramnarayan S. Rawat and K. Satyanarayana (eds), Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. Review solicited by the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Cambridge University Press). Review in progress.


I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students interesting in writing in the area of modern South Asian studies, from the 18th to 20th century.