The First Anthropological Study of Development Caused Displacement by Industrialization in India:
The Contributions of B. K. Roy Burman

Abhijit Guha

B.K. Roy Burman (1922-2012) studied Anthropology at the University of Calcutta and like Surajit Sinha he was also trained by T. C. Das (Roy Burman 1978:107-116). Later he was advisor to many governmental committees for the welfare of the scheduled tribes in India. He was the lone exception among the anthropologists in India who wrote extensively on the reasons behind the rise of left extremism in the tribal areas of central India in his recently articles published in the Mainstream (Roy Burman 2009; 2010a and 2010b).His criticisms of both the NDA and UPA governments on the draft tribal policy are well-known (Roy Burman 2006:3645-3647). He was a former visiting Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Professor of Visva-Bharati University and ex-officio Director of the Council of Social Development, Prof. Burman also served as a visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Considered an authority on the northeast, Prof. Burman stoutly opposed the imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur and Operation Green Hunt, and had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh several times (The Hindu 2012).( accessed on 18.05.2012).

In 1960 B. K. Roy Burman as Assistant Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Government of India got interested in undertaking an anthropological study on the problems of the tribal and other populations who were displaced by the establishment of the huge public sector steel factory at Rourkela in Orissa. On his suggestion the study of the ‘Social Processes in the Industrialization of Rourkela’ was taken up as a project for being investigated by the Census Organization. The study was carried out by a team under the leadership of Roy Burman and the results were published by him under the Monograph Series of the Census of India, 1961. It is not only the first social impact assessment research on industrialisation in India but one of the pioneering studies on development caused displacement and resettlement at the global level(Cernea 1995:96). The gigantic plant at Rourkela was the first public sector integrated steel plant with an annual installed capacity to produce 1 million ton of steel. In the introduction of his monograph Roy Burman emphatically stated the purpose of the study. In his words

“The setting up of the plant was a landmark in the strides of the nation towards progress and prosperity. But it also meant displacement of a large number of persons--- mostly tribals, who inhabited the region before the plant was set up. Many of the displaced persons could ultimately re-establish their homes; many could even improve their lots, but at the same time many homes were disrupted; many individuals found themselves hurled at the bottom of an abyss. It is this human aspect of the growth of the giant enterprise at Rourkela that the present study proposes to cover” (Roy Burman, 1961:1).     

In the rest of this exemplary monograph which is 163 pages, we find detailed description of the ecological setting of the steel project and a thorough analysis of the demographic, economic, social, political and religious aspects of about 15,200 displaced population in 30 villages. Along with these Roy Burman meticulously discussed the extent of rehabilitation and the patterns of new life with new hopes and frustrations that emerged out of this mega development project undertaken in the early years of independence of the country.

The book contains a plethora of quantitative and qualitative data (121 tables) not only on the spatial and economic consequences of forced displacement but also on its demographic, social, political, psychological and cultural aspects. For example, we find in the book a number of tables on the views and attitudes of the rehabilitated persons on their job satisfaction (tables 109-11), as well as their frequency of spending time with job mates beyond office hours (tables 114-116). One of the most valuable aspects of this study is Roy Burman’s incisive sociological analysis of the social and political processes before and after displacement and that has raised the research far beyond a run-of- the-mill technical social impact assessment report. With massive data and a humanistic approach towards mega industrialisation Roy Burman through his penetrating sociological analysis discovered the strength of the moral order of the society at the village level, which ultimately resulted a greater bargaining power to the displaced families in terms of higher compensation rates, land-for-land and employment in the industry (Ibid 1961:159-163).

The only comparable anthropological study on development-caused displacement in the same period was done by Pranab Kumar Dasgupta of the Anthropological Survey of India. He started fieldwork in the industrial town of Chittaranjan West Bengal during 1962-64 to look into the impact of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (a public sector industry) on the Santal community living in the neighbouring villages of the industry (Newsletter 1973). Dasgupta published his detailed findings in 1964 and 1965 which revealed the importance of carrying out anthropological studies on the establishment of huge industrial centres as envisioned in the first and second Five year plans in India (Dasgupta 1964:85-106; 1965:76-82).

Burman Roy, B.K. (1968). Social Processes in the industrialization of Rourkela. New Delhi: Office of the Registrar General, India, Ministry of Home Affairs.
Burman Roy, B.K. (1978). My Anthropological Field Situation: A Lost Home or a Promised Horizon. In Field Studies on the People of India: Methods and Perspectives. Edited by Surajit Sinha. Calcutta: The Indian Anthropological Society.
Burman Roy, B.K. (2006). DRAFT NATIONAL TRIBAL POLICY OF 2006 Creating Consternation. Economic and Political Weekly.31 (34): 3645-3647.
Burman Roy, B.K. (2009). What has driven the tribals of Central India to Political Extremism? Mainstream. Vol. XLVII, No 44, October 17.
Burman Roy, B.K. (2010a).  In quest of a proactive approach. Mainstream. Vol.XLVIII No.17, April 17.
Burman Roy, B.K. (2010b). Militant left radicalism, state and civil society with special focus on land rights. Mainstream. Vol. XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010).
Cernea, M.M. (1995). Social Integration and Population Displacement: The Contribution of Social Science. International Social Science Journal 143(1):91-112.
Dasgupta, P.K. (1964). Impact of industrialization on tribal life. Bulletin of the Anthropological Survey of India.13 (1&2):85-106.
Dasgupta, P.K. (1965). Cultural factors in industrialization: a case study in Chittaranjan, West Bengal. Journal of Social Research.8:76-82.
The Hindu. (2012) Roy Burman passes away. New Delhi: JUNE 27, 2012.

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May 21, 2020

Abhijit Guha

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