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What are the 4004 references about? What themes about the disasters do they address? Is there a common paradigm that dominates the thinking in these 4004? What is the appropriate way to comprehend a large and disparate variety? A human construct to simplify and organise complex reality is to devise a classification. But there is the problem of correct identification of both the individual and the group to which they belong. There also are situations of incompletion, misinformation and duplication. It is difficult to decipher details from titles that read like ‘solid foundation’, ‘without a warning’ and ‘caught in a trap’. Since these are penned as features in magazines, the design of these captions no doubt catch attention, but they also pose a problem in sorting. While these titles are bold yet mysterious, the ones authored by administrators and government officials are cautious and tight-lipped.
Labels like ‘Flood Picture in States’ or ‘Notes and News’ or ‘The Koyna Earthquake’, ‘1959 October floods of Damodar river’, ‘Assam earthquake of 1950’, ‘The Bihar flood story’, ‘The Indian Earthquake’, are mind teasers. Articles in journals that promised too much were also problematic. Take for example, research units that specified that their work was on ‘cause, characteristics, impact, response and management’, ironically covered the article in six to ten pages of a journal. These, either addressed issues with extreme generality or did not sufficiently meet their claims.
On Disasters in India is a comprehensive compilation of extensive research on disasters in India. It unfolds the pitfalls in research so far and insists on a fresh paradigm in the methodology for accessing research on disasters. The book reconstructs a researchscape and examines the three time periods of study of disasters, namely, the phase of awareness, indifference and recognition. The narrative is built across the colonial, independence and post-globalisation years. The 4004 references, located, classified and collated figuratively and categorically in the book, form the groundwork for any research pertaining to disasters in India. The collection is indispensable to postgraduate students, researchers, disaster managers and policy-makers who are keenly involved in research or in providing solutions to disasters.
Research on a diversity of natural disasters encompasses 5017 research units. There is research on storm surges to landslips, cold wave to heat wave, earthquakes to cyclones, dust storms to rain storms. A subtle difference and the experts are quick to qualify them with another name. Thus, debris slide, landslip, rock-fall, slope-failure can all be categorised under a landslide. An alteration in velocity and a cyclone transforms to a super cyclone; a change in magnitude and a moderate earthquake is labelled as an intense type; a modification in the intensity and heavy rainfall is termed as a cloudburst.
Some researchers use the geographical setting as a characteristic of the natural disasters. Thus, coastal disasters are considered different from those in the mountains. In certain units, the element of nature dictates the choice of some of the research units. There are water related, weather associated or geomorphology associated disasters. There are still other ways to sort the natural disasters among the 5017 research units.
There are researchers who have worked on the slow type of disasters like a drought, cold wave or heat wave while many others have worked on sudden and quick types like earthquakes, cyclones and tsunami. Using the feel of a natural disaster they could be grouped into the shaky, windy and the wet kind. Earthquake, cyclone and heavy rain respectively would fall into these three different types.
The study of disasters runs parallel to the study of Indian society, economy, polity, music, paintings and sculpture. One need not go too far to seek the reason. As part and parcel of the planetary process, earthquakes, floods, droughts, and cyclones or for that matter, cold and heat waves are neither alien nor recent entrants to India. Arriving suddenly or building steadily, natural disasters have continued to take a toll on life in India since eons. Even though they are perceived as natural events, the fact that they are not viewed as ‘normal’ implies that they cannot be overlooked. The result is that references to natural disasters are interpolated into travel accounts, chronicles, and administrative reports and inscribed in edicts or weaved within legends. Strewn across this ‘literature’ is the source of the study of natural disasters in India. Be it an account, description or even a story, these involve research, imagination and thought. There is little doubt that if such sources were amassed from every language, class and creed of India, the wealth would enrich our understanding of the study of natural disasters.
While the retrieval, translation and analysis of these materials is a project worth a lifetime, yet its scope unfortunately falls out of the compass of this book. This is because in all such references, the description of disasters is embedded within larger texts and is incidental to the context.
Ahearn, F.L. and R.E. Cohen. (1983). Disasters and Mental Health: An Annotated Bibliography. Rockville: National Institute of Mental Health.
Coppa and Avery Consultants. (1985). Bibliographical Guide to Disaster Planning, Management, Insurance, the Case of Bhopal. Vance Bibliographies.
Fitzsimmons, A. R. (1984). Natural Hazards and Land Use Planning: An Annotated Bibliography. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Golant, S. (1969). Human Behaviour Before the Disaster: A Selected Annotated Bibliography. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Mitchell, J. K. (1968). A Selected Bibliography of Coastal Erosion, Protection and Related Human Activity in North America and the British Isles. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Morton, D. R. (1984). A Selected, Partially Annotated Bibliography of Recent (1982–1983) Natural Hazards Publications. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Morton, D. R (1986). A Selected, Partially Annotated Bibliography of Recent (1984–1985) Natural Hazards Publications. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Morton, D. R. (1979). Bibliography on Natural Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Morton, D. R. (1981). A Selected Bibliography on Disaster Planning and Simulation. Boulder: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Centre, University of Colorado.
Pope, T. and D. Wenger. (1984). Three Mile Island in the literature: A partially annotated bibliography. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters. 2(1):197.
India has witnessed countless disasters in the last hundred years. This book is based on India's 4004 disaster research writings. Towards this goal, the number was neither predetermined nor an end in itself. It is an auto-evolved number. As a destination is to the seeker, so 4004 is to this research. This book is a research on India's disaster research using 4004.
A Veritable Niche
Why be concerned with the research already accomplished in the field? Why not simply get on with research itself? This too is a valid query. Research is perceived and perhaps truly is an intellectual engagement of a higher order. In the realm of academics, one is judged by individual research, not by the work of others. It could also be added that in a world of specialisation, the compilation of research is the forte of another group of professionals. Here, there is need to draw a fine line. Firstly, before knowledge was caged into cubbyholes, it was academia that compiled and interpreted the research in a given field. It remains to be seen what would have been the shades of research had this role sustained itself. Further, research on research is not equivalent to compilation. It also differs from a review of literature. The investigation of any idea or theme demands a reading of the relevant literature which functions as a background to evaluate a specific research objective.
Where does one begin? What is the first step? The library undoubtedly is the finest institution of civilisation. An ideal library is an ocean of published knowledge. World-class libraries exemplify this description. The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution of the United States of America. It has a collection of more than 130 million items, which includes 29 million books and other printed materials. Taking a walk along its bookshelves spanning over 850 kilometres would be like traversing four times the distance between Delhi and Agra. The library of Princeton University includes nearly 6.2 million books, 36,000 linear feet of manuscripts, and impressive holdings of rare books, prints and archives. The University of Cambridge has a collection of 4.4 million while the Oxford University Library Service holds 11 million items.
Compared to these world-class centres, the libraries in India seem like ponds. The Parliament Library, the largest in Delhi and the second largest in India after the National Library at Kolkata, holds 1.27 million volumes of printed books, reports, government publications, reports, debates, gazettes and other documents. While it would be unfair to compare an ocean with a pond, what is of help is the fact that the two are not isolated. As a hydrological cycle connects a pond, lake and an ocean, such are the currents of globalisation. Today, trade and the Internet allow a larger access to publications than was ever possible.
Before setting out to search for the research many prior decisions had to be taken. There was a need to fix the territory, identify the language of the literature to be surveyed, define the framework of time, and decide the sources that would be tapped. Decisions had to be taken about what to collect, how much to look for, and where to explore. While a roster can be drawn and an itinerary customised, some decisions could only be taken while in the field.
Delimiting the Territory
India was picked as the spatial unit for study. The political map of the world defines the territorial extent of this country as covering an area of 3.29 million square kilometres. Lying entirely in the northern hemisphere, the mainland measures 3214 kilometres from north to south between the latitudes and about 2933 kilometres from east to west between the longitudes. The Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. For ensuring compatibility, the boundaries of present day India were superimposed on the pre-partition map and references to Pakistan or Bangladesh were excluded. Any research that made peripheral or incidental reference to India was omitted. Therefore, works at the global scale or even concerning Asia or South Asia were set aside. The selection was strictly confined to references centred on India.
Selecting the Language
Research can be written and communicated in many languages. Of these, English was singled out as the language for this research.