Calcutta Poor: Elegies on a City above Pretense

By Frederic C. Thomas | Go to book overview

Improving the Bustees

In the early years of Calcutta, the bustees were seen as a passing phenomenon, a blot on the landscape that would, in time, go away. Bustee residents were regarded as inferior, uncivilized, and best ignored. The 1870s, however, witnessed mounting popular concern regarding such living conditions--not out of any solicitude for the suffering inhabitants but rather out of fear that the bustee might become a breeding ground for diseases that could threaten the town as a whole. Some of the infamous "tanks" (earthern reservoirs) around which bustee huts clung were filled in an effort to clean up the sites. Street sweepings were used as fill because Calcutta was short of soil, until doubts were raised about this practice when it was learned that mysterious gases were being produced. A health officer told of a woman who had not been able to extinguish her cooking fire, which had burned continually for several weeks, causing marvel and fear among the bustee dwellers, to whom it was "the tongue and the breath of the devil." 55 Of more general concern at the time was that filling in tanks only contributed to greater congestion as more huts were built on the former tank sites.

Improving bustees entailed opening up roads even if it meant

-75-

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Calcutta Poor: Elegies on a City above Pretense
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Impressions 9
  • Black Town and the City of Palaces 15
  • Bhadralok and the Genteel Poor 25
  • Refugees and Migrants 35
  • Slums and Squatters 49
  • Bustees from Within 63
  • Improving the Bustees 75
  • Caste and Occupational Niches 91
  • Providing Livelihoods 109
  • Mobilizing the Community 123
  • Slum Politics 141
  • The Intractability of Urban Poverty 153
  • Notes 167
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 183
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