The Influence of Caste, Class and Gender in Surviving Multiple Disasters: A Case Study from Orissa, India


Ray-Bennett, Nibedita S. 2009. “The Influence of Caste, Class and Gender in Surviving Multiple Disasters: A Case Study from Orissa, India.” Environmental Hazards 8 (1): 5–22.

Author: Nibedita S. Ray-Benett


Sociological and anthropological studies in India reveal that caste, class and gender in everyday life are both rigid and dynamic, but little is known about how they influence the survival mechanisms of women during ‘multiple disasters’, nor about how women negotiate with these structural mores to meet their cultural and biological needs. This is explored through the experiences of 12 women-headed households from different social castes in Orissa, India. Multiple disasters or disasters that occur in ‘one specific place’ (such as floods, cyclone and drought) are regular events in coastal parts of the state of Orissa. The super-cyclone of 1999, two floods of 2001 and 2003 and drought of 2000 and 2002 form the case study. Participant observation, in-depth interviews and documentary evidence complement the fieldwork. The findings suggest a complex interplay of caste, class and gender in surviving the multiple disasters including structural mutability under the purview of social organization. In doing so, women demonstrated their individual and collective agencies in order to meet their cultural and biological needs under severe crisis. This research stresses that gender and disaster studies must include a consideration of caste and class for effective disaster management and social vulnerability reduction.

Keywords: gender, multiple disasters, Orissa, women-headed households, class, caste

Topics: Caste, Class, Environment, Environmental Disasters, Gender, Women, Households Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2009

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