In the summer of 1966, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh provinces in India experienced one of the worst and most widespread droughts and crop failures in the history of the region during the twentieth century. Massive local, national, and international relief efforts were provided to prevent death by starvation on an immense scale. Nevertheless, the seriousness of the situation was only gradually and reluctantly accepted by the agencies, institutions, and governments that were ultimately involved in the relief effort. In order to convey the seriousness of the situation to those in a position to help the people of Bihar, local, state, and national politicians adopted a rhetoric that involved defining the situation as a “crisis” of unprecedented proportions. The Bihar Famine of 1966–1967 illustrates the importance of rhetoric and political definitions in distinguishing crises from “normal” situations and in defining the quantity, timing, and recipients of relief.

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