Sunil Janah
Sunil Janah

(1918-04-17)17 April 1918
Assam, India
Died21 June 2012(2012-06-21) (aged 94)
Known for1943 Bengal famine coverage

Sunil Janah (17 April 1918 — 21 June 2012)[1][2] was an Indian photojournalist and documentary photographer who worked in India in the 1940s. Janah documented India's independence movement, its peasant and labour movements, famines and riots, rural and tribal life, as well as the years of rapid urbanization and industrialization. He was best known for his coverage of the Bengal famine of 1943.[2]

The Government of India awarded him the civilian honour of Padma Bhushan in 2012.[3]

Life and work

Sunil Janah was born on 17 April 1918 in Dibrugarh, Assam[4] but grew up in Kolkata. He attended St. Xavier's College, Kolkata at the University of Calcutta. There, he joined politically leftist students.

Communist politician Puran Chand Joshi urged Janah to abandon his English studies and pursue a career in photography. Janah traveled to Bengal with Chittaprosad Bhattacharya to photograph the damage caused by the 1943 famine. He moved with Bhattacharya to Bombay and joined the Progressive Writers Association and Indian People's Theatre Association.

He was a co-founder of Calcutta Film Society.[2] He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972 and the Padma Bhushan in 2012.[5]

Noted for the beauty and technical quality of his compositions, Janah's photographs are significant in their historical content as well as their emotional connect.[6]

He was best known for his coverage of the Bengal famine of 1943.[2][7]

Photographer of the Nehruvian Era

In 'People's War' and after that 'People's Age' Janah used to have one page for a photo feature for which he photographed the lives of ordinary people, their struggles, the working class at work, rowing boats, catching fish, in coal mines, from men and women working in homes and fields to bow and arrow carrying tribal people, farmers and workers heading to protest, revolutionaries of Telangana and via these photographs he established the Communist Party's ideology and commitment amongst the people.[8]

Janah made portraits of Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah, Faiz, and J. Krishnamurthi.

Photographer and curator Ram Rahman said, "Janah's work is the defining epic document of the last decade of the freedom struggle and the first decade of free India — a chronicler of the 'Nehruvian' years".[9]


He died on 21 June 2012 at his home in Berkeley, California due to natural causes. He is survived by his son, Arjun, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.[2]



  1. ^ Virtual exhibition of Sunil Janah, P.C. Joshi Archives Archived 2014-11-07 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e 24 June 2012 IANS. "Bengal famine lensman dies at 96". Deccan Chronicle. Archived from the original on 3 February 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2012.((cite news)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  4. ^ Pandya, Haresh (9 July 2012). "Sunil Janah, Who Chronicled India in Photographs, Dies at 94". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Padma Awards". pib. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  6. ^ Photographing India: Sunil Janah; Oxford University Press, India ISBN 978-0-19-806580-7
  7. ^ Ramachandran, V. K. (September 1998). "Documenting society and politics". Frontline. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  8. ^ "The One Who Did Politics with His Camera: Sunil Janah".
  9. ^ Rahman, Ram (22 June 2012). "Portraitist of the Nehruvian era". The Hindu.
  10. ^ "Ramachandra Guha's book on Verrier Elwin, reviewed by S. Janah in the T.H.E.S."