Famine in India

Famine in India

Owing to its almost entire dependence upon the monsoon rains, India is more liable than any other country in the world to crop failures, which upon occasion deepen into famine. [ [http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Famine Famine] , Encyclopaedia Britannica] There were 14 famines in India between 11th and 17th century (Bhatia, 1985). For example, during the 1022-1033 Great famines in India entire provinces were depopulated. Famine in the Deccan and Gujarat killed at least 2 million people in 1630-32. Drought in India has resulted in tens of millions of deaths over the course of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_India] Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on the climate of India: a favorable southwest summer monsoon is critical in securing water for irrigating Indian crops. In the past, droughts have periodically led to major Indian famines, including the Bengal famine of 1770, the Chalisa famine, the Doji bara famine, the Great Famine of 1876–78; and the Bengal famine of 1943.harvnb|Nash|2002|pp=22-23.] harvnb|Collier|Webb|2002|p=67.] "The prospect of a devastating famine every few years was inherent in India's ecology" [Niall Ferguson, "British Imperialism Revised: The Costs and Benefits of 'Anglobalization' ",]

Famines under British rule

From the earliest endeavours of the British East India Company on the Subcontinent but especially since 1857—the year of the first major Indian rebellion against British rule—the British Raj, as the British governing body was known after 1857, had instituted a widespread series of mercantilist economic rules intended to foster a favourable balance of trade for Britain relative to the Subcontinent as well as other colonies, which had a dramatic impact on the economic milieu within India. Because of these effects and the Raj's role as the supreme governing body within India, contemporary scholars such as Romesh Dutt in 1900—who had himself witnessed the famines first-hand—and present-day scholars such as Amartya Sen agree, that the famines were a product both of uneven rainfall and British economic and administrative policies. These policies had, since 1857, led to the seizure and conversion of local farmland to foreign-owned plantations, restrictions on internal trade, heavy taxation of Indians to support unsuccessful British expeditions in Afghanistan like the Second Anglo-Afghan War, inflationary measures that increased the price of food, and substantial exports of staple crops from India to Britain. (Dutt, 1900 and 1902; Srivastava, 1968; Sen, 1982; Bhatia, 1985.) In the century preceding, the first Bengal famine of 1770 is estimated to have taken nearly one-third of the population. In 1865-66, severe drought struck Orissa and was met by British official inaction. Secretary of State for India Lord Salisbury later regretted,

Some British citizens such as William Digby agitated for policy reforms and famine relief, but Lord Lytton, the governing British viceroy in India, opposed such changes in the belief that they would stimulate shirking by Indian workers. Reacting against calls for relief during the 1877-79 famine, Lytton replied, "Let the British public foot the bill for its 'cheap sentiment,' if it wished to save life at a cost that would bankrupt India," substantively ordering "there is to be no interference of any kind on the part of Government with the object of reducing the price of food," and instructing district officers to "discourage relief works in every possible way.... Mere distress is not a sufficient reason for opening a relief work." (quoted in Davis 2001:31, 52) The Famine Commission of 1880 observed that each province in British India, including Burma, had a surplus of foodgrains, and the annual surplus amounted to 5.16 million tons (Bhatia, 1970). At that time, annual export of rice and other grains from India was approximately one million tons. At about the same time the British devised the first ever famine scales and engaged themselves in a series of canal building and irrigation improvements. The results were that the mortality rate decreased rapidly. There was the threat of famine but after 1902 there was no major famine in India until 1943. In 1907 and in 1874 the response from the British was better: in both cases rice was imported abroad and famine was averted.

The famines continued until Independence in 1948, with the Bengal famine of 1943-44 being among the most devastating, killing 3-4 million during World War II.

In 1966, there was a 'near miss' in Bihar, when the USA allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine. 35 million people were starving in Bihar during that famine in December 1966. [ [http://www.liberalsindia.com/freedomfirst/ff452-03.html The Architect of India's Second Liberation] ]

British response

The British record on famines in India is a mixed one. The first major famine that took place under British rule was the Bengal Famine of 1770. About a quarter to a third of the population of Bengal starved to death in about a ten month period. East India Company's raising of taxes disastrously coincided with this famine ["Empire" by Niall Ferguson] and exacerbated it even if the famine was not caused by the British regime ["A History of Britain" volume two by Simon Schama] .

Following this famine ‘’Successive British governments were anxious not to add to the burden of taxation” [Robert Johnson, "British Imperialism" page 30] .

In 1866 the rains failed again in Bengal and Orissa. Food was rushed into the famine stricken zones. The result of which was that the famine was alleviated in Bengal although a Monsoon in Orissa forced the closure of the harbour. As a result food could not be imported into Orissa as easily as Bengal [ [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/f/fiske/john/f54u/chapter9.html The Unseen World, and other essays, by John Fiske (chapter9) ] ]

In 1874 the response from the British authorities was better. Famine was completely averted. Then in 1876 a huge famine broke out in Madras. Lord Lytton's administration believed that 'market forces alone would suffice to feed the starving Indians' [Niall Ferguson, "Empire"] . Beatty Balfour wrote in her book, "Lord Lytton's Indian Administration" that:

"In the despatch addressed to the Duke of Buckingham, in which the Viceroy announced his intention of visiting the famine districts of Madras and Mysores, the general principles for the management of famine affairs were once more laid down. After stating that the Government of India, with approval of Her Majesty’s Government, were resolved to avert death by starvation by the employment of all means available, the Viceroy first expressed his conviction that ‘absolute non-interference with the operations of private commercial enterprise must be the foundation of their present famine policy.’ This on the ground that ‘free and abundant trade cannot co-exist with Government importation’ and that more food will reach the famine stricken districts if private enterprise is left to itself (beyond receiving every possible facility and information from the government) than if it were paralysed by Government competition." [Lady Beatty Balfour, "Lord Lytton's Indian Administration", p. 204]

The results of such thinking proved fatal (some 5.5 million starved [John Keay, "India: A Concise History"] ) and so such a policy was abandoned. Lord Lytton established the Famine Insurance Grant, a system in which, in times of financial surplus, Rs. 1,500,000 would be applied to famine relief works. The results of this were that the British prematurely assumed that the problem of famine had been solved forever which made future British viceroy's complacent (which proved disastrous in 1896) ["The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj" by David Gilmour page 116] . Lord Curzon tried to alliveate the famine, he spent Rs. 68,000,000 (about £10,000,000) to try and reduce the effects of the famine [Lawrence James, "Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India"] and, at its peak, 4.5 million people were on famine relief. However, Curzon did state "any government which imperiled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fiber and demoralized the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime." Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts. 1. Verso, 2000. ISBN 1859847390 pg 162] He also cut back rations that he characterized as "dangerously high" and stiffened relief eligibility by reinstating the Temple tests. Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts. 1. Verso, 2000. ISBN 1859847390 pg 164] In total, between 1.25 to 10 million people were killed in the famine. Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts. 1. Verso, 2000. ISBN 1859847390 pg 173] [JM Nash, "'El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather Maker"] .

The Famine during WW2 lead to the development of the Bengal Famine Mix this would later save tens of thousands of lifes at the liberated concentration camps such as Belsen [ The Relief of Belsen, Channel 4 Television ]


* 650: Famine throughout India
* 1022,1033: Great famines, entire provinces were depopulated
* 1344-1345: Great famine
* 1396-1407: The Durga Devi famine
* 1630-1631: there was a famine in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
* 1630-1632: Deccan famine in India kills 2 million (Note: There was a corresponding famine in northwestern China, eventually causing the Ming dynasty to collapse in 1644.)
* 1661: famine, when not a drop of rain fell for two years
* 1702-1704: 2 million died of famine in Deccan
* 1770: territory ruled by the British East India Company experienced the first Bengal famine of 1770. An estimated 10 million people died.
* 1783-84 Up to 11 million died in the "Chalisa" famine in the regions of present-day Uttar Pradesh, Delhi region, Rajputana, eastern Punjab region and Kashmir.
* 1788-92: Another 11 million may have died in the "Doji bara" famine or Skull famine in Hyderabad State, Southern Maratha country, Gujarat and Marwar.
* 1800-1825: 1 million Indians died of famine
* 1850-1875: 2.5 millions died in Orissa famine of 1866, Rajputana famine of 1869; due to a generous relief effort, however, there was no mortality in the Bihar famine of 1873–74.
* 1875-1902: 7–8 million Indians died of famine (Great Famine of 1876–78 5.25 millions)
* In 1943, India experienced the second Bengal famine of 1943. Over 3 million people died.
* In 1966, there was a 'near miss' in Bihar. The USA allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine. A further 'near miss' food crisis occurred due to drought in Maharashtra in 1970-1973.

ee also

* List of famines
* Drought in India
* Timeline of major famines in India during British rule (1765 to 1947)
* Famines, Epidemics, and Public Health in the British Raj


* Bhatia, B.M. (1985) Famines in India: A study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India with Special Reference to Food Problem, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
*Bhattaharyya B. 1973. A History of Bangla Desh. Dacca.
* Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famine and the Making of the Third World. London: Verso, 2001.
* Dutt, Romesh C. "Open Letters to Lord Curzon on Famines and Land Assessments in India", first published 1900, 2005 edition by Adamant Media Corporation, Elibron Classics Series, ISBN 1-4021-5115-2.
* Dutt, Romesh C. "The Economic History of India under early British Rule", first published 1902, 2001 edition by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-24493-5
* Dyson, Tim, "On the Demography of South Asian Famines: Part I," "Population Studies", Vol. 45, No. 1. (Mar., 1991), pp. 5-25.
*Sen, Amartya, "Poverty and Famines : An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation", Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1982
* Srivastava, H.C., The History of Indian Famines from 1858-1918, Sri Ram Mehra and Co., Agra, 1968.
* Roy, Tirthankar "The Economic History of India, 1857-1947"


Further reading

* Mike Davis, "Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World" (2001), ISBN 1-85984-739-0

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