Posted on: 23 October 2013

Digital Rare Book:
Famine truths, half truths, untruths
By Charles W. McMinn
Published by Thacker Spink and Co., Calcutta - 1902

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"Famine in India," a wood engraving from the Illustrated London News, 1874

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The author of this book severely criticizes R C Dutt and Digby for blaming the famines on British rule. He refers to and quotes extensively from other works and makes the case that R C Dutt's idea of a benevolent Mughal policy towards the peasants is a lie. The book "Agrarian System of Moslem India" by W H Moreland too says the same. It would be great to have any pointers to recent studies on the subject that studies the facts, political, sociological, biological and economical, to arrive at a somewhat settled opinion of this horrid spectre of our past.

Shashi Kolar: Glad you noticed the idea behind posting this book.

But I tend to agree with Dr.James W. Hoover's explanation in another post on the same subject to be the most credible one... "Pre-colonial famines were less frequent, less deadly, and more localized. Several aspects of British rule conspired with (we think) extreme El Nino conditions in the latter half of the 19th century to make those famines especially bad. Probably the biggest problem was the indebtedness of tenant farmers, a product of the unrealistic revenue demands made on landlords and raiyats, especially in the Madras Presidency. The drastic annihilation of forests, and the creation of the reserve forests, also removed much of the "margin" and "commons" poor people relied upon to graze animals, cut hay, etc., to eke out a living. Much of the timber was used as railway ties and fuel for the expansion of the British railway system in India. Then, making matters worse, the railway system was used to export grain and cotton via newly modernized ports (Bombay, Madras, etc.), and Indian farmers were encouraged to get involved in the international grain trade at the same time that the U.S. and Russia and South America were about to dump massive quantities of grain on the international market: bad planning, and a race to the economic bottom, triggering a global recession in the 1890s. In pre-colonial times, most people who lived in famine-stricken areas could move to neighboring provinces, get by as casual laborers, and return home when conditions had improved. Travelers speak of villages left empty, but later reoccupied. That didn't happen in the famines after the late 1860s: those people were uprooted permanently, millions died, and those who could left the country to become coolie labor in places like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, S. Africa, Fiji, and Malaya."

Looks like the British raj has been there.