|Timeline of major famines in India during British rule|
|Country||Company rule in India, British Raj|
The timeline of major famines in India during British rule covers major famines on the Indian subcontinent from 1765 to 1947. The famines included here occurred both in the princely states (regions administered by Indian rulers), British India (regions administered either by the British East India Company from 1765 to 1857; or by the British Crown, in the British Raj, from 1858 to 1947) and Indian territories independent of British rule such as the Maratha Empire.
The year 1765 is chosen as the start year because that year the British East India Company, after its victory in the Battle of Buxar, was granted the Diwani (rights to land revenue) in the region of Bengal (although it would not directly administer Bengal until 1784 when it was granted the Nizamat, or control of law and order.) The year 1947 is the year in which the British Raj was dissolved and the new successor states of Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan were established. The eastern half of the Dominion of Pakistan would become the People's Republic of Bangladesh in 1971.
A "major famine" is defined according to a magnitude scale, which is an end-to-end assessment based on total excess death. According to it: (a) a minor famine is accompanied by less than 999 excess deaths); (b) a moderate famine by between 1,000 and 9,999 excess deaths; (c) a major famine by between 10,000 and 99,999 excess deaths; (d) a great famine by between 100,000 and 999,999 excess deaths; and (e) a catastrophic famine by more than 1 million excess deaths.
The British era is significant because during this period a very large number of famines struck India. –1784, 11 million; Doji bara famine of 1791–1792, 11 million; and Agra famine of 1837–1838, 800,000. In the second half of the 19th-century large-scale excess mortality was caused by: Upper Doab famine of 1860–1861, 2 million; Great Famine of 1876–1878, 5.5 million; Indian famine of 1896–1897, 5 million; and Indian famine of 1899–1900, 1 million. The first major famine of the 20th century was the Bengal famine of 1943, which affected the Bengal region during wartime; it was one of the major South Asian famines in which anywhere between 1.5 million and 3 million people died.There is a vast literature on the famines in colonial British India. The mortality in these famines was excessively high and in some may have been increased by British policies. The mortality in the Great Bengal famine of 1770 was between one and 10 million; the Chalisa famine of 1783
The era is significant also because it is the first period for which there is systematic documentation.Major reports, such as the Report on the Upper Doab famine of 1860–1861 by Richard Baird Smith, those of the Indian Famine Commissions of 1880, 1897, and 1901 and the Famine Inquiry Commission of 1944, appeared during this period, as did the Indian Famine Codes. These last, consolidating in the 1880s, were the first carefully considered system for the prediction of famine and the pre-emptive mitigation of its impact; the codes were to affect famine relief well into the 1970s. The Bengal famine of 1943, the last major famine of British India occurred in part because the authorities failed to take notice of the famine codes in wartime conditions. The indignation caused by this famine accelerated the decolonization of British India. It also impelled Indian nationalists to make food security an important post-independence goal. After independence, the Dominion of India and thereafter the Republic of India inherited these codes, which were modernized and improved, and although there were severe food shortages in India after independence, and malnutrition continues to the present day, there were neither serious famines, nor clear and undisputed or large-scale ones. The economist Amartya Sen who won the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in part for his work on the economic mechanisms underlying famines, has stated in his 2009 book, The Idea of Justice :
Though Indian democracy has many imperfections, nevertheless the political incentives generated by it have been adequate to eliminate major famines right from the time of independence. The last substantial famine in India — the Bengal famine — occurred only four years before the Empire ended. The prevalence of famines, which had been a persistent feature of the long history of the British Indian Empire, ended abruptly with the establishment of a democracy after independence.
Migration of indentured labourers from India to the British tropical colonies of Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam, Natal and British Guyana has been correlated to a large number of these famines.The first famine of the British period, the Great Bengal famine of 1770, appears in work of the Bengali language novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee; the last famine of the British period, Bengal famine of 1943 appears in the work of the Indian film director, Satyajit Ray. The inadequate official response to the Great Famine of 1876–1878, led Allan Octavian Hume and William Wedderburn in 1883 to found the Indian National Congress, the first nationalist movement in the British Empire in Asia and Africa. Upon assumption of its leadership by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920, Congress was to secure India both independence and reconciliation.
For nearly two centuries, India's British administrators had presided over innumerous famines, each dismissed in turn as a Malthusian inevitability.
(p. 497–498) Famines and food scarcities of various degrees accompanied colonial rule in India. Only about a dozen of them have received scholarly attention. For long, this attention has been distributed rather unevenly, with literature on famines in the second half of the nineteenth century being more extensive than research dealing with famines in the early colonial period. But, with the growth of scholarly work on the latter, the balance is shifting.
(p. 510) Despite the copious literature on famines in colonial India, the history of famines still provides scholars of South Asia with new points of departure to deviate from common scales of analysis and to explore largely untouched primary sources
Horrendous famines causing millions of deaths continued to scourge India's inhabitants throughout the period of colonial rule. British policies proved utterly inadequate to the task of alleviating starvation and were in many cases directly responsible for it.
(p. 497–498) In 1769/70 famine conditions surfaced in Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar, resulting in the estimated death of 10 million Indians in Bengal alone – a third of the province's population. Millions of Indians died of starvation in the south of India from 1781 to 1783, and a year later in north India as well because of the rapid succession of another major famine crisis. Droughts were frequent in the North-Western Provinces, in 1803/4, 1812/13, 1817–19, 1824–26, and 1833, often spilling over into severe subsistence crises. This spate of food crises anticipated the onset of yet another major famine in 1836/7, which threw the Doab region into havoc and caused the death of an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the population.
(p. 497–498) In the second half of the nineteenth-century famine conditions devastated Orissa in 1866/7 and ravaged the Madras Presidency, the Deccan region, and the North-Western Provinces from 1876 to 1878. Even greater in scope were the famines of 1896/7 and 1899/1900, which held almost the entire subcontinent in their grip. ... Mortality was excessive during these latter famine crises. Historians have estimated that between 12 and 29 million died between 1876 and 1902.
(p. 497–498) Following the improvement of colonial mechanisms to identify and contain famine conditions, their scale decreased in the early twentieth century. Yet scarcities as well as outright famines continued to haunt India's agriculturalists. They were particular frequent during and in the aftermath of both world wars, when the wars' economic, social, and political repercussions increased the vulnerability of India's agricultural labourers to subsistence crises.11 It was not until the great Bengal Famine of 1943/4, however, which resulted in the death of an estimated 3 million Bengalis and displaced even more, that mass starvation again resulted in horrific sights of emaciated bodies and corpses filling the streets of urban centres of British India.12 Following the worst South Asian famine of the twentieth century, the nation's political elite prepared for independence even while the country remained on the brink of famine.
All of the three interpretations - geography, manmade-as-political, and manmade-as-cultural - have been prominent in the scholarship and popular history of past Indian famines, especially for the time when detailed records of famines were kept. This starts as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, though the occurrence of famines in India has a much longer history. The years for which some systematic documentation exist were also the years when more than half of India was ruled first by the British East India Company (until 1858), and then the British Crown (1858-1947).
... an examination of the incidence of famines in India before and after the Famine Codes strongly suggests a contrast between the earlier period of famines and famine relief in India during the period on which this section will focus.
1770 Formidable famine in Bengal
1770-1858 Frequent and severe famines
1858 End of East India Company
1861 Report of Baird Smith on the 1860-1 famine
1861-80 Frequent and severe famines
1880 Famine Commission Report, followed by the introduction ofFamine Codes
1880-96 Very few famines
1896-7 Large-scale famine affecting large parts of India
1898 Famine Commission Report on the 1896—7 famine
1899-1900 Large-scale famine
1901 Famine Commission Report on the 1899-1900 famine
1901-43 Very few famines
1943 Bengal Famine
1945 Famine Commission Report on the Bengal Famine
These codes were not, of course, the first sets of administrative instructions for famine relief. Outhwaite discusses the Book of Orders issued during sixteenth century famines in England (Outhwaite 1978), and there were codes issued during the 1876-79 period in some provinces as their governments grappled with widespread and prolonged food crises. But the codes produced in the 1880s do seem to have been the first serious attempts to systematize the prediction of famine, and to set down steps to ameliorate its impact before its onset. ... The codes which eventually emerged were the product of a complex process beginning with the experience of the famines of 1876-9, continuing through the investigations of the Famine Commission, and ending with the discussions of the 'draft', 'provisional', and final provincial codes. This exercise produced answers to the major questions of famine relief which, though not immutable, were to influence famine policy for the following ninety years.
Independence also came on the heels of a disastrous famine, that killed over one million people in Bengal in 1943. This famine occurred in part because the British authorities failed to implement the provisions of the famine code -- illustrating that the most sophisticated technical system is valueless unless it is used.
The outrage caused by this famine intensified demands for immediate independence after the Second World War, and also ensured that a commitment to famine prevention would be at the top of the new government's political priorities.
Hunger had begun to emerge as a site of political contestation in the decades before independence, but it was in the wake of the Bengal famine of 1943 that Indian nationalists tied the promise of independence to the guarantee of food for all, drawing upon novel critiques of India's political economy.
The memory of famines during the British colonial period has strongly shaped the narrative, and consequently the mental model, that underlies the framing of food policy in India.
If governments had imported limited amounts of food and taken responsibility for its distribution, prices could have been brought under control and famines could have been averted. Since independence in 1947, India has pursued such policies. Unlike what happened in China between 1958 and 1960, there have been no large-scale famines in India in the post-war period. A relatively open society and timely identification of food shortages are the prerequisites for success of a policy aimed at preventing famines.
India provides the best example of a country that has successfully averted famine since Independence in 1947, despite repeated droughts and enduring chronic poverty. ... Since 1947, the Famine Codes — now renamed Scarcity Manuals — have been continually updated and improved. Their provisions have frequently been implemented -- most notably in 1966, 1973 and 1987. In all cases, they have prevented severe food shortages from degenerating into famine.
The independent nation has repeatedly defied gloomy predictions of outright famine. Yet India has remained in the thrall of pervasive malnutrition since independence, its citizens less food secure than those of any sub- Saharan African state.
Shortly after independence, the import of food (PL-480 packages from the United States) following the severe drought in the mid-1960s was seen as a tremendous embarrassment to the pride of a young nation. Consequently, emphasis was placed on maximizing national production of food by focusing on the most fertile regions of the country, and then distributing surplus food from these regions to those with food deficits through a centralized public distribution system. The green revolution in the late 196os/early 1970s accelerated agricultural growth at the national level and as Sen (1999) argues, 'Famines are easy to prevent if there is a serious effort to do so, and a democratic government, facing elections and criticisms from opposition partics and independent newspapers, cannot help but make such an effort.' In his opinion the establishment of a multi-party political system and a free press after independence were instrumental in preventing further famines in India.
Famine in India was endemic during the years of British rule, and given the tripling of the Indian population since independence one might have expected famines to increase. Yet there has never been a serious famine in independent India. The presence of opposition parties and a free press has made the government far more responsive to local needs than it ever was under colonial or autocratic rule. One has only to contemplate the experience of China to appreciate the magnitude of this difference. There 30 million peasants died of starvation in the late 1950s and early 1960s — by far the greatest famine anywhere in the world at any time in history — as a direct resule of Mao Zedong's failed Great Leap Forward. Indeed, this ability to prevent famine may be one of democracy's greatest contributions. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has written that 'no famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy — be it economically rich (as in contemporary Western Europe or North America) or relatively poor (as in postindependence India, or Botswana, or Zimbabwe).'
The crucial methodological questions addressed in the regression analysis of cohorts of indentured workers in this paper is the effect of recruitment year on the pattern of change in height by birth cohort. In comparing recruits for Mauritius, Natal and Fiji, we have emphasized that varying recruitment conditions, besides long-term changes in disease and nutrition, influenced average height. ... The second and more general influence on recruiting patterns was the influence of famine. There were a number of substantial famines in India during the 19th century. Those which most affected the north Indian recruiting areas occurred in 1836–1836, 1866–1867, 1873–1874, 1878–1879, 1892, 1896–1897, 1899–1900.
Despite any whimsy in implementation, the clarity of Gandhi's political vision and the skill with which he carried the reforms in 1920 provided the foundation for what was to follow: twenty-five years of stewardship over the freedom movement. He knew the hazards to be negotiated. The British must be brought to a point where they would abdicate their rule without terrible destruction, thus assuring that freedom was not an empty achievement. To accomplish this he had to devise means of a moral sort, able to inspire the disciplined participation of millions of Indians, and equal to compelling the British to grant freedom, if not willingly, at least with resignation. Gandhi found his means in non-violent satyagraha. He insisted that it was not a cowardly form of resistance; rather, it required the most determined kind of courage.
The transfer of power in India , Dr Radhakrishnan has said, 'was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in human history.'
Colonial India was the part of the Indian subcontinent that was occupied by European colonial powers during the Age of Discovery. European power was exerted both by conquest and trade, especially in spices. The search for the wealth and prosperity of India led to the colonisation of the Americas after Christopher Columbus went to the Americas in 1492. Only a few years later, near the end of the 15th century, Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama became the first European to re-establish direct trade links with India by being the first to arrive by circumnavigating Africa. Having arrived in Calicut, which by then was one of the major trading ports of the eastern world, he obtained permission to trade in the city from the Saamoothiri Rajah. The next to arrive were the Dutch, with their main base in Ceylon. Their expansion into India was halted after their defeat in the Battle of Colachel to the Kingdom of Travancore, during the Travancore–Dutch War.
The Bengal famine of 1943 was a famine in the Bengal province of British India during World War II. An estimated 800,000 to 3.8 million Bengalis perished, out of a population of 60.3 million, from starvation, malaria and other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care due to a combination of factors, including government policies, war-time disruption of food distribution, and high cyclones and floods. Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and catastrophically disrupted the social fabric. Eventually, families disintegrated; men sold their small farms and left home to look for work or to join the British Indian Army, and women and children became homeless migrants, often travelling to Calcutta or other large cities in search of organised relief. Some scholars characterise the famine as anthropogenic (man-made), asserting that wartime colonial policies exacerbated the crisis. Others argue that the famine was the result of natural causes.
India was one of the largest economies in the world, for about two and a half millennia starting around the end of 1st millennium BC and ending around the beginning of British rule in India.
Famine had been a recurrent feature of life in the South Asian subcontinent countries of India and Bangladesh, most notoriously under British rule. Famines in India resulted in more than 30 million deaths over the course of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Famines in British India were severe enough to have a substantial impact on the long-term population growth of the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Great Bengal famine of 1770 was a famine that struck Bengal and Bihar between 1769 and 1770 and affected some 30 million people. It occurred during a period of dual governance in Bengal. This existed after the East India Company had been granted the diwani, or the right to collect revenue in Bengal by the Mughal emperor in Delhi, but before it had wrested the nizamat, or control of civil administration, which continued to lie with the Mughal governor, the Nawab of Bengal Nazm ud Daula (1765-72).
The British Raj was the rule of the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent; it is also called Crown rule in India, or Direct rule in India, and lasted from 1858 to 1947. The Indian Rebellion of 1857 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India from the East India Company in the form of the new British Raj through the Government of India Act 1858. The region under British control was commonly called India in contemporaneous usage and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and areas ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British paramountcy, called the princely states. The region was sometimes called the Indian Empire, though not officially.
Tapan Raychaudhuri was a British-Indian historian specialising in British Indian history, Indian economic history and the History of Bengal.
The role and scale of British imperial policy during the British Raj on India's relative decline in global GDP remains a topic of debate among economists, historians, and politicians. Some commentators argue the effect of British rule was negative, and that Britain engaged in a policy of deindustrialisation in India for the benefit of British exporters which left Indians relatively poorer than before British rule. Others argue that Britain's impact on India was either broadly neutral or positive, and that India's declining share of global GDP was due to other factors, such as new mass production technologies or internal ethnic conflict.
After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British Government took over the administration to establish the British Raj. The British Raj was the period of British rule on the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947, for around 200 years of British occupation. The system of governance was instituted in 1858 when the rule of the East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria.
The Orissa famine of 1866 affected the east coast of India from Madras northwards, an area covering 180,000 miles and containing a population of 47,500,000; the impact of the famine, however, was greatest in the region of Orissa, now Odisha, which at that time was quite isolated from the rest of India. In Odisha, the total number who died as a result of the famine was at least a million, roughly one third of the population.
The Rajputana famine of 1869 affected an area of 296,000 square miles (770,000 km2) and a population of 44,500,000, primarily in the princely states of Rajputana, India, and the British territory of Ajmer. Other areas affected included Gujarat, the North Deccan districts, the Jubbalpore division of the Central Provinces and Berar, the Agra and Bundelkhand division of the United Provinces, and the Hissar division of the Punjab.
The Bihar famine of 1873–1874 was a famine in British India that followed a drought in the province of Bihar, the neighboring provinces of Bengal, the North-Western Provinces and Oudh. It affected an area of 140,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) and a population of 21.5 million. The relief effort—organized by Sir Richard Temple, the newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal—was one of the success stories of the famine relief in British India; there was little or no mortality during the famine.
The Great Famine of 1876–1878 was a famine in India under Crown rule. It began in 1876 after an intense drought resulted in crop failure in the Deccan Plateau. It affected south and Southwestern India—the British-administered presidencies of Madras and Bombay, and the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad—for a period of two years. In 1877, famine came to affect regions northward, including parts of the Central Provinces and the North-Western Provinces, and a small area in Punjab. The famine ultimately affected an area of 670,000 square kilometres (257,000 sq mi) and caused distress to a population totalling 58,500,000. The excess mortality in the famine has been estimated in a range whose low end is 5.6 million human fatalities, high end 9.6 million fatalities, and a careful modern demographic estimate 8.2 million fatalities. The famine is also known as the Southern India famine of 1876–1878 and the Madras famine of 1877.
The Indian famine of 1896–1897 was a famine that began in Bundelkhand, India, early in 1896 and spread to many parts of the country, including the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and Berar, Bihar, parts of the Bombay and Madras presidencies, and parts of the Punjab; in addition, the princely states of Rajputana, Central India Agency, and Hyderabad were affected. All in all, during the two years, the famine affected an area of 307,000 square miles (800,000 km2) and a population of 69.5 million. Although relief was offered throughout the famine-stricken regions in accordance with the Provisional Famine Code of 1883, the mortality, both from starvation and accompanying epidemics, was very high: approximately one million people are thought to have died.
Rajat Kanta Ray is a historian of South Asian history, specializing in Modern Indian history.
The Indian famine of 1899–1900 began with the failure of the summer monsoons in 1899 over Western and Central India and, during the next year, affected an area of 476,000 square miles (1,230,000 km2) and a population of 59.5 million. The famine was acute in the Central Provinces and Berar, the Bombay Presidency, the minor province of Ajmer-Merwara, and the Hissar District of the Punjab; it also caused great distress in the princely states of the Rajputana Agency, the Central India Agency, Hyderabad and the Kathiawar Agency. In addition, small areas of the Bengal Presidency, the Madras Presidency and the North-Western Provinces were acutely afflicted by the famine.
The Economy of India under Company rule describes the economy of those regions that fell under Company rule in India during the years 1757 to 1858. The British East India Company began ruling parts of the Indian subcontinent beginning with the Battle of Plassey, which led to the conquest of Bengal Subah and the founding of the Bengal Presidency, before the Company expanded across most of the subcontinent up until the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Mughal Empire was an early-modern Islamic empire that controlled much of South Asia between the 16th and 19th centuries. For some two hundred years, the empire stretched from the outer fringes of the Indus river basin in the west, northern Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the north, to the highlands of present-day Assam and Bangladesh in the east, and the uplands of the Deccan Plateau in South India.
The Bengal famine of 1943-44 was a major famine in the Bengal province in British India during World War II. An estimated 2.1 million, out of a population of 60.3 million, died from starvation, malaria and other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions, and lack of health care. Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and social fabric.
The economy of the Mughal Empire was large and prosperous. By 1700, the GDP of Mughal India had risen to 24% of the world economy, the largest in the world, larger than both Qing China and Western Europe. The Mughal empire was producing about 25% of the world's industrial output up until the 18th century. Mughal India's economy has been described as a form of proto-industrialization, like that of 18th-century Western Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution.