East India Company, and for that matter, the British Empire is a commercial venture first and then a government later. It operates on a single point – profit. Everything including human lives are resources for it to acquire more profits. The below table is a sampling of the major famines British India saw.

Salient points:

1. EIC acquired Bengal in 1757. In 1761, it increased the land taxation from 15% to 50%. This, compounded by weak monsoon caused the Famine of 1769. Due to the loss of life, as profits dwindled, taxes were increased to 60% exacerbating the problem.

2. The expenses incurred in the relief for 1873 Bihar famine were severely criticized. This reflected in the 1876 nation wide famine which killed around 10 million people.

3. Since the model of governance is aimed at profits, there is no reduction of exports of the food grains from the famine afflicted areas. For example, Ganjam, which was one of the worst hit districts of the 1896-97 famine exported successively 13508 tonnes(1892-3), 17817 tonnes(1893-4), 12334 tonnes(1894-5), 31559 tonnes(1895-6) and 34371 tonnes(1896-7) of grain.

4. 1943 Bengal Famine is famous for the fact that it is considered to be the largest man made famine in the world. British Government didnot respond to the horrors in Bengal stating that the need for grain is more in the yet to be liberated Greece than in Bengal. All pleas by the Viceroy, Australian Government and even the American Government fell to deaf ears. Even Subhas Bose’s offer to provide free grain through the Japanese lines was not heeded. There are many reasons for the famine – poor planning, stripping India to fund the European war theatre, Bengal/Assam became the battle front because of which more British soldiers fed off the land, scorched earth policy, indifference to plight. Churchill’s statements over this are all too famous.

Name Area Start End Peak Number killed % Population
Great Bengal Famine Bengal 1769 1773 1770 10 million 30%
Chalisa famine – 2 famines Whole of India 1780 1784 1782 11 million  
Doji bara famine Deccan, Gujarat 1788 1795 1792 11 million  
Chauranavee(Agra) famine UP 1837 1838 1838 .8 million 10%
Upper Doab famine UP, Rajputana 1860 1860 1860 2 million  
Orissa famine Orissa 1866 1867 1866 1 million 30%
Rajputana famine Rajputana, UP, Central India 1868 1870 1868 1.5 million  
Bihar famine Bihar, Bengal 1873 1873 1873 minimal 0%
Southern India famine Whole of India 1876 1878 1877 10 million 17%
Ganjam Famine Ganjam, Orissa 1888 1888 1888 .2 million  
Indian famine Whole of India 1896 1897 1896 10 million 14%
Indian famine Whole of India 1899 1900 1899 2 million 17%
Bundelkhand Famine Central India 1905 1906 1905 1 million  
Great Bengal Famine Bengal 1942 1944 1943 4 million 7%
Advertisements