Indian famine of 1899–1900

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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.



Matthew White - Atrocitology, 2011

White, Matthew - Atrocitology _ humanity's 100 deadliest achievements-Canongate Books (2011)
  • In spite of all of the past practice the authorities had had before, this new famine went just as badly as the previous ones. The new viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, repeated most of the policies that had killed so many in the earlier famine. Native princes did no better. The maharaja of Indore vetoed all expenditures for relief, while Curzon deported refugees who arrived from the autonomous princely states.20 In the affected regions, as many as one out of every seven peasants was bankrupt and evicted. As the Indian peasantry became broken and driven into the cities, the British hold on the subcontinent strengthened.
  • With the local scarcity of grain, food prices soared. A Methodist in Hyderabad wrote, “The people had no reserves either of strength or grain to fall back on, the debts of the previous famine still hung around their necks, money was impossible to get, for lenders tightened their purse strings when they saw no chance of recovering their loans.”
  • British authorities saw cheaters everywhere and suspected that many of the Indians applying for relief had “buried hoards of grain and ornaments.”23 Tests designed to keep as many Indians as possible off the dole prevented a million people from collecting relief in the Bombay Presidency.
  • Three-fourths of a million bushels of grain was exported from Berar province in the north even as 143,000 people starved to death there.25 When Kansas Populists in the United States shipped 200,000 bags of grain to ease the famine “in solidarity with India’s farmers,” British officials taxed the shipment.26 The standing order among officials was that “the revenue must at all costs be gathered in.”
  • Cholera swept through the starving refugees. A Western doctor described one camp: “Millions of flies were permitted undisturbed to pester the unhappy victims. One young woman who had lost every one dear to her, and had turned stark mad, sat at the door vacantly staring at the awful scenes around her. In the entire hospital I did not see a single decent garment. Rags, nothing but rags and dirt.”
  • In spite of the worldwide population explosion that characterized the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the population of India suffered an absolute decline between 1895 and 1905—the only time this has happened since the first census was taken in 1872.29 The mortality of the 1899–1900 famine has been estimated at either 19.0, or 8.4, or 6.1 million—in the same level of magnitude as the 1876 famine. This time, however, the British government report written after the fact recognized that the famine came from the failure of the economy more than a failure of weather. There had been plenty of grain in Burma and Bengal that could have been sent south and west to feed the starving:
    • White, Matthew - Atrocitology _ humanity's 100 deadliest achievements-Canongate Books (2011)