Social Scientist. v 16, no. 181-82 (June-July 1988) p. 3.


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B.S. CHANDRA BABU *

A Study of the Factors that Led to the Outbreak of Famines in Chingleput District of Tamilnadu During the Nineteenth Century

No decade of the nineteenth century except the 1890s was untouched by famine or scarcity in South India.1 In Tamil Nadu,2 for example, there occurred seven famines and several scarcities. Chingleput,3 one of the districts of Tamil Nadu, was no exception to this trend. Five famines and three scarcities were recorded in the district during that period.4

The Chamber's Encyclopaedia defines 'famine* as a situation of 'lack of food over a large geographical area sufficiently long and severe to cause widespread disease and death from starvation'.5 This definition captures the intensity of distress experienced by the people of Chingleput district during these calamities. This district was also visited by such famines thrice during the eighteenth century. The following were the specific causes attributed by the Britishers for each of these calamities:6

Table 1: Caus hr the Outbreak of Famine

Years in which Cause for the outbreak famines occurred

1733 Neglect of Irrigation

1780 Ravages of the Mysore troops

1785 Extraordinary floods

Similarly, it was maintained by the colonial Government that the famines that occurred in 1807, 1824, 1833, 1876-78 and in 1891 in the district of Chingleput, v^ere due to insufficient rainfall or other unfavourable natural causes. Susceptibility to famine is, of course, to be expected in any district where agriculture was dependent upon the monsoon and the extent of poverty quite severe. What is noteworthy, however, is that despite its proximity to the city of Madras (the capital city of the Madras Presidency) and the consequent advantages it enjoyed, such calamities were frequently reported in the district sug-

* Faculty of History, Centre for Research on New International Economic Order, Madras.



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