I. The Cause of Famine
FROM the days of the Buddhist pilgrims from China to the Famines
latest Moral and Material Progress Report, famine lies broad periodic.
written across the pages of Indian history. The accounts of
early famines are indeed most meagre. In the chronicles of
courts, which cared little for the people, social calamities found
but scant record. A few lurid descriptions have come down
to us-man feeding on man and even slaying him for food, the
violation of all natural ties', conspicuous acts of unavailing
charity, depopulation, and the loss of revenue; but of famine
history in its wider range there is no trace. We only know
that famines were very frequent under Native rule, and fright-
ful when they came . We know also that they have been
frequent since the British came to India.
This frequency of famine is easily explained. Famine is a Depend-
disease of all agricultural countries. India is, and always has ence of
been, mainly agricultural, and agricultural under conditions agricul-
peculiarly exposed to famine. The soil is parcelled out in ture.
minute farms. The farmers have no capital and depend on
unorganized local credit, which shrinks when harvests fail.
'The flesh of a son was preferred to his love,' says one chronicler.
'In I630,' says Sir W. W. Hunter, ' a calamity fell upon Gujarat which
enables us to realize the terrible meaning of the word famine in India under
Native rule. Whole cities and districts were left bare of inhabitants. In 163r
a Dutch merchant reported that only eleven of the 260 families at Swally
survived. He found the road thence to Surat covered with bodies decaying
"on the highway where they died, there being no one to bury them." In
Surat, that great and crowded city, he '' could hardly see any living persons";
but the corpses "at the corner of the streets lie twenty together. nobody
burying them." Thirty thousand had perished in the town alone. Pestilence
followed famine. ... " This, that was in a manner the garden of the world,
is turned into a wilderness." The Dutchman estimated that it would take
three years before the trade could revive at Surat. Indeed one striking
contrast between Native and British rule was the slowness of recovery from
famine in the Mughal Empire.'-A-istloy of Briish IZnd,ia, vol. ii, p. 59.