SHORT ESSAY ON HISTORY OF INDIA
India has frequently been subjected to horrors of famine. From 1858 to the end of the 19th century, more than twenty famines occurred in India.
A major characteristic of British rule in India, and the net result of British economic policies, was the prevalence of extreme poverty among its people. While historian disagree on the question whether India was getting poorer or not under British rule, there is no disagreement on the fact that throughout the period of British rule most Indians always lived on the verge of starvation.
British economic exploitation, the decay of indigenous industries, the failure of modern industries to replace them, high taxation, the drain of wealth to Britain and a backward agrarian structure leading to the stagnation of agriculture and the exploitation of the poor peasants by the zamindars, landlords, princes, moneylenders, merchants and the state gradually reduced the Indian people to extreme poverty and prevented them from progressing.
Indian economic backwardness and poverty were not due to the niggardliness of nature. They were manmade. The natural resources of India were abundant and capable of yielding if properly utilised, a high degree of prosperity to the people. But, as a result of foreign rule and exploitation, and of a backward agrarian and industrial economic structure in fact as the total outcome of its historical and social development, India presented the paradox of a poor living in a rich country.
In the early days of British administration, there was a tendency to push up land revenue demand to a high level. Moreover, the British collected the revenue with greater rigour than was customary in pre-British days. They also refused to reduce revenue as a concession to farmers in a bad season. This inflexibility of revenue policy was certainly a major cause of the famines.
English traders and their agent's activities might have contributed to the intensity of famines in some cases. In the early 19th century the forced cultivation of commercial crops for export in place of food grains may have been a factor. The neglect of the British to maintain or expand the pre-British irrigation works, in the territories that came under their rule, exposed agriculturists to their old enemy, drought. It may be concluded that the achievement of British rule in that regard was no better than that of previous unenlightened administrations.
In 1866-67 a severe famine broke out in Orissa. This has been regarded as the turning point in the history of Indian famines, for it led to the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry by Sir G. Campbell. The commission reported that timely measures had not" been taken to meet the terrible emergency. It made certain recommendations regarding measures to be adopted for prevention of famine disasters in future.
Lord Lytton decided to formulate general principals of famine relief. He appointed a Commission under Sir R. Strachy. The Commission recognised the duty of the state to offer relief to the needy in times of famine. After the famines of 1896-97 and 1899-1900, other famine commission was appointed to tackle the situation. Apart from these major famines and scarcities many other local famines and scarcities occurred. Many English officials in India recognised the grim reality of India's poverty during the 19th century.
The poverty of India was not a product of its geography or of the lack of natural resources or of some inherent defect in the character and capabilities of the people. It was mainly a product of the history of the last two centuries. Before that, India was no more backward than the countries of Western Europe. Precisely during the period the countries of the West- developed and prospered, India was subjected to modern colonialism and was prevented from developing.
The basic fact is that the some social, political and economic processes that produced industrial...