The sudden increase in famines in colonial India since the mid-eighteenth century can be attributed to several factors.
Here are some of the key reasons for the rise in famines during this period:
British Colonial Policies: The British colonial administration in India implemented policies that prioritized profit extraction rather than focusing on the welfare of the Indian population. The policies included land revenue systems, high taxation, and commercialization of agriculture, which led to the disruption of traditional agrarian practices and increased vulnerability to famines.
Agricultural Transformation: The British introduced new cash crops, such as indigo, cotton, and opium, which resulted in the conversion of fertile agricultural lands from food crops to cash crops. This shift led to a decline in food production, making the population more susceptible to famines during periods of crop failure.
Land Tenure System: The introduction of the Zamindari system and Permanent Settlement by the British resulted in the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few landlords. This system created exploitative relationships between the landlords and peasants, leading to economic disparities, landlessness, and increased vulnerability to famines.
Infrastructure Development: The focus of the British colonial administration on developing infrastructure for exporting goods, such as railways and canals, resulted in the neglect of irrigation systems and local food security. This lack of investment in irrigation and storage facilities made the agrarian system more susceptible to droughts and crop failures.
Market Distortions: The British policies favored the export of agricultural commodities from India, leading to price distortions in the local markets. The high demand for cash crops in international markets resulted in the neglect of food crops, leading to food shortages during periods of drought or crop failure.
Economic Exploitation: The colonial system imposed heavy taxes, rent, and other burdens on Indian farmers, making it difficult for them to recover from crop failures. The economic exploitation further exacerbated the impact of famines, as the affected population lacked the resources to cope with the crisis.
Lack of Social Safety Nets: The absence of adequate social safety nets and relief measures during famines aggravated the impact on vulnerable populations. The British administration’s inadequate response and relief efforts during famines resulted in high mortality rates and widespread suffering.
Environmental Factors: The famines in colonial India were often triggered by natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and crop pests. While these events were beyond human control, the colonial policies and socio-economic conditions exacerbated their impact, turning natural calamities into severe famines.
Population Pressure: The rapid population growth during the colonial period increased the demand for food, putting additional pressure on agricultural production. When coupled with the aforementioned factors, population growth further heightened the vulnerability to famines.
It is important to note that the colonial policies and their impact on famines in India are subjects of historical debate and analysis. While the British colonial administration cannot be solely blamed for all famines during this period, their policies and economic exploitation played a significant role in exacerbating the impact of natural calamities and increasing the vulnerability of the Indian population to famines.