Sunday 26 January 2014

When famine struck Bangalore

It was sometime in 1877 and India was reeling under a terrible famine. The failure of the monsoons in 1875 and 1876 had led to a prolonged drought in south India and people were finding it difficult to make ends meet.
The Mysore Kingdom and other parts of what is Karnataka today too suffered from the lack of rains. There was no food and cattle was dying everywhere. The prices of food grains and other commodities had shot up and people in Mysore State were suffering.
The severe famine in Mysore State which commenced in December 1876 was the result of the failure of  two successive monsoons in 1875 and 1876. Bangalore was a little more fortunate tan other places of Mysore State and south India as it had fairly adequate stocks of food grains and water.
Seeing Bangalore as a much better option, large number of people from Madras Presidency (as present day Tamil was known then), Hyderabad, Travancore, Bombay Presidency and almost all the districts of  north Karnataka migrated to Bangalore.
The migrants found Bangalore a much better place to live in. The Cantonment was a sprawling city, while the Pete was a prosperous native town.     
This was the period when Chief Commissioner C.B.Saunders was administering the State of Mysore and Dr. J.H.Orr was the President of both Bangalore Pete and Cantonment Municipality.
The huge influx of people led to inflation like situation in Bangalore. The prices of food grains shot up four times its usual price and rents too took an upward swing. Vegetables and fruits too became costlier.
Thargurpet, by then, had become the grain market of Bangalore. Hundreds of shops lined the lanes and bylanes of the locality dealing wholsesale and even in retail food grains.
Many people who had migrated to Bangalore from other parts zeroed in on Thargurpet to feed themselves,. While a lucky few managed to get work, others lazed about and took to begging to feed themselves and their families.
By July 1877, the Bangalore municipality recorded 25,000 famine immigrants to Bangalore.      
Though there was no dearth of food grains in Bangalore, traders and merchants made handsome profits, quoting higher prices. Bangalore also became the nodal centre for distributing food grains to other parts of the State. Every day, 400 tonnes to 500 tonnes of food grains came to Bangalore by rail from Madras.
The food grains and other relief materials were dispatched by rail and road and the Government of India nominated Richard Temple as Special Commissioner to monitor such work from Bangalore.
To tackle the situation in Bangalore, the municipality and the Government appointed specially designated people wearing white and blue caps to identify  weak and starving people and bring them to relief kitchens which were set up across Bangalore.
The Government set up three kitchens under the direct supervision of the General Famine Relief committee. These kitchens fed the migrants twice a day in return for work as they were able to perform.
The Government placed Captain Healey and Lieutenant P.E. Anderson in charge of  relief work in the Pete and cantonment respectively. They supervised the distribution of grains to the poor and also helped people to get back their jobs. These two British officials were assisted in their work by local volunteers. A majority of the volunteers were clerks in Government offices in Bangalore.
Local industrialists, philanthropists and leading citizens of Bangalore also helped out by providing food and shelter and even collecting money. Rai Bahadur Arcot Narayanaswami Mudaliar started a woolen mill where boys were provided with food, clothes and taught to work.
 Brahmo Samaaj and the leading trader of Bangalore, Ele Mallappa Shetty fed 30,000 people daily.
Unfortunately, the magnitude of the famine and drought was so severe that thousands died due to starvation and malnutrition in the State. Bangalore too was not spared such deaths. During August 1877, the average number of dead on the streets of Bangalore was 20 and it shot up to 40 in September. In Cantonment, British soldiers were aghast to find bodies of people, including children, lying exposed and partly devoured by animals.
The Government took up several public works like desilting and repair of Dharmambudi tank and the construction of an additional reservoir adjoining and forming a part of the Sampangi tank. The existing tanks dried up and the Government was forced to dig new tanks and lakes.
Hundreds of  weavers and loom workers of Bangalore who had sold their looms worked as labourers in Sampangi tank. Hundreds of craftsmen too sold off their implements and started working in relief works for their daily bread.
The relief works picked up when the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton, visited Bangalore in September 1877. He reviewed the famine and drought relief works and appointed Sir Charles Elliot as Famine Commissioner to carry out relief operation more effectively.
Lord Lytton also sanctioned the work of laying of railway line between Bangalore and Mysore.
Thankfully, the drought came to an end when rains lashed Bangalore and other parts of  Mysore State in September and October. However, the relief works continued till November 1878. By then, the devastating famine had resulted in more than seven lakh deaths in Mysore State.
Today, this event is called “The Great Famine of 1876–78.” It is also called as the Southern India famine of 1876–78 or the Madras famine of 1877.
The famine began in 1876 and affected south and south west India first and then spread north and also to some regions of the Central and United provinces. The famine ultimately covered an area of 257,000 square miles (670,000 km2) and directly affected  58,500,000 people. The death toll from this famine is estimated between 5.5 million to 29 million.
Many say that the Great Famine may have been caused by an intense drought resulting in crop failure in the Deccan. Another reason is the foolish decision of Lord Lytton to export huge amounts of food grains to England at the cost of local consumption.
The Great Famine completely shattered the British air of superiority. They had taken over the Mysore Kingdom and in 1873-74 they were thinking a State with surplus in all fields back to the Maharaja.
Their slow response to the famine hastened the rendition or the return of power to the Maharaja apart from exposing their sham of all-round development and a State rich in coffers. The late relief measures cost the Government Rs. 140 lakhs and this was nothing compared to the losses of revenue. Moreover, the Government was forced to borrow Rs. 80 lakhs from the Government of India to tide over the financial crisis.
The famine in the Mysore Kingdom is supposed to have left more than a lakh dead and the inadequate and half-baked measures put in place by the British officials left Lord Lytton fuming. Even, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy, despaired of the lack of proper and sustained relief measures. He as moved to write, that there was “cause for anxiety in the general administration of the State” and  that the Chief Commissioner Saunders “was not in control of  the administration.”    

1 comment:

  1. Now people talk of Organic farming.How can we produce enough food if we resort to organic farming which was the only kind of farming till 1960,s.To tide over the food scarcity we resorted to inorganic farming in the decade of 1960,s.Other wise we were depending on PL-480 of USA,which was supplying food to India till 1967-which gave famous gossip -SHIP TO MOUTH.
    It is only Green revolution augmented food reserves,and self sufficiency.Now we can tide over famines,droughts by inorganic farming.