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FROM THE ACCESSION OF QUEEN VICTORIA IN 1837 TO THE
COMMENCEMENT OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
ROMESH DUTT, C.I.E.
LECTURER IN INDIAN HISTORY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON
THE BENGAL LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
The Rights of Translation and of Reproduction are reserved.
HENRY MORSE STEPHENP3
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON S CO.
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh
Sıx years ago, there was a celebration in London which was like a scenic representation of the Unity of the British Empire.
Men from all British Colonies and Dependencies came together to take part in the Diamond Jubilee of a Great Queen's reign. Indian Princes stood by the side of loyal Canadians and hardy Australians. The demonstration called forth an outburst of enthusiasm seldom witnessed in these islands. And to thoughtful minds it recalled a long history of bold enterprises, arduous struggles, and a wise conciliation, which had cemented a world - wide Empire. Nations, living in different latitudes and under different skies, joined in a celebration worthy of the occasion.
One painful thought, however, disturbed the minds of the people. Amidst signs of progress and prosperity from all parts of the Empire, India alone presented a scene of poverty and distress. A famine, the most intense and the most widely extended yet known, desolated the country in 1897. The most populous portion of the Empire had not shared its prosperity. Increasing wealth, prospering industries, and flourishing agriculture, had not followed the flag of England in her greatest dependency.
The famine was not over till 1898. There was a pause in 1899. A fresh famine broke out in 1900 over a larger area, and continued for a longer period. The terrible calamity lasted for three years, and millions of men perished. Tens of thousands were still in relief camps when the Delhi Darbar was held in January 1903
The economic gulf which separates India from other parts of the Empire has widened in the course of recent years. In Canada and other colonies, the income per head of the population is £48 per year. In Great Britain it is £42. In India it is officially estimated at £2. At the last meeting of the British Association, one of the greatest of British Economists, Sir Robert Giffin, pointed out that this was “a permanent and formidable difficulty in the British Empire, to which more thought must be given by our public men, the more the idea of Imperial Unity becomes a working force.” Imperial Unity cannot be built on the growing poverty and decadence of five-sixths of the population of the Empire.
For the famines, though terrible in their death-roll, are only an indication of a greater evil—the permanent poverty of the Indian population in ordinary years. The food supply of India, as a whole, has never failed. Enough food was grown in India, even in 1897 and 1900, to feed the entire population. But the people are so resourceless, so absolutely without any savings, that when crops fail within any one area, they are unable to buy food from neighbouring provinces rich in harvests. The failure of rains destroys crops in particular areas; it is the poverty of the people which brings on severe famines.
Many facts, within the experience of Indian Administrators, could be cited to illustrate this; I will content myself with one. Twenty-seven years ago, Eastern Bengal was visited by a severe calamity. A cyclone and storm-wave from the sea swept over large tracts of the country and destroyed the homes and crops of cultivators in 1876. I was sent, as a young officer, to reorganise administration and to give relief to the people in some of the tracts most severely affected. The peasantry in those parts paid light rents, and were therefore prosperous in ordinary times. With the providence and frugality which are habitual to the Indian cultivator, they had saved in previous years. In the year of distress they