The experience of four famines in the NWPandO (1837-8, 1860-1, 1868-9, 1896-7)
This study focuses on four famines (1837-8,1860-1,1868-9,1896-7) that afflicted the North Western Provinces and Awadh, the present day Uttar Pradesh, but no longer including the hill districts. This study looks at the discourse, responses to and perceptions of famines by certain groups in NWPandO society. The study argues that while famines were disasters for some sections of affected people, they proved significantly beneficial to others. It argues that long- standing social, economic and political imbalances caused the impact of famines to fall on already vulnerable and poor sections of society, while the rich and powerful derived important political, economic, social and religious benefits. The policies abetting these and the mechanisms by which these benefits were derived are examined. Besides poverty, fragmentation and breaking up of community and family structures and more importantly, lack of political accessibility and inadequate political representation added to the woes of the victims. The perceptions, discourse and responses of famine victims have been detailed. At the same time the use of power and political accessibility to derive important gains- political, economic and religious is emphasized. The activities of beneficiary groups extended famines in space and time. Their perception and responses to famine have been highlighted, and the varying fortunes of victims and beneficiaries compared and contrasted. Relief policy largely failed to alleviate even immediate famine distress. A generous and liberal relief policy taking into account the needs and cultural susceptibilities of the affected people was required. But such a policy was not evolved even till the end of the nineteenth century as strategic, bureaucratic, cultural and ideological priorities took precedence over the sufferings of the needy. Officials largely ignored or failed to take into account that relief was being exploited for important economic, political and religious gains. The issues and problems discussed in the present thesis are relevant for modern times, especially in the case of India. If modern- day relief policies remedy these shortcomings and adopt realistic long-term measures to redress socio- economic and political imbalances that afflict society in India, then the negative impact of famines can be contained.