Thursday, February 21, 2013

Famine of 1802 - Loss of India to British

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Following is the description of great Famine of 1802 in India by one of the earlier Marathi poets of modern era, Anant Fandi (1744-1817). This is his description of the second great famine in India in late Maratha era (first was 1790-92 - Doji Bara famine) of 1802. Anant Fandi  composed this poem in 1802 and named it Dushkaal (Famine).

This poem gives several pointers at the extent of deaths, poverty and inflation which was caused due to the consecutive famines in India. This famine coincides with downfall of Maratha Empire. Prior to this event, Maratha Empire was in its full zenith, with Mughal emperor living as their pensioner. They practically controlled the Judicial-political-economic policies of most of India (except Bengal, Deep south and Punjab). They had decisively defeated Nizam of Hyderabad and Tipu Sultan and were poised to reclaim Bengal from British East India Company, when this famine struck.

The map below shows the extent of Maratha empire from 1760 onwards until 1805. Third battle of Panipat lead to temporary loss of India over Haryana and Delhi, which Marathas reclaimed in 1772 until 1805.



Similar famine had sapped their strength in 1790s. It is indeed almost miraculous how a pan Indian empire commanding 4-5 armies all over India almost quarter-million strong, finest artillery in India and revenue of 25-30 Crore rupees (these are revenue figures from Maratha sources, inflation not adjusted). Economy of India further faltered and stumbled after exploits of Aurangzeb century ago. After Maratha-Mughal wars ended with Maratha victory, stability slowly started returning to war-ravaged Deccan, Central and North India. It was indeed stupendous bad-luck of India that this famine broke the back of Marathas. With defeat of Marathas in Battle of Delhi and Assaye in 1802-03, practically entire India was won over by EIC. Until 1802, EIC was limited to Bengal and some parts around Chennai, rest of India was controlled by Marathas and Sikhs (Ranjit Singh of Punjab).

वृक्षास न राहे एक पर्ण। मग अपक्व राहतील कोठून ।
सोतरोठे बरबडे भक्षून । तरी वांचले नाहींत ।। 1

वृषभ धेनु सूकर श्वाने । मज्र मंडूक गणपतीवाहने ।
सर्वही भक्षिले भिकार्याने । शेवटी प्राण गेले हो ।। 2

असे जे भक्षू नये ते भक्षिले । शेवटी ईश्वरी उपेक्षिले ।
त्यातून चवथाई रक्षिले ! तीन हिस्से गतप्राण ।। 3

हाताने तोलावे सुवर्ण । धान्य मोजावे ताजव्याने ।
अच्छेर दीडपाव दाणे । रुपयाचे ते ही न मिळे ।। 4

कोण प्रेताला ओढितो । येथे अवघ्यांचा प्राण जातो।
कोण कोणाचा समाचार घेतो । यात वांचतो कोणता ।। 5

सरी सर्वत्रलागी जाणा । एकसारख्याची वेदना।। 

धनाढ्यासी न मिळे दाणा। मग निर्धन कैसा वाचतो ।। 6

Crude Translation:

1. All trees are leaf-less, from where shall fruit remain?
People have consumed leafless branches, roots, seeds, everything...

2. Oxen, pigs, dogs, cats, frogs, rats
People ate everything that lived, and in the end they perished as well

3. What one should not consume, was consumed (referring to cows), yet Gods forsake us,
Only one-fourth of us live, three-fourths have perished

4. A gram of cereals became as expensive as handful of gold coins,
Grains which were available for one and half paisas, now even a Rupee cannot fetch

5. Who will burn whom? Everyone is going to perish here
Who cares for whom? Who is going to survive this anyways?

6. Everywhere, the pain is similar,
Even the rich have nothing to eat, what will happen to poor?
 
One of the finest and thoroughly researched articles on this topic can be read here on Jambudvipa's blog. Jambudvipa focuses on famine deaths happened in India during the time British East India Company started occupying India and messing up with the internal trade-dynamics of India.

Internal trade of India has always been crucial. Deccan is comparatively less fertile than Gangetic valley region and Indo-Gangetic plain has been grain basket of India (it still is). Punjab was slowly recovering from 700 years of Islamic occupation when Sikhs were consolidating.

I recommend everyone to go through this blog cited above. And Jambudvipa, this is one the internal references (although not quantitative one) from an Indian eye-witness of that era.

From point of view of history lover, the Maratha debacle of 1802 was unexpected and all to sudden. Arthur Wellesley, the British general who defeated Marathas in 1802, went on to be known as Archduke of Wellington and defeated Napoleon in 1815 on Waterloo. He, in own admission, considered this war toughest of his career which he least expected to win and survive. We now refer to this war which lasted for 3 years (1802-05) as Second Anglo-Maratha War.

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