Sunday, July 26, 2015

More on the Bengal famine of 1770

The East India Company took over the taxation of Bengal in 1765.  There ensued the great famine of 1770.  10 million people -- one-third of the population -- is estimated to have perished.

Here is what Wiki says about the contributing factors:
  • the widespread forced cultivation of opium (forced upon local farmers by the British East India Company as part of its strategy to export it to China) in place of local food crops
  • as lands came under company control, the land tax was typically raised fivefold what it had been – from 10% to up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce
  • ordering the farmers to plant indigo instead of rice, as well as forbidding the "hoarding" of rice. {In Madhusree Mukherjee's talk she says that the custom at that time was for farmers to stock two years worth of their food consumption of grain.}
How were the British any different from Stalin or Mao, under whom enormous numbers of people starved to death?  Stalin's famine in the Ukraine killed 7 million people.  That was a quarter of the population.  Mao's great famine killed somewhere between 30 million and 45 million in China.

Ah, but Stalin forcibly collectivized the Ukrainian farms, you say.  But the East India Company extracted the Bengali farmers' entire surplus by raising taxes fivefold.   Is there a difference?  I can't really see one.

And let us remember, the era of Victorian holocausts was yet to come.  I mean, you could possibly argue that once is an accident.  But almost two hundred years of repeated such "accidents"? 

The kindest thing that can happen to the world is that Scotland breaks away from the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom thereafter fades away into history just as the Soviet Union did.

After listening to Madhusree Mukherjee's talk, I tweeted to her (with no reply) about how could she know what she knows without becoming a revolutionary?

PS: as large portions of Bengal returned to the jungle and as labor productivity in Bengal plummeted, the British Parliament, to help alleviate the East India Company's troubles, raised the taxes on tea in America....