Friday, 30 March 2012

Causes of poverty during British Rule

Causes of poverty during British Rule

What were the causes of poverty and famines in Indian society during the British rule? Also assess the role of British government in mitigating the misery of the suffering millions.

The British had primarily come to India to pursue their trade and economic interests. Right from the days of East India Company, the British followed such economic policies as led to rapid transformation of Indian economy into a colonial economy, whose nature and structures were determined by the needs of British economy. In other words, Indian economy was driven into a situation of producing cheaper raw materials to meet the requirements of industry in Britain. While the Indian agriculture was forced to serve the interests of the British industry, there was almost complete dependence of Indian economy on the finished goods produced in England. Hence, there was a double drain of India’s wealth to Britain —firstly in the form of cheaper raw material being exported out of India and secondly in the form of import of finished goods from England into the country.

The British policy not only kept the Indian economy poor, but also blocked the way for systematic development of modern industry in India. With liberal and duty-free access to the British imports, the traditional artisans and craftsmen in India were also ruined. Once Railways were built, British manufactured goods made inroads into the hinterland of the country and ruined such workmen even in the interior rural areas.

The condition of the peasantry was no better. While the rates of agricultural produce were low and a large majority was engaged in contract farming at low remunerations, the demands of land revenue were huge. Even in the years of low yields, the land revenue demands were not toned down. As a result, the poor farmers were left with very little to feed their families. Many of them plunged into debt with the traditional moneylenders who gradually grabbed their lands and the poor peasants ended up working as hapless agricultural labourers on their own lands.

During the centuries of economic exploitation, the drain of Indian wealth was so high that the agrarian society of India was pushed to the verge of starvation. The poverty of the people culminated in various famines in the country. Earlier famine occurred in U.P. in 1860-61, that took a toll of over two lakh lives. It was followed by a severe famine in 1865-66 in the areas of Orissa, Bengal, Bihar and Madras in which almost 20 lakh people perished. Again, more than 14 lakh people died in the famine of 1868-70 in western U.P., Bombay, Rajputana and Punjab. Even more severe famines followed in the years 1876-78, 1896-97 and 1899-1900 in which more than one crore people died—a phenomenon that is unthinkable today. The series of famines continued in the twentieth century also and the last in the series was the great famine of Bengal in 1943 in which almost 30 lakh people died of starvation.

Though extreme poverty in India caused by the policies of economic exploitation of the British was mainly responsible for such a large number of deaths, the British government hardly took any serious action to make available the food grains in the affected areas. Zamindars were rather busy in recovering their share of land revenue from the famine-affected population. Though it was in the knowledge of the British that a large majority of Indian peasant families lived mostly on one meal a day, yet no effective steps were taken by them to overcome the plight of poor people in a resource rich country.

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