National Geographic : 1917 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE that of 260 families only II had sur vived, while in Surat, a great and crowd ed c'ty, he saw hardly a living soul, but at each street corner found piles of dead with none to bury them. Unlike the famines in other countries, where' there is frequently a variety of factors contributing to the failure of crops, in India the shortage almost in variably results from an absence of rain. The country is wholly dependent for food upon its countless small farms, which "are worked on practically no capi tal. Local credit is in the main unorgan ized, and in times of stress millions of laborers are thrown out of work. The success of India's crops from year to year depends upon two monsoons-the southwest, or the rains, and the north east, which brings the winter rains. For a month or two before the rains (April and May) the greater part of the penin sula fairly gasps in the heat. The soil is baked and cultivation is impossible. With June comes the monsoon, which contin ues until the latter part of September. After the first showers the peasants plow their fields and sow the autumn harvest of millet and rice. The spring harvest, which consists largely of wheat and bar ley, is sown in October and November. Not only do droughts disarrange this schedule, but prolonged rains, accompa nied by east winds, cause the wheat to rust, while hot west winds cause the swelling grain to shrivel on the stalk. The first of the Indian famines to at tract wide-spread interest in the western world was the great catastrophe of 1769 1770, during which it is estimated that fully 1o,ooo,ooo souls, a full third of the population of Bengal, perished. Like all the famines, it resulted from a failure of rain, supplemented by maladministration on the part of the East India Company. The famines which occurred from 1780 to 1790 are worthy of note, because it was during this period that the British began to organize relief for the destitute. Lord Cornwallis, by his administrative ability as governor general in this trying time, here managed to regain some of the laurels which he had lost by his defeat at the hands of the American colonists during the Revolutionary War. In the twenty-two famines which oc curred in India between 1770 and 1900 more than 15,000,000 natives perished, and some of the most terrible years-no tably the famine in southern India in 1876- 1878, when 5,200,000 starved in British territory alone-have befallen the empire just when the government be lieved it had almost mastered the prob lem of relief. CASTE COMPLICATES INDIAN FAMINE RELIEF Great Britain has had many difficulties to overcome in handling the Indian food situation, not the least trying being the ever-recurring problem of caste. Occupation is still preserved among the Indian natives by inheritance and tra dition, so that the diversion of labor to industrial pursuits has been an almost impossible task. The supply of agricul tural labor constantly outruns the de mand, thus keeping the wage scale ex tremely low. Caste also prevents people from leaving crowded districts and going to sparsely inhabited regions, of which there are many. In time of distress the restrictions which caste throws about rescue and re lief work would be exasperating if they were not so tragic. For example, in the terrible Orissa famine thousands of San tals perished, in the midst of ample sup plies furnished by the government, before it was discovered that there is a peculiar tenet of their faith which forbids them to touch food cooked by Brahmins. It was also discovered that skilled weavers would not go to the ordinary relief-work camps for fear that the hard labor would cause them to lose the delicacy of touch which they value so highly. CHINESE FAMINE WHICH STARTED THE BLACK DEATH China is another land which famine seems to have marked for its own. Here the difficulty is not so much a matter of crop failures as the excess production of the human crop from year to year. Ex istence is a perpetual struggle for food in the Celestial Empire, and the smallest deviation from a maximum yield de stroys the margin of safety between "barely enough" and "starvation."