But I have only mentioned the subject, because it plays a specially important part in the present depressed condition of the submerged masses. In the following pages I hope among other things to be able to cast some rays of light into this valley of the shadow of debt, if not of death.
THE LAND OF FAMINE.
Any review of Darkest India would be incomplete without some mention of the widespread and calamitous famines which periodically devastate the country and which reappear from time to time with terrible certainty.
In a country where so large a proportion of the population is agricultural, and where the poor are almost entirely paid in kind, the failure of a single crop means the most terrible scarcity and privation for those who even in time of plenty live at best but a hand-to-mouth existence. And when the failure is repeated famine faces the poverty-stricken masses, and they are frequently swept off by thousands.
In the terrible Madras famine of 1877 to 1878, several millions perished, in spite of the relief works and charitable agencies which hastened to their assistance. When the census of 1881 came to be taken, it was found that in this part of India, instead of the population having largely increased, as was everywhere else the case, there had been a diminution of two per cent as compared with the census of 1871.
It may be said that such famines are not frequent and we are thankful to admit that this is so. Yet scarcely a year passes without some part of India suffering severely from partial droughts. Only last year hundreds of poor starving wretches, crowded into Bombay from Kattiyawar, and were for weeks encamped on the Esplanade, an abject multitude, dependent on the charity of the rich. And yet it was “no famine” that had driven them hundreds of miles from their homes, but “only a scarcity.”
At the same time famine prevailed in the Ganjam District to an extent which would probably have been utterly discredited, had not the Governor of Madras proceeded personally to the spot, and reported on the terrible state of affairs. No less than 30,000 persons were thrown upon Government for their support. In the same year through a fortnight’s delay in the break of the monsoon, there were grain riots at Trichinopoly and Tanjore, several merchants stores being broken into, through a rise in the price of food. Happily a subsequent fall of rain averted the impending calamity, prices fell and order was restored.
Now to deal radically with famines it is necessary to meet them half way, and not to wait till they are upon us in all their stupendous immensity. It must be remembered that, as in the above instances, the present condition of things is such, that the mere threatening of famine is sufficient to send up the prices of food at a bound, to famine rates.
The chief victims of famine are the very classes who have been here described as constituting the “submerged tenth.” In ordinary times “the wolf” is always “at the door” but at these calamitous periods there is no door to keep him out, and he is master of the situation. Now General Booth’s scheme proposes to deal with him promptly and remove him to such a safe distance, as shall make his inroads almost impossible.