FAMINES IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, 1500 to 1767
|1658 (a) [to1661]: northwest to east India (+ scarcity in Bengal)|
|Documented causes: drought (+ war around Agra)|
|Documented effects: migration; voluntary slavery; epidemic|
|"The English Factories in India: 1655-1660" (1921)|
|p407 (Company in London to Bengal, 22 Feb 1760): [responding to a letter from Hooghly dated 3 Dec 1658, missing from the archives, which they quote thus:] "provisions are now three times as deare as formerly". [The Company's response to this information, which related to the annual allowance for running costs at Hooghly, was to request detailed accounts; this did not reach Bengal until August 1660 ...]|
|"The English Factories in India: 1655-1660" (1921)|
|p196 (President & Council at Surat to the Company in England, 14 Feb 1659): "Want of raine the last yeare hath made all sorts of provisions to rise to double the price they use to be at. Wee feare the next yeare wee shall not be able to send you anie Agra goods; that place being now the seat of the warr, three of the Princes lying round about it with very great armyes … From Ahmadavad wee can expect no indico the next yeare, unless the cropp proves great; for wee heare there will be very little or none of this years stocks remayning, though it hath prooved the worst that hath been made in many years."|
p210: [Surat Presidency, summary of events of 1659] The Vine sailed for Sind and Persia at the end of September. In a letter to the Company which she carried to Gombroon for transmission overland, it was stated that the goods to be embarked at Lahrlbandar would be fewer than usual, "being the famine and plague in Scinda is so great that it hath swept away most part of the people, and those that are left are few, and what they make is bought by the country merchant at any price, that causeth them not to take care it be good". ...
There are several other allusions to this scarcity. It seems to have been first mentioned in a letter from Scrivener of 6 June, 1659, which is missing. In reply the Surat factors promised a supply of corn — a promise they repeated on 6 August, suggesting that any of the corn that was not required for the factors' own use should be distributed to the weavers "upon accompt, and be a meanes to keepe them unto your devotion". In another letter of 17 September (sent overland) they announced the dispatch of the corn by the Vine, adding : "We hope also that, the famine and pestilence being abated, the weavers may encrease, to the returne of trading againe; which we would endeavour to encrease by large investments every yeare, were we incouraged by goods that would be made well and propper for Persia and Mocho; for cloth for England, as yet is required but a small quantety". A third letter, dated a month later, said: "The corne formerly sent you wee would have you to distribute some to the weavers to keepe them at worke, and pay them in halfe corne, halfe money; maintaining them so all the yeare. For which purpose wee shall send you a supply untill the famine ceaseth, being that wee suppose it may be a means to gaine the greater quantity of cloth, both for Persia and Mocha, and better made; for wee would have you alwayes be providing of those sorts, as well as baftaes for Europe."
p263: [Madras Agency, summary of events of 1659] "Johnson, in a letter to James Pickering at Patna (8 March), alludes to some 'paintings' [chintz] which he is to send him later, and says that he has advised Chamberlain to dispatch a vessel to Masulipatam with rice, butter, wax, and sugar, 'here being much feare of a famine this yeare'. The Petapoli factors write (16 April) that they have been using their own money to buy saltpetre for the Company's purposes, and that they expect compensation for so doing, seeing that, if they had employed it in bringing corn from 'Due [i.e. Divi] Island', they could have made 15 or 20 per cent, profit in a month. The scarcity which was offering the English merchants such chances of gain seems, by the way, to have been as bad in the districts round Masulipatam as at Madras. 'Wee have at present', say the Masulipatam factors on 13 October, 'soe great a famine in these parts, the people dying dayly for want of food, that wee cannot have goods brought in as wee expected.' "
|H.M. Elliot (comp.) "The history of India, as told by its own historians. The Muhammadan period." (vol 7, 1877)|
|pp246-9 (from Khafi Khan "Muntakhabu-l Lubab"): [events of the second year of Emperor Aurangzeb's reign; 1659-60 CE, entered after Sep 1659 and before Jun 1660] "The movements of large armies through the country, especially in the eastern and northern parts, during the two years past, and scarcity of rain in some parts, had combined to make grain dear. To comfort the people and alleviate their distress, the Emperor gave orders for the remission of the rahdari (toll) which was collected on every highway (guzar), frontier and ferry, and brought in a large sum to the revenue. He also remitted the pandari, a ground or house cess, which was paid throughout the Imperial dominions by every tradesman and dealer, from the butcher, the potter, and the greengrocer, to the draper, jeweller, and banker. Something was paid to the government according to rule under this name for every bit of ground in the market, for every stall and shop, and the total revenue thus derived exceeded lacs (of rupees). Other cesses, lawful and unlawful, as the sar-shumari, buz-shumari [Footnote: "A tax on goats. …"], bar-gadi [Footnote indicates this is not in most manuscripts], the charai (grazing tax) of the Banjaras, the tuwa'ana [Footnote: "… The tuwa ana ought etymologically to mean some voluntary contribution."], the collections from the fairs held at the festivals of Muhammadan saints, and at the jutras or fairs of the infidels, held near Hindu temples, throughout the country far and wide, where lacs of people assemble once a year, and where buying and selling of all kinds goes on. The tax on spirits, on gambling-houses, on brothels, the fines, thank-offerings, and the fourth part of debts recovered by the help of magistrates from creditors. These and other imposts, nearly eighty in number, which brought in krors of rupees to the public treasury, were all abolished throughout Hindustan. Besides these, the tithe of corn, which lawfully brought in twenty-five lacs of rupees, was remitted in order to alleviate the heavy cost of grain. To enforce these remissions, stringent orders were published everywhere throughout the provinces by the hands of mace-bearers and soldiers (ahadi).|
But although his gracious and beneficent Majesty remitted these taxes, and issued strict orders prohibiting their collection, the avaricious propensities of men prevailed, so that, with the exception of the pandari, which, being mostly obtained from the capital and the chief cities, felt the force of the abolition, the royal prohibition had no effect, and faujdars and jagirdars in remote places did not withhold their hands from these exactions. Firstly, because throughout the Imperial dominions in the reign of Aurangzeb, no fear and dread of punishment remained in the hearts of the jagirdars, faujdars and zamindars. Secondly, because the revenue officers, through inattention, or want of consideration, or with an eye to profit, contrary to what was intended, made deductions (for these cesses) from the tankhwah accounts of the jagirdars. So the jagirdars, under the pretext that the amount of the cesses was entered in their tankhwah papers, continued to collect the rahdari and many other of the abolished imposts, and even increased them. When reports reached the government of infractions of these orders, (the offenders) were punished with a diminution of mansab, and the delegation of mace-bearers to their districts. The mace-bearers forbad the collection of the imposts for a few days, and then retired. After a while, the offenders, through their patrons or the management of their agents, got their mansab restored to its original amount. So the regulation for the abolition of most of the imposts had no effect.
The rahdari in particular is condemned by righteous and just men as a most vexatious impost, and oppressive to travellers, but a large sum is raised by it. In most parts of the Imperial territories the faujdars and jagirdars, by force and tyranny, now exact more than ever from the traders and poor and necessitous travellers. The zamindars also, seeing that no inquiries are made, extort more on roads within their boundaries than is collected on roads under royal officers. By degrees matters have come to such a pass, that between the time of leaving the factory or port and reaching their destination, goods and merchandize pay double their cost price in tolls. Through the villainy and oppression of the toll-collectors and the zamindars, the property, the honour, and the lives of thousands of travellers and peaceful wayfarers are frittered away. The Mahrattas, those turbulent people of the Dakhin (before the peace and after the peace which I shall have to write about in the reign of Farrukh Siyar), and other zamindars upon the frontier, have carried their violence and oppression in the matter of the rahdari to such extremes as are beyond description."
[This entry should be studied by anybody attempting to analyse the first Great Bengal Famine. In 1769-71 the East India Company was still relying on the old tax collection system, and just beginning to check on suspicious activities by zamindars etc.]
|"The English Factories in India: 1655-1660" (1921)|
|pp306-7: [Surat Presidency, 1660] ... letter to the Company (13 April) ... "Provisions are more then usually deare; that, though our expences are contracted soe neare as necessitye will give leave, yet your allowance will be exceeded; that wee humbly intreate that you would give us more libertye, for it shall be apparent that wee will not abuse it nor in any thinge be extravagant. Our expence booke will speake our frugalitye and (the tymes scarcitye considered) our good husbandrye ; for should wee sett downe the rates of provisions formerly and now, 'tis more then 50 per cent, in many or most thinges ; that wee hope you will be pleased to allowe our reasonable accompts given, that wee may not eat in feare of paying for what wee exceed your appointment. And as wee plead for our selves, soe wee must for our friends in Ahmadavad, and especially in Scindye. In the former provisions are dearer ; but in the latter neaver famine raged worse in any place, the living being hardly able to burye the dead."|
p311: [Surat Presidency, letter to the Company, 18 Apr 1660 "… death hath been extraordinarily familiar amoung us and sickness escaped none of us, Surat never being known so unwholsome."
p320: [Surat Presidency, summary of events of 1660] "A letter from the Dutch Chief at Surat to Batavia ... (Dagh-Register, Batavia, 1661, p. 5), gave some account of ... events, adding that the English, who were greatly in debt to the merchants, were much disliked in Gujarat and were enduring many affronts. Business was slack, owing to the great drought which had afflicted the country for some time, and to the delay in the arrival of the Emperor's ships from Mokha."
[See below for Dutch version]
pp401-2: [Coast and Bay of Bengal, summary of events of 1660]" ... letter from Madras of 11 January, 1661 ... the Katherine ... in spite of the Company's criticisms on a similar arrangement in the case of the Love, was to call at 'Colone, Pullecherry, and Porto Novo, to gleane in such goods as are there provided ; for there is a necessity now of imploying all places in these parts, for the continuance of the famine hath caused our freinds in and about Metchlepatam to remitt us part of the moneys that wee had consigned them, for that but little cloth of full demencions was there to be procured.' "
|VOC "Dagh-register Behouden Int Casteel Batavia … Anno 1661" (1889)|
|p5 (summary of letter from director Leonard Winninex in Surat, 14 Oct 1660, received in Batavia 13 Jan 1661): "... d'Engelse in Guseratte alomme by de Mooren, aen dewelke zy een million guldens schuldich zyn, zeer in den haet waren gecomen, veele affronten van deselve leden ende noch al placebo mostren spelen ... overmits de groote droogte, in Guseratte eenigen tyd geregneert hebbende, ende door dien de koninglyke schepen, uyt Mocha verwacht wordende, aldaer noch niet verschenen en waren, de negotie niet zeer voortging …"|
[See 1660 Surat Presidency reports above for summary in English]
|François Bernier, "Voyages de François Bernier et description des Etats du Grand Mogol" (vol. 1, 1699)|
|p202: [Emperor Aurangzeb's reaction to an apparent slight by the Shah of Persia or his ambassador] "il fit courir le bruit qu'il avoit fait couper les jarrets aux chevaux qu'il luy avoit presenté, & lors qu'il fut sur la Frontiere il luy fit rendre tous les Esclaves Indiens qu'ill emmenoit. Il; est vray qu'il en avoit une prodigieuse quantité; il les avoit eu presque pour rien a cause de la femine, & on accusoit mesme ses gens d'avoir dérobé plusieurs enfans."|
|"The English Factories in India: 1655-1660" (1921)|
|p306 (Surat to the Company in England, 13 Apr 1660): "Copper at this tyme is exceeding deare, and a greate quantity will vend. Considering, therefore, the losse that Your Honours have in sylver, please you to send out a quantity … Wee offer this, because the Kinge and Governour of the place, with the roguery of the shroffes, in the abasing of sylver is apparent; and when it cometh out in ingotts, the shroffes will cozen notoriously, and there is no remedy for it."|
|"The English Factories in India: 1661-1664" (1923)|
|p24: [Response to a letter from the Company in London (advising of financial difficulties which would require economies, including the closure of nearly all inland offices, and reduction of household expenditure); from the President, at Surat, 7 Dec 1661] "… noe country under the sunn hath the same plenty in one yeare as another. … the two yeares past, never corne was soe deare, but only in a great famine 40 yeares since, we say, as the two yeares past; and not only corne, but all other provisions, caused by little raine. … we humbly conceive that noe servants in England, of our quality, eate their victualls in feare of an after reckoning; espetially when we neither feast it nor feed on dainty's but plaine food. And to plead a little for ourselves, and satisfye the curious, tis but rice, mutton, beefe, and henns; nothing elce …"|
p159: [Editor's summary of letter to the agency at Madras from the Company in London, 10 Nov 1661] "… the calicoes procured at Viravasaram and Masulipatam were pronounced to be 'exceeding badd' and 'meere raggs', besides being short in length and breadth. The famine then [i.e. around the beginning of 1661, when the goods were dispatched from India] raging in those parts was admitted to be some excuse, but better cloth must be sent in future."
p57: [Report from Madras, to the Company in London, 15 Jan 1762] "To make an investment in peetre [=saltpetre] att Metchlepatam is alltogether frustrated by the late famine, that hath undone all the poore workmen."
|B.L. Bhadani, "Economic Conditions in Marwar in the Second Half of the 17th Century" (PhD thesis, 1981)|
|p105: "The revenue figures of 1657-58 also suggest a severe famine in Marwar. [Footnote: refers to a table on p70, based on the "Marwar-ra-Pargana-ri-Vigat" and "Khyat" by Muhta Nainsi, giving Marwar revenue figures of 804,937 Rupees in 1656; 781,828 Rs. in 1657; 519,743 Rs. in 1658] The Jain traveller also noted this year as that of a dreadful famine in the whole of Rajasthan. In the year 1658-59 crops were destroyed by excessive rains. Due to the famine in these three years (1658-60) there was a great scarcity of grain in the whole of Rajasthan. The Jain traveller writes that even the sahs (bankers), let alone the common masses also, gave away their children to the saints (to be fed by begging?). [Source: Jai Chand [aka Shri Jaichand], ed. Muni Kanti Sagar, "Saiki" (1963) pp11-12]|