There is no doubt that the British gave India many gifts for being part of their Empire. The most notable of course being the English language. However, there is equally no doubt that British policies directly or indirectly led to the death of crores of Indians, mostly from starvation. Flawed agricultural policies, forced conversion of land from food cultivation to cash crop cultivation, excessive taxation, plain old incompetence and a level of disinterest which chills the blood all led to this holocaust.
There were three major famines during Queen Victoria's reign over this country as Empress of India from 1876 to 1901. Yes, only 25 years of time. And the first of these was the great Madras Famine of 1876-78. The result of crop failure, this famine starved to death some 55 lakh Indians. And this is the British estimate. It began in what is today Tamil Nadu, before spreading to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharastra and parts of Uttar Pradesh.
During this famine, the British continued to export record tons of food from India, tried to spend as little as possible (which was official policy) and perhaps most disturbingly, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy, held a grand banquet for 60,000 people, in honour of Queen Victoria's coronation.
They did try to provide relief, and millions were saved through some action. However millions died, and would do so in waves over and over again until finally the British, after one last famine in 1943, finally left this country.
There has never been any answer from the British for the actions of Lord Lytton, and many like him. And we will never know the pain of an India where 55 lakh human beings starved to death. But these pictures, taken by the English Colonel Willoughby Wallace Hooper, give a glimpse into that savage time.
Photograph by Willoughby Wallace Hooper (1876-1879)
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