What is the cause of these famines, and this appalling increase in their number and destructiveness? The common answer is, the failure of the rains. But there seems to be no evidence that the rains fail worse now than they did a hundred years ago. Moreover, why should failure of rains bring famine? The rains have never failed over areas so extensive as to prevent the raising of enough food in the land to supply the needs of the entire population. Why then have people starved? Not because there was lack of food. Not because there was lack of food in the famine areas, brought by railways or otherwise within easy reach of all. There has always been plenty of food, even in the worst famine years, for those who have had money to buy it with, and generally food at moderate prices. Why, then, have all these millions of people perished? Because they were so indescribably poor. All candid and thorough investigation into the causes of the famines of India has shown that the chief and fundamental cause has been and is the poverty of the people,—a poverty so severe and terrible that it keeps the majority of the entire population on the very verge of starvation even in years of greatest plenty, prevents them from laying up anything against times of extremity, and hence leaves them, when their crops fail, absolutely undone—with nothing between them and death, unless some form of charity comes to their aid. Says Sir Charles Elliott long the Chief Commissioner of Assam, "Half the agricultural population do not know from one halfyear's end to another what it is to have a full meal." Says the Honorable G. K. Gokhale, of the Viceroy's Council,"From 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 of the people of India do not know what it is to have their hunger satisfied even once in a year."
And the people are growing poorer and poorer. The late Mr. William Digby, of London, long an Indian resident, in his recent book entitled "Prosperous" India,shows from official estimates and Parliamentary and Indian Blue Books, that, whereas the average daily income of the people of India in the year 1850 was estimated as four cents per person (a pittance on which one wonders that any human being can live), in 1882 it had fallen to three cents per person, and in 1900 actually to less than two cents per person. Is it any wonder that people reduced to such extremities as this can lay up nothing? Is it any wonder that when the rains do not come, and the crops of a single season fail, they are lost? And where is this to end? If the impoverishment of the people is to go on, what is there before them but growing hardship, multiplying famines, and increasing loss of life?
Here we get a glimpse of the real India. It is not the India which the traveler sees, following the usual routes of travel, stopping at the leading hotels conducted after the manner of London or Paris, and mingling with the English lords of the country. It is not the India which the British "point to with pride," and tell us about in their books of description and their official reports. This is India from the inside, the India of the people, of the men, women, and children, who were born there and die there, who bear the burdens and pay the taxes, and support the costly government carried on by foreigners, and do the starving when the famines come.
What causes this awful and growing impoverishment of the Indian people? Said John Bright, "If a country be found possessing a most fertile soil, and capable of bearing every variety of production, and, notwithstanding, the people are in a state of extreme destitution and suffering, the chances are there is some fundamental error in the government of that country."
One cause of India's impoverishment is heavy taxation. Taxation in England and Scotland is high, so high that Englishmen and Scotchmen complain bitterly. But the people of India are taxed more than twice as heavily as the people of England and three times as heavily as those of Scotland. According to the latest statistics at hand, those of 1905, the annual average income per person in India is about $6.00, and the annual tax per person about $2.00. Think of taxing the American people to the extent of one-third their total income! Yet such taxation here, unbearable as it would be, would not create a tithe of the suffering that it does in India, because incomes here are so immensely larger than there. Here it would cause great hardship, there it creates starvation.
Notice the single item of salt-taxation. Salt is an absolute necessity to the people, to the very poorest; they must have it or die. But the tax upon it which for many years they have been compelled to pay has been much greater than the cost value of the salt. Under this taxation the quantity of salt consumed has been reduced actually to one-half the quantity declared by medical authorities to be absolutely necessary for health. The mere suggestion in England of a tax on wheat sufficient to raise the price of bread by even a half-penny on the loaf, creates such a protest as to threaten the overthrow of ministries. Lately the salt-tax in India has been reduced, but it still remains well-nigh prohibitive to the poorer classes. With such facts as these before us, we do not wonder at Herbert Spencer's indignant protest against the "grievous salt-monopoly" of the Indian Government, and "the pitiless taxation which wrings from poor ryob nearly half the products of the soil."
Another cause of India's impoverishment is the destruction of her manufactures, as the result of British rule. When the British first appeared on the scene, India was one of the richest countries of the world; indeed it was her great riches that attracted the British to her shores. The source of her wealth was largely her splendid manufactures. Her cotton goods, silk goods, shawls, muslins of Dacca, brocades of Ahmedabad, rugs, pottery of Scind, jewelry, metal work, lapidary work, were famed not only all over Asia but in all the leading markets of Northern Africa and of Europe. What has become of those manufactures? For the most part they are gone, destroyed. Hundreds of villages and towns of India in which they were carried on are now largely or wholly depopulated, and millions of the people who were supported by them have been scattered and driven back on the land, to share the already too scanty living of the poor ryot. What is the explanation? Great Britain wanted India's markets. She could not find entrance for British manufactures so long as India was supplied with manufactures of her own. So those of India must be sacrificed. England had all power in her hands, and so she proceeded to pass tariff and excise laws that ruined the manufactures of India and secured the market for her own goods. India would have protected herself if she had been able, by enacting tariff laws favorable to Indian interests, but she had no power, she was at the mercy of her conqueror.
A third cause of India's impoverishment is the enormous and wholly unnecessary cost of her government. Writers in discussing the financial situation in India have often pointed out the fact that her government is the most expensive in the world. Of course the reason why is plain: it is because it is a government carried on not by the people of the soil, but by men from a distant country. These foreigners, having all power in their own hands, including power to create such offices as they choose and to attach to them such salaries and pensions as they see fit, naturally do not err on the side of making the offices too few or the salaries and pensions too small. Nearly all the higher officials throughout India are British. To be sure, the Civil Service is nominally open to Indians. But it is hedged about with so many restrictions (among others, Indian young men being required to make the journey of seven thousand miles from India to London to take their examinations) that they are able for the most part to secure only the lowest and poorest places. The amount of money which the Indian people are required to pay as salaries to this great army of foreign civil servants and appointed higher officials, and then, later, as pensions for the same, after they have served a given number of years in India, is very large. That in three-fourths if not nine-tenths of the positions quite as good service could be obtained for the government at a fraction of the present cost, by employing educated and competent Indians, who much better understand the wants of the country, is quite true. But that would not serve the purpose of England, who wants these lucrative offices for her sons. Hence poor Indian ryots must sweat and go hungry, and if need be starve, that an ever-growing army of foreign officials may have large salaries and fat pensions. And of course much of the money paid for these salaries, and practically all paid for the pensions, goes permanently out of India.