29 SEPTEMBER 1866, Page 9


THE horrible part of this Orissa famine is that it creates no horror. .11 any one wants to understand the root evil of foreign domination, let him read the excellent letter from Cal- cutta published in the Times of the 21st inst., and remember that it has produced less sensation in England than the starva- tion of any poor old woman in Bethnal Green. The writer states on official authority that in a province which we have owned for sixty years, and in three counties which we have governed for a hundred, throughout Orissa, and Midnapore, and Bala,sore, and Jelasore, and part even of Nuddea, men are dying of hunger in crowds. Nine hundred dead bodies were, the correspondent affirms, picked up in one day in the streets of Balasore. Even if the figure given is a mistake for ninety it is horrible enough to justify insurrection against the Government which, being sole landlord, could yet allow things to arrive at such a pass. Twenty thousand persons have fled out of the suffering districts to the capital, there to be fed in crowds by the gentry, who, thrifty to meanness in aught else, think misfortune would follow them if they turned away an applicant for food. They give it in doles at the gates as the convents used to do in Europe, the crowd of starving people is swollen by all the beggars for miles around, the mob waits often for hours, the distributors are too few, and there ensues a mad stampede, amid which men are thrown down, women trampled, babies crushed, while in front the donors' servants ply their clubs remorselessly to reduce the half mad mob, pushing, fighting, screaming, and blaspheming, into something like manageable order. Thirty-two paupers were killed in one rush in one day, and their deaths recorded in a line or two of the local papers as a passing incident. Half the day wasted in obtaining the dole, the naked, shivering wretches shuffle away to the plain, where a camp has been formed for them, a camp of sheds, where, under the pitiless down-pour of the Bengal rains, with no water but what they obtain from the ditches, no spirits or medicine, half suffocated in their own ordure, the " starvelings " await that awful burst of cholera by which, as sure as the rains must end, they will sooner or later be cleared away from Calcutta. Yet these poor wretches are lucky, if it is lucky to keep alive under circumstances like theirs. Hundreds perish in the flight to their only refuge. It is not impossible that the number given as picked up in Delmore refers to a collection of such refugees waiting for boats, or food, or death, sleeping in the mud, and drinking polluted water, utterly without stamina to resist the low fever or racking diarrhoea which under such circumstances fastens on every Bengalee, and the best protection against which would be the spirits most of them will not drink and none of them can buy. At the great ferry Ooloobariah eight or ten bodies in a morning is a sight which moves no one, women die in the market under the relieving officers' eyes, in- spector and police "looking on in stolid indifference," or rather in a state of mortal fear lest they should be called on to defile their ceremonial purity by touching a dead body. That is one of the many incidental horrors of such a scene in Bengal. Only one caste can touch a corpse, its members are few, generally one or two families per village, no one else can be bribed or compelled to do the work, and when the pesti- lence makes the labour too great or strikes the domes them- selves, the bodies must either be left in the street or pushed with long poles into the nearest ditch, to poison the atmosphere for miles. The scenes in the interior under these circum- stances must be unspeakably horrible, for flight is almost impossible. The people are absolutely 'dependent on their crops. They have scarcely any external trade, except in the rice which has failed them, very little currency, heavy debts, and no habit of thrift. As long as the crops last, and the cattle can be fed, they are comfortable, but when they fail, and, as sometimes happens, for two years in succession the sky is brass and the earth iron, the distress is as that of the Israelites in the Desert. First, the forage goes, and the cattle, to the ruin of cultivation, and not to the relief of the people, for the cattle plough, and the villagers cannot eat beef. Then the " muhajun," or grain-dealer's store, the only reserve in the village, empties itself, after the villagers have plunged irre- trievably in debt to him for food, then the seed corn goes, and then—then there is death. There is no poor law, no means of supplying food if there were. People cannot eat rupees, even were the payers not as completely ruined as the receivers. Rice can with difficulty be landed on the coast, but no exertion will distribute it through a country as large as Ireland, without roads, with a soil in which a cart sinks to the axle, with dying cattle, and with no trustworthy agency. Remember with what difficulty we, with our boundless wealth and civilized appliances, kept the population of Ireland alive, and imagine that difficulty intensified by the absence of Euro- peans, of transport cattle, of roads, of any means whatever of distinguishing between just and unjust claims. The native gentry are crushed like the peasants, for they have no rents, and money will not buy food, the Europeans are half-a-score in number, and if they were a thousand could not make rice ; there is nothing for the villager in the interior but flight, and flight is too often merely a slower death. The unhappy wretch, accompanied by a mother who never walked five miles, and who shakes with fear at every rustle of the trees, followed by a wife who has borne five children before she is eighteen, and carrying perhaps three, certainly two children, has to walk in his exhausted state over hills and through jungle, across deep ravines and under the blinding tropical rain, perhaps a hundred miles to the coast. First, one child' falls, then another, then the third is thrown away, then the old mother lies down to die, as the Times describes, and even thus lightened the journey cannot be done under five, six, or seven days, all passed without shelter, and without sleep, save such as can be had under the never ending, drifting, blinding, maddening rain,—rain which comes down as if it had volition, rain such as floods a whole district, or system of districts, in a night. That is a week of grass or jungle leaves. If he had a bag of rice left the peasant would' not abandon his home, there is none to be got by the way, and unless he is fortunate enough to catch fish, he lives like the wild fowl or the ducks. Exhausted by utter fatigue, by a rain to which he is as susceptible as an English fine lady, by hunger, and by the diarrhoea which in the East follows fatigue, he• adds one, or two, if his wife has survived, to the crowd in the station, camped in the mud, beaten by the police,—who are not exactly inhuman, but are at their wits' end to enforce order, and fall back on violence,—without shelter, without spirits, in the • end without food, for the supplies often break down, and the wretches fly on again, dropping at the ferry, dropping on the desolate jungle road to Calcutta, dropping in the pauper camp, and the mad crushes to obtain the day's meal. To all who know Orissa there are suggestions of misery in those few statistics of the Times' correspondent such as would make them sick with pity and fear, but that the Anglo-Indian, like' the Anglo-American, never does and never can realize to him--- self the misery of a dark race as he can that of a white one. He will do anything to relieve it, as he would to relieve ar. horse or a favourite dog, and he is the most liberal of mankind, giving from a sense of atonement as well as carelessness of money, but he has the capacity of driv- ing the horror from his mind as he could not drive the sufferings of his own people. If he sees a boat-load of natives drowning, as boat-loads drown every pilgrim season at the ferries, he risks his life to help them ; but if he fails he goes to dinner with a passing regret, but no more permanent emotion than he gets from studying the "wreck of the Medusa" in the Louvre. The local Government acts just in that spirit,—gives money, sends rice, offers employment, but does not throw itself into that fury of effort which it would do were the white community, for example, starving ; pities and relieves where relief is easy, but does not use the intense exertion necessary to reach the interior, and goes quietly out of the scene of suffering to its cool lounge among the hills, where desk work can be done as easily as in Calcutta, but where personal leadership in the work of saving the people is impossible.

Where is the remedy for a horror of this kind, a horror which has recurred three times in twelve years? We confess we know of none which is at once possible and will act rapidly. Money could be sent out perhaps in time to meet pestilence, but ten sharp lines from Lord Cranborne to the local Government would have twenty times the effect in pro- ducing alike energy and funds. Irrigation, as usual, is pro- nounced the panacea, and doubtless irrigation is beneficial, but it must be preceded by a perpetual settlement, or the people will see in it very wisely a perpetual excuse for the exaction of more rent. The fear of a rise even now has stopped all the works the people could have done themselves, wells, and water- courses, and tanks for storage, and theLieutenant-Governor him- self told the people the fear was just, for the assessment must be raised. Who is going to spend borrowed money in producing more corn, if the moment he has done it that is an excuse for increasing a rental levied not by distraint, but by deprivation of the estate ? But if English speculators and philanthropists imagine it easy to irrigate a country as large as Ireland, or with a thin population to get a heavy profit out of the work, they are under a delusion from which their first dividends will wake them very unpleasantly. As means of communication the canals might be made absolutely invaluable, but they would not pay, except on a vast scale and after years of wait- ing, and if Government undertakes them it must make them for India, instead of Orissa only, and not unnaturally shrinks from a task to which all existing efforts would be trivial. Roads would be beneficial in Orissa, and so would harbours, and light tramways, and, perhaps more than all except harbours, which are grievously required to allow of trade, canals, but the Government of India is overweighted, and shrinks appalled from new toils. It has a continent to govern, and is asked also to make its water-courses. With a revenue half that of France it has had to build railways over a territory as large as Europe west of the Vistula, and is now required to carry out by guarantees a system of irrigation, in which, if it is properly done, that of Lombardy would be a scarcely appreciable corner. It must be done no doubt, at least in districts liable to famine, but anybody who supposes it can be readily done, without long consideration, intense effort, the creation of huge departments whose work will last through years and extend over great kingdoms, knows nothing whatever of the necessities of India. The element of vastness there crushes effort by appalling the imagination. Every province is a kingdom, every parish a county, every scarcity a famine covering whole races, till the strongest men give up in despair, or, as in Orissa, set in motion what small machinery there is at hand, and there leave it. Effective relief in Orissa would have required an army of distributors and the expenditure of a campaign, and the Government shrinks. All there is to do is to urge on all means of commu- nication, so that at least one province may not starve while another frets over wheat rotting for want of means of export, to make what railways we can, cut what canals we can, and choose governors who recognize that famine in a great province should be met, like an invasion, by personal appearance in the field. If we have a clear duty towards the natives of India, keeping them alive is one, and this duty has in the case of Orissa certainly not been performed. Ninety bodies in Bala- sore streets picked up in one day, all bodies of people dead of starvation ! British rule in India is not yet perfect while such things can be, and England not complain.