There exists an uneasy alliance between science and politics. When governments adopt certain policies they seek an ideological basis and it has its uses to give them an air of credibility and convince the world that they are the vehicles for progress whichever way you may interpret the term. On looking back however we find such mixture without exception tends to create monsters instead. Firstly ideology of politics adopting latest advances in technology is from above. There may be several scientific advisors in the panel the government inducts in order to formulate a policy but politics shall in the end determine the course. Look at the ideology of “eugenics” to describe the modern concept of improving the quality of human beings born into the world, It was Francis Galton’s brain child who however borrowed his half-cousin Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution, which sought to explain the development of plant and animal species, and desired to apply it to humans. Galton believed that desirable traits were hereditary based on biographical studies; Darwin strongly disagreed with his interpretation of the book. In 1883, one year after Darwin’s death, Galton gave his research a name: eugenics. Throughout its recent history, eugenics has remained a controversial concept. Eugenic policies were first implemented in the early 1900s in the United States. It has roots in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Later, in the 1920s and 30s, the eugenic policy of sterilizing certain mental patients was implemented in other countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Sweden.
In the mid-19th Century, it was common economic wisdom that government intervention in famines was unnecessary and even harmful. The market would restore a proper balance. Any excess deaths, according to Malthusian principles, were nature’s way of responding to overpopulation.
This logic had been used with devastating effect two decades beforehand in Ireland, where the government in Britain had, for the most part, decided that no relief was the best relief.
The Great Famine in Ireland began as a natural catastrophe of extraordinary magnitude, but its effects were severely worsened by the actions and inactions of the Whig government, headed by Lord John Russell in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852.
Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55). Comparison with other modern and contemporary famines establishes beyond any doubt that the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times.
The government might have prohibited the export of grain from Ireland, especially during the winter of 1846-47 and early in the following spring, when there was little food in the country and before large supplies of foreign grain began to arrive. Once there was sufficient food in the country (imported Indian corn or maize), from perhaps the beginning of 1848, the government could have taken steps to ensure that this imported food was distributed to those in greatest need. Second, the government could have continued its so-called soup-kitchen scheme for a much longer time. It was in effect for only about six months, from March to September 1847. As many as three million people were fed daily at the peak of this scheme in July 1847. The scheme was remarkably inexpensive and effective. It should not have been dismantled after only six months and in spite of the enormous harvest deficiency of 1847.
Third, the wages that the government paid on its vast but short-lived public works in the winter of 1846-47 needed to be much higher if those toiling on the public works were going to be able to afford the greatly inflated price of food. Fourth, the poor-law system of providing relief, either within workhouses or outside them, a system that served as virtually the only form of public assistance from the autumn of 1847 onwards, needed to be much less restrictive. All sorts of obstacles were placed in the way, or allowed to stand in the way, of generous relief to those in need of food. This was done in a horribly misguided effort to keep expenses down and to promote greater self-reliance and self-exertion among the Irish poor. (The Irish Famine- By Jim Donnelly/BBC history)
Despite of being aware of consequences the British government 150 years ago let Orissa suffer a similar catastrophe. Famine, while no stranger to the subcontinent, increased in frequency and deadliness with the advent of British colonial rule. As a background to this we need to understand how the East India Company helped kill off India’s once-robust textile industries, pushing more and more people into agriculture. This, in turn, made the Indian economy much more dependent on the whims of seasonal monsoons.
One hundred and fifty years ago, as is the case with today’s drought, a weak monsoon appeared as the first ill omen.
In modern-day Orissa state, the worst hit region, one out of every three people perished, a mortality rate far more staggering than that caused by the Irish Potato Famine. Yet the Orissa famine killed over a million people in eastern India.
On a flying visit to Orissa in February 1866, Cecil Beadon, the colonial governor of Bengal (which then included Orissa), staked out a similar position. “Such visitations of providence as these no government can do much either to prevent or alleviate,” he pronounced.
‘Too late, too rotten’
Regulating the skyrocketing grain prices would risk tampering with the natural laws of economics. “If I were to attempt to do this,” the governor said, “I should consider myself no better than a dacoit or thief.” With that, Mr Beadon deserted his emaciated subjects in Orissa and returned to Kolkata (Calcutta) and busied himself with quashing privately funded relief efforts.
In May 1866, it was no longer easy to ignore the mounting catastrophe in Orissa. British administrators in Cuttack found their troops and police officers starving. The remaining inhabitants of Puri were carving out trenches in which to pile the dead. “For miles round you heard their yell for food,” commented one observer. The Orissa famine also became an important turning point in India’s political development, stimulating nationalist discussions on Indian poverty. Faint echoes of these debates still resonate today amid drought-relief efforts.
Malthusian principle dictates war as a necessary means to control all unequal demands of population explosion in the face of dwindling food reserves. Nature must have had her last laugh at the British Imperial pretensions by leading them down the primrose path of colonialism and two great wars gave their comeuppance at last.
Ack: (Viewpoint: How British let one million Indians die in famine By Dinyar Patel
/11 June,2016; wikipedia-eugenics)