1. The Bengal Famine of 1769-70
In seventeen sixty-five Britain took control
Of the regions of Bihar, Orissa, and Bengal.
To the east Burma lay, where dense forest grows,
Beyond the fertile plains on which the Ganges flows.
In the lands of Bengal, so rich in grain,
Farmers lives depended upon the monsoon rain.
The great river’s floods brought a rich harvest,
Contented was Bengal, at peace and at rest.
But look how, alas, the great famine steals all,
That dread year not a drop of rain did fall.
Still, in just two decades after seventeen sixty-five
Bengal revenues tripled, the Company thrived.
Our own Midnapur did they brutally abuse,
Said the English Judge himself, blunt in his views!
In seventeenth sixty-nine, in Bengal drought abides,
Green fields turned to straw, Hunter Sahib describes.
Abandoned land, so many lay dead;
So many in tears to Nepal had fled.
The very devil was this famine, sheerest hell;
As poems, and lays, and witnesses tell:
“Rivers and streams all withered and parched,
Starving millions to hell have marched.
All our rice is in the market sold,
Ensures Reza Khan, corrupt and bold.
Monopoly thrives, prices touch the skies,
The famine of 1770 our soul terrifies.
Man and wife forsake their child compelled by hungry need,
Many starve or fall upon filthy scraps to feed.”
Rents eked out though doom impend,
Rose tenfold next year; famine didn’t end.
Living on leaves and grass, no respite at all,
Some men upon human flesh must fall.
When small pox struck, thousands dying lay,
Wild animals stalked and mangled their prey.
Blessed rain next year renewed the land,
But scarce could one find a farming hand.
Hunger is a burning hell that few comprehend,
Some farmers left home, to be hermits they pretend.
Bands of hermits and fakirs now roamed Bengal and beyond,
Some set aside begging to steal and abscond.
Starvation thus marred the Company’s success,
Governor-General Shore himself did confess:
Twisted bodies dying, he saw, with hollow eyes and face,
Pictures no pen could write, only memory trace.
Despairing cries and tortured groans did he hear,
As jackals and dogs human bodies did tear;
Mothers howling by infant’s agonies pained,
Years rolled past, yet upon his heart, the burden remained