Timeline of major famines in India during British rule

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Engraving from The Graphic, October 1877, showing the plight of animals as well as humans in Bellary district, Madras Presidency, British India during the Great Famine of 1876–78.

This is a timeline of major famines on the Indian subcontinent during the years of British rule in India from 1765 to 1947. The famines included here occurred both in the princely states (regions administered by Indian rulers) and British India (regions administered either by the British East India Company from 1765 to 1857, or by the British Crown, in the British Raj, from 1858 to 1947). The year 1765 is chosen as the start year because that year the British East India Company, after its victory in the Battle of Buxar, was granted the Diwani (rights to land revenue) in the region of Bengal (although it would not directly administer Bengal until 1784 when it was granted the Nizamat, or control of law and order.) The year 1947 is the year in which the British Raj was dissolved and the new successor states of Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan were born.


Children rescued by Arya Samaj in 1908 Indian famine
Chronological list of famines in India between 1765 and 1947[1]
Year Name of famine (if any) British territory Indian kingdoms/Princely states Mortality
1769–70 Great Bengal Famine Bihar, Northern and Central Bengal 10 million[2] (about one third of the then population of Bengal).[3]
1782–83 Madras city and surrounding areas Kingdom of Mysore See below.
1783–84 Chalisa famine Delhi, Western Oudh, Eastern Punjab region, Rajputana, and Kashmir Severe famine. Large areas were depopulated. Up to 11 million people may have died during the years 1782–84.[4]
1791–92 Doji bara famine or Skull famine Madras Presidency Hyderabad, Southern Maratha country, Deccan, Gujarat, and Marwar One of the most severe famines known. People died in such numbers that they could not be cremated or buried. It is thought that 11 million people may have died during the years 1788–94.[5]
1837–38 Agra famine of 1837–38 Central Doab and trans-Jumna districts of the North-Western Provinces (later Agra Province), including Delhi and Hissar 800,000.[6]
1860–61 Upper Doab famine of 1860–61 Upper Doab of Agra; Delhi and Hissar divisions of the Punjab Eastern Rajputana 2 million.[6]
1865–67 Orissa famine of 1866 Orissa (also 1867) and Bihar; Bellary and Ganjam districts of Madras 1 million (814,469 in Orissa, 135,676 in Bihar and 10,898 in Ganjam)[7]
1868–70 Rajputana famine of 1869 Ajmer, Western Agra, Eastern Punjab Rajputana 1.5 million (mostly in the princely states of Rajputana)[8]
1873–74 Bihar famine of 1873–74 Bihar An extensive relief effort was organized by the Bengal government. There were little to none significant mortalities during the famine.[9]
1876–78 Great Famine of 1876–78 (also Southern India famine of 1876–78) Madras and Bombay Mysore and Hyderabad 5.5 million in British territory.[6] Mortality unknown for princely states. Total famine mortality estimates vary from 6.1 to 10.3 million.[10]
1888–89 Ganjam, Orissa and North Bihar 150,000 deaths in Ganjam. Deaths were due to starvation as famine relief was not provided in time.[11]
1896–97 Indian famine of 1896–97 Madras, Bombay Deccan, Bengal, United Provinces, Central Provinces Northern and eastern Rajputana, parts of Central India and Hyderabad 5 million in British territory.[6]
1899–1900 Indian famine of 1899–1900 Bombay, Central Provinces, Berar, Ajmer Hyderabad, Rajputana, Central India, Baroda, Kathiawar, Cutch, 1 million (in British territories).[6] Mortality unknown for princely states.
1905–06 Bombay Bundelkhand 235,062 in Bombay (of which 28,369 attributed to Cholera). Mortality unknown for Bundelkhand.[12]
1943–44 Bengal famine of 1943 Bengal 1.5 million from starvation; 3.5 million including deaths from epidemics.[12]




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  • Bhatia, B. M. (1991), Famines in India: A Study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India With Special Reference to Food Problem, 1860–1990, Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division. Pp. 383, ISBN 81-220-0211-0 
  • The Cambridge economic history of India, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1983, ISBN 978-0-521-22802-2 
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  • Dyson, Tim (1991), "On the Demography of South Asian Famines: Part I", Population Studies, Taylor & Francis, 45 (1): 5–25, doi:10.1080/0032472031000145056, JSTOR 2174991 
  • Dyson, Tim (1991), "On the Demography of South Asian Famines: Part II", Population Studies, Taylor & Francis, 45 (2): 279–297, doi:10.1080/0032472031000145446, JSTOR 2174784 
  • Dyson, Time (ed.) (1989), India's Historical Demography: Studies in Famine, Disease and Society, Riverdale MD: The Riverdale Company. Pp. ix, 296 
  • Famine Commission (1880), Report of the Indian Famine Commission, Part I, Calcutta 
  • Fieldhouse, David (1996), "For Richer, for Poorer?", in Marshall, P. J., The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 400, pp. 108–146, ISBN 0-521-00254-0 
  • Ghose, Ajit Kumar (1982), "Food Supply and Starvation: A Study of Famines with Reference to the Indian Subcontinent", Oxford Economic Papers, New Series, 34 (2): 368–389 
  • Government of India (1867), Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Enquire into the Famine in Bengal and Orissa in 1866, Volumes I, II, Calcutta 
  • O Grada, Cormac (1997), "Markets and famines: A simple test with Indian data", Economic Letters, 57: 241–244, doi:10.1016/S0165-1765(97)00228-0 
  • Grove, Richard H. (2007), "The Great El Nino of 1789–93 and its Global Consequences: Reconstructing an Extreme Climate Even in World Environmental History", The Medieval History Journal, 10 (1&2): 75–98, doi:10.1177/097194580701000203 
  • Hall-Matthews, David (2008), "Inaccurate Conceptions: Disputed Measures of Nutritional Needs and Famine Deaths in Colonial India", Modern Asian Studies, 42 (1): 1–24, doi:10.1017/S0026749X07002892 
  • Hardiman, David (1996), "Usuary, Dearth and Famine in Western India", Past and Present, 152: 113–156, doi:10.1093/past/152.1.113 
  • Hill, Christopher V. (1991), "Philosophy and Reality in Riparian South Asia: British Famine Policy and Migration in Colonial North India", Modern Asian Studies, 25 (2): 263–279, doi:10.1017/s0026749x00010672 
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  • Klein, Ira (August 1973), "Death in India, 1871-1921", The Journal of Asian Studies, Association for Asian Studies, 32 (4): 639–659, doi:10.2307/2052814, JSTOR 2052814 
  • McAlpin, Michelle B. (Autumn 1983), "Famines, Epidemics, and Population Growth: The Case of India", Journal of Interdisciplinary History, The MIT Press, 14 (2): 351–366, doi:10.2307/203709, JSTOR 203709 
  • McAlpin, Michelle B. (1979), "Dearth, Famine, and Risk: The Changing Impact of Crop Failures in Western India, 1870–1920", The Journal of Economic History, 39 (1): 143–157, doi:10.1017/S0022050700096352 
  • McGregor, Pat; Cantley, Ian (1992), "A Test of Sen's Entitlement Hypothesis", The Statistician, 41 (3 Special Issue: Conference on Applied Statistics in Ireland, 1991): 335–341, JSTOR 2348558 
  • Mellor, John W.; Gavian, Sarah (1987), "Famine: Causes, Prevention, and Relief", Science (New Series), 235 (4788): 539–545, doi:10.1126/science.235.4788.539, JSTOR 1698676 
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  • Stone, Ian, Canal Irrigation in British India: Perspectives on Technological Change in a Peasant Economy (Cambridge South Asian Studies), Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 389, ISBN 0-521-52663-9 

Epidemics and Public Health[edit]

  • Banthia, Jayant; Dyson, Tim (December 1999), "Smallpox in Nineteenth-Century India", Population and Development Review, Population Council, 25 (4): 649–689, doi:10.2307/172481, JSTOR 172481 
  • Caldwell, John C. (December 1998), "Malthus and the Less Developed World: The Pivotal Role of India", Population and Development Review, Population Council, 24 (4): 675–696, doi:10.2307/2808021, JSTOR 2808021 
  • Drayton, Richard (2001), "Science, Medicine, and the British Empire", in Winks, Robin, Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 264–276, ISBN 0-19-924680-7 
  • Derbyshire, I. D. (1987), "Economic Change and the Railways in North India, 1860-1914", Population Studies, 21 (3): 521–545, doi:10.2307/312641 
  • Klein, Ira (1988), "Plague, Policy and Popular Unrest in British India", Modern Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, 22 (4): 723–755, doi:10.2307/312523, JSTOR 312523 
  • Watts, Sheldon (1999), "British Development Policies and Malaria in India 1897-c. 1929", Past and Present (165): 141–181, doi:10.2307/651287 
  • Wylie, Diana (2001), "Disease, Diet, and Gender: Late Twentieth Century Perspectives on Empire", in Winks, Robin, Oxford History of the British Empire: Historiography, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 277–289, ISBN 0-19-924680-7 

See also[edit]