User:Fowler&fowler/Issues in Grove's paper Great El Niño of 1789–93

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Map of India in 1795 showing British administered territories in pink. The Doji bara famine affected Hyderabad (Nizam's territories in map), Southern Maratha Kingdom, Deccan, Gujarat (see region around Ahamedabad in map), and Marwar (southern Rajputana in map), then all ruled by Indian rulers. In regions such as the Madras Presidency (governed by the East India Company), where the famine was less severe, and where records were kept, half the population perished in some districts, such as in the Northern Circars.

Groves' paper:

is the only paper on the Doji bara famine that discusses mortality statistics. The Doji bara famine, moreover, predates any censuses of British India (which began in 1871). Consequently, Grove's mortality statistics are based on methods that involve extrapolation from very small samples and which are not entirely rigorous. Moreover, Grove is an environmental historian, not a historian of colonial India, and consequently, not necessarily a reliable source on assigning political blame. The subject of this subpage is one sentence in Grove:

The mortality of the 1790s famines must be blamed on the British, who had a responsibility to provide alternative famine foods when the main rice crop failed.

Cherry picking isolated sentences in the one and only paper on a topic (involving less than rigorous methods) is WP:UNDUE. As Jimbo Wales himself says, "If a viewpoint is held by an extremely small (or vastly limited) minority, it does not belong in Wikipedia regardless of whether it is true or not and regardless of whether you can prove it or not, except perhaps in some ancillary article." In this case, Grove is the only author that has blamed the British, and that too only for not providing relief from the famine, not for causing the famine. In the "Examples and errors" section below, I point out some errors in Grove's paper.

Other critiques[edit]

  • Grove's assessment of an exceptional El Nino related drought in India has been challenged by a recent article in Science. (See Science 23 April 2010: Vol. 328 no. 5977 pp. 486-489 "Asian Monsoon Failure and Megadrought During the Last Millennium" by Edward R. Cook et al.) Say the authors:

    The East India drought (Fig. 2C) of 1790 to 1796 occurred during the great El Niño of the late 18th century, which was felt worldwide and resulted in widespread civil unrest and socioeconomic turmoil around the globe (12). Much has been made of this drought’s effect in India, with several references to severe famine there (12), but the MADA (Monsoon Asia Drought Atlas) does not suggest that it was any more severe over India than the other droughts highlighted here. Although this could be due to limited tree-ring coverage in India itself (Fig. 1B), the reconstructions over nearly all of the Indian subcontinent have significant validation skill (1) (fig. S7), and its more extreme occurrence in the southernmost part of India and near Sri Lanka (Fig. 2C) is consistent with historical data from those regions (22). It is therefore possible that this drought was not uniformly severe over India and that other nonclimatic factors may have contributed to the severity of the societal consequences (12). Indeed, the snow accumulation record from the Dasuopo ice core record (23) directly above northeastern India reveals a highly variable accumulation during this time. This suggests that the summer monsoon in that part of India was not uniformly weak during the East India drought. In contrast, the same ice core indicates more persistently below-average snow accumulation during the Strange Parallels drought period (24), consistent with our reconstruction that shows this earlier event to be more prolonged and severe. Dust and geochemical analysis of the Dasuopo record has been interpreted as evidence for severe drought in the late 18th century (23), but our atlas also indicates severe droughts to the west and north of the Himalayas, which could have been a source for dust accumulation at the ice core site during the winter monsoon. These observations demonstrate the utility of the MADA’s full-field drought reconstruction feature for interpreting other point-based estimates of past hydroclimatic variability. (Reference "12" is Grove.)

Examples of errors[edit]

  • "One year, 1783, which brought famine to almost all India, was memorialised in popular culture throughout India under the name of the ‘’chalisa’’. The word itself, which emphatically associates the Hindi number ‘forty’ with a particular variety of famine, may suggest a characteristic return interval of 40–50 years for severe droughts, an interval which is, very roughly, borne out in reality during the Little Ice Age." (Grove, page 80)
    • This, unfortunately, is completely off the mark. Chalisa (literally, "of the fortieth" in Hindustani) refers to the Vikram Samvat calendar year 1840 (1783). (See Wikipedia page Chalisa famine or Bayly, C. A. (2002), Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion 1770–1870, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pp. 530, ISBN 0195663454  (page 503). Similarly, the Agra famine of 1837–38 came to be known in folk memory as chauranvee, (Hindi, literally, "of ninety four,") for the year 1894 in the Samvat calendar corresponding to the year 1838 CE. (See Sharma, Sanjay (1993), "The 1837–38 famine in U.P.: Some dimensions of popular action", Indian Economic and Social History Review, 30 (3): 337–372, doi:10.1177/001946469303000304  page 340)
  • "The mortality of the 1790s famines must be blamed on the British, who had a responsibility to provide alternative famine foods when the main rice crop failed." (Grove, page 83)
    • The Doji bara famine occurred in Hyderabad, Southern Maratha Kingdom, Deccan, Gujarat, and Marwar, then all ruled by Indian rulers. (See map; please notice the lack of almost any overlap (except for some regions in the Madras presidency) between areas affected by the Doji bara famine and the areas under East India Company rule.). In regions such as the Madras Presidency (governed by the Company), where the famine was less severe, and where records were kept, half the population perished in some districts, such as in the Northern Circars. In all these regions, the staple crop was not rice, but rather millets. (See below)
      • According to Encyclopedia Britannica (1910), “Taking India as a whole, the staple food grain is neither rice nor wheat, but millets, which are probably the most prolific grain in the world, and the best adapted to the vicissitudes of a tropical climate. Excluding the special rice-growing tracts, different kinds of millet are grown more extensively than any other crop from Madras in the south at least as far as Rajputana in the north. The ‘’sorghum’’ or great millet, generally known as ‘’jowar’’ or ‘’cholum’’ is the staple grain crop of southern India. The spiked millet, known as ‘’bajra’’ or ‘’cumbu’’, which yields a poorer food, is grown on dry sandy soil in the Deccan and the Punjab. A third sort of millet, ‘’ragi’’ or ‘’marua’’, is cultivated chiefly in Madras and Bengal. There are also other kinds, which are included as a rule under the general head of “other food grains.’’ Millet crops are grown for the most part on unirrigated land. In the Bombay Deccan districts they cover generally upwards of 60% of the grain area, or even larger proportion in years of drought. In Gujarat about half the grain area is under millets or maize in ordinary years. That grain is consumed almost entirely in India, though a small amount is exported.”
      • According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India: In 1903–1904, the areas in square miles under principal crops in the major provinces were:
        • Madras: Rice (12,935), Millets and pulses (25,034).
        • Bombay: Rice (3,825), Millets and Pulses (26,582),
        • United Provinces: Rice: 9,435, Wheat (12,210), Millets and Pulses (26,895);
        • Punjab: Rice (1,075), Wheat (12,215), Millets and Pulses (13,355);
        • Central Provinces and Berar: Rice (7,014), Wheat (5,273), Millets and Pulses (17,018).
        • Bengal Presidency: Rice (54,535), Wheat (2,357), Millets and Pulses (12,413)
        • Total for India (including other province): Rice (109,600), Wheat (36,861), Millets and Pulses (124,786)
      • Thus, the only region where more rice was grown (than millets) was the Bengal presidency, which, however, was not affected by the Doji bara famine. If the rice crop had failed (as stated by Grove), it should not have affected the areas affected by the Doji bara famine, since the staples in the affected areas (by a large margin) were millets and pulses, which are also more successful during droughts (as the Britannica article above states). But since the famine mortality was high (11 million according to Grove), millets and pulses must have failed as well. In which case, what other famine foods could the British have provided? Wheat from the Punjab? But Punjab didn't grow much of anything in those days (1791); it was ruled by the Afghan Durrani empire. It became the breadbasket of India much later (after the British acquired it in 1846 and built canals there in the second half of the 19th century). I'm afraid Grove has made a boo-boo. It is possible he has confused all of India with British India and is really only blaming the British for the mortality in the Northern Circars region (see map).
  • "The 1768–70 droughts and famines were a profound blow not only to the system of revenue but to the whole rationale of empire. As such they provided the impetus for the evolution of a famine policy. Under immediate devastating circumstances, Warren Hastings carried out the orders of the Company, ‘standing forth as diwan ' (Hunter 1897: 392) [chief state officer] in 1772, ending the dual system and placing responsibility for the security, administration and economy of Bengal squarely on the Company’s shoulders." (Grove, p. 79)
    • The diwan was not the Chief State Officer, but rather the Chief Revenue Officer. Grove seems to think that standing forth as diwan was enough for ending the dual system.
      • In fact, the full quote from Hunter says something different: "(In 1765) The provinces of Allahabad and Kora, forming the lower part of the Doab, were handed over to Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor, who in his turn granted to the Company the Diwani or fiscal administration of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, together with the Northern Circars of Madras. A puppet Nawab was still maintained at Murshidabad, with an annual allowance of 53 lakhs of rupees. Half that amount, or about 26 lakhs, was paid to the emperor as tribute from Bengal. Thus was constituted the dual system of government, by which the English received the revenues of Bengal and undertook to maintain the army, while the criminal jurisdiction, or Nizaamat, was vested in the Nawab. In Indian phraseology, the Company was Diwan and the Nawab was Nazim. The actual collection of the revenues remained in the hands of native officials till 1772. … Warren Hastings, a tried servant of the Company, distinguished alike for intelligence, for probity, and for knowledge of Oriental character, was nominated Governor of Bengal by the Court of Directors in 1772, with instructions to carry out a predetermined series of reforms. In their own words, the Court had resolved to ‘stand forth as Diwan, and to take upon themselves, by the agency of their own servants, the entire care and administration of revenues.’ In the execution of this plan, Hastings removed the exchequer to Calcutta from Murshidabad, which up to that time had remained the revenue head-quarters of Bengal. He also appointed European officers, under the now familiar title of Collectors, to superintend the revenue collection and to preside over the courts."