Also called the “Southern India Famine”, this famine began in 1876 and affected southern and south-western regions of India, including Madras and Bombay. Lasting for two years, the latter half saw the famine conditions spread to other regions of the country, spreading almost all the way north to Punjab.
Spanning across 670,000 square kilometers, the Great Famine is thought to have killed approximately 5.5 million people. Thought to have resulted from an intense drought which led to acute crop failure in the Deccan Plateau, the Great Famine was the first of the three famines to have afflicted the Indian population during Queen Victoria’s rule, and came in the wake of the Bihar Famine of 1873-74. The commodification of grain and the cultivation of alternative cash crops during the period are also believed to have played a part in causing the famine, along with the export of grain by the colonial government: in fact, then-Viceroy Lord Lytton is believed to have overseen the export of 325 million kilograms of wheat to England while the Indian population was under the ravages of the deadly famine.
Conditions had become so abysmal that people resorted to selling their children in exchange for food, and some were reduced even to cannibalism. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria had been crowned Empress of India, and a grand celebration was underway, with over 60,000 guests and exquisite food and wine.
In the wake of the Great Famine, The Famine Commission of 1880 was drafted, following which the Provisional Famine Code was adopted in British India in 1883, which required the government to take certain steps during a famine, which went a long way in rectifying the problem.
The pictures you see below are those that were taken during the Great Madras Famine of those that were amongst the most affected by the terrible conditions. They may be slightly disturbing, but to several people, they were reality.