Scholarly article on topic 'Famines and Peasant Mobility: Changing Agrarian Structure in Kurnool District of Andhra, 1870-1900'

Famines and Peasant Mobility: Changing Agrarian Structure in Kurnool District of Andhra, 1870-1900 Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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Academic research paper on topic "Famines and Peasant Mobility: Changing Agrarian Structure in Kurnool District of Andhra, 1870-1900"

Famines and Peasant Mobility: Changing Agrarian Structure in Kurnool District of Andhra, 1870-1900


RBI Endowment Unit

Institute for Social and Economic Change,



Mortality crises such as famines and epidemics were a regular feature of nineteenth century Kurnool. Periodically they ravaged the population, leaving marks on its size and composition and also the agrarian structure. This district witnessed widespread famines in the years 1876-78, 1891-92, 1896-97 and 1900. The famine of 1876-78 devastated several parts of the Madras Presidency; the cultivated area declined by 22 per cent, 3.5 to 4 million people had perished and in as many as 1,136 villages, more than 40 per cent of the population was missing.1 The impact of these famines on the peasantry in Kurnool district was not only severe but also varied in its intensity across various strata of the peasantry.2

This paper, while analysing the changes in population and agrarian economy of the district during the period 1870-1900, brings out the impact of these famines on peasant mobility. It emphasises that the interaction of demographic and socioeconomic factors played a crucial role in bringing about long-term structural changes in a backward and stratified agrarian economy. This has been shown to take place in a manner that calls into

1 Report of the Famine Commission, Vol. 4, 1881, hereafter Report of the Famine Commission, p. 359.

2 At a macro level, Dharma Kumar argued that the agricultural labourers, tenants, small cultivators and weavers had suffered the most during the period of famine. Dharma Kumar, ed., The Cambridge Economic History of India, C.1757-C.1970, Vol. 2, New Delhi, 1984, p. 231.

Author's note: The paper benefited a great deal from the criticisms and suggestions of Dharma Kumar, Sakthi Padhi, Sumit Guha, G.N.Rao, Gita Sen, Chandan Mukherjee, Chiranjib Sen, T.K.Sundari and Mari Bhat. Namerta, Keshabhananda Das and G.Surekha were generous with their kind help. My sincere thanks to all of them.

The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 28, 2 (1991)

SAGE New Delhi/Newbury Park/London

question the orthodox Marxist as well as Chayanovian approaches which emphasise, in a deterministic fashion, one or the other set of factors.

The paper is presented in five sections. The first section discusses the analytical relationship between famines and peasant mobility. The second section provides a background to the agrarian economy of the district. The subsequent two sections analyse the impact of the 1876-78 famine on the population and agrarian economy of the district, respectively. The final section brings out the impact of famines on peasant mobility in the district.

Linkages between Famines and Peasant Mobility

Shanin's model on peasant mobility views famines as random factors. But 'the proximate cause of a famine might lie in some apparently unpredictable "natural disaster"... but these are no more than precipitating factors, intensifying or bringing to the fore a society's inner contradictions and inherent weaknesses, exposing an already extant vulnerability to food shortage and famine'.3 Some societies can pass through a prolonged drought without undergoing much suffering or loss of life, while others, subjected to a similar catastrophe, might experience mass starvation and high mortality. Thus, although a farrine has meaning and context as an 'event' in itself (to the extent that it can be distinguished from what precedes and what follows it), it is seldom an entirely isolated episode or a purely chance misfortune and, hence, it is both an event and structure.4 The famines are, therefore, not completely random and unpredictable occurrences and cannot be meaningfully studied in isolation from the socioeconomic structure of a specific society.

Although Shanin hypothesises that random factors (which include state policies, fluctuations in weather and market) would lead to multi-directional mobility,5 he does not provide us with any analytical relationship between random factors and peasant mobility.6

An understanding of the impact of famines on economic mobility requires an understanding of what causes a famine. Malthus treated famine as the last resort of nature in ensuring balance between population and resources.7

3 David Arnold, Famine: Social Crisis and Historical Change, Oxford and New York, 1988, hereafter Arnold. Famine, p. 7.

4 Ibid., pp. 6-11.

5 Teodor Shanin, The Awkward Class: Political Sociology of Peasantry in a Developing Society, Russia, 1910-29, Oxford, 1972, p. 115.

6 T.Cox, 'Awkward Class or Awkward Classes? Class Relations in the Russian Countryside Before Collectivization', Journal of Peasant Studies, 7, 1, 1975, p. 76.

7 T.R.Malthus, First Essay on Population, New York, 1965. Though Malthus later on switched from pessimism to preventive checks such as delayed marriages and so on, his theory is popular in explaining both the slow growth of population in the past [Emanuel Le Ray Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc, Urbana, 1974] and the rapid population growth in recent times after the subsistence crisis is overcome [K.F.Helleing, 'The Vital Revolution Reconsidered' in D.V.Glass and D.E.C. Eversely, ed., Population in History: Essays in Historical Demography, London, 1974, pp. 79-86].

Following the Malthusian logic, many scholars attributed famines to the decline in food availability. It is somewhat difficult to accept this approach in the light of recent theoretical and empirical works. First, Boserup argues that population pressure, rather than being a cause of demographic catastrophe, has been the driving force behind agricultural innovation and the greatest incentive for increased agrarian production.8Also, Malthus failed to foresee the potential growth of modern agriculture and industry. Second, as A.K.Sen argued, the food availability decline approach fails to take note of the distributional aspects or 'failure in peoples' entitlement to the food'.9 Notwithstanding the sceptical remarks on the novelty and wider application of Sen's argument10 and also the examples of famine in which food availability did decline11, his approach is extremely useful in understanding why some people would starve and perish in a region during a famine period, while others, in the same region, would live in comfort.

Let us see how a failure of employment entitlement would result in starvation of some families in an economy, where market relations are just penetrating. Here, some families produce mainly food, while others acquire food mainly in exchange for either labour (agricultural labourers), or products of labour (artisans), or services (barbers, washermen, etc.). In the case of food producers, the access to food is a function of their production capabilities, which, in turn, are determined by their command over productive assets. Depending on the nature of productive assets, their food surplus would vary across the good and bad years; hence, their susceptibility to a famine. For the non-food producers, access to food is related to 'employment entitlements'; it is the level of demand by the food producers for their labour or products of labour, or services which determine their vulnerability to starvation in any particular situation.12 Thus, a crop failure, by reducing employment opportunities for the non-food producers, might result in their starvation and deaths, especially when insurance mechanisms are not available and state help is meagre.

Such an increase in death rates would obviously be overwhelming among the poor, which, again, need not be same across age groups and sexes. The younger and middle-aged men are likely to do hard work either in relief camps or as agricultural labourers. Such hard work coupled with their physical deterioration during the famine period would make them much more vulnerable towards the epidemic diseases and lead to higher mortality

8 Ester Boserup, The Conditions of Agricultural Growth, London, 1965.

9 A.K.Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Delhi, 1984.

10 Ashok Mitra, 'The Meaning of Meaning*, Economic and Political Weekly, 17, 27, 1984 and T.N. Srinivasan, a review article in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, February 1983.

11 B. Ashton et al., 'Famine in China, 1958-61', Population and Development Review, 10,4, 1984, hereafter Ashton et al., Famine in China.

12 Based on Meghnad Desai, 'The Economics of Famine' in C.A. Harrison, ed., Famine, Oxford, 1988 and A.K.Ghose, 'Food Supply and Starvation': A Study of Famines with reference to the Indian Sub-continent', Oxford Economic Papers (New Series) 34, 2,1982.

rates among them. On the other hand, the survival chances of adult women, left behind in the villages to look after the children and old, would improve as the incidence of famine-induced diseases would be less here. The deserted women would also be helped by friends, relatives and others.13 However, the women in the relief camps are not likely to suffer from exhaustion as gratuitous relief is generally liberally provided to them.14 Added to that, females have a better (hormonally determined) immune resistance.15 Given the fact that higher mortality rates are mainly due to the spread of famine-induced diseases, such resistance may help the women to fight the infectious diseases better than men. Hence, women are likely to experience lower mortality rates than their male counterparts.

Females, however, are said to be the victims of social discrimination. Greenough argues that under the influence of patriarchal values of the Indian Hindu society, priority is given to the feeding of the adult males and male children so as to ensure the continuance of the male line.16 Moreover, women in the reproductive age groups are likely to be more susceptible to famine despite the fact that they are biologically stronger than men.

Let us have a look at the evidence on sex-wise mortality rates. In the famine of 1876-78, the women appeared to have died in less numbers as compared to the men in Madras17 and Bombay Presidencies.18 Even during the Bengal famine of 1943-44, Greenough admits that 'females experienced smaller increases in mortality... than males' in all the age groups.19 In Bangladesh, where females normally have the disadvantage of higher mortality rates than men, famine reduced or even reversed such a disadvantage.20 Hence, 'women were not as generally abandoned as Greenough's

13 In Malawi the deserted women received much support and help from other members of their families in the initial stages of the famine of 1949. Megan Vaughan, The Story of an African Famine: Gender and Famine in Twentieth Century Malawi, Cambridge, 1987, hereafter Vaughan, African Famine, pp. 119-147.

14 For instance, in the Bengal famine of 1943, women constituted nearly 60 per cent of those who received free relief. P. G. Greenough, Prosperity and -Misery of Modem Bengal: The Famine of 1943-1944, New York, 1982, hereafter Greenough .Prosperity and Misery of Bengal, p. 190.

15 Ingrid Waldron, 'Sex Differences in Human Mortality: The Role of Genetic Factors', Social Science & Medicine, 17, 6, 1983, hereafter Waldron, Sex Differences in Human Mortality, pp. 324-325.

16 Greenough, Prosperity and Misery of Bengal, op. cit., pp. 215-217.

17 Roland Lardinois, 'Famine, Epidemics and Mortality in South India: A Reappraisal of the Demographic Crisis of 1876-78', Economic and Political Weekly, 20, 11, 1985, hereafter Lardinois, Famines, Epidemics and Mortality , p. 460.

18 Machille Burge MacAlpin, Subject to Famine: Food Crisis and Economic Change in Western India, 1860-1920, Princeton, New Jersey, 1983, hereafter MacAlpin, Subject to Famine, pp. 63-67.

19 Greenough, Prosperity and Misery of Bengal, op. cit., p. 313.

20 Susan Cotts Watkins and Jane Menken, 'Famines in History', Population and Development Review, 11,4, 1985, hereafter Watkins et al. Famines in History, p. 656.

cultural hypothesis suggests'.21 Thus, 'females have greater biological capacity to resist the rigors of periods of famine— a capacity that is not offset by social factors'.22

The death rates among the children would be the highest23 because of their low body weights and greater vulnerability. Among them, the children at the weaning stage (1-3 years) are likely to suffer more from food shortage compared to infants24, who may not be affected by sudden change in food availability or by varying cultural practices as the latter take most of their nourishment from breast milk. With respect to sex, male children would experience higher mortality rates than the female children.25 The older people would have higher mortality rates26 not only because of lower resistance towards nutritional stress but also due to the discrimination in the provision of food as they are less valued in the family.27

Thus, the increase in mortality rates in poor families would be uneven across the age and sex groups. The mortality rates would be higher among male children and the older men, as compared to the adult males and females of all age groups. This results in changes in age and sex composition in the population. Immediately after a famine, the dependency ratio (DR) (the number of females, children and aged as a proportion to adult males) would decline as the mortality rates of children and aged would be high during the famine period. However, after a decade or so, the DR would increase because the children reaching adulthood would be less than adults who become old. In post-famine societies, the birth rates would normally be very high. As a result, the DR would go up further. Such an increase in

21 Arnold, Famine, op. cit., p. 90

22 MacAlpin, Subject to Famine, op.cit., p. 64.

23 The child mortality rates in many of the famines were higher than other age groups. In South India, as a result of the 1876-78 famine, the greater deficits in the census of 1881 occurred in numbers of children under 10 years (Lardinois, Famines, Epidemics and Mortality, op. cit.). The most reliable data on age-specific death rates during famine come from the records of the Demographic Surveillance System in Matlab thana, Bangladesh. As compared to the averages for the five years prior to the independence in 1971, the greatest increases during the famine occurred among the children aged 1-11 months followed by children in the age-groups of 5-9 years (Chen et al., The Dynamics of Contemporary Famine, Vol. I, Liege, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, 1977, hereafter Chen et al.. Dynamics of Contemporary Famine, p. 416).

24 Vaughan. African Famine, op.cit.,p36.

25 Waldron, Sex Differences in Human Mortality, op.cit., p. 324.

26 In Bangladesh famine, the death rates among the people above 45 were one of the highest and only next to those among the children (Chen et al., Dynamics of Contemporary Famine, op.cit., p. 416).

27 Ashton et al., attribute the higher mortality rates among the old people to the food allocation system which was less favourable to the less privileged group of above 40. Ashton etal., Famine in China, op.cit., pp. 617-618.

DR, we hypothesise, would be extremely marked among the poor families as they are the chief victims of famine.

The poor would also face a disruption in their family life. The abandonment of spouses is somewhat frequent during the period of famine. In Bengal, an abnormal proportion of the female destitutes in Calcutta was found to be widows and those deserted by their husbands during the famine period.28 In Malawi, the famine year (1949) is 'remembered as the year of "many divorces'".29 Besides, a large number of men would out-migrate in search of work and food.30 Very few of the out-migrants returned home.31 Consequently, many poor families in the post-famine period would contain widows, widowers and orphans. After the famine, the widows and widowers 'would have a difficult time in coping in an economy in which family was the central productive unit; remarriages can recreate the family economy, but may not have reconstructed the bonds of affection and loyalty that nourished it'.32 In Indian society, where social sanctions do not easily permit remarriages especially in middle castes, family life in the postfamine period may have been disrupted. Added to that, the impoverished survivors of the famine would be plagued by undernourishment. The children born during and immediately after the famine would be 'weak and sickly'33 and would continue to be so even when they become adults. Thus, the quality of the labour services that poor families could provide may have been low.

The changes in sex and age composition of poor families and the disruption of their family life coupled with a general decline in the quality of their labour would adversely affect their recovery from the famine. An enormous loss of cattle during the famine period would make their recovery even slower. The scarcity of able-bodied men in their families would incapacitate them in occupying the cultivable wastes, if any, and also their participation in the labour market.

28 Greenough, Prosperity and Misery of Bengal, op.cit., p. 220.

25 Vaughan, African Famine, op.cit., p. 34.

30 For details on the out-migration from the Madras Presidency during the period 1872-91, see Lardinois, Famines, Epidemics and Mortality, op.cit., pp. 458-460. Narrating the effects of famine of 1935 on a Chinese village, an eyewitness wrote: the village 'had a population of 530 people in 76 families. In the winter of 1935, 25 entire families left the village, from each of 39 families one to three persons left the village, leaving only 12 families intact'. See Hao Pun-Sui, 'The Peasant Exodus from Western Shantung' in Agrarian China: Selected Source Materials from Chinese Authors, Institute of Pacific Relations, London, 1939, p. 249.

31 When Lardinois compared the population of Madras in the 1872 and 1881 censuses, he found that a substantial proportion of the population perished due to the famine in 1876-78. Despite that, in the 1881 census, 95 to 98 per cent of the total population in Madras resided in their district of birth, Lardinois, Famines, Epidemics and Mortality, op.cit.

32 Watkins et al., Famines in History, op.cit., p. 666.

33 Vaughan, African Famine, op.cit., pp. 35-36.

Thus, it can be suggested that the slow agrarian expansion that has been observed in many of the societies in the post-famine periods is to be attributed not to the decline in population per se but to changes in the age and sex composition of families of poor and small peasants, the disruption of their family life and general decline in the quality of their labour.

On the other hand, while the rich peasants also suffer from the failure of monsoons, they benefit from the widespread deterioration in the economic condition of poor and small peasants during and after the famine. Such deterioration, which precedes the stage of starvation and deaths, gets reflected in the sale of jewellery, ornaments and brass pots.34 This stage will be followed by the relinquishment and/or alienation of land. Authentic evidence on distress sales of land comes from a large scale survey conducted by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta. The ISI interviewed 15,769 households in 386 villages and collected information on sales of paddy land and the results were projected for the Bengali population as a whole. During the period mid-April 1943 to mid-April 1944, 9.25 lakhs of families or about 14 per cent of landowning families of Bengal sold some paddy land, whereas nearly 29 per cent of these families sold all of their paddy land. The majority of these families (nearly 88 per cent) were small farmers owning below 5 acres of land. About 60 per cent of the land Went into the hands of non-agriculturists (mostly non-residents), while most of the remaining land 'passed into the hands of prosperous cultivators who took advantage of distress sales to enlarge their own holdings'.35 On the other hand, a large number of the small farmers either decreased their landholdings or gave up cultivation ending up as agricultural labourers or could not be traced.36 The general decline in the economic condition of thé small peasants was also reflected in widespread selling of cattle and mortgages of land.37

The recovery of the landlord class would be slower than that of the rich peasants for the following reason. With the elimination of small peasants and the decline in both the number and quality of able-bodied labourers, the demand for land in the lease market would be somewhat low. This might lead to a decline in rents and consequent decline in rental incomes of the landlord class.

34 Greenough, Prosperity and Misery of Bengal, op.cit., pp. 196-197. In fact, the investment in gold and silver (which can be soon liquified in difficult times) is one of the insurance mechanisms devised by the peasants to fight the hunger in the event of famine. See M.D.Morris, 'Needed — A New Famine Policy' Economic and Political Weekly, 10, 5-7, 1975 and N.S.Jodha, 'Famine and Famine Policies: Some Empirical Evidence', Economic and Political Weekly, 10, 41. 1975.

35 P.C.Mahalanobis et al., A Sample Survey of the After-effects of the Bengal Famine of i943, Calcutta, 1946, pp. 34-39.

36 A.Ghose and S.Gupta, 'A Note on the Agrarian Economy in Tabluk Division During 1939-44', Sankhya, 8, 1, 1946, pp. 75-78.

37 Mahalanobis etal., op.cit., pp.32 and 42-43.

Thus, the small peasants would experience downward economic mobility during the period of famine. A fast recovery from the famine would be difficult in their case because of changes in age and sex composition of their families, disruption of family life and a general decline in quality of their labour. On the other hand, the rich peasants might benefit from the famine. The recovery from the famine would be faster in the case of rich peasants, while it would be somewhat slow in the case of landlords whose dependence on tenants and agricultural labourers would be relatively more.

Agrarian Background of the District

Before we discuss the impact of the 1876-78 famine on peasant mobility, it may be useful to explain the historical process which rendered some groups more vulnerable to the famine than the others.

When Kurnool District38 was formed in 1858-59, society was already stratified:39 The land revenue system in the first half of the nineteenth century was not only oppressive but also resulted in the emergence of village elite groups who became much more powerful with the cultivation of partially or fully revenue-free inam lands. In Kurnool district, there were 47,837 inam land titles, comprising an area of 878,913 acres with a hypothetical average land revenue of Rs. 1.05 and the average quit-rent payable on them was only Re.0.43.40 Roughly half of the total land was given to individual families or their descendants. These lands, which were the richest, most cultivable and best watered in the district, were controlled by the non-cultivating castes such as Brahmins and cultivating castes such as Reddys and Lingayats, whereas the other middle and lower middle castes (Yadavas and Boyas respectively) were either tenants on the inam lands or petty landholders. Besides, they had to hire themselves out to eke out a subsistence. The untouchables (Malas and Madigas) were mainly agricultural labourers.

Between 1860 and 1875, the cultivated area (excluding inams) increased at an annual growth rate (compound) of 0.4 per cent, while occupied area

38 The districts of Kurnool, Cuddapah and Bellary were ceded to the East India Company by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1800. Though the rights of sovereignty over Kurnool district (then called as Kurnool Proper) were vested with the Company, Muslim rule continued till 1834. when the Nawab was dethroned for his rebellious conduct. For a brief period, the district was administered by an agent to the Governor. The agency administration lasted till 1858-59. when the taluks of Cumbum, Markapur and Kolikuntla from the Cuddapah district and that of Pattikonda from Bellary district were added to Kurnool Proper and the whole formed into a Collectorato.

39 For more details, see D.Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility: Changing Agrarian Structure in Kurnool District of Andhra, 1870-1900, Working Paper No. 233. Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, hereafter Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, pp. 10-12.

411 A'Collection of Papers Relating to the Inam Settlement in the Madras Presidency. Madras, 1948. p. 324.

increased at 0.7 per cent. This marginal agrarian expansion was partly due to the increase in prices during the Civil War in the U.S.A. and'partly due to the revision of settlement rates in some of the taluks.41 However, the tax burden in some of the taluks (such as Cumbum and Markapur) was relatively high.42 Consequently, as much as 80 per cent of the total arable area (excluding inam lands) was left uncultivated in Markapur taluk. The farmers used to abandon the rich fields in the vicinity of the village and occupy inferior and far away fields. The Collector wrote, 'the ryots hold lands of the adjoining village in preference to and not from want of lands in their own villages, and they ascribe it to excessive assessment of their own lands'. In Markapur, the extent of cultivation of inam lands was more or less equal to that of government lands and the Collector bemoaned that the ryots, instead of holding proprietary rights on government lands, preferred to be tenants-at-will on inam lands.43 In other taluks also, the high tax burden resulted in relinquishment of land.44

These circumstances placed the Brahmins and Reddys in an advantageous position as they owned most of the inam lands. Their accumulation of surplus from the revenue-free inam lands rose during the period of rising prices in the early 1860s.45 In Kurnool district, 25 per cent of the Brahmins derived their income from landed property. The Commissioner of 1872 Census remarked that:

as a rule, Brahmin cultivators secured the best lands in the country. By the proceeds of land, tilled by serf labour, they have increased in substance and grown wealthy... the Brahmins have gradually shifted their position from that of mere priests, purohits... to the more substantial one of landed aristocracy.46

The condition of small farmers and tenants was not very encouraging. Despite rising cotton prices, the cultivation of cotton did not pick up

41 Letter from the Collector of Kurnool to the Board, Proceedings of Board of Revenue^ hereafter PBR, April 28, 1865, p. 2225.

42 In these taluks, the share of assessment to total gross produce on ordinary lands was 19 per cent in 1862-63. However, with the decline in prices, it increased to 25 per cent in 1873-74. Calculated from ibid., p. 2236.

43 Ibid., pp. 2225-2231.

44 M.G.K. Chetty, Kurnool District Manual, Madras, 1886, hereafter Chetty, Kurnool District Manual, p. 51; Settlement Report of Pattikonda Taluk, p. 4210; Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, PBR, April 1, 1875, p. 2509; Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, PBR, May 24, 1876, p. 4613.

45 'During the American war ... the cotton producers had prosperous time of it. Landowners ... invested their unusual profits in land'. Settlement Report of Koilkuntla Taluk, 1871.p.7.

J" Census of India. Madras. 1872.

mainly due to the low incomes of small farmers and tenants. In 1863, their estimated monthly income was only Re. 0.50. Hence, it was not surprising that 'a new demand, like that which has arisen for cotton, should meet with but a feeble response'.47 Thus, the price boom of the 1860s seemed to have bypassed the small peasantry. Moreover, the farmers found it difficult to pay the land revenue and there was a gradual increase in the arrears for which coercive processes were issued and sales were resorted to.48 The exorbitant land revenue rates (and payment in cash) compelled the small peasantry to get into the debt trap.49

Between 1865-66 and 1871-72, the population of the district increased by 18 per cent. A consequent increase in family size would have induced the small farmers to bring those cultivable wastes under plough where assessments were tolerable. In fact, the labouring class was 'struggling to rise to the position of landed proprietors'.50 Since their monthly income was small, these petty landowners resorted to supplementary means of subsistence such as hiring out for agricultural work, stone quarrying, plying bullock carts and cotton spinning.51 The construction of the Kurnool-Cuddapah canal also enhanced the job opportunities. With the availability of cultivable wastes and employment opportunities, the small peasant was 'endeavouring to better his condition'.52 However, such an endeavour was, perhaps, affected by the high tax burden. So when the famine struck in 1876, certain sections of the peasantry in the district were already vulnerable.

The 1876-78 Famine and Population of the District

The monsoon of 1876-77 was the 'worst within the memory of the oldest inhabitant' in the district. The south-west monsoon was scanty, while the north-east monsoon was a total failure. There was a general failure of crops; prices increased sharply and the Great Famine had struck. Next year, the rainfall was deficient and unseasonal. And the Great Famine continued to ravage the district for the second successive year.

47 Settlement Report of Kurnool Proper, para 36.

48 The amount of arrears for whieh coercive processes were issued increased from Rs. 8,155 in the triennium ending with 1870-71 to Rs. 1.04 lakhs in that ending with 187576. The amount of arrears for which sales were resorted increased from Rs. 3,445 to Rs. 10,275 during the same period, C. Benson, An Account of the Kurnool District Based on An Analysis of Statistical Information Relating Thereto, and on Personal Observation, Madras, 1889, hereafter Benson, An Account of the Kurnool, p. 20.

49 Settlement Report of Koilkuntla Taluk, p. 8.

50 Settlement Report of Kurnool Proper, para 36.

" Settlement Report of Koilkuntla Taluk, p. 7.

Settlement Report of Kurnool Proper, para 37.

The famine had a devastating impact on the population of the district: The mortality rate (based on registered deaths)53 increased by 400 per cent in 1877 and by over 200 per cent in 1878 (Figure 1). The death rate remained high in the post-famine period mainly due to epidemic diseases. The district lost about one-fourth of its population. Did a decline in food availability cause this loss?

Figure 1: Birth and Death Rates in Kurnool

Table 1

Changes in Population in Kurnool District (1872-1901)

Period Percentage change

1872-1881 -25.80

1881-1891 20.52

1891-1901 6.60

1872-1901 -4.63

Source: Census of India, Madras, for the years 1872, 1881, 1891 and 1901.

53 As the collection of vital statistics was started only in the late 1860s, the imperfections in the system were many. The village servants, who collected data on vital events, in the absence of any legislation and extra amount of remuneration for this work, showed little interest. So. there was an under-registration of the births and deaths, especially of females. This problem became more acute in 1877, as the village servants wandered away from the villages in search of food. Besides, the people who left the villages for food or work 'perished by the road sides, in ditches, in jungle paths, and away from human inhabitations,... it is probable that all mortality occurring this way was left unrecognised'. However, notwithstanding the disorganized village administration system and disrupted life, the registration of deaths clearly portrayed the intensity of famine in all the severely affected areas. Fourteenth Annual Report of the Sanitary Commissioner for Madras, 1877, Madras. 1878, hereafter Report of the Sanitary Commissioner, p. 75.

The district was self-sufficient in food upto 1875-76. In 1875-76, the estimated total food production and consumption were 4.52 and 2.11 lakh tons respectively, thus leaving a surplus of 2.41 lakh tons. At the rate of annual consumption of 4 cwt of grains per person, this stock would feed the population for more than one year.54 Besides, as a result of famine, the imports of agricultural produce into the region increased from 535 maunds in 1875 to 1.18 lakh maunds in 1877 of which more than 97 per cent were food-grains. Even then, the prices of foodgrains increased55 due to the following factors. First, the bigger farmers stored large quantities of grain in underground pits. The Sanitary Commissioner wrote in 1877:

It is certain that the more substantial of the farmers, artisans did hold, throughout the famine, considerable reserves of these dry grains, and that even the very extraordinary prices obtainable for them did not tempt the holders to get rid of their stores while the prospects of continuance of famine were imminent. I became acquainted with an instance of a substantial ryot in Bellary district, who, all through the famine brought imported food at high prices for his labourers and household, and who at the same time, had several pits stored with about 50,000 seers of old grain, which he kept as an assurance against starvation, but which he would not open till the prospects of a new crop were assured. This one instance was probably multiplied by thousands and ... the collector of Cuddapah informed me that after a plentiful fall of rain, old grain came out of the hidden store.56

Second, it was not uncommon to store the foodgrains when the prices were low. In most cases, the traders and wealthy farmers were reluctant to release the stocks as there were instances of atttack from the starving people.57

Thus there was no drastic decline in food availability in the district in 1876-77. Yet, the death rate rapidly increased mainly due to the failure in exchange entitlements. The failure of rains reduced employment opportunities, thus resulting in a decline in purchasing power. Hence, notwithstanding the imports and availability of foodgrains 'an enormous number

54 Taking the average area for the period 1872-73-1875-76 and yield figures presented by the Collector and the Settlement Department, the Board estimated that total food production was 4.52 lakh tons. Deducting 16,000 tons for seed requirements and 1.95 lakh tons for human consumption (at the rate of 1.5 lbs per diem), it was estimated that the surplus in the district was 2.41 lakh tons (PRR, December 19, 1878, pp. 11106-11122). These figures were fairly reliable for Kurnool as there were no Zamindaris. Moreover, the yield figures for the district were based on actual experiments.

55 Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., pp. 16 and 16a.

s" Report of the Sanitary Commissioner, p. 9.

57 Ibid., p. 10.

of poorer classes of the people ... have perished miserably, simply from their inability to procure sufficiency of wholesale food'56 (emphasis added). The colonial government attributed the phenomenal loss of population to the transport bottle-necks. However, the population loss in areas well served with transport (such as Pattikonda) was high compared to irrigated areas (such as Sirvel and Nandyal) where though transport was ill-developed, better employment opportunities improved entitlement to the food.59 In the absence of output figures, the discussion on food availability decline must remain incomplete, but these considerations suggest that food availability decline was not the main reason for the enormous loss of population in the district.

Slow Recovery of Population

More importantly, the recovery of population was slow in the district. The growth of population, which was somewhat faster in the 1880s, slowed down in the 1890s due to the famines in that decade (Table 1). How fast a region could recover its population depended on changes in the age-wise composition of population brought about by differential mortality rates and out-migration. Let us, therefore, examine changes in the age and sex composition of population, fertility rates and out-migration during and after the famine.

The increase in the degth rate was uneven across socioeconomic groups, sexes and age-groups. The famine had a severe impact on the depressed castes. When crops failed, the agricultural operations came to a standstill, resulting in drying up of employment opportunities. Prices increased due to the hoarding of food stocks, and the tenants and small ryots who were also part-labourers suffered. With the decline in demand for manufactured goods such as cloth and the non-availability of raw materials many weavers were thrown out of employment. They could stay in the villages till their cattle and jewellery were sold and credit dried up. Later on, they wandered or reached the relief camps. However, many people were soon exhausted and mortality rates started showing an upward trend.60 As caste-wise mortality rates are not available, a comparison of population loss across castes in the district between 1872 and 1881 is made in Table 2. It reveals that the population of Madigas, Boyas, Chenchus and artisans declined at a

58 Ibid., p. 1.

59 The fallacy of food availability decline approach is evident in the following statement: The loss of life depended chiefly on the accessibility of the taluks for the supply of grain, and the comparative richness of the country. Thus, the parts of Ramallakot, most distant from the railways, are much richer than greater part of Pattikonda' and hence, the loss was relatively low in the former (Benson, An Account of the Kurnool, op. cit., p. 7).

See Report of the Famine Commission, op. cit., pp. 17-18.

faster rate than that of the Brahmins and cultivating castes such as Reddys. In some taluks, the loss of Madigas was as much as 50 per cent. The relief officers also noted that 'the great out-caste or paria tribes, and the lower divisions of Hindu agricultural castes were the chief victims (of the.famine). The Brahmins and trading castes of Hindus suffered but little or not at all'.61

Table 2

Changes (%) in Caste-wise Population of Kurnool (1872-1881)

Castes PK RK NK NL KK SL CM MP Total

Brahmins -14.8 -14.1 -25.3 -19.9 -33.9 -0.5 -11.5 -11.5 — 17.2

NBUC -23.0 -37.0 -21.8 -21.6 -54.7 35.5 -14.3 -11.2 -21.4

Yadavas -28.9 -30.8 -35.0 -27.0 -33.8 -4.0 -16.1 -10.1 -25.1

Artisans -45.1 -40.3 -32.1 -26.1 -49.6 15.8 -8.6 -1.7 -28.3

Boyas -45.5 -38.2 -35.6 -41.5 -47.9 17.9 -17.8 -30.3 -37.9

Chenchus -52.9 -39.6 -12.3 -38.5 -57.1 20.4 9.0 -1.0 -27.5

Madigas -50.7 -42.3 -35.1 -36.4 -31.4 -25.7 -15.7 -36.8 -35.6

Muslims -39.4 -30.6 -31.5 -22.9 -11.4 -24.6 -6.3 -3.6 -24.2

Total -39.3 -35.6 -29.2 -28.6 -43.2 5.7 -12.0 -14.4 -27.3

Sources: 1. Census of India, Madras, 1872.

2. Census of India, 1881, Taluk War Returns, Kurnool District. Notes: PK = Pattikonda RK = Ramallakot NK = Nandikotkur

NL = Nandyal KK = Koilkuntla SL = Sirvel

CM = Cumbum MP = Markapur

NBUC = Non-Brahmin upper castes.

Among the sexes, the males perished more62 as they 'left their villages in large numbers, flocking to food markets and centres of relief works. They exhausted their energies sooner than the females'.63 Since the government did not fully realise the intensity of the famine in the initial months, there was some delay in the setting up of relief works. Hence some men and boys, in their reckless wandering, died in 'jungles, road sides and ditches'. Added to that, they came into contact with epidemic diseases, widely prevalent at the site of relief works. On the other hand, as the females and older people were left behind in the villages (which were relatively less affected by diseases), their survival chances were enhanced. Moreover, gratuitous relief was extended more easily to women and aged people, as compared to the 'able-bocjied men'. Consequently, as the statistics of famine

61 W.R. Cornish, 'The Influence of Famine on Growth of Population', published as an Appendix to Report of the Sanitary Commissioner, p. lxxxviii.

62 In 1877, the death rate (per 1000 population) of females was 84, while that of males was as much as 95.

63 Report of the Sanitary Commissioner, op. cit., p. lxxiv.

hospitals and relief camps showed, the adult men and boys 'died in a ratio of about 20 per cent in excess of the females'.64 A corroboration to this can be found in an improved female to male ratio in all the famine districts, including Kurnool, in 1881.65

Moreover, the birth rate also declined (Figure 1). Such a decline, it was argued by the contemporary demographers, was due to the reckless wandering of village servants and consequent under-registration. However, as Cornish argued, 'it cannot be said that registration as a whole has fallen off in 1877, for in the areas of country more severely affected by famine, the death registration has been four or five times in excess of the average registration of the past five years. Nor can it be supposed that the many thousands of village servants scattered over the country ... have entered into a combination amongst themselves to render fictitious entries of deaths, and to systematically omit the births'.66 Thus, though birth rates were not able to capture the picture fully, they nevertheless show the broad trends.

That the birth rate had declined can be established by the children to women ratio. Though this is an imperfect measure of the level of the birth rate, it has the advantage of being calculable for each census year. Table 3 shows a faster decline in the ratio of children between 0 and 4 years to women (15-45 years of age) in Kurnool district as compared to the non-famine district of Godavari. This is corroborated by Cornish's enquiries, which brought out "overwhelming evidence to show that pregnancy in the famine-stricken zone (after the earlier months of distress) was a very rare condition; that in young women the period of puberty had been retarded; and that the special functions relating to generation were, in the more marked cases of physical emaciation, altogether in abeyance'.67 The decline in birth rate was due to the following: (a) Demographic reasons: The number of women exposed to the risk of conceiving varies under the effect of the mortality and the disturbances in nuptiality rates; (b) Medical and sanitary reasons: The general state of malnutrition brought about a loss in the. weight of individuals ranging from 20 to 30 per cent. The tests carried out at the relief camps revealed that the men who formerly weighed on an average 50 to 54 kg did not weigh more than 35 kg, while the weights of women, which on ordinary days were 43 to 45 kg, fell to 28 kg. Human

64 Ibid. A special census, conducted by Cornish in a large number of villages in the Presidency, supported this observation. The results of the census are controversial, because: (a) The 1872 census, with which the results of the special census were compared, under-enumerated the females, (b) As Cornish himself admitted, the higher male mortality could be in some degree due to 'the imperfect way in which the female mortality was registered', Report of Sanitary Commissioner, op. cit., p. 80.

65 Census of India, 1881, Madras Presidency. However, this is also subject to the limitations explained in footnote 64.

66 Report of Sanitary Commissioner, op. cit., p. 79.

67 ibid., p. 78.

beings can tolerate loss of weight to the tune of 5 to 10 per cent, with little functional disorganisation. However, a loss of 35 to 40 per cent would result in death and before that, it must have resulted in the stoppage of ovular cycles for women; (c) Social reasons: A large number of couples were affected by migration or lack of privacy in the relief camps.68

Table 3

Children (0-4) to Women (15-45) Ratios in the Population in Kurnool and Selected Non-famine Districts

Districts Ratios Indices (1872 = 100)

1872 1881 1891 1881 1891

Kurnool 0.639 0.262 0.586 41.0 91.7

Godavari 0.710 0.631 0.633 88.9 89.1

Source: Census of India, Madras, for the years 1872, 1881 and 1891.

The lower birth rate, higher male mortality rate and lower mortality rates for females and old people brought about striking changes in the age-wise distribution of population (Table 4). The loss of male population (15-40 years) was lower compared to that of females (15-40 years), males (40-60 years) and children. However, the growth of both males and females in the age group of 15-40 years in the later decades was either slow or declining. A decline in the population in the reproductive age groups had reduced the fertility. Moreover, a substantial loss of population in the age group of 15-60 resulted in a large number of widowed; in 1881 nearly 30 per cent of total females in the district were widows and this figure was one of the highest in the Presidency. Most of the widows were found in the age group of 30-50 and their remarriages were not always easy because of social customs, while widowers could not simply afford them.69

Table 4

Age-wise Change (%) of Population in Kurnool (1872-1901)

Age 1872-81 1881-91 1891-1901

groups Males Females Total Males Females Total Males Females Total

0-15 -34.34 -31.20 -32.83 16.95 17.18 17.06 20.04 20.59 20.31

15^10 -22.73 -25.87 -24.29 5.67 10.02 7.78 -10.68 - 7.44 ■ - 9.07

40-60 -23.60 -18.55 -21.16 32.96 18.68 25.84 16.34 15.52 15.95

60 + - 5.54 19.52 7.00 39.43 36.50 37.79 18.22 5.03 10.91

Total -26.81 -25.26 -26.05 15.21 15.31 15.26 6.44 6.93 6.69

Source : Census of India, Madras, Age Tables, for the years 1872, 1881,1891 and 1901.

68 Lardinois, Famines, Epidemics and Mortality, op. cit., p. 462.

69 Analysing the civil conditions in the Presidency, the Census Commissioner remarked

Consequently, as Table 3 shows, the fertility rate was low in the district. Thus, an enormous loss of children and the existence of a large number of widows and widowers coupled wtih recurring famines in the 1890s slowed down the recovery of population in the district.


One might argue that such a slow recovery of population, especially those in the age group of 15^40, was due to out-migration. It is difficult to estimate out-migration from a district, since people born in the district and enumerated in other Presidencies would be classified as born in the Madras Presidency. However, unlike those migrated to Ceylon from the Tamil countryside, the people in the district were not found to be very mobile. They either migrated to the neighbouring delta district of Kistna or to Nellore district to work for the construction of the Buckingham canal.70 The proportion of out-migrants in the total population was 5.27 in 1881 and it declined to 4.30 in 1891, mainly due to an increase in the total population. Moreover, the majority of the out-migrants was found in the neighbouring districts, implying it to be marriage-induced migration.71 Thus, the proportion of out-migrants was too small to affect the recovery of population.

Agrarian Expansion

The famine affected the agrarian expansion very severely. The cultivated area declined from 21 lakh acres in the triennium ending with 1874-75 to 15 lakh acres in that ending with 1879-80 (Table 5). Between 1872-73 and 1885-86, the decline in cultivated and occupied area was 16 and 11 per cent respectively; a faster decline in the former indicates that much of the area was kept as current fallows. More importantly, the district did not regain its cultivated/occupied area even by the turn of the century. As prices were on the rise from mid-1880s, one would expect the agrarian expansion-to take place at a faster rate. In fact, the slow agrarian expansion in Rayalaseema in general and Kurnool district in particular received the constant attention of the revenue-oriented government.

that the large number of widowed 'noticed for the famine districts explain themselves, because they occur in the famine districts. In the great mortality, an abnormal number of husbands and wives died. The wives of the former have not remarried, because law and custom do not allow it; the husbands of the latter have not remarried, because they cannot afford to do so'. Census of India, Madras, 1881 , Vol. 1, p. 73.

70 The Collector's replies to the Famine Commission reveal that no emigration from this district was recorded. Report of the Famine Commission, op. cit., pp. 297 and 303.

71 For more details, see Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., pp. 22-23.

Compared with the year which preceded the great famine of 1876-78, the increase in (cultivated) holdings (in Madras Presidency) ... would amount to 1.78 million acres .... This improvement was shared by all the districts except Cuddapah, Anantapur and Kurnool.72

The deficiency in the district was as large as 64,090 acres (excluding inams) in 1897-98. On enquiries from the government, the Collector suggested that the loss of population was the major reason for this slow expansion.73 As the cultivated holdings were held back till as late as the early nineties, the government was left unconvinced by this explanation. Further, the Collector offered the following explanations.

Table 5

Cultivated and Occupied Area (including inams) in Kurnool (1871-72-1899-1900)

Triennium Cultivated Area Occupied Area

ending with (in '000 acres) (in '000 acres)

1874-75 2078 2293

1879-80 1469 n.a.

- 1882-83 1561 n.a.

1885-86 1738 2044

1888-89 1847 2062

1891-92 1862 2106

1894-95 1896 2098

1897-98 1851 2121

1899-1900* 1875 2108

* Two-yearly average.

Sources: 1) For the years 1872-73 to 1890-91, Statistical Returns of Madras Presidency, PBR, Various issues.

2) For the years 1891-92 to 1899-1900, Indian Agricultural Statistics, Various issues.

First, he argued that a significant proportion of total cultivable wastes was reserved as forests to provide fuel and fodder. And whenever the ryots wanted to cultivate these lands, the district administration was unable to grant pattas as they came under the purview of the Forest Department. However, when the Collector was granted permission to issue pattas, it was found that such reservation did not have 'any material influence in retarding the recovery of the district'.74 The Collector also admitted that

12 See PBR, No. 30, February 27, 1901, p. 250. Similar statements were made in PBR, No. 77, Feb 26, 1900, p. 233 and also PBR, No. 30, Feb 28, 1902, p. 201.

73 Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1882-83, pp. 3-4.

74 In four taluks (in which this phenomenon was alleged to be prominent) the total land that was set free was 79,997 acres, out of which the assessed land was only 34,797 acres. Despite the efforts made by the district administration for five years, only 6,223 acres were brought under cultivation. See PBR, No. 260, July 20, 1898, p. 11.

hat over-reservation was 'not the reason for the great decrease in cultivation'.75

The second reason attributed to the slow agrarian expansion was the temporary fallowing of poor soils to recuperate their fertility. As leaving lands fallow was a part of the cultivation practices, relinquishments were frequent in Markapur, Nandikotkur and Pattikonda taluks where the soils were poor.76 However, this explanation does not hold true for the following reasons. First, after the turn of the century, poor soils in the district were increasingly occupied. Second, the relatively high average assessment on lands relinquished implies that they were of good quality.- Third, the Collector's reports in the early nineties indicate that the black soil taluks also had significant extent of cultivable wastes.77 Benson also showed that the unoccupied lands in many tracts were of fair quality.78 An important reason79 attributed to the non-occupation of these lands was the sparseness of population.80

The sparseness of population perse was not the important reason; rather it was the changes in the age composition of population brought about by the famine. A substantial loss of children during the period of famine reduced the number of adult males and females in the 1880s as well as in the 1890s and resulted in an unfavourable composition of population. We have worked out the dependency ratio (DR) (the number of dependents per male in the age group of 15-60) for the period 1872-1911 (Table 6). The DR, which was 2.38 in 1872, marginally declined to 2.24 in 1881. It increased to 2.32 in 1891 and to 2.64 in 1901. This increase in DR would have been very marked in families belonging especially to the depressed castes as they were the chief victims of the famine.

Table 6

Dependency Ratios in Kurnool

Years 1872 1881 1891 1901 1911

Dependency ratios 2.38 2.24 2.32 2.64 2.54

75- PBR, No. 30, February 28, 1902, p. 81.

76 PBR, No. 36, February 15, 1895, p. 2. And also Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1893-94, p. 9.

77 The percentages of cultivable wastes to the total cultivable area in the black soil taluks of Sirvel, Ramallakot and Nandyal were 20.38, 19.48 and 19.29 respectively in 1895. See PBR. No. 36, February 15, 1895, p. 2.

78 Benson, An Account of the Kurnool, op. cit., p. 108.

79 Another reason was the overspread of nath grass the removal of which required deep tillage with a few pairs of bullocks which the poor people were unable to bear. We admit that this was one of the important reasons. But problems of weeding and so on did exist in the red soil taluks also.

80 PBR, No. 481, November 17, 1894; and also PBR, No. 36, February 15, 1895.

Such an increase in the DR adversely affected the agrarian expansion in the following ways. First, in dry regions the cultivable wastes were generally not preferred by richer peasants as these were less fertile and located far from the villages. Hence, these lands were usually brought under the plough mainly by the hardworking small and poor peasants with family labour. A comparison of caste-wise acquisition of cultivable wastes in a village in the district during the period 1891 to 1948 shows that it was small farmers belonging to Yadava, Boya and Muslim communities who occupied most of the cultivable wastes.81 However, as there was a change in the composition of families in the post-famine period, family labour was hard to come by.82 Second, such peasants in the post-famine period were extremely impoverished. A Settlement Officer remarked (in 1905): 'The survivors among the ryots were impoverished, many doubtless had deteriorated physically. A new generation has grown up, but the memory of the great famine still lives and has increased the dull fatalism of the ryots'.83 Third, family life was severely affected in the post-famine period. After the famine, widows, widowers and orphans must have found it difficult to cope in an economy where the family was the central productive unit. These circumstances might have changed the labour participation rates or led to an intensification of labour effort. But it is doubtful whether such changes had any significant impact on the extension of cultivation. Thus, the poor and small peasants were at a disadvantage as far as the extension of the cultivation and reoccupation of the lands relinquished were concerned.

Even if richer peasants wanted to occupy the cultivable wastes, the reduction in the number of labourers and tenants in the district acted as a constraint. A substantial loss of population (belonging mainly to agricultural labourer castes) coupled with some out-migration had reduced the number of working hands available in the district.

It is difficult to establish the actual decline in the number of labourers as data on occupational distribution of population in 1872 are not comparable with those in 1881. Hence, the trends in population belonging to the agricultural labourer castes such as Mala, Madiga and Boya are taken as a proxy for the trends in agricultural labourers in the district. This method is justified on the grounds that there was little occupational mobility during this period. The proportion of Madigas, Malas and Boyas in the total population declined from 29 in 1872 to 25 and remained virtually the same

81 D. Rajasekhar, Land Transfers and Fdmily Partitioning: A Historical Study of an Andhra Village (New Delhi, 1988), pp. 18-20.

82 An enquiry into the causes of non-occupation of cultivable wastes in Anantapur district also showed that 'paucity of cultivating ryots' was the chief reason for the lack of agrarian expansion. PBR. No. 103, May 1, 1895. p. 7. This was the case in Bellarv also: the lands now waste are so chiefly from the want of people to cultivate them', PBR. No. 2207, August 1. 1883. p. 5.

83 Settlement Report of Pattikonda Taluk of Kurnool District. PBR. No 132. April 27. 1906.

in 1891. As a result, the money and real wages of casual labourers in the district were not only high but also were rapidly increasing during the period 1877-1891 (Figure 2). In contrast, rapid population growth along with immigration into the deltaic districts resulted in larger labour availability and lower wages.84

Figure 2: Index of Money and Real Wages Kurnool (1877/8 - 95/6)

Loss of Livestock

The famine had greatly reduced the cattle population; the Collector's estimate of the loss was 40 per cent.85 Consequently, the availability of ploughing cattle was small, around six to eight bullocks per 100 acres of tilled area in the district.86 However, considering the fact that the data on ploughing animals related to both bulls and bullocks, the number of bullocks per 100 acres of sown area must have been even smaller. Thus, the ploughing

84 In Kurnool district, the average annual wage rate for rural unskilled labour ranged between 3 to 6 annas, while in Godavari district it ranged between 2 to 3 annas, G.N. Rao, 'Transition from Subsistence to Commercialised Agriculture: A Study of Krishna District of Andhra, c. 1850-1900', Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 20, June 22-29, 1985, pp. A-65.

85 Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1876-77, op. cit., p. 3.

86 For more details on loss of livestock, see D. Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., pp. 28-29.

animals were insufficient for good tillage as well as for the extension of cultivation in the district.87

Tax Burden

Regarding the tax burden as an impediment to the agrarian expansion, the evidence is mixed. The average assessment was around one rupee per acre of dry land in most of the taluks. The increase in prices reduced the percentage of assessment in the gross produce from 12 in the triennium ending with 1885-86 to 8.83 in that ending with 1898-99,88 and thereby lessened the burden of taxation. However, in the taluks of Koilkuntla and Pattikonda, the assessments were heavy,89 a fact which was acknowledged even by the Board of Revenue.90 Benson also showed that 'good lands in these taluks (especially in Pattikonda) were left waste, because of extraordinarily high average assessment on them'.91

Changes in Cropping Pattern

The slow agrarian expansion was, to some extent, due to the partial development of commodity market. Though the prices started increasing from the mid-1880s, the product market failed to gain momentum due to the recurring famines. Soon after the famine struck, the peasantry showed preference for raising food crops.92 Consequently, the area under non-food crops declined from 17.71 per cent in the triennium ending with 1875-76 to 13.73 per cent in that ending with 1879-80. Since the decade 1881-91 was free from famines, the farmers began to make efforts to grow cash crops and

87 C. Benson, who toured the Greater Bellary and Cuddapah districts in the early 1880s, remarked that, 'nothing struck me more than the seeming dearth of cattle .... Even in ordinary times ... it does not seem likely that enough cattle would be available to the ryots', PBR, February 19, 1881, pp. 876-877.

88 For more details, see Table 10 in Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit.

89 In the taluks of Pattikonda and Koilkuntla, the commutation rates were fixed on the basis of district average prices. Benson's comparison of the commutation rates with local prices shows that the settlement rates were 'little favourable to the ryot at Pattikonda and a little less favourable at Koilkuntla'. He noted that such high assessment rates would 'prevent any accumulation by the ryots' and would not enable them to 'form a reserve store on which to support themselves during an unfavourable season', Benson, An Account of the Kurnool, op. cit., p. 27.

90 Regarding Benson's observation that the assessments were high in Koilkuntla and Pattikonda taluks, the Board commented that he 'may possibly be right, but the question need not be discussed' as the government already ruled out the possibility of revising the assessment rates in these taluks. See PBR, No. 262, May 29, 1889, p. 17.

91 Benson, An Account of the Kurnool, op. cit., p. 27.

92 In the years following the famine, 'the ryots sowed as much land as possible with food grains'. See Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1878-79, op. cit., p. 7.

thus took advantage of the rising prices. However, the famines of 1891-92, 1896-97 and 1899-1900 compelled them to switch back to the food crops. Consequently, the share of area under food crops increased from 74.85 per cent in the triennium ending with 1888-89 to 79.08 per cent in that ending with 1899-19.00.

Thus, notwithstanding the development of trade and transport,93 the commodity market could not gain momentum mainly due to the recurring famines in 1890s. But the impact of this was not the same across the various strata of the peasantry. For instance, the proportion of cotton area on inam lands was high compared to that on government lands during the period 1879-80-1891-92. Since rich peasants possessed most of the inam lands, they were in a better position as far as the cultivation of cash crops was concerned.

Economic Mobility of Rural Households (1875-1900)

Although the failure of crops was complete during the famine period, the percentage of land that was given remission was only 29 in 1876-77 and 12 in 1877-78. While dry remissions were not given to larger pattadars who were considered to be in a better position to pay the land revenue,94 those given to the poor were insufficient. In the post-famine period, an enormous loss of population and livestock led to a large extent of current fallows; yet remissions were not given on these lands. Added to that, the ryots were unwilling to cultivate the lands saddled with arrears for which the crops on the land were liable to be seized.95 As the lands with outstanding-arrears could not be relinquished till 1879-80, the farmers fled and only a few turned up when the government tried to reinstate them in the late 18£0s and 1890s.96

These factors resulted in an accumulation of land revenue arrears on a scale which was unprecedented in the district. In 1879-80, coercive policies had to be employed for the recovery of as much as 78 per cent of total collections. In the succeeding years, this figure ranged between 50 to 60 per cent. In the triennium ending with 1881-82, the amount for which coercive processes were issued was Rs. 9 lakhs! (Table 7). The colonial

93 For details on the development of trade and transport in the district during this period, see D. Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., pp. 34-35.

94 Benson. An Account of the Kurnool, op. cit., p. 103.

95 Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1879-80, op. cit. p. 3.

96 In 1883, the Collector had given widest publicity to the persons dispossessed during the period of famine to occupy the lands. Yet he received only a few applications from the returning migrants. Annual Settlement Reports of Kurnool, op. cit., for the years 1882-83 to 1884-85.

government found it very difficult to apply pressure in the absence of movable property with the ryots. The Collector unashamedly regretted that 'the heavy loss of cattle sustained by the ryots has deprived us a most ready means of recovering the government dues'. All that could be collected by distraining the crops and any movable property was realised. It was soon realised that in many cas»s the arrears could not be recovered as the ryots had deserted the villages without relinquishing their lands.97

Table 7

Coercive Processes Employed in Land Revenue Collections

Triennium 1 2 3 4 5 6

1878-79 35,304 443,596 1,159 23,609 14,559 11,004

1881-82 110,709 863,679 8,104 183,023 178,534 79,411

1884-85 98,231 361,988 1,475 24,392 24,840 15,380

1887-88 109,776 314,110 1,004 4,370 20,798 3,172

1890-91 105,766 n.a 174 3,321 n.a 1,946

1893-94 179,527 n.a 315 3,935 n.a 3,608

1896-97 150,312 n.a 133 1,684 n.a 2,737

1899-1900 214,553 n.a 474 5,784 n.a 4,776

Source: Reports on the Settlement of the Land Revenue of the Provinces Under the Madras Presidency, for the relevant years.

1 = Number of defaulters against whom coercive processes issued.

2 = Amount of arrears for which coercive processes issued.

3 = Number of defaulters whose property was actually sold.

4 = Amount of arrears for which the property was actually sold.

5 = Estimated value of the property.

6 = Amount realised from property sold.

Consequently, the government had to resort to auctioning of lands. The number of defaulters whose property was sold (and also the amount for which property was sold) was small compared to those against whom the coercive processes were issued. This does not, however, mean that majority of the defaulters were subsequently able to pay the land revenue. The payments were made either by borrowing or by alienation of land in private transactions. This was done partly to avoid the payment of process fees and partly due to the fact that the lands in the auction were sold at extremely low rates.98

97 Based on the Annual Settlement Reports of Kurnool, op. cit., for the years 1878-79, 1879-80 and 1880-81.

98 After examining the total transacted area and prices in the district for the period 1882-86, C. Benson arrived at Rs. 16 per acre as average land value in the district, Benson, An Account

We have data on the land transacted both in the registered and auction sales during the period 1875-76-1886-87 (Table 8). The total land transacted was significantly high during the period 1879-80-1884-85. Precisely during this period, the colonial government was ruthlessly collecting the revenue arrears. Hence, we suggest that these lands were transferred under the compulsion to clear off the land revenue arrears. A second point that emerges from Table 8 is that lands alienated in the registered as well as in auction sales to private individuals were of high quality. The average assessment on these lands was consistently higher compared to that on the lands alienated to the government, except in the year 1884-85. This implies that the best lands had a ready market. We do not have data on the class position of the buyers of these lands. Given the miserable conditions of the small farmers, it is reasonable to suppose that the rich farmers had acquired these lands.

Table 8

Lands Transacted in the Registered Sales and at the Auction Sales.

(Area in acres and assessment in Rs per acre)

Year Registered sales Auction sales

Area AA Bought by individuals AA Bought by government AA

1875-76 10,891 1.19

1876-77 12,511 1.15

1877-78 8,179 1.02

1878-79 9,186 1.22

1879-80 20,657 1.31 49,744 0.61

1880-81 31,014 1.27 31,395 0.70

1881-82 14,743 1.40 3,296 1.22 7,253 0.78

1882-83 14,157 1.32 821 1.34 1,529 1.11

1883-84 10,558 1.32 1,176 1.31 1,351 1.03

1884-85 11,337 1.35 1,203 1.27 1,133 1.53

1886-87 9,470 1.26 327 1.39 433 1.07

AA = Average assessment. Source: As in Table 7.

Again the rich peasants occupied the best lands relinquished by the poor during and after the famine. Consequently, the average assessment on lands relinquished was Re. 0.71 per acre, while that on lands taken up was Re. 0.86 per acre during the period 1875-76-1879-80. On the other hand,

of the Kurnool, op. cit., pp. 104-105. During the same period, average price realised at the revenue sale was only Re. 0.80 per acre. Annual Settlement Reports of Kurnool, op. cit., for the period 1881-82 to 1885-86.

the poor occupied some of the inferior lands due to higher assessment on best lands. During the non-famine period of 1880s, the assessments on lands taken up were generally low compared to that on lands relinquished.99 The same was noted in 1881-82: 'while the lands brought to revenue sales were high class lands, those newly taken up on darkhast were second and third rate'.100

In the post-famine period, the small peasantry could not extend the cultivation though large tracts of cultivable wastes were available and prices were on the rise from mid-1880s onwards. This was mainly due to the changes in age composition of their families, resulting in an increase in the dependency ratio in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Added to that, these impoverished families consisted mainly of sick members. The conditions of physical deterioration continued for some more time because of the malnourished children that the district had inherited in the post-famine period: 'a large number of infants in the famine districts at birth showed all the marks of being famine-stricken. Frequently in such cases the mother had no visible signs of starvation, but her previous poor living had the effect of starving the foetus in utero\m Moreover, the existence of a large number of widowed in these families hampered their chances of upward economic mobility. Thus, the famine coupled with the severe revenue collection policies of the colonial government resulted in a downward mobility of small peasantry.

A decline in the number of labourers and tenants available in the district had adversely affected the landlord class of Brahmins for they were more dependent on agricultural labourers compared to rich peasants (Reddys). The Brahmin cultivators had to keep their partially revenue-free lands out of cultivation. The occupied inam lands, which constituted a significant proportion of total occupied area, declined at a faster rate during the period 1872-73-1899-1900 (Table 9). A break-up of cultivable wastes and current fallows held under the inam and ryotwari tenures is very suggestive (Table 10). The cultivable wastes declined from 11.8 to 7.25 lakh acres between 1879-80 and 1889-90. The component of inam lands, which was larger immediately after the famine, declined, obviously as these were the best lands and were greatly in demand. A break-up of cultivable wastes and current fallows shows that the proportion of inam lands in the total cultivable wastes was small in 1885-86, but significantly increased in the late 1880s. On the other hand, the proportion of inam lands in the total current fallows ranged between 67 and 87.

99 For more details, see Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., pp. 29-33.

100 Annual Settlement Report of Kurnool, 1881-82, op. cit., p. 3.

101 Report of Sanitary Commissioner, op. cit., p. 78.

Thus, consequent upon a decline in the number of tenants and labourers available in the district, a significant proportion of inam lands was thrown out of cultivation despite the fact that these were the best lands in the district.

Table 9

Occupied Area and Current Fallows Under Inam and Ryotwari Tenures in Kurnool (1872-73-1899-1900)

Triennium Occupied land Current fallows


with Govt. Inam Total Govt. (%) Inam (%) Total

1874/5 1.219 1,074 2,293 n.a n.a n.a

1885/6 1,031 1,013 2,044 17.32 82.68 253

1888/9 1,129 933 2,062 32.09 67.91 146

1891/2 1,155 951 2,106 30.74 69.26 169

1894/5 1,163 935 2,098 46.04 53.96 109

1897/8 1,163 958 2,121 36.67 63.33 171

1899/1900 1,165 943 2,108 41.20 58.80 137

Source: Statistical Returns of the Madras Presidency, for the years shown.

Table 10

Cultivable Wastes (CW) and Current Fallows (CF) in Kurnool District.


• A B C A B C A B C

1879-80 59.44 40.56 1180

1880-81 61.84 38.16 1095

1881-82 62.38 37.62 1079

1882-83 67.13 32.87 974

1883-84 68.90 31.10 911

1885-86 69.80 30.20 802 17.74 82.26 227 90.40 9.60 575

1886-87 68.61 31.39 788 28.06 71.94 230 85.32 14.68 558

1887-88 68.79 31.21 774 24.13 75.87 210 85.46 14.54 564

1888-89 64.39 35.01 786 33.41 66.59 221 76.52 23.48 565

1889-90 64.99 35.01 725 15.37 84.63 160 79.02 20.98 565

Source: Same as in Table 9.

A = Government lands; B = Inam lands; C = Total in '000 acres.

With an increase in the extent of current fallows on inam lands, the land revenue arrears had also increased.102 Also, revenue remissions on these lands were not given. With a rapid accumulation of arrears, the partially

102 The revenue arrears on Shrotriem Jodi (quit rent) increased from Rs. 166 to Rs 17,089 during the period 1875-76 to 1878-79, while those on minor inams increased from Rs 15,335 to Rs 166,853 during the same period, Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit., p. 43.

revenue-free proprietors had to relinquish or sell much of their lands at auction sales, which led to a rapid decline in occupied inam land (Table 9). As a result, the quit-rent on minor inams declined from Rs.89,362 in 1877-78 to Rs.82,889 in 1880-81, while jodi on them had declined from Rs.59,565 to Rs.52,369 during the same period.103

Added to that, the availability of cultivable wastes and reduction in the incidence of land revenue on government lands brought down the demand for inam lands; thus squeezing the rental jncomes of the landlords. The same was observed in 1886: 'one cause of their (Brahmin landlords) poverty is ... the reduction of the assessment on government lands, which affects the rental values of inams'.1(14 Consequently, they had to alienate most of their land through registered as well as auction sales. Table 11 shows that the share of land sold by inamdars was considerably high, around 20 to 30 per cent during the period 1890-91-1912-13. In Markapur, nearly two-thirds of the inam lands were sold to either private individuals or to the government. By the turn of the century, the importance of Brahmins as the 'landed aristocracy' was on the wane. It was observed 'land is passing more and more into the hands of the cultivating classes at the expense of the absentee landholdings and the lower castes1.105

Table 11

Land Transfers by Status of the Alienator.

(Area in acres)

By wholly or partly By revenue paying Total

3-year revenue free proprietor proprietor

ending Number Area Number Area Number Area


1894 167 628 1161 4888 55 1999 344 14433 2848 19665

1897 22 645 197 4527 68 2307 690 15493 3041 20710

1900 43 496 428 4142 102 \m 694 13957 2418 18793

1903 54 645 423 5190 154 2318 1285 15132 3171 21606

1906 22 595 197 6022 90 2158 933 14865 2865 21820

1909 5 395 387 3199 52 1901 347 13460 2354 17007

1912 5 506 44 4471 49 1974 ^61 14925 2533 19657

1913* 2 461 32 3235 5 440 71 3094 2696 19057

Source: Indian Agricultural Statistics, for the relevent years. * One year figure

BOC = By order of a court. BPCG = By private contract or gift.

1(11 Appendix 2 in D. Rajasekhar, Famines and Peasant Mobility, op. cit.

104 Chetty, Kurnool District Manual, op. cit., p. 186.

105 Season and Crop Report of Madras Presidency, 1911-12, p. 1.

The lands alienated by the small peasantry and landlord class were acquired by the rich Reddy peasants. Since the loss of population among the Reddys was low, they were not severely affected by the changes in the age composition of population. Unlike Brahmins, Reddy men and women used to work on the lands and consequently, the decline in the number of agricultural labourers did not affect them. They also participated in trading activities even during the famine period.106 So, when" the lands were sold at extremely low rates in the post-famine period, they were able to acquire them. Moreover, the fertile lands, which were relinquished in the post-famine period were also occupied by them as they were dominant both politically and economically. Hence, their chances of upward mobility had enhanced.

Summary and Conclusions

This paper argues that the impact of the famine of 1876-78 was neither random nor even on various sections of the peasantry in Kurnool district of Andhra. A failure of exchange entitlements during the period of famine resulted in a sharp increase in the mortality rate, which was, however, uneven across the socioeconomic, sex and age groups. The population loss was the highest among the lower castes of Madigas, Boy as and Chenchus. Among the sexes, the males perished more as they out-migrated in search of employment and food. They also came into contact with epidemic diseases, widely prevalent at the relief camps. The mortality rate of females and older people, who were left behind in the protected environment of villages, rose at a slower rate. The mortality rate of children, especially of males, was the highest in the district. Added to that, the birth rate, which declined during the famine period due to demographic, social, medical and sanitary reasons, rapidly increased after the famine.

The lower birth rate, higher mortality rates of males and children, lower mortality rates, of-females and older people, and a faster increase in birth rate in the post-famine period brought about striking changes in the age and sex composition of the population in the district. Consequently, the dependency ratio (the number of dependents per male in the age group of 15-60) increased in the 1880s and in the 1890s. Moreover, a substantial loss of population in the age group of 15-60 resulted in a large number of widowed. Thus, there was a change in the age and sex composition of families, expecially of small peasants belonging to the depressed castes as they were the chief victims of the famine.

Such a change in the age and sex composition of the families of small peasants and also a disruption in their family life resulted in their slow recovery from the faming. Although many small peasants either sold or PBR. No. 551, December 17, 1900, p. 51.

relinquished much of their cultivated area during and after the famine period, they could not bring the cultivable wastes under the plough. Thus, the slow agrarian expansion in the district during the post-famine period is to be attributed not to the decline in population per se but to changes in the age and sex composition of families of poor and'small peasants, the disruption of their family life and the consequent general decline in the quality of their labour.

On the whole, the poor and small peasants experienced downward economic mobility. The colonial policies of land revenue collections also contributed to this process. The ability of rich peasants to cope with the problems posed by the famine was distinctly better than that of the small peasants. Hence, the former benefited from the economic deterioration of the latter both during and after the famine. The landlord class of Brahmins also experienced downward economic mobility as it was affected by the reduced supply of tenants and labourers. Thus, a polarisation of the peasantry seems to be the predominant tendency during this period.