The great famine of Madras and the men who made it

Nice post about the forgotten Madras famine. Just ignore the mandatory references to the “dalits” and “caste Hindus” that the deranged Dravidian types are obsessed with.

The great famine of Madras and the men who made it

By B. Kolappan

Madras Famine

While we celebrate Chennai and its various facets such as the legacy of the British who practically founded the city, writer Jayamohan – through his yet-to-be released novel Vellai Yanai – reminds us of the dark and cruel aspects of the colonial era. He says that the famine of 1876-78 exterminated half the Dalit population, with millions dying. And, as has been documented by historians such as Amartya Sen, Jayamohan points out that the famine was man-made and a direct outcome of British rule and Indian inhumanity.

But the Dalits were not all submissive. In Vellai Yanai, Jayamohan records a protest action by 300 Dalit workers at Ice House, against the killing of a fellow worker and his wife. This short-lived labour unrest – a two-day sit in strike – has not been well documented in history books.

The book takes its name from blocks of naturally formed ice in the lakes of New England in the U.S. that were imported to India to add flavour to the evening drinks of British officials.

Ice blocks were cut into pieces at the factory and distributed throughout the country. But workers in the factory were kept in sub-human conditions. Jayamohan writes that the ice blocks would slide around like mad elephants when unpacked and could crush inexperienced hands handling them.

The protagonist of Vellai Yanai is not an Indian, but Aidan, an Irish police officer. Aidan records the condition of these workers: “Their [workers’] bodies look like small rocks covered by grey moss. Blisters adorn their necks and armpits. Blisters that gape open like mouths of small fishes.”

Aiden, while inspecting the migration of Dalits from Chengalpet to the city during the famine, is warned by Rev. Fr. Brennen, the parish priest of Royapuram, to resist the urge to throw a piece of bread to the “thin black hands” tapping his coach, crying “Maharasavey, thora thora” (Oh Maharaja!, open, open).

Bodies lie on both sides of the road and the Scottish Missionaries bury them. Aidan sees children clutching one another, hiding themselves in a tree to escape from marauding dogs.

Aiden resolves to help the workers, but is helpless when he confronts a corrupt British bureaucracy. Caste Hindus – traders – have no concern whatsoever, seeing in the workers an opportunity for profit. For his efforts, Aiden is rewarded with a promotion and transfer to Tenkasi.

Jayamohan says the apathy and indifference of fellow human beings towards these poor Dalits shocked him into writing the novel. “But again whenever there is a famine, people become selfish,” he adds.

“The British, who were waging wars all over the world, needed food and they rejected suggestions from officers like Aiden and allowed export of foods. Merchants sold the food for a premium while crores of people died here,” says Jayamohan.

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Filed under The Raj

12 responses to “The great famine of Madras and the men who made it

  1. Cynical

    Yet another example of collaboration between colonialist British and casteist Brahmin-Baniya cabal.

    • Indian Realist

      Why do you have so much hatred for the Hindus?

      • Hariharan

        Cynical want to support the fake ideology called” Dravidian Christianity.”

      • Jaipal

        @Indian Realist,

        I think there is an error in the article. Madras/Chennai was not founded
        by the British. The original name of Madras was Chennapatnam.
        It was already in existence before the British appeared.

        Correct me if I am wrong?

    • cnm

      You are dog. How much information we may supply you with that explodes the myth of low-caste high caste quarrel you will keep on repeating that nonsense ad nausea.
      How many other examples do you have that establish collaboration between casteist Brahmin-Baniya and colonialist British? Produce some of them here. And promise not to run away when you rebutted.

      By the way given below is an excerpt from Meenakshi Jains’s article “The Plight Of Brahmins” published in the Indian Express on Sep. 18 1990. Just read it and see for yourself the contribution of Brahmins to the Freedom Struggle.

      “The British were not wrong in their distrust of educated Brahmins in whom they saw a potential threat to their supremacy in India. For instance, in 1879 the Collector of Tanjore in a communication to Sir James Caird, member of the Famine Commission, stated that “there was no class (except Brahmins ) which was so hostile to the English.” The predominance of the Brahmins in the freedom movement confirmed the worst British suspicions of the community. Innumerable CID reports of the period commented on Brahmin participation at all levels of the nationalist movement. In the words of an observer, “If any community could claim credit for driving the British out of the country, it was the Brahmin community. Seventy per cent of those who were felled by British bullets were Brahmins”.

      • Hariharan

        You are right.
        The first rebellion against Britishers was Mangal Pandey at sepoy mutiny in 1857
        followed by Tilak,Nehru,Madan Mohan Malaviya and so many.
        Gandhi was Baniya.
        Most of the freedom fighters were upper cast

        • cnm


          The attainment of India’s independence was a collective achievement of all the Hindus. Every Hindu irrespective of his caste and social status had contributed more or less to the attainment of freedom.That’s how we got independence. So, no caste not withstanding its sacrifices can not claim credit for the attainment of independence. However, the reason why in my last comment I highlighted the immense contribution of Brahmins in the freedom movement was only to hammer the idea into the brain of that son-of-a bitch anti-Hindu cynical that the Brhmins were not the collaborators of the British but the fiercest enemies of the colonialists. I can easily add many more names to your above given list of Brahmin freedom fighters and who does not know that some of them were martyrs. But with due respect to you I must say that I never consider Nehru a Brahmin. In fact I do not consider him a freedom fighter.

          Anyway, I know how much I may try Marxist dogs like cynical with a close head never change. The fact is cynical is a stray dog who barks at you till the time you do not hit back at him. But the moment you hit back he will run away with tail between legs again to appear at another place to continue his barking at Hindus.

    • Jaipal


      And inspite of all the British atrocities, secularists like you still
      suffer from self hate and bootlick English language and customs.

      You have no self-respect. You are a product of MacCaulayism.
      Shame on you. You can’t stand up for your own culture and rellgion.

  2. Shlok

    @Cynical, oh you are still there? I think this is your 1st peg?

  3. S

    Indian Realist you are for freedom of speech, but as I have repeatedly said that freedom of speech does not mean the right to propagate lies. These jokers have been given more than ample proof that what they are stating are lies, and yet they don’t answer and provide proof for the nonsense they are spouting, but start their crap on new threads. I am of the opinion that their comments on new threads should be deleted, so they won’t spoil them at least.

  4. Jaipal

    @Indian Realist,

    What is your view on the younger generation of Indians?
    Are they as mentally colonized as the older generation of Indians,
    particularly the secularists ect? Do they have more pride?

    Do you think there is hope for India and that Indians will snap out
    of this present trend of self-alienation and reclaim our Hindu identity
    and Sanskrit language with pride?

  5. Anonymous

    There is not one single river flowing in Chennai so it is natural to assume that it was a natural disaster. But without enough rain and ground water even a massive river can dry up. River does not belong to any one caste in India. It belongs to the people who need it dearly. Please respect the river and keep them clean because we don’t know when a draught might happen.

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