The imperial roots of hunger
In September 1900, while India suffered through one of the most severe famines in its history, a British official charged with identifying suitable recipients for free food shared his travails with the British Times. "The main difficulty in these inquiries is the unlimited mendacity of the Hindu farmer," he complained. In his experience, many supplicants for aid had "starved themselves into a state of emaciation in the hope that they would receive gratuitous doles, rather than go to work for their living" in a food-for-labour programme. The civil servant went on to describe his interrogation of a typical "starved-looking wretch":
Why is he not working? He says he has not the strength. But why did he not go to work before his strength failed? He pretends he does not understand; he only repeats that he cannot; and he falls on his knees and places his head in the dust and calls you his 'father and mother' and 'protector of the poor.' It is very pitiable – the mental and moral state more than the physical.