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Just Shoot Me

Bala, 28, Gordon Gekko in the making, pseudo-intellectual, cynic, bibliophile, obsessive compulsive ranter...

Free Market Assholism

February 28, 2008

== People, This entire act was a satire, not a real act. So go read this post to get the full details.

(for people arriving here by googling "Anti-Charitable contributions act of 1877", the partial text is given after a couple of paragraphs)

I have been trying to finish reading Mike Davis' "Late Victorian Holocausts" for about a year and a half now. In this excellent(and heavy) book there is a mention of a law passed by the British colonial Government (by viceroy lord lytton) during the famine of 1877-78. The law was called "Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877". The law was meant to punish people for donating to the poor and the needy during famines(!). I know, it sounds too stupid and outlandish. I wanted to see what such an act would exactly say and went googling for it. It is in a book called Famine campaign in southern India by William Digby (published 1878). The book is under copyright, so i had to pull the entire text of the Act from Google books - one snippet at a time by guess work and a thousand or so search phrase combinations. I have pulled most of the text out, but atleast a quarter remains unreachable (The book cannot be bought, but is available in New York public library). I already knew what comes out of letting communists legislate and now i know what comes out of free market fundies legislating.
First a little background:
a) By 1877 most of India is under British Rule. British regent for colonial India is Lord Lytton
b) Famine happens in Southern India (The erstwhile "Madras Presidency") and millions starve.
c) Causes of famine : ecological (el nino), technological (introduction of railways facilitates movement of grain outward from famine stricken areas), economical (introduction of trading grain commodity markets leads to hoarding, speculation drives prices up) and imperial (grain exports to Britain)
c) Lord Lytton being an blind acolyte of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, believes the proverbial "invisible hand" will eventually salvage the situation (i.e.. the starving people will die and stop being his problem)
d) Pesky bleeding hearts in London (Like Florence Nightingale) start making noises and organizing aid for the famine stricken in India
e) Lytton is annoyed. The damned bleeding hearts are interfering with the functioning of free markets. He enacts the said "Anti-charitable contributions act of 1877", to punish bleeding hearts
g) Situation gets out of hand and food riots happen even in places like Tanjore (Rice bowl of TamilNadu for at least a couple of millenia)
e) Lytton finally relents and sets up "work camps" where they feed the inmates a ration which ensures that they won't have enough strength to riot.(1627 calories per day for heavy labor)
f) Eventually 10 million die in a couple of years.


I am reproducing the partial text of the Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 here (Acknowledgements and gratitude to Willaim Digby). In this age, such a thing would belong only in the pages of The Onion. But a hundred and fifty years ago, this meant the death of 10 million people.

The Anti-Humanitarian Act of 1877
An Act to define and amend the Law relating to charitable contributions during Famine Periods. Whereas it is expedient to define and amend the law relating to charitable contributions during famine periods. It is hereby enacted as follows:-

Chapter I

1. This act be called 'The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act,1877:" (short title) .It extends to the whole of the Madras Presidency. (commencement) And it has already been put into execution.viz, from August 6, 1877. (local extent)

2. On and from that day the Laws specified in the scheduled hereto annexed were repealed. But all powers conferred under either of such instructions be deemed to have be deemed to have been conferred under this Act. And all references to either of such Laws shall be deemed to be made to this Act.
These Laws are as follows :
(a) The Bible in use among Christians particularly those portions relating to giving of alms.
(b) The Koran
(c) The Hindoo Sastras and all traditions which counsel the support of life by charity.
(d) The Buddhist Banas.
(enactment repealed)

3. A contribution is a sum of money, or any quantity of food, or piece of clothing given to persons in deep and piece of clothing given to persons in deep and dire necessity.

(non necessity for aid)
4. It has at length been recognised by the Supreme Government that distress exists in the Madras Presidency in the Madras Presidency, and seeing that Famines occur with frequent regularity and must be fought on system, the government is prepared to deal with all distress that arises. It has been stated that half a million people have already died of famine, but the supreme Government has not seen each of these corpses. It is therefore enacted that it will henceforth be penal for any person to allude to this so-called ' fact,' the penalty in case of non-compliance with this order will be the same as dacoity and other crimes of violence (see acts relating to Dacoities)

Chapter IV

A, a lady living in ...(unclear) Madras, was discovered feeding a number of little children every morning with milk and brown bread. A is punishable with a fine of 500 Rs. on the first occasion and imprisonment at the discretion of the magistrate, on all subsequent occasions, when the heinous charge is proved

B. another lady living in Rayda, Madras has established a number A, third lady [it is anticipated that the ladies will be the grossest offenders], visits a relief camp, and gives 2-anna pieces to the poorest and most emaciated of children. She also clothes some. On her first visit she finds she has not a sufficient number of 2-anna pieces and sends several rupees worth by a friend D. This is a very gross transgression. A should be transported to the Andamans - not so much for the original offense, but for inducing D to break the law. D should be imprisoned for six months and recieve fifty lashes.

C (in the employment of the Government) is reported to have given Liebig's Extract to a starving man, and recovered him. This, C did, knowing that there was a relief camp a mile and a half beyond his dwelling. C may plead that it was a wet night when he did this and the starving man was exhausted but this aggravates the offense, as when camps are provided, nobody ought to be outside them, C will of course be imprisoned for twelve months will be degraded, and his past service not be allowed to count for pension.

All cases that may be brought up are to be dealt with in the spirit of these illustrations.

(See Section 2.) This is unnecessary, as the as the laws, human and divine, which are to be abrogated have been already set forth in detail

A. forms of plaints &C

There are to be no forms of plaints. The evidence of the informer that A or B to the end of the alphabet, has been guilty of the crime of aiding or abetting in any way charitable relief, shall be sufficient to secure a conviction. No defence is to be allowed to prisoners, are to be considered non compos mentis, which they clearly are, if they give of their substance and expend their sympathy upon the starving the dying, when Government has taken the task in hand.


The object of this Act is to amend and codify the law governing the giving of charitable allowances on the part of the general public during a time of famine and indeed at all other times. The want... (unclear after this point)



posted by Bala, 11:13 PM


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