Winston Churchill Starved 3 Million Indians to Death in the Man-Made Bengal Famine of 1943

The great hero of the Anglo-American world did his best to keep up with Stalin and Hitler

Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II is a book by a science journalist Madhusree Mukerjee. It tells of British policy in India in the Second World War and how it relates to the Bengal Famine of 1943.

Mukerjee reminds the reader that before the British conquest India was a rich land. Certainly the conquerors drawn to Bengal in the 18th century were of the opinion they were adding a magnificently wealthy possession to their empire. Under colonial rule, however, Bengal soon became a synonym for poverty and a frequent setting of famine.

During the Second World War the colony was made to contribute heavily to the British war effort. India’s industries, manpower, and foodstuffs were made to serve requirements of the war the empire had involved itself in.

This was merely the latest escalation in a long lasting exploitation of the colony. The British deemed their unwanted presence in India a service and therefore extracted “payment” for it in the form of the Home Charge. As the British obstructed the expansion of manufacturing in India lest it provide competition for their domestic industry, the export of agricultural produce presented the only way of realizing this transfer.

Finally, since the empire set the transfer so high so much grain was extracted for export that the colony — which continued to produce more food than its need through the 19th century — was artificially kept in a condition of chronic malnutrition.

Unsurprisingly, there was strong resistance to colonial rule that could only be overcome by large scale repression. As part of the August 1942 crackdown against the Quit India Movement alone, more than 90,000 people were locked up and up to 10,000 were killed.

Short on manpower the British at times resorted to attacking crowds with aircraft. In particularly rebellious districts authorities burned down homes and destroyed rice supplies. British India was not unlike an occupied land.

The book exposes the manifold causes of the Bengal Famine. To begin with mortality rate in Bengal under British rule was atrocious even in a normal year with some of that attributable to malnutrition.

The immediate reasons why conditions deteriorated beyond this “normal” state of semi-famine was the catastrophic Midnapore Cyclone and the Japanese capture of Burma.

The Cyclone storm and subsequent floods disrupted life and ruined crops. The loss of Burma severed links with an important source of rice imports to India. These two factors which were outside British control, were probably enough for a disaster on their own, but subsequent British policies made the crisis far worse than it needed to be.

Anticipating the possibility the Japanese could advance further, the British carried out a scorched earth policy in coastal Bengal, seizing rice stocks, motor vehicles, bicycles and boats. Seizure of boats was particularly disruptive as they normally represented the primary means of transporting rice crops to the markets.

The loss of Burmese rice imports to India was not made up by imports from elsewhere, nor was India’s obligation to supply British Indian troops abroad lessened. Instead, India was made to cover the loss of Burmese rice imports to Ceylon, Arabia and South Africa even though these territories were already better provisioned with food than India.

Albeit in the years before WWII India had become a net importer of food, importing at least one million tons of cereal per year — a figure that was not actually sufficient to cover its needs, but represented what it could afford to import after paying the Home Charge — the British now undertook to export food from India.

Anticipating food shortages that were certain to follow colonial administration moved to protect the strata of society most useful to the British Empire — administrators, soldiers and industrial workers. It set out to buy up huge quantities of grain and store it for their use. It would pay for these stocks in the same way it acquired supplies for the war effort — by printing money.

The government acquired some grain by requisitioning, but for the most part it simply bought it. Some purchases it made on its own, others it contracted out to private traders. Big merchant companies were given advances of vast sums of money and instructed to purchase grain at any price for the government.

The price of already precious grain skyrocketed and the Bengal peasant was priced out of the market. Between the purchases of the Bengal administration, the Government of India, the army and the industries which were recipients of government largesse, grain was sucked out from rural areas. Departments of government and industries crucial for the war effort secured huge stocks of grain — part of which would end up rotting as millions starved.

What made the looting of the countryside to this extent possible was that the transfer of purchasing power away from the peasant and to the government and those the government made business with that money printing entailed.

In the course of the war the money supply increased by between six and seven times, so that the British worried they were “within sight of collective refusal to accept further paper currency”. This confounded the problem of food scarcity since some cultivators understandably held onto their grain rather than release it to the market, as it was seen a better store of value than the rapidly depreciating currency.

The reason government purchases were so devastating for Bengal peasants was that most families owned tracts of land too small to sustain their families on their own.

Even in a normal year such families were not in position to store enough of their harvest to sustain them until the next one. They were not sellers of crops, they sold their labor to the big landowners and bought food.

Except now buying food meant competing with a government that could print money at will.

Prevalence of effectively landless peasants in Bengal in itself was the result of British policies in India which had created the landlord class from what had been tax collectors before the conquest.

Albeit crop failure and the loss of Burmese imports was enough to create a serious food deficit for India, there was actually no food problem for the British Empire taken as a whole. In fact London claimed that Bengal could not be fed — not for a lack of food, but for a lack of ships — supposedly shipping was so scarce that grain, which was available, could not be taken to India without disrupting the British war effort.

Prioritizing its war over the bare lives of three million of its subjects would have been bad enough, but Mukarjee shows that shipping was nowhere as scarce as London claimed, albeit it was certainly being mismanaged. For example there was shipping and food enough to build up a stockpile in the Eastern Mediterranean for the purpose of Allied invasion of the Balkans that would never come about. Also there were always ships aplenty to build up an enormous and ever growing stockpile of food in the British Isles that the London government was actually building up for post-war use.

In reality the biggest obstacle to secure food for famine-stricken India was not a lack of means, but the lack of will to allocate the resources necessary. Such readjustments would have clashed with the interest and the intent of the British Empire under Winston Churchill to exploit its colony for its purposes to the greatest extent possible.

To their credit, not every Brit was of a mind with the London government personified in Winston Churchill.

Many officials, including high ranking ones like the Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery and the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Wavell repeatedly called for a decisive effort to relieve the famine. Governments of Australia, New Zeeland and Canada offered grain for India if United Kingdom, which had taken control of their shipping, would transport it there.

British soldiers on the scene defied orders not to help famine refugees often handing over food from their own rations.

In addition to showing how the British Empire helped cause the Bengal Famine of 1943 and then denied it famine relief Churchill’s Secret War also provides the context for these two stories.

Mukarjee recounts a fair bit of the dynamic between colonial metropolis and the colony centering on exploitation and resistance, explains the consequences of British wartime policies for the political future of the colony — partition and independence — and paints a picture of famine and repression as seen from the ground by offering vivid first hand accounts by people who were affected.

It is a book rich in content, but probably the one thing to take from it is the way in which the famine was made worse and its victims selected by government abuse of paper currency.

British reaction to food shortages in Bengal was to protect the cities and industries at the expense of the peasants. Like the Soviet Union which had faced a food crisis of its own a decade earlier the British Empire figured it was up to it to decide who would live and who would die.

Only where the Soviet method of robbing the countryside of grain in 1932-33 was requisition, the British method of choice in India was money creation. It was a more elegant method, but no less deadly, and more difficult to effectively resist.

If the famine in 1932-33 in the Soviet Union was a requisition famine, the Bengal Famine of 1943 was a printing press famine.

8 thoughts on “Winston Churchill Starved 3 Million Indians to Death in the Man-Made Bengal Famine of 1943

  1. Kazmis

    There were great rebellion in Bengal always, sadist people were even torturing their own Bengali as Master. Winston Churchil made them hungry and they gone hungry and died…No No they had bad deeds and died out of that.

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  3. Nalliah Thayabharan

    The western countries could never lead! They could only conquer and
    rule. Everywhere the western countries went disaster struck. Problem is
    the leadership is about money driven by greed and thirst for power. In
    fact there are very few leaders in the western world who have been good.

    Europe was pretty much a poor smelly underdeveloped backwater in
    global terms for most of history, although the culture and civilization
    of Asia and Africa often reached across the Mediterranean and especially
    into the areas near the middle east.

    The change from poor backwater to rulers of the world started with
    the conquering of South Asia, America & Africa and especially the
    vast amounts of gold flowing in from India, South America and Africa.
    This gold was in large used to pay for an arms race and the building of
    several huge European fleets. These armies and fleets in turn was used
    for trade. The unfriendly trade generated more wealth, more European
    arms races and even more fleets and more wealth.

    Industrial revolution made Britain and Europe enormously wealthy, so
    much so that they now could do very unfriendly trade with pretty much
    anyone.

  4. Nalliah Thayabharan

    India was already a highly “developed” and advanced civilization for
    4000+ years when Rothschild’s sea pirates stepped on Indian shores.
    Rothschild’s sea pirates began landing on the shores of India and
    started setting up armed forts at various places such as Chennai. The
    Rothschild family owned the trading company British East India Company.
    East India Company indulged in outright, shameless thievery . In 1600,
    the East India Company was granted the Charter to trade with India.
    After conquering Bengal in India, the Rothschilds set up a notoriously
    corrupt system of administration, whose sole objective was to
    shamelessly plunder the countless riches of Bengal which was the richest
    province in the entire world during that time. Bengal was literally
    turned into a graveyard of death and desolation… Millions of Bengalis
    were eliminated through the spread of diseases like the bubonic plague.
    In 1757 at the Battle of Plassey, Clive and British troops secured
    Bengal under the control of the East India Company. The Nawabs and the
    Rajahs and Zamindars were robbed of their priceless treasures.The
    Rothschilds then moved this entire horde of tons of gold looted from the
    people of Bengal to London. It was with this gold looted from Bengal
    that the Rothchild family set up the privately owned Bank of England. In
    the decades that followed, the Rothschild banking family set up the
    Federal Reserve Bank of America which to this day indulges in day light
    robbery of the American people. The Rothschilds then set up the World
    Bank, the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements. The
    Rothschilds use banks such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Bank for
    International Settlements to institutionalize the robbery of the third
    world

    Banks such as Citibank and Standard Chartered bank etc. were also set upwith the secret support of the Rothschilds to continue the robbery of
    third world and Indian people.

    When Indians revolted in the year 1857, they were told that the East
    India Company was abolished and India will be administered directly by
    the CROWN. What most of the Indians do not know to this day is the fact
    that CROWN does not mean the King or Queen of Britain but a privately
    owned Corporation of London headed again by the Rothschilds who owned the East India Company Indians were tricked and cheated with a simple name change game! The exploitation and robbery of India, its resources and people continued till 1947 under this CROWN.

    James Wilson (founder of The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and
    China) was sent to India to establish the tax structure, a new paper
    currency and remodel the finance system of India after the revolt of
    1857. Transactions in the opium trade generated substantial profits for
    Chartered bank.The same year (1853) The Mercantile Bank of India, Londonand China was established in Bombay by the Parsis who were the middle men for the East India Company. Later, the Bank also became one of the principal foreign banknote issuing institutions in Shanghai; which we
    know today as the HSBC Bank.Drug trafficking and the gold looted from
    India, Portugal, Brazil, China, Burma and other countries laid the
    foundations of the modern Monetary System controlled by Rothschild
    Family.

    In its day, the Rothschild Family owned East India Company occupied
    and manipulated the interstices of a truly global economy. Tea from
    China was bought with opium from India; Indian and later British
    textiles made from cotton grown in India purchased slaves in west
    Africa, who were sold in the Americas for gold and silver, which was
    invested in England, where the sugar harvested by the slaves ensured a
    booming market for the tea from China.

    In 1947, India and its people were again tricked into believing that
    we were granted “Independence” through the complicity of Pandit Nehru.
    Under secret orders from the Rothschilds given to him through his Jewish
    girl friend Edwina Mountbatten – a close relative of the British Queen,
    Nehru turned India and its people into rag tag clad beggars by aligning
    India with the Soviet Union which was another creation of the Jewish
    bankers. You must not forget that today the richest people in the
    country are undoubtedly the politicians who continue their thievery and
    robbery of India for the East India Company Rothschilds banking family
    as their front-men.

    The Rothschilds are now married into the British Royal Family and
    many aristocratic families of Europe. The Kohinoor Diamond which was
    robbed by Robert Clive was presented to the British Queen.The Bank of
    England which was set up through the thievery of gold from Bengal and
    the rest of India was also able to finance other banks such as Citibank
    and Standard Chartered bank. The East India Company bankers are using
    these multinational banks to rob the people of India now.

  5. Sam_Jennings

    Before the English conquest, India was a land which had been overrun by Muslim Moghuls, who had committed the largest genocide in known history… they killed more than 80 million Hindus. The English drove out the Moghuls. So at least don’t try to turn this against the UK as a whole. I’m not defending that monster tyrant, Churchill though… it’s open season on him.

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