Up until 1947, India was under the colonial rule of the British and there were a lot of tragedies that happened during the entire time that the Indian sub-continent was under the British rule. One of them was the Bengal famine of 1943, which according to some experts, is the worst of all where 3 million people faced death due to starvation and malnutrition. It happened in Bengal, which was then one of the provinces in India. There are many theories around this disastrous event but many consider it to be a man-made debacle which is not remembered by many except the geographical areas in the northeastern part of India.
According to M.S. Swaminathan, who was a renowned agricultural scientist claims a conglomeration of multiple events that resulted in this catastrophe. One was them, as he mentions was the Japanese occupation of Burma while the other was a decline in the rice crop as a result of tidal waves as well as a fungal disease. He also mentions how the governance was a total failure during that period and how the British government was so indifferent to the hardships faced by the people of Bengal. Even though India has had a history of famines in the past, this famine tragedy was different as supposedly, it had some sort of human intervention to it.
It all started when in the years before 1942, Japan occupied the neighboring Burma which at that time was a prominent exporter of rice. The Britishers also bought huge quantities of rice but hid it which was termed as ruthless by many historians. This led to a scarcity of rice and resulted in soaring prices of rice which the poor people of Bengal couldn’t afford at that time. It is quite shocking to note that about thirty percent of just one particular class of laborers faced casualties as a result of the man-made holocaust. There is a huge number of experts in the area, both from independent India as well as the UK that blames Winston Churchill for the devastation.
There have been many books written on this topic and one of the books by a Bengali author writes how Winston Churchill masterminded the event by ordering the food towards the British troops across the globe and not to the Indian people. The author also mentions how there was a possibility of wheat that was exported by Australia to be given to the suffering families but instead the British government transported it to their troops. On the top of it, while there were nations like the United States and Canada who were willing to help, their generous offers were declined by the then British government.
Many experts blame the indifferent attitude of Churchill towards the Indian community and how he ordered hardships considering the fact that India could not be held for too long. The issue could have been dealt with in a much humanitarian way if the British cabinet did not hoard the grain to use it once the war ended. There has been a lot of documentation relating to Churchill’s hostility towards Indians where it is mentioned how he was so cold in his replies back to the British colonial authorities when they enquired about the severe famine conditions at that time. Instead, he blamed the Indians for one of the worst catastrophes in modern times. One of the concerns that the author from Bengal points out is how some of the recent British prime ministers have not expressed any remorse or apologize for the event that in a way changed the Indian history. Even though it is not a widely debated event, but the suffering still resonates in the hearts of many Indians.