Churchill blamed for millions of deaths in Indian famine

Around three million died in the 1943 famine; lakhs perished on Calcutta’s streets (Photograph by Tarak Das)

From the (Conservative) Daily Telegraph in England:

Winston Churchill blamed for 1m deaths in India famine

Sir Winston Churchill may be one of Britain’s greatest wartime leaders, but in India he has been blamed for allowing more than a million people to die of starvation.

Dean Nelson in New Delhi

Published: 7:19PM BST 09 Sep 2010

According to a new book on the famine, Sir Winston ignored pleas for emergency food aid for millions in Bengal left to starve as their rice paddies were turned over to jute for sandbag production and supplies of rice from Burma stopped after Japanese occupation.

Between one and three million died of hunger in 1943.

Being Conservative, the Daily Telegraph apparently (like in its headline for this item) prefers the most conservative estimate number. Wikipedia says that the 1943 Bengal famine killed “around 3 million people”.

The wartime leader said Britain could not spare the ships to transport emergency supplies as the streets of Calcutta filled with emaciated villagers from the surrounding countryside, but author Madhusree Mukerjee has unearthed new documents which challenge his claim.

In her book, Churchill’s Secret War, she cites ministry records and personal papers which reveal ships carrying cereals from Australia were bypassed India on their way to the Mediterranean where supplies were already abundant.

“It wasn’t a question of Churchill being inept: sending relief to Bengal was raised repeatedly and he and his close associates thwarted every effort,” the author said.

“The United States and Australia offered to send help but couldn’t because the war cabinet was not willing to release ships. And when the US offered to send grain on its own ships, that offer was not followed up by the British,” she added.

The man-made famine and the contrast between the plight of starving Indians and well-fed British officers dining in the city’s many colonial clubs has been described as one of the darkest chapters in British rule on the Indian subcontinent.

Miss Mukerjee blames Churchill’s ‘racism’ for his refusal to intervene.

He derided Gandhi as a “half-naked holy man” and once said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

He was known to favour Islam over Hinduism.

“Winston’s racist hatred was due to his loving the empire in the way a jealous husband loves his trophy wife: he would rather destroy it than let it go,” said Miss Mukerjee.

WASHINGTON, Oct 25, 2010 (IPS) – A new book on the Indian famine of 1943, also known as the Bengal famine named after the specific region where it occurred, has squarely put the responsibility for the famine on then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: here.

Winston Churchill: From accusations of anti-Semitism to the blunt refusal that led to the deaths of millions: here.

Winston Churchill was a flawed figure “revolted by Gandhi in his loincloth and brown skin,” a top historian claimed last night as politicians rolled out sycophantic tributes to the wartime Tory premier: here.

5 of the worst atrocities carried out by the British Empire: here.

Mozambique: Govt Subsidizes Bread After Unrest: here.

11 thoughts on “Churchill blamed for millions of deaths in Indian famine

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  3. John Moore

    Well-written, fluent and comprehensive, All Hell Let Loose by Max Hastings is the best single-volume history of the second world war yet published and one of its most chilling statistics is that over three million Soviet prisoners of war were starved to death or shot by the nazis.

    Hastings describes Churchill’s “brutal insensitivity” to the 1943-4 Bengal famine in which one to three million people died after appalling suffering as bare skeletons. Churchill reduced scarce shipping to India by 60 per cent and pleas for help, even from Viceroy General Wavell, were rejected callously. The author always recounts what really happened in the war, despite having right-wing political values.


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