Bengal Famine 1943: A genocide using lockdowns
January 7, 2024: As we entered 2024, India went past the 80-year-mark of the 1943 Bengal famine – one of the darkest chapters in the history of colonialism of all time. It was a manufactured famine, not a natural one. About 30 lakh people were forced to starve to death over a two-year period.
It was an unacknowledged genocide engineered by criminal-minded British invaders using a cold-blooded policy of ‘lockdowns’. Yes, lockdowns; like the lockdowns we saw in 2020.
Historians won’t tell you the story from this perspective. That British occupiers used lockdowns to cause the 1943 Bengal famine. Intellectual people in modern-day Bengal and Odisha, and in today’s Bangladesh, love to express their anger over the well-documented Holocaust in Europe. But most of them foolishly forget Bengal’s own Holocaust. In this special report on the Bengal famine, we will look at how the British Empire imposed three deadly lockdowns to commit the genocide.
We will discuss the dirty tactics of ‘denial policy’ and ‘biopolitics’. We will recall former British PM Winston Churchill’s racist remarks about dying Indians. And we will look at modern-day Bengalis’ fascination for everything British despite knowing the truth about the 1943 Bengal famine.
The unknown Holocaust
How many people did the European Holocaust kill between 1941 and 1945, the peak years of the anti-Jew genocide? About 60 lakh people were slaughtered across Europe.
Compared to that, the Bengal famine killed 30 lakh people, but over a much smaller geographical area. The 60-lakh Holocaust deaths covered the entire stretch of the European continent. In contrast, the 30 lakh Bengal famine deaths covered undivided Bengals and Odisha. So, the Bengal region’s Holocaust was clearly far more concentrated and intense than the one in Europe.
Eighty years on, people around the world and even Bengali-speaking people themselves have pushed the famine into the background. Nobody officially calls it a genocide, even though it was one.
Let’s turn the clock back. Let’s look at how the remorseless British culprits used three back-to-back lockdowns to carry out mass murders in cold blood, and later blamed it on nature and accident.
When World War 2 was underway, forces of the Japanese Empire were advancing towards British-occupied India. In 1943, Japanese invaders swooped in on Myanmar and captured it. It was called Burma at that time. The Japanese move left the British monarchy in London petrified. Japan was knocking on the doors of the British Empire. They were all set to invade British-occupied Bengal and make a massive dent on imperial Britain’s prestige. The Bengal region at that time covered today’s West Bengal, Odisha, and the country of Bangladesh.
Enter Winston Churchill
At that time, the criminal family at Buckingham Palace was running the British Empire through a puppet government in London. The palace urgently ordered British PM Winston Churchill to do something about Bengal, which was on the crosshairs of Japan. Now, Churchill was a racist and highly insensitive character. He decided to take a cruel path. He ordered British occupiers running Bengal to enforce a ‘denial policy’.
What is a ‘denial policy’? It’s an inhuman military strategy that’s also called ‘scorched earth policy’. The policy goes like this: during a war, the ruler of a certain place deliberately destroys all the resources of that area, so that when the opponent army storms in, they don’t find any resources to survive on; and therefore, they are forced to retreat.
In 1976, anti-establishment French philosopher Michel Foucault described this denial policy using new terms, such as ‘biopower’ and ‘biopolitics’. There are historical examples of denial policy or biopolitics. The most infamous case was that of former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s spectacular defeat in Russia.
In 1812, when invasion-obsessed Napoleon’s French army was advancing towards Moscow, Russian emperor Alexander’s army decided to strategically burnt down the entire countryside. Every resource was destroyed, every house was taken down, all food was removed, and the local people were displaced and thrown into misery. As Napoleon’s army surged towards Moscow, they literally began to starve to death on the way as there were no resources to live on for the invading fighters. Eventually, the French forces gave up and Napoleon had to concede defeat.
Coming back to 1943, Churchill deployed the same dirty plan – destroy the food resources all over Bengal. So, if the Japanese forces arrive, they would have nothing to live on, and would reluctantly retreat to Myanmar.
Interestingly, despite being exploited by British and other European invaders, Bengal was still resource-rich. It used to be a major rice producer in the world. One-third of the Indian subcontinent’s rice was supplied by Bengal’s farmers, who cultivated three popular types of paddy.
Rice cultivation apart, fishing was also a major economy across Bengal. Lakhs of fishermen relied on their fishing boats and a network of resource-rich rivers for food as well as livelihood.
Now, let’s understand this denial policy from a modern perspective. Basically, the British occupiers imposed a series of lockdowns, one by one, to demolish the Bengal region’s economy. They were not called lockdowns at that time, but that’s precisely what they were, going by today’s standards.
Lockdown No.1: Rice cultivation
The opening blow from Churchill’s team came in March 1942. It came in the form of an artificial disruption of rice production and distribution. John Herbert, a British invader and governor of Bengal at that time, did the hit-man’s job. Herbert, as Churchill and the monarchy’s point-man in British India, declared a strict lockdown on paddy cultivation and rice business in three districts of Bengal – Khulna, Mednipur, and Borishal.
The rules of the hard lockdown were something like this: no new paddy cultivation could be undertaken; and the paddy that was already harvested and the rice already stockpiled would need to be handed over to the British army – they got first preference to consume it, not the Bengal region’s public.
British-appointed local police were tasked with monitoring and ensuring that there was no new paddy cultivation in Bengal. The Bengal Chamber of Commerce, which was made up of mostly British-owned companies, declared cunning schemes to justify the lockdown on rice. In a matter of a weeks, about 40,000 tonnes of rice were snatched away from the farmers and public of Bengal.
Lockdown No.2: Fishing boats
The next blow to Bengal came in the form of a lockdown on fishing boats. The paranoid British feared that Japan would take control of Bengal’s fishing boats and the river transport network. So, the British declared a lockdown on all medium and large-sized fishing boats. In one clean sweep, thousands of fishing boats were declared illegal. About 65,000 boats were snatched away from fishermen; many of them were burnt down by the British army and the rest were locked up.
Lakhs of people who survived on fish as food and for business fell into crisis. Marketplaces had to close down because river transport was shut off. Migratory labourers couldn’t travel for work because passenger boats disappeared. Of course, the ruthless British gave a damn about the critical situation, having created it in the first place. They were just happy that with the boats gone, Japanese troops wouldn’t find the river network useful if they invaded Bengal.
Lockdown No.3: Domestic trade
The next blow came in the form of a lockdown on trade. The British rulers imposed trade barriers and price controls on various essential goods. Traders in Bengal were not allowed to import or export essential products. The trade lockdown also covered other parts of Indian territory. The Punjab region was banned from exporting wheat. The central regions were banned from exporting various food grains. The areas covering today’s Chennai, West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh were all banned from exporting rice.
What was the purpose of this lockdown? To disrupt free movement of foodstuff, so that Japanese invaders would have trouble accessing food, in case they arrived.
Due to these three lockdowns as part of the denial policy, the entire Bengal region broke down as a civilisation. Businesses disappeared. Marketplaces were dead. Inhabited areas turned into ghost towns overnight. Lakhs and lakhs of people began dying from hunger on the streets. Bodies were all over the place. Those who survived became beggars.
Basically, it was a well-orchestrated genocide carried out in anticipation of an invasion by Japan. Well, the much-hyped Japanese invasion didn’t happen eventually, except for a few war-time air raids.
Taking advantage of Bengal famine
While starvation deaths were rising, troops from Britain, United States, and China were deployed in Bengal. Since British invaders saw the eastern Indian region as a frontier against the Japanese Empire, soldiers of the Allied powers were posted in Bengal, building air-strips to prepare for a full-scale war with Japan, if things came to that.
As expected, the characterless foreign soldiers were taking undue advantage of the humanitarian crisis in Bengal at that time. Have a good look at the photograph below. It is disturbing and disrespectful, to say the least. It was taken somewhere in today’s Kolkata, called Calcutta at that time. It was clicked during the peak of the 1943 Bengal famine, when locals were desperate for money just to survive.
In the photograph, a young-looking American soldier is pictured haggling with some Indian prostitutes. As documented, the girls pictured here are offering the US trooper their service for three to six dollars. Is this what the American soldiers were sent to Bengal for? Since this particular case is documented, there could be many more such instances of US, British, and Chinese troops taking advantage of local women. The foreign forces were basically cashing in on the crisis.
The British Empire’s puppet PM Churchill wasn’t left behind either when it came to taking the 1943 Bengal famine lightly. His disrespect for the hunger-hit people of Bengal is well documented in his words. Once, when he was asked about whether urgent food supplies should be dispatched to Bengal, he infamously remarked that since people in Bengal breed like rabbits, there was no need to worry about their suffering and deaths. On another occasion, Churchill sarcastically asked if Gandhi had died or survived the famine.
What is most unfortunate about the whole episode is how modern-day Bengalis look at it. We are talking about the people of West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh. Instead of feeling humiliated, many of them have forgiven the British colonisers; forget about seeking damages from the devious Buckingham Palace and the scheming British government.
Today, the average household in Bengal, Bangladesh, and Odisha is a fan of most things British.
Worshipping the looters
The Indian subcontinent was rocked by at least 13 famines when the British had occupied it. Yet, the local families today worship British institutions – the same institutions that did not object to the 1943 genocide; institutions such as the Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Many educated Bengali parents, showing an inexplicable lack of self-respect, today dream of sending their children to Imperial College, King’s College, and London School of Economics. A job placement in London – where the 1943 Bengal famine was planned and plotted – is today seen as a milestone for the family.
One can easily find Bengali people in Kolkata queueing up to take membership of British Library and then flaunt it. They take pride in the Victoria Memorial, even though it stands tall and bright as a symbol of the Buckingham family – the family behind the 1943 genocide. Many senseless Bengalis hail the illegal British occupiers for having built the Indian railway system. As if the British had built it as a gift for those Indians who survived colonial torture!
Think about the British brands that are now household names in Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh: Cadbury, Land Rover, Vodafone, Reebok, Kit Kat, HSBC, Rolls-Royce, BBC, BMW; and landing jobs in the four accounting firms, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC.
Lack of self-respect
Incredible as it sounds, the British-origin brands are today worshipped by descendants of the famine survivors. Of course, the companies that own these brands had nothing to do with the 1943 Bengal famine. But the least that self-respecting people from the affected region can do is to take note of the place of origin of these big brands and stop worshipping them.
The genocide cannot be reversed. But at least the survivors’ descendants can stop worshipping British people and British symbols. To blindly celebrate everything British is to insult the 30 lakh victims of the British-led Bengal famine.
The people of West Bengal, Odisha, and Bangladesh can easily come together and seek reparations from Britain. It’s not hard to do, the evidence is out there. In recent times, a few African countries have openly asked the British government to return stolen treasures and pay for the colonial misdeeds. Indians can learn from them, and should shed the colonial hangover. It’s all about showing character; showing self-respect.
British invaders gave Indians at least 13 deadly famines. Eighty years since the 1943 genocide, how many more famines should happen for people to stop worshipping the wrong people?
(Image credit: Willoughby Wallace Hooper/ Picryl).
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