Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Great Bengal Famine of 1943

The Great Bengal Famine of 1943 seems to have lately generated a lot of interest. Here's what i have studied up: The person PRIMARILY responsible for the famine was John Arthur Herbert, the Governor of Bengal, who was terribly scared of a Japanese takeover of Bengal and decided to follow a 'scorched earth' policy. He ordered destruction of most of the grain in the state after keeping aside the requirements of the military. He also ordered destruction of means of transportation, mainly bullock carts and country boats. Ventilation of all news was stopped under Defence of India rules. As a result of the consequent shortage price of rice rose from Rs 4 per maund (abt 36 kgs) in February 1942 to Rs 100 in September 1943 and poor people starved. The estimated death toll was more like 3 million (1.5 mil was an underestimate by the Ackroyd Commission which investigated the famine). interestingly, there was NO FAMINE in the neighbouring provinces of Bihar and Orissa and moving grain from these and other Indian provinces could have saved many, but Herbert did not do it. The other persons responsible for the hardship and deaths were: Bengal's Minister for Civil Supplies Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow and Secretary of State for India Leopold Amery. To be fair, Churchill is responsible for the famine only indirectly and it must be appreciated that he was running a World War, in which Bengal was one of his last priorities, His liability is mainly in not giving the matter any importance and making a few very heartless remarks. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee played a very significant part in coordinating Famine Relief and exposing in the Assembly the ineptitude of Suhrawardy. Interested persons may read my 'Life and Times of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee', Prabhat Prakashan, Delhi, 2012 (available on Flipkart and Amazon) which contains a full chapter on the subject.


  1. Very true, and what about Churchill blocking the ship with supplies to Calcutta?

  2. Your book is available on Kindle also.. CAfter your suggestion I bought it couple of years back. Thanks for taking time and writing the book.