1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 11-15
11. Adoption of Denial Policy: Assuming the Japanese forces may invade British India through Bengal, British government adopted the Denial Policy and set in motion the ‘Scorched-Earth’ initiative in March 1942. As part of this policy and initiative, surplus food grains (primarily rice) in Barisal (then Bakarganj), Khulna and Midnapore were destroyed or aggressively purchased by government officials). The idea was to ensure that if Japan invaded they shouldn’t have access to food supplies. This led to further scarcity and inflation.
12. Adoption of Boat Denial Policy: Boat denial was part of the overall denial policy adopted by the British in April 1942. The government confiscated boats in coastal areas that could accommodated at least 10 people at once. The idea was to deny transport for Japanese troops in an event of possible Japanese invasion. By end of March, army had confiscated more than 46,000 boats which created the transport backbone for almost every economic class – from fishermen to artisans to farmers. The boats were primarily used for moving raw, semi-finished and unfinished goods. Initially the government paid heftily for the boats to the owners. The owners used the money to quickly buy food and clothes as they couldn’t store the rupee notes that were used. The paper used for printing the notes were vulnerable to white ant attacks. This abrupt purchase of food and clothes lead to further inflation that was already caused by factors mentioned in points 8 through 11 above.
13. Inter-Provincial Trade Barriers of Mid 1942: The British introduced the Defence of India Act, 1939 in 1941, allowing provinces and princely states to impose barriers on inter-provincial trades. This was implemented by the provinces and princely states by mid-1942. The idea used by provincial governments was to ensure that local population didn’t revolt and stayed well-fed. This was one of the several pathetic policies that the British government introduced, leading to further crisis of food and further inflation in Bengal.
14. Prioritized Distribution of August 1942: This was yet another pathetic policy that the colonial government took. At that time, Bengal and in particular, Calcutta (now Kolkata) was the hub for wartime production including heavy machinery, textile and armaments. 80% of all requirements of Asian theater was produced in Kolkata or the then Calcutta. To keep those people employed and prevent them for leaving, the British government introduced ‘Prioritized Distribution’ in August 1942. People were divided into two classes – Priority and Non-Priority. Priority class were those that contributed to war efforts in ways such as production, military services, medical services etc. They received rationed rice and essentials, often at low and discounted prices. The non-priority group – mostly the farmers, peasants and poor people – were left to fight over whatever they could put their hands on. So, the rural populace remained unfed while the urban populace involved in war efforts or sympathetic to British rule had access to rice diverted from rural areas.
15. Onset of Brown Spot Disease in October 1942: During winter, Bengal was hit by outbreak of Brown Spot Disease caused by Cochliobolus miyabeanus fungus. This affected the rice crop.
1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 16-20
16. The October Cyclone: Through Bay of Bengal, a massive cyclone entered Bengal on 16th October. The landfall was in South 24 Paraganas and Midnapore. It claimed lives of 190,000 cattle and 14,500 lives. The cyclone was responsible for destruction of paddy stocks present with dealers, cultivators and consumers. The atmospheric conditions created by the cyclone resulted in sudden spike in malaria incidences.
17. Three Storm Surges: Three storm surges followed the cyclone. These storm surges had hit on October 16 and October 17. The result was complete destruction of Midnapore’s seawalls. Sea water managed to flood large areas of Tamluk and Contai.
18. Aftermath of Natural Disasters: Eventually, the cyclone and the storm surges created large waves that swept over 1,200 square kilometers inland with nearly 1,000 square kilometer coming under the clutches of floods. Nearly 8,300 square kilometers of land were destroyed by torrential rains and wind.
19. Destruction in Numbers: The cyclone and the storm surges destroyed 7,400 villages in Bengal. Nearly 1,600 villages had to deal with stagnant flood waters for weeks and widespread dysentery, cholera and other water-borne diseases affected people. 1,900 schools, 527,000 houses were destroyed and nearly 1,000 square miles of highly fertile paddy lands of Bengal province were destroyed. At the same time, standing crop over 3,000 square miles was also damaged.
20. Spreading of Crop Disease: The Brown Spot Disease that started before the cyclone took a massive form after the cyclone as the fungal spores managed to travel far. The release of the spores took place at a very vital time when the rice crop was most vulnerable. The outbreak was one of the most devastating in the entire history of plant pathological literature.