1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 31-35
31. Linlithgow to Amery to War Cabinet: The then Viceroy of India – Linlithgow started making food import appeals to Leo Amery – Secretary of State for India. Linlithgow initially kept modest possible tone and Amery sent letters to war cabinets. In his letters to War Cabinet, Amery didn’t mention anything about the famine but stated that aid was needed to feed the industries of Calcutta. The War Cabinet responded by promising a very small amount of wheat that was intended for Western India and not Bengal.
32. Stern Warnings: Linlithgow eventually used harsh tones to warn Amery and Amery in turn sent letters to War Cabinet on 4th August, 1943 stating about the famine and how it is affecting Calcutta and moral of the European soldiers stationed there. This is where Churchill stated that he hates Indians and that they brought down the famine on themselves by breeding like rabbits. However, eventually the War Cabinet sent a very small shipment calling it as a token shipment. This incident took place only three weeks prior to the famine photographs published by the newspaper ‘The Statesman’ and the world’s focus came down on the crisis.
33. Supplies for Allied Forces: The War Cabinet in Britain continuously refused aid or provided only a fraction of the requested aid through 1943 and 1944 stating that Allied forces need supplies because the planned on invading Normandy. The cabinet even refused to take any food shipments that other countries offered! All supplies from Australia were diverted to the Balkans and Mediterranean for the British soldiers and aids from Canada and America were blatantly declined by Churchill. In August, Churchill was more interested in saving civilians of the Nazi-occupied Greece than the starved population of Bengal. He said “starvation of anyhow underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks”.
34. Widespread Famine and Diseases: The exact date for the beginning of the famine is debatable however, it is considered to be December 1942 after Japanese air raids. By Mid-May 1943, famine was in full swing with death by starvation being reported from various districts of Bengal. By November 1943, death by starvation had reached its peak while by October 1943, death by disease was taking an upward swing only to beat the starvation death toll by December 1943. By 1944, disease became the primary killer.
35. Malaria the Prime Killer: Malaria was the primary killer. By 1943 July to 1944 June, death by malaria was 125% over the average of previous 5 years! In December 1943 alone,death by malaria was 203% above previous 5-year average. The other killers were dysentery and diarrhea that were caused by poor food quality or degradation of digestive system in absence of food. Smallpox and cholera were also other killers that were brought down by the cyclone of October and also by refugee influx from Burma.
1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 36-40
36. Family Breakdown and Migration: Rural people were the ones who were hit hardest. Families started selling their possessions starting with small items to eventually selling land, animals and then doors and windows of their houses to purchase foods and clothes. When there was nothing left to sell, the men left their families in search of job or food or to join the army. Women and children became homeless and started migrating and elderly as well as infants were left back in villages to die.
37. Migration to Calcutta: According to Famine Inquiry Commission of 1945 Report, rural poor had the vague news of food availability in Calcutta and hence, they migrated towards Calcutta only to either perish during the journey or end up in the streets of the city in thousands. As per the Commission’s report, nearly 100,000 to 150,000 homeless poor roamed the city streets often becoming victims of diseases.
38. Littering Dead: The death toll was gradually on the rise so much so that the government and the locals couldn’t properly dispose off the dead that littered on the streets. Burial grounds and cremation houses were simply overwhelmed by the number of dead bodies arriving. The dead were dragged and dropped into ditches and they were dragged with ropes tied around their necks. In Calcutta, scenario was equally grim as the dead were disposed in drinking water sources and any open space that was found. This led to fast spread of diseases.
39. Vultures and Jackals: It was a feast for vultures and jackals and dogs. They feasted on the dead and they also feasted on the ‘still alive’ masses too weak to even move. Reporters reported in November 1943 that over 500 different sets of skeletal remains disposed on banks of a canal in Midnapore alone. The scenes were disturbing. Biplabi – a newspaper from Bengal called entire Bengal a “Huge cremation ground – a place where evil spirits and ghosts meet and it is to wonder whether the Bengalis were alive only to become ghosts from some distant epoch”.
40. Prostitution and Girls: Women resorted to widespread prostitution in return for some food. It was all voluntary. Boats full of young girls for sale were reported in various ports of East Bengal. Parents used to sell their young daughters to rich for some money or food. Girls were sold into brothels that eventually became their home as they were later not accepted. Young girls were often kidnapped by pimps and no one used to look for them.