1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 41-45
41. Children: The fate of the children was not different. Many became orphaned. Many were sold as household servants and many were dropped at orphanages or at the road side. Many children became victims of sexual predators. Parents often dropped their infants in wells or buried them alive to escape the responsibility of feeding. According to the book “Churchills’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II” by Madhusree Mukherjee, a school teacher witnessed children picking up undigested grains from diarrheal discharge of a beggar and eating them!
42. Sanitation: Bengal’s sanitation broke down completely. Drinking water bodies were full of decomposing corpses. There was a scarcity of clean clothes caused by “cloth famine”. People drank from water bodies where others defecated or urinated. Hospitals were full of filth and there was no proper medical care. Diseases were rampant and took a heavy toll on the Bengalis.
43. The Cloth Famine: This was another side of the Great Bengal Famine. All textiles that were produced in India and specifically Bengal were consumed up by the British at heavily discounted prices. Whatever was left was hoarded by speculators to be sold to civilians at steep prices. People of Bengal literally lived in a single piece of cloth through winter. It was not uncommon to rob graveyards or get into frequent clashes for clothes. Men couldn’t go out for work because they didn’t have clothes to cover their loins. Women in the house shared a single cloth and came out only it was their turn to use it after other female relatives had used it. Many women committed suicide simply because they didn’t have clothes to cover their bodies.
44. Relief Efforts: The government didn’t really make any relief efforts. The real relief came in when the military took over in September 1943. In November, grains were imported from Punjab and medical supplies came in. However, by then millions had perished and more were awaiting death.
45. December Harvest and End of Famine: In December of 1943, the rice harvest of Bengal was at record high and the famine eventually ended in 1944. But before the famine came to an end, the situation of Bengal wasn’t really good till July. In July 1944 before the famine ended, Churchill responded to a urgent aid telegram from British authorities in New Delhi by saying, ‘why has Gandhi not died yet?’ By the time the Great Bengal Famine ended, 1.5 to 4 million had lost their lives because of starvation or diseases.
1943 Bengal Famine Facts in Images
- Mukerjee, Madhusree (2011). Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II. ReadHowYouWant.com. ISBN 978-1-4596-1363-8.
- Famine Inquiry Commission (1945a). Report on Bengal. New Delhi: Manager of Publications
- Famine Inquiry Commission (1945b), Final Report, New Delhi: Manager of Publications
- Collingham, Lizzie (29 March 2012). Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food