Before we start with the 1943 Bengal Famine Facts, we will like to say a few words. The Dark Colonial British Rule – the British Empire – was one of the worst and darkest empires of all time. The empire built its wealth on the ashes of its colonies, specifically India. The British engineered two of the worst genocides in world and both of them were in Bengal Presidency under British rule. Those genocides hit Bengal – India’s rice belt – in form of famines. The first major famine was the 1770 Bengal Famine and then came the 1943 Bengal Famine during World War II.
While the natural causes were partially behind the famines, both of them took worst shapes after callous administration by the British government in India. The 1943 Bengal Famine, which is often called as the Great Bengal Famine was engineered by Winston Churchill (the revered war Prime Minister of England) using war time censorship and destruction of crops and boats in coastal areas.
And Churchill – the bastard – said: “The famine is Indians’ fault because they Breed Like Rabbits. I hate Indians. They are beastly people with beastly religion.” Churchill was well informed about the famine and the ever increasing death toll and yet he said, “Then why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” Yes, that was Churchill – the shameless, ungrateful, racist, rascal, who should have died in his mother’s womb!
Okay, enough of prelude. Let us now jump into the 1943 Bengal Famine facts and find out what happened, why it happened and what was the aftermath of one of the largest engineered genocides of the British Raj that has long been forgotten because of the war-time censorship and because of the history that the British wrote!
1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 1-5
1. India’s Rice Belt: Rice was the major crop produced by Bengal prior to the 1943 Bengal Famine. 88% of arable land went into rice cultivation and 75% of all crops produced in Bengal was rice. Bengal, at that time, produced 1/3rd of all rice produced in India.
2. Population Surge: Between 1901 and 1941, Bengal’s population saw 43% surge with population rising to 60.3 million from 42.1 million. Combined with archaic agricultural methods, heavy dependence on monsoon and absence of planned irrigation and of course, subsistence farming eventually turned Bengal into a net importer of food grains from net exporter. High population was pushed to the brink of malnutrition.
3. Land Tenure System: The land tenure system of Bengal comprised of three tiers with top being the zamindars (large land owners), jotedars or wealthy peasants making up the second tier and finally came ryots or peasants with small or no land holdings. Zamindars lost power by early 20th century. Jotedars became powerful. Ryots remained powerless and poor.
4. Shift to Rural Credit and Land-Grabbing: Great Depression (1929 to 1939) had hit India and formal and large credit entities vanished. Jotedars came in giving local credit to ryots for purchasing supplies like seeds and equipment, oxes etc. for cultivation. The interest rates with too high and failure to repay put ryots in perpetual debts, forcing them to sell their lands partially or fully to jotedars at low prices.
5. Transport: Roads were existent but very poor, which forced Bengal to depend heavily on water transport for moving both raw supplies for agriculture and other trades as well as finished goods. Enters the railways between 1890 and 1910. Railway embankment networks disrupted local drainage, diving entire Bengal into tiny compartment with improper drainage. Result? Areas of stagnant waters, increased flooding tendency, damaged crop production and increased silting. Conditions became ripe for water-borne diseases such as malaria and cholera.
1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 6-10
6. Soil Conditions: Bengal has a diverse land profile. On the eastern side of Bengal is lighter and sandy sedimentary soil. Western Bengal has heavy clay profile. After monsoons, eastern side drained quickly, forcing farmers of central and western Bengal to leave the land fallowed. Eastern side of Bengal didn’t have much of that requirement. Fallowed lands once flooded led to breeding of malaria vector mosquitoes. With relatively slow drainage on western side, malaria epidemics lasted longer.
7. Water Supply: There were primarily three supplies – tube wells, rivers and large earthen tanks. Tube wells were relatively safe but rivers and tanks were susceptible to cholera contamination. During drier months, earthen tanks dried up partially, creating stagnancy and ideal breeding grounds for malaria vector mosquitoes. Landlords barely went for tube wells and when war time befell Bengal, the conditions of existing wells worsened.
8. Start of Burma’s Occupation by Japan: Japanese occupation of Burma was the stage buildup phase for the Great Bengal Famine. Japan attacked Burma in late December 1941. This led to exodus of Indians in Burma to India. Bengal province, Assam province and Manipur princely state were the ones where refuge influx was maximum. This led to food crisis in Bengal. On top of that, Allied forces retreated to India from Burma and claimed a share on supplies and thereby further stretching the food supplies.
9. Fall of Rangoon and Quit India Movement: In March 1942, Rangoon fell to Japanese forces. Indian imports of rice from Burma were totally cut off. In April 1942, Japan bombed merchant ships in Bay of Bengal, sinking 100,000 tons of shipping. Japanese raids were putting strain on railways and the civil unrest in India in form of Quit India Movement due to failure of negotiations between Indian National Congress and British for offering Dominion Status to India caused further troubles. Failure of the negotiations made British under command of Churchill to take authoritarian stance and they arrested and jailed Indian leadership for two years. The result was that Indian political activists, without their leadership started sabotaging government properties like railways, post office, telegraph, bridges, factories etc. Additionally, railway lines were dismantled by British to prevent the Japanese from potentially using them for invading India – the “Crown Jewel” of British Empire. This created problems for transport of civil supplies and relief.
10. Bengal Becomes Military Base: Bengal was close to the war front and naturally saw an influx of Allied forces from all over the world starting 1942. This influx led to displacement of nearly 150,000 individuals from their homes and villages that were requisitioned for military use with no compensation whatsoever. Food and other supplies were diverted for military use, further stretching food supplies. The British government took a policy for forcing private firms to sell goods for military forces at low price and charge whatever they want for the leftovers to be sold in domestic market. This led to ‘cloth famine’ as well when cloth prices more than quadrupled by mid-1943.