4-MIN READ

What Was 'Racist' Winston Churchill's Role in 1943 Bengal Famine Which Killed Millions?

What Was 'Racist' Winston Churchill's Role in 1943 Bengal Famine Which Killed Millions?

Churchill, in India, is remembered as the man who caused the devastating Bengal Famine.

Jashodhara Mukherjee
  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 9, 2020, 5:35 PM IST
Share this:

Everyone knows Winston Churchill was a famous racist-- so when the statue in London's Parliament Square was defaced with "Churchill" crossed out with black marker pen and the words "is racist" underneath, many breathed a sigh of relief.

Protesters also pinned a poster to the memorial with the words "Black Lives Matter." Soon after the defacement of the property, along with outrage, came justification. "But, he was racist," that's what Twitter said.

Many Indians agreed with the thought.

Winston Churchill, in India, is remembered as the man who caused the devastating Bengal Famine.

In 2019, a study published in the journal, Geophysical Research Letters, suggested that the Bengal Famine of 1943 which led to the death of more than 3 million people, was not caused just by drought but also due to complete policy failure on part of then-British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The scientists analysed the level of soil moisture between 1870 to 2016 to find out what exactly happened. According to them, there were six notable famines during this time frame and the Bengal Famine was the only one that could not be traced to any crop failures or deficit of soil moisture.

READ: 'Churchill Was Racist': Indians Remember Bengal Famine after Statue is Vandalized

The same study also asserted that Bengal's problems in that year were exacerbated by other factors related to World War II which affected the state's economy.

In fact, the researchers showed that the conditions of drought were the worst in 1941 while levels of rain were above average in 1943, when the famine was at its peak. Then was it indeed Churchill who was responsible for the famine?

In 2017, Indian politician Shashi Tharoor ranked Chruchill as one of the "worst genocidal dictators" of the 20th century in his book, 'Inglorious Empire.' In the book, Tharoor argued that Chruchill's reputation as a champion of human rights and an inspiring wartime leader is misleading for he was behind the death of millions of people in Bengal. According to Tharoor, as the famine ravaged through Bengal, Churchill diverted food rations to Greece and other countries.

Tharoor's claims were confirmed by journalist Madhushree Mukherjee in her book, 'Churchill's Secret War'. According to Mukherjee, Churchill was secretly sending food shipments to war-stricken Britain and other European countries and denying access to Bengal. British historian Diana Preston disagrees. Preston admits that Churchill did not really care about India, but he did not orchestrate the famine. The only thing he was guilty of was not responding to the famine crisis before it was too late.

In an essay, writer Gideon Polya wrote an essay titled 'Media lying over Churchill's crimes' where he held the British leader responsible for Bengal's state in 1943.

The official website dedicated to Winston Churchill, however, addressed these claims, debunking them. They spoke to historian Arthur Herman, who wrote 'Gandhi and Churchill' in 2008. Herman dismissed claims of Churchill causing the famine as absurd. According to him, the main cause of the famine was the fall of Burma which cut off India's chief supply of rice. Moreover, there was a massive cyclone in October 1942, which added to the woes. Churchill, according to Herman, tried to provide whatever aid he could to avoid the catastrophe, but it just was not enough.

For the past few weeks, the protests over George Floyd's death has emerged into a full-blown movement of civil unrest against oppression, police brutality and anyone or any institution that abused its power to inflict torture upon the weaker sections of society. An example of this would be the petition started in Belgium to take down all statues of former King Leopold II who was responsible for a mass genocide in Congo, which used to be a Belgian colony.

Darkest Hour, which won many accolades, where Winston Churchill is played exceptionally well by Gary Oldman, was not true to history though.

"One realises the practical need to heroise fascists like Churchill and to construct a narrative of a glorious past for Britain, especially in these post-Brexit times. A country found on shameful violence needs a history to celebrate, when they really haven’t done much that needs celebration," Bedatri wrote on BuzzFeed. 

With the statue gone, maybe it is time to review history again, to smash rose-tinted glasses and view world leaders as what they really were. At, least that's what social media seems to think:

Next Story
Loading