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Great Bengal Famine of 1943

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It never changes
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A view to kill
The Bengal Famine of 1943 has never been explained. It offers no definite lesson. The culpability of either Nature, or Administration, or London, or Market has not been proven[1].
—Tirthankar Roy

The Great Bengal Famine of 1943 was a large famine in Bengal, a state in British-ruled India, claiming the lives of at least three million people.[2] Today it is largely forgotten outside the area where it happened, but is often mentioned by critics of Winston Churchill.


Starving woman and child in Calcutta, 1943. Obviously a fake image. Famines only happen in commie countries.

The main cause of the famine wasn't crop failures or food shortage. Food availability in 1943 was significantly higher than in 1941, even though there was no famine on that year. The main cause was the fear of a shortage, which led to a panic that made prices skyrocket.[3] In other words, the famine wasn't caused by supply, but by demand. The British government refused to allow some emergency food supplies to be shipped to the starving province, fearing that they would fall into Japanese hands, but also managed to get food from many of its colonies and allies worldwide.[4]

The government (apparently not having learned from the example of a very similar situation during the Irish Potato Famine) opposed an urgent request from Leopold Amery and Archibald Wavell (the Indian secretary of state and the Viceroy of India, respectively) to stop exports of food from Bengal so that it might be used for famine relief.[citation needed] The British had exported only 1% of what they believed was the total output from Bengal that year, but the population, already used to famines, believed that this could foreshadow a huge shortage. As a result, the prices rose as those who could stock up on food did it and those who couldn't ended up with none.[5]. Churchill dismissed these in a fashion that Amery regarded as "Hitler-like," by asking why, if the famine was so horrible, Gandhi had not yet died of starvation. George Orwell echoed Amery when he said: "The way the British government is now behaving in India upsets me more than a military defeat."[6]

Churchill's role[edit]

More recently, however, some scholars and biographers have adopted a different approach towards the subject, arguing that not only was Churchill not responsible for the famine, but also that he prevented an even worse outcome.[7][8] According to these authors, the main cause of the famine was the war itself. Countries like Greece were facing an even worse food shortage and Churchill did his best to alleviate the situation in Bengal by sending supplies from Australia, New Zealand, Iraq and the US. As a considerable part of the Bay of Bengal was under control of the Japanese Imperial Navy, however, help wasn't as effective as it would have been in peacetime.

Another view was presented by the Indian-American economist Amartya Sen, who lived in Bengal during the famine. Despite arguing that the British imperial policy had "disastrous consequences", Sen critized the studies that fundamentally blame Churchill for the famine.[9][10] The Indian economic historian Tirthankar Roy endorses a similar view. According to him, saying that Churchill's racist views can explain the famine is a naïve idea. According to him, the local government is the one that should be blamed, for not sharing the information of how appalling the conditions in Bengal were during the War[11].

See also[edit]


  • The Forgotten Holocaust — blog entry by Gideon Polya
  • M.S. Venkataramani. 1973. Bengal Famine of 1943: The American Response. Delhi: Vikas Publishing.
  • Philip Weintraub. "UNRRA: An Experiment in International Welfare Planning," The Journal of Politics. (1945), Vol. 7, Pp. 1-24.


  1. Roy, Tirthankar (2019). How British Rule Changed India's Economy: The Paradox of the Raj. p. 131. Palgrave Studies in Economic History.
  3. Sen, Amartya, 1933-. Poverty and famines : an essay on entitlement and deprivation. [The Bengal Famine. p.54-86.]
  4. Roberts, Andrew, 1963-. Churchill : walking with destiny. P785-89. [New York]: Viking Press
  5. Sen, Amartya, 1933-. Poverty and famines : an essay on entitlement and deprivation. [The Bengal Famine. p.54-86.]
  6. Exit Wounds, The New Yorker
  7. Roberts, Andrew, 1963-. Churchill : walking with destiny. P785-89. [New York]: Viking Press
  8. Did Churchill Exacerbate the Bengal Famine?
  11. Roy. op. cit. 138-39