The Messed Up Truth Of The British Empire

In 1943, while the nightmare of World War II engulfed the globe, one of the biggest famines in world history occurred in eastern India, taking the lives of over 3 million people. Unlike the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, the direct causes for the Bengal Famine of 1943 are primarily considered to be more economic and political in nature, with wartime pressure seeing the British Empire divert massive amounts of food (such as rice, an item that suddenly became gold after the Japanese invasion of Burma) to various warfronts.

Inflation, widespread panic, routine transfer of valuable exports, and general imperial indifference to the repeated warnings that the situation in Bengal could leave the region susceptible to famine all contributed to paving the road to catastrophe. According to Leo Amery, the secretary of state for India at the time, Winston Churchill’s initial reply to the crisis was one of cold dismissiveness, with the prime minister making a point to place blame on Indians for “breeding like rabbits.” While more serious attempts at relief efforts began to form at the end of 1943, the ultimate tragedy had already taken countless lives.

In recent years, the horrors of the famine, which were traditionally treated as a mere footnote in the history of World War II, have finally been given more scholarly attention and deserving recognition. In an account published by the BBC, Niratan Bedwa, a survivor of the famine, described the trauma families were forced to endure. “Mothers didn’t have any breast milk. Their bodies had become all bones, no flesh,” she explained. “Many children died at birth, their mothers too. Even those that were born healthy died young from hunger. Lots of women killed themselves at that time.”

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