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Encyclopedia > Bengal famine of 1943

The Bengal famine of 1943 is one amongst the several Famines that occurred in British administered undivided Bengal (now independent Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal) in 1943. It is estimated that 1.5-3 million people died from starvation, malnutrition during the famine. A famine is an phenomenon in which a large percentage of the population of a region or country are undernourished and death by starvation becomes increasingly common. ... Bengal (Bengali: বঙ্গ Bôngo, বাংলা Bangla, বঙ্গদেশ Bôngodesh or বাংলাদেশ Bangladesh), is a historical and geographical region in the northeast of South Asia. ... , West Bengal (Bengali: পশ্চিমবঙ্গ Poshchimbôŋgo) is a state in eastern India. ... A female child during the Nigerian-Biafran war of the late 1960s, shown suffering the effects of severe hunger and malnutrition. ... Percentage of population affected by malnutrition by country, according to United Nations statistics. ... A famine is a social and economic crisis that is commonly accompanied by widespread malnutrition, starvation, epidemic and increased mortality. ...

Contents

Possible Causes

The United Kingdom had suffered a disastrous defeat at Singapore in 1942 against the Japanese military, which then proceeded to conquer Burma from the British in the same year. Burma was the world's largest exporter of rice in the inter-war period, the British having encouraged production by Burmese smallholders, which resulted a virtual monoculture in the Irrawady delta and Arakan [1]. By 1940 15% of India's rice overall came from Burma, whilst in Bengal the proportion was slightly higher given the province's proximity to Burma [2].


It seems unlikely, however, that these imports can have amounted to more than 20% of Bengal's consumption, and this alone is insufficient to account for the famine, although it ensured that there were fewer reserves to fall back on. British authorities feared a subsequent Japanese invasion of British India proper by way of Bengal (see British Raj), and emergency measures were introduced to stockpile food for British soldiers and prevent access to supplies by the Japanese in case of an invasion. The flag of British India British India, circa 1860 The British Raj (Raj in Hindi meaning Rule; from Sanskrit Rajya) was the British rule between 1858 and 1947 of the Indian Subcontinent, which included the present-day India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Burma (Myanmar), whereby these lands were under the colonial...


A 'scorched earth' policy was implemented in the Chittagong region, nearest the Burmese border, whilst large amounts of rice were exported to the Middle East to feed British troops, and to Ceylon, which had been heavily dependent on Burmese rice before the war, and which was the headquarters of South East Asia Command. [citation needed] This article is about Chittagong as a city in Bangladesh. ... South East Asia Command (SEAC) was the body set up to be in overall charge of Allied operations in the South-East Asian Theatre during World War II. The initial supreme commander of the theatre was General Sir Archibald Wavell, initially as head of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command...


On the 16th October 1942 the whole east coast of Bengal and Orissa was hit by a cyclone. A huge area of rice cultivation up to forty miles inland was flooded, causing the autumn crop in these areas to fail. This meant that the peasantry had to eat their surplus, and the seed that should have been planted in the winter of 1942-3 had been consumed by the time the hot weather began in May 1943. [3].


This was exacerbated by exports of food and appropriation of arable land. However, Amartya Sen holds the view that there was no overall shortage of rice in Bengal in 1943: availability was actually slightly higher than in 1941, when there was no famine [4]. This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


It was partly this which conditioned the sluggish official response to the disaster, as there had been no serious crop failures and hence the famine was unexpected. Its root causes, Sen argues, lay in rumours of shortage which caused hoarding, and rapid price inflation caused by war-time demands which made rice stocks an excellent investment (prices had already doubled over the previous year).


Whilst landowning peasants who actually grew rice, together with those employed in defence-related industries in urban areas and at the docks saw their wages rise, this led to a disastrous shift in the exchange entitlements of groups such as landless labourers, fishermen, barbers, paddy huskers and other groups who found the real value of their wages had been slashed by two-thirds since 1940. Quite simply, although Bengal had enough rice and other grains to feed itself, millions of people were suddenly too poor to buy it.[5]


The Failed Response

Wartime pressures, the failure to implement the 'famine code' (which would have ensured a minimum level of relief in Bengal), together with the corruption of the Bengal Provincial Government of the time and the laziness and incompetence of many of the Indian Civil Service in the province, meant that the measures for famine relief which were normally implemented in peacetime were never employed.[6]


As the situation spiralled out of control, Lord Mountbatten, the British commander in Southeast Asia, and Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India at the time, both endeavoured to draw attention to and provide food aid to citizens in the famine-struck regions, but their efforts were hampered by the indifference of the War Cabinet and Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India, in the face of the Quit India movement and wartime demands. Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (June 25, 1900 – August 27, 1979) was a British admiral and statesman and an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. ... Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell (May 5, 1883 - May 24, 1950) was a British General and the commander of British Army forces in the Middle East during World War II. He led British forces to victory over the Italians, only to be defeated by the German army. ... The Governor-General of India (or Governor-General and Viceroy of India) was the head of the British administration in India. ... Leopold Charles Maurice (or Moritz) Stennett Amery (22 November 1873 - 16 September 1955), was a British statesman and Conservative politician. ... The Quit India Movement (Bharat chhodo) was a call for immediate independence of India from British rule. ...


Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the famine and, while the Bengal Famine occurred under his watch, his own role in the disaster, and even the extent of his knowledge about the crisis in Bengal, remain a matter of some dispute. (e.g. Sen, 1984.) Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, FRS, PC (Can) (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. ...


The Bengal Government failed to prevent rice exports, and made little attempt to import surpluses from elsewhere in India, or to buy up stocks from speculators to redistribute to the starving. Overall, as Sen shows, the authorities failed to understand that the famine was not caused by an overall food shortage, and that the distribution of food was not just a matter of railway capacity, but of providing free famine relief on a massive scale: "The Raj was, in fact, fairly right in its estimation of overall food availability, but disastrously wrong in its theory of Famines".[7] The famine ended when the government in London agreed to import 1,000,000 tons of grain to Bengal, reducing food prices.[8]


The film Ashani Sanket suggests that the famine was partly caused by hoarding. Before the famine, rumors were circulating that the price of rice would increase. Many Bengalis rushed to buy or seize as much rice as possible. As a result, some Bengalis had more rice than others, but most had little or none at all. Those who had any rice fiercely guarded what little they possessed.


Famines and democracies

Citing the Bengal Famine and other examples from the world, Amartya Sen argues that famines do not occur in functioning democracies. Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow provides a discussion of this argument [1] A famine is a social and economic crisis that is commonly accompanied by widespread malnutrition, starvation, epidemic and increased mortality. ... Kenneth Joseph Arrow (born August 23, 1921) is an American economist, joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics with John Hicks in 1972, and the youngest person ever to receive this award, at 51. ...


The Bengal Famine may be placed in the context of previous famines in British India. During the British rule in India there were approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in South India, Bihar in the north, and Bengal in the east; altogether, between 30 and 40 million Indians were the victims of famines in the latter half of the 19th century (Bhatia 1985). Tamil Nadu (தமிழ் நாடு, Land of the Tamils) is a state at the southern tip of India. ... South India is a linguistic-cultural region of India that comprises the four states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the two Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry, whose inhabitants are collectively referred to as South Indians. ... , Bihar (Hindi: बिहार, Urdu: بہار, IPA: ,  ) is a state of the Indian union situated in the eastern part of the country. ... Bengal (Bengali: বঙ্গ Bôngo, বাংলা Bangla, বঙ্গদেশ Bôngodesh or বাংলাদেশ Bangladesh), is a historical and geographical region in the northeast of South Asia. ...


Though malnutrition and hunger remain widespread in India, there have been no famines since the end of the British rule in 1947 and the establishment of a democratic government. There has been a recurrent threat of famine in Bangladesh[2][3], which unlike India has spent a considerable period of its existence under military rule. Possibly over a million people died in the Bangladesh famine of 1974, from July 1974 to January 1975, although the Bangladesh government claimed only 26,000 people died. ...


The increase in the food available to the population is also reflected in the fact that in 50 years of British rule (1891 to 1941) the population grew by 35% (from 287 million to 389 million) whereas in the 50 years of democratic rule from 1951 to 2001 the population grew by 183% (from 363 million to 1,023 million) [4]. During this period there have been no famines, though the population has almost tripled. It should be noted that between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%.[5] Year 1891 (MDCCCXCI) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Saturday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... For the movie, see 1941 (film). ... The Green Revolution is a term used to describe the transformation of agriculture in many developing nations that led to significant increases in agricultural production between the 1940s and 1960s. ...


"Food Availability Decline" or "Man Made"

Year Rice production
(in million of tons)
1938 8.474
1939 7.922
1940 8.223
1941 6.768
1942 9.296
1943 7.628

Severe food shortages were worsened by the Second World War, with the British administration of India exporting foods to Allied soldiers. The shortage of rice forced rice prices up, and wartime inflation compounded the problem. Mushroom cloud from the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki rising 18 km into the air. ... In general, allies are people or groups that have joined an alliance and are working together to achieve some common purpose. ... In economics and business, the price is the assigned numerical monetary value of a good, service or asset. ...


The civil administration did not intervene to control the price of rice, and so the price of rice exceeded the means of ordinary people. People migrated to the cities to find food and employment; finding neither, they starved.


Amartya Sen has cast doubt on the idea that the rice shortage was due to a fall in production. He quotes official records for rice production in Bengal in the years leading up to 1943 as reported in the table to the right. This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


The 1943 yield, while low, was not in itself outside the normal spectrum of recorded variation, and other factors beyond simple crop failure may thus be invoked as a causal mechanism.


Diseased rice vs. Total Rice Yield

It has been argued that the famine was primarily due to an epidemic of brown spot disease Cochliobolus miyabeanus former: Helminthosporium oryzae), affecting the crop. This argument, based on data collected by S. Y. Padmanabhan, has been developed by the historian Mark Tauger. Cochliobolus miyabeanus is a fungus that causes brown spot disease in rice. ...


In the rice growing season of 1942, weather conditions were exactly right to encourage an epidemic of the rice disease brown spot following a cyclone and flooding. The outbreak of the disease caused a variation in the 1942 crop ranging from a 236.6% gain to a 90% crop loss in Bankura and Chinsurah according to Padmanabhan. This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... 1942 (MCMXLII) was a common year starting on Thursday (the link is to a full 1942 calendar). ...


Tauger argues that Sen's analysis based economic entitlement overlooks the role of food shortage. Tauger argues that the yield in 1942 was low (based on Padmanabhan's data) causing a serious food shortage in Bengal and was the most important cause of the famine. Others dispute this argument, primarily based on the fact that Padmanabhan's data is yield per acre for different varieties, and from this data it is impossible to estimate total production without knowing the total acreage of the different varieties.


The official famine inquiry commission reporting on the Bengal Famine of 1943 put its death toll at about 1.5 million Indians. Source : Famine Inquiry Commission, India (1945a),pp. 109-10.


Years later in 1974, W.R. Aykroyd who was a member of the Famine inquiry commission and was primarily responsible for the estimation, conceded that the figures were an underestimate. Quote by W.R. Aykroyd "I now think it (the death toll) was an under-estimate, especially in that it took little account of roadside deaths".[9]


The Famine in Bengali culture

Artists, novelists and film-makers have tried to capture the enormity of the famine in their works. The renowned Bengali painter Zainul Abedin was one of the early documentarians of the famine, with his sketches of the dead and dying. Zainul Abedin (Bangla: জয়নুল আবেদিন) (1914-1976) was a artist from Bangladesh. ...


The novelist Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhhay penned his novel Ashani Sanket with the famine serving as both backdrop and protagonist. The novel was adapted in 1973 by Satyajit Ray into an award-winning film, also titled Ashani Sanket. Mrinal Sen also made a film about the famine, titled Akaler Shondhaney (In Search of Famine). Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (Bengali: Bibhutibhushon Bôndopaddhae) was a Bengali novelist and writer. ...   (Bengali: সত্যজিত্ রায় Shottojit Rae) (May 2, 1921–April 23, 1992) was an Indian filmmaker who is widely regarded as one of the greatest auteurs of 20th century cinema. ... Ashani Sanket (1973; English title: Distant Thunder) is a Bengali-language film by the renowned Indian director Satyajit Ray. ... Mrinal Sen (Bangla: মৄণাল সেন) is a Bengali Indian filmmaker. ...


See Also

In the past, droughts have periodically led to major Indian famines [1] . The prospect of a devastating famine every few years was inherent in Indias ecology [2] From the earliest endeavours of the British East India Company on the Subcontinent but especially since 1857—the year of the first... An incomplete list of major famines, ordered by date: 14th century Great Famine of 1315-1317, Europe 19th century Tenpo famine (1830s Japan) Highland Potato Famine (1846 - 1857) (Scotland) Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) 20th century Russian famine of 1921 Holodomor (Ukraine, 1932–1934) 1984 - 1985 famine in Ethiopia Bengal...

References

  1. ^ Nicholas Tarling (Ed.) The Cambridge History of SouthEast Asia Vol.II Part 1 pp139-40
  2. ^ C.A. Bayly & T. Harper Forgotten Armies. The Fall of British Asia 1941-45 (London: Allen Lane) 2004 p284
  3. ^ Paul Greenough Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: the famine of 1943-44 (New Delhi) 1982 p150; Bayly & Harper Forgotten Armies p285
  4. ^ Amartya Sen Poverty and Famines. An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (Oxford) 1981 pp58-9
  5. ^ Sen Poverty and Famines pp70-78
  6. ^ Sen Poverty and Famines pp78-9
  7. ^ Sen Poverty and Famines pp80-83
  8. ^ Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India
  9. ^ Sen Poverty and Famines p52
  • Bhatia, B.M. (1985) Famines in India: A study in Some Aspects of the Economic History of India with Special Reference to Food Problem, Delhi: Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  • Padmanabhan, S.Y. The Great Bengal Famine. Annual Review of Phytopathology, 11:11-24, 1973
  • Sen, A. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, 1981, Oxford University Press. ISBN# 0198284632
  • Tauger, M. 2003. Entitlement, Shortage and the 1943 Bengal Famine: Another Look. The Journal of Peasant Studies 31:45 - 72

  Results from FactBites:
 
Bengal famine of 1943 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1484 words)
Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of Britain at the time of the famine and, while the Bengal Famine occurred under his watch, his own role in the disaster, and even the extent of his knowledge about the crisis in Bengal, remain a matter of some dispute.
During the British rule in India there were approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in South India, Bihar in the north, and Bengal in the east; altogeher, between 30 and 40 million Indians were the victims of famines in the latter half of the 19th century (Bhatia 1985).
The renowned Bengali painter Zainul Abedin was one of the early documentarians of the famine, with his sketches of the dead and dying.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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