The Great Bengal Famine of 1943 killed at least 6 million people. Winston Churchill resolutely refused to alleviate the disaster, and failed to mention the Bengal Famine in his 6-volume “The Second World War” for which in part he was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.

It ignores Bengal famine that killed 6 million people

Dr. Gideon Polya
RICHARD Attenborough‘s movie “Gandhi” was released in late 1982 and received many awards for its brilliant portrayal of Gandhi’s life and his wonderful espousal of truth and non-violence. However while quoting Gandhi’s dictum “Poverty is the worst form of violence”, this important movie is remarkable for making no mention of Britain’s WW2 Bengal Holocaust in which 6-7 million Indians were deliberately starved to death by the British with Australian complicity.
The movie “Gandhi” begins and ends with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic on 30 January 1948 and covers major bases in depicting some key events in the life of the wonderful Mohandas Gandhi:
A Gujarati, London-educated lawyer, Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa in 1893 for being a non-European in a Whites-only first-class carriage;
Gandhi suffered violence and imprisonment in his organization of a non-violent campaign by Indians against the racist South African pass laws;
In a notable scene, Gandhi orders his wife, a high caste Hindu, to clean the latrines (a powerful statement of his commitment to the untouchables or dalits);
In 1915 Gandhi and his good friend the Reverend Charles Freer Andrews returned to India, but Reverend Andrews was thence sent to the British Pacific island colony of Fiji (no mention is made in the film that the use of Indian and other indentured labor in Fiji, South Africa and elsewhere was effective and variously deadly “5-year slavery” that prompted Winston Churchill to famously opine in relation to Chinese indentured labour in the Transvaal that “The conditions of the Transvaal ordinance … cannot in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government be classified as slavery; at least, that word in its full sense could not be applied without a risk of terminological inexactitude”);
Gandhi was appalled by the suffering of the Indian peasantry and using non-violent protest in 1917 Gandhi, now wearing peasant garb, successfully supported the Bihari indigo farmers against their rapacious British landowners;
in 1919 Gandhi suffered imprisonment for organizing a non-violent protest and non-cooperation movement against draconian British rule, and in Amritsar hundreds of unarmed Sikhs were murdered in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by British forces under General Dyer (dramatically realised in the movie);
Gandhi became a major Indian National Congress political figure, arguing for Indian Independence together with other major political figures such as Jinnah and Nehru;
In 1930 Gandhi led non-violent protests via the Salt March against the British-imposed salt tax and famously made salt himself in defiance of the British (the movie shows protestors peacefully advancing 3 at a time to be beaten down by the British);
In 1931 Gandhi attended the first unsuccessful Round Table Conference in London (and is portrayed in the movie visiting British textile workers aware of his Indian spinning wheel campaign);
In 1932 Gandhi suffered more imprisonment for opposing British actions over untouchables and engaged in a fast-unto-death protest that forced a British backdown;
In WW2 Gandhi famously made a “Quit India” speech and was imprisoned together with 100,000 other Indian “Quit India” activists, but was released in 1944 because of his poor health and the British fear that he might die in prison;
In 1947 India and Pakistan gained independence but concomitant Partition was accompanied by huge massacres of up to 1 million people and generation of 18 million refugees – Gandhi again adopted a fast-unto-death protest to stop communal violence in Calcutta;
In January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated and was given a massively attended state funeral.
Richard Attenborough‘s movie “Gandhi” was released in late 1982. “Gandhi” was written by John Briley and produced and directed by Richard Attenborough. Ben Kingsley starred as Mahatma Gandhi. “Gandhi” was nominated for Academy Awards in eleven categories and won 8 including Best Picture and Best Director for Richard Attenborough, Best Actor for Ben Kingsley, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for John Briley.
And yes, “Gandhi” is a terrific movie that no doubt has had a positive effect on hundreds of millions of people throughout the world by superbly presenting the Gandhian message of insistence on truth (Satyagraha), non-racism, peace, justice, love of fellow humanity and non-violence.
Ambiguities in Gandhi’s life
Of course there were ambiguities in Gandhi’s life that could have been covered (e.g. Gandhi helped British recruitment for the Boer War and WW1 while opposing the British war effort in WW2), and of course there were all kinds of other things deleted from this long but finite movie describing an immensely important life (e.g. Gandhi’s advocated and practised celibacy is very briefly raised in a very subtle way in the movie).
However the key criticism that must be made about this otherwise fine and impactful movie is that while it graphically portrays British colonial officials as unfeeling, racist, brutal and repressive (e.g. the South Africa incidents, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the brutal beating of the Salt Marchers and other protestors , harsh imprisonment of activists) it does not reveal the immensity of the British mass murder crime in India that must be described as a 2-century Indian Holocaust and Indian Genocide.
Indeed “History is written by the victors” and several generations of English-speaking historians have largely deleted this appalling atrocity from history and general public perception. You can do the experiment for yourself: go to your local community or university library and see if you can find any histories of Britain, England, Churchill or WW2 that actually make any mention of the WW2 Bengal Holocaust, the WW2 Bengal Famine or indeed of any Bengali or Indian famines (in the 1769-1770 Bengal Famine, British rapacity killed 10 million Bengalis, 1 in 3 of the Bengali population). One notes that genocide ignoring and holocaust ignoring are far, far worse than repugnant genocide denial and holocaust denial because denial at least permits public refutation and public discussion.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence”
The closest the movie comes to this is in portraying Gandhi seeing the circumstances of a dying indigo farmer and quoting Gandhi’s powerful assertion that “Poverty is the worst form of violence”.
Specifically, there is no mention in Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi” of the WW2 Bengal Famine (WW2 Bengali Holocaust, WW2 Indian Holocaust) in which the British with Australian complicity deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death for strategic reasons. In the 1942-1945 Bengali Holocaust (Bengal Famine) the British deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death in Bengal and in the adjoining Indian states of Bihar, Assam and Orissa. Australia was complicit in this atrocity by withholding food from India from its huge wartime grain stores. This atrocity was associated large-scale military and civilian sexual exploitation of starving women and girls on a scale commensurate with the “comfort women” abuses of the Japanese military in WW2. For a variety of reasons the price of rice rose up to 4-fold in Bengal and neighbouring provinces, and those who could not produce or buy rice simply starved under the merciless and genocidally racist British.
Calcutta was a major industrial centre of the war-time British Empire, the British guaranteed food supply for soldiers, war effort industrial workers and civil servants (this being how the British had ruled the hugely more numerous Indians), and an economically booming Calcutta essentially sucked rice out of a starving Bengali countryside. Despite incessant pleas, UK leader and mass murderer, Winston Churchill, resolutely refused to alleviate the disaster, and failed to mention the Bengal Famine in his 6-volume “The Second World War” for which in part he was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.
  Atrocity was greater than WWII Jewish holocaust
According to Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya (Wellcome Trust Centre for The History Of Medicine, University College London), the death toll in the Bengal Famine totalled 6-7 million in Bengal and the adjoining provinces of Bihar, Assam and Orissa in 1943-1945. However, while this atrocity was greater in magnitude than the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million deaths from violence or imposed deprivation), it continues to be excluded from public perception in the 21st century.
Thus in 2002 leading UK historian Simon Schama wrote about the 18th century Great Bengal Famine and 19th century famines in British India but ignored the WW2 Bengal Famine in his 3-volume “A History of Britain”).
One of Australia’s most famous historians, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, must be praised for being extremely rare among Australian or indeed Anglo historians in general for actually mentioning the WW2 Bengal Famine and “the loss of at least two million lives” there in his “The Great Seesaw. A new view of the Western world 1750-2000” (1988) but he failed to mention this immense atrocity in his “A Short History of the World” (2000), “A Very Short History of the World” (2004) [9] and “A Short History of the 20th Century” (2005). Indeed Professor Blainey failed to mention any Indian or Bengal famines or even Bengal at all in his recent “Short” and “Very Short” histories of the world except for identical references to Bangladesh (“later Bangladesh became a third nation”) and to the (largely fictional) Black Hole of Calcutta incident: “In June 1757 , one of the blackest months in Britain’s colonial history, more than 100 of its soldiers died while imprisoned in the Black Hole of Calcutta”.
No mention of Bengal Holocaust in BBC TV series
There was no mention of the WWII Bengali Holocaust in the BBC TV series and book of the same name by Michael Wood called “The Story of India” that re-wrote Indian history by almost completely eliminating mention of 2 centuries of recurrent, massive famines under British occupation (indeed the only allusion to “famine” in the TV series was the image of a hand taking volume entitled “Famine” from a bookshelf). This series was also shown by the ABC (Australia’s equivalent of the UK BBC) and it must be stated that both the Australian ABC and the UK’s BBC have an appalling record of “fake news through lying by omission” [see Gideon Polya, “Australian ABC and UK BBC fake news through lying by omission”, Countercurrents, 2 May 2017: https // /2017/05/02/ australianabc-and-ukbbc-fake-news-through-lying-by-omission/ ].
Just imagine the outcry in the West – and indeed around the World – if the BBC produced a lavish TV series entitled “The Story of Germany” and failed to mention its millennial history of massacring Jews culminating in the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million dead, 1 in 6 dying from deprivation) and the WW2 Holocaust in general (30 million Slav, Jewish and Roma deaths). Do the ABC, the BBC and Australian and British Mainstream journalist, politician, commentariat and academic presstitutes somehow regard Indians or non-Europeans in general as somehow Lesser Creatures in deleting horrendous Australian and British atrocities in Asia from history?
Nevertheless a small number of decent people have written books variously detailing the appalling magnitude of the WW2 Bengali Holocaust. Quantitatively, the British-imposed Bengal Famine (WW2 Indian Holocaust, WW2 Bengali Holocaust) was worst genocidal atrocity with which Australia has been associated. While a few decent Australian historians have variously detailed this atrocity only 1 (myself) has detailed how Australia was complicit by withholding food from its huge war-time grain stores from starving India.
‘Churchill’s Blind Spot: India’
Jewish British Zionist historian, the late Professor Sir Martin Gilbert, must be praised as one of very few Anglo historians to have mentioned the Bengal Famine in his writing but he greatly under-estimated the death toll and in major biographies of Churchill managed to completely ignore the WW2 Bengali Holocaust for which Churchill was responsible. Can you imagine the outcry if ostensibly authoritative biographies of Hitler failed to mention the WW2 Jewish Holocaust? Indeed the Bengal Famine was the first WW2 atrocity to have been described as a “holocaust” (by N.G. Jog in his 1944 book “Churchill’s Blind Spot: India”).
Before the late 1982 release of Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi”, a number of books detailing the horrors of the WWII Bengal Holocaust had been published from 1944 onwards, of which the most detailed was Paul Greenough’s “Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: the Famine of 1943-1944” published by Oxford University Press in 1982. The makers of Richard Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi” could argue that their omission could be explained by the overwhelming ignoring of the WW2 Bengal Holocaust in the English-speaking world. However the Indian Government under Indira Gandhi was well aware of the WW2 Bengal Famine and contributed substantially to the funding of the movie.
Satyajit Ray “Ashoni Sanket”
Further, the makers of “Gandhi” in 1982 must surely have been aware of the brilliant work of outstanding Bengali film-maker Satyajit Ray who in 1973 released an immensely moving film, “Ashoni Sanket” (Distant Thunder), that describes the Bengal Famine from the perspective of an educated man, a pandit, and his wife in a rural village environment.
The husband provided medical, educational and religious services to the neighbourhood in return for money or food. Like other service providers such as labourers, hair-dressers and tradesmen, he was dependent on adequate return for service and was critically affected by the high price of rice and indeed the actual availability of rice. As the drama unfolds we see scarcity, disease, compassion of the husband and his wife for an old man and the husband’s guilt at having been fed at a rich man’s house far removed from his home and his hungry wife. We see the rising collective anger and violence of the hungry towards the rich hoarder, the woman driven to the shame of prostitution, the women driven to collecting weeds and snails and their increasing vulnerability in a society that is collapsing. The wife turns to husking paddy for survival. I am moved as I recall a tragic vignette: a dying girl finally expires with a little parcel of food at her finger tips in all the lushness and beauty of a tropical field and a waif creeps out to take the now unneeded food. The film ends as the old man from many kilometers away now returns with a whole band of his destitute kinsfolk. The famished wife turns to her husband who says that they must now share what they have with 10 rather than 2 people – it is actually 11 with a baby coming. The film ends, against a backdrop of the silhouettes of hobbling, starving people, with the words: “Over 5 million died of starvation and epidemics in Bengal in what has come to be known as the man-made famine of 1943”.
Egregious lies of omission
The ignoring of the WW2 Bengali Holocaust in Richard Attenborough‘s 1982 UK movie “Gandhi” is a further example of extraordinary Anglo genocide ignoring and holocaust ignoring that is far, far worse than repugnant genocide denial and holocaust denial because at least the latter permits public refutation and public discussion. The ignoring of the WW2 Bengali Holocaust (6-7 million killed) is but one major British Establishment lie of omission on top of a mountain of such egregious lies of omission. The British occupation of India involved the UK (tens of million of people) ruling India (hundreds of millions of people) for 2 centuries through dint of keeping the population on the edge of hunger and starvation under the heel of hundreds of thousands of well-fed British and native soldiers.
Buried in his recent book “Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”, Indian MP Shashi Tharoor alludes to the horrendously deadly cost of British imperialism in a key sentence: “The British left a society with 16 per cent literacy, a life expectancy of 27, practically no domestic industry and over 90 per cent living below what today we would call the poverty line” ( pages 215-217 ). Addressing the House of Commons in 1935, Winston Churchill made the following extraordinary confession: “In the standard of life they have nothing to spare. The slightest fall from the present standard of life in India means slow starvation, and the actual squeezing out of life, not only of millions but of scores of millions of people, who have come into the world at your invitation and under the shield and protection of British power” ( page 195 ). This “squeezing out of life” was realized at the hands of Churchill in the 6-7 million Indian deaths in the WW2 Bengali Holocaust.
Two-century British Auschwitz
Implicit in “a life expectancy of 27” for Indians under the British is a horrendous Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in which 1,800 million Indians died avoidably from imposed deprivation under a 2-century British Raj that made India a 2-century British Auschwitz. Using Indian census data 1870-1950, assuming an Indian population of about 200 million in the period 1760-1870, and estimating by interpolation from available data of an Indian avoidable death rate in (deaths per 1,000 of population) of 37 (1757-1920), 35 (1920-1930), 30 (1930-1940) and 24 (1940-1950), one can estimate Indian excess deaths of 592 million (1757-1837), 497 million (1837-1901) and 418 million (1901-1947), roughly 1.5 billion in total or 1.8 billion if one includes the Native States.
There has been massive white-washing of this Indian Holocaust in part or in whole by generations of mendacious mainstream journalists, writers, politicians, commentators and academics in the English-speaking world. Richard Attenborough’s famous 1982 UK movie “Gandhi” is but one example of this genocide ignoring. Although the avoidable death rate for Indians as a percentage of population dropped from a genocidal 2.4% pa in 1940-1950 to 0.4% pa today, annual avoidable deaths from deprivation presently total 4.5 million for India as compared to zero (0) for China, this making a huge Indian contribution to the ongoing Global Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in which 17 million people die avoidably from deprivation each year on Spaceship Earth with neoliberal One Percenters in charge of the flight deck. In Richard Attenborough‘s 1982 UK movie “Gandhi”, Gandhi states: “Poverty is the worst form of violence”. Gandhian non-violence is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity.

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