The Forgotten Holocaust

Gary Oldman won his first Oscar for acting as Winston Churchill in a film called “The Darkest Hour”. Among other things, the film was lauded for its historical accuracy. Nowhere does this film mention Winston Churchill’s personal role in creating a manmade famine in Bengal in 1943. This is the story of the “Forgotten Holocaust”.
The policy-driven Bengal Famine of 1943; Image Source- Economic Times

The policy-driven Bengal Famine of 1943; Image Source- Economic Times

The very word “Holocaust” conjures images of Hitler, the Nazi regime, and their obliteration of the Jews. It was estimated that a total of 6 million Jews died as a result of Hitler’s policy. These numbers are in itself very conservative in nature. We will never know exactly how many Jews died due to the direct actions of the Nazi Party in Germany. Thus, taking historical precedence it is very clear that the holocausts are a stain on civilization.

The process of wealth extraction from Bengal was not unknown by then. Let me remind you that the Industrial Revolution in London was fueled by the deindustrialization of the rural workers of Bengal. They have our blood in their hands. Raw materials were exported from Bengal and was used to make machine-made inferior cloth in London and the excess produce was again shoved down our throats.

Thus when Britain was groaning under pressures from the economic depression 1929-30 it looked towards the “Jewel in the British Crown”. It is also believed that the British never rule us with violence but with their carefully crafted policies and words – they ruled us with their words.

A cyclone hit Bengal in 1942 which destroyed the crops of a predominantly agrarian society dependent on wheat and crops triggering death and starvation in magnanimous proportions. The British government had ample opportunities to alleviate the situation but they didn’t do anything, rather they siphoned off whatever resources were left for the already well-fed and oversupplied allied forces.

First-hand reports of this calamity talk about streets lined with corpses. Whoever survived were too weak to even stand up and move the corpses. Mothers used to kill their babies by drowning so that they are spared from starvation. Young girls were sold off to earn one portion of rice. The situation was abominable.

Behind every inhumane act there are excellent policies at play. Winston Churchill put in place certain policies so that the ills and starving in Bengal do not get any supplies but the pot-bellied soldier in Europe got more than he requires.

The United States of America and Canada wanted to send aid to India. Even other states wanted to send aid to Bengal but Churchill denied it fair and square. There were three War Cabinet meetings to alleviate the situation in Bengal but all of them were pretty inconclusive.

Western Media and films whitewash a bigoted imperial racist like Winston Churchill. Sure, there is a heroic and shrewd statesman in him but there is also this horrible side. To do justice to history, a nuanced is very necessary if not urgency.


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