Home > Bengali Holocaust: how Australia helped Britain kill 6-7 million Indians in WW2

Bengali Holocaust: how Australia helped Britain kill 6-7 million Indians in WW2

by Dr Gideon Polya - Open-Publishing - Wednesday 28 September 2011

India contributed an army of 2.4 million men to assist the British war effort in World War 2. However India was rewarded by a British-imposed Bengal Famine (Bengali Holocaust, Indian Holocaust) that killed 6-7 million Indians in Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Orissa in the period 1942-1945. Australia was a major supplier of wheat but deliberately by-passed starving India, this boosting British food stocks and what was evidently a starvation-based military strategy to prevent Japanese advance into Bengal.

While there was no catastrophic decline in the amount of rice or other grain available in Bengal, the price of rice edged up slightly during 1942 and by December 1942 the wholesale price of rice in Calcutta had increased to be double that in December 1941. By mid-1943 it had doubled again to be over 4 times greater than the price in December 1941. As analyzed by Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen (Cambridge and Harvard) the Bengal Famine derived from a cashed-up Calcutta, a major industrial city involved in a war production boom, sucking rice out of a starving, rice-producing countryside.

A variety of factors contributed to the greatly increased market price of rice but the absolute amount of rice and other grain was not a critical determinant as has been argued from a superficial analysis of the situation. There was grain available to alleviate the problem but the in late 1941 British gave Indian provinces autonomy over their food stocks, this contributing to the huge price increase in Bengal. Other factors included small decreases in the Bengal rice harvest due to fungal infestation and storm; loss of rice imports from Burma (that had been conquered by the Japanese); British violence in West Bengal that impaired rice production, storage and availability; British seizure of local food stocks; British seizure and destruction of Bengali boats crucial for income generation and food distribution (a measure ostensibly directed against possible Japanese invasion from Burma); a halving of shipping in the Indian Ocean in 1943 due to losses in the Atlantic; hoarding by fearful or greedy Indians that was enabled by British policy; failure to declare famine under the British India Famine Code; and the resolute refusal of the British to permit significant grain imports. [1].

Before the war Indian depended upon grain imports to cover production deficits. Indeed in 1935 Churchill made the following statement to the British House of Commons: “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.” The British knew that decreased food availability per se or through price increases would doom millions to starvation.

The net importation of non-rice grains into India (population about 300 million) in the 6 financial years up to and including the beginning of the famine is instructive (millions of tons in parentheses): 37/38 (+ 0.624), 38/39 (+ 1.044), 39/40 (+ 2.221), 40/41 (+ 0.993), 41/42 (+ 0.431) and 42/43 (- 0.361). A similar picture is seen for net imports of rice into India (millions of tons in parentheses): 37/38 (+ 1.165), 38/39 (+ 1.235), 39/40 (+ 2.139), 40/41 (+ 1.097), 41/42 (+ 0.723) and 42/43 (- 0.259). Thus in the financial year that saw the commencement of the worst famine in India in 2 centuries the British authorities oversaw a massive net export of grains and rice from an increasingly impoverished country. This situation no doubt contributed to the price of grain and rice in Bengal during the famine and the ability of other parts of India to make a contribution when the provincial autonomy in this respect was over-ridden in a restricted region for a limited time during the emergency.

Various British historians have commented on the impact of decreased wheat imports. Thus C.B.A. Behrens (1955): “It therefore seems that, given the necessary controls, the famine could have been averted by wheat imports. By a curious coincidence the amount of the deficit in the province (about 700,000 tons) was almost exactly the amount needed to feed Calcutta (a city of 4 millions consuming on average 1 lb per head per day) for a year” and A.J.P. Taylor (1965): “Now he [Churchill] cut down sailings to the Indian Ocean from 100 a month to 40 in order to sustain his Mediterranean campaign. This decision had disastrous consequences. The harvest had failed in Bengal. Imports of food were urgently needed and did not come. A million and a half Indians died of starvation for the sake of a white man’s quarrel in North Africa.”

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, India (population about 300 million) could largely feed herself with a short-fall of about 1 million tons of grain (representing only about 2% of the total requirement) that was met by an excess of imports over grain exports. This level of existence involved chronic undernourishment of a large proportion of the population, which accordingly did not have the literal or metaphorical fat to surmount a major famine of the Bengal Famine kind without major loss. The above figures demonstrate the sheer callousness of the administering authorities in permitting net imports to steadily decline from the minimal requirement to a substantial net export by mid-War. The opinion of the British Raj Foodgrains Policy Committee in 1943 is instructive in relation to the loss of imports - it considered that, the absolute deficit aside, it “seriously affects the sense of security generally”. It was the loss of that sense of security that lead to hoarding, consequent catastrophic price rises in Bengal and hence to mass starvation. [1].

During World War 2 Britain had a population of about 60 million and imported about half its food requirements. However imports roughly halved due to military exigencies and depredations of German U-boats. Thus Britain’s food imports 1940-1944 (in millions of tons) totaled 19.3 (1940), 14.7 (1943), 10.6 (1942), 11.5 (1943) and 11.0 (1944). [2]. Yet Britain (population 60 million) imported food greatly surplus to its needs during WW2 at the expense of starving India (population 300 million) [3].

Thus Britain’s importation of wheat (1939-1945) (in millions of tons) totaled 5.3 (1939), 5.8 (1940), 5.4 (1941), 3.5 (1942), 3.3 (1943), 2.8 (1944) and 3.6 (1945). [2].

Britain’s importation of wheat flour (1939-1945) (in millions of tons) totaled 0.4 (1939), 0.6 (1940), 0.7 (1941), 0.4 (1942), 0.7 (1943), 0.8 (1944) and 0.5 (1945). [2].

Britain’s importation of barley (1939-1945) (in millions of tons) totaled 0.7 (1939), 0.5 (1940), 0.1 (1941), 0.0 (1942), 0.0 (1943), 0.0 (1944) and 0.1 (1945). [2].

Britain’s importation of sugar (1939-1945) (in millions of tons) totaled 2.1 (1939), 1.4 (1940), 1.6 (1941), 0.8 (1942), 1.4 (1943), 1.2 (1944) and 1.1 (1945). [2].

Britain’s food imports of the above foods (1939-1945) (in millions of tons) totaled 8.5 (1939), 8.3 (1940), 7.8 (1941), 4.7 (1942), 5.4 (1943), 4.8 (1944) and 5.3 (1945). [2].

The population of India during WW2 was about 320 million and total grain production was 50 to 70 million tons annually. The population was growing at a rate of about 5% per year and there was a requirement of net imports of about 1-2 million tons of grain per annum to make up for deficiencies. According to the figures of K.C. Ghosh (1944), while the net import of all food grains into India by sea in 1939-40 was 2.2 million tons, by the 1942/43 this had become a net export of 0.4 million tons. It should be noted that K.C. Ghosh (1944) and C.B.A. Behrens (1955) differ slightly in terms of the amount of grain imported into India in this period, the estimates being 0.02 or at least 0.06 million tons, respectively. These estimates are 2 orders of magnitude lower than the estimated annual import requirement of 1-2 million tons.

Behrens’ figures for grain shipments (in millions of tons) for India in 1942-1945 are as follows: 0.03 (1942), 0.3 (1943), 0.6 (1944) and 0.9 (1945). [1].

India produced about 60 million tons of grain for a population of 320 million or an annual food budget of 188 kilogram per person (i.e. men, women and children). If we assume that an Indian Army soldier required 50% more food than the average Indian we would estimate that the annual grain requirement for the 2 million strong Indian Army forces actually stationed in India would be about 0.56 million tons. The average yearly importation in 1942-1945 was 0.46 million tons and thus we can see that the grain actually imported was merely enough to feed the Indian Army in India. [1].

Churchill repeatedly refused desperate requests from Viceroy General Wavell for food for starving India and was supported in this by Lord Cherwell (Dr Lindemann) [3] whose “bomb German cities” policy had contributed to massive shipping losses in the Atlantic (for want of long-range bomber air cover) and hence the halving of shipping in the Indian Ocean (and consequent price rises and mass starvation in India) .

In 1944 Churchill revealed his complicity in the mass murder of 7 million Indians in a secret letter to Roosevelt (the only document I have been able to find in which Churchill actually refers to the Bengal Famine): “London, April 29 1944. Prime Minister to President Roosevelt Personal and Top Secret.
1. I am seriously concerned about the food situation in India and its possible reactions on our joint operations. Last year we had a grievous famine in Bengal through which at least 700,000 people died. This year there is a good crop of rice, but we are faced with an acute shortage of wheat, aggravated by unprecedented storms which have inflicted serious damage on the Indian spring crops. India’s shortage cannot be overcome by any possible surplus of rice even if such a surplus could be extracted from the peasants. Our recent losses in the Bombay explosion have accentuated the problem.
2. Wavell is exceedingly anxious about our position and has given me the gravest warnings. His present estimate is that he will require imports of about one million tons this year if he is to hold the situation, and so meet the needs of the United States and British and Indian troops and of the civil population especially in the great cities. I have just heard from Mountbatten that he considers the situation so serious that, unless arrangements are made promptly to import wheat requirements, he will be compelled to release military cargo space of SEAC in favour of wheat and formally advise Stilwell that it will also be necessary for him to arrange to curtail American military demands for this purpose.
3. By cutting down military shipments and other means, I have been able to arrange for 350,000 tons of wheat to be shipped to India from Australia during the first nine months of 1944. This is the shortest haul. I cannot see how to do more.
4. I have had much hesitation in asking you to add to the great assistance you are giving us with shipping but a satisfactory situation in India is of such vital importance to the success of our joint plans against the Japanese that I am impelled to ask you to consider a special allocation of ships to carry wheat from Australia without reducing the assistance you are now providing for us, who are at a positive minimum if war efficiency is to be maintained. We have the wheat in Australia but we lack the ships. I have resisted for some time the Viceroy’s request that I should ask you for your help, but I believe that, with this recent misfortune with the wheat harvest and in the light of Mountbatten’s representations, I am no longer justified in not asking for your help. Wavell is doing all he can by special measures in India. If however he should find it possible to revise his estimates of his needs, I would let you know immediately.” [1].

Churchill vetoed the offer of 10,000 tons of wheat from Canada and attempts of Lord Louis Mountbatten to use available Indian Ocean shipping to transport food to India. General Wavell observed in his diary that on October 15 1943 in Cairo on his way out to India, he had inspected Indian troops and spoke to Australian diplomat Richard Casey about food. Casey (Governor of Bengal in 1944) said Australia had had a bad wheat harvest, Canada could just supply U.S. and British deficiencies and that the Argentinians had burnt their surplus of 2 million tons of wheat as fuel on the railways in the absence of coal, of which there was a world shortage.

Indian food shortages continued after the War. Thus a letter from Churchill’s successor, the Labor Prime Minister Attlee, to Ben Chifley, Labor Prime Minister of Australia, detailed grave concerns about food shortages in India, the need for food supplies from Australia and the dangers of famine-induced disorders in India: “.... India must thus have an import of at least two million tons of rice, wheat or millet, during 1946, if famine of a dimension and intensity greater than the Bengal famine of 1943 (is) to be avoided. This is an increase of 500,000 tons on their earlier request and I should not be surprised if in point of fact they do not need more. In the circumstances of political crisis which are approaching, a famine in India would be bound to lead to disorders and would be likely to remove the last hope of an orderly solution of the Indian problem ... As regards the use of wheat for feed, I am very grateful for the action you have taken to withhold it from dairy stock. As regards poultry and pigs, while in the new circumstances we shall be more than ever dependent on Australia for our supplies of bacon and eggs, and while we should very much regret any reduction in them, we feel that so long as human beings are exposed to famine and starvation as a result of the present wheat shortage, human needs must have a priority.” [1].

However Australia’s role in the Bengali Holocaust is a very well kept secret and for good reason. Australia was (and is) a major wheat producer and in the period 1939-1945 produced about 24 million tonnes of wheat (1 tonne = 0.98 long ton), the breakdown (in millions of tonnes) being: 4.0 (1939), 2.2 (1940), 4.5 (1941), 4.3 (1942), 3.2 (1943), 1.5 (1944) and 4.0 (1945). [4]

About 9.4 million tonnes or 40% of Australia’s wheat production was exported, the breakdown (in million tonnes) being: 2.0 (1939), 2.0 (1940), 1.0 (1941), 1.0 (1942), 1.5 (1943), 1.5 (1944) and 0.4 (1945). [5].

Only a maximum of about 1.8 million tonnes of wheat - out of 13.0 million tonnes of wheat produced in Australian in 1942-1945 or of the 4.4 million tonnes of wheat exported from Australia in 1942-1945 - was sent to starving India (an alternative source having been British-occupied Iraq), with most one presumes being sent off to shore up Britain’s huge war-time food surplus. Only a maximum of 0.9 million tonnes of Australian wheat made it to starving India in the key famine years of 1943-1944.

Australian racism cannot be ignored. Australia only abolished the obscene anti-Indian, anti-Asian, anti-African White Australia Policy in 1974 and has an appalling secret genocide history involving 24 genocide atrocities, 10 of them ongoing. [6].

Australia, like Britain, has compounded its appalling crimes by re-writing history. Thus a recent quick search of a major Australian university library produced 7 histories of Australia of which none mentions the Bengal Famine. However some honest Australian writers have told the Awful Truth about the Bengal Famine - read Gideon Polya’s “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” [1] and other writings, Colin Mason’s “A Short History of Asia” [7] and Tom Keneally’s “Three Famines” [8].

While Australian media resolutely ignore the Bengali Holocaust and Australia’s part in it, a recent news report from the taxpayer–funded ABC (the Australian equivalent of the UK BBC) refers to a ban on Australian wheat exports during the Second World War. Reporting about the Murtoa Stick Shed, the largest timber-frame structure in the state of Victoria, known as the Cathedral of the Bush and built in 1941 to store wheat, the ABC’s Guy Stayner reported (26 September 2011) “There were several sheds hastily built during the 1940s to cope with a wheat glut after a ban on exports during the second world war but the Murtoa stick shed is the last one standing.” [9] According to the Murtoa Stick Shed website: “There were many others erected around Southern and Western Australia during WW2 when they were used as temporary storage for wheat, which could not be exported at the time.” [10].


India was held through defence of the frontier against the Japanese, the presence of a 2 million strong army, the confinement of political leaders, the arrest of 60,000 other activists and the detention of 14,000 of them, ruthless suppression of disturbances and strategic and deadly parsimony in relation to food supplies. War-time Bengal can be seen to have been secured through the quiet, cowardly and utterly evil stratagem of deprivation and consequent mass starvation, just as nearly 2 centuries the earlier man-made, devastating famine of 1769-1770 (10 million deaths) delivered the crushed Bengali and Bihari survivors into servitude.

In a review of Lizzie Collingham’s book “The Taste of War: World War 2 and the battle for food”, Lara Feigel has written: “It was Hitler’s experience of it in the first world war that led to his determination to make Germany self-sufficient. The Germans exported their hunger to Russia, the British averted it through rationing and imports, while the Russians destroyed their own food supplies to starve the invading Germans. In total, 20 million people died from starvation and associated diseases; a figure equivalent to the 19.5m military deaths… According to the euphemistically named "Hunger Plan", developed by German minister Herbert Backe, the conquest of Russia would render Germany self-sufficient. The Germans would starve millions of Russians to death and turn large parts of the country into a giant farm. Backe’s plan was partly successful, in that millions of Russians starved. However, as the battle dragged on, the German soldiers could barely feed themselves, let alone send enough home to feed Germany. Hitler was faced with a food crisis, and it was partly as a solution to this strategic problem that he decided to exterminate the Jews. "The Holocaust," Collingham writes, "was not just the product of an irrational ideology but the conclusion of a series of crises in the German conduct of the war.” [11].

According to Lara Feigel: “When British-governed India was struck by famine after losing access to rice in Burma, Churchill dismissed the Indians as "the beastliest population in the world next to the Germans". Claiming that they had brought the situation on themselves by breeding like rabbits, he refused to help. Three million people died.” [11]. I have estimated that 4 million Bengalis died in thre Bengali Holocaust [1] and Dr Madhusree Mukerjee has estimated that 5.4 million Bengalis died assuming a baseline annual mortality rate of 2.1%, this estimate not taking into account deaths in adjoining provinces [3]. However medical historian Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya (Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London, UK) has estimated that 6-7 million Indians died in Bengal and in the provinces of Bihar, Orissa and Assam [12].

Australia played a quiet and cowardly role in the British-imposed WW2 Bengali Holocaust that should be exposed, the more so since Australia - a nation that has exterminated all but 50 of 250 Indigenous languages and Aboriginal nations, with the rest at great risk [8] – has the effrontery to demand a seat on the UN Security Council. Perhaps the Murtoa Stick Shed should be retained as a memorial to Australia’s part in Britain’s deliberate starvation to death of 6-7 million Indians in World War 2.

Australia should be urgently brought to account internationally for its role in the WW2 Bengali Holocaust (6-7 million killed) and for its current, world leading annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution that disproportionately contributes to a worsening climate genocide that is set to kill 2 billion Indians, 0.5 billion Bengalis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis this century if man-made climate change is not seriously addressed [13, 14].

[1]. Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 1998, 2008: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/2... .

[2]. Erin M.K. Weir, “”German submarine blockade, overseas imports, and British military production in World War II”, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, vol. 6, number 1, 2003: http://jmss.org/jmss/index.php/jmss... .

[3]. Madhusree Muckerjee, “Churchill’s Secret War. The British Empire and the ravaging of Indian during World War II”, Basic Books, New York, 2010.

[4]. Australian Rural Reconstruction Commission (1946): http://www.agrifood.info/perspectiv... .

[5]. Edgars Dunsdorfs, “The Australian wheat-growing industry, 1788-1948”, Melbourne : University Press, 1956 (p476) (see: http://www.agrifood.info/perspectiv... ).

[6]. Gideon Polya, “Australian Anzac, Armenian Genocide. Australia’s secret genocide history”, MWC News, 25 April 2011: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/1... .

[7]. Colin Mason, “A Short History of Asia. Stone Age to 2000AD”, Macmillan, London, 2000.

[8]. Aboriginal Genocide: http://sites.google.com/site/aboriginalgenocide/ .

[9]. Guy Stayner, “Historic stick shed open to public” ABC News, 26 September 2011: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-... .

[10]. The Mighty Murtoa Stick Shed: http://www.murtoastickshed.com.au/ .

[11]. Lara Feigel, review of Lizzie Collingham’s book “The Taste of War: World War 2 and the battle for food”, UK Guardian, 5 February 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/201... .

[12]. Bengal Famine, BBC radio broadcast series “The things we forgot to remember”, January 2008: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot... .

[13]. Climate Genocide: http://sites.google.com/site/climat... .

[14]. Gideon Polya, “Shocking analysis by country of years left to zero emissions”, Green Blog, 1 August 2011: http://www.green-blog.org/2011/08/0... .