Thomas Keneally has written this book ‘Three Famines’ that talks about the Irish, Bengal and Ethiopian famines.
British colonialism is seen as the major cause of Irish and Bengal famines. I didn’t read about the Ethipoian one. While the Irish famine was as abominable as the other two, I shall write about Bengal.
What we get to see is: Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister of Britain fighting the WWII, diverted Bengal’s produce to Egypt and Turkey to feed the British troops and thereby bled Bengal to death.
Lord Linlithgow, the British representative in India, did nothing to present the case of Bengal to the British government. His successor Field Marshall Archibald Wavell tried to do much more than his capacity to contain the famine on the one hand and pleaded with Churchill to increase food shipments to Bengal on the other.
Churchill comes out as the chief villain when he orders grain stocks to be burnt so that the advancing Japanese Army doesn’t get hold of the stocks. Even boats were burnt and that directly hindered the distribution of supplies to the famine affected people of Bengal. When Wavell sends an SOS telegram to Churchill, the latter replies with a wise-crack,’If famine is so severe, why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?’
That Churchill denied Bengalis the food they produced speaks volumes of the sense of justice that the British were supposed to be famous for.
Even though the famine started due a great cyclone followed by a severe drought, Great Britain comes out as the chief perpetrator of the famine in Bengal.The millions of Bengalis who died due to the famine would never forgive Churchill for letting them die such an unjust death. Even Burma, then under Japanese control, offered rice shipments to Bengal, Churchill had refused.
An absorbing and damning book on the British atrocities in India. A must read for every Indian just to remember the 3 million innocents who were let to die for no fault of theirs.
Thomas Keneally, the author of this book, has also written ‘Schindler’s Ark’ which was later made into the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ by Steven Spielberg.