Bengal Famine of 1943: Misfortune or Imperial Schema

11 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2019

Date Written: September 12, 2019


Bengal famine was a result of food scarcity caused by large-scale exports of food from India for use in the war theatres and consumption in Britain. India exported more than 70,000 tonnes of rice between January and July 1943, even as the famine set in. This would have kept nearly 400,000 people alive for a full year. Churchill turned down fervent pleas to export food to India citing a shortage of ships - this when shiploads of Australian wheat, for example, would pass by India to be stored for future consumption in Europe. As imports dropped, prices shot up and hoarders made a killing. Mr Churchill also pushed a scorched earth policy - which went by the sinister name of Denial Policy - in coastal Bengal were the colonisers feared the Japanese would land. So authorities removed boats (the lifeline of the region) and the police destroyed and seized rice stocks. During the 1873-’74 famine, the Bengal lieutenant governor, Richard Temple, saved many lives by importing and distributing food. But the British government criticised him and dropped his policies during the drought of 1943, leading to countless fatalities.

Keywords: famine, bengal, taxes, peasants, colonial rulers

JEL Classification: N00

Suggested Citation

Choudhury, Soumen Dhar, Bengal Famine of 1943: Misfortune or Imperial Schema (September 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Soumen Dhar Choudhury (Contact Author)

J N COLLEGE ( email )

Pasighat, AR 791103

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