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India in Bondage

The Bengal Famine 1943 - 44: The final judgment on British Rule in India  

Author John Newsinger is Senior Lecturer: History. School of Historical and Cultural Studies at the Bath Spa University, UK. He has written in his book, The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire:

"India still had to face the greatest disaster to befall the country in the 20th century: the Bengal Famine of 1943-44. This was the product of food shortages brought about by the war. Imports of food grains from Burma were cut off by the Japanese occupation and the system of distribution for domestic supplies broke down. For the peasantry, a large number of whom lived at or below subsistence level at the best of times, the consequences were catastrophic. The poor could not feed themselves and began to starve. Tens of thousands trekked to Calcutta , only to die on the city streets. The British administration in the words of one historian responded with “a callous disregard of its duties in handling the famine.” Not only were no steps taken to provide against famine, but India continued exporting food grains to Iran at the rate of 3,000 tons a month throughout 1942. The result was a terrible death toll from starvation and disease in 1943-44 that totaled more than 3.5 million men and women.

This was, as Jawaharlal Nehru put it, “the final judgment on British rule in India.”  

When Lord Wavell succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Viceroy, he was appalled at how little had been done to provide famine relief. Part of the problem was Churchill, “who seemed to regard famine relief as ‘appeasement’ of the Congress”. On one occasion when presented with details of the crisis in Bengal , Churchill commented, “on Indians breeding like rabbits”. As far as he was concerned “the starvation of anyhow underfed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks”, a sentiment with which Amery concurred. Wavell himself informed London that the famine “was one of the greatest disasters that has befallen any people under British rule”. The government was unmoved. Wavell said when Holland needs food, “ships will of course be available, quite a different answer to the one we get whenever we ask for ships to bring food to India.”  

Winston Churchill’s (1874 - 1965) attitude was quite explicitly racist. 

He told Amery: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” On another occasion, he insisted that they were “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans”. 

Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett Amery (1873-1955) born in Gorakhpur, India of an English father and a Hungarian Jewish mother, he was a British Conservative Party politician and journalist.  



Leopold Charles Maurice Stennett Amery, Sir Winston Churchill and Bert "Bomber" Harris (1892 - 1984)

“the Hindus were a foul race…and he wished Bert Harris (Air Marshall Bert "Bomber" Harris  could send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”  

Churchill's attitude to Indians was quite explicitly racist. 

"By the end of the War the Indian army was 2.5 million strong and during the conflict the Indian armed forces suffered over 30,000 men killed fighting for the British Empire ."

Today their contribution is merely a footnote in world history.

 - N B Bonarjee, author of the book, Under Two Masters, p. 294.


Amery was bemused by Churchill's “curious hatred of India and concluded that he was “really not quite normal on the subject”. Indeed Amery was not sure “whether on this subject of India he is really quite sane.” Provoked beyond endurance by Churchill’s bigotry, Amery, on one occasion, said: “I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s”. Amery was not a liberal or progressive, but a hardnosed right wing imperialist. And it was not just to Amery that Churchill made his feelings clear. 

In February 1945 Churchill told his private secretary, Sir John Colville (1915-1987) that:

 “the Hindus were a foul race…and he wished Bert Harris (Air Marshall Bert "Bomber" Harris (1892 - 1984) could send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.”  

Somewhat predictably, Churchill’s part in the failure of famine relief in Bengal , one of the great crimes of the war, is not something that his innumerable biographers have been concerned to explore. This is really quite disgraceful. To quote N B Bonarjee, author of Under Two Masters, and the district magistrate who had loyally helped suppress the Quit India revolt. 

In his memoirs he writes bitterly of how the Viceroy broadcast of 13 May 1945 Churchill had thanked Australia, Canada and New Zealand for their contribution to the war effort, but could not bring himself to mention India “although she provided more in men and material than the rest put together.”  

(source: The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire - By John Newsinger p. 157 - 159).




Viceroy Mayo, Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill.

At the same time that Winston Churchill (President George W Bush' hero) was waging a valiant struggle against the Nazis and Japanese, he complained to Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India:

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.’ 

Refer to Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II - By Madhusree Mukerjee and The Flaws in the Jewel: Challenging the Myths of British India - By Roderick Matthews

(source: The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire – By John Newsinger p. 157 - 159).


Viceroy Richard Southwell Bourke Mayo, 6th earl of Mayo (1822 – 1872) also called Lord Naas  Irish politician and civil servant best known for his service as viceroy of India, where he improved relations with Afghanistan wrote,  

'We are determined as long as sun shines in heaven to hold India. Our national character, our commerce, demand it; and we have, one way or another, £250 millions of English capital fixed in the country'.

Benjamin Disraeli (1840 - 1881) famously dubbed India a 'jewel in the crown of England'. 

In the 1880s India took nearly one fifth of British exports and overseas investment. In the mid-19th century all tea had come from China. By 1900 most of it came from India. 

Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) once remarked, The possession of India, made all the difference between Britain being a first and a third rate world power.

(source: India - Imperialism, Partition and Resistance).


American Rev. Jabez T. Sunderland (1842-1936) former President of the India Information Bureau of America and Editor of Young India (New York). Author of India, America and World Brotherhood, and Causes of Famine in India. He has written glowingly about India's culture: 

"When the British first appeared on the scene, India was one of the richest countries of the world; indeed, it was her great riches that attracted the British to her shores. For 2,500 years before the British came on the scene and robbed her of her freedom, India was self-ruling and one of the most influential and illustrious nations of the world."

“This wealth,” says  was created by the Hindus’ vast and varied industries. Nearly every kind of manufacture or product known to the civilized world – nearly every kind of creation of Man’s brain and hand, existing anywhere, and prized either for its utility or beauty – had long, long been produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or than any other in Asia. Her textile goods – the fine products of her loom, in cotton, wool, linen, and silk – were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewelry and her precious stones, cut in every lovely form; so were her pottery, porcelains, ceramics of every kind, quality, color and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal – iron, steel, silver and gold. She had great architecture – equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works. She had great merchants, great business men, great bankers and financiers. Not only was she the greatest ship-building nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea which extended to all known civilized countries. Such was the India which the British found when they came. 

Rev. C. F. Andrews, missionary, professor and publicist, says: 

"Our whole British talk about being ' trustees of India' and coming out to ' serve' her, about bearing the 'white man's burden' about ruling India 'for her good,' and all the rest, is the biggest hypocrisy on God's earth."

Many will remember the poem written by Bertrand Shadwell:

"If you see an island shore
Which has not been grabbed before
Lying in the track of trade, as islands should
With the simple native quite 
Unprepared to make a fight
Oh, you just drop in and take it for his good
Not for love of money, be it understood
But you row yourself to the land,
With a Bible in your hand,
And you pray for him and rob him, for his good:

If he hollers, then you shoot him for his good.
Or this lesson I can shape
To campaigning at the Cape,
He would welcome British rule
If he weren't a blooming fool;
Thus, you see it's only for his good,
So they're burning houses for his good
Making helpless women homeless for their good,
Leaving little children orphans for their good
In India there are bloody sights
Blotting out the Hindu's rights

Where we've slaughtered many millions for their good
And, with bullet and with brand,
Desolated all the land
But you know we did it for their good,
Yes, and still more far away
Down in China, let us say
Where the "Christian" robs the "heathen" for his good,
You may burn and you may shoot
You may fill your sack with loot
But be sure you do it for his good."

(source: India in Bondage: Her Right to Freedom - By Rev. Jabez T. Sunderland p.1-61). This book, published in India and promptly suppressed by the British Government, is the history of the British Rule in India from the Indian side.
The central theme of the book was that the British rule in India was unjust, that the Indians were abundantly competent to rule themselves and that America should support the cause of Indian nationalism. The book appeared to be so seditious to the British authorities in India that it was not only proscribed, its publisher was arrested and proceeded against under the Indian Penal Code).  

It was this wealth that the East India Company proposed to appropriate. Already in 1686 its Directors declared their intention to “establish …a large, well-grounded, sure English dominion in India for all time to come.” The company rented from the Hindu authorities trading posts at Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, and fortified them, without permission of the authorities, with troops and canon.  

Robert Clive said: “When I think, of the marvelous riches of that country, and the comparatively small part which I took away, I am astonished at my own moderation.” Such were the morals of the men who proposed to bring civilization to India."

His successors in the management of the Company now began a century of unmitigated rape on the resources of India. They profiteered without hindrance: goods which they sold in England for $10,000,000 they bought for $2,000,000 in India. The forged documents as circumstances required, and hanged Hindus for forging documents.  

“Every effort, lawful and unlawful,” says a Bombay Administration report, written by Englishmen, “was made to get the utmost out of the wretched peasantry, who were subjected to torture, in some instances cruel and revolting beyond all description, if they would not or could not yield what was demanded.” 

“Everything and everybody was on sale” says the Oxford History of India. “Under their old masters they (Indians) had at least one resource: when the evil became insupportable, the people rose and pulled down the government. But the English Government was not to be shaken off. That Government, oppressive as the most oppressive form of barbarian despotism, was strong with all the strength of civilization.

By 1858 the crimes of the Company so smelled to heaven that the British Government took over the captured and plundered territories as a colony of the Crown; a little island took over half a continent. All the debts on the Company’s books, together with the accrued interest on these debts, were added to the public obligations of India, to be redeemed out of the taxes put upon the Hindu people. Exploitation was dressed now in all the forms of Law – ie. The rules laid down by the victor for the vanquished. Hypocrisy was added to brutality, while the robbery went on.  

John Morley estimated that during the nineteenth century alone England carried on one hundred and eleven wars in India, using for the most part Indian troops; million of Hindus shed their blood that India might be slave. The cost of these wars for the conquest of India was met to the last penny out of Indian taxes; the English congratulated themselves on conquering India without spending a cent. Certainly it was a remarkable, if not a magnanimous, achievement, to steal in forty years a quarter of million square miles, and make the victims pay every penny of the expense. When at last in 1857 the exhausted Hindus resisted, they were suppressed with “medieval ferocity”; a favorite way of dealing with captured rebels was to blow them to bits from the mouth of canons. “We took,” said the London Spectator, “at least 100,000 Indian lives in the mutiny.” This is what the English call the Sepoy Mutiny, and what the Hindus call the War of Independence. There is much in a name.  

James Mill, historian of India, wrote: "Under their dependence upon the British Government...the people of Oudh and Karnatic, two of the noblest  provinces of India, were, by misgovernment, plunged into a state of wretchedness with which ..hardly any part of the earth has anything to compare."

F. J. Shore,  British administrator in Bengal, testified as follows to the House of Commons in 1857: 

“The fundamental principle of the English has been to make the whole Indian nation subservient, in every possible way, to the interests and benefits of themselves. They have been taxed to the utmost limit; every successive province, as it has fallen into our possession, has been made a field for higher exaction; and it has always been our boast how greatly we have raised the revenue above that which the native rulers were able to extort. The Indians have been excluded from every honor, dignity or office which the lowest Englishman could be prevailed upon to accept.”

In the midst of heart breaking poverty engendered partly by heavy taxation, the Government treats itself, at staggering costs, to gigantic official buildings at Delhi, needlessly alien in style to the architecture of India; for seven months of every year it transfers the Capital, with all its machinery and personnel, to vacation resorts in the mountains, at an expense of millions of dollars; and from time to time it holds gorgeous Durbars, to impress the people who provide tens of millions for the ceremony. It pays to be free. 

The result is that the national debt of India which was $35,000,000 in 1792 rose to $3,500,000,000 in 1929.  

The actual policy of the British in India has been one of political exclusion and social scorn. Every year the Indian colleges graduates 12,000 students; every year hundreds of Hindu graduate from universities in Europe or America, and return to their native land. But only the lowest places in the civil service are open to them. 

Liberals like Elphinstone, and Munro, protested in vain against this refusal of function to the educated intelligence of India, this “decapitation of an entire people,” as Lajpat Rai called it. It is the commonest thing,” says an American missionary, “to see Indian scholars and officials, of confessedly high ability, of very fine training, and of long experience, serving under young Englishmen who in England would not be thought fit to fill a government or a business position above the second or third class. “Eminent Hindu physicians and surgeons,” says Ramachandra Chaterjee, “are compelled to spend the best years of their lives in subordinate positions as ‘assistant’ surgeons, while raw and callow youths lord it over them and draw four to five times their pay.” 

The English in India act as if they felt that their superior position can be best maintained by asserting it at every step, by avoiding participation in the life of the people, by setting up against them every aristocratic social distinction, by treating them in every way as an inferior race.  

Sunderland reports that the British treat the Hindus as strangers and foreigners in India, in a manner “quite as unsympathetic, harsh and abusive as was ever seen among the Georgia and Louisiana planters in the old days of American slavery; and he tells of several cases in which British soldiers forcibly ejected from railway compartments educated Brahmins and courtly rajahs who had tickets for this space. 

Savel Zimand author of Living India, corroborates him: “Many of those distinctions drawn against Indians are like those made against the Negroes in our south – minus lynching. I could fill volumes with such instances.” 

The result is a pitiful crushing of the Hindu spirit, a stifling of its pride and growth, a stunting of genius that once flourished in every city of the land. “Subjection to a foreign yoke ,” says Professor Ross, “is one of the most potent cause of the decay of nations.” 

“The foreign system under which India is governed today,” says Gandhi, “has reduced India to pauperism and emasculation. We have lost self-confidence.”

Such was the method of British acquisition of India…..and with all its modest improvements, is destroying Hindu civilization and Hindu people.

(source: The Case for India - By Will Durant Simon and Schuster, New York. 1930 p. This book was banned by the British Government. Durant held the view that no part of the world suffered so much poverty and oppression as India did and that this was largely due to British imperialism).

During 1903-5 in the wake of the partition of Bengal, William Jennings Bryan, one of the topmost figures on the American political scene and twice the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, visited India and obtained first hand knowledge of the '"jewel" of the British empire. The somber verdict was:

"Let no one cite India as an argument in defense of colonialism. On the Ganges and the Indus the Briton, in spite of his many notable qualities and his large contribution to the world's advancement, has demonstrated, as many have before, man's inability to exercise, with wisdom and justice, irresponsible power over the helpless people. He has conferred some benefits upon India, but he has extorted a tremendous price for them. While he has boasted of bringing peace to the living, he has led millions to the peace of the grave; while he has dwelt upon order...he has impoverished the country by legalized pillage."

(source: Katherine Mayo and India - By Manorangan Jha People's Publishing House New Delhi 1971.p.2).

The Triumph of Death


Economic exploitation: A 19th century lithograph shows the impoverishment of cotton ginners as cheap English mill-made cloth flooded the Indian market.


The emaciation of the Hindus sickens the traveler; closed fingers can be run up around their bare legs from the ankles to the knees. In the cities 34 % of them are absent from work, on any day, from illness to injury. They are too poor to afford foods rich in mineral salts; they are too poor to buy fresh vegetables, much less to buy meat. The water-supply, which is usually the first obligation of a government, is in primitive condition, after a century or more of British rule; dysentery and malaria have been eliminated from Panama and Cuba, but they flourish in British India. Once the Hindu was known to be the among the cleanest of the clean; and even today he bathes every morning, and washes every morning the simple garment that he wears; but the increase of poverty has made social sanitation impossible. Until 1918 the total expenditure on public health, of both the central and provincial governments combined, was only $5,000,000 a year, for 240,000,000 people - an appropriation of two cents per capita. 

Sir William Hunter, estimated that 40,000,000 of the people of India were seldom or never able to satisfy their hunger. In 1901, 272,000 died of plague introduced from abroad, in 1902, 500,000 died of plague; in 1903, 800,000; in 1904, 1,000,000. We can now understand why there are famines in India. Their cause, in plain terms, is not the absence of food, but the inability of the people to pay for it. It was hoped the railways would solve the problem...the fact that the worst famines have come since the building of the railways...behind all these, as the fundamental source of the terrible famines in India, lies such merciless exploitation, such unbalanced exploitation of goods, and such brutal collection of high taxes in the very midst of famine....

(source: The Case for India - By Will Durant Simon and Schuster, New York. 1930 p.50-53). Refer to Jesus Christ: Artifice for Aggression - By Sita Ram Goel

Christian rule in India was perhaps the most brutal and inhuman ever, possibly even more so than the most tyrannical Muslim kingdoms. 

Do you know that the rations approved by one Sir Richard Temple for those undergoing hard labour during an 1890s famine was less than the starvation diet given to Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald? (In passing, Temple was also infamous for his Christian evangelism activities.) Yes, the Buchenwald ration for the toiling masses.

Here is a damning table from Late Victorian Holocausts (Mike Davis, Verso, pp 33). Look at the state-sanctioned ration for the famine-ridden Madras Presidency in 1877, under the leadership of the aforementioned Temple. Less than half the approved caloric intake for a modern Indian. Less than the caloric intake at the most notorious concentration camp run by the Nazis.

  Caloric Value Activity Level
 Basal metabolism  1,500  No activity
 Ration in Madras, 1877  1,627  Heavy labour
 Buchenwald ration, 1944  1,750  Heavy labour
 7-year-old child, approved diet, 1981  2,050  Normal activity
 Minimum war ration, Japan, 1945  2,165  Moderate activity
 Indian adult, subsistence, 1985  2,400  Moderate activity
 Ration in Bengal, 1874  2,500  Heavy labour
 Survey of Bengali labourers, 1862  2,790  Heavy labour
 Indian male, approved diet, 1981  3,900  Heavy labour
 Voit-Atwater standard, 1895  4,200  Heavy labour

(source: Europe's hypocrisy - By Rajeev Srinivasan -

Refer to Loot: in search of the East India Company - By Nick Robins and How India became poor -

Mark Twain in India

Mark Twain (1835-1910) author of Following the Equator, blamed the white man who, in the name of civilization and "the white man's burden," impoverished many peoples in the world. The poverty of India suffocated Mark Twain. In his book Mark Twain in India, Keshav Mustalkik noted of Twain's observation:

"The white man's tools were whiskey and wine and tobacco offered with the fetters and hanging pole and noose; the white man's world was death and murder coupled with the commandment Thou Shall not kill. Mark Twain angrily said, "We are obliged to believe that a nation that could look on, unmoved, and see starving or freezing women hanged for stealing twenty-six cents' worth of food or rags, and boys snatched from their mothers and men from their families and sent to the other side of the world for long terms of years for similar trifling offenses, was nation to whom the term 'civilized" could not in any large way be applied." The result of 'civilization' was the extermination of the savages. These are the humorous things in the world - among them the white man's notion that he is less savage than the savage."

(source: Hinduism Today July/August/September 2002 p. 54-55). Refer to Jesus Christ: Artifice for Aggression - By Sita Ram Goel




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