We all know Hitler caused the biggest genocide on earth; he eliminated approximately six million Jews and half a million Gypsies. The Holocaust is the most widely known and despised event in world history. I argue that during World War II in India, the undivided Bengal witnessed the greatest passive-Holocaust in the world and it was all courtesy of the British who were “administering” India at the time.

Compared to what happened in India, Hitler looks pretty amateurish, doesn’t he?

The winners always write history and it is not unusual that this havoc was covered under a façade of natural calamity, but the catastrophe was actually man made.

Let’s unveil the reality a little.

1770 — Bengal faced the most severe famine in the history, approximately 10 million people evaporated. The British took over the country five years earlier; but no one could pinpoint them for the havoc. Actually it started because of a severe drought, but certainly the British didn’t take any measure to reduce the effect. In fact, their revenue collection in 1771 surpassed the Rs. 15.21 million collected in 1768 by Rs. 52,000. No wonder 10 million people starved to death.

Then in 1942 — United Kingdom had suffered a disastrous defeat at Singapore against the Japanese military, which then proceeded to conquer Burma (Now Myanmar) from the British in the same year.

At that point Myanmar was the highest rice exporting country in the world and 15% of India’s rice came from Myanmar. In Bengal the proportion was slightly higher because of the state’s proximity to Myanmar.

British authorities feared a subsequent Japanese invasion of British India through Bengal, and they started stockpiling food for British soldiers to prevent access to supplies by the Japanese in case of an invasion.

To implement that strategy the British ruthlessly enforced a “boat denial scheme” and then a “rice denial scheme.”

The first policy confiscated almost 66,500 boats/ships which eventually collapsed the economy — fishing became impossible, so was the exporting/importing of food.

The second policy allowed the free merchants to purchase rice at any price and sell it back to the government for stocking in the governmental food storage. On one hand it increased the price of rice but on the other it created an artificial food shortage which finally dampened the effect of “Quit India movement.”

I was talking to a friend recently about the German Holocaust and he mentioned this British incident, saying, “probably we Indians are either pretty forgiving or forgetful… we don’t talk much about this greatest man-made holocaust possible on earth…”

I instantly understood why nobody really knows what happened in India because attention was cleverly directed towards the natural calamity to cover the brutal fact of deliberate starvation to provide a good night’s sleep to the rest of the world.

Should India have been forced to accept the offer?


  1. You’ve been really writing a lot of great articles, Katha! This is really beautiful and touching and sad. I had no idea this happened.

  2. This is an absolutely wonderful article. I cannot believe some of the things that have occurred in our history that people have skipped over and that most have not had the opportunity to learn about. I really hope this articles reaches a lot of people because it is truly educational and definitely able to keep your attention throughout,

  3. There is selective amnesia in the Western narrative as well. You mention the Jews and Romanians but forget that millions of Poles also died. After all, that’s where Hitler was looking when he came up with his “lebensraum” policy. So the Germans practised genocide against Poland in order to get their land, but that’s not really mentioned, is it?

    Having said that, I didn’t know that the situation in India happened. But that’s not unusual. When the Japanese began “WWII” (in Asia, you can easily argue for a 1933 beginning), the Chinese were slated for extermination. We don’t hear a lot about that. My own race, the Eurasians in Malaysia/Singapore, were also specifically targeted by the Japanese. We weren’t a big population to begin with, but the war shrank us even more. You don’t hear anything about that attempted genocide either. When the Indonesians realised that their East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere “liberators” were worse than the colonising Dutch, the Japanese laid into them as well. And again, in the historical discourse that we all learn….crickets.

    And let’s not get started on Africa. Too many stories. Too many tragedies. Too many whitewashes.

  4. Thank you for sharing this historical fact that not many people know. We can’t remember if we never know.

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