Monday, November 22, 2010

Churchill's Genocide

Madhusree Mukherjee has written an important book. Churchill's Secret War chronicles the story of the Great Bengal Famine, a famine almost deliberately engineered by the British War Administration, under the excuse of supply to British troops, but also with a deeper agenda of crushing the Indian Independence Movement beyond repair.

The 1943 famine in Bengal killed three million people. The famine affected a generation and accentuated the city/village divide which persists even today. Economists, particularly Amartya Sen, has made efforts to prove that this devastating famine did not happen due to shortage of food. Ms Mukherjee argues that this had happened to a deliberate policy of the British War Administration of diverting food supplies from Bengal to Ceylon and then onto the British troops in Burma and elsewhere. Professor Sen has talked about the 'entitlement problem' and Ms Mukherjee also points to the practice of British Administration of buying grains at an inflated price in the open market, thus driving the gain out of reach for the peasants and workers.

The event remains etched in the memory of Bengal, in its literature and politics, in its social divisions, in its collective anger. Churchill was directly in charge; his only response to the report that the streets of Calcutta were littered with dead bodies was to ask why Gandhi had not died yet. This was his little Auschwitz, and he could do what he pleases with the poor Indians at his disposal. (This is a great example of what Slavoj Zizek will call Objective Violence, as opposed to Subjective Violence unleashed by Hitler and his henchmen, but which had similar results)

Post-war, we fashioned our world in line with Churchillian imagination. He indeed said that the History would judge him kindly as he intended to write it: So he did. He wrote a history of war, silently wiping out those unfortunate Indian victims from his tale. He fashioned a world by his rhetoric and actions - making up the vision of an Iron Curtain, helping to curve out Pakistan out of India so that British strategic interests in Central Asia can be guarded, fighting for access to oil at the cost of destroying the democracy in Iran, and fighting a brutal war out of tribal rivalries in Africa - and our world is shaped by the consequences of those mis-steps.

Churchill is one of the most over-rated statesmen in the history of world, someone whose 'spin' obfuscated action and confounded generations after him. I shall argue Churchillian myth has been cultivated by the media and the politicians of later generations to maintain the inherently unjust, and unsustainable, world that we built thereafter: His rhetoric helped us imagine the threats that were not, conceal crimes with the talk of high purpose and created untold miseries for unseen millions.

Ms Mukherjee's book is an important contribution in undoing this myth.

1 comment:

Bhaswati Bhattacharya said...

an EXCELLENT review. Am surprised that noone has commented. This review is going into my lecture notes. Thank you.

Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MD
Fulbright Scholar 2013-14,
Banaras Hindu Univ, Varanasi
& erstwhile
Clinical Asst. Professor, Dept of Medicine, Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York

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