Did India have a rationing system?

Considering how Britain introduced the rationing system from pretty much the start of the war? Did they introduce it to their colonies too particularly their crown colony India as most of their food came from there?


I don’t think that’s correct: much of the UK’s food imports were from Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. One source suggested that New Zealand supplied “1/6th of meat imports, 1/4 of butter imports, and 1/2 of cheese imports”, and New Zealand was definitely not the most important source of imported food to Britain. On a quick online search, I couldn’t find any numbers for Indian food exports to Britain (which doesn’t mean they weren’t significant, but my sense it that they were certainly not any kind of majority … except in the utterly essential import of tea).


Another unsourced report says:

I did say I wasn’t sure that India had provided much food to Britain. I’ve now done some reading and prior to the war India did not produce enough food to feed itself - about 2% was imported, including large amounts of rice from Burma which was of course lost in 1942. In terms of rice and other grains, India normally imported a net of 1-2 million tons each year up to 1941/42 with more than 4 million tons in 39/40. In 42/43 it had net exports of 0.62 million tons. British imports of wheat, flour, barley etc were 8.5 million tonnes in 1939 dropping to 4.7-5.4 million in the years 42-45. This means India’s net export of grains in 42/43 came to about 12% of Britain’s imports in that same year. Another way of looking at it is that British consumption of grains dropped by 3.5m tons over the war years, with a population of 50m (70kg per person), while India’s consumption dropped by 2.7m tons with a population of about 300m (9 kg per person).

I pulled these stats from a paper written by an Indian professor at an Australian university. He was very critical of Britain’s & Australia’s actions in 1943 and I won’t post the title of his paper as to do so may verge on breaching forum rules. I mention this so that people know this is not a paper biased towards Britain.

Again, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these numbers, but if they’re drawn from the stated source, we can be moderately confident that it doesn’t under-rate India’s contributions to British food stocks.


Nicholas, thanks for digging up this research data.


Oh… Well that highlights the truly deplorable conditions of the Brits.I completely forgot that India imported most of its food till I think 1980s.

I assumed it was India because of the bengal famine.


Revisionist historians have been working hard to pin the blame for the Bengal famine on Churchill, but as I quoted Zareer Masani’s debunking of the most recent book to take this line:

The famine raged for about six months, from the summer of 1943 until the end of that year, and estimates of its victims range from half a million upwards, depending on whether one includes its indirect and long-term effects. Most famine experts agree that famines can be caused by both nature and human agency, but never by any single individual. So how has a 67-year-old British prime minister in poor health, 5,000 miles away, fighting near-annihilation in a world war, come to be charged with causing such a cataclysmic disaster?

The attempt to lay this at Churchill’s door stems from a sensationalist book by a Bengali-American journalist called Madhusree Mukerjee. As its title, Churchill’s Secret War, indicates, it was a largely conspiracist attempt to pin responsibility on distant Churchill for undoubted mistakes on the ground in Bengal.

The actual evidence shows that Churchill believed, based on the information he had been getting, that there was no food supply shortage in Bengal, but a demand problem caused by local mismanagement of the distribution system. Ironically, his view found unexpected support in a 2010 exchange between Mukerjee and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, the world’s foremost expert on famine in India.

Commenting in the New York Times, Sen said of Mukerjee, that “she seems satisfied with little information” and that her data came from only two rice research stations, and those in only two out of 27 districts in Bengal. “The analysis I made,” countered Sen, “using data from all districts … indicated that food availability in 1943 (the famine year) was significantly higher than in 1941 (when there was no famine) … There was indeed a substantial shortfall compared with demand, hugely enhanced in a war economy … but that is quite different from a shortfall of supply compared with supply in previous years … Mukerjee seems to miss this crucial distinction, and in her single-minded … attempt to nail down Churchill, she ends up absolving British imperial policy of confusion and callousness.”


I am speechless! The whole time I believed he was responsible for it and the fact that he said “Why isn’t Gandhi dead yet” which he did not say but he said something similar based on Lord Wavell journals https://archive.org/details/99999990080835WavellTheViceroysJournal/page/n93/mode/2up?view=theater (page 78 in the book and 94 in the slider and then checkout the July 5 journal for the actual quote).

So this completely removes the idea that Churchil murdered bengalis just to get his precious rice. However does this make Churchil a good guy or is he still in the grey area?


Honestly, that’s not the historians’ job to determine. That’s the ordinary man, as long as he gets the full and accurate information of course. Unfortunately, ideologues who twist history for their own purposes make the latter job extremely hard.