Famine devastates Bengal; 150 die daily in Calcutta (9-18-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 19, 1943)

Famine devastates Bengal; 150 die daily in Calcutta

Loss of Burma, hoarding, influx of troops blamed for food shortage in India
By Walter Briggs, United Press staff writer

New Delhi, India – (Sept. 18)
Famine is creeping across India’s most heavily-populated province of Bengal and responsible sources assert that at least 150 persons are dying daily in Calcutta alone due to hunger and disease.

I have just returned from Calcutta, traveling across Bengal.

Walking through the most seriously affected parts of Calcutta, I saw children with bloated stomachs, mothers suffering gravely from malnutrition, men collapsing on the sidewalks of the British Empire’s so-called “second city.” In Calcutta, as well as in other parts of Bengal, you hear again and again the wail for “rice,” but authorities sat there is not enough to go around despite efforts and appeals.

I had often seen Chinese collapse or die from hunger on the streets of Shanghai during the night, but these seldom numbered more than a few. In Calcutta, walking through a street at dawn, I saw dozens of dead on the sidewalks.

The weekly toll of dead from starvation and diseases such as cholera and dysentery is said by responsible persons to be increasing, and municipal facilities are hard pressed to collect and cremate all corpses found in the streets. Several weeks ago, some Hindu editors charged that they had been prevented from publishing a complete daily toll of the dead.

I visited a suburban district where I saw many families seated on their haunches in a line five or six blocks long, waiting for a plate of watery gruel at one of the free kitchens established by the government and private agencies. I saw naked children three and four years old digging into a pile of garbage from overturned cans. Old women looked at me sadly, some of them apparently too weak to beg.

Naturally, the famine threat applies only to part of the population. Around the corner from the food line an orchestra was playing “Sweet Sue” in a big hotel where there were 17 courses on the dinner menu.

There is a disagreement between the government and some Indian leaders as to the cause of famine.

The Hindu newspapers generally blame inadequate government preparation at a time when it was known that a food shortage was inevitable. They also blame inefficiency and hoarding by large wholesalers and even by the government.

Most responsible sources explain the shortage as due to Japanese occupation of Burma which cut off large rice imports, and cyclone and floods which devastated part of Bengal last year, inadequate and inefficient distribution of foodstuffs, large-scale hoarding, and the influx of troops into Bengal for operations on the Burma border.

The U.S. Consul General in Calcutta wrote the mayor that:

Responsible officials of the United States government are not unmindful of the situation, but shipping depends on many factors.


Huh? When?

I wonder whether it is the muslim league, the hindu Mahasabha, the depressed class party (I keep on forgetting the name of it)