Famine Over Bengal


When the Bengal famine broke out in 1943, the Hindu newspaper sent correspondent T.G. Narayanan to cover the story. Famine Over Bengal, based on this first-hand reportage, is a pioneering work of journalism. The first half of the book describes the origins of the famine: the official callousness, incompetence, corruption and buck-passing. The second half is a first-hand account of what Narayanan saw and heard in Bengal. The journalist describes the harrowing scenes and shocking contrasts that he found in Calcutta, Dacca, and elsewhere. Most crucially, he provides several moving accounts of the experiences of famine sufferers. Not only do these stories provide an invaluable record of the times, they constitute some of the most powerful writing in English ever to emerge from India.


  1. Bengal was not the largest province in India, but with 63 million people had the largest population. Every square mile had to support over 730 people. However, investment in agriculture was cut down from a meager Rs. 69 lakhs in 1940-41 to Rs. 50 lakhs in the following year.

  2. Bengal's normal production of rice was 481 million maunds a year, as against a requirement of 540 million maunds a year. The balance was partially made up by imports from Burma. However, with Japan having occupied Burma in early 1942, that rice supply had been cut off.

  3. The rice denial policy initiated by Bengal's governor, Sir John Herbert, in early 1942 caused prices of rice to escalate. The boat denial policy also caused great hardship in riverine Bengal. Indian politicians either resigned from the government, or proved incompetent.

  4. A disastrous cyclone in October 1942 further damaged the rice supply.

  5. Famine deaths had become common by July-August 1943. Anti-hoarding drives failed to produce much rice.

  6. The central government proved unhelpful as well. Instead of providing help, it continued to export food from India. Half a million tons of foodgrains were exported after the fall of Burma, that is, after it was clear that imports were going to be cut off.

  7. Secretary of State Amery blamed God for the famine, although it was clearly man-made. Gandhi had foreseen the famine, but being in prison could not do anything.

  8. Calcutta, Dacca and their environs provided horrifying sights and heart-rending stories.

  9. Despite the suffering, the rich in Calcutta got richer through hoarding and speculation in food.

  10. Relief was finally made available, but remained grossly inadequate. 


T.G. Narayanan


Ranga Narayanan