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Australia’s ABC censors Bengali Famine

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Bengali FamineThe neocon-infested, taxpayer-funded ABC (the Australian equivalent of the UK BBC) has an appalling record of censorship, lying by omission and lying by commission. Now the ABC has censored reportage of the Australia-complicit 1942-1945 Bengal Famine (Bengali Famine, Bengali Holocaust) in which the British, with Australian complicity, deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death in 1942-1945.

India contributed an army of 2.4 million men to assist the British war effort in World War 2. However India was rewarded by a British-imposed Bengal Famine (Bengali Holocaust, Indian Holocaust) that killed 6-7 million Indians in Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Orissa in the period 1942-1945. Australia was a major supplier of wheat but deliberately by-passed starving India, this boosting British food stocks and what was evidently a starvation-based military strategy to prevent Japanese advance into Bengal.

While there was no catastrophic decline in the amount of rice or other grain available in Bengal, the price of rice edged up slightly during 1942 and by December 1942 the wholesale price of rice in Calcutta had increased to be double that in December 1941. By mid-1943 it had doubled again to be over 4 times greater than the price in December 1941. As analyzed by Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen (Cambridge and Harvard) the Bengal Famine derived from a cashed-up Calcutta, a major industrial city involved in a war production boom, sucking rice out of a starving, rice-producing countryside.

A variety of factors contributed to the greatly increased market price of rice but the absolute amount of rice and other grain was not a critical determinant as has been argued from a superficial analysis of the situation. There was grain available to alleviate the problem but the in late 1941 British gave Indian provinces autonomy over their food stocks, this contributing to the huge price increase in Bengal. Other factors included small decreases in the Bengal rice harvest due to fungal infestation and storm; loss of rice imports from Burma (that had been conquered by the Japanese); British violence in West Bengal that impaired rice production, storage and availability; British seizure of local food stocks; British seizure and destruction of Bengali boats crucial for income generation and food distribution (a measure ostensibly directed against possible Japanese invasion from Burma); a halving of shipping in the Indian Ocean in 1943 due to losses in the Atlantic; hoarding by fearful or greedy Indians that was enabled by British policy; failure to declare famine under the British India Famine Code; and the resolute refusal of the British to permit significant grain imports.

While this horrendous atrocity has been almost completely white-washed out of British history, some historians and scholars have told the truth:

“Bengal Famine”, BBC, 2008.

Drèze, J. and Sen, A. (1989), “Hunger and Public Action” (Clarendon, Oxford).

Greenough, P.R. (1982), “Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: the Famine of 1943-1944” (Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York).

Greenough, P.R. (1988), “Famine” in Embree, A.T. (1985a) (editor), “Encyclopaedia of Asian History” (Collier Macmillan, London) pp457-459.

Jog, N.G. (1944), “Churchill’s Blind-Spot: India” (New Book Company, Bombay) [in this book the Bengali Holocaust was the first WW2 atrocity to be described as a “holocaust”].

Keneally, Tom (2010), “Three Famines” (Knopf, Sydney).

Mason, Colin (2000), “A Short History of Asia. Stone Age to 2000AD” (Macmillan, London).

Muckerjee, Madhusree (2010), “Churchill's Secret War. The British Empire and the ravaging of Indian during World War II”, (Basic Books, New York).

Ó Gráda, Cormac (2009), Famine. A Short History” (Princeton University Press, New Jersey)

Polya, Gideon (1998, 2008), “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne).

A window on the grievous deficiencies of the ABC is provided by the ABC itself. When you Google "ABC News" and go the ABC News Homepage you will find a "Search ABC" device at the top right hand corner. This enables one to search "the entire ABC site" for what the ABC reports, does not report and no longer reports.  ABC Searches for the terms “Bengali Famine”, “Bengali Holocaust” and “Bengal Famine” yield 0, 0 and 3 results, respectively.

This is all that the ABC now records about this atrocity that killed 6-7 million Indians in WW2:

1. ABC TV Lateline, 14 May 2001, “Nobel Prize for Economics” : “BRETT EVANS: Sen's interests in the economics of development was first sparked by the poverty he observed first hand as a boy in his native India, particularly the Bengal famine of 1943.

PROFESSOR ROBIN JEFFREY: The stories you read of that famine are of people dying on the streets, bodies being taken every morning, having to be taken away because people were simply dying of starvation.

PROFESSOR RAGHBENDRA JHA, AUSTRALIA SOUTH ASIA RESEARCH CENTRE: It left a permanent scar in the minds of sensitive people like Amartya Sen.

It left a permanent scar on the cultural landscape of Bengal and for that matter India.

BRETT EVANS: Sen argues that such disasters occur not through lack of food but political will.

He famously wrote that a famine has never occurred in a functioning democracy.

And Sen argued his case with a sort of hard data his fellow economists respect.”

2. Vandana Shiva, “Global capital, local responses”: “In India you couldn’t own land as private property. The saying we have is sabhi bhoomi Gopal ki! You know, “the land belongs to the creator”. You can use it and it’s absolutely the same for the Aboriginal people here. You can’t own land; you can’t buy and sell it.

The British created a group of owners of land who would then be the rent collectors, who would then finance the empire and meantime people were losing their land.

And this had simultaneous impact on hunger because if your entire surplus is being extracted to pay taxes then the very producers of food go hungry, which is why 2 million people died in the Bengal famine of 1942. Not because there wasn’t enough rice in India — we were exporting rice for the war — but because of the way the free trade rights of commerce were higher than the rights of people to eat.

And the entire force of the British Empire was being used to extract the last amount of paddy from the peasants. We had at that point a wonderful women’s movement called tib-haaga, and the women would basically blockade their paddy and say we won’t let you take it, you can’t forcefully take away our produce, and we would rather give our lives than give our rice.

And if that direct action of that kind that eventually brought the changes of the ’40s. And after ’47, when we got independence, we ensured that no one could own more than a certain amount of land. Laws that were called land ceiling, Seventeen acres under irrigated conditions, not very much — which makes every farmer in India a small farmer — unless they’re lying and putting cats and dogs as owners of pieces of their farm, which also happens in places.

The second thing that was done was a universal right to food, and one of our economists got a Nobel Prize three years ago, Amartya Sen, who wrote a book on food and famine in which he talked about why after independence in India there had been no famines and why there had been such huge famines in China.

And he traced it down to food entitlements and food rights that our systems had democratically been shaped to ensure that everyone got food. ”

In the past the ABC permitted me to make 3 nationwide broadcasts on matters that were largely unknown in look-the-other-way Australia. These broadcasts attracted a lot of attention from the public (but not, of course, from the right-wing Mainstream media) so that a Google Search for the titles would readily bring up the link. However the ABC has largely de-linked me recently in an extraordinary process of censorship such that an ABC Search for "Gideon Polya" only yields 2 items and these 3 significant public talks have been "disappeared".

Thus a Google Search for "Bengali Famine" yields 6,060 results with my 21 February 1999 talk item number 3 on page 1 but the link is dead. Similarly a Google Search for my talk “Crisis in our universities” yields 47,300 results with my 19 August 2001 talk the number 1 item on page 1 but the link is dead. A Google Search for “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” yields 8,370 results with my 28 August 2005 talk being item number 3 on page 1 but, again, the link is dead. ABC Search for these titles yields no result. However it you know the titles, the author, and the program (Radio National Ockham's Razor)  you can find the transcripts of these talks here, this giving links to "Bengali Famine", “Crisis in our universities”, and “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality”: By way of comparison, a Google Search for “The Innamincka Hot Fractured Rock Project” broadcast on Ockham’s Razor on 21 August 2005 yields this item as number 1 on page 1 of  6,520 results and the link works.

Below is the transcript of my 21 February 1999 ABC Radio National talk “Bengali Famine” that exposes not just this appalling atrocity but now also  what the ABC evidently does not want its listeners to hear, know or think about  in relation to the 1942-1945 Bengali Famine (Bengal Famine, Bengali Holocaust).

“Gideon Polya: Humanity has made immense technological and scientific advances in the last few millennia through application of a scientific method involving the gathering of data, the generation of testable hypotheses, and experimentation to test the validity of such hypotheses. Reiteration of this process yields models that are progressively better approximations to reality.

Of course historically, this process has been impaired through authoritarian religious or political intervention. Such societal constraints aside, application of the scientific method can also encounter difficulties when past processes of the physical or biological world are considered. However, while we cannot recreate the explosion of a star, we can construct models that are consistent with the residual physical consequences of such events and with our current understanding of physical reality. Similarly, while we cannot recreate life currently, to biological scientists the Darwinian Theory of Evolution remains a powerful model explaining and systematizing a huge body of information about past and present biological complexity.

Scientific approaches to human history are similarly constrained by the reality that it is generally not possible to do physical experiments to test historical models (although one can envisage, for example, computer simulations of past battles). In general the history is confined to relating model predictions back to pre-existing data, the physical consequences of events and human oral and written records of events. Of course value judgments or culturally and philosophically biased 'weightings' will inevitably be applied to the relative importance of historical data. However some events involving massive loss of human life, such as the Jewish Holocaust, are so immense that they cannot be ignored, if at least for scientific predictive utility. Thus the Jewish Holocaust warns us of future dangers due to racism, moral unresponsiveness and the technological capacity for mass destruction.

The bottom line is that historians, like scientists, must respect the basic data. Selectively ignoring the data thwarts the quest for better approximations to the truth, and jeopardizes informed prediction. While we all cynically accept the truism that 'history is written by the victors', the history of genocide in the 20th century, from South West Africa and Anatolia, to East Timor and Rwanda, reinforces the message that 'history ignored yields history repeated'. Deletion of massive man-made human catastrophes from history and from general perception is not simply scientifically flawed and unethical; it also increases the probability that the same unaddressed, contributing social pathologies will yield the same carnage in the future.

One of the most extraordinary examples of such whitewashing of history is the sustained, continuing deletion of two centuries of massive, recurrent, man-made famine in British India from British and world history, and hence from general public perception. This massive, sustained lying by omission by two centuries of British academic historians occurred in a society having Parliamentary democracy, the means to readily disseminate information and a steadily expanding literate population. Furthermore, this process of lying by omission continues to this day in Britain and its English-speaking offshoots, such as Australia, countries having free speech, high literacy, democracy, prosperity and extensive media of all kinds.

To dramatize this perversion, imagine that the Jewish Holocaust was almost completely deleted from our history books and from general public perception, that there was virtually a total absence of any mention at this entire cataclysm in our newspapers and electronic media or in our schools and universities. Truth, reason, ethics and humanity aside, objective analysis suggests that such a situation would greatly increase the probability of recurrence of racial mass murder. Fortunately, in reality, virtually everyone is aware of this event and indeed in Germany today it is a criminal offence to deny the actuality of the Jewish Holocaust.

In contrast, during the Second World War, a man-made catastrophe occurred within the British Empire that killed almost as many people as died in the Jewish Holocaust, but which has been effectively deleted from history, it is a 'forgotten holocaust'. The man-made famine in British-ruled Bengal in 1943-1944 ultimately took the lives of about 4-million people, about 90% of the total British Empire casualties of that conflict, and was accompanied by a multitude of horrors, not the least being massive civilian and military sexual abuse of starving women and young girls that compares unfavorable with the comfort women abuses of the Japanese Army.

The causes of the famine are complex, but ultimately when the price of rice rose above the ability of landless rural poor to pay and in the absence of humane, concerned government, millions simply starved to death or otherwise died of starvation-related causes. Although there was plenty of food potentially available, the price of rice rose through 'market forces', driven by a number of factors including: the cessation of imports from Japanese-occupied Burma, a dramatic wartime decline in other requisite grain imports into India, compounded by the deliberate strategic slashing of Allied Indian Ocean shipping; heavy-handed government action in seizing Bengali rice stocks in sensitive areas; the seizure of boats critically required for food acquisition and rice distribution; and finally the 'divide and rule' policy of giving the various Indian provinces control over their own food stocks. Critically, cashed-up, wartime, industrial, Calcutta could pay for rice and sucked food out of a starving, food-producing countryside.

Ultimately, millions of Bengalis died because their British rulers didn't give a damn and had other strategic imperatives. The Bengal Famine and its aftermath for the debilitated Bengal population consumed its victims over several years in the case of complete British inaction through most of 1943 or insufficient subsequent action. Churchill had a confessed hatred for Indians and during the famine he opposed the humanitarian attempts of people such as the Prime Minister of Canada, Louis Mountbatten, Viceroy General Wavell, and even of Japanese collaborationist leader Subhash Chandra Bose. The hypothesis can be legitimately advanced that the extent of the Bengal Famine derived in part from sustained, deliberate policy.

The wartime Bengal Famine has become a 'forgotten holocaust' and has been effectively deleted from our history books, from school and university curricula and from general public perception. To the best of my knowledge, Churchill only wrote of it once, in a secret letter to Roosevelt dated April 29th 1944 in which he made the following remarkable plea for help in shipping Australian grain to India: 'I am no longer justified in not asking for your help.' Churchill's six-volume 'History of the Second World War' fails to mention the cataclysm that was responsible for about 90% of total British Empire casualties in that conflict but makes the extraordinary obverse claim: 'No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the people of Hindustan. They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small island.'

This whitewashing of Indian famine extends to two centuries of famine in British India. I have recently published a very detailed account of this two-century holocaust in British India that commenced with the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 (10-million victims) and concluded with the World War 2 Bengal Famine (4-million victims) and took tens of millions of lives in between. In contrast to the response to the Jewish Holocaust, these events have been almost completely written out of history and removed from general perception and there has been no apology nor amends made. While Tony Blair has 

apologized for the mid-19th century Irish Famine that took over a million lives, there has been no apology for the World War 2 Bengal Famine.

My book is entitled, 'Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History' and sub-titled, 'Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability'. I describe this whitewashing of history as 'Austenising' after Jane Austen, whose exquisite novels were utterly free of the ugly social realities of her time. Some of Jane Austen's siblings and other connections were involved in the rape of India. Of major note was Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India, who ferociously taxed famine-devastated Bengal and was eventually impeached and tried but ultimately acquitted for his manifold abuses in India. Warren Hastings almost certainly seduced Jane Austen's aunt, Philadelphia Hancock. This adultery gave rise to Jane Austen's lively cousin Eliza who is an evident model for the more advanced women of Jane Austen's novels. While much of the huge academic Jane Austen industry has ignored (or 'Austenised') such interesting aspects of the lives of Jane Austen's relatives, Jane Austen herself was much more forthcoming; thus to the initiated, 'Sense and Sensibility', the most Indian of her novels, includes a very detailed and barely disguised account of the Warren Hastings Scandal.

While it was legitimate for Jane Austen, the artist, to render her exquisite novels free of the contemporary awfulness in which her connections participated, the continuing 'Austenising' of British history is a holocaust-denying outrage that threatens humanity. Currently, 20-million people die each year of starvation-related causes and conservative, status quo productivity estimates would predict 30-million such deaths per year in the year 2050. A more realistic but still non-Malthusian view can be taken based on declining per capita agricultural production due to land degradation, decreased water availability, global warming effects on tropical cereal yields and increased population. A return from the current annual mortalities of about 10 per 1000 to the 35 per 1000 per year that obtained in British India in 1947 would yield a Third World excess mortality in 2050 of a staggering 200-million persons per year. Nevertheless this is avoidable, thus peri-conception, male sex selection provides just one simple example of a cheap, non-intrusive, pro-choice and technologically and socially feasible approach to slowing and indeed reversing population growth. That such an apparently radical suggestion is socially feasible is evidenced by the extraordinarily peaceful and tolerant multiracial society of Fiji, yet the initial male to female ratio among the indentured Indian five-year slaves was about 3 to 1.

The remorselessly continuing human catastrophe of mass starvation is avoidable provided that there is determined global responsiveness of a kind that was absent for both the Jewish Holocaust and the Bengal Famine of half a century ago. One hopes that the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and expert analyst of the Bengal Famine, will increase global responsiveness to this continuing humanitarian disaster. We must resurrect the horrors hidden by two centuries of holocaust-ignoring historians, resolutely face the current environmental and humanitarian crisis and apply the post-Holocaust injunction of 'Never again'.”

 In summary, the neocon-infested, Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist (NAZI)-beholden, taxpayer-funded ABC (the Australian equivalent of the UK BBC) has an appalling record of censorship, lying by omission and lying by commission. The ABC has censored reportage of the Australia-complicit 1942-1945 Bengal Famine (Bengali Famine, Bengali Holocaust) in which the British, with Australian complicity, deliberately starved 6-7 million Indians to death in 1942-1945. For more on censorship by the ABC see “ABC Censorship" .

Holocaust ignoring is far, far worse than repugnant holocaust denial because at least the latter admits the possibility of public discussion, History ignored yields history repeated. Genocide ignored yields genocide repeated.


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