Lest we forget the dead of 1943 : known deaths, hidden genocide

[ Sakaal Times ( Pune) – 2nd Nov 2010 , Daily Times (Lahore) – 2nd Nov 2010, Daily Star (Dhaka) – 6th Nov 2010, The Bangladesh Today (Dhaka) – 8th Nov 2010 ]

In late October ended 70 years ago, the Battle of Britain. Britain roughed through a barrage of Nazi assault. I read about it and thought about the glory of Britain at that hour, of Churchill’s leadership.I was in awe – shabash Britain.I am sure many people from privileged circles in India of the time were also relieved.I can trace this strain  back in a life and it is interesting to me – how that has changed and how I have changed. I grew up in Kolkata in West Bengal and I do not know where it came from, but an explicit respect, admiration and even aspiration to many things British was there. The same thought, said in English, sounded better, respectable than in my mother tongue, Bangla.Then at a slightly later stage, I learned about the Second World War, how Britain and the Allies were fighting a life and death battle for not for its survival, but for saving the world from Nazi and Fascist dictatorships. The British were occupiers, colonizers no doubt, but they were benign, I learned. The Britishers who plundered Bengal post 1757 , or for that matter the Britishers who killed Khudiram or mutilated the thumbs of weavers of Murshidabad, were not the paternalistic civil servants of the 1930s and 40s. They understood and empathized, thought we were almost humans or would get there soon. And compared to the Nazis who killed millions of Jews, Gypsies, gays and others, the British regime was so much for compassionate.We were taught that- I learned that. All the major Indian political forces, the Congress , the Muslim League and the Communist Party, collaborated with the British, collected war funds. India’s political freedom could wait- these were , after all, times of global danger. Atleast there was no planned genocide in India during the world like what the German regime of the time. Or was there?

Doubts started creeping in. This viewpoint that there was a benign colonial occupation during the last phases of the British regime in India, is something which many today maintain.They also point to red-brick railway stations, old government buildings and universities and the ridiculous white wig of court judges – transportation, education, justice. The works. We had been saved, verily. The gods forbid what would have happened if the Nazis or the Japanese came. To me there is nothing more fundamental as a marker of humanity than dignity and commitment towards the preservation of human life.The Nazis had a pathetic record on this count. The British were worse, and except 1770, never more so than in that high noon of solidarity with Britain, during the Second World War.

We have been fed a steady diet about the crimes of mass murders by grain requisitioning and other methods by the regimes of Stalin and Mao.There may be some dispute about the numbers but those supreme acts of inhuman criminality have been bested by the British regime in my Bengal. In the induced famine of 1770 ( 1176 of the Bangla calendar, hence Chhiyattorer monnontor – the famine of 76), British  oppression policies, including but not limited to taxes and grain monopolies, killed 1/3 rd of my people – 10 million of them. In April 1770, as the famine reached its height, land tax assessment for the next year was increased by 10% after a 5 fold increase since the British usurpation of power. Around 1770, the world population was approximately 800 million.The British managed to kill off more than 1% of the world’s population.The Nazis in their grand visions of cleansing managed to match this- they killed civilians to the tune of 1-2% of the world population, in the whole Second World War period.But the British killed too. And they killed us, here in Bengal. We raised money to help Churchill do that.

3 million humans were killed in and around Bengal, by Britisher and grain-hoarders. Explicit decision was taken at the highest level of the British government to kill Indians by shipping stupendous quantities of grain stocks for the armies in Europe and to feed humans in Britain.This has been exquisitely documented recently by Madhusree Mukherjee in her book, Churchill’s secret war.The provisional government of Free India, led by Subhas Chandra Bose made an offer of sending 100000 tonnes of rice as assistance.This was during the Burma campaign.Our non-Nazi benign lords refused it. The armies were fighting the war after all. Our war, indeed.Our army.The brown officers of the Indian Army earned their medals from the British for the collaboration.And the show went on. During the whole period of war, the number of civilian deaths due to war and repression in the Britain was approximately 67000. In Bengal alone in 1943-44, it was 3 million. It is with the survivors sadness than we have been so dehumanized to go so far as to compare death numbers to demand justice, accountability and yes, reparation.

It is in perfect order to want reparation from Britain.It is not an unheard thing.West Germany gave reparations to Israel due to its genocide of Jews.The gypsies have not go reparation – they do not have a country and they are persecuted everywhere.But what about our countries- India and Bangladesh? Do our governments have any vision of compassion and a spine? To build a world, where killers of people will not go scot-free but will be shamed and humiliated is what the humanity of the brutalizer’s stock and the sons and daughters of the accidental survivors among the brutalized must demand.Be it war or genocide- people who kill, must atone for their sins, in terms set by the brutalized.We shall not forget genocides. At least this the dead demand from us, the survivors.


Filed under Bengal, Memory, Non-barbarians, Power, Scars

2 responses to “Lest we forget the dead of 1943 : known deaths, hidden genocide

  1. Anasua Deb

    History bears testitomy to the fact India has been the victim of numerous political invasions ( shaka-hunas-pathans-mughals and looking further back the aryans), only to be absorbed gradually into our civilization and enrich us. But the Britishers invaded not with a purpose of integrating with us, but with a motive to forcefully colonize and gain whatever economic advantage and political supremacy from that process. No wonder their attitude was more of exploiting our resources to benefit their own.

    You talked about genocide, but thanks to the population growth rate India regained back its manpower, but look at the political and economic demise that the 200 years reign has inflicted, we still manage to place ourselves in the “developing country” rank!

    Talking about genocide, Azmol Kassav is still safe in the custody of the Indian police, before a death sentence can be executed. And his daily cost of living as per official reports is somewhat exorbitant. After all we Indians have the age-long tradition of treating our guests with utmost hospitability!

    • @ Anasua – Thank you for your comments.

      There are certain things we should keep in perspective. Given that the territorial limits of the nation-state of India, as we know it now, is not a very ‘old’ entity, it is kind of odd to think that all the political invasions happened to ‘india’. It is odd to project back a present identity into the past as act as if this identity is what has remained unchanged and unscathed in time. For example, ‘Aryans’ are not really known to have had a major militaristic presence in the present-day area of East and West Bengal and North-eastern ‘India’ or even parts of the South. Entities are transient they change with time – Bengal/Bengaliness arose and no one can guarantee that it will survive indefinitely into the future. But what one can speak about is human suffering and vice versa , human dignity.

      When you say, a,b,c got absorbed into ;our’ civilization- what civilization are you talking about? Civilization as it existed in Punjab, Peshawar, Haryana, Sindh? This idea of ‘our’ civilization in terms of something having been handed down, is to be looked at very critically. Many peoples, in there interactions, came to form cultural products and mores, and those changed, and new strains arose, and many strains died. To call all of it as ‘one’ thing ) when you call something one, one needs to define the bounded-ness i.e. what is not included) and also mention it as ‘ours’ is rather problematic. For example, while you may think Tamil culture is also part of ‘our civilization’ and so is Balmiki Ramayon, many Tamils will violently disagree that Balmiki Ramayon is ‘their’ civlization.

      You are correct about the crippling drain to capital and also the loss of indigenous agency to knowledge and production, both economic. intelletcual, political and cultural, which has essentially created a world-order where previously colonized states are ruled by cultural mores of colonial extraction, in additional to the capital transfer in terms of profits that goes on even now (FDIs are not dharamshala initiatives).

      About Ajmal Kasab, I think , it is despicable that we live under a regime that still maintains death penalty. It is something I consider quite abhorrent. The Government of India spends a lot of money of Kasab but does not spend money on its people, does not show any leniency about Kasab, but its extreme apathy to its own people’s lives.

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