Lessons to be Learned from the Bengal Famine and the Contemporary Farmers Movement

PM Boris Johnson is seen in this photograph talking to President Biden. Hopefully their discussion is about combatting COVID-19 not statues.

In the first “hiccup” between two heads of states in two countries – The United States and the United Kingdom- over a bust of Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was removed from the office to place Cesar Chavez -a Latin American labor leader- I couldn’t help re-examine the history of racism of the United Kingdom, precisely between the response of PM Churchill to the Bengal Famine, the modern day fight of Punjabi kissans and their fellow farmers around the country of India and the history of white supremacy in both countries. No one can also forget the racism that PM Johnson continues to feel no remorse for and had imposed upon then-President Barack Obama by calling him “that Kenyan.” Punjabis and Latin Americans certainly have a extensive history in the United States themselves. Mostly in the state of California where the economy is based on agriculture and both Latin Americans and Punjabis engage in agricultural occupations. It was interesting to see the intersections of this issue and how it doesn’t disrupt is the very first day of the Biden administration.


In beginning to talk about this issue, I want to present the Prime Minister’s plan to COVID-19 and how he has failed to curb the spread in his own country. Johnson’s response to COVID-19 in the United Kingdom so far has been full of disaster. According to NBC News, the United Kingdom has become the COVID-19 death capital of the world. NBC News reports that as of January 22nd, 2021,

On Wednesday, the country saw its number of recorded Covid-19 fatalities rise by 1,820, and on Thursday by 1,290 again. In total that’s twice as many lives lost as in the sinking of RMS Titanic, comparable to ten Boeing 777s crashing all at once.

And until Thursday the U.K. had the highest per-capita daily death toll of any other country in the world — around twice that of the United States — according to rolling analysis by Oxford University.

Its daily per-capita deaths are currently second only to Portugal, but in terms of major powers right now the U.K. is an outlier, boasting as it does the world’s fifth-largest economy and vast, publicly funded National Health Service.

NBC NEws- Alexander smith

the struggle to get people to wear facemasks combined with the holidays that came up near the end of the year compelled a lot of people to ignore the social distancing warnings that public health experts are putting out and people still decided to convene together for Christmas and new year. Some of us have not been able to celebrate weddings and birthdays or our own respective religious observances that we would normally do in large gatherings in consideration for peoples health and well-being. All across the world we’ve seen videos of white people refusing to wear masks and refusing to listen to public health experts because they feel the rules do not apply to them and it’s becoming even more clear that while the rest of us follow the rules because we don’t have much of a choice, White people still feel their entitlement to float the rules and continue to do what they want to without fear of repercussion.

But plenty of experts say that, while Johnson may have been dealt a bad hand, he has played it poorly. For them, the key misstep was the decision to allow tens of millions of people to travel and mix on Christmas Day — while knowing the new variant was rampant.

“We shouldn’t have allowed the cases to continue rising up as we approached Christmas,” Nicola Stonehouse, a professor in molecular virology at the University of Leeds, said. “And then allowing people to mix at Christmas was just… just madness really,” she added, pausing to find the right words to describe that policy decision.

NBC News – alexander smith

The new variant that has arrived from Brazil and South Africa into the UK also did not help things. With this virus continuing to mutate out of control, scientists have said that the one thing that remains consistent is the fact that vaccines will work against these variants. But the government in action and delay could result in a higher death toll in the national health service that is a very straining to keep up with the number of new cases.

For 1,000 people age 60, approximately 10 people would be expected to die, he said. With the new variant, called B.1.1.7, roughly 13 or 14 are dying, he said, citing data from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advises the United Kingdom Government.

USa Today

I haven’t been paying much attention to what the United Kingdom has been doing with the pandemic response but here are some analysts that are saying how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response is lagging and how his inability to make responsible decisions for the nation by listening to public health experts is driving up the death toll. This was the same case with former President Donald Trump and his curtailing of Dr. Fauci, who is now free to advise the American public on the proper response to COVID-19 and to lead the American delegation at the World Health Organization which the United States re-joined on its first day of the Biden administration. NBC reports that:

There is a frustration at what some see as the government’s attempts to shift blame onto the tiny minority who break the rules, rather than tightening up their own policies. These detractors see a trend: a prime minister who repeatedly waves away experts who are telling him to take swift action, only to cave in weeks later, by which time the numbers are much worse.

Nbc news – alexander smith

I thought the response of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the COVID-19 situation because I do believe that a leader that is struggling to contain the virus should be worried about his country and what is happening in it, as opposed to how United States decorates, it’s oval office. I have considerable reservations about President Biden and approaching this discussion from a progressive socialist perspective none of my alliances are strong to neoliberalism. However after the disastrous response that we’ve had over the past year by the Trump administration and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have perished because of the in action by the federal government to curb this coronavirus, I do believe that we have a fighting chance to get Americans the relief that they need economically but also make sure that we eliminate the virus completely.


It is no wonder that Republicans when they leave office, have left the country much worse. George W. Bush left the country with a never ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a America that is much less safe because of the national security surveillance state that we are constantly in. But now the COVID-19, and the virus of white supremacy are both mingling together to make this country much less safe. Activists have been warning us for decades that white supremacy is in our military and our police forces. They have been warning us that this is not a system that we can reform and that police departments don’t need more people of color in them in order to make sure that people of color don’t die. The complete abolishing of prisons and of ICE is incredibly important and vital to make sure that we can focus on priorities that deserve human rights and dignity. White supremacy has been more situated in the upholding of Confederate statues and imperial statues that mark the dominance of the white men on the peoples of the world. Which is why I write this post to talk about the impact of white supremacy and what Prime Minister Churchill really represented and why we should be putting more labor activist, civil rights activists and those were really far for America to remain equal for those who remain the most marginalized in the nation and throughout history.

What Churchill Actually Represents:

Picture Credit: GETTY Images, Kaur Republic does not own this picture.

Undoubtedly the intersection of white supremacy and the colonization of white countries into brown countries brings India into the subject between the United States and the United Kingdom. I only reference India because of the modern day farmers protests, the rise of Hindutva as a nationalist response to the globalization and modernization of India, while keeping the ancient inhumanity and indignity of those who belong to scheduled castes (such as Dalits) and the overreach of the Indian government into it’s diaspora where it has been flexing it’s muscle in trying to influence the outcomes of elections for major contests and taking a page out of the Russian playbook. Modi is attempting to steal from Indian farmers and their land and give it away to capitalists and a sell-off public institutions to Adani and Ambani.


Doing Prime Minister Churchill’s time as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, British India had not yet become modern day India and Pakistan. It remained under the rule of the far away British government in the grips of the Second World War. Fighting the Nazis and working with the allied forces was a central focus well utilizing the force of the empire that was seeing its own sunset. From the Indian sub-continent, we saw the staggering loss of life and the displacement that came from fighting a war on multiple fronts. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation:

The numbers are staggering: up to three million Bengalis were killed by famine, more than half a million South Asian refugees fled Myanmar (formerly Burma), 2.3 million soldiers manned the Indian army and 89,000 of them died in military service.

We can’t even escape the impact of how of the South Asian war effort was unscathed from the destructiveness of the caste system, which also came on the heels of the British discrimination of South Asians, and their terminology of ‘coolies’ for the British.

“There were millions of other South Asians working towards the imperial war effort and we never hear about them. 

It wasn’t glamorous work: “coolies” loading and unloading cargo at imperial ports or clearing land for aerodromes did not share the prestige of fighter-pilots.

And it’s not a straightforward case of imperial exploitation – many elite South Asians made quick profits in the war and transformed their own fortunes. 

Experiences of the 1940s depended on caste, class, vantage point and region: a Punjabi soldier could see things very differently to a metropolitan student in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) or a factory-owner in Kolkata (Calcutta).”


I think it’s certainly useful to bring up the Bengal famine as one of the more central points of Prime Minister Churchill’s failings and deliberate attempts at dehumanizing and perpetuating genocide against those that the British felt were racially beneath them. Here is a timeline of how Churchchill’s policy led to deaths of 2-3 million Benaglis. According to The Guardian,

Researchers in India and the US used weather data to simulate the amount of moisture in the soil during six major famines in the subcontinent between 1873 and 1943. Soil moisture deficits, brought about by poor rainfall and high temperatures, are a key indicator of drought.

The Guardian

Some of these researchers have found trends that indicate that famines can occur as a result of deliberate government neglect or changes in weather patterns.

  • 11% deficit measured across much of north India in 1896-97, for example, coincided with food shortages across the country that killed an estimated 5 million people.

  • During a famine in Bihar in 1873-74, the local government led by Sir Richard Temple responded swiftly by importing food and enacting welfare programmes to assist the poor to purchase food.

  • The eastern Indian region was affected by drought for much of the 1940s, conditions were worst in 1941, years before the most extreme stage of the famine, when newspapers began to publish images of the dying on the streets of Kolkata, then named Calcutta, against the wishes of the colonial British administration.

  • Food supplies to Bengal were reduced in the years preceding 1943 by natural disasters, outbreaks of infections in crops and the fall of Burma – now Myanmar – which was a major source of rice imports, into Japanese hands.

  • In late 1943, thought to be the peak of the famine, rain levels were above average, said the study published in February in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Madhushree Mukerjee, presents some interesting points that show how Prime Minister Churchill was primarily making the decisions to inflict mass starvation upon the people, to help the British war effort succeed.

Mukerjee says:

Mukerjee has presented evidence the cabinet was warned repeatedly that the exhaustive use of Indian resources for the war effort could result in famine, but it opted to continue exporting rice from India to elsewhere in the empire.

Rice stocks continued to leave India even as London was denying urgent requests from India’s viceroy for more than 1m tonnes of emergency wheat supplies in 1942-43. Churchill has been quoted as blaming the famine on the fact Indians were “breeding like rabbits”, and asking how, if the shortages were so bad, Mahatma Gandhi was still alive.

Mukerjee and others also point to Britain’s “denial policy” in the region, in which huge supplies of rice and thousands of boats were confiscated from coastal areas of Bengal in order to deny resources to the Japanese army in case of a future invasion.

The guardian

From historical accounts produced by Winston Churchill’s own records show that he was very callous towards the Bengalis who are starving during the famine of 1943 the war raged on in Europe. He said that:

“A concession to one country at once encourages demands from all the others,” Churchill commented in a memo on March 10, 1943, as quoted in Mukerjee’s book. “They must learn to look after themselves as we have done. The grave situation of the UK import programme imperils the whole war effort and we cannot afford to send ships merely as a gesture of good will.”

PM Churchill

While Prime Minister Churchill viewed providing food and making sure that Bengal had sustenance to also see themselves out of a potential Japanese invasion, Winston Churchill was still adamant that Britain had a a monopoly on food from the Indian subcontinent and the British Empire, would have to be served first. The racism inherent in Churchill’s action show that he is not fitting to be kept in any Oval Office, much less that of the United States.

What is particularly interesting is that the United States and United Kingdom both share the commonality between themselves of not listening to their officials who are based in parts of the world that they are attempting to have a strong hold over. I say one example of the Bangladeshi war for liberation and the subsequent warnings by Ambassador Keating about the Pakistani massacre of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and that of ordinary citizens. In fact, President Nixon had some choice words for Ambassador Keating and his frantic messages from India detailing the horrific violence, which I feel are better left in the State Department archives.


From the archives of the United States State Department on September 25th, 1943, New Delhi, a telegram sent to Washington by the Mission in India in regards to the Bengal famine. Secretary of State was Cordell Hull and the President of the United States was Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Reuters despatches published Indian press are giving widespread impression that US Government has received no information from its representatives in India on Bengal famine and is indifferent. Consul General’s acknowledgment of Mayor Calcutta’s telegram to [Page 302]President has not diminished criticism mentioned in Steele78 despatch Chicago News which extensively quoted in Indian press through Reuters. Piecemeal and uninformed statements attributed to OFFR79and OLLA80 are having unfortunate effect.

Cannot the Department issue a statement that distressing situation Eastern India has been fully reported by Mission and Consulate General since it began to develop last year; that former large American grain reserves have been depleted by large shipments to Russia, England, North Africa, Sicily to point of serious shortages at home;. that pressure on shipping for these movements and for several war fronts is enormous; that we hope greater movement of surpluses from Northern India to Bengal will materially relieve distress until new crop December, and that meanwhile no opportunity to collaborate with British relief efforts will be overlooked and food for our forces in India will be supplied as fully as possible from United States.

For Department’s confidential information Mission has impression our military here indifferent to Bengal situation and implications and regard them as exclusively British concern. Mission is apprehensive that growing Indian criticism of Washington ignorance and indifference may soon affect our prestige and economic as well as military operations more than the Army realizes. If any statement is made please telegraph Mission full text for India release to offset possible distortion by Reuters. It would also be helpful to stop statements in Washington by officials not concerned with India.

It is interesting to note the globalization of policies that are made. Although the Bengal fan and was indeed a British matter considering that India was still part of the empire, one thing to note is that due to American in-action like so many times in history, innocent people died as we stood by and watched. I think one thing that is particularly interesting is how America was already observing itself of responsibility by saying that they had done their part by sending the green reserves that we had in our country and now, it was India’s turn.


The Real Controversy between the United States and the United Kingdom

In response to the racist Prime Minister Johnson, the United States Embassy in the United Kingdom released this video in an attempt to pacify the Brits, who for some reason think they still have reason to occupy space in an American head of state’s office (think about the time they burned the White House down in the war of 1814, and no we’re not holding a grudge). It also shows us how white supremacy uses statues (and arguably values them more over people’s lives) and how both the United States and the United Kingdom have to do more to address the impact of racism against black people and the racist colonizer history these both countries share. Theres so much in common with the US and UK. Unfortunately white men taking up space in the White House and 10 Downing Street is what this video just exemplifies. This is the ‘special relationship’ in addition to the disregard for brown and black lives.

When we talk about Latin American contribution in the American political world and psyche we should also acknowledge the work of Ceaszer Chavez. Chavez founded the United Farm Workers Association (in modern times known as the UFW). At a time when segregation of Mexican-Americans was legitimized, Chavez was apprehensive about it and bucked against it. Chavez:

Paul Chavez, said the prominent placement of his father’s likeness in the White House sends the message that it’s a “new day” following the tenure of Donald Trump and the anti-immigrant policies that he and his advisers pushed. Chavez, who is president and chairman of the board of directors of the foundation named for his father, predicted that “the contributions of working people, of immigrants, of Latinos … will be taken into account” in the new administration.

Associated press

Who is Ceaszer Chavez

Michael Rougier/Time Life/Getty Images

Cesar Chavez spent much of his life organizing farmworkers to fight back against predatory employers who were not respectful of farm labor and were exploitative along with providing working conditions that were not sustainable. For over 30 years Chavez worked tirelessly to make sure that farmworkers got their fair share through contracts with employers fighting together with other unions to make sure that working conditions were acceptable and humane immobilized others to fight for a future in which joining a union would not get you fired.

Between the 1950s and the 1980s Chavez cultivated a life-long commitment to bringing respect, dignity, and democracy to the nation’s farmworkers, many of whom were Hispanic. After an initial career as a community organizer, Chavez focused his organizing skills on the farmworkers, inspiring them to look their employers in the eyes, stand up for their rights and take active roles in creating their union and wielding its power. As a result of his efforts, he continues to serve as a symbol not only for Hispanic-Americans, but for all Americans, of what can be accomplished in this country through unified, courageous, and nonviolent action.


The West Coast is very interesting for us history that spans across Asian American history but it’s intertwined with Mexican American history as well. Mexicans and Punjabis have a shared heritage in the agricultural sector and the work that they have done to feed our families in addition to supply the global food chain with resources.


When reading See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur, she takes us back to her time growing up on a farm in Clovis, California to Punjabi immigrants but also being very cognizant of the Native American land that had been sacrificed for them to be there. The intertwining of the Mexican, Punjabi and Indigenous heritage is a strong one. It is interesting to me how critical juncture is of history the same community as can be found making history or destroying history together. At this moment in time as farm workers and farmers agitate across India for their rights, for their land, for their humanity, from a government that does not recognize it, we are facing a moment in history we are our outspokenness really does matter and we should be speaking with strong convictions that our farmers are our backbones of society and that without them we would all go hungry. Farmland is not to be given away to corporations to do with as they wish because they also tell a story.

Bill Gates is the Test Run for Billionaires who own majority of the farmland

In America, the ascension of Bill Gates as the largest owner of farm land in the country, is a test one for seeing what happens when the 1% are in charge of the nations food output. In a country that prides itself on starting small businesses or small farms, decentralization of farmland into the control of one man with unlimited wealth is certainly a case to be examined.

Bill and Melinda Gates certainly do run a very influential foundation but they claim to be searching for the solutions for the worlds most pressing problems, we see the impact of what happens when billionaires think they can get away with doing a unlimited philanthropy and not pay their fair share in taxes.

The Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist Bill Gates owns 242,000 acres of farmland in the US, making him the largest private-farmland owner, an analysis by The Land Report found.

Gates, whose net worth of nearly $121 billion makes him the world’s fourth-richest person, and his wife, Melinda Gates, hold an extensive farmland portfolio stretching over 18 states, according to The Land Report.

The Gates family’s biggest holdings are in Louisiana (69,071 acres), Arkansas (47,927 acres), and Nebraska (20,588 acres), the report said.

Their farmland is held both directly and through Cascade Investment, a firm controlled by Gates to manage his investments, according to The Land Report.

business insider

What’s particularly interesting is the fact that Bill and Melinda Gates have been helping communities across Africa and Asia in “adapting to climate change” but they also have not been helping with small farmers were facing consolidation buy bigger farms nor are they offering any solution to what happens when corporations are being given farmland by governments to take over.

When the stock market tanked during the past recession, foreign investors began buying up big swaths of U.S. farmland. And because there are no federal restrictions on the amount of land that can be foreign owned, it’s been left up to individual states to decide on any limitations.

It’s likely that even more American land will end up in foreign hands, especially in states with no restrictions on ownership. With the median age of U.S. farmers at 55, many face retirement with no prospect of family members willing to take over. The National Young Farmers Coalition anticipates that two-thirds of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the next few decades.

National Public radio

So with the complications of aging out of family Farms, corporations buying up farms and increasing foreign investment in American farmland, we are seeing the erosion of small farmers but also state governments who prioritize residents having access to their lands and being able to grow and sell their own food.


With the farmers protests in India we’re seeing the same attempted corporatization by the Modi the government of small Indian farmers land. Anyone who dares to protest this giveaway to corporate India (Adani and Ambani), is being branded as a “terrorist” and old wounds are opened up for farmers who have been historically been forgotten in India’s growth. Who knew that out of the Bengal famine we can connect so many different issues together and we can paint the true story of what is going on throughout history but also how that translates into modern day issues. We have a right to celebrate our labor activists over white supremacists who have let their empires go hungry and punish the hands that attempt to feed them. We have a right to think the modern day struggle to keep our farms with our history of being challenged.

Kissan Ekta Zindabad and know that we are all in this together.

This blog is supported by the readers that take out their time to hear Punjabi perspectives on American issues. It is my hope that you share this post with your friends and your family.


Published by Navjot Pal Kaur

Kaur Republic is a blog dedicated to the empowerment and uplifting of Kaur voices and perspectives. We aim to bring you coverage from the American political spectrum on Sikh involvement in American politics and how the politics of it all leads to the policy of it all.

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