ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crime or Tragedy?

I am somewhat disturbed by Felix Padel’s detached and academic review of Madhusree Mukerjee’s book on the ­horror that was the Bengal famine of 1943 (EPW, 3 November 2012). While the book is on the whole an indictment of British ­colonial policy, the reviewer strays to various other aspects of the scene and turns it into a terrible muddle caused by pressures of war and real shortage. While people will continue to argue about the extent of shortage and its causes, the point is that even when relief was possible, attempts to lessen the misery of the hungry multitudes were brutally ruled out and suppressed. If the communists knew about it and kept quiet because Britain was an ally of Russia at war that was surely an atrocious error of judgment brought about by blind loyalty and ideological slavery. Padel expresses righteous indignation at the colonial police using rape to intimidate the people and continuation of that practice by the police after Independence. But it is not the police but the framers and executors of policy who should be held primarily responsible.

Hiren Gohain

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