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Sam Adams

British Reject Aid to Famine-Stricken Indian People

(December 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 51, 20 December 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The great famine in India, which has reached a death-toll of about a hundred thousand weekly, was highlighted this week by the announcements that Canada and Australia had offered aid to the stricken people but that this aid was rejected by the British government with the curt remark that there was “no shipping space.”

It isn’t the war which has caused this great misery to the Indian people. Misery has been part of India as long as British imperialism has ruled the country.

About ten years ago, Major-General Sir John Megaw, director of the Indian Medical Service, reported that:

With special reference to the province of Bengal, this same report disclosed that seventy-eight per cent of the people are underfed, and added:

“The peasantry of Bengal are in large proportion taking to a dietary on which even rats would not live for more than a few weeks.”

The situation has not improved In the past ten years. This is clearly represented in the fact that in the present starvation period hundreds of thousands of Indians have already died, with millions in the process of dying. It is further represented by the fact that the life expectancy of the average Indian is twenty-seven years, while that of the Englishman is sixty, and the American almost sixty-four.

The real truth about India is that it has been and continues to be cruelly exploited by British imperialism for the immense profits which it grinds out of the native population.

The attitude of the British government during the present starvation is not only determined by its long-time hard-headed imperialist policy, which always regards a native population as merely something to exploit and enslave. There are some immediate interests involved.

It is common knowledge that there is a great deal of hoarding of food in India – indulged in by Britishers and native profiteers. This hoarding has resulted in a tremendous rise in prices and, therefore, in the profits of .the merchants and speculators. An influx of food in any form would force these war profiteers to disgorge their hoardings and compete with relief food – they would be compelled to lower their prices.

In addition, there are political reasons for the brutal policy of the British government. An alleviation of the inhuman conditions under which the Indian masses live would be an indication of weakness on the part of the British rulers. Keeping the masses in a state of semi-starvation, the British rulers believe, strengthens their hold on the country and weakens the fighting power of the native population which yearns for freedom and independence.

In the face of mass dying and the “corpse brigades” (they go about the major cities of India collecting the dead for burial in common graves), Australia and Canada offered to send wheat and other foods to the colony.

Australia has a surplus of four million tons of wheat. This, according to the New York newspaper, PM, is several times the amount needed to end the Indian food shortage.

The Canadian government, which likewise has a great surplus of wheat, offered 100,000 tons of grain, equivalent to 37,500,000 loaves of bread, free of charge to the Indian people.

The press reported that Lord Wavell, new Viceroy of India, accepted the gift, but it was rejected by the former Viceroy, Leopold Amery, British Secretary of State for India, a big business man with a reputed fortune of five million dollars. The rejection was necessary, said the former Viceroy, noted for the brutality of his rule in India, because of the lack of “shipping space.”

The excuse about the lack of shipping space has now been fully exploded. An investigation made by I.F. Stone, Washington correspondent of The Nation and PM, disclosed that such shipping space was available. He reported that a great amount of shipping space is now used to bring “unneeded bauxite from South America,” while production of bauxite in Arkansas has been cut down.

The report further disclosed that a great amount of shipping space is utilized to keep British gold mining industries of South Africa going. While gold mining in this country has been reduced by seventy-five per cent.

With fifty million tons of shipping now owned and controlled by the Allies, Stone says, food could be easily transported to India. This fact he confirmed with government officials and trade union leaders in the shipping industry.

For our part, we haven’t the slightest doubt that if British policy favored relieving the starvation of India, ways and means could be found for the transportation of food and other necessities. But that is exactly what the British imperialists oppose, as they have always opposed the “pampering” of the colony.

The present situation in India indicates how absolutely necessary is the freedom and independence of the country now. British rule has brought nothing but misery, poverty, slavery, exploitation and starvation to the people.

The British government, which has only recently freed the fascist Sir Oswald Mosley from his three-room apartment prison for ill health, keeps Gandhi, Nehru and thousands of other Indians in jail who demand the national independence of their country. This is not because Great Britain has any intention of granting such independence after the war. Churchill already made that clear when he said that he was not the King’s Prime Minister for the purpose of presiding over the “liquidation of the British Empire.”

American workers, however, can do something to help the Indian people. The unions must demand that the Roosevelt, Administration set aside shipping space to help relieve the starvation. The unions themselves can raise relief for the Indians.

But, above all, the whole labor movement must join in one chorus to demand the immediate freedom of India. Get rid of British rule in India and the greatest possible step will have been taken for the reconstruction of the country by the native population itself, by its millions of workers and peasants./P>

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