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During a report on BBC News at Ten last year, Indian historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University caused outrage after claiming Churchill was “seen as the precipitator of mass killing” amid the 1943 crisis.
Elsewhere in the report, Oxford University’s Yasmin Khan also accused the war hero of “prioritising white lives over Asian lives”.
She accused the war era Prime Minister of not sending aid to India – which was a British colony at the time – during the crisis.
However, the BBC faced backlash from angry viewers, with one claiming it “did not take proper account of the fact that Britain was engaged in a world war at the time”.
A complainant claimed the report suggested “the absence of effective action to alleviate the famine reflected racism on Churchill’s part”.
BBC admits impartiality breach over Churchill report
Millions of people died during Bengal famine
Now, the BBC’s own executive complaints unit (ECU) has admitted the report failed to offer an alternative view.
The ECU said: “This bulletin included one of a series of reports introduced as ‘looking at Britain’s colonial legacy worldwide’ which dealt with the Bengal famine of 1943 in which about 3,000,000 people are believed to have died.
“A number of the interviewees in the report, suggested Churchill regarded Indians with a degree of disdain if not outright hostility, and the impression that this explained his behaviour was reinforced by the citation of a contemporary account reporting Churchill as having said Indians ‘breed like rabbits’.
“It is hardly controversial to say Churchill on occasion expressed attitudes which many would now regard as evidence of racism, and the ECU thought it editorially justifiable to refer to the issue of racism in the context of a report focusing on Indian attitudes which run counter to the received view of Churchill.
Sir Winston Churchill
“In the ECU’s judgement, however, more exploration of alternative views of Churchill’s actions and motives in relation to the Bengal famine was required to meet the standard of impartiality appropriate to a report in a news bulletin of this kind.
“This aspect of the complaint was upheld.”
An estimated 2.1–3 million, out of a population of 60.3 million, died of starvation, malaria, and other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care.
Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and catastrophically disrupted the social fabric.
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Eventually, families disintegrated; men sold their small farms and left home to look for work or to join the British Indian Army.
Women and children became homeless migrants and many travelled to Calcutta or other large cities in search of organised relief.
Tirthankar Roy, a professor in economic history at the LSE, argued India’s vulnerability to weather-induced famine was due to its unequal distribution of food, not Churchill.
He told the Times in July: “Winston Churchill was not a relevant factor behind the 1943 Bengal famine.
Bengal famine crisis
“The agency with the most responsibility for causing the famine and not doing enough was the government of Bengal.”
During the Black Lives Matter protests last year, Churchill’s statue on Parliament Square was defaced and he was dubbed a “racist”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the vandalism and said we cannot “try to edit or censor our past”.
Churchill’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames said those calling his grandfather a racist should “grow up” and read their history.
Winston Churchill’s statue vandalised
He told LBC: “You cannot deny our history.
“You can’t censor it. You can only look at Churchill in the whole. You cannot look at just, ‘Oh he said this about that’. Look at his career in the whole.
“I think most people will acknowledge that statue commemorates Churchill’s war leadership, his saving of the western world as the leader of the western world and always his fight for liberty and democracy.”