The BBC has upheld a complaint in part over suggestions in a News At Ten report that Winston Churchill’s attitude to the Bengal famine was motivated by racism.
The company admitted that it failed to meet its own impartiality guidelines by failing to provide an alternative view of Churchill’s views and actions regarding the humanitarian disaster that killed approximately three million people.
The offending broadcast was part of a series of reports “looking at Britain’s colonial legacy worldwide.”
Indian historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Ashoka University sparked outrage after telling BBC News at Ten last July that Churchill is “seen as the cause of mass murder” for his role in the 1943 famine.
Yasmin Khan of Oxford University also claimed that Churchill “privileged white lives over Asian lives” by not sending aid to India, then a British colony, during the crisis.
One complainant argued that the report ‘did not take due account of the fact that Britain was engaged in a world war at the time; and it suggested the lack of effective action to alleviate the famine that reflected Churchill’s racism.”
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upheld this part of the complaint.
The comments were made amid a wider campaign to destroy the war hero’s legacy, with his statue being defaced with the word ‘racist’ by Black Lives Matter protesters in London and officials calling for a new name for the ‘Churchill Room’. of the Ministry of Finance.
The BBC has upheld a complaint in part over suggestions in a News At Ten report that Winston Churchill’s attitude to the Bengal famine was motivated by racism
It reads: “This bulletin contained one of a series of reports introduced as ‘looking at Britain’s colonial legacy worldwide’ and dealing with the Bengal famine of 1943, in which approximately 3,000,000 people are said to have died.”
It added: “Several of those interviewed in the report suggested that Churchill viewed Indians with a degree of disdain, if not outright hostility, and the impression that this explained his behavior was reinforced by citing a contemporary report which reported that Churchill had said to Indians. “breed like rabbits”.
It’s hardly controversial to say that Churchill occasionally expressed attitudes that many would now consider evidence of racism, and the ECU found it editorially justified to refer to the issue of racism in the context of a report addressing on Indian attitudes that conflict with Churchill’s received opinion.
“However, in the ECU’s view, more research was needed into alternative views of Churchill’s actions and motives in connection with the Bengal famine in order to meet the standard of impartiality associated with a report in a news bulletin like this.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee of India’s Ashoka University said Churchill was seen as a ‘precipitator of mass murder’ because of his policies
‘This aspect of the complaint is well founded.’
The Bengal famine was caused by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure.
Historians agree that many of the three million deaths could have been prevented with more effective aid efforts, but are divided on the extent to which Churchill was personally blamed.
Yogita Limaye, the BBC News India correspondent who led the report, said many Indians blamed him for “worsening the situation.”
But historians suggested the report attributed too much of the blame to Churchill, when other factors were more important.
Tirthankar Roy, a professor of economic history at the LSE, argues that India’s vulnerability to weather-induced famine was due to the unequal distribution of food.
He also blamed a lack of investment in agriculture and shortcomings of the local government.
‘Winston Churchill was not a relevant factor behind the Bengal famine in 1943’ he told The Times in July.
“The agency most responsible for causing the famine and not doing enough was the government of Bengal.”
Churchill is blamed for downplaying the crisis and arguing against restocking Bengal to preserve ships and food supplies for the war effort.
However, his defenders insist that he tried to help and delays were due to circumstances during the war.
They point out that after receiving news of the spreading food shortages, he told his cabinet that he would welcome a statement from Lord Wavell, the new viceroy of India, on how he intended to ensure the problems were solved. were ‘solved’. He then wrote a personal letter urging the viceroy to take action.
Historian James Holland also weighed in on the queue.
He said Churchill was experiencing enormous difficulties in supplying Bengal due to the amount of British resources trapped in the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific.
The company admitted it failed to meet its own impartiality guidelines by failing to offer alternative views on Churchill’s views and actions regarding the humanitarian disaster
“In light of the latest furore over the Bengal famine and people still falsely claiming it was Churchill’s fault, here’s this on the subject,” he tweeted.
“His prosecutors don’t understand a) how the war went, or b) that his hands were tied by the use of Allied ships.”
Sir Max Hastings, the military historian, accepted that Churchill’s behavior was a “blot on his record” but argued that it must be inconsistent with his achievements in helping to defeat fascism.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests have led to a renewed focus on Churchill’s legacy, including calls to move his statue from Parliament Square.
At one point, the monument was even wrapped up by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to protect it from vandalism during a weekend of demonstrations. Figures of Gandhi and Mandela were also sheathed in wooden plates, at a cost of £30,000.
Threats to the statue provoked a strong response from defenders of the national hero, who pointed out that his greatest achievement was beating racist, anti-Semitic fascism.
At the time, Boris Johnson criticized the phone calls as “the height of madness.” The prime minister said he would oppose any attempt to remove the image “with every breath in my body.”
Churchill’s estate has been attacked in other neighborhoods, with a group of officials recently complaining that they didn’t feel “comfortable” having a room in the treasury named after him.
Following the initial uproar caused by the BBC broadcast, a company spokesperson said: The item was the latest in a series on Britain’s colonial legacy worldwide.
‘The series features different perspectives from around the world, in this case from India, including a survivor of the Bengal famine, as well as Oxford historian Dr Yasmin Khan.
The report also clearly explained Churchill’s actions in India in the context of his World War II strategy.
“We believe these are all important perspectives to explore and we stand behind our journalism.”
How the Bengal famine claimed three million lives and sparked a furious debate over whether Churchill was to blame?
The Bengal famine of 1943 was one of the worst human disasters in British Imperial history, claiming three million lives.
The disaster was caused by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure.
In the early stages of the famine, the local government denied its existence, and historians acknowledge that humanitarian aid was insufficient.
Winston Churchill has also been accused of downplaying the crisis and arguing against restocking Bengal to preserve ships and food supplies for the war effort.
The Bengal famine was caused by a cyclone and flooding in Bengal in 1942, which destroyed crops and infrastructure
Secretary of State for India Leopold Amery reported that Churchill suggested any aid sent would be insufficient because of “Indians who breed like rabbits.”
Despite his unsavory comments about Indians, Churchill’s defenders insist that he tried to help, and delays were due to circumstances during the war.
They point out that, after receiving news of the spreading food shortages, Churchill told his cabinet that he would welcome a statement from Lord Wavell, his new Viceroy of India, on how he intended to ensure that the problems would be ‘solved’.
He then wrote in a private letter to the Viceroy: ‘Every effort must be made, even by the diversion of shipping urgently needed for war purposes, to make up for local shortages.
“You must do everything in your power to appease the struggle between Hindus and Muslims and encourage them to work together for the common good.”
According to the Churchill Project: ‘There is no evidence that Churchill wanted an Indian to starve; on the contrary, he did his best to help them, in the midst of a war to the death.’
The amount of aid rose sharply after the British Indian Army took control of the famine from the local government in October 1943.
More food arrived in December after a record crop of rice, and the number of deaths from hunger decreased.
Yet more than half of the famine-related deaths in 1944 occurred after the food crisis subsided, with thousands falling victim to diseases such as malaria and cholera.