Key documents on the Bengal Famine



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Key documents

"It is easy to wake someone who is sleeping: it is hard to wake someone who is pretending to sleep"

The most important document on the Bengal Famine is the report of the Famine Inquiry Commission. This was a far more thorough, and more honest, record of a famine than we have seen since, or are likely to see again.

Famine Inquiry Commission, Report on Bengal, New Delhi, Government of India, 1945a

Famine Inquiry Commission Final Report, Madras, Government of India. 1945b

Very few copies were printed, which was believed at the time to be because the Government of India wished to hide the evidence of its incompetence. When an academic proposed publishing a facsimile edition, Sen fought to prevent its publication. (see letter here) As a result, it is very difficult to get hold of a copy, and very difficult to check Sen's citations. I present it in Acrobat pdf files below. Because of the poor printing, it is not possible to scan it into a text file.

Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 1-49,                    3344 kb

Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 50-100                  3299 kb

Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 100-150                2967 kb

Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 150-175                1703 kb

Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 176 to end            3346 kb

A tiff version of the complete document is at Famine Inquiry Commission

The great statistician, Professor Mahalanobis, produced the table which aroused most attention in Sen's first paper on famine. He also discussed the statistics that were produced on production and how they were prepared, and shows how bad they were. He suggested that there was political pressure to alter them. He was put in charge of preparing proper crop statistics in the years after the famine.

Mahalanobis, P.C. “Recent experiments in statistical sampling in the Indian Statistical Institute.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Part iv, pp326-378. 1946.

Mahalanobis, P.C., Mukkerjee, R.K., and Ghosh, A. “A sample survey of after effects of Bengal famine of 1943.” Sankhya 7(4),337-400. 1946.

Click 1, Click 2, Click 3, Click 4, Click 5, Click 6, Click 7, Click 8

The sections of Mansergh's monumental work which Sen misquotes are to be found at The Transfer of Power.

Denis Segal located two key archives for me. The Pinnell archive and the Braund archive.

The Pinnell archive has the papers of L.G.Pinnell, who was in charge of food supply in Bengal during the famine and who introduced the rationing system. It includes original correspondence, his department's official submissions to the Famine Inquiry Commission, and his own memoir of the event,

The Braund archive is the papers of H.B.L.Braund, who was investigating the famine in 1943 to 1944 - Denis met him in up country Bengal, doing his field work. I am indebted to his daughter for giving me permission to copy the whole archive: I also asked her to give similar permission to other researchers.