Churchill’s Secret War:

The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II

November 27, 2012 · 6:00-8:00PM

Columbia University Business School, Uris Hall, room 141

In 1943, during World War II, the eastern province of Bengal in British India underwent a famine that killed 3 million people or more. The famine has long been understood as arising from a conglomeration of local factors. A wealth of newly unearthed documents show, however, that a series of decisions by Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet precipitated and aggravated the famine. These decisions can be traced partly to Churchill’s efforts to protect the British economy after the war and partly to Churchill’s intense hostility toward Indians, who were seeking independence from British rule.


  • Anya Schiffrin, director of SIPA’s International Media, Advocacy, and Communications Specialization at Columbia University


  • Dr. Madhusree Mukerjee, Author


  • Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and of Middle Eastern Member, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University

Madhusree Mukerjee is a journalist of science and environment and the author of two books. Her first book, The Land of Naked People: Encounters with Stone Age Islanders (Houghton Mifflin, 2003) describes the experiences of hunter-gatherers on the Andaman Islands as they come in contact with civilization.  It was completed with the help of a Guggenheim fellowship. Her second book, Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II(Basic Books, 2010) is an economic and political history of India during the war and details the British prime minister's culpability in the Bengal famine of 1943. Madhusree has served on the board of editors of Scientific American magazine and has a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. She has written on climate change, the Bhopal gas disaster, the ethics of animal experimentation, and diverse other issues involving science and society.

Partha Chatterjee is Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded the 1987 Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for contributing to what is still the standard method of analyzing the mechanics of economic growth, and for exhibiting the importance of research and technological innovation in improving economic productivity. Awarded the John Bates Clark Award in 1961, Solow also served on the staff of President Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisors. In 2000, he was awarded the National Medal of Science. Since 2000, Solow has been a Foundation Fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Anya Schiffrin Anya Schiffrin is the director of SIPA's International Media, Advocacy and Communications Specialization. She spent 10 years working overseas as a journalist in Europe and Asia, writing for a number of different magazines and newspapers. She was bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires in Amsterdam and Hanoi and wrote regularly for the Wall Street Journal. In addition to serving as director of the IMAC specialization, Schiffrin directs the journalism training programs of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD), a global economic think-tank based at Columbia University. Her most recent publications include From Cairo to Wall Street from the Global Spring (The News Press, 2012) and BAD NEWS: How America’s Business Press Missed the Story of the Century (The New Press, 2010).