Battle of Plassey Day – 23rd June

How should we remember the Battle of Plassey Day on 23rd June every year ?

Since 2007 Brick Lane Circle has been organising annual events – conferences, East India Company Walks and poetry readings – to explore important issues relating to the English East India Company’s rule over Bengal.  The first conference was held in on 24th June 2007, which was designed to help remember and understand the nature and impacts of the Battle of Plassey that took place 250 years ago.

In 2008 we received Heritage Lottery Fund to engage a group of young people, aged 18-25, to undertake research and write a book on the East India Company’s heritage of London.  This culminated in the publication of a book in May 2011 called ‘Plassey’s Legacy: young Londoners explore the hidden legacy of the East India Company’. Details of the project are available on the East India Company website.

How should we remember 23rd June 1757?  This day in June this year will be 254 years after the Battle of Plassey when the English East India Company conquered Bengal, under the leadership of Robert Clive.  The battle itself was quite an insignificant event, lasting only a day and fought on an unimportant field, about 100 miles north of Kolkata (Calcutta).  However, it was a highly momentous event, being the springboard for and the beginning of the British Indian Empire.

Bengal and Britain have nearly four hundred years of direct links.  The early phase, mid-1600s to 1757, was mutually beneficial, consisting mostly of trade, where Bengal supplied a number of goods, including the fabric ‘Muslin’, the famous textile of Bengal, for markets in the UK and beyond.  The period 1757-1947 was the colonial phase when the British were the boss and did virtually whatever they liked.  Many books have been written by all manners of people on the nature of British rule.  A general consensus is that it consisted of both negative and positive elements.  On the other hand, both societies in Britain and in India were dynamic and complex and that within those heterogeneous complexities, on all sides, some people profited while others suffered to different degrees.

When the British took over Bengal in 1757 it was known to be a rich province.  In the words of the its conqueror, Robert Clive:

 … The country of Bengal is called, by way of distinction, the paradise of the earth. It not only abounds with the necessaries of life to such a degree, as to furnish a great part of India with its superfluity, but it abounds in very curious and valuable manufactures, sufficient not only for its own use, but for the use of the whole globe. The silver of the west and the gold of the east have for many years been pouring into that country, and goods only have been sent out in return. This has added to the luxury and extravagance of Bengal.

(Horn, D.B. and Ransome, M., (editors), English Historical Documents, 1714-1783 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1957), pp. 809-811).

However, when the British left India in 1947, Bengal was one of the poorest places in the world. How does one explain that change in fortune?

Post 1947 has been a new era for both Britain and the Indian subcontinent.  Three independent countries are now marching forward with differing degrees of success and Britain is becoming an ever more diverse and multicultural place with large-scale migration of people from around the world, including the Indian subcontinent.

The first people of India conquered by Britain, the Bengalis, live in their largest UK concentration in East London, which was the heart of the East India Company from where it planned and carried out most of its activities relating to the rule of India.  Bengalis in the UK, most of which are from Sylhet region of modern day Bangladesh, are also making their own unique contributions to the ever increasing multicultural, diverse, creative, dynamic, prosperous and enjoyable UK.  In this context, how should we remember the Battle of Plassey Day on 23rd June every year?

Muhammad Ahmedullah – Secretary, Brick Lane Circle

Brick Lane Circle

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Categories: 1. News & Events, Politics & Democracy, UK & Europe

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