Friday, 14 November 2014

Black Hole of Calcutta,1756 - Is casualty a blatant lie?

The Black Hole,
Black Hole of Calcutta (now Kolkata) , scene of an incident on June 20, 1756, in which a number of Europeans were imprisoned in a small cellar at Ft. William (now Kolkata) and many died, was an important event in the Indo - British history. The Europeans were the remaining defenders of Calcutta following the capture of the city by Nawob  Sirāj al-Daulah of Bengal, and the surrender of the East India Company’s garrison under the self-proclaimed governor of Bengal, John Z. Holwell. The incident became an important issue in the expansion of British imperialism in India and a  subject of controversy.

The Nawob (ruler) Sirāj al-Daulah attacked Calcutta because
 of the company’s failure to stop fortifying Ft. William  and also breaching the land lease/trade agreement made between the company and the ruler.  The company not only refused to pay the taxes arrears that had been due for a long time but also showed scant respect for the Nawob and his authority.  Infuriated and terribly hurt, young Nawob, as no solution was in sight, attacked the company

Black Hole, Calcutta. credit:
warehouses, etc as a defence against its rivals in anticipation of war (the Seven Years’ War,1756–63) that was slowly brewing between the British and French colonists. Following capture of Calcutta and the surrender of the East India Company’s garrison under the Governor of Bengal, John Z. Holwell, the other Europeans captives were held for the night in the company’s local lockup meant for petty offenders  by the Nawob's forces. The lockup room measured 18 feet (5.5 meters) long and 14 feet (4 meters) wide, and had two small windows for ventilation and it was popularly known as the Black Hole. According to Holwell, out of 146 people locked up in the room, only 23 survived and the death was caused mainly by suffocation. The incident was considered as a mark of British heroism and the Nawob’s cruelty. The British tabloids, without verifying the fact, tagged the Nawob as the most cruel and despicable man to earn the sympathy from the British public.
Black Hole memorial, Calcutta.
 However, in 1915 a British school master J.H. Little pointed out  Holwell’s  unreliability as a witness and other discrepancies in the  black hole incident, and it became clear that the Nawob’s part was one of negligence only. The details of the incident were thus controversial and it's a matter for through investigation.  A study in 1959 by author Brijen Gupta pointed out that the incident did occur but the number of those who entered the Black Hole was about 64 and the number of survivors was 21. The casualty mentioned by the British in this incident was based  more on mere conjecture than on facts. The British media and the British officials in India  purposely  blew  it up to create sensationalism
  Black Hole,Calcutta

Some interesting information about Black Hole incident:

1. Before the 1756 incident, the place had been known as 'black hole.' 

2. The provocation was caused by the British. They never paid export and import taxes and the Nawob incurred heavy loss on account of British company's negligence and arrogance.

3. The directors of the East India company were never informed about the tragic incident. Nor did the East India company send a report to them.

4. Indian rulers as per Alinagar treaty -1757 had to  cough up a huge compensation for alleged attack on the British citizens. At the meeting there was no word about Black Hole. Further, there was no discussion whatsoever on the huge tax arrears due to the Nawob. Ultimately, the Nawob became not only a sucker but also a villain as bad as Iago in the Shakespearean drama Othello.

5. Black Hole incident became a solid platform for the British to justify their future aggression and expansion in the sub continent. However, it has still remained a bone of contention and the story put forward by the British lacks credibility and reliability.  Further, for two centuries they had double crossed so many Maharajahs, local rulers and Nawobs. In the process, they vastly improved the British economy by looting and exploiting Indian labor forces and natural resources. because of their misadventure in India India's GDP - more than 20% plummeted way below 5%  


Black_Hole_of_Calcutta The Black Hole of Empire - Stanford Presidential Lecture by Partha Chatterjee

                        (reedited 24th November, 2015)