It is 250 years since the Battle of Plassey. Why this atrocity? One among many… And what did it leave us historically? Clive, then rampant, was later to top himself, devastated and doddering, back in England. But not before the manufacture of that story about Calcutta that many know and mention, even if thy omit/forget/forge the details. The details are, at least by some accounts, seriously suspect.
Plassey was retaliation by the English for the Black Hole of Calcutta ‘incident’. Since the story of this Black Hole must be told, it can be in a critical version: Marx calls the incident a ‘sham scandal’ (Marx 1947:81). In an extensive collection of notes made on Indian history, Marx comments that on the evening of June 21, 1756, after the Governor of Calcutta had ignored the order of Subadar Suraj-ud-duala to ‘raze all British fortifications’ in the city:
“Suraj came down on Calcutta in force … fort stormed, garrison taken prisoners, Suraj gave orders that all the captives should be kept in safety till the morning; but the 146 men (accidentally, it seems) were crushed into a room 20 feet square and with but one small window; next morning (as Holwell himself tells the story), only 23 were still alive; they were allowed to sail down the Hooghly. It was ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’, over which the English hypocrites have been making so much sham scandal to this day. Suraj-ud-duala returned to Murshidabad; Bengal now completely and effectually cleared of the English intruders” (Marx 1947:81)
Marx also reports on the subsequent retaliation against and defeat of Suraj-ud-duala by Lord Clive (‘that Great Robber’ as he calls him elsewhere Marx 1853/1978:86), and Clive’s 1774 suicide after his ‘cruel persecution’ by the directors of the East India Company (Marx 1947:88). There seem to be very good reasons to conclude that the black hole incident is counterfeit. The single report from a ‘survivor’ some months after Clive’s savage response to Suraj-ud-duala’s occupation of Calcutta – the massacre which was the Battle of Plassey – reads very much like a justification forged to deflect criticisms of brutality on the part of the British forces.
There is a confernce about Plassey on 24th June, 2007, in Whitechapel. Organized by the Brick Lane Circle. For details contact 07903 671787
For more on this black hole fakery, see Macfarlane, Iris 1975 The Black Hole, or the Makings of Legend, Allen and Unwin, London.
Marx, Karl 1947, Notes on Indian History, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow.
Marx, Karl 1853/1978 On Colonialism, Progress Press, Moscow.