Britain Under the Microscope: Author’s Latest Work Shines Light on Britain’s Actions in Bengal

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Britain colonized India in the 18th century, but the effects and results of the two-century rule of subjugation are still evident more than seventy-five years later. Author Fazle Chowdhury’s new upcoming book, With Blood and Flame: How the British Empire changed Bengal, is a fantastic piece of history that dissects the British empire’s period of ascendence and the degradation of a wealthy province. 

The book, which will be released on August 17, 2023, joins a list of many other books that the author has released in the past, with his most notable work, “Why Ukraine Matters.” Chowdhury’s new book explores the many questions that have come to the fore after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 2022. 

Chowdhury is the author of eight books and, in his previous writings, has addressed the effects of the colonial era, both in fiction in his critically acclaimed novels The Other Side of Eden and Never Among Equals and now in non-fiction. With Blood and Flame, he has produced a gem where he has consistently maintained his objectivity, focusing on the realities of today and bridging that with the past actions of the British empire. 

Chowdhury explains that the British empire saw Bengal as a key supplier of its own economic resources that it badly needed, and through its British East India Company (EIC), exported the best of cotton and silk straight to the United States. It was so profitable that the British empire instituted the “1767 Townshend Acts”, one of a series of incidents that sparked the American Independence war against Britain.   

Having competing powers such as the Austrians, Dutch, French, and Portuguese, the British empire began to take drastic measures and, from 1757, at the Battle of Plassey, overthrew the last Bengal emperor. As the EIC would control Bengal in the next decades and after its end, London would rule Bengal directly from 1858. Their reigns would be a combination of mismanagement of the province altogether, turning a prosperous economic hub into the utmost and abject poverty within two hundred years while it extracted as much wealth as possible to its own cities in Glasgow and London.

By 1947, British colonial rule ended and two new countries, India and Pakistan, split Bengal between them. West Bengal went to India, and East Bengal formed the eastern wing of Pakistan. In 1971, the eastern wing of Pakistan (East Pakistan) became independent Bangladesh. 

Chowdhury assesses that while the Crown represented stability upon Queen Elizabeth’s ascendence in February 1952, in sharp contrast, the British elected government did not share the same characteristics. The Tory establishment was chiefly responsible for the actions of British forces in places like Aden, Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Nyasaland, Suez and Northern Ireland well after the era of British imperialism. As Chowdhury demonstrates, such episodes even after the end of the British empire, the imperialism mindset had not left. The British “ungentlemanly” actions, even after what looked like the days of the empire had been behind them, was still present.

As Chowdhury says in his Preface, “The odd reality is that the monarch was a mere symbolic face of a declining empire and some would even say a decline of democracy in Britain. Yet, some of the most brutal horrors of the British empire, such as the April 1919 Amritsar massacre, a butchery of British General Reginald Dyer that killed 379 unarmed men, women, and children in a single incident and injured more than a thousand. Similar episodes followed in Gujarat in November 1913 in the Mangarh massacre and then in 1922 the Pal-Dadhvav massacre.”

Finally, Chowdhury points out and with evidence that those reiterating that the “British had civilized India” is simply incorrect. Britain’s position as “extortionists” changed when they had few options but to grant India independence. He says, “Britain left India as close of a Gentleman as a bankrupt colonial power could be,” but it also left behind a treacherous subcontinent with preventable divisions, with one war looming, followed by three more wars, a genocide and a series of famines rooted from its own measure of governance. Something Britain should take responsibility for but never have.

Chowdhury’s precise analysis is ultimately a decisive rebuttal and a firm narrative that above all else and even the negative aspects of the British empire while still plaguing the political dynamics, could not stop the inevitable. In the 21st century and more than 75 years after colonial rule, Bangladesh and West Bengal are far from Steve Coll’s description of “the epitome of pathetic South Asian wretchedness.”