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Kolkata - History

Kolkata History

Although recent archaelogical evidence suggests that a sophisticated civilisation (Chandraketugarh) dating back 2000 years existed near Kolkata, its documented history is that of a very modern city. In fact, it's largely a British creation that dates back only some 300 years and was the capital of British India right up until 1910. In 1686 the British abandoned Hooghly, their trading post 38km (23.5mi) up the Hooghly River from present-day Kolkata, and moved downriver to three small villages - Sutanati, Govindpur and Kalikata. Despite the post's initial lack of success, in 1696 a fort was laid out near present-day BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square) and in 1698, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb's grandson gave the British official permission to occupy the villages.

Kolkata grew steadily until 1756, when Siraj-ud-daula, the nawab of Murshidabad, attacked the town. Most of the British inhabitants escaped, but those captured were packed into an underground cellar where, during the night, most of them suffocated in what became known as 'the black hole of Calcutta'. In 1757 the British, under Clive of India, retook the city and made peace with the nawab. A stronger fort (Fort William) was built in Kolkata and the town became British India's capital. Much of Kolkata's most enduring development took place between 1780 and 1820. Later in the 19th century, Bengal became an important centre in the struggle for Indian independence, and the resultant unrest was a major reason behind the British decision to transfer the capital to Delhi in 1911.

Loss of political power did not alter Kolkata's economic control and the city prospered until after WWII. The partition in 1947 of India (creating Pakistan) devastated Kolkata. Bengal and Punjab were the two areas of India with mixed Hindu and Muslim populations, and the dividing line was drawn through them. The result in Bengal was that Kolkata became a city without a hinterland, while across the border, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was a hinterland with nowhere to process or export its produce. Furthermore, West Bengal and Kolkata were inundated with tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from East Bengal, although fortunately without the brutal violence and bloodshed that Partition brought to Punjab. The massive influx of refugees, the departure of the British, combined with India's postwar population explosion and economic hardship, led to Kolkata becoming an international urban horror story. The work of Mother Teresa's Kolkata mission focused worldwide attention on the city's festering problems. In 1971 the India-Pakistan conflict and the creation of Bangladesh led to another flood of refugees, and Kolkata's already chaotic condition further deteriorated.

Slowly, through governement public works programs of the 1980s, the success of the Indian technology sector in the 1990s and the continued strength of its people, Kolkata began to find its voice again. As though to underscore its re-emerging identity, the city abandoned its British imposed name of Calcutta and in late December 2000 had its traditional identity officially reinstated - Kolkata.

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