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Unit 3
British in Bengal

Learning Outcomes

Upon the successful completion of the Unit, the learner would be:

  • introduced to the dominance of the British East India Company in Bengal
  • able to know the relationship of the Nawabs of Bengal with the British Empire
  • grasping the ways in which the British received the right to duty free trade in Bengal


The previous unit discussed the establishment of the British East India Company and its early settlements in India. The British acquired the trade monopoly through her East India Company and later established political dominance in India and ruled for more than two centuries. We have also discussed the British occupation of Bengal very briefly in the last unit.

The Bengal Presidency covers much of modern-day Bangladesh and West Bengal. It was one of the richest and fertile provinces of the Mughal empire. The authoritative power was vested with the Nawab of Bengal. Bengal held its economic importance for its famous saltpeter, silk and textile. Towards the beginning of the seventeenth century, the British East India Company established its profitable trade with Bengal. Rice, indigo, sugar, cotton, etc., were exported from Bengal to Europe. The enormous resources of Bengal came in handy for financing the British expansion. Hence, Bengal became the first and most important province of the British Empire. East India Company’s trade in Bengal was worth £ 50,000, per annum.

The British were granted the right to trade in India by the Mughal emperor. However, the British India Company refused to pay taxes by misusing the trade licenses. All the Nawabs of Bengal, from Murshid Quli Khan to Alivardi Khan had refused to the British interpretation of the farman of 1717. They had compelled the Company to pay lump sums to their treasury. Nevertheless, the East India Company had ruled Bengal until 1857, when it was annexed by the British Crown and combined with the neighboring territories of Bihar and Orissa to form the Eastern Provinces. In this Unit, let us discuss the British intervention in Bengal.

Key Words

Farman, Dastaks, Nawabs, Duty-free, Trade, Revenue


1.3.1. Bengal before the British Occupation

By 1761 the Mughal empire had a nominal role and remained as mere symbolic authority. It has enabled the local powers to assert their independence. It also signified a decentralisation of power as a few states asserted their independence. Bengal, Hyderabad and Awadh were the three successor states that virtually exercised autonomy in matters of execution of power at the local level. The province of Bengal gradually became independent of Mughal control after Murshid Quli Khan became the governor or Nizam of Bengal in 1717 and he consolidated his position further. He was the last governor of Bengal appointed by the Mughal emperor.

Murshid Quli made Bengal a constant revenue paying surplus area. He sent the annual Bengal revenue to Delhi regularly. Murshid Quli named his daughter’s son Sarfaraz Khan his successor. Later, in 1727, Sarfaraz khan took control of the two provinces of Bengal and Orissa. However, Sarfaraz Khan was ousted by the army commander Alivardi Khan with the help of a few powerful zamindars. Alivardi Khan deposed and killed Sarfaraz Khan and made himself the Nawab.

Alivardi’s reign marked a virtual break with the Mughals. Alivardi Khan did not permit the British and the French to fortify their factories in Calcutta and Chandernagore. In 1756, after the death of Alivardi’s death, his grandson Siraj Ud-duala became his successor.

1.3.2. British Occupation of Bengal

view of Calcutta from fort William
Source : Wikipedia

The history of British rule in Bengal dates back to 1680, when the East India Company secured a trading charter from the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Aurengzeb granted them the right to duty free trade in Bengal in return for an annual payment of Rs. 3000. Further, in 1690, the Company established its first settlement at Sutanuti (Calcutta) and fortified it in 1696 and called as Fort William. Two years later, in 1698, they secured the Zamindari rights of three villages named Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindpur on an annual payment of 1200 rupees in return. In 1770, the Fort William became the headquarters of the Bengal presidency.

It took a long time for the British to receive the trading rights in India. In 1717, a farman, issued by Mughal emperor Farruksiyar, granted the Company the right to carry on duty free trade, to rent thirty eight villages around Calcutta and to use the royal mint. The employees of the Company, though permitted to carry on private trade, were entitled to pay taxes like the Indian merchants. This farman became a new source of conflict between the Company and the new autonomous ruler of Bengal who refused to extend duty free provision. The conflict between the Bengal Nawab and the British East India company had started since 1717. Conflicts between Nawabs and British

The farman of 1717 was a perpetual source of conflict between the Company and the Nawab of Bengal. The company refused to pay the taxes by misusing the trade license or dastaks. The Nawab, who faced a major loss in his revenue from trade, protested against the misuse of the dastak or permit by Company’s servants who carried on private trade.

The Nawabs of Bengal did not firmly put down the increasing tendency of the British company to use military force after 1707. The Nawabs who had the power to deal with the Company’s threats believed that a mere trading company could not threaten their power.

The army of Murshid Quli Khan consisted of only 200 cavalry and 4000 infantry. The Nawab of Bengal neglected to build a strong army of their own. He launched repeated invasions of the Marathas. In 1755, the English Company began renovating the fortifications of Calcutta without the Nawab’s permission. The conflict between the Nawab and the Company assumed critical dimensions when Siraj -ud-duala became Nawab in 1756.

Calcutta was not the healthiest place to live, but its location closer to the Bay of Bengal than Hughli made it a convenient settlement. The English East India Company became a landlord of the villages around Calcutta. They built the fortified structure of Fort William. Bengal made the Company’s most startling conquests.

1.3.3 Impact of British Occupation of Bengal

The ‘farman’ granted to the British by the Mughal Emperor allowed them to conduct free trade in Bengal. They were also not required to pay trade permits or dastaks for the movement of such goods. However, these were abused by the company’s employees, resulting in revenue loss for Bengal. When Siraj-ud-Daulah, Alivardi Khan’s grandson, ascended to the throne in 1756, he demanded that the British had to trade on the same terms as the Indian merchants. When the British refused it and began to strengthen their fortifications, the situation deteriorated. This resulted in the Battle of Plassey (1757), in which Siraj-ud-Daulah was treacherously defeated by the cheating of Mir Jaffar and Rai Durlabh. This brought the British enormous prestige and revenue. The position of British in India was transformed from a commercial to a territorial power.

Robert Clive at Battle of Plassey

The British replaced Siraj- ud- daula with Mir Jaffar. When Mir Jaffar failed to pay the British tribute and tried to assert independence, they placed Mir Qasim on the throne. He realised that to fight against the British, it required both revenue and an army. Finally, he eliminated all internal trade duties. This enraged the British, who defeated Mir Qasim in the Battle of Buxar (1764).

The British East India Company’s occupation of Bengal had a profound impact on the region. As mentioned, the East India Company’s armies, led by Robert Clive, defeated the forces of the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Battle resulted in the treaty of Allahabad in 1765, in which the Mughal emperor surrendered the control over Bengal. Robert Clive became the first governor General of Bengal.

In the battle of Buxar, not only the Nawab but the Delhi emperor was also defeated by the British army. With the political developments in Bengal , the British became a territorial power in India. Consequently, the East India Company was given the authority to collect taxes and raise an army in Bengal, which it used to further expand its territories. This caused a great deal of resentment among the Bengali people who felt that their sovereign rights had been violated by the East India Company’s occupation. We will discuss in detail the battles fought between the nawabs of Bengal with the British, in the next unit of this block.


  • The English East India Company had a profound impact on the people and economy of Bengal.
  • The East India Company had been trading in Bengal since the early 17th century.
  • In the mid-18th century, the East India Company started to make a major impact on Bengal.
  • The British gradually took over Bengal.
  • In 1757, the East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey.
  • The British East India Company became the dominant power in Bengal.
  • The Company ruled Bengal for almost 200 years.
  • Nawabs of Bengal
  • British Occupation of Bengal
  • Conflicts between Nawabs and the British
  • Impact of British Occupation of Bengal

Objective type questions

  1. When did Murshid Quli Khan become the Governor or Nazim of Bengal?.
  2. Who was the last Governor of Bengal appointed by the Mughal emperor?
  3. Who became the successor of Murshid Quli Khan?
  4. Who granted the Company the right to duty free trade in Bengal in return for an annual payment of Rs. 3000?
  5. When did the English Company begin renovating the fortifications of Calcutta without the Nawab’s permission?
  6. Which Mughal Emperor issued a farman in 1717?
  7. When did Siraj ud-duala come to the throne?
  8. What was the result of the Battle of Plassey?
  9. Who became the first Governor General of Bengal?
  10. Who became the Governor or Nazim of Bengal in 1717?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. 1717
  2. Murshid Quli Khan
  3. Sarfaraz Khan
  4. Aurengzeb
  5. 1755
  6. Farrukhsiyar
  7. 1756
  8. Treaty of Allahabad in 1765
  9. Robert Clive
  10. Murshid Quli Khan


  1. Examine the factors that led to the British Occupation of Bengal.
  2. Describe the causes of the conflict between the British East India Company and the Nawabs of Bengal.
  3. Analyse the impact of the British occupation of Bengal.
  4. Briefly explain the significance of the farman issued in 1717 by Farrukhsiyar.

Suggested Reading

  1. Ishita Banerjee-Dube, A History of Modern India, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2014.
  2. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition, Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2004.
  3. Bipan Chandra, History of Modern India, Orient Black Swan, India, 2018.