The modern nation of Bangladesh has a long history, which is referenced in various ways in Monica Ali's novel. In ancient times, the eastern region of the Indian subcontinent was known as the kingdom of Bengal. Various rulers and dynasties held power at different times, leading to slight shifts in territorial borders. The dominant religion also fluctuated between Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam was introduced into the region in the 6th and 7th centuries AD, and was gradually adopted over time. The dominance of an Islamic faith in the region was accelerated in the 13th century when Muslim rulers took control of the region. These rulers originated from a variety of regions, including Turkey and Afghanistan. From the mid-1300s until 1576, the region was united under an independent Bengal sultan, which led to economic prosperity in the region, and widespread tolerance for a range of different religions. In the 16th century, the rulers of the Mughal empire conquered Bengal and ruled it as one of their wealthiest and most important provinces. The capital city of Dhaka was a thriving metropolis, and advancements in technology and industrialization took place.
As the powers of the Mughal empire declined, local leaders became more powerful and Bengal became more autonomous. However, the newer leaders took a firmer stance on the trade with Europeans (especially the British) which had been occurring for decades. This led to military conflict, and in 1757, British forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey. Bengal became part of the Britain's Indian empire, with some nominal local government but most economic and political power firmly vested in European hands. This period of colonialism led to famine, instability, and a general decline in Bengal, while the wealth obtained from the resources there contributed to the progress of industrialization in Great Britain. Class boundaries and tensions were also exacerbated between the Muslim majority and Hindu minority in this region. Nonetheless, even amidst colonial dominance and the imposition of Westernized education, the late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a period known as the Bengal Renaissance. During this time, writers and thinkers celebrated their history and cultural traditions, and led social reform movements challenging British rule.
In 1947, India became independent and was also partitioned into India and Pakistan. This partition was established largely along religious lines, with India meant to have a Hindu majority, and Pakistan a predominantly Muslim population. However, "Pakistan" was actually two distinct areas, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, separated by almost 1000 miles of Indian territory. While East and West Pakistan were both predominantly Muslim areas, they were distinctive in terms of culture and language. Conflict immediately began over the official language of government, with West Pakistan advocating for Urdu and East Pakistan insisting on Bengali being recognized as an official language. These tensions only became exacerbated over time, and in 1971 war broke out over the question of independence for the Bengali people of East Pakistan. After a period of violent conflict, Bangladesh was established as an independent country. Dhaka has functioned as the capital city ever since.