Introduction to the Indigo Revolt
Indigo Revolt is said that the color of Revolution is Red. Not always. Sometimes, it’s Blue.
It was the Summer of 1859 in Bengal when thousands of Ryots (peasants) refused to grow Indigo for the European planters (owners of land and indigo factories). There was a glimpse of rage and undying resolve. It became one of the most remarkable Peasant Movements of Indian history in which the farmers united and rebelled against their exploitors. This revolt thus came to be known as ‘Neel Bidroha‘ or the ‘Indigo Revolt‘.
Indigo was being cultivated in Bengal since the end of the 18th century. It was practiced mainly in two forms, the Nij-Abad and the Ryoti. In the Nij or ‘own’ system, the planters produced indigo on lands that were directly controlled by them. In the Ryoti cultivation, the Ryots cultivated indigo on their own lands as part of a contract with the planters. All the dissatisfaction with the way the peasants were treated by the Planters gave way to the Indigo Revolt.
- Indigo cultivation had started in Bengal in 1777 & was in high demand worldwide. Trade in Indigo was lucrative due to the demand for blue dye in Europe.
- European planters enjoyed a monopoly over Indigo and in turn forced Indian farmers to grow the same for their profitable motives by signing fraudulent deals with them.
- The cultivators were forcefully made to cultivate Indigo over food crops.
- They were advanced loans known as Dadon for this purpose. The terms of repayment of these loans were so unfavourable that the planters could never repay it and were stuck in a vicious cycle of debt trap.
- The tax slabs were also exorbitant.
- On failure of repayment, they were brutally oppressed by the planters.
- The cultivators were forced to sell Indigo at non-profitable rates so as to maximize the European planters’ profits.
- Moreover, if a farmer refused to grow indigo and planted paddy instead, illegal means were resorted to in order to coerce the farmer into growing Indigo.
- The government always supported the planters who enjoyed many privileges and were provided with judicial immunities.
The Culmination of Indigo Revolt
- On being utterly dissatisfied with the above happenings, the Indigo farmers struck out a revolt in the Nadia district of Bengal by refusing to grow indigo.
- They then attacked the policemen who intervened to contain their protest.
- The planters, in response to this, increased the rents and evicted the farmers which ultimately led to more agitations.
- In April 1860, all the farmers in the Barasat division of the districts Nadia and Pabna went on a strike and boycotted the growing of Indigo. The strike spread to other parts of Bengal.
- The farmers were led by the Biswas brothers of Nadia, Rafiq Mondal of Malda and Kader Molla of Pabna.
- The revolt also received support from many zamindars notably Ramrattan Mullick of Narail.
So, all in all, the revolt’s turnout can be traced to Govindpur village in the Nadia district of Bengal where the Biswas brothers gave up Indigo cultivation. This was followed by a struggle with the Lathiyals and revolt spread in many parts of Bengal. Strikes, legal actions, violence, a social boycott of planters etc. were some of the tools.
Peasant organization to some extent, Hindu Muslim Unity, support from Bengal intelligentsia made the revolt more effective. . The company asked ryots to fulfil their existing contracts but also told them that they could refuse to produce indigo in future. This was a big relief for the peasants and gradually the plantations of Indigo came to an end in
Effect and Aftermath
- The revolt was suppressed and many farmers were slaughtered by the government and some Zamindars.
- The revolt was backed by the Bengali Intelligentsia, Muslims and the Missionaries.
- The whole of the rural population supported the revolt.
- The press also supported the revolt and played its part in portraying the plight of the farmers and fighting for their cause.
- Finally, Indigo Commission was appointed which held the planters guilty and criticized them for the coercive methods they implemented for meeting their selfish ends.
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FACT – The play Nil Darpan (The Mirror of Indigo) by Dinabandhu Mitra written in 1858 – 59 portrayed the farmers’ situation accurately. It showed how farmers were coerced into planting indigo without adequate payment. The play became a talking point and it urged the Bengali intelligentsia to lend support to the Indigo Revolt. Reverend James Long translated the play into English on the authority of Secretary to the Governor of Bengal, W. S Seton-Karr. The planters who were treated as villains in the play sued Rev. Long for libel. Rev. Long was pronounced guilty and had to pay Rs.1000 as compensation and serve a month in prison.
Assessment of the Indigo Rebellion
- The revolt was largely non-violent and it acted as a precursor to Gandhiji’s non-violent satyagraha in later years.
- The revolt was not a spontaneous one. It was built up over years of oppression and torture of the farmers at the hands of the planters and the government.
- Hindus and Muslims joined hands against their oppressors in this rebellion.
- It also saw the coming together of many zamindars with the ryots or farmers.
- The revolt was a success despite its brutal quelling by the government.
- In response to the revolt, the government appointed the Indigo Commission in 1860. In the report, a statement read, ‘not a chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with human blood.’
- A notification was also issued which stated that farmers could not be forced to grow Indigo.
- By the end of 1860, Indigo cultivation was literally washed away from Bengal since the planters closed their factories and left for good.
- The revolt was made immensely popular by its portrayal in the play Nil Darpan and also in many other works of prose and poetry. This led to the revolt taking centre stage in the political consciousness of Bengal and impacted many later movements in Bengal.
- Newspapers like the ‘Hindoo Patriot’ under Harish Chandra Mukherjee and reports of journalists like Sisir Kumar Ghosh publicised and defended the cause of peasants while exposing the exploitation of Indigo planters.
This revolt gave birth to political movement and aroused national sentiment against the alien British rulers among the Indian masses.
The Ryots struggled through poverty, oppression, domination and indignities. But even amidst this, they didn’t let their voices die. What remained constant throughout was their resolve to not sow indigo.
“I would rather be killed with bullets than sow Indigo”, statement of one of the ryots named Panjee Mulla beautifully captures this feeling.
- Discuss the reasons for Indigo Revolt and role of Ryots & intelligentsia in its success.
2. To what extent you believe that the Indigo rebellion in Bengal carried both old and new characteristics of peasant movements?
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