Indigo revolt

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An Indigo dye factory in Bengal, 1867

The Indigo revolt is a peasant movement and subsequent uprising of indigo farmers against the indigo planters that arose in Bengal in 1859. The back stage of the revolt goes back half a century[1] when the indigo plantation act was established. In February–March 1859 the farmers refused to sow a single seedling of indigo plant. The strength of the farmers' resolutions were dramatically stronger than anticipated from a community victimized by brutal treatment for about half a century. Most importantly it was a revolt of both the major religious groups of farmers in Bengal, notably a farmer Haji Molla of Chandpore (Thana - Hardi)[2] said that he would "rather beg than sow indigo".[3] The farmers were in no possession of any types of arms, it was totally a nonviolent resistance.[4]

Causes of the revolt[edit]

Indigo planting in Bengal dated back to 1777. Louis Bonard was probably the first indigo planter. With expansion of British power in the Nawabate of Bengal, indigo planting became more and more commercially profitable due to the demand for Blue Dye in Europe. It was introduced in large parts of Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, Murshidabad, etc. The indigo planters left no stones unturned to make money. They mercilessly pursued the peasants to plant indigo instead of food crops. They provided loans, called dadon at a very high interest. Once a farmer took such loans he remained in debt for whole of his life before passing it to his successors. The price paid by the planters was meagre,only 2.5% of the market price. So the farmers could make no profit by growing indigo. The farmers were totally unprotected from the brutal indigo planters, who resorted to mortgage or destruction of their property if they were unwilling to obey them. Government rules favoured the planters. By an act in 1833, the planters were granted a free hand in oppression. Even the zamindars, money lenders and other influential persons sided with the planters. Out of the severe oppression unleashed on them the farmers resorted to revolt.

The Bengali middle class supported the peasants whole-heartedly. Harish Chandra Mukhopadhyay thoroughly described the plight of the poor peasants in his newspaper The Hindu Patriot. However every such contribution was overshadowed by Dinabandhu Mitra, who gave a perfect account of the situation by writing a play named "Neel darpan", which rowed a huge controversy.

The revolt[edit]

The revolt started from Nadia where Bishnucharan Biswas and Digambar Biswas first took up arms against the planters. It spread like wildfire in Murshidabad, Birbhum, Burdwan, Pabna, Khulna, Narail, etc. Indigo planters were put into public trial and executed. The indigo depots were burned down. Many planters fled to avoid being caught. The zamindars were also targets of the revolting peasants.

The revolt was ruthlessly suppressed. Large forces of police and military backed by the British Government and the zamindars mercilessly slaughtered a number of peasants. In spite of this the revolt was fairly popular, involving almost the whole of Bengal. The Biswas brothers of Nadia, Kader Molla of Pabna, Rafique Mondal of Malda were popular leaders. Even some of the zamindars supported the revolt, the most important of whom was Ramratan Mullick of Narail. The company was also facing competition from the Netherlands & France in International Market.

The effect on the British rulers in India[edit]

The historian Jogesh Chandra Bagal describes the revolt as a non-violent revolution and gives this as a reason why the indigo revolt was a success compared to the Sepoy Revolt. R.C. Majumdar in "History of Bengal"[5] goes so far as to call it a forerunner of the non-violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhi. The revolt had a strong effect on the government, which immediately appoint the "Indigo Commission" in 1860.[6] In the commission report, E. W. L. Tower noted that "not a chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with human blood". Evidently it was a major triumph of the peasants to incite such emotion in the Europeans' minds even though the statement might have been an overstatement.

Cultural effects[edit]

Dinabandhu Mitra's 1859 play Nil Darpan is based on the revolution. It was translated into English by Michael Madhusudan Dutta and published by Rev. James Long. It attracted much attention in England, where the people were stunned at the savagery of their countrymen. The British Government sent Rev. Long to a mock trial and punished him with imprisonment and fine. Kaliprasanna Sinha paid the fine for him.

The play is the first play to be staged commercially in the National Theatre in Kolkata.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nildarpan (play by Mitra) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT)
  3. ^ Social Scientist. v 5, no. 60 (July 1977) p. 14.
  4. ^ Social Scientist. v 5, no. 60 (July 1977) p. 14.
  5. ^ Majumdar, R. C. The Government in 1860 enacted the Indigo Act, according to which no planter could be forced to cultivate indigo against his will. The History of Bengal ISBN 81-7646-237-3
  6. ^ Social Scientist. v 5, no. 60 (July 1977) p. 14.