Indigo Rebellion of 1859

‘Land of Million Mutinys’

In India there have been many rebellions before and after 1857 War of Independence. The celebrated English writer Vidiadhar S Naipaul refers to India as ‘Land of Million Mutinys’, his book title.

   Vidiadhar S Naipaul and his book

Indigo, famous Indian export

One among them is the rebellion of Indigo growers in March 1859. Indigo has been a cash crop, a famous export of India for many years.

                   Indigo dye Factory in Bengal, 1850s                                   Indigo Plant

Infact, India had the exclusive technology and monopoly in indigo trade till the blue coloured dye was chemically made in Europe, by Alfred Bob Buyer in 1902.

Forced to grow Indigo

In the 1800s, when the British had a threshing control over India’s economy, trade and its agrarian society, the British traders and rulers directly forced the farmers to grow indigo only repeatedly.

To meet the avarice of the traders, Indigo was heavily grown in crop rotation with rice and other crops, to keep the soil fertility and sustainability.

Farmers become bonded labourers

The British administrators bypassed the zamindars who knew the local system and directly threatened the farmers to grow only indigo. This led to a situation where the farmers became almost like bonded labourers to British administrators.

The Indigo Rebellion

This oppression continued for decades culminating in what is now referred to as indigo rebellion that occurred in Bengal, between 1859 and 1861, couple of years after 1857 War of Independence, which was ruthlessly crushed by the British.

5

Areas of Indigo revolts in Bengal

Act XI

The British went to the extent of enacting infamous law – Act XI of 1860, which made breach of contract on the part of ryots a criminal offence.

This act passed on April 21st, 1860, brought to the fore that, even though the ryots owned the land, they only had tenancy rights over the land. They were infact bonded labourers, for if they did not grow indigo, they could be jailed.

Sisir Kumar Ghosh

English educated Indian lawyers and intellegentia took up the cause of indigo growers. One among them was the young Sisir Kumar Ghosh who wrote about the plight of the indigo planters in the weekly, “The Hindoo Patriot”, in January 1853. He later went on to start the now famous Amrita Bazar Patrika.

    Sisir Kumar Ghosh                                              Amrita Bazar Patrika

Nil Darpan

The plight of the indigo planters was so bad. One of the famous playwriters of those days, Dinabandhu Mitra wrote the Play, Nil Darpan, – ‘The Mirror of Indigo’, which reflected the plight of the indigo planters.

 Dinabandhu Mitra                                                                      Nil Darpan

Treated like animals

How the planters were forced to cultivate indigo without remuneration, confined to their farms, beaten up and treated worse than animals all for the sake of avarice of indigo traders.

Eventually crushed the British

The rebellion of the indigo farmers is among the many rebellions that the native Indians fought in eventually crushing the British Rule.

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