Saturday, September 17, 2011

Indigo Revolt of Bengal and Bihar (contd-2)

Indigo and Indian independence
The British established a flourishing indigo trade, based largely in Champaran district in Bihar. It consisted of plantations and processing factories. Conditions on these plantations were harsh.

Indian supplies

A black and white photograph of the beating wheel in an indigo factory in the Indian subcontinent.
Image: Vast quantities of indigo were produced in factories such as this. The beating wheel shown here was needed to oxygenate the indigo.

The reality was that indigo plantations in the West Indies and America produced better quality indigo, but by the 19th century had switched to more profitable cash crops. It was left to the British in India to meet the indigo requirements of the British textile industry. Literary championsThe plight of those involved in the indigo industry was first depicted in literature during the reform movement in Bengal, which took place through much of the 19th century. The play Nil Darpan (The Mirror of Indigo), written by Dinabandhu Mitra and translated by an English missionary, the Rev. James Long, focused wholly on the plight of the peasants of Champaran. This work, along with many others, was the subject of a libel suit, and was later banned through Lord Lytton's Dramatic Performances Act of 1876.

Much of the early thinking of the independence movement grew out of the literary endeavours of figures such as Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterji, who were to play such a huge role in turning educated Indian opinion against the British.

19th century poverty

If anything the situation of the peasants of Champaran got even worse with the chemical replication of indigo from the late 19th century onwards. The pressures on estate owners to make a profit and survive in these circumstances increased the pressure on those involved in indigo cultivation, extraction and processing.

An historical coloured illustration of an indigo plant.

Conditions of extreme exploitation in Champaran district were also commented upon extensively by British officials, such as John Beames, but the commercial interests of the East India Company, and its successor interests, prevailed.

Much of the indentured labour that was sent to the colonies by the British, particularly to man plantations after the abolition of slavery in the 1830s also originated from these districts, which gives some indication of just how bad conditions must have been. Interestingly, however, records show that many of these people returned, suggesting that conditions elsewhere were even worse.
Indigo Revolt and Dwijendranath Tagore

Shahzadpur, in the Pabna District, had been a place for Zamindari of Tagore family. Pabna District is situated in northern part of the river, Padma.

The district of Pabna forms the south-east corner of Rajshahi Division. The Bogra district bound it on the north, while the Padma river in the south separates it from the district of Faridpur and Kushtia. Yamuna river runs along its eastern border separating it from the districts of Mymensingh and Dhaka, and on the west it has a common boundary with district of Rajshahi.

The name probably came from Pundra or Pundrabardan.

In 1859-61 the district was one of the major areas involved in the Indigo Revolt, known as Pabna Disturbances. Beginning in the Yusuf Shahin 1873 the tenant farmers resisted excessive demands of increased rents of the Zamindar landlord class, led by the nouveaux riches Banerjee's and Dwijendranath Tagore, by forming an Agrarian League. This largely peaceful movement found the support of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal George Campbell who antagonizes the absentee landlords. In The following year the district was one of the worst hit by famine. The peasants demands were finally partially met with the Rent Law Act of 1885.