Ruling the Countryside (Class 8 History Chapter 3 Notes)

Indigo Factor in Bengal/William Simpson
On 12 August 1765, the Mughal emperor appointed the Company as the Diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. As Diwan, it became the chief financial administrator of the territory under its control.

Revenue for the Company
  1. The Company primarily saw its self as a trader not as an administrator. They made effort to increase their revenue as they could. Within five year, the company export from India doubled.
  2. Before 1765, they had to purchase good in India by importing gold and silver from British, but now they can finance their purchase with the revenue generated.
  3. However, the policy of forced sale of goods led to desertification of Bengal by the artisans and craftsmen. The situation worsen when a famine killed nearly one-third of the population in 1770.

The need to improve agriculture
  1. The dwindling revenue led the Company to reconsider its strategy. In 1793, they introduced Zamindari system and encouraged new Zamindars to invest in land to improve agriculture.
  2. The taxes were fixed permanently and not to be increased in future.

The Problem
  1. Initially, the Zamindars were not investing in the lands and tax was so high that Zamindars were not able to pay and sold their rights altogether to bigger Zamindars.
  2. With the passage of time the conditions improved and prices increased, which led Zamindars to reap the profit, but not the Company as taxes were permanently fixed. However, Zamindars were still not investing in improvement of the land and leased the land on very price.
  3. The cultivators found this system as highly oppressive and sometimes forced to take loans or even evicted from the land.

Mahalwari System
  1. In the North Western Provinces of the Bengal Presidency (now part of modern day Uttar Pradesh), Holt Mackenzie proposed a new tax revenue system known as Mahalwari system. This system came into effect in 1822.
  2. In this system, taxes were calculated on the village (mahal) level after inspecting and measuring the fields and analyzing the local tradition. The taxes were revised periodically and not fixed.
  3. The charge of collecting taxes were given to the village headman, not zamindar.

The Munro System (Ryotwari)
  1. In Southern Provinces, a similar system was introduced known as the Munro System (Ryotwari), named after Thomas Munro, then Governor of Madras.
  2. It was first tried on small scale by Captain Alexander Read on the scale in areas taken over from Tipu Sultan.
  3. Unlike northern province, the British here tried to get taxes directly from the cultivators (ryots).
  4. However, the system failed as the tax was too high and cultivators deserted the villages to countryside.

Crops for Europe
  1. In order to make higher revenue, the British persuaded or forced cultivators to grow commercial crops such as indigo, opium, jute, tea, sugarcane, wheat, cotton and rice. India was the leading Indigo producer at that time.

Indigo
  1. From ancient times, India was known for its Indigo production. It was used to make blue color dye and popular among cloth manufacturers in Italy, France and Britain. However, its prices were steep and not every European could buy it.
  2. They compromised with the woad plant to make violet and blue dyes which were pale and dull.
  3. In order to meet the rising Indigo demand, the French started cultivating indigo in St Domingue in the Caribbean islands, the Portuguese in Brazil, the English in Jamaica and the Spanish in Venezuela.
  4. However, due to some reasons, the world indigo production fell by half between 1783 and 1789. And British seeking the opportunity turned India for Indigo production.
  5. The British rapidly expanded the area under Indigo cultivation during the last decades of the 18th century and by 1810, Indian Indigo accounted for 95% of all indigo imported by the Britain.
  6. Many company officials left their well-paid jobs to become Indigo planters. The Company also provided them loans if they do not have the money.

Indigo Cultivation
  1. There were two systems of how Indigo was cultivated - nij and ryoti.
  2. In nij system, planters produced indigo in lands that they control directly. The land is either owned by the planer or leased from the Zamindar. However, the planters found it difficult to expand the area under nij cultivation.
  3. In ryoti system, the planters persuaded or pressurized the village headmen to sign the contract on behalf of the ryots. Here, they receive loans on low interest rates and required to cultivate Indigo on at least 25% land. When crop was delivered after the harvest, a new loan was given to the ryot, and cycle continues. However, the price paid to the peasants was very low and the loan-cycle never ends.
Major Problems with Indigo Cultivation
  1. Indigo could be cultivated only on a fertile land and a large area was required. However, Indian farmers had only small holding and they find it difficult to get lease for new holdings.
  2. The plantation also required a large number of labor and precisely at the time when they were busy with the rice cultivation.
  3. It also required a large amount of initial investment which Indian and most of the farmers could not afford.
  4. Indigo was a mineral intensive crop and depleted the quality of soil pretty quickly. After Indigo plantation, the land could not be used for another crop.

The Blue Rebellion
  1. In March 1859, thousands of ryots in Bengal refused to grow indigo. They also attacked indigo factories and refused to pay rents to the planters. The ryots also received help from some village headmen and small zamindars. They together fought battles with the lathiyals. They also thought, they will be supported by the British Government.
  2. Eventually, the military was brought in to protect the planters and the Indigo Commission was set up.
  3. The Commission held the planters guilty, and criticized them for the methods they used. The Commission asked ryots to fulfill their contracts and allowed them to refuse indigo plantation in future.
  4. After the rebellion, indigo cultivation slowly shifted to Bihar. However, after the discovery of synthetic dyes in the nineteenth century, the Indigo business collapsed, but some planters still forced cultivators to sow Indigo at lower prices.
  5. The plight of Indigo cultivators caught the attention of Mahatma Gandhi and he launched the Champaran Satyagraha against the Indigo planters in 1917.