. By the thirteenth century Indian indigo was being used by cloth manufacturers in Italy, France and Britain to dye cloth. By the end of the eighteenth century, the demand for Indian indigo grew further. Britain began to industrialise, and its cotton production expanded dramatically, creating an enormous new demand for cloth dyes. While the demand for indigo increased, its existing supplies from the West Indies (In 1792 France abolished slavery in the French colonies. These events led to the collapse of the indigo plantations on the Caribbean islands.) and America (American Revolution) collapsed for a variety of reasons.
Between 1783 and 1789 the production of indigo in the world fell by half. Cloth dyers in Britain now desperately looked for new sources of indigo supply. Since, Indian Indigo was costly to buy through intermediaries, Europeans directly established plantations in India. But they didn’t engage in direct cultivation, but instead used ryots to grow it on their lands. This was most prevalent in Bengal.
Effects of Indigo Cultivation
- When the crop was delivered to the planter after the harvest, a new loan was given to the ryot, and the cycle started all over again. The price they got for the indigo they produced was very low and the cycle of loans never ended.
- The best soils in which peasants preferred to cultivate rice was used for indigo. Indigo, moreover, had deep roots and it exhausted the soil rapidly. After an indigo harvest the land could not be sown with rice. Thus indigenous demand for other crops
Peasants revolted many a times and British ultimately setup an ‘Indigo Commission’ which held planters – mostly Europeans – guilty. As a result of it and resentment among the farmers Indigo Planters they shifted to Bihar, however as synthetic dyes became popular Indigo plantation business became unprofitable and planters further suppressed farmers in Bihar. Their plight was highlighted during the visit of Gandhi to Champaran in 1917.
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