The Indigo Revolt in Bengal was a peasant led movement and subsequent uprising of indigo farmers against indigo planters towards the late 1800’s. The indigo industry in Bengal dates back to 1777 with the expansion of the British East India Company, in which England turned away from its North American suppliers and transformed India into a region that exclusively produced indigo. To understand just how important Bengali indigo was to the British economy, the port of Calcutta exported about 4,000 tons of indigo per year, which amounts to approximately 11 tons per day.
To increase indigo production and revenue, indigo farmers had to be convinced to abandon their traditional crops and transition to indigo instead. Peasants were pursued by indigo planters and English merchants to plant indigo rather than food crops through the provision of loans or dadon that were given at a very high interest rate. However, once the farmer or peasant took on the loan, they remained in debt for the rest of their life, and the debt would be passed on to their children after their death. This injustice led to an uprising of the farmer and peasant class against the British. To gain control of the situation, the British government closed the East India Trading Company and took command of the country’s rule in 1858, and appointed an Indigo Commission in 1860. To understand the magnitude of the British government’s presence in India, I have provided geographic clarification and information on British rule in India. The British government had extensive control in India and ruled the state of Bihar, which was a part of the Bengal Presidency until 1912. Its sister state Orissa, present-day Odisha, became separate provinces of British-ruled India in 1936.
The opposition to indigo farming did not end with the Indigo Revolt in Bengal. Mahatma Gandhi launched the first civil disobedience protest known as satyagraha in 1917. The protest took place in the Champaran district of Bihar where tenant farmers, under British rule, were forced to grow indigo and worked in extremely oppressive conditions. During WWI, the German synthetic dye was not available and the British saw this as a financial opportunity and forced farmers to grow indigo. This was the first of Gandhi’s nonviolent protests.