NCERT Extracts - Crop for Europe
Category : UPSC
- In the colonial period, rural India also came to produce a range of crops for the world market. In the early nineteenth century, indigo and opium were two of the major commercial crops.
- The history of opium production in India was linked up with the story of British trade with China, In tile late eighteenth century, the English East India Company was buying tea and silk from China for sale in England.
- As tea became a popular English drink, the tea trade became more and more important In fact, the profits of the East India Company came to depend on the tea trade.
- This created a problem. England at this time produced nothing that could be easily sold in China. They searched for a commodity they could sell in China, something they could persuade the Chinese to buy. Opium was such a commodity.
- The Chinese Emperor had forbidden its production and sale except for medicinal purposes. But Western merchants in the mid-eighteenth century began an illegal trade in opium,
Where did Opium come from?
- When the British conquered Bengal, they made a determined effort to produce opium in the lands under their control. As the market for opium expanded in China, larger volumes of opium flowed out of Bengal ports.
- Before 1767, no more than 500 chests (of two maunds each) were being exported from India. A hundred years later, in 1870, the government was exporting about 50,000 chests annually.
- For a variety of reasons, Indian cultivators were unwilling to turn their fields over to poppy.
Hew Were Unwilling Cultivators Made to Produce Opium?
- Unwilling cultivators were made to produce opium through a system of advances, in the rural areas of Bengal and Bihar, there were large numbers of poor peasants.
- From the 1780s, such peasants found their village headmen (mahato) giving them money advances to produce opium.
- By taking the loan, the cultivator was forced to grow opium on a specified area of land and hand over the produce to the agents once the crop had been harvested.
- By 1773, the British government in Bengal had established a monopoly to trade in opium. No one else was legally permitted to trade in the product.
- The British realised that the countryside could not only yield revenue, it could also grow the crop that Europe required.
- By the late eighteenth century the company was trying its best to expand the cultivation of opium, indigo, jute, tea, sugarcane, wheat, rice and cotton.
- Indigo was a rich blue colour. It was produced from a plant called indigo.
- India was the biggest supplier of indigo in the world at that time.
- 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 and America collapsed for a variety of reasons.
- Faced with the rising demand for indigo in Europe, the Company in India looked for ways to expand the area under indigo cultivation.
- From the last decades of the eighteenth century indigo cultivation in Bengal expanded rapidly and Bengal indigo came to dominate the world market.
- As the indigo trade grew, commercial agents and officials of the company began investing in indigo production. There were two main systems of indigo cultivation - nij and ryoti.
The "Blue Rebellion" and After
- In March, 1859 thousands of ryots in Bengal refused to grow indigo.
- As the rebellion spread, ryots refused to pay rents to the planters, and attacked indigo factories armed with swords and spears, bows and arrows. Women turned up to fight.
- Those who worked for the planters were socially boycotted, and the gomasthas - agents of planters - who came to collect rent were beaten up.
- Ryots swore they would no longer take advances to sow indigo nor be bullied by the planters' lathiyals - the lathi-wielding strongmen maintained by the planters.
- Worried by the rebellion, the government brought in the military to protect the planters from assault, and set up the Indigo Commission to enquire into the system of indigo production.
- The Commission held the planters guilty, and criticised them for the coercive methods they used with indigo cultivators.
- The Commission asked the ryots to fulfil their existing contracts but also told them that they could refuse to produce indigo in future.
- After the revolt, indigo production collapsed in Bengal, but the planters now shifted their operation to Bihar. With the discovery of synthetic dyes in the late nineteenth century their business was severely affected, but yet they managed to expand production.