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Indigo Cultivation in India

Indigo cultivation in India increased in leaps and bounds. Bengal indigo was very popular all over the world.

Let us look at some statistic to prove the rapid increase in indigo cultivation

  • 1788-30% of the indigo imported into Britain was from India
  • 1810-95% of the indigo imported into Britain was from India
    • As the indigo trade grew, commercial agents and officials of the Company began investing in indigo production.

    • Indigo production became a very profitable business.

    • Many Scotsmen and Englishmen came to India and became indigo planters.

    Classification of Indigo Cultivation

    Indigo cultivation can be classified into two:



    TheNij’ System of Cultivation

    • The planter produced indigo in lands that he directly owned.
    • He either bought the land or rented it from other zamindars and produced indigo by directly employing hired labourers.
    • This system had its set of problems.
    • The planters found it difficult to expand the area under nij cultivation.

    • The planters were only able to get small plots of land which were scattered over a large area.

    • These small plots were not fertile and only fertile land was necessary for indigo cultivation.

    • To make the cultivation profitable the planters needed large areas of land, which was not available to them.

    • Planters also had difficulty in finding labourers for their plantations.

    • Nij cultivation on a large scale required many ploughs and bullocks.
    • A reasonably big Nij plantation needed around 2000 ploughs.
    • Planters were unable to buy and maintain these large quantities of ploughs and bullocks.

    TheRyoti’ System of Cultivation

    • Under the Ryoti system, the planters forced the ryots or peasants to sign a contract.
    • The village headman was also forced to sign an agreement on behalf of the ryots.
    • The peasants received a loan from the planters to cultivate their land. Due to this the peasants were forced to cultivate indigo in 25% of their land.
    • The peasants received seeds and ploughs for cultivation from the Planters.
    • They had to cultivate the crop and harvest it.
    • When the crop was delivered to the planter after the harvest, a new loan was given to the ryots, and the cycle started all over again.

    This system also had its set of problems.

    • The price the peasants or ryots got for the indigo they produced was very low.

    • The cycle of loans never ended.

    • The planters insisted that indigo be cultivated on the best soils in which peasants preferred to cultivate rice.

    • As the Indigo plant had deep roots it exhausted the soil fertility and the land was unfit for rice cultivation.

    Preparation of the Indigo Dye

    (Indian workers stand in waist deep liquid that has a nauseating smell to stir the mixture with sticks).

    A beating vat in an English factor in Bengal.

    The traditional process for making indigo comprised of three stages:

    First: The indigo leaves were fermented in a steeping vat

    Second: Then a liquid was extracted and oxidized in a beating vat

    Third: A blue precipitate was allowed to form from the liquid in a settling vat and then collected, dried, and compacted.

    • The indigo villages were usually around indigo factories owned by the planters.
    • After harvest, the indigo plant was taken to the vats in the indigo factory.

    A ‘vat’ is a huge tub used to store liquid

    • Three or four vats were needed to manufacture the dye.
    • The first vat was used to soak the indigo leaves in warm water for fermenting.

    • The second vat was used to store the clear liquid that is drained after fermenting. Here the liquid is stirred continuously and beaten. Lime water is added and after some days the indigo dye flakes and settles as sediment at the bottom of the vat.

    • The third vat is used to press and dry the sediment. The dye is now ready for sale.

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