Chapter 3. Ruling Countryside

Company Becomes Diwan
• On 12 August 1765, Mughal emperor appointed East India Company as Diwan of Bengal. actual event most probably took place in Robert Clive’s tent, with a few Englishmen and Indians as witnesses.
• As Diwan, Company became chief financial administrator of territory under its control. Now, it had to think of administering land and organising its revenue resources.
• This had to be done in a way that could yield enough revenue to meet growing expenses of company. A trading company had to ensure that it could buy products it needed and sell what it wanted.
• Over years Company learnt that it had to move with some caution. Being an alien power, it needed to pacify those who in past had ruled countryside and enjoyed authority and prestige.

Revenue for Company
• company’s goal was to raise revenue so it could purchase beautiful cotton and silk cloth at a low cost. value of commodities purchased by Company in Bengal doubled in five years.
• Company, before 1865, purchased goods in India by importing gold and silver from Britain. Now it was financed by revenue collected in Bengal. Artisanal production was in decline and agricultural cultivation showed signs of collapse. Then in 1770, a terrible famine killed ten million people in Bengal.

need to improve agriculture
• Permanent Settlement was introduced by Company in 1793. rajas and taluqdars were recognised as zamindars under terms of agreement and were required to collect rent from peasants and send revenue to Company.
• amount to be paid was set in stone. This agreement would assure a steady flow of revenue into Company’s coffers while encouraging zamindars to invest in land’s improvement.

Problem
• Permanent Settlement, however, created problems. Company’s officials soon discovered that zamindars were in fact not investing in improvement of land. revenue that had been fixed was so high that zamindars found it difficult to pay. Anyone who failed to pay revenue lost his zamindari. Numerous zamindaris were sold off at auctions organised by Company.
• situation had changed by first decade of 19th century. Market prices increased and agriculture gradually extended. zamindars were not interested in improving land.
• cultivator in villages felt system to be terribly burdensome. They got a loan from a moneylender because rent they paid to zamindar was too high and when they failed to pay rent, they were evicted off land.

A new system
• Officials from company decided to restructure revenue system. new system, which went into force in 1822, was designed by Holt Mackenzie in North Western Provinces of Bengal [most of area is now in Uttar Pradesh]. Collectors travelled from village to village, checking land, measuring fields and recording customs and rights of various groups, all under his orders.
• To compute income that each village [mahal] had to pay, expected revenue of each plot within a village was totaled up. desire was to be reviewed on a regular basis rather than being set in stone.
• village headman, not zamindar, was in responsibility of collecting revenue and paying it to Company. mahalwari settlement was name given to this system.

Munro system
• In British territories in south, a new system was devised called ryotwar [or ryotwari]. This system was gradually extended all over south India [started by Captain Alexander Reed and developed by Thomas Munro]. settlement had to be made directly with cultivators [ryots] who had tilled land for generations.
• Their fields had to be carefully and separately surveyed before revenue assessment was made.
• In order to increase income from land, revenue officials fixed high revenue demand. Peasants who were unable to pay ryots fled countryside and villages became deserted in many regions. Optimistic officials had imagined that new systems would transform peasants into rich enterprising farmers. But this did not happen.

Crops for Europe
• Company attempted to develop opium and indigo cultivation in late 18th century. In other parts of India, Company pushed cultivators to grow other crops: jute in Bengal, tea in Assam, sugarcane in United Provinces [now Uttar Pradesh], wheat in Punjab, cotton in Maharashtra and Punjab and rice in Madras.

Does colour have a history?
• rich blue colour was produced from a plant known as indigo. blue dye used in Morris prints, in nineteenth-century Britain, manufactured from indigo plants cultivated in India. India was biggest supplier of indigo in world at that time.

Why demand for Indian indigo?
• indigo plant grows in tropics most of time. By 1300s, indigo from India was being used to colour cloth in Italy, France, and Britain. But there wasn’t much Indian indigo on European market, and it was very expensive. So, people who made clothes in Europe had to use a plant called woad to make violet and blue dyes.
• dye made from indigo was a deep blue, while dye made from woad was pale and dull. By end of 18th century, there was even more demand for Indian indigo. Indigo was in high demand, but supplies from West Indies and United States ran out for a number of reasons. amount of indigo made in world fell by half between 1783 and 1789.

Britain turns to India
• Faced with rising demand for indigo in Europe, Company in India looked for ways to expand area under indigo cultivation. Gradually, indigo trade grew, so commercial agents and officials of Company began investing in indigo production. Company officials were attracted by prospect of high profits and came to India to become indigo planters.

How was indigo cultivated?
• Two main systems of indigo cultivation – nij and ryoti. Within system of nij cultivation, planter produced indigo in lands that cultivator directly controlled. He either bought land or rented it from other zamindars and produced indigo by directly employing hired labourers.

problem with nij cultivation
• Planters found it difficult to expand area under nij cultivation. Indigo could only be grown on fertile ground. Planters wanted to lease land near indigo factory in order to remove peasants.
• Nij farming on a huge scale necessitated a large number of ploughs and bullocks. Planters were hesitant to expand area under nij cultivation until late 19th century.

Indigo on land of ryots
• planters were compelled to sign a contract, or agreement, under ryoti system [satta]. Those who accepted contract received low-interest monetary advances from planters in order to produce indigo.
• A new loan was approved when harvested crop was delivered to planter and cycle began all over again. Peasants quickly realised how inefficient lending system was. soil could not be seeded with rice after an indigo harvest.

The ‘Blue Rebellion’ and After
• In March 1859, thousands of ryots in Bengal refused to grow indigo. As rebellion spread, ryots refused to pay rents to planters and attacked indigo factories armed with swords and spears, bows & arrows.
• Women turned up to fight with pots, pans & kitchen implements. Those who worked for planters were socially boycotted and 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 planters’ lathiyals – lathi-wielding strongmen maintained by planters.
• In many villages, headmen who had been forced to sign indigo contracts, mobilised indigo peasants and fought pitched battles with lathiyals. In other places even zamindars went around villages urging ryots to resist planters. These zamindars were unhappy with increasing power of planters and angry at being forced by planters to give them land on long leases.
• After Revolt of 1857, British Government was worried about possibility of another popular rebellion. As rebellion spread, intellectuals from Calcutta rushed to indigo districts. government set up Indigo Commission to enquire into system of indigo production. Commission asked ryots to fulfil their existing contracts but told them that they could refuse to produce indigo in future.
• Indigo production collapsed in Bengal, after revolt and planters now shifted to Bihar.
• When Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa, a peasant from Bihar persuaded him to visit Champaran and see plight of indigo cultivators. In 1917, he visited Bihar which marked beginning of Champaran Movement against indigo planters.

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