Bharat Ek Khoj


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Indigo Revolt
(Episode 44)

Nehru observes that when the English first occupied India, there was a sufficiently developed base of industry and the chief business of the East India Company was to carry Indian manufactured goods like textiles and spices to Europe. With the industrial revolution taking place in England, the Indian market was to be opened to British manufacturers. This exclusion extended to other foreign market as well and the flow of Indian goods was prevented within the country itself. Consequently Indian textile industry collapsed, affecting a vast number of weavers and artisans, followed by other industries like shipbuilding, metalwork, and crafts. Nehru further observes that with the rapidly increasing unemployment and poverty, the class colonial economy built up. Indian then become a predominantly agricultural country supplying row material to industrial England at a low price and in turn, providing a market for England's goods.

The hapless peasants are stopped from cultivating rice and, instead, forced to switch over to indigo, a necessary row material for the British industry, to be purchased at a low price. Refusal is met with stern admonition and even physical torture. The intellectual weapon to counter the evil is a compelling Bengali play Neel Darpan (The Indigo Mirror) by Deenabandhu Mitra. The first scene shows the oppression of a poor peasant by the British contractor, making indigo cultivation obligatory unless he is provided the services of a comely maiden. The second displays the common man's perception of resistance through humour and banter, until the stick-wielding police close down the play already declared illegal. The helpless peasants rue their fate of giving up rice-cultivation in favour of indigo-farming and recall the meaningful efforts of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the noted philanthropist and social feformer. The British officials use Indian spices to collect information on organized resistance. Educated Indians send-petition to British India Association drawing Lord Canning's attention. Meanwhile, the torture-machinery continues unabated to provided punitive punishment to the opposing leaders. The scared villagers villagers maintain stoic silence, till they find the ringleader Madhav torured to death, his corpse thrown into the river and his widow sneering in the in the face dump society. They revolt by setting indigo godowns and houses of the scheming English contractors on fire and rampaging the British property.

Eventully, the Indigo Revolts has the desired impact-making the British stop forced indigo cultivation altogether. Vidyasagar's efforts for widow remarriage, promotion of women's education, abolition of Koolin polygamy and child-marriage are seen.

As Nehru notes, the 19th century saw in India two Englands living side by side: ine of high intellectual attainment and political maturity and the other of savage penal codes and brutal behaviour.