They were forced by planters to sow indigo in the field selected by planters. Ryots were cheated in weight and measure as well.
Value of revenue stamps used for the agreement, the cost of seed supplied by planters were deducted and the ryots would not only get nothing in hand but would actually end up owing money to the planter on account of advances given.
Such situation was created where ryots were never able to pay back the advances to the indigo planters, which was to be paid back as indigo produce.
Hence the vicious cycle of debt was created to almost enslave and force the farmers to cultivate indigo. All outstanding were transferred to dependents/wards of royts. This created a category of bonded labour.
The prices of indigo were not revised, although the cost of its production doubled. Formation of Indigo Planter’s Association further worsened the situation and added to oppression of indigo farmers and increased atrocities on them.
The condition of royts further worsened when planters secured zamindari rights and raised the reign of terror in Indigo area.
Planters enjoyed privileges and immunities and were to be tried only by Supreme Court at Calcutta that too by British Magistrate/Judge.
They initially enjoyed legislative protection through Regulation V of 1830 that made any breach of indigo contracts by ryots as a liable/offence. Although it was replaced in 1835, it continued to remain in force in actual practice.
Constant physical coercion and legal manipulation and inability of farmers to grow food grains for their own land caused lot of discontent amongst peasants.
This also caught attention of Harish Chandra Mukherjee (editor of ‘Hindu Patriot’), Ram Gopal Ghose (Amrit Bazar Patrika) and many other intectuals who supported the cause of cultivators through their writings.
‘Nil Darpan’, a Bengali play written by Dinbandhu Mitra highlighted the plight of peasants. It further evoked sympathy for indigo farmers. Even missionaries gave active support to Indigo royts.
In the mean time two brothers Bishnu Charan Biswas and Digambar Biswas, ex-emloyees of Company like true leaders started organizing peasants.
It was under their leadership that the ryots of Govindpur village in Nadia district mustered sufficient strength and unanimously vowed non-cultivator of indigo. Within two years a movement was built on similar lines throughout Nadia district.
In April 1860 cultivators of the Barasat sub-division and in Pabna and Nadia resorted to first general strike in the history of Indian Peasantry. They refused to sow any indigo.
They withdrew their labour and resisted repression of the planters. Newspaper like ‘Bengalee’ and ‘Amrit Bazar Patrika’ widely covered the movement.
Government was forced to appoint commission of inquiry to examine the situation and submit its report. Indigo commission submitted its report on 27th August 1860 that heavily weighted in favour of planters.
Most recommendation was accepted by government and was embodied in Act VI of 1862. Inspite of government efforts, plantation on indigo was doomed in Bengal.
However, it continued in Bihar. Indigo rebellion was great victory for popular will expressed through combined action.
(b) Mopplah Uprising (1875):
Second half of 19th century witnessed new phase of Mopplah uprising that was essentially targeted against the jenmi landlords.
This involved looting of the property and burning of houses and even defiling Hindu temples.
It was given a commercial colouring by colonial rulers who initiated enquiry on the basis of anonymous petition submitted by Mopplah peasant in 1875 to Madras Government to arrive at the conclusion of branding the rebellion on Communal line.
The Hostilities were renewed betweenl882-85 and the conflict changed its colour from class conflict to assume communal orientation by 1896, with the help of British interpretation of uprising.
(c) Pabna Rebellion (1873-85):
Act X of 1859 provided ryots with immunity from eviction. Zamandari rents had increased seven folds since 1793 to 1872.
Landlords enhanced rent through imposition of variety of awabas (cesses). The attempts of Zamindars to annihilate the tenants newly acquired occupancy rights and to convert them into tenants at will, through forcible written agreement resulted into harassment and atrocities that was vehemently opposed by peasants under the leadership of Ishan Chandra Roy and Shambhunath Pal etc.
In 1873, peasants of Yusufshai paragana of Pabna organized an agrarian league which raised funds to mitigate litigation expenses, held mass meetings to which villagers were called by sounding of buffalo horns, drums etc.
Peasants did not object to hike in rent. In fact the Agrarian league founded in Yusufshahi pargana in Pabna district in 1873 spread very fast and they wanted to become ‘Queens’s Ryots’ for securing redressal of their grievances.
Pabna uprising is rarest example where peasants did not defy colonial authority and as a matter of fact wanted to become ryots of the Queen.
Pabna rebellion is a landmark since it brought about change is perception between individual rights of Zamindar and peasants respectively.
Attempts were made to paint the movement with communal colour since majority of peasant activists were Muslims and Pabna has 70% Muslim population.
However such attempt is diluted by the fact that two of their prominent leaders. Ishan Chandra Roy (landlord) Shambhunath Pal (village headman) was Hindus Khoodimulla (Muslim jotedar) was another important leader.
(d) Deccan Riots or the Maratha Peasants Uprising (1875):
The uprising was direct outcome of the exploitative nature of Ryotwari System and over assessment associated with it.
Cotton boom of 1860’s was abruptly cut short by fall in prices due to end of American Civil War (1861-64).
In 1867, Government raised the revenue by 50% this further increased the distress among the cultivators since end of American Civil War in 1864 caused huge decline in cotton export.
The overall result of such changes was that the farmer became a debtor-cultivator. Government recovered its debt by resorting to mortgage of land. The moneylender who charged high interest on loans (25-50%) recovered their debt by all moral, immoral, legal and illegal means.
In fact in many cases they compelled the farmer/cultivator to pledge the honour of their family by sending their women folk to the chambers of money-lender.
Increase in transfer of holdings from peasants to money-lender set stage for class conflict with landless, dislocated debtor-cultivator (Kunbis) comprising majority of village on one side and village money lenders (Vanis) comprising of Marwari and Gujarati money-lenders on other side.
The trouble started in village Kardeh in Senur taluka in December, 1874 when a Marwari money-lender.
Kalooran obtained a decree of eviction against Baba Saheb Deshmukh a cultivator in debt to him for Rs.150. This further polarized the class/caste differences between the Vanis and Kunbis.
Cultivators of Kardih village decided to boycott money-lenders socially and economically which forced the latter to leave the village.
Soon the passive resistance spread to other villages of Poona and Ahmadnagar turned violent on 12th May peasant gathered in suba in Bhimthan taluqa on the bazaar day and began a systematic attack on the money-lenders, houses and shops.
The riot took the form of forcible seizure of debt bonds. Riots were significantly uncommon in areas where money-lenders were not outsiders but local petty landholders or rich peasants element turning to usury and trade (like the khots in Ratnagiri).
The riot resulted in breakdown of link that held Kunbi and Vanis together. Government had to rush police and Army to control the situation and the uprising was completely suppressed (1875).
The young Brahmin leaders of Poona Sarvajanik Sabha took up the cause of the Peasants. Government appointed the Deccan Riot Commission to investigate into the causes/course of uprising.
The Commission later revealed that about l/3rd of the occupants of government land were burdened with debts which averaged about 18 times their annual assessment.
Nearly 2/3rd of the debt was secured by mortgage of land. Nearly l/8th of the occupation were transferred to money-lender.
These observations of the Commission acts as indicator of the plight of the cultivators. Under this background Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act, 1879 was passed.
It provided some limited protection to better off peasant through strengthing judicial procedure and remedies. But had limited impact on the life of cultivators, who continued to suffer.