Indigo Commission

Indigo Commission was formed following the movement of the raiyats of Bengal against the European indigo planters in the late 1850s. From the beginning, indigo cultivation in Bengal was associated with coercion and oppression. The planters, when they got the right to own land, used the right to force the raiyats to cultivate indigo, and threatened to enhance rent unless raiyats increased its production. Besides, the planters deprived the raiyats of the due price for the crop. The situation deteriorated all the more in the middle of the 19th century, when the price of indigo fell in the international market, following the fall in the price of gold. The indigo raiyats refused to cultivate indigo, but the planters forced them to continue with the production.

This led the raiyats to start organised and violent movement all over Bengal against the indigo planters in 1859. In the face of such a serious movement and public demand for probing the system of indigo cultivation, the government finally appointed the Indigo Commission on 31 March 1860 with WS Seton-Kar as the Chairman. The commission was formed with WS Seton-Kar and R Temple (represented the government), Rev J Sale (represented the Christian missionaries), WF Ferguson (represented the indigo planters) and Chandramohan Chatterjee (represented the zamindars). 134 people (15 government employees, 21 planters, 8 Christian missionaries, 13 zamindars and 77 raiyats) submitted their depositions before the commission from 18 May to 14 August 1860.

The Indigo Commission's report, for the first time, confirmed that the indigo cultivation was associated with various kinds of repression. It revealed how the planters forced the raiyats to receive loan and sign contracts for the indigo cultivation. It further exposed how the planters used their lathials to loot and burn the houses of the recalcitrant raiyats; to seize their draught animals; to bring their most fertile lands into indigo cultivation. The indigo planters deprived the raiyats of just prices for their crop. The commission also corroborated that the police and the magistrates sided with the European planters in their torturous pursuits of indigo cultivation.

Even though the Commission laid blame on the European indigo planters for their extralegal activities, it, however, acknowledged their need for the British empire. Their presence in the far-flung areas of Bengal had political significance. At times of crises, the government could fall back on the planters to suppress anarchy and restore order in the empire.

Although the Indigo Commission recorded the atrocities committed on the raiyats, it did not, however, deem it necessary to enact new laws for their protection. It advised the government not to intervene into the indigo crisis lest it further complicate the issue. The commission suggested that the government should appoint honest police force and competent magistrates to ensure justice in the rural areas.

The intensity of the movement and the report of the Indigo Commission together with the coming of chemically produced indigo in the market were responsible for phasing out the indigo cultivation in Bengal. [Nurul Hossain Choudhury]