Social Scientist. v 9, no. 98-99 (Sept-Oct 1980) p. 67.


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Features of British Indigo in India

PRIOR to the British dominance in Bengal, indigo was cultivated and processed primarily in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Lahore, Oudh and Agra. The dye was consumed domestically, and was exported in early times to the Roman Empire and Europe. The export of indigo dye from India expanded during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century when Indian indigo attracted European traders. The contraction of Indian indigo export during the late seventeenth century has been attributed to the competition from West Indian indigo; the latter is presumed to have been produced by a superior technology.1

Around 1780*3, along with the British dominance in Bengal, the following situation existed: 1) The East India Company, its servants and private British traders were eager to develop a regular means of remittance to transfer their wealth and pay for imports, 2) Only a primary commodity could be exported because the export of manufactured goods from India elicited resistance from British manufacturers. 3) Although Bengal opium was exported to China to pay for British tea imports, no other primary commodity produced in Bengal was suitable for remittance. This was either because of the domestic scarcity or the international price disadvantage of such commodities. 4) West Indian planters had switched from indigo to more profitable coffee and sugar. 5) The supply of indigo from other sources such as America and Guatemala was uncertain due to the prevailing hostilities. 6) The demand for indigo was rising in Europe both due to fashion as well as increased warfare.

Under these conditions, the export of indigo from India was an obvious choice for the British. A not-so-obvious British policy however was to promote British plantation in Bengal and Bihar, the two provinces which had practically no prior experience in the commercial production of indigo.3 Another aspect of the same policy was to discriminate against upper Indian (UI) indigo pro-



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