INDIGO CULTIVATION IN BENGAL
In the 1800s, to satisfy the Empire's appetite for indigo Dye, British Indigo Planters beat, raped, tortured, murdered, extorted, and starved Bengali tenant farmers into turning over their rice fields to the cultivation of the indigo Plant.
REBELLION - AND NIL DARPAN
The outrages of the Planters forced an extraordinary revolution in Bengal (known as the Nilbidroha and elsewhere as the 'Blue Mutiny', and the 'Indigo Rebellion'), which forced the Planters out of Bengal. Dinabandhu Mitra's explosive play, Nil Darpan (The Indigo Mirror) exposed the atrocities of the British Planters with astonishing, almost unbearable intensity. When translated into English (reputedly by the poet Michael Madhusan Dutt), the play rocked colonial India.
WHAT IS THE MEMORY OF INDIGO CULTIVATION IN BANGLADESH?
In Bangladesh, the cultivation of indigo remains 'taboo', and the sites of old Indigo production (Nilkuthis) are often thought to be haunted. But what is the collective memory of Indigo Cultivation in Bengal? To what extent does the story of Indigo atrocities affect agriculture in Bangladesh? Tobacco cultivation, which devastates the soil, finds a dark parallel in the Indigo story. An epigraph to a 2007 WHO study on Tobacco Cultivation and Poverty on Bangladesh, reads: ‘When the imperialists were here, we were forced to grow indigo. Now we are tricked into growing tobacco.’ Meanwhile chemical dyes used in the textile industries pollute Bangladesh’s waterways.
RECLAIMING INDIGO FROM A DARK PAST
But recent years have also seen a revival in the cultivation of natural indigo. The indigo plant is a legume that fixes nitrogen in the soil. Social Enterprises like Living Blue have discovered that farming indigo as a cover crop with rice has economic and environmental benefits. Now farmers are ‘reclaiming’ a taboo crop from the stigma of a dark past.