Towards the end of the 18th century, the East India Company was trying to expand its Indigo cultivation in India to support the growing textile industry in England.
There were two systems of indigo cultivation namely nij and ryoti being practiced. Nij constituted less than 25% of the total land under indigo cultivation and ryoti constituted 75%.
Under nij cultivation system, indigo was grown on lands directly under the control of the planters who either rented or purchased it from zamindars and then hired labourers to work on it.
The planters were finding it difficult to expand indigo plantations under this system as the indigo cultivation needed fertile lands, most of which were already densely populated. It also required a large compact area and only small scattered plots of land were available.
The time for indigo cultivation coincided with that of rice cultivation causing another hindrance.
In the ryoti system, cultivators or ryots were forced to sign an agreement called satta and were given loans at low interest rates to grow indigo.
Though initially the low interest rates looked attractive, the ryots weren’t getting a good price for their indigo and so were unable to repay the loan. After an indigo harvest, the ryots were unable to grow rice on these fields which was very unprofitable for the ryots.
The indigo cultivators were exploited by the planters, which eventually led to a revolt in 1859.