Through her eyes


Image courtesy; Chris Lofqvist
Image courtesy; Chris Lofqvist

When I watch the blood red sunset on the horizon, I am reminded of the scores of my brothers and sisters that the two legged creatures have killed for no good reason. It is almost as if their blood has mingled with the red setting sun to create this visual dance of death.

Was it our fault that our hunting grounds were depleted due to the heavy rains some years ago [Link to article]. Is it our fault that the two legged creatures continuously keep taking up more and more space for their livelihood and farming which effectively reduces our area of hunting for prey? What do we do when we are hungry and angry, we lose our cool and end up attacking them in self defense [Link to article]. For hundreds of years now, they have hunted us for our skins, our teeth, our claws, and our numbers have depleted so much that we only exist in 100s today all over the world.

Wonder when the two legged creatures will ever learn to respect Mother Nature and live in harmony with it.

Who am I ? I am Maya, the Royal Bengal Tigress who survived all that nature had to throw my way, including these meddlesome two legged creatures.

And these are my thoughts when I see the sun set over the horizon.

Image courtesy: wikipedia
Image courtesy: wikipedia

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This post has been written for Cognitive Reflection : Picture Writing Challenge # 15 where the post had to be based on the picture at the top of the post.

 

The Blue blooded peasants


indigo

 

By 1777, the Industrial Revolution had picked up enough steam in Great Britain that the demand for colored dye to color cotton textiles was at its highest. Sensing a huge business opportunity from this, Louis Bonard, an entrepreneurial businessman from London set sail for the exotic Eastern shores of India.

When he reached India after a particularly tortuous sea journey of around 5 months, his first order of action was to tap into his bureaucratic contacts at The East India Company at Calcutta on the eastern side of India. Louis had read reports in British newspapers that the Nawab of Bengal was especially favorable to the British and had granted them lots of concessions in the form of reduced taxes, access to land and the peasants tilling the land, etc. His idea was to convince a significant proportion of the peasants to cultivate indigo which was the primary raw material for blue dye for cotton textiles, purchase it from them and then export the same to Britain and other European countries for a profit.

If conducted properly, this business venture had the potential to convert Louis into a millionaire business in a short span of time and he could then retire in luxury, go back to London, settle down and join one of those ‘red nosed’ high society gentlemen’s’ clubs which were so fashionable in those days.

The Indigo Plantation Act passed by the British Government recently gave British citizens the permission to grow indigo in any tracts of land owned by them or The East India Company. Using this Act, Louis was probably the first indigo planter in India, by virtue of having convinced quite a few landowners in the villages near Nadia, Maimansinga, Jessore, Khulna and others. What was especially beneficial for the indigo planters like Louis was the fact that they only had to pay 2.5% of the market price of indigo to the farmers. This meant that apart from the cost of transportation of the indigo from India to Europe which would anyway be covered by the remaining 97.5%, the profits made from this venture would be nothing short of a fortune.

Haricharan Biswas was one such peasant whose landowner forced him to cultivate indigo in the place of rice. It was not the landowner’s fault as he was strong armed by representatives of the indigo planters known as lathiyals. These lathiyals were nothing but paid strong arm men and goons hired by these indigo planters for a monthly wage, and this category of people had loyalty to only one person, the one who paid the highest wages for their activities. One fine day, the lathiyals had barged into the landowner’s house and had informed him that from the next crop onwards, he had to plant indigo and that was how it would be going forward. The landowner had no other option but to agree and he therefore ordered Haricharan to cultivate indigo going forward.

What was worse than the price paid by the planters was the fact that they would also double up as money lenders to the farmers and give them money at exorbitant rates of interest. Given that the farmers were uneducated and that an organized financial system did not exist in the region in those days meant that the farmers had no option but to take these loans and cultivate the land. After all, they had families and children to feed and bring up and expensive loans were better than begging for the same.

As time went by Haricharan’s loans kept multiplying in interest and principal and as was the norm in those days, his son Bishnucharan inherited these from his father at a young age of 17 yrs, when Haricharan died after a long, hard and arduous life of indigo cultivation.

Then, in 1857, the Sepoy Mutiny (the credit of starting which went to Mangal Pandey according to some sources) worried the British Government sitting in London. The bad publicity that the Mutiny received all over the world, and more importantly in India itself ensured that the Govt. went into damage control mode and all attempts were made to ensure that nothing of this sort ever happened again.

However, youngsters such as Bishnucharan were so enthused by the news that Indian sepoys had managed to bring down the mighty British Govt. down to its knees simply by ensuring effective collective action. This was probably the first time in recent times that Indians had gotten together to fight the mighty British Empire and its exploitative rules, and this ignited popular imagination all over the country. There was a new found air of confidence in the youngsters of the day.

Bishnu had spent all his life watching his father struggle to make ends meet with the meager income earned by cultivating indigo, and what was worse was the fact that his landowner despite knowing of these struggles could do nothing about it. After all, he was also under the mighty yoke of the indigo planters who in any case, had a reputation for seeing nothing but profits and more profits in any of their dealings, either with the landowners or the farmers in the form of loans lent out to them. As if this weren’t enough, Bishnu also had to bear the burden of all the earlier loans that his father had taken to ensure that his mother, his brothers and he received at least one square meal a day. A lifetime of anger lay simmering within Bishnu and he wasn’t quite sure as to when it would all come out.

All this while a silent rebellion was brewing in Bengal and in particular the regions of Nadia and Maimansinga. The indigo farmers, encouraged by the relative success of The Sepoy Mutiny slowly started grouping themselves in small groups and had decided to take effective collective action to improve their lot in life by rebelling against the indigo planters. In March 1859, led by Bishnucharan Biswas, his brother Digambar Biswas and a few others, the indigo farmers raided the closest police station and armed themselves with firearms. They then proceeded to the closest indigo planter’s house,  Thomas Saunders, threatened him with dire consequences if he didn’t co-operate and took him to their village. At the village, they then held a trial for his crimes of paying an extremely low price for the indigo they cultivated, charging exorbitant rates of interest for loans lent by him, and declared him guilty of these crimes. They then pronounced the sentence, to be hung by death, and then proceeded to lynch him from the closest tree.

Thus, began what was popularly termed “The Blue Revolution” or “The Indigo Revolts” in India. The movement spread to almost all of Bengal (including Bangladesh in those days) and jolted the British Govt. to take aggressive and assertive action. The years 1859 and 1860 were especially violent with news of indigo planters being slaughtered and lynched becoming common place. Even the landowners sympathized with the farmers knowing their suffering; most of them mobilized the indigo farmers and actively fought the lathiyals and the indigo planters.

The revolt finally subsided after a lot of bloodshed on both sides. While the British Govt. had used their military might actively, the indigo farmers also extracted their pound of flesh by various clandestine means and their ability to quickly and aggressively attack their antagonists. In the face of the violence, the British Govt. was forced to set up the Indigo Commission in 1860 which clearly brought out the facts regarding the oppression faced by the indigo farmers out in the public domain. An Act was then passed, which made it optional for farmers to opt out of cultivating indigo which was the logical conclusion for which the revolts had originally started.

By 1860 Louis Bonard had been long dead, having made his money from indigo, and lived a luxurious retired life with an abundance of wealth, riches and gluttony which would have made even the Queen of England cringe with shame. Little did he realize that he would be unleashing almost 100 yrs of oppression on Bengali farmers when he obtained permission to cultivate indigo there.

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While the backdrop of this particular story is set in fact, the Indigo Revolts [Link to Wikipedia article], a lot of fiction has been added to the same to embellish the story. Consequently, it is not my intention to defame or hurt any characters, incidents or events by this post.

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Image courtesy: Google images search for “Indigo Revolt India 1860”

The one piece of paper…


This is a story set in Bengal of 1773, immediately after a famine [Link to Wikipedia article]. While the basis of the story is in fact, a lot of fiction has been added to the same to make it more interesting. I take no responsibility for the accuracy or the authenticity of the story and all resemblances to any characters factual or fictional is purely co-incidental.

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bengalfamine

It was 1773. After 4 long years of famine in Bengal, finally the East India Company succumbing to public pressure from the rest of the country ordered the Governor General of Bengal to start issuing “Food Passes” to the genuinely poor and needy people of Bengal.

As is the case with most public distribution systems in the country, the East India Company too had its share of internal corruption and nepotism. Instead of actually distributing the Food Passes to the really needy and poor people, the Company officials starting selling these clandestinely. And who were buying them? The wealthy landowners and zamindars. Why? So that their tenants and laborers who belonged to the poorest of the poor would end up groveling at their feet for these Passes and could also be forced to work on their lands for free for a long time in return for these Passes.

Subroto hadn’t always been a poor tenant farmer. In fact, just 6 yrs ago he actually had 6 acres of land that was his own. He used to grow rice there and was just about able to make his ends meet. He had enough rice for his family of 6, and still enough left behind to sell and make a modest profit. Everything was going fine for Subroto until the East India Company mandated that his 6 acres along with the adjoining 145+ acres of land were earmarked for Indigo cultivation and that the land would have to be written off to the Company.

When Subroto protested, the Company ‘enforcers’ ensured that he met with an ‘accident’ which left him with a permanent limp and the inability to stand up without the help of a stick. With such a handicap, walking itself was a big challenge for Subroto, let alone farming his land. In this situation, Subroto had no option but to give up the land to the Company for a paltry sum.

The famine had taken its toll on his family. Only his last son, Munna and he were alive of his family of 6 members. So when Subroto heard the news about the Food Passes, he made the long trip to Calcutta to the Company offices. There he was informed that the Passes for the people of Birbhum, his region, had exhausted and that there were no more Passes available.

The fact that Subroto was educated enough and could clearly see the Food Passes kept on the table in front of him was lost out on the Company official. Despite being angered by the falsehood, Subroto had learnt enough about the Company and its deceitful ways from his earlier encounters with them. This time around, he decided to play his cards differently. He just nodded and went outside the office.

Once outside, he went around the office to the side of the building where the officer’s chamber with the Passes were. He then inconspicuously sat down near the window waiting for the right time to make his move. Around noon, when he heard the officer leave his chambers for lunch, he lifted his 4 yr old son up and asked him to squeeze himself through the bars of the window, which was quite easy considering that his son was skeleton thin following the famine. Once his son got into the chamber, Subroto asked him to pick up as many of the Food Passes that he could and hand them over. Once this was done, his son squeezed back into his father’s waiting hands.

Subroto was determined not to let the Company have its way with the Food Passes, at least with the 100 odd ones that he had stolen. He went back to Birbhum and started distributing these among the poorest of the poor and ensured that the local granaries supplied the allocated quota of food grains to the recipients without any shortage thereof. This campaign of his endeared him greatly to the locals who started considering him a sort of a ‘local Robin Hood’.

The Food Pass, this was the one piece of paper which enabled Subroto to change his life completely and devote himself to fighting the evils that the East India Company had brought down upon India.

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This story was inspired by this Daily Prompt. All comments, criticisms, suggestions for improvement are welcome.

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Image courtesy: Google images search for ‘bengal famine of 1770’

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This story has also been published as a Guest Post at 1 Hundred Works [Link to post]