The East India Company’s opium trade pushed Indian farmers into poverty
When she looks at the seed of opium as never seen before, and then suddenly realizes that it did not come from another planet, it is itself a small sphere that is very beautiful, very compassionate but equally destructive. Which is also very transformative.
The era of the novel is when three million farmers in northern India used to grow opium. Twenty-five to fifty percent of these farmers’ income was from opium. By the end of the nineteenth century, the present Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had been affected by the cultivation of opium, one crore population.
Thousands of people worked in two opium factories based in the Ganga, where they dried up this white liquid and made their small cakes and locked them in wooden boxes.
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The opiate trade was solely for the East India Company, which had a monopoly of trade in Asia under the British Charter. The government-backed opium business rose to prominence after two wars with China.
Hulton Archive Views of an opiate factory in northern India
Some historians have tried to prove that the opium business was beneficial to India’s rural economy, which farmers were happy with, but a recent study has rejected that stance.
Dr Rolf Biswas, a professor at the University of Vienna, has proved in his research that opium cultivation was not profitable for Indian farmers and they were not happy with it.
Dr. Biswas studied the opioid business documents for years. He has also studied the report published in seven volumes of the Royal Commission of Oppeam.
This report attempts to find the answers to twenty-eight thousand questions. The report also recorded the testimonies of thousands of witnesses about the use of opium in India, and studied how the colonial powers controlled the production and use of opium.
Dr. Biswas has published his research in ‘The Patient Production of Opium in Nineteenth Century India’. Dr Biswas’s research concludes that opium trade was largely exploitative, which pushed Indian farmers into poverty.
Dr Biswas told the BBC that it was not profitable for the farmers to grow opium and that they would be better off if they were not forced to cultivate opium.
The East India Company had a monopoly on the opium business. The East India Company had set up an opium agency for opium production, with two and a half thousand clerks operating in ten different offices.
The opium clerk used to force farmers to contract opium cultivation. Opium agency employees were treated like police officers.
Farmers received a commission for producing opium (weighing system) opium.
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Insider view of BBC opium factory
Under government control, this business flourished and where in the early nineteenth century only four thousand opium boxes were produced, they increased to 60,000 in 1880.
Dr. Biswas says opium was the second largest source of income for the British state in the nineteenth century. The British Raj had more than opium in taxes only.
India is still the largest producer of opiates required for pharmaceuticals.
Dr Biswas says opium cultivation has had a negative impact on the lives of millions. The East India Company issued interest-free loans to the opium farmers, and the farmers were not authorized to obtain money by any other means.
This was not a bad thing to do for the creation of the global market, but according to Dr. Biswas, what was bad was the essential things needed for opium production, which included the high cost of labor, rent, fertilizer, irrigation. The result was that the farmer was more profitable in selling opium than he was in selling the opium, and then stuck in a debt trap where it was impossible for him to escape.
The OPIM agency set opiate cultivation targets for farmers, resulting in the small farmer not having the facility to stop opium cultivation and adopt other profitable crops.
It was necessary for the farmers to allocate a portion of their land and labor to government exports.
Local landowners forced their landless losers to cultivate opium, and those who tried to evade these orders would face risks such as kidnapping, arrest, or destruction of crops.
Dr. Biswas says that there was an oppressive system of forcing farmers to cultivate opium.
At that time, China’s largest market for opium had ended its trade with China by 1915, but Britain’s monopoly on opium cultivation continued until India’s independence.
But what is shocking to Dr. Biswas is how ‘how a few thousand clerks forced millions of farmers to cultivate a crop that actually hurt them’.