Peasants Movements 1857-1947

v  Introduction

  • Ø  Peasant Struggles

§  In these struggles, the peasants emerged as the main force, fighting directly for their own demands.

§  The movements in the period between 1858 and 1914 tended to remain localised, disjointed and confined to particular grievances, contrary to the movements after 1914.

  • Ø  Causes of the Movements

§  Peasant Atrocities: The peasants suffered from high rents, illegal levies, arbitrary evictions and unpaid labour in Zamindari areas. The Government levied heavy land revenue.

§  Massive Losses for Indian Industries: The movements arose when British economic policies resulted in the ruin of traditional handicrafts and other small industries leading to change of ownership and overburdening of agrarian land, and massive debt and impoverishment of peasantry.

§  Unfavourable Policies: The economic policies of British government used to protect the landlords and moneylenders and exploited the peasants. The peasants rose in revolt against this injustice on many occasions.

  • Ø  Rise of Peasant Organisations

§  Between 1920 and 1940 peasant organisations arose.

§  The first organisation to be founded was the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (1929) and in 1936 the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).

§  In 1936, at the Lucknow session of the Congress, All India Kisan Sabha was formed with Sahajanand as its first president.

§  It later issued a Kisan manifesto which demanded abolition of zamindari and occupancy rights for all tenants

  • v  19th Peasant Movements (Pre-Gandhian Phase)
  • Ø  Indigo Rebellion (1859-62):

§  In order to increase their profits, the European planters persuaded the peasants to plant Indigo instead of food crops.

§  The farmers were discontent growing indigo because:

o   Low prices were offered for growing indigo.

o   Indigo was not lucrative.

o   Indigo planting decreased the fertility of the soil.

§  The peasants suffered at the hands of the traders and the middleman. Consequently, they launched a movement for non cultivation of indigo in Bengal.

§  They were supported by the press and the missionaries.

o   Harish Chandra Mukherjee, a Bengali Journalist, described the plight of peasants of Bengal in his newspaper ‘The Hindu Patriot’.

o   Dinabandhu Mitra, Bengali writer and dramatist, in his play ‘Nil Darpan’ depicted the treatment of the Indian peasantry by the indigo planters. It was first published in 1860.

His play created a huge controversy which was later banned by the East India Company to control the agitation among the Indians.

§  The government appointed an Indigo Commission and issued an order in November 1860, notifying that it was illegal to force the ryots to cultivate indigo.

o   This marked the victory for the peasants.

  • Ø  Pabna Movement (1870s-80s)

§  In larger parts of Eastern Bengal, landlords forcefully collected rents and land taxes, often enhanced for the poor peasants.

§  The peasants were also prevented from acquiring Occupancy Right under Act X of 1859.

§  In May 1873 an Agrarian League was formed in the Yusufshahi Pargana of Pabna district, Patna (East Bengal).

o   Rent strikes were organised, funds were raised and the struggle spread throughout Patna and to other districts of East Bengal.

o   The struggle was mainly legal resistance and little violence.

§  The discontent continued till 1885 when the Government by the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 enhanced the occupancy rights.

§  The struggle was supported by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt and the Indian Association under Surendranath Banerjea.

  • Ø  Deccan Riots (1875):

§  The Deccan peasants uprising was directed mainly against the excesses of the Marwari and Gujarati money lenders.

§  The ryots suffered heavy taxation under the Ryotwari system. The land revenue was also raised by 50% in 1867.

§  Social Boycott: In 1874, the ryots organised a social boycott movement against the moneylenders.

o   They refused to buy from the moneylenders’ shops and cultivate their fields.

o   The barbers, washer men, and shoemakers refused to serve them.

§  This social boycott spread rapidly to the villages of Poona, Ahmednagar, Solapur and Satara and was transformed into agrarian riots with systematic attacks on the moneylenders’ houses and shops.

§  The Government succeeded in repressing the movement. As a conciliatory measure, the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act was passed in 1879.

  • v  20 Century Peasant Movements (Gandhian Phase)
  • Ø  Champaran Satyagraha (1917):

§  The peasantry on the indigo plantations in the Champaran district of Bihar was excessively oppressed by the European planters and compelled to grow indigo on at least 3/20 of their land and sell it at prices fixed by the planters.

§  In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi reached Champaran and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the condition of the peasantry.

§  He defied the orders of district officials for leaving Champaran.

§  In June 1917, the Government appointed an enquiry committee with Gandhiji as one of the members.

o   The enactment of the Champaran Agrarian Act, 1918 freed the tenants from the special imposts levied by the indigo planters.

  • Ø  Kheda Satyagraha (1918)

§  It was chiefly directed against the Government.

§  In 1918, the crops failed in the Kheda district of Gujarat but the government refused to remit land revenue and insisted on its full collection.

§  Gandhiji along with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel supported the peasants and advised them to withhold payment of revenues till their demand for its remission was met.

§  The satyagraha lasted till June 1918. The Government conceded the demands of the peasants.

  • Ø  Moplah Rebellion (1921):

§  The Moplahs were the Muslim tenants inhabiting the Malabar region where most of the landlords were Hindus.

§  Their grievances centred around lack of security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees and other oppressive exactions.

§  The Moplah movement merged with the ongoing Khilafat agitation.

o    Mahatma Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad addressed Moplah meetings.

§  Many Hindus were seen by the Moplahs to be helping the British authorities. The anti-government and anti-landlord movement acquired communal overtones.

o    Communalisation isolated the Moplah from the Khilafat & Non-Cooperation Movement.

§  The movement was called off by December 1921.

  • Ø  Bardoli Satyagraha (1928):

§  Enhancement of land revenue by 30% in the Bardoli district of Gujarat by the British government led to the organisation of a ‘No-Revenue Campaign’ by the Bardoli peasants under the leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel.

§  A woman in Bardoli gave Vallabhbhai Patel the title of ‘Sardar’.

§  Unsuccessful attempts of the British to suppress the movement by large scale attachment of cattle and land resulted in the appointment of an enquiry committee.

§  The enquiry came to the conclusion that the increase had been unjustified and reduced the enhancement to 6.03%.

  • v  Significance of the Movements

§  Awareness among the Indians: Though these revolts were not aimed at uprooting the British rule from India, they created awareness among the Indians.

o   The peasants developed a strong awareness of their legal rights and asserted them in and outside the courts.

§  Inspired other Revolts: They felt a need to organise and fight against exploitation and oppression.

o   These rebellions prepared the ground for various other uprisings such as Sikh Wars in Punjab and finally the Revolt of 1857.

§  Unity Among the Peasantry: Because of the non-differentiation in the peasantry, and the all-embracing nature of the anti imperialist struggle, the Peasant Movement was able to unite all sections of the peasantry including the landless laborers and its anti-feudal and anti-imperialist crusade.

§  Peasants’ Voices were Heard: Due to the peasants fighting directly for their own demands, their voices were heard.

o   In the Indigo rebellion, Bardoli Satyagraha, Pabna movement and Deccan riots, the demands of peasants were responded to.

o   Formation of various Kisan Sabhas to hear the peasants{sin-quite} demands during the Non Cooperation Movement.

§  Growth of Nationalism: The ideology of non-violence had given much strength to the peasants who participated in the movement.  The movement also contributed to the growth of nationalism.

§  Encouraged Post-Independence Reforms: These movements created an atmosphere for post- independence agrarian reforms, for instance, ’abolition of Zamindari.

They eroded the power of the landed class, thus adding to the transformation of the agrarian structure.


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