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Peasant Movements in India S. Manikandan
Peasant Movement • Peasant movement is a social movement involved with the agricultural policy. Peasants movement have a long history that can be traced to the numerous peasant uprisings that occurred in various regions of the world throughout human history.
Introduction • Peasant movements are among one of the most important social movements in India. • The political behavior of the peasantry is mostly based on the factions, which are the integrated segments of the rural society. • The rural society is dominated by the landlords and the rich peasants at the top and the landless or poor peasants at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Peasant: Meaning • a farmer who owns and rents a small piece of land
Movement: Meaning • In Dictionary… – a group of people who share the same ideas or aims. – a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.
Definition • According to Jan Breman, “a peasant is one who tills the land”. • People who depend on agriculture are differentiated in terms of their relationship with the land such as owners of the land, absentee landlords, supervisory agriculturists, ownercultivators, share-croppers, tenants, and landless laborers. • In general, and in local language, they are known as “Kisans”. The word “kisan” is often translated as “peasant” in the academic literature that is published in English.
Types of Peasants i. On the Basis of Land Ownership: • Daniel Thorner has taken land ownership as the basis for classifying the peasants. The peasants who have the document of land ownership in their name are the Maliks, those who do not own the land ownership document (patta) but cultivate the land are the Kisans and the tillers of the land, i. e. , the agricultural laborers, are known as the Mazdoors.
ii. On the Basis of the Size of the Land Holdings: • Some State Governments have classified the types of peasants on the basis of the size of their landholdings. Accordingly, the classification is as follows: a. Rich Peasants: • Peasants who own more than 15 acres of land. b. Small Peasants: • Peasants who possess land between the size of 2. 5 and 5 acres. c. Marginal Farmers: • Farmers who own land which is less than 2. 5 acres. d. Landless Peasants: • These peasants earn their livelihood by working as manual laborers in agricultural lands of others as they do not possess any land. They work as sharecroppers and sub-tenants.
iii. Class based Classification of Peasants • According to Utsa Patnaik, class differentiation exists within peasantry. Growth of capitalism in rural peasantry has resulted in the exploitation of peasantry that has taken a class character. • According to her, there are two categories of peasants: – one the big landlords and – the second the agricultural laborers, who also include the sharecroppers. Many Marxist sociologists have criticized this classification of Patnaik. • Even the non-marxists have criticized the class approach to peasant categorization. Their argument is that the essence of the process of differentiation lies in the historical conversion of the peasantry, which is not a class as such; into two differentiate classes, which are at the opposite
iv. Peasant Classification on the Basis of Resource Ownership • Some sociologists have categorized the peasants on the basis of several other resources such as utilization of loans, tenancy, ownership of assets, credit from bank, and repayment capacity of loans. There are five types of peasant groups according to K. L. Sharma: • a. Owner-cultivator. • b. Largely owner-cultivator. • c. Largely tenant-cultivator. • d. Tenant-cultivator. • e. Totally poor peasant.
In addition to the classification of sociologists, there are economists who have classified peasants into (i) landlords, (ii) rich peasants, (iii)middle class peasants, (iv)poor peasants and (v) agricultural peasants. However, in any classification of peasants, land tenancy and land size play an important role. Thus, both these combined together play an important role in determining the criteria for peasant classification.
Classification of Peasant Movements • According to Ghanshyam Shah, in India peasant movements are generally classified into – pre-British, – British or colonial and – post-independence. • According to Oommen there are certain movements which continue despite the changes in the political power.
• These are the movements which started in the pre independence era and are still continued though with different goals. • The classification is also based on time span as the structure of agrarian system also differs from time to time so also the peasant movements.
• A. R. Desai classified the colonial India into the following: – areas under the British rule as Ryotwari, – the areas under the princely authority as Zamindari and – tribal zones. – A. R. Desai calls the movements as “peasant struggles” in the colonial period and – those of post independence era as “agrarian struggles”. – The phrase “agrarian struggles” according to A. R. Desai refers not only to include peasants but also others.
• He further divides the post independence agrarian struggles into two categories – the movements launched by the newly emerging proprietary classes comprising rich farmers, viable sections of the middle peasant proprietors and the streamlined landlords; and – The second, the movements launched by various sections of the agrarian poor in which the agrarian proletariat have been acquiring central importance.
• There are various classifications given by different scholars depending on the period and issues involved. • Neither in the pre independent nor post independent India, there ever existed, a unified pattern of agrarian structure. • Though in post independent India there was a centralized political authority and a capitalist mode of production acting as driving forces, there has not yet evolved a unified agrarian pattern.
• The capitalist mode of agriculture has developed in a few states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Punjab. • The classification also varies in accordance with theoretical framework.
Kathleen Gough classifies the peasant revolts into five categories. They are: 1. Restorative rebellions to drive out the British and restore earlier rulers and social relations. 2. Religious movements for the liberation of a region or an ethnic group under a new form of government. 3. Social banditry. 4. Terrorist vengeance with the idea of meeting out collective justice. 5. Mass insurrections for the redressal of particular grievances.
• This classification is based on the apparent goals of the revolts rather than on the classes of the peasants involved and the strategies that they adopted for attaining their goals. • However, it ignores some of the important peasant movements, which were linked to the nationalist movement in some form or the other.
• Pushpendra Surana classifies peasant movements into different types, mainly based on issues such as the movements against – forced cultivation of a particular type of crop, – exploitation by moneylenders, – price rise, – outside invaders, and – dynasties. The limitation of such a classification is obvious, as more than one issue is often involved in many revolts.
• Ranajit Guha looks at the peasant movements in a different way. • He examines peasant insurgency from the perspective of peasant consciousness for revolt. • He delineates the underlying structural features of tribal consciousness of the peasants, namely: – negation, – solidarity, – transmission, – territoriality, etc.
• This can help us understand how and why the peasants rebel. • Guha and others are not in favor of classifying the struggles into categories which have a greater element of arbitrariness. • Social realities are complex and it is misleading to divide them artificially. • They believe that paradigms are important in analyzing the complexities.
• Reasons Impoverishment of Indian peasantry
The impoverishment of the Indian peasantry was a direct result of the transformation of the agrarian structure due to: 1. Colonial economic policies, 2. Ruin of the handicrafts leading to overcrowding of land, 3. The new land revenue system, 4. Colonial administrative and judicial system.
• The peasants suffered from high rents, illegal levies, arbitrary evictions and unpaid labour in Zamindari areas. • In Ryotwari areas, the Government itself levied heavy land revenue. • The overburdened farmer, fearing loss of his only source of livelihood, often approached the local moneylender who made full use of the former’s difficulties by extracting high rates of interests on the money lent.
• Often, the farmer had to mortgage his hand cattle. Sometimes, the money lender seized the mortgaged belongings. • Gradually, over large areas, the actual cultivators were reduced to the status of tenants at will, share croppers and landless labourers. • The peasants often resisted the exploitation, and soon they realised that their real enemy was the colonial state. • Sometimes, the desperate peasants took to crime to come out of intolerable conditions. These crimes included robbery, dacoity and what has been called social banditry.
Changed Nature of Peasant Movements After 1857: 1. Peasants emerged as the main force in agrarian movements, fighting directly for their own demands. 2. The demands were centred almost wholly on economic issues. 3. The movements were directed against the immediate enemies of the peasant—foreign planters and indigenous zamindars and moneylenders. 4. The struggles were directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances.
5. Colonialism was not the target of these movements. 6. It was not the objective of these movements to end the system of subordination or exploitation of the peasants. 7. Territorial reach was limited. 8. There was no continuity of struggle or long term organisation. 9. The peasants developed a strong awareness of their legal rights and asserted them in and outside the courts.
Important Peasant Movements • • • Indigo Cultivators Strike (Revolt) Pabna Agrarian Leagues Deccan Riots Champaran Satyagraha Kheda Peasant Struggle The Bardoli Movement in Gujarat Moplah Rebellion in Malabar Peasant Revolt in Telangana Tebhaga Movement in Bengal The Kisan Sabha Movement Eka Movement
Indigo Cultivators’ Strike (1859 – 1860)
Historical Background • Under the supremacy of the British in India, the economic condition of the rural India was much affected. • The peasants were ruthlessly crushed and they were forced to cultivate indigo in their lands instead of foods crops. • The peasants continuously crushed, gradually organized a revolt against their oppression. • However the Indigo Cultivators Revolt was primarily directed against the British planters who behaved like the feudal lords in their estates.
• The revolt enjoyed the supports of all categories of rural population. The zamindars, moneylenders, rich peasants and even the karmacharis of indigo concerns. • Right from the beginnings of the 19 th century many retired officials of the East India Company and some slave traders of England owned several lands from the Indian zamindars in Bihar and Bengal. • In these lands they began a large scale cultivation of indigo. • First of all the price was too low in India. Hence the Indigo planters could make enormous profits by cultivations indigo in India.
Causes of Indigo Revolt • Indigo was identified as a major cash crop for the East India Company’s investments in the 18 th Century. • Indigo had worldwide demand similar to cotton piece goods, opium and salt. • Indigo planting in Bengal dated back to 1777. • With expansion of British power in Bengal, indigo planting became more and more commercially profitable due to the demand for blue dye in Europe. • It was introduced in large parts of Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, Murshidabad, etc. • European Indigo planters had a monopoly over Indigo farming. • The foreigners used to force Indian farmers to harvest Neel and to achieve their means they used to brutally suppress the farmer.
• The European indigo planters left no stones unturned to make money. • They mercilessly pursued the peasants to plant indigo instead of food crops. • They provided loans, called dadon at a very high interest. Once a farmer took such loans he remained in debt for whole of his life before passing it to his successors. • The farmers were totally unprotected from the brutal indigo planters, who resorted to mortgages or destruction of their property if they were unwilling to obey them.
• Farmers were illegally beaten up, detained in order to force them to sell Neel at non profitable rates. • If any farmer refused to grow Indigo and started growing rice, he was kidnapped, women and children were attacked, and crop was looted, burnt and destroyed. • If farmer approached court, the European judge would rule in favour of the European planter. • The privileges and immunities enjoyed by the British planters placed them above the law and beyond all judicial control. • Government rules favoured the planters. By an act in 1833, the planters were granted a free hand in oppression. Sometimes even the zamindars, money lenders and other influential persons sided with the planters. • Finally Indigo peasants launched revolt in Nadia district of Bengal presidency. Refused to grow Indigo. If police tried to intervene, they were attacked. European Planters responded by increasing the rent and evicting farmers. Led to more agitations and confrontations.
Revolt • In April 1860 all the cultivators of the Barasat sub division and in the districts of Pabna and Nadia resorted to strike. They refused to sow any indigo. The strike spread to other places in Bengal. • The Biswas brothers of Nadia, Kader Molla of Pabna, Rafique Mondal of Malda were popular leaders. Even some of the zamindars supported the revolt, the most important of whom was Ramratan Mullick of Narail. • The revolt was ruthlessly suppressed. Large forces of police and military, backed by the British Government and some of the zamindars, mercilessly slaughtered a number of peasants. • In spite of this, the revolt was fairly popular, involving almost the whole of Bengal.
Cont… • The Bengali intelligentsia played a significant role by supporting the peasants’ cause through newspaper campaigns, organisation of mass meetings, preparing memoranda on peasants’ grievances and supporting them in legal battles. • The Government appointed an indigo commission to inquire into the problem of indigo cultivation. • Based on its recommendations, the Government issued a notification in November 1860 that the ryots could not be compelled to grow indigo and that it would ensure that all disputes were settled by legal means. • But, the planters were already closing down factories and indigo cultivation was virtually wiped out from Bengal by the end of 1860.
Support for Revolt • The revolt enjoyed the support of all categories of the rural population, missionaries, the Bengal intelligentsia and Muslims. • The Bengal intelligentsia played an important role by organizing a powerful campaign in support by using Press as the tool. It had a deep impact on the emerging nationalist intellectuals. • Harish Chandra Mukherjee thoroughly described the plight of the poor peasants in his newspaper The Hindu Patriot, first published as a weekly in January 1853, from the very beginning took a hostile tone toward the indigo planters.
• Sisir Kumar Ghosh, who later found Amrita Bazar Patrika, was one of the important muffasal correspondents of the Patriot. He reported from Nadia and Jessore. • His brave fight for justice for the ryots became invaluable in a situation where there was no political organisation to support the people’s cause. • Dinabandhu Mitra’s play Nil Darpan (The Mirror of Indigo) reflected the peasants’ feelings toward the indigo planters. It effectively brought out the fact that indigo planters forced the ryots to cultivate without remuneration, confined, beat and compelled the villagers as well as corrupted their own servants. • With such powerful expression Nil Darpan became an example of an awakening of intelligentsia, to gain their sympathy towards the peasantry.
Nature and Impact of the Revolt • The revolt as a non violent revolution (except in few instances) and gives this as a reason why the indigo revolt was a success compared to the Sepoy Revolt. • Historically, the Indigo Rebellion can be termed the first form resistance of the countryside against the British in economic and social terms. Unlike the spontaneous revolt of the soldiers in the Sepoy Mutiny, this countryside revolt evolved over the years and, in the process, rallied different strata of society against the British – a thread of dissent that lasted many decades thereafter. • Many consider this revolt as a forerunner of the non violent passive resistance later successfully adopted by Gandhi. • Indigo Rebellion not only forewarned agrarian uprisings, but also showed the shape of things to come.
• Indigo Rebellion was not a class struggle in anyway as there was no struggle between the Zamindars and the peasantry; rather the real objective of the Zamindars was to oppose the encroachment of Europeans on principle and to fight for their own vested interests, though they espoused the cause of peasantry and cultivators against the planters. ” • The revolt had a strong effect on the government, which immediately appoint the “Indigo Commission” in 1860. In the commission report, E. W. L. Tower noted that “not a chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with human blood“. • Government issued a notification that the Indian farmers cannot be compelled to grow indigo and that it would ensure that all disputes were settled by legal means. By the end of 1860, Indigo planters shut down their factories and cultivation of indigo was virtually wiped out from Bengal. • Evidently it was a major triumph of the peasants to incite such emotion in the European’s minds. Thus the revolt was a success.
Deccan Riot (1875)
Causes • The ryots of Deccan region of western India suffered heavy taxation under the Ryotwari system. • Here again the peasants found themselves trapped in a vicious network with the moneylender as the exploiter and the main beneficiary. • These moneylenders were mostly outsiders— Marwaris or Gujaratis. • The conditions had worsened due to a crash in cotton prices after the end of the American civil war in 1864, the Government’s decision to raise the land revenue by 50% in 1867, and a succession of bad harvests.
Course of the Riot • In 1874, the growing tension between the moneylenders and the peasants resulted in a social boycott movement organised by the ryots against the “outsider” moneylenders. • The ryots refused to buy from their shops. No peasant would cultivate their fields. • The barbers, washermen, shoemakers would not serve them. • This social boycott spread rapidly to the villages of Poona, Ahmednagar, Sholapur and Satara. • Soon the social boycott was transformed into agrarian riots with systematic attacks on the moneylenders’ houses and shops. • The debt bonds and deeds were seized and publicly burnt.
Result • The Government succeeded in repressing the movement. • As a conciliatory measure, the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act was passed in 1879. • This time also, the modern nationalist intelligentsia of Maharashtra supported the peasants’ cause.
Punjab Riot (1890 – 1900)
Punjab Riot (1890 – 1900) • The earlier peasant mobilisation here had been organised by the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the Kirti Kisan Party, the Congress and the Akalis. • A new direction to the movement was given by the Punjab Kisan Committee in 1937. • The main targets of the movement were the landlords of western Punjab who dominated the unionist ministry.
• The immediate issues taken up were resettlement of land revenue in Amritsar and Lahore and increase in water rates in canal colonies of Multan and Montgomery where feudal levies were being demanded by the private contractors. • Here the peasants went on a strike and were finally able to win concessions. • The peasant activity in Punjab was mainly concentrated in Jullundur, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Lyallpur and Shekhupura. • The Muslim tenants at will of west Punjab and the Hindu peasants of south eastern Punjab (today’s Haryana) remained largely unaffected.
Champaran Satyagraha (1917)
Champaran Satyagraha (1917) • The peasantry on the Indigo plantations in the Champaran district of Bihar was excessively oppresed by the European planters. • They were compelled to grow indigo on at least 3/20 th of their land to sell it at prices fixed by the planters. • Accompanied by Babu Rajendra prasad, Mazhar ul Huq, J. B. Kripalani, Narhari Parekhand Mahadev Desai, Gandhi reached Champaran in 1917 and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the condition of the peasantry.
• The infuriated district officials ordered him to leave Champaran, but he defied the order and was willing to face trial and imprisonment. • Later the government developed cold feet and appointed and Enquiry Committee (June 1917) with Gandhi as one of the members. • The ameliorative enactment, the Champaran Agrarian Act free the tenants from the speical imposts levied by the indigo planters.
Kheda Satyagraha (1918)
Kheda Satyagraha (1918) • The Kheda campaign took place in Kheda district of Gujarat directed against the Government. • In 1918, the crops failed in the Kheda district in Gujarat due to low rains but the government refused to let go of the land revenue and insisted on its full collection of revenue. • Gandhi along with Vallabhai Patel came in support of the peasants and led them to withhold all revenue payment till their demand for remission was fulfilled. • By June 1918, Government had to concede the demands of the satygrahi peasants.
Mappila (Mopillah) Rebellion (1921 22)
Mappila Rebellion (1921 22) • The Mappilas were the Muslim tenants inhabiting the Malabar region where most of the landlords were Hindus. • The Mappilas had expressed their resentment against the oppression of the landlords during the nineteenth century also. • Their grievances centred around lack of security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees and other oppressive exactions. • The Mappila tenants were particularly encouraged by the demand of the local Congress body for a government legislation regulating tenant landlord relations. • Soon, the Mappila movement merged with the ongoing Khilafat agitation. • The leaders of the Khilafat Non Cooperation Movement like Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and Maulana Azad addressed Mappila meetings. After the arrest of national leaders, the leadership passed into the hands of local Mappila leaders.
Cont… • Things took a turn for the worse in August 1921 when the arrest of a respected priest leader, Ali Musaliar, sparked off large scale riots. • Initially, the symbols of British authority— courts, police stations, treasuries and offices and unpopular landlords (jenmies who were mostly Hindus) were the targets. • But once the British declared martial law and repression began in earnest, the character of the rebellion underwent a definite change. Many Hindus were seen by the Mappilas to be helping the authorities. • What began as an anti government and anti landlord affair acquired communal overtones. • The communalisation of the rebellion completed the isolation of the Mappilas from the Khilafat Non Cooperation Movement. By December 1921, all resistance had come to a stop.
Telengana Movement (1946)
Telengana Movement (1946) • This was the biggest peasant guerrilla war of modern Indian history affecting 3000 villages and 3 million populations. • The princely state of Hyderabad under Asajahi Nizams was marked by a combination of religious linguistic domination (by a mall Urdu speaking Muslim elite ruling over predominantly Hindu Telugu, Marathi, Kannada speaking groups), total lack of political and civil liberties, grossest forms of forced exploitation by deshmukhs, jagirdars, doras (landlords) in forms of forced labour (vethi) and illegal exactions. • During the uprising, the communist led guerrillas had built a strong base in Telangana villages through Andhra Mahasabha and had been leading local struggles on issues such as wartime exactions, abuse of rationing, excessive rent and vethi.
• The uprising began in July 1946 when a deshmukh’s thug murdered a village militant in Jangaon taluq of Nalgonda. • Soon, the uprising spread to Warrangal and Khammam. • The peasants organised themselves into village sanghams, and attacked using lathis, stone slings and chilli powder. • They had to face brutal repression. The movement was at its greatest intensity between August 1947 and September 1948. • The peasants brought about a rout of the Razaqars—the Nizam’s storm troopers. • Once the Indian security forces took over Hyderabad, the movement fizzled out.
Achievement of the Telangana Movement 1. In the villages controlled by guerrillas, vethi and forced labour disappeared. 2. Agricultural wages were raised. 3. Illegally seized lands were restored. 4. Steps were taken to fix ceilings and redistribute lands. 5. Measures were taken to improve irrigation and fight cholera. 6. An improvement in the condition of women was witnessed. 7. The autocratic feudal regime of India’s biggest princely state was shaken up, clearing the way for the formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines and realising another aim of the national movement in this region.
Impact • The Peasant 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. • These movements were based on the ideology of regionalism in everywhere and nationalism in somewhere. • The nature of these movements was similar in diverse areas.
Reasons for the failure of a few Movements 1. There was a lack of an adequate understanding of colonialism. 2. The 19 th century peasants did not possess a new ideology and a new social, economic and political programme. 3. These struggles, however militant, occurred within the framework of the old societal order lacking a positive conception of an alternative society.