Peasant Movements in India arose in the 18th and 19th centuries during the British Colonial Period. These Movements took place against the British atrocities, increased rents of lands, and greedy ways of moneylenders. The sole purpose of these campaigns was the occupancy rights of the peasants and to restore earlier forms of rule. Regarding the nature of Peasant Movements, they were spontaneous and not planned out. These uprisings were directed against the immediate source of exploitation, maybe toward landlords, moneylenders, or European planters.
Causes of Peasant Movements in India
- The new policies of the Britishers evicted the peasant from their lands.
- Peasants had to pay high land revenue for their lands. In case of default, their lands were taken by the landlords.
- Moneylenders charged high rates of interest to the peasants, and they also manipulate their accounts.
- The economic policies of the British government protect the landlords & moneylenders but exploit the Indian peasants.
- The Colonial policies transformed the self-sufficient village economy into a dependent colonial economy and ruined the Peasant’s traditional handicrafts.
- During the Zamindari rule, the ownership of the land was taken away from peasants.
Peasant Movements Before the Revolt of 1857
Narkelberia Uprising (1831)
Narkelberial movement led by Mir Nithar Ali (Titu Mir) in 24 Paraganas in West Bengal. He inspired the Muslim tenants in West Bengal to rebel against the landlords (mainly Hindu landlords who imposed the beard tax on the Faraizis) and British indigo Planters. However, the uprising later merged with the Wahabi Movement.
The Pagal Panthis (1825-35)
The Pagal Panthis was a semi-religious group of mainly the Garo and Hanjong tribes of West Bengal, founded by the Karam Shah. From 1825 to 1835, these tribal peasants organized themselves under the Karam Shah and his son Tipu to revolt against the zamindars. They refused to pay high rent and attacked the houses of zamindars.
Faraizi Revolt (1837-57)
Faraizi Revolt was led by the Shariat-Allah to expel the British intruders from Bengal. They supported the cause of tenants against the zamindars from 1838 to 1857.
Mappila Uprisings (1836-57)
Mappila (Moplahs) Muslims of the Malabar region of Kerala revolted against the hike in the revenue demand, reduction in field size, and exploitation of poor peasants by the landlords. Mappila uprising is a sequence of rebellions, as 22 rebellions took place between 1836 and 1854.
Peasant Movements after the Revolt of 1857
Indigo Revolt (1859-60)
Indigo Revolt, also known as Nil Bidroho, took place in 1859 in Barasat in Bengal. The revolt was led by Digambar Biswas and Bishnu Biswas of the Nadia district against European Planters.
The European planters exploited the local peasants and force them to grow indigo on their lands instead of food crops like rice. They forced the peasant to take advanced loans and enter into fraudulent contracts. If the peasants could not pay the rent, they were brutally oppressed. If farmers refused to grow indigo, the planters intimated them through kidnapping, burning crops, looting, and attacking women and children.
The anger of indigo farmers exploded in 1859. They revolted in the Naida district of Bengal and refused to grow indigo. In response to this, the planters enhanced the rents and evicted the farmers. This led to more agitation. In April 1860, the peasant from the Barasat division of Naida district and Pabna went on a strike. The strike was led by the Biswas brothers of Naida, Kader Molla of Pabna, and Rafiq Mondal of Malda. However, the government suppressed the revolt.
In 1860, the Government appointed an indigo commission to inquire about the problem of indigo cultivation. In November 1860, the government issued a notification based on the recommendation of the commission, which laid out that the ryots could not be compelled to grow indigo. By the end of 1860, indigo cultivation got wiped out from Bengal.
The Play Nil Darpan, also known as Mirror of Indigo, was written by Dinabandhu Mitra in 1859, and published in 1860. It highlighted the worst type of atrocities by the European planters on the indigo farmers.
(In detail: Indigo Revolt)
Pabna Movement (1873)
During the 1870s and 1880s, there was agrarian unrest in large parts of Eastern Bengal caused by the oppressive practices of zamindars. The zamindars enhanced the rents for the poor peasants and collect land taxes forcefully. They also prevented the tenants from acquiring occupancy rights under Act X of 1859.
In 1873, the Pabna Movement started against the exploitation of peasants by the zamindars. In this Movement, peasants organised themselves to resist the demands of zamindars and formed an association ‘Kisan Sangh‘ in the Yusufshahi Pargana of the Pabna district. The main leaders of this movement were Ishana Chandra Rai and Keshav Chandra Rai. The ryots refused to pay enhanced rents. They challenged the zamindars in the courts and raised funds to fight the court cases against the zamindars. The Movement was spread out to the other districts of East Bengal. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and R. C. Dutt also supported the movement.
Deccan Riots (1875)
In 1875, the peasants of Maharashtra, mainly from the Poona, Satra, and Ahmednagar districts, revolted against the corrupt practices of Gujarati and Marwari moneylenders.
The moneylenders used to charge high rates of interest along with manipulating the accounts of poor peasants. In response, the ryots organised the social boycott movement against the moneylenders. They refused to buy goods from Mahajans and work in their homes and fields. Soon this social boycott transformed into agrarian unrest. The ryots systematically attacked the moneylender’s house and shops. The debt bonds, decree, and other documents in possession of moneylenders were seized and burnt publicly.
In 1877, the government constituted the Deccan Riot inquiry commission. The commission reported that poverty and consequence land indebtedness were the main cause of the revolt.
In 1879, the government passed the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879 to pacify the movement and protected farmers against moneylenders.
Peasant Movements during the Gandhian phase
Champaran Satyagraha (1917)
The Champaran Satyagrah was started in Champaran in Bihar against the Tinkathia system imposed by the European indigo planters. In this Tinkathia system, European planters signed a contract with the peasants, under which peasants were required to grow indigo on 3/20th part of the total land.
By the end of the 19th century, the discovery of Chemical dyes ended the indigo market. When synthetic dyes replaced indigo, the European planters demanded high rents and illegal dues from the farmers to maximize their profit. Farmers were forced to sell their produce at prices fixed by the Europeans.
A local leader of Champaran, Rajkumar Shukla, requested Gandhi Ji to look into the problems of the peasants of Champaran. With the arrival of Gandhi Ji to probe into the matter, it became the subject of discussion at the national level. To pacify the movement, the government appointed a committee, of which Gandhi Ji was also a member. Gandhi Ji convinced the authorities to abolish the Tinkathia system. The planters agreed on returning 25% of the illegal recovery to the farmers as compensation.
Kheda Satyagraha (1919)
In 1918, the crops failed due to the drought in Gujarat. According to the Revenue code, if the crop yield was less than one-fourth of the normal production, the peasants were entitled to remission. However, the government was collecting taxes from peasants even after crop wastage.
The Movement started in the Kheda district of Gujarat in 1919 against the ignored appeals for the remission of land revenue. Gandhi Ji and Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel led the Kheda Movement. Gandhiji asked the farmers not to pay the enhanced land revenues and taxes. Ultimately, the government agreed to suspend the tax for the year 1919 and reduces the rate increase. The Kheda Satyagrah brought a new awakening among the peasantry.
Mapilla (Moplah) Revolt (1921)
Mapilla, the Muslim tenants of the Malabar region of Kerala, rebelled against the oppression of landlords, mainly Hindu landlords, and the Britishers.
In 1919, the Khilafat Movement started in India to support the restoration of the Caliphate in Turkey. The Khilafat meetings held in Malabar incited communal feelings among the Moplahs of Malabar. It became a Movement directed against the British government and Hindu landlords of Malabar.
In 1921, the Moplah tenants agitated against high rents, renewal fees, lack of security of tenure, and other unfair exactions of the Hindu landlords of Malabar. The prominent leaders of the rebellion were Ali Musaliyar and Variyankunnath Kunjahammed Haji. In August 1921, the Movement turned worst when their leader Ali Musaliyar got arrested. Large-scale violence took place in which Britishers and Hindu landlords were systematically persecuted. By the end of the year, the Britishers crushed the rebellion by raising a special battalion- the Malabar Special Force for the riot.
(In detail: Moplah Rebellion)
Eka Movement (1921)
Eka Movement, also known as Unity Movement, occurred in the northern districts of the United Provinces – Bahraich, Hardoi, and Sitapur at the end of 1921. It was a Movement for the betterment of peasants exploited under British rule. The Movement focuses on eradicating the practice of collecting more than the recorded rent from the peasants. By March 1922, severe repression by authorities brought the Eka Movement to an end.
(In detail: Eka Movement)
Bardoli Satyagraha (1928)
The Bardoli Movement started in the Bardoli taluka of Surat district (Gujarat) against the 22% increase in land revenue by the Bombay Government. Two Mehta brothers, Kunvarji Mehta and Kalyanji Mehta formed the Patidhar Yuwak Mandal to oppose the enhancement in the land revenue. Mehta Brothers insisted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel lead this Movement. The women of Bardoli gave Vallabhbahi Patel the title of ‘Sardar‘.
Under Patel, the peasants of Bardoli resolved to refuse to pay land revenue payments of the revised assessment. An intelligent wing was formed to ensure all peasants followed the Movement’s resolution. Those who opposed the Movement and paid the tax to the government had to face a social boycott. By August 1928, massive tension builds, and strikes took place in Bombay. To pacify the Movement, the government set up a committee to look into the whole affairs, and it found the land revenue to be hike unjustified. The committee recommended bringing down the land revenue to 6.03 present.
Tebhaga Movement (1946)
Tebhaga Movement was a powerful peasant campaign led by the poor peasants and sharecroppers (Bargadars) of Bengal against the oppressive Jotedars. Jotedars were a new class of rich peasants, who emerged in the Bengal region during the 19th century. The Jotedars collected huge land in the rural areas, controlled the local markets and money lending activities, and exercised control over the poor cultivators. The sharecroppers, also known as Bargadars, work on the agricultural lands rented from the Jotedars. The sharecroppers handed over half of the crops to the jotedars as rent after harvesting.
In September 1946, the Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha gave a call to the peasants to implement the recommendation of the Floud Commission to reduce the rate of rent to one-third. Thus, the sharecroppers challenged the prevailing system of sharecropping and asserted to pay only one-third of the produce instead of half of the produce.
The uprising began in 1946 to provide two-third of crops to sharecroppers. Kampram Singh and Bhavan Singh were the leaders of this Movement. In January 1947, the Bengal Bargadars Temporary Regulation Bill, incorporating the demands of sharecroppers, encouraged the Movement, and there was huge participation of peasants. Due to government promises, the Movement slowly disappeared, and the bill got passed in 1950.
(In detail: Tebhaga Movement 1946)
Telangana Revolt (1946-52)
Telangana Movement was the biggest guerrilla war against the oppressive landlords, moneylenders, and officials of Nizam of Hyderabad under the Communist Party of India. The peasants started turning towards communism, organised themselves through the Andhra Mahasabha, build their strong base in Telangana villages and led the local struggles against high rents, forced eviction, forced labour (vethi), and other oppressive exactions.
The rebellion began in July 1946 against the oppressive practices of feudal lords and instantly spread to other areas of the Warrangal and Khammam districts in around 3000 villages. The movement started after the Nalgonda incident when a landlord killed a radical worker. The incident started the worst type of revolt by Andhra Mahasabha led by Raavi Narayana Reddy. The movement fizzled out when the Indian security force took over the princely state of Hyderabad. However, the movement continued until 1951 in one way or the other.
(In detail: Telangana Movement 1946-1951)