Peasants Movement

 

Introduction

  • The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was the first Satyagraha movement led by Gandhi in India and is considered a historically important revolt in the Indian Independence Movement.
  • It was a farmer’s uprising that took place in Champaran district of Bihar, India, during the British colonial period.

 

Background

  • Champaran is a district in North Western Bihar. It formed part of the Tirhut division in the province of Bihar and Orissa in British India.
  • Indigo cultivation in Champaran goes back to the late 18th century. By 1850, indigo had become the predominantly produced crop in Champaran.
  • The predominant system of Indigo cultivation in Champaran was the tinkathia system.
    • In this, the Ryot was under an obligation to cultivate three kathas per beegha of his land with indigo i.e. 3/20th of his landholding.
    • There were no legal grounds for this.
  • Moreover, post 1900, because of competition from the European synthetic indigo, the indigo factories in Bihar started facing decline.
    • To escape losses, the planters began cancelling their agreements with the ryots to grow indigo. To release them from this obligation, they charged a tawane. damages as high as Rs. 100 per beegha.
    • If the ryots could not make a cash payment, then handnotes and mortgage bonds were made at an interest rate of 12 percent per annum.
  • Hence, there was a general discontent among the ryots around indigo cultivation in Bihar.
    • The core reason for this was the low remuneration they received for the crop.
    • They also suffered harassment and oppression at the hands of factory servants.
    • All this resulted in demonstrations against indigo cultivation in Champaran twice; first in 1867 and second demonstration emerged in 1907-08.

The Satyagraha

  • Gandhi returned to India, at a time of Socio-Politically surcharged situation, after a successful Satyagraha against the Apartheid system.
  • The resentment surrounding indigo cultivation compelled Raj Kumar Shukla, a well-off agriculturist to persuade Mahatma Gandhi to visit Champaran and work for the oppressed peasants, in 1916.
  • Brajkishore Prasad moved a resolution in the Congress meeting about the distress of peasants in Champaran, and it was unanimously passed.
  • Later, Gandhi finally agreed to visit Champaran.
    • Gandhi first arrived in Muzaffarpur.
    • Being sensible to the situation, he immediately wrote to the Commissioner of the Tirhut Division informing him that he wanted to work with the cognizance and co-operation of the governmen
  • In a meeting with Commissioner of Tirhut division, Gandhi stated that owing to public demand, he wished to enquire about the condition of indigo cultivation in Champaran and the grievances of the tenants associated with it. He also said that he did not have any desire to instigate turbulence.
  • After arrival of Gandhi in Champaran district, the British imposed an order under Section 144, and when Gandhi refused, he was charged under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and summoned for a trial on 18th April, 1917.
  • In meantime, Lieutenant Governor intervened and on the grounds of insufficient evidence against Gandhi and the doubtful legality of invoking Section 144 against him, ordered the local administration to withdraw the case.
    • Moreover, he also gave Gandhi the permission to conduct the inquiry.
    • Thus, the ideals of Civil Disobedience and Satyagraha which later became a characteristic feature of the Indian National Movement, began from Champaran.
  • Later, the Lieutenant Governor in Council decided to appoint a Committee of Inquiry to examine and report on the agrarian conditions in Champaran. Gandhiji was appointed as one of its members.
  • The Committee submitted its report on 4th October 1917 and made the following recommendations:
    • The tinkathia system should be abolished.
    • If someone enters into an agreement to grow indigo then it should be voluntary, its term should not extend more than a period of three years and the decision to select the field in which indigo is to be grown should rest with the ryots.
    • The ryots who paid tawan to the factories would get back one fourth of it from them. Fourth, the realization of abwab (illegal cesses) should be stopped.
  • The Government accepted almost all the recommendations of the Inquiry Committee, and issued a resolution.
  • Later in 1918, Champaran Agrarian Act was passed.

 

In News

  • The series of celebration were held on 10 April 2017 with a National Conclave (Rashtritya Vimarsh) where eminent Gandhian thinkers, philosophers, and scholars participated, in remembrance of the Satyagraha.
  • On 13 May 2017, Indian Postal Department Issued three commemorative postage stamps and a miniature sheet on Champaran Satyagraha Centenary.

 

Introduction

  • The Bardoli satyagraha, launched 90 years ago in February 1928, is one such episode in India’s national movement which not just elevated Sardar Vallabhai Patel to a new pinnacle of glory and greatness, but also revived the morale of Mahatma Gandhi, undeniably still in ‘recovery mode’ after the setback of withdrawing the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri Chaura violence.

 

Background

  • The Bombay Government (through its Revenue Department) had, in 1927, enhanced the land revenue assessment in the Bardoli taluka (county) by a nominal 22%, which, when applied, amounted in some cases to as much as 60% enhancement. This translated in increased land taxes
  • The Bardoli peasants had immediately made several claims regarding this modification, the most important of which were that the rate of enhancement was unjust and that it had been established without full and appropriate investigation.
  • In addition, they claimed that the tax official’s report was inaccurate and thus an increase in the tax was unwarranted.
  • The local Congress Party organization published a critical report to show that peasants could not sustain the enhanced assessments and a committee organized by the Congress drafted a petition and waited upon the Revenue Member of the State government early in 1927.
  • Given that the authorities refused to recognize these claims as legitimate and change the law, the Bardoli peasants decided to organize a campaign aimed at pressuring the Bombay government to launch an impartial inquiry into the enhancement of land revenue assessment in Bardoli.

 

The Movement

  • In September 1927, the peasants held a conference in Bardoli, where participants unanimously resolved to withhold payment of the enhanced portion of the assessment. On January 5, 1928. Peasants invited Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a political and social leader, to lead them in their struggle.
  • Patel accepted presidency of the conference of peasants and initiated correspondence with the government, and upon the reply that the government was “not prepared to make any concession”, the peasants adopted a resolution (12 February 1928) setting forth the demand for an inquiry and the refusal to pay the assessment until the government either accepted the amount of the old assessment as full payment or until an impartial tribunal was appointed to investigate the situation.
  • Gandhi, although not directly involved in the campaign, supported the struggle through his writings in Young India (a weekly journal published in English by Mahatma Gandhi from 1919 to 1932) and through his visit in Bardoli two months after the Satyagraha had been launched.
  • The Struggle
    • Patel first wrote to the Governor of Bombay, asking him to reduce the taxes for the year in phase of the calamities. But the Governor ignored the letter, and reciprocated by announcing the date of collection.
    • Patel then instructed all the farmers of Bardoli taluka to refuse payment of their taxes.
    • Above all, Patel instructed the farmers to remain completely nonviolent and not to respond physically to any incitements or aggressive actions from officials.
  • The main action phase of the campaign included non-cooperation, trespass, submission to arrest, and resignation of offices. Peasants met revenue collectors with closed doors or, receiving them, read aloud extracts from Patel’s speeches and tried to persuade the enforcement agents that they could not collect the revenue.
  • However, the government declared that it would crush the revolt. Along with tax inspectors, bands of Pathans were gathered from northwest India to seize the property of the villagers and terrorize them.
    • The government began to auction the houses and the lands, but not a single person from Gujarat or anywhere else in India came forward to buy them.
  • Members of the legislative councils of Bombay and across India were angered by the terrible treatment of the protesting farmers.
    • Indian members resigned their offices and expressed open support of the farmers
    • The government was heavily criticised, even by many in the British Raj’s offices.

 

Resolution

  • Finally, in 1928, an agreement was finally brokered by a Parsi member of the Bombay government.
  • It agreed to restore the confiscated lands and properties, to cancel revenue payment for the year and to cancel the 22% raise until after the succeeding year.
  • The government appointed the Maxwell-Broomfield Commission to look in to the matter.
  • After a rigorous survey, the raise in taxes was decided to be just 03%.
  • However, the basic problems of the peasants were left unsolved, and bonded labour continued

Patel credited Gandhi’s teachings and the farmers’ undying resolve. And people across the nation recognised his vital leadership. It was women of bardoli who bestowed the title Sardar for the first time.

  • On the whole, the effect of the campaign extended beyond Bardoli. As Nehru observed, “the real success of their campaign lay in the effect it produced among the peasantry all over India. Bardoli became a sign and a symbol of hope and strength and victory to the Indian peasant.”

 

Introduction

  • Widely hailed as one of the first nationalist uprisings in southern India, the Malabar Rebellion of 1921 started off as a peasant movement against the British and the upper-caste Hindu landlords, owing mainly to the new land laws introduced by the British government in the early 19th century.
  • August 2021, marks the centenary of events known as ‘Mappila Lahala’ in Malayalam and Moplah Rebellion in British Colonial records, which took place in Malabar in 1921.
  • Some celebrate it as an “agrarian movement”, even an “anti-imperialistic rebellion”, and the Kerala government in 1971 had recognised the rebels of 1921 as “freedom fighters”, but others have termed it a “communal riot”.

 

What led to the Malabar Riots?

  • Land ownership in Malabar
    • Malabar’s agricultural system was historically based on a hierarchy of privileges, rights and obligations for all principal social groups.
    • The Jenmi, consisting mainly of the Namboothiri Brahmins and Nair chieftains, were the highest level of the hierarchy, and a class of people given hereditary land grants by the Naduvazhis or rulers.
    • Owing to their ritual status as priests (Nambudris), the jenmis could neither cultivate nor supervise the land but would instead provide a grant of kanam to a kanakkaran in return for a fixed share of the crops produced.
    • However, during the 19th century, conversions to Islam increased dramatically from lower caste, and they freed themselves from traditional disabilities of caste.
  • Other reforms introduced
    • Tipu Sultan’s Kingdom of Mysore, drove the Jenmi out of Malabar, and reached accord with the Muslim Kanakkars.
      • A new system of land revenue was introduced for the first time in the region’s history, with the government share fixed on the basis of actual produce from the land.
    • However, within five years, the East India Company took over Malabar, defeating Tipu Sultan and ending his reign over the region.
      • This allowed the Jenmi to return to their homes and regain the lands lost during the Mysorean invasion, with the help of the Company administration and its duly-constituted courts.
    • The Company introduced several Western juridical concepts, such as that of absolute property rights, into the existing legal system of Malabar.
      • As a result all land became the private property of the Jenmi.
      • This legal recognition gave them the right to evict tenants, which was in turn enforced through the colonial civil courts.
      • Also, as conditions worsened, rents rose to as high as 75–80% of net produce.
    • This caused great resentment among the Mappilas, who were the indigenous Muslim community in Kerala’s Malabar region, who trace their origin to the coming of the Arab traders in the 9th century, credited with having brought Islam to the west coast of India.
      • The Mappilas were mostly agricultural labourers on land owned by the upper-caste Hindus under the British.
    • Thus, as a result of British policies, the Moplah community, lost their formal or customary rights, which they had enjoyed for a long time.

 

Areas in red show Taluks affected by Massacre

 

The Rebellion

  • The uprising, which started on 20 August 1921, carried on for several months, forcing the British authorities to impose martial law to end the rebellion.
  • Without economic resources, pushed to the corners, and radicalized by an extremist minority, the men who sparked the outrages exemplified a combination of factors that birthed violence.
    • To this was added the trigger of the Khilafat Movement in 1921, with protests against the post-World War I unseating of the Ottoman Caliph.
  • Initially, the rebels robbed and looted government establishments to stockpile arms and other necessities with the intent to create a Khilafat state.
    • They did not attack Hindus or rob landlords
    • Nevertheless, they killed police officers and collaborators and destroyed property
  • The Malabar Rebellion witnessed many attacks on British officers in the region.
  • During the early phase of the rebellion, the targets were primarily the Jenmi and the colonial government.
  • By October 1921, the rebels and their leaders were making an impact, and unrestrained violence on the general populace was unbearable.
  • The uprising reportedly led to the death of around 10,000 people, including 2,339 of the rebels.
    • Also, Many Hindus were forced to convert to Islam.

 

Reaction and Aftermath

  • In the aftermath of the uprising, the Suddhi Movement was created by the Arya Samaj.
    • They converted over 2,000 Hindus who had been forcibly converted to Islam by the Mappilas.
  • Various leaders of the movement, were sentenced to death following the Malabar Rebellion.
  • By the end of 1921, the situation was brought under control.
    • The colonial government raised a special quasi-military (or Armed Police) battalion, the Malabar Special Police, initially consisting of non-Muslims and trained by the colonial army.
    • The Special Police then engaged the rioters and eventually put an end to the riot.
  • On 19 November 1921 when the uprising was near its end, almost 100 people were sent by train from Tirur to the Central Prison, Bellary in the Madras Presidency.
    • But, after opening the wagon in Podanur, it was found that, 64 of them had died.
    • This is known as the Wagon Massacre or Bellary Train Tragedy.
    • Also, their deaths through apparent negligence discredited the British Raj and generated sympathy for the Indian independence movement.

 

Related Developments

  • The 1921 rebellion is back in the eye of a storm in its centenary year, with the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) deciding to remove the names of 387 participants who lost their lives from The Dictionary of Martyrs of India’s Fre­e­dom Struggle (1857-1947), including prominent leaders such as Variam­ku­nnath Ahmad Haji, who was shot dead on January 20, 1922, and Musliyar, who was hanged in Coimbatore on February 17, 1922.

 

Introduction

  • Tebhaga movement (1946–1947) was significant peasant agitation, initiated in Bengal by the All India Kisan Sabha of peasant front, of the Communist Party of India.
  • It was an intense peasant movement in the history of India. It was a fierce peasant uprising on the eve of India’s independence and the partition of Bengal.
  • Tebhaga, simply put, meant that two-thirds of the crops, tilled by the bargadars and adhiars would have to go to them.

 

Background

  • Bargadar was a person, who under the system generally known as adhi, barga or bhag cultivated the land of another person, on condition of delivering a share of the produce of such land to that person.
  • The link between the zamindars and the British government was that zamindars would pay a yearly tax fixed by the government depending on the quantity and quality of the lands owned by the zamindars.
    • Below them was the class of jotedars to whom the zamindars distributed lands through a system called Pattani.
    • The jotedars class was directly connected with lands and cultivation.
  • Jotedars fixed the total yield from land, to be shared equally between the cultivator and the owner of the land i.e. jotedar. This system of cultivation of land was commonly known as Adhiary Pratha (half-half system), mostly prevalent in north Bengal.
    • Jotedars used to exploit the labour of a cultivator in various forms, the poor bargadar becoming almost a slave of the landowner.
    • There was always a constant threat that, if he did not obey the jotedar he would take away the land and the bargadar would have to starve. This was a system of exploitation
  • The grievances of peasants grew as the economic situation in the country worsened in the post War period that immediately followed a terrible famine (1942) throughout Bengal.
  • The economic situation, political unrest, and unbearable social conditions of the peasants led to the movement later known as Tebhaga Andolan (Movement).

 

 

The Movement

  • The Communist leaders and Krishak Samity leaders took full advantage of the unrest, prevailing among the poor peasants and landless agricultural laborers.
    • The movement sparked off in an area under PS Chirirbandar in the district of Dinajpur.
    • The assembled farmers refused to give fifty per cent; instead, they offered thirty-three per cent out of the total yield.
    • A serious quarrel flared up between the jotedars’ armed men and the adamant peasants causing injuries to both parties
    • However, Police took control of the region, by arresting the supporters and leaders.
  • Further, after the Bengal famine in 1943, the Bengal Provincial Kishan Sabha, which was guided by the Communist Party, called for a mass movement among sharecroppers in September 1946 to keep Tebhaga (twothirds) of the harvested crops.
    • This demand had figured since the thirties in the programmes of the Kishan Sabha, and had also been recognized as just by the Floud Commission, which in 1939-1940 had reviewed the miserable state of Bengal’s agriculture.
    • The Floud Commission, a land revenue commission established by the Govt. of Bengal in 1938, had exposed the maladies in the prevailing system which obliged sharecroppers to relinquish half of their harvest as rent, and on top of that, they had to pay scores of illegal cesses.
  • Communists went out to the countryside to organize peasants to take the harvested crop to their own threshing floor and make the two-thirds’ share a reality.
  • The slogan, ‘’adhi noy, tebhaga chai’’ (we want two-thirds to share not 1/2) reverberated.
  • They started taking harvested crops to their own yards.
  • They offered only 1/3 crop share to jotedars.
  • This led to innumerable clashes and subsequent arrest, lathi charges and firing.
  • Further, in late 1946, the sharecroppers (bargadars, bhagchasis or adhiar) of Bengal began to assert, that they would pay not a half share of their crop to the jotedars, but only one-third and that before the division of the crop, it would be stored in their own khamars (godowns) and not that of the jotedars.
    • In September 1946, Bengal Provincial Kishan Sabha gave a call to implement through mass struggle the Floud Commission recommendation of tebhaga.
  • Communist cadres, including many students from the urban areas, went out into the countryside to organize bargadars, who had become a major and growing section of the rural population.
  • Later, the movement received a boost in January 1947, when the Muslim League Ministry led by Suhrawarddi published the Bengal Bargadars Temporary Legislation Bill, in the Calcutta Gazette on 22 January 1947.
    • The jotedars appealed to the Government, and the police attempted to suppress the peasants.
    • But other political developments handicapped the government to get the Barga Bill enacted into a law.
    • The Partition of Bengal and the promises of the new government led to the suspension of the movement.
  • Further, the movement continued till 1950, when the Bargadari Act was enacted.
    • The Act recognised the right of the sharecropper to two-thirds of the produce when he provided the inputs.
    • Although the Bargadari Act of 1950 recognised the rights of bargadars to a higher share of crops from the land that they tilled, it was not implemented.
    • Large tracts, beyond the prescribed limit of land ceiling, remained with the rich landlords.
  • In 1967, West Bengal witnessed peasant uprising, against non-implementation of land reforms legislation.
  • From 1977 onwards major land reforms took place in West Bengal under the Left Front government.
    • Land in excess of land ceiling was acquired and distributed amongst the peasants.
    • Subsequently, “Operation Barga” began that was aimed at securing tenancy rights for the peasants.

On the whole, the movement reflected the development of the political consciousness of the poor peasants and tribal sharecroppers, and it may safely be opined that it marked a turning point in the history of agrarian movements in India. Hence, the Tebhaga movement is probably the greatest peasant movement in the history of India.

 

Introduction

  • The Telangana movement (1946-51) was an armed revolt of peasants, under the leadership of the Communist Party of India against oppressive landlordism patronized by the autocratic rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
  • It was a pivotal moment in Indian history because of its impact on the future of the communist movement in India, and its highlighting of the condition of the Indian peasantry.

Background

  • Social
    • Before Indian independence, Hyderabad state was a princely state within the territory of British India, comprised of three linguistic regions: the Telugu-speaking Telangana area (including the capital city, Hyderabad), the Marathi-speaking Marathwada area, and a small Kannada-speaking area.
      • The ruling elites, including the Nizam, were Muslims, while the majority were Hindus.
    • The nature of land ownership in the region was extremely exploitative.
      • 40% of the land was either directly owned by the Nizam or given by the Nizam to elites in the form of jagirs (special tenures).
      • The remaining 60% was under the government’s land revenue system, which relied on powerful landlords and gave no legal rights or security from eviction to the people actually cultivating the land.
    • Other exploitative practices were widespread.
      • The vetti (forced labour) system consisted of work performed by lower castes at the will of the landlord.
      • For example, each so-called “untouchable” family was required to send one man everyday to do household labour and other jobs for the landlord.
    • The large landowners had taken over significant tracts of land, either through forced occupation or debt-sales.
  • Political
    • In the 1920s, the suppression of languages and cultures provoked resistance, which eventually led to more wide-ranging agitations.
    • In 1928, the Andhra Mahasabha (AMS) was organised, which later in 1934 conference demanded:
      • reduced land revenue rates
      • abolition of vetti, and
      • the introduction of Telugu into the local courts
    • The advent of the Second World War saw the beginning of communist influence on the AMS, and in 1942, with the removal of the ban on the Communist Party of India (CPI), the communists began to grow in Hyderabad.
    • Further, after 1944, the communists, along with AMS, began gaining ground in several districts, especially among the agricultural labourers, poor tenants and small landholders, and started forming Sanghams (village-level committees).

The Movement

  • The Spark
    • Tensions mounted when a hereditary tax collector, attempted to forcibly take land belonging to a member of a village sangham.
      • He sent a group of 100 goons and 100 servants to forcibly gather the harvest.
      • They were resisted by the local village sangham leaders and volunteers.
    • On July 4, 1946, a procession was organised by the villagers protesting the violence and terrorism of the landlord’s goons.
      • As they approached the landlord’s house, some of the goons opened fire on the procession, leading to the death of Doddi Komarayya, the sangham leader.
    • The death of Komarayya enraged the people, sparking a massive revolt amongst the Telangana peasantry, with people from neighbouring villages marching, holding meetings in front of the landlord’s house, and declaring: “Sangham is organised here. No more vetti, no more illegal exactions, no evictions”.
    • By the end of July, the movement had spread to about 300-400 villages across three districts.
    • In response, the police, with the help of landlords, conducted a series of search operations, leading villagers to arm themselves.
    • In October 1946, the Nizam’s government banned the AMS, and a spurt of arrests and military raids took place. Under these conditions of martial rule, some landlords began returning.
    • Thus, during this first phase of the movement, the people were able, in several area, to “put an end to vetti, illegal exactions, compulsory grain levies, and reoccupy the lands seized earlier by the landlords”, while also “resisting the landlords’ armed goondas” and facing “the armed police and the military forces of the Nizam”
  • Razzakar Terror
    • In August 1947, when India became independent, Hyderabad state exercised the option of remaining autonomous.
    • The bulk of the ruling majority, including the Nizam, the nobility and the Majlis-I-Ittehad (MII), a fundamentalist Islamic organisation within Hyderabad, supported the call for Azad (“Free”) Hyderabad.
    • At this point, the MII started growing in militancy.
      • Its paramilitary force, the Razakars, were sent in hordes to suppress the peasant insurrection.
      • They raided and plundered the troubled villages, arrested or killed suspected and potential agitators, terrorized the innocent, and also abducted women as part of the campaign of punitive measures against the turbulent villages all over Hyderabad, but particularly in Telangana.
    • In reaction, in February 1948, the CPI introduced a new policy aimed at encouraging guerilla offensives, largely influenced by the success of the Telangana insurrection.
      • The village republics started redistributing land to landless agricultural labourers and evicted tenants, increasing the popularity of the movement.

Police Acton and the Aftermath

  • On September 13, 1948, in a ‘police action’ aimed at countering the violence in Hyderabad, the Indian Army marched into the state. Within a week’s time, the Nizam, the razakar squads and the police surrendered.
  • In an effort to co-opt peasant support, the military administration issued the Jagir Abolition Regulation (August 1949) and set up an Agrarian Enquiry Committee to recommend comprehensive land reform legislation.
  • At this time, a debate ensued within the CPI. Certain sections felt that giving up arms was essential. Other sections were sceptical, as they felt that giving up arms could lead to loss of gains and appear as a betrayal of the people.
  • However, by the end of 1950, only isolated guerilla groups existed, there was little coordination among village republics, and the severe military repression had taken its toll on the population, with a huge loss of life, and the movement weakened.
    • By early 1951, Congress government made several conciliatory gestures towards the CPI, and, after several rounds of negotiations, the CPI formally declared the struggle withdrawn on October 21, 1951.

Conclusion

  • The Telengana movement represents the culmination of efforts by communist and socialist parties in the first few decades of the communist movement.
  • The untiring efforts organising and mobilising the peasantry against grave injustices represented a break away from traditionally more moderate reformist movements within the peasantry.
  • Although the exact significance and value of the Telengana movement is fiercely debated, one cannot deny the role of the movement, in bringing the question of the peasantry to the fore of the communist movement; in actively organising people against caste injustices; and in radically redefining the need for strong organisational structure, which was a key factor in the growth of the movement.