Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Peasants have to liberate themselves not only from the foreign yoke but also from the yoke of landlords and capitalists"

Peasant Movement in India is steeped in history and is pregnant with several rebellions that have taken place in numerous regions within the country. Peasant movement and Uprisings in India occurred mostly during the British rule, as the economic policies devastated traditional ways of livelihood, and resulted in seizure of land and increase in debt of the peasants and farmers. The exploitations of British colonialism were borne by the Indian peasants adversely. However the peasants stood their ground and fought against the British at every single step. There was a change in the resistance behavior of the peasants, because they started fighting for their demands and the unjust done to them. This behavior became more prominent and in action after 1858.

It is worth taking a look at the effects of colonial exploitation of the Indian peasants. Colonial economic policies, the new land revenue system, the colonial administrative and judicial systems and the ruin of the handicrafts leading to the over-crowding of land, transformed the agrarian structure leading to the over-crowding of land, transformed the agrarian structure and impoverished the peasantry. In the vast zamindari areas, the peasants were left to the tender mercies of the zamindars who rack-rented them and compelled them to pay the illegal dues and perform beggar. In Ryotwari areas , the government itself levied heavy land revenue. This forced the peasants to borrow money from moneylenders. Gradually, over large areas, the actual cultivators were reduced to the status of tenants-at-will, share-croppers and landless laborers, while their lands, crops and cattle passed into the hands of landlords, trader-moneylenders and rich peasants.

When the peasants could take it no longer, they resisted against the oppression and exploitation; and, they found whether their target was the indigenous exploiter or the colonial administration, that their real enemy, after the barriers were down, was the colonial state.

One form of elemental protest, especially when individuals and small groups found that collective action was not possible though their social condition was becoming intolerable, was to take to crime. Many dispossessed peasants took to robbery, decoity and what has been called social banditry, preferring these to starvation and social degradation.

The most militant and widespread of the peasant movements was the Indigo revolt of 1859-60. The indigo planters, nearly all Europeans, compelled the tenants to grow indigo which they processed in factories set up in rural (mofussil) areas. From the beginning, the indigo was grown under an extremely oppressive system which involved great loss to cultivators. The planters forced to peasants to take a meager amount as advance and below market price. The comment of the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, J.B. Grant was that: the root of the whole question is the struggle to make the raiyats grow indigo plant, without paying them the price of it.” The peasant was forced to grow indigo on the best land he had whether or not he wanted to devote his land and labour to more paying crops like rice. At the time of delivery, he was cheated even of the due low price. He also had to pay regular bribes to the planter’s officials. He was forced to accept an advance. Often he was not in a position to repay it, but even if he could he was not allowed to do so. The advance was used by the planters to compel him to go on cultivating indigo.

Since the enforcement of forced and fraudulent contracts through the courts was a difficult and prolonged process, the planters restored to a reign of terror to coerce the peasants. Kidnapping, illegal confinement in factory godowns, flogging attacks on women and children, carrying off cattle, looting, burning and demolition of houses and destruction of crops and fruit trees, were some of the methods used by the planters. They hired or maintained bands of lathiyals (armed retainers) for the purpose.

In practice, the planters were also above the law. With a few exceptions, the magistrates, mostly European, favored the planters with whom they dined and hunted regularly. Those few who tried to be fair were soon transferred. Twenty-nine planters and a solitary Indian zamindar were appointed as Honorary Magistrates in 1857, which gave birth to the popular saying “ je rakhak se bhakak” ( Our protector is also our devourer).

Peasant Movement for Indigo Cultivation

One of the most popular events of peasant revolt was the conflict in indigo cultivation in Bengal. During 1859-60, the peasants were forced to cultivate indigo and sell them at cheaper rates to the British. The cultivation of indigo would make their lands infertile and bare forever. Upon refusal, the peasants were tortured and beaten, ruthlessly and brutally, so as to compel them to cultivate indigo. Along with the support of intelligentsia of Bengal, the peasants revolted and refused from cultivating indigo, as a result of their frustration and anger. The government was compelled to appoint a commission for investigation and mitigation of the system. But still, the conflict could not be solved and the oppression of British and resistance of peasants continued.

Peasant Movements in Bihar and Bengal

The indigo peasants of Bihar revolted in large scale in Darbhanga and Champaran in 1866-68. Once again unrest broke out amidst peasants in 1870`s in East Bengal. The powerful and cunning Zamindars freely took recourse to ejection, harassment, illegal seizure of property, including crops and chattels and extortions, and large-scale use of force to increase rents and to prevent the peasants from acquiring occupancy rights. The Bengal peasants also had a long tradition of resistance stretching back to 1782, when the peasants of North Bengal had rebelled against the East India Company.

From 1872 to 1876, the peasants united and formed a union to impose a No Rent policy and fought against the Zamindars and their agents. It was stopped only when the government suppressed the peasants` acts of violence. This created a situation of uneasiness and unrest amongst the peasants and it ended when the government promised to take some action on the Zamindari oppression.

Peasant Movements in Maharashtra

A major agrarian unrest took place in Pune and Ahmednagar -districts of Maharashtra in 1875. In Maharashtra, the British government had directly settled the revenue with the peasants. At the same time, it increased the rates of revenue so high that it was impossible to pay the revenue and they had no option left other than borrowing the money from the moneylenders who charged high interest rates. More and more land got mortgaged and sold out to the moneylenders, who gave utmost efforts to achieve the land at legal and illegal terms. Peasant patience got exhausted by the end of the year1875 and huge agrarian riots took place. Police failed in meeting the fury of peasants` resistance which was suppressed only when the whole military force at Pune took the field against them. Once again the modern intelligentsia of Maharashtra supported the peasants` demands. But it pointed out that the source of misery of peasants was high revenue rates and government`s incapabilities to provide loan at cheaper rates.

Peasant Movements in Kerala and Assam

Peasant unrest also broke out in several other parts of country such as North Kerala and Assam. The situation provoked in Assam because of high land revenue assessment. The peasants refused to pay enhanced revenue demands to the landlords and fought against the land revenue collectors to seize their lands. The situation worsened and Police had to mobilize their network to suppress the peasants. Many peasants were killed mercilessly and brutally in the riots. These movements or riots of peasants did not create any threat to the British rule, but proved that the Indian peasants` reactions were instant and spontaneous to every situation. The Peasants always resisted the efforts of the British to get control and power in the name of maintaining law and order. Thus, in practicality, the illiterate and ignorant people performed acts of appreciation against the menace of the increasing British colonialism. Their faith, their courage and heroism, their willingness to make immense sacrifices were no match against the imperialist power armed with the latest weapons and the resources of a worldwide empire.

The popular movements and rebellions of the 19th century did, however, reveal the immense sources of resistance to imperialism that lay dormant among the Indian people. Later by the 1930s, the condition of the peasants started to improve all over the nation due to gradual political and economic developments. This became possible due to the various efforts undertaken by the Indian National Congress during that period.

m the foreign yoke but also from the yoke of landlords and capitalists"


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