Peasant Movement during the British rule

Peasant Movement during the British rule


Indian agricultural system under colonialism

Due to extensive changes in the Indian agricultural system by the British, there was a stir in the agricultural world of the country and Indian farmers got clogged with the shackles of poverty. The following major reasons for the poverty of Indian agriculture under colonialism were-

⇨ Colonial Economic Policies.

Extreme pressure on land from destruction of Indian handicrafts.

New Land Revenue System. And

⇨ Colonial administrative and judicial system.

Indian farmers were plagued by evils such as high rates of rent, illegal taxes, discriminatory evictions and forced labor in the zamindari areas. In the Ryotwadi areas, the government itself imposed heavy taxes on the farmers. Farmers, burdened by these various difficulties, were forced to take loans from the moneylenders to save their only means of livelihood. These Mahajans used to trap them in the debt trap by giving them loans at very high rates. On many occasions, the farmers had to mortgage their land and animals as well. Sometimes these usurers or mahajans used to seize the mortgaged property of the farmers.

Due to all these reasons, the farmers gradually became poor renters and laborers. Many farmers gave up agricultural work, agricultural land was lying vacant and agricultural production started decreasing. Occasionally, the peasants also opposed their atrocities and soon they came to the conclusion that their main enemy was colonial rule. Sometimes, after the culmination of oppression, the farmers also committed criminal acts. These crimes included robbery, robbery and assassinations.

Overview on early peasant movements

Indigo movement 1859-60 indigo revolt 1859-60

The first militant and organized revolt of the peasants during the British rule was the Neel Revolt. This revolt in Bengal in 1859-60 AD set an example of resistance. To meet the demand of European markets, indigo producers forced the farmers to cultivate indelible indigo. On the fertile land on which rice could be cultivated well, the indigo was cultivated by false covenant taking advantage of the illiteracy of the farmers. At the time of the agreement, a small amount was given as an advance and by cheating its value was undervalued by the market price. And, even if the farmer tried to get rid of exploitation by returning in advance, he was not allowed to do so.

Neel growers, who were under the protection of power in the long run, even stopped writing agreements and started cultivating indigo through their caregivers. They started adopting cruel tactics like kidnapping of farmers, illegal eviction, beating of sticks and burning their crops.

The beginning of the Nile movement took place very dramatically in the middle of 1859. Kalarova’s deputy magistrate, forgetting to understand a government order, gave this order to the police department to ensure that the farmers could produce the land as they wished. Soon, the farmers started making applications against indigo production. However, when the implementation was not done, the farmers of Govindpur village in Nadia district led by Digambar Vishwas and Vishnu Vishwas revolted. When the government tried to use forceful tips, farmers also came down on violence. Inspired by this incident, the farmers of the surrounding areas also refused to take advance from the producers, enter into agreements and cultivate indigo.

Later, the peasants challenged the rights of the landlords and also stopped paying them the rent. After this situation arose, indigo producers started filing cases against the farmers and started collecting money to fight the case. In return, the farmers also started social boycott of people engaged in the service of indigo producers. Due to this, the farmers became powerful and the indigo producers were falling alone.

The intellectuals of Bengal played an important role in this movement. He wrote articles in newspapers in support of farmers, organized public meetings and submitted memorandums to the government regarding their demands. Harishchandra Mukherjee’s letter Hindu Patriot fully supported the farmers. Neel Darpan from Deenbandhu Mitra made a poignant presentation of the pathetic condition of poor farmers.

In view of the situation, the government formed the Neel Commission to give suggestions on the problems of indigo production. Based on the recommendations of this commission, the government issued a notification, in which the farmers were assured that they would not be forced to produce the produce and all the related disputes would be resolved through statutory methods. Seeing no alternative, indigo producers started closing their factories from Bengal and by 1860 this dispute was over.

Pabna Rebellion 1873-76 Pabna Peasant Uprisings 1873-76

In Bengal in the 1870s and 1880s, landlords were subjected to massive taxation of farmers and their arbitrary practices on a large scale. A successful peasant movement, known as the Pabna rebellion, took place in Bengal between 1873–76 against these workers.

In 1873 in the Yusufshahi Pargana of Pabna district, a Kisan-Sangha was established to counter the arbitrariness of the zamindars. Under this union, the peasants got organized and they started a rent-strike and refused to pay rent at an increased rate. The union filed cases against the landlords and funds were also set up for this. Soon such associations were established in other parts of Pabna and other districts of East Bengal as well and fast cases were filed against the landlords.

This peasant fight was mainly fought on the legal front. In fact, by then the farmers had become very aware of their legal rights and had learned to fight the legal battle. He had come to know how to restore rights through unity, organization and peaceful struggle. During such a large scale violent movement, violent incidents were nominal. Often, when the implementation of the judgments was hindered, the farmers resorted to sticks.

Although this phase of peasant uprising lasted until 1885, when Bengal tenancy laws were enacted, most of the disputes were settled long before this, and the peasants had their land back. Many disputes were resolved through government pressure and mediation and many landlords themselves offered the agreement out of fear. These zamindars were afraid of the organized power of the farmers. Was, as well as seeing their loss in the trial of lawsuits.

In cases where violent incidents took place, the government favored the landlords and the farmers were arrested on a large scale. But, where the movement was peaceful and the farmers fought only on the legal front, the government took a neutral stand. This movement was neither against the zamindari system nor was it associated with anti-colonial politics at any level.

Even in this movement, the intellectuals of Bengal fully supported the agitators. Surendranath Banerjee, Anand Mohan Bose and Dwarkanath Ganguly supported the agitators’ demands from the platform of the Indian Association. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee also supported the movement. Nationalist newspapers also suggested that the fixation of taxes should be fixed permanently. In this movement too, Hindus and Muslims fought together although most of the peasants were Muslims and most of the zamindars were Hindus.

Deccan Rebellion, 1875 The Deccan Peasants’ Uprising, 1875

The main reason for the various peasant revolts taking place in the Deccan region of western India was the heavy taxes levied on the farmers under the Ryotwadi settlement. Even in these areas, the farmers were burdened with heavy taxes and were forced to get caught in the vicious cycle of moneylenders. These Mahajans were mostly outsiders, with Marwari or Gujarati predominating. After the end of the American Civil War in 1864, cotton prices fell drastically, affecting the farmers of Maharashtra badly. In 1867, the decision of the government to increase the rates of land revenue by 50 percent and the frequent wastage of crops led to the problems of farmers in extreme condition.

Gradually tensions between Mahajans-usurers and farmers started increasing, due to which in 1874 farmers started a social boycott movement against outsiders. Under this movement, the farmers refused to make purchases from the shops of Mahajans and to work in their fields. Barbers, dhobis and tanners also refused to do any service to the Mahajans.

This social boycott of farmers soon spread to the villages of Poona, Ahmednagar, Sholapur and Satara. But this social boycott soon turned into agrarian riots, as a result of which the farmers attacked the houses and business establishments of Mahajans and usurers. His loan papers and agreements were looted and publicly set on fire.

The government adopted oppressive policies of the agitators and crushed the movement. The formation of the Deccan Farmers Relief Act in 1879 ended the movement completely.

Even during this movement, the intelligentsia influenced by modern ideas of Maharashtra played a commendable role and logically raised the demands of the farmers in front of the government.

Changed character of peasant movements after 1857

Farmers emerged as the main power in the peasant movements and now they started fighting directly for their demands.

⇨ Their demands were mainly related to economic problems.

The main enemies of the farmers were foreign planters, native landowners, Mahajans and usurers.

Their movements were related to specific and limited objectives and their personal problems.

These movements did not raise voice against colonialism.

⇨ There was lack of continuity and long-term organization in these movements.

The scope of these movements was limited.

The purpose of these movements was not to end the system of subordination but they were related to the immediate problems of the farmers.

⇨ The farmers had now become aware of their legal rights and they were in favor of fighting in a legal way.


⇨ These agitators lacked understanding of the character of colonialism.

There was a lack of new ideology among the farmers of the 19th century and they did not include new social, economic and political programs in their agitations.

Although the nature of these struggles was militant, but they were dependent on traditional structures.

⇨ They lacked positive attitude.

Twentieth century peasant movement

The twentieth-century peasant revolts were more widespread, effective, organized, and successful than the rebellions of the previous century. The sources of this change were in the interdependent relations of the peasant movement and the Indian national freedom struggle. In order to intensify their struggle, the national movement established close proximity with the farmers in order to increase the social base and on the other hand, the farmers started supporting them with whole-hearted wealth, seeing the benefits of joining the national movement.

Kisan Sabha Movement Kisan Sabha Movement

After the Revolt of 1857, the Talukdars of Awadh were returned to their lands. This further increased the control of the talukdars or big landlords over the agricultural system in the provinces. A large section of the peasants were suffering from the arbitrary atrocities of these talukdars or zamindars, which included high rates of rent, eviction of land, illegal taxes and remuneration. After World War I, the prices of food grains and other essential items increased enormously. This made the condition of the farmers of Uttar Pradesh extremely pathetic.

Kisan Sabhas were formed mainly in Uttar Pradesh due to the activities of the Home Rule League. In February 1918, Gaurishankar Mishra and Indranarayan Dwivedi formed the Uttar Pradesh Kisan Sabha. In this work, Madan Mohan Malaviya made commendable contribution to him. By the middle of 1919, about 500 branches had been formed. The prominent leaders associated with the formation of Kisan Sabhas include the names of Jhiguri Singh, Durgapal Singh and Baba Ramchandra. In June 1920, Baba Ramchandra urged Jawaharlal Nehru to visit these villages. Subsequently, Nehru accepted this request and visited these villages and established extensive contact with the villagers.

The Awadh Kisan Sabha was formed in October 1920 due to differences among nationalist leaders. The Awadh Kisan Sabha appealed to the farmers not to plow the evicted land and not to forced labor. The Sabha urged the farmers to do social boycott of the farmers who do not follow these rules and resolve their disputes through the Panchayat.

In January 1921, due to the misunderstanding and outrage of local leaders in some areas, the Kisan Sabha movement took a violent form. During this time, the farmers attacked the markets, houses and grain shops and looted them and violently clashed with the police. Rae Bareli, Faizabad and Sultanpur were the main centers of these activities.

Gradually, government suppression led to the weakening of the movement. Meanwhile, the government passed the Awadh Malguzari Rent Amendment Act. This also weakened the movement. The movement ended by March 1921.

Eka Movement Eka Movement or Unity Movement

At the end of 1921, the peasants regrouped in the northern districts of Hardoi, Bahraich and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh and started the movement. This time, the following issues related to the movement were-

1. High Lagaan Rates – Lagaan rates were more than about 50 percent.

2. Repressive policies adopted by landlords in revenue collection work. And

3. The practice of forced labor.

In this Ekta or Unity movement, symbolic religious rituals were followed and the collected farmers were administered an oath that they-

Only pay proper rent and will pay the deadline in the rent payment.

If they are evicted from the land, they will not leave the land.

will refuse to do forced labor.

Will not be related to criminals. And

Will accept the decision of Panchayat.

The main movement of the Ekla movement was led by the farmers of the lower strata of the society – Madari Pasi and other backward castes and many small landlords.

By the end of March 1922, the government crushed this movement with the help of repression.

Moplah Rebellion, 1921 Moplah Rebellion 1921

The local Mopala peasants revolted heavily on the Malabar coast in Kerala in August 1921, inspired by reasons like Awadh. Mopala was a Muslim farmer on the Malabar coast of Kerala, where the rights of zamindari were mainly in the hands of Hindus. Even in the 19th century, the Mopalas revolted many times, suffering from the atrocities of the zamindars. The main reason for the revolt of the Mopalas – high rates of rent, sightings and other oppressive methods. But this time’s movement was characterized by its relationship with the nationalist movement. The Khilafat Movement supported the demand of the peasants, in return, the farmers exerted their full power in the movement. Here too, it was difficult to differentiate between the farmers’ meeting and the Khilafat meeting like Awadh. National leaders like Gandhiji, Shaukat Ali, Maulana Azad etc. visited these areas and brought more activism in them. Finally, in February 1921, the government imposed prohibitory orders, prohibited the meetings of the farmers with the Khilafat and arrested all its prominent leaders.

As a result, the leadership of the movement fell into the hands of local Mopala leaders and the movement took a violent form. The violent phase began on 20 August 1921 with the issue of the army entering the mosque for the arrest of Mudaliar, a prominent Khilafat leader. The Mopalas considered it an insult to their religion.

The infamous zamindars were targeted in the first phase of the rebellion. The rebellious Mopala peasants were Muslims but they did not disturb the liberal landlords and Hindus. For this, special instructions of rebels were given by the leaders. But the announcement of the British government to impose martial law changed the character of the rebellion. The government forcefully asked all Hindus to support themselves and some Hindus also openly supported the government voluntarily. This gave the rebellion an anti-Hindu form and large-scale incidents of Hindu killings and conversion took place.

Nationalist leaders broke away from the movement with the violent form of the Mopala uprising. It became even more isolated as the movement took communal form. By December 1921, the government completely suppressed the movement. Due to this, the morale of the Mopalas was completely broken and they never joined the whole fight for independence, while in Kerala a large-scale peasant movement was also organized under the leadership of the Left.

Bardoli Satyagraha

After Gandhi’s debut on India’s political scene, political activities became increasingly active in the Bardoli taluka of Surat district of Gujarat. The situation here became tense when in January 1926 the local administration announced a 30 percent increase in the rates of land revenue. Local people led by the Congress leaders here strongly opposed this increase. Seeing the seriousness of the situation, the government set up a Bardoli inquiry commission to solve the problem. The commission recommended that the increase in land revenue rates is unjust and unfair.

In February 1926, Vallabhbhai Patel was conferred the title of Sardar by the women of the movement. Under the leadership of Sardar Patel, the farmers refused to pay the land revenue at the increased rates and demanded before the government that unless the government constitutes an independent commission to solve the problem or withdraw the proposed revenue increase. Till then they will continue their movement. Sardar Patel established 13 cantonments throughout the taluk to organize the movement. Publication of Bardoli Satyagraha magazine was also started to create public opinion in support of the agitators. An intellectual organization was also established to ensure adherence to the methods of movement. Those who opposed the movement were socially boycotted. Several steps were also taken to ensure women’s participation in the movement. KM Munshi and Lalji Naranji resigned from the membership of the Bombay Legislative Council in support of the movement.

By August 1928, the movement had become fully active in the entire region. A railway strike was organized in Bombay in support of the movement. Gandhiji also reached Bardoli on 2 August 1928, seeing the possibility of Patel’s arrest. The government now began to try to end the movement in a peaceful and dignified manner. The government accepted the formation of an ‘inquiry committee’. Subsequently, the Bloomfield and Maxwell Committee constituted the increase in land revenue as incorrect and the increase was reduced from 30 percent to 6.03 percent. Thus the Bardoli Satyagraha became a successful historical culmination.

The peasant movement of the 1930–40s

In the 1930s and 1940s, along with the national movement in India, the frequency of peasant movements also increased greatly. The immediate developments that catalyzed the movements of this phase were the global economic slowdown of 1929-30 having a very bad effect on the poor peasantry and the widespread disobedience of the Congress with the Civil Disobedience Movement. This movement took the form of a campaign of non-payment of tax and revenue in a large part of the country.

Although the peasant struggles of this phase did not achieve much in an instant, they created an environment that resulted in many agricultural reforms after independence. The demand for eradication of zamindari, which arose in this period, was implemented after independence. Similarly, Punpravayalar’s movement for the merger of Travancore State into India played a historical role.

The immediate demands of the farmers in this phase included the reduction of taxes, the illegal recovery of feudal and forced labor, the liberation from the tyranny of the landlords, the reduction of the debt burden, the return of land taken by illegal means and the protection of the farmers. Adi was prominent. The demands of agricultural laborers remained secondary to the peasant movements of Andhra Pradesh and other states besides Gujarat. In fact, these movements did not take place for a complete change in the agricultural structure, but they aimed to end some of the most painful aspects of this system.

There were some important reasons for the emergence of peasant movements in this period. The Civil Disobedience Movement created an entire generation of young and militant political activists. When the civil disobedience movement came to a standstill, these activists put their political energy into the peasant and labor movements. Then, in the elections of 1937, the Congress government was formed in most of the provinces. The Congress rule of 28 months between 1937-39 was the culmination of peasant movements. One, civil liberties got more for the movements during this period and second, the Congress governments also took some concrete steps to improve the agricultural laws.

All India Kisan Congress Sabha

This meeting was established in April 1936 in Lucknow. Swami Sahajanand Saraswati is the chairman of this assembly and N.G. Ranga was elected secretary. This assembly issued the Farmers’ Declaration and also started publishing a letter under the direction of Indulal Yagnik. In 1936, the All India Kisan Sabha Conference was held in Faizpur. Several provisions of the Congress Declaration issued for the 1937 provincial elections were influenced by the agenda of the All India Kisan Sabha.

Peasant Movement under Congress Governments

The frequency of peasant movements increased greatly between 1937–39. Due to the cooperative attitude of the Congress governments, the farmers began to raise their demands rapidly. During this period, public meetings, demonstrations, dharna etc. were organized and peasant movements were also spread in the villages.

Farmer activities in the provinces

Kerala: In the Malabar region of Kerala, under the leadership of the leftists, organized by ‘Karshik Sangham’, the peasants launched a tremendous campaign against feudal recoveries, advance cash recovery and eviction etc. One of his methods proved to be extremely popular and effective, in which he used to make batches and go to the landlords’ house and get immediate solutions by asking for them. In 1938, farmers launched an important movement to amend the Malabar Tenancy Act, 1929.

Andra Pradesh

Here the defeat of the zamindars and their supporting candidates in the elections of 1937 had greatly boosted the morale of the peasants and they started a revolt against the privileges and excesses of the zamindars. The demand for debt relief was also important in this movement. At this time many farming organizations were active in the state. In 1933 N.G. Ranga established the Indian Agricultural Institute. A notable feature of Andhra’s peasant movements was that to train the peasant activists in economics and political science, the famous leftist leaders used to come to the summer schools to give lectures, which were arranged by the donations given by the farmers. Among these leaders, P.C. Joshi, Ajay Ghosh and R.D. Bhardwaj was the chief.


Here, leaders like Sahajanand Saraswati, Karyanand Sharma, Yadunandan Sharma, Rahul Sanskrityanan, Panchanan Sharma and Jamun Karjithi provided worthy leadership to the peasant movements. In 1935 the Provincial Kisan Sabha passed a resolution to abolish the zamindars. When she intensified the agitation for the return of the land, she also had differences with the Congress government because she did not want to disturb the landlords and create obstacles in the national movement at that time. The main form of the movement was – Satyagraha and tremendous sowing and harvesting. Large-scale conflicts also took place with the zamindars of the farmers during this period. In 1939, this movement was postponed due to some facilities and arrest of workers.

It resumed in 1945 and continued after independence, until the zamindari system was abolished.


Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Kirti Kisan Dal, Congress and Akali Dal played the main role in the early peasant movements in Punjab. In 1937, the Punjab Kisan Samiti issued new guidelines regarding the peasant movement. The main target of this movement was the zamindars of West Punjab, whose power increased greatly after the formation of the Unionist government. The main reason for this movement was the increase in land revenue in Amritsar and Lahore, the increase in irrigation tax in Multan and Montgomery and the imposition of new taxes by private contractors. Here the farmers went on strike in support of their demands and in the end they were successful in getting the concession.

The main centers of farmers’ activities in Punjab were Jalandhar, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Lailpura and Sheikhupura. Muslim farmers of western Punjab and Hindu farmers of southeastern Punjab were generally untouched by the effects of these movements.

Apart from these provinces, effective agrarian agitations took place in this phase in Bengal, Orissa, North West Frontier Province states and native princely states like Travancore and Hyderabad.

During the second world war

During World War II, the agrarian movement caused some stagnation in the agrarian movement due to the politics of the opposite stream of the Left. During the Quit India movement, differences between the communists and non-communists of the Kisan Sabha became very deep. As a result, many prominent leaders like Sahajanand, Indulal Yagnik and N.G. Ranga split from the sabha and in 1943 was divided into the Kisan Sabha.

After the end of World War II

Tebhaga Movement

This movement was one of the most prominent agrarian movements in Bengal. According to the recommendation made by the Lagaan Commission of 1940, the movement demanded that two-thirds of the crop should be given to the Burgadars (farmers). This movement was run by the bataidars against the tenants. The most prominent role in this movement was that of Bengal Kisan Sabha. Meetings and demonstrations were organized under the leadership of this assembly and slogans like Tibhaga Chai (we need two-thirds part) and Iqlab Zindabad.

Soon the Tibhaga movement spread to Jalpaiguri, Midnapore and Rangpur districts as well. In this movement, the Bataidars adopted the same method at all places. They used to perform sticks and shout slogans and take the produce to their house instead of taking it to the tenant’s house. The Burgadars gave full support to the agitating farmers. Members of the Communist Party of Bengal – Mufar Ahmed, Sunil Sen and Moni Singh played the main role in this movement.

In many places in this movement, women not only participated actively but some also led the movement. In Kakdwip, he participated in meetings and demonstrations along with the Andolanakars. The main centers of this movement, led by ‘Bangiya Territorial Kisan Sabha’, were the Th-Sandeshkhali, Haroa, Kakdwip, Bhangar, Sonarpur, Kasnong and Sundarbans region of the twenty four Parganas district. In addition, vigorous agitation was also conducted in many areas of North Bengal. In these places, the peasants raised the slogan of Tibhaga and revolted against the zamindars and moneylenders. Violent clashes also took place in several places with the police of the agitators.

Even after Independence, this movement continued till the Burgardy Act was enacted in 1949.

Telangana Movement: This movement was the largest peasant guerrilla war in the Etiharas of modern India, which affected 3 thousand villages and 3 million people.

In the Telangana region, the local Deshmukhs made a substantial increase in the situation with the participation of Patel and the Patwaris. These Deshmukhs had the patronage of the local administration and police as well as the Nizam’s government.

These Deshmukhs exploited the farmers and agricultural laborers to a great extent and there was a flood of atrocities in this area. Feudal repression and extortion became the destiny of the local peasants.

Fed up with the atrocities being committed towards them, farmers and agricultural laborers launched a movement against the exploiters. After some time, local communists, medium farmers and Congress organizations also joined this campaign. In this movement, the rebels adopted a policy of guerrilla attack against the exploiters. During the war, the communist-led guerrilla guerrillas made good inroads into the villages of the entire Telangana region with the support of the Andhra Mahasabha.

The rebellion began in July 1946, when a Deshmukh was killed by village militants in Jangaon taluka of Nalgonda. Soon the rebellion spread to Warangal and Kammam too. The peasants organized as Sangham and started an attack on Deshmukhs. They used sticks, stone pieces and chili powder as weapons. But the government took a very unkind attitude towards the agitators. The movement was at its peak between August 1947 and September 1948. In the context of the merger of Hyderabad, this movement ended automatically when the Indian Army conquered Hyderabad.

Telangana movement had many important achievements, which are as follows-

⇨ Guerrilla guerrillas (Vethis) established control over the villages and forced labor came to an end.

The laborers of agricultural farmers were increased.

⇨ The illegally occupied land was returned to the farmers.

Several steps were taken to fix the rates of rent and redistribution of land.

Several steps were taken to increase irrigation facilities and efforts were made to control cholera.

Significant improvement in the condition of women.

The semi-feudal system was abolished from the largest princely state of India.

⇨ Movement created the role of formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic basis.

Achievements of farmer movement

These movements created a favorable environment for various agricultural reforms done after independence. For example, abolition of zamindari system.

⇨ He made the landowners, ie farmers, aware of their real rights and started the process of change in the agricultural system.

These movements were based on nationalist ideology.

The nature of these peasant movements was the same in almost all the regions.

⇨ This increased awareness among farmers about their rights.

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