Modern India

Peasant Struggles in India

A large number of peasants, tribesmen, disinherited landlords and disbanded soldiers turned to part time or full time banditry in 18 century and 19 the century when they were deprived of their livelihood, evicted from their homelands or squeezed in their tribal territories.

The thugee were the most colorful and numerous of Indian bandits, the best of them combining a rather distant millenarian prospect with gallantry and a genius for swift assassination. They arose about 1650 in the area between Delhi and Agra and multiplied in late Mughal times as revenue exactions became harsher. During British rule they spread throughout Bihar and into Oudh, Bengal, Orissa, Rajputana, Punjab, Mysore and Karnataka.Thugee were recruited from outlaws of the state, peasants and disbanded soldiers chiefly from the most oppressed classes of their regions. They confined their assaults chiefly to merchants, soldiers, money carriers and servants of the company.

Peasant Struggles in India

The militant religious movements strove for the liberation of an ethnic region both from the British and from foreign Indian predators and invaders and for the establishment of a divinely ordained kingdom righteousness and justice. They arose among severely exploited minorities most of whom remained in there home territories and were numerically preponderant within a region. Many bandit movements resembled the ethnic religious movements in possessing special religious cults charismatic leaders and a belief that their struggles would eventually release the world from pain. Bandits apparently differed from local religious movements for liberation, however being recruited from displaced or outcaste groups and individuals.
14 of the revolts were mass insurrections in which peasants provided the leadership and were the sole or dominant force. These revolts were sudden and dramatic. They lacked a religious movement ideology and a single charismatic leader. They aimed initially at the redress of particular grievances and thus were at first reformative.

All the uprisings involved tenants and small owner-cultivators. All were against economic deprivations resulting from British policies and in most cases also from landlords. The revolt in Rangpur and Dinajpur of 1783 and the Deccan peasant uprising of 1875 provide earlier and later example of features characteristic of all these uprising. Water carriers, barbers and even the house servants of moneylenders in addition to cultivators joined the Deccan revolt of 1875. It covered Poona and Ahmed nagar districts and spread into Gujarat. Excessive revenue exactions, low prices of grain and cotton crops and eviction and land mortgages to moneylenders drove the peasants to three-week insurrections. Tens of 1000s met in public gatherings in market places and vowed to boycott the claims of moneylenders and to seize their documents. Some moneylenders fled the area. Those who resisted the armed bands had their fodder stacks burned down although the peasants carried on very little personal violence. The revolt produced some respite in the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879.

The famous Bengal Indigo Strike of 1860 was the first large strike in India and one of the most successful. It illustrates the initiative and discipline of what peasants are capable of .The tenants were forced to grow indigo at very low prices for the British textile industry to the exclusion of other crops. When they refused slave drivers some trained on US southern plantations kidnapped or flogged them, exposed them in stocks or murdered them. The strike spread rapidly. Tenants assembled with swords, bows and arrows and matchlocks to defend their settlements. In Pabna an army of 2000 peasants appeared and wounded a magistrate’s horse otherwise there was little violence. The strike stopped indigo planting in Bengal and forced the planters to move west to Bihar.

Santhal Uprising against British as well as Zamindars who were invested with unjustified and undreamt of powers of ownership of land that peasants had customarily considered and cultivated for millennium as their own and also against money lenders who were given powers to get peasants imprisoned for failure to repay their debts and against the authority of officials. The Santhals never thought that they could be evicted from their ancestral homesteads; holdings and forests to failure to pay taxes and debts but that had come to happen. The peasants bonded themselves to resist short measures, illegal cesses and forced deliveries of agreement to pay enhanced rents and also there had been combination of raiyats in east Bengal refused to payments except what they considered just. The Santhals found their leaders in two brothers who claimed to have received some occult blessings from the Gods to put an end to oppression of officers and to the deceit of merchants.

With equal fury and fervor rose the Maratha peasants in the same generation against the oppression of money lenders.They could not brook the idea of obedience to the new laws which gave such coercive powers to money lenders that any money lender could with impunity move court to imprison anyone of his peasant debtors so they revolted burnt the houses,killed many oppressors and attacked government officials who were supporting their oppressors.
Indian peasants have a long tradition of armed uprisings reaching back at least to the initial British conquest and the last decades of Moghul government. For more than 200 years peasants in all the major regions have repeatedly risen against landlords, revenue agents and other bureaucrats, moneylenders, police and military forces. The uprisings were in response to relative deprivation of unusually severe character always economic and often also involving physical brutality or ethnic persecution.

Although revolts have been widespread, certain areas have an especially strong tradition of rebellion. Bengal has been a hotbed of revolt both rural and urban from the earliest days of British rule. Some districts in particular Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Rangpur and Pabna in West Bengal and Santhal regions of Bihar and West Bengal figured repeatedly in peasant struggles and continued to do so.The tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh and the state of Kerala also have long traditions in revolt. Hill regions were tribal or other minorities retain a certain independence, ethnic unity and tactical maneuverability and where the terrain is suited to guerilla welfare are of course especially favorable for peasant struggle but these have also occurred in densely populated, plain regions such as Thanjavur where land hunger, landless labor and unemployment caused great suffering.

The British ushered in a qualitatively new set of property relations by making land a commodity thereby giving a mortal blow to the peculiar feudal relations prevailing in the countryside. These new types of proprietary relations are called the Zamindari and ryotwari systems. Under the former vast tracts of land comprising of districts, talukas, villages and even large tribal areas were made over to zamindars.

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