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Peasant Movements—1857-1947 (II)


In the previous article I briefly discussed peasantry under colonialism and some early peasant movements. The part II discusses some of the later peasant movements of 20th century that were deeply influenced by and had a great impact on the national freedom struggle.

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LATER MOVEMENTS

The Kisan Sabha Movement

  • After the 1857 revolt, the Awadh taluqdars had got back their lands.
  • This strengthened the hold of the taluqdars or big landlords over the agrarian society of the province.
  • The majority of the cultivators were subjected to high rents, summary evictions (bedakhali), illegal levies, renewal fees or nazrana.
  • The First World War had hiked the prices of food and other necessities.
  • This worsened the conditions of the UP peasants.
  • Mainly due to the efforts of the Home Rule activists, kisan sabhas were organised in UP.
  • The UP Kisan Sabha was Gauri Shankar Mishra and Indra Dwivedi.
  • Madan Mohan Malaviya supported their efforts.
  • By June 1919, the UP Kisan Sabha had 450 branches.
  • Other prominent leaders included Jhinguri Singh, Durgapal Singh and Baba Ramchandra.
  • In June 1920, Baba Ramchandra urged Nehru to visit these villages.
  • In October 1920, the Awadh Kisan Sabha came into existence because of differences in nationalist ranks.
  • The Awadh Kisan Sabha asked the kisans to refuse to till bedakhali land, not to offer hari and begar (forms of unpaid labour), to boycott those who did not accept these conditions and to solve their disputes through panchayats.
  • From the earlier forms of mass meetings and mobilisation, the patterns of activity changed rapidly in January 1921 to the looting of bazaars, houses, granaries and clashes with the police.
  • The centres of activity were primarily the districts of Rai Bareilly, Faizabad and Sultanpur.
  • The movement declined soon, partly due to government repression and partly because of the passing of the Awadh Rent (Amendment) Act.

Eka Movement,

  • Towards the end of 1921, peasant discontent resurfaced in some northern districts of the United Provinces—Hardoi, Bahraich, Sitapur. The issues involved were:
    1. high rents-50 per cent higher than the recorded rates;
    2. oppression of thikadars in charge of revenue collection; and
    3. practice of share-rents.
  • The meetings of the Eka or the Unity Movement involved a symbolic religious ritual in which the assembled peasants vowed that they would
    1. pay only the recorded rent but would pay it on time;
    2. not leave when evicted;
    3. refuse to do forced labour;
    4. give no help to criminals;

abide by panchayat decisions.

  • The grassroot leadership of the Eka Movement came from Madari Pasi and other low-caste leaders, and many small zamindars.
  • By March 1922, severe repression by authorities brought the movement to an end.

Mappila Revolt

  • The Mappilas were the Muslim tenants inhabiting the surging where most of the landlords were Hindus.
  • The Mappilas had expressed their resentment against the oppression of the landlords during the nineteenth century also.
  • Their grievances centered around lack of security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees and other oppressive exactions.
  • The Mappila tenants were particularly encouraged by the demand or the local Congress body for a government legislation regulating tenant- landlord relations.
  • Soon, the Mappila movement merged with the ongoing Khilafat agitation.
  • The leaders of the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement like Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and Maulana Azad addressed Mappila meetings.
  • After the arrest of national leaders, the leadership passed into the hands of local Mappila leaders.
  • Things took a turn for the worse in August 1921 when the arrest of a respected priest leader, Ali Musaliar, sparked off large scale riots.
  • Initially, the symbols of British authority— courts, police stations, treasuries and offices—and unpopular landlords (jenmies who were mostly Hindus) were the targets.
  • But once the British declared martial law and repression began in earnest, the character of the rebellion underwent a definite change.
  • Many Hindus were seen by the Mappilas to be helping the authorities.
  • What began as an anti-government and anti-landlord affair acquired communal overtones.
  • The communalisation of the rebellion completed the isolation of the Mappilas from the Khilafat-Non-Cooperation Movement.
  • By December 1921, all resistance had come to a stop.

Bardoli Satyagraha

  • The Bardoli taluqa in Surat district had witnessed intense politicisation after the coming of Gandhi on the national political scene.
  • The movement sparked off in January 1926 when the authorities decided to increase the land revenue by 30 per cent.
  • The Congress leaders were quick to protest and a Bardoli Inquiry Committee was set up to go into the issue.
  • The committee found the revenue hike to be unjustified.
  • In February 1926, Vallabhbhai Patel was called to lead the movement, The women of Bardoli gave him the title of “Sardar”.
  • Under Patel, the Bardoli peasants resolved to refuse payments of the revised assessment until the Government appointed an independent tribunal or accepted the current amount as full payment.
  • To organise the movement, Patel set up 13 chluzvanis or workers’ camps in the taluqa. Bardoli Satyagraha Patrika was brought out to mobilise public opinion.
  • An intelligence wing was set up to make sure all the tenants followed the movement’s resolutions.
  • Those who opposed the movement faced a social boycott.
  • Special emphasis was placed on the mobilisation of women. K.M. Munshi and Lalji Naranji resigned from the Bombay Legislative Council in support of the movement.
  • By August 1928, massive tension had built up in the ‘area. There were prospects of a railway strike in Bombay.
  • Gandhi reached Bardoli to stand by in case of any emergency.
  • The Government was looking for a graceful withdrawal now.
  • It set the condition that first the enhanced rent be, paid by all the occupants (not actually done).
  • Then, a committee went into the whole affair and found the revenue hike to be unjustified and recommended a rise of 6.03 per cent only.
  • During the 1930s, the peasant awakening was influenced by the Great Depression in the industrialised countries and the Civil Disobedience Movement which took the form of no-rent, no-revenue movement in many areas.
  • Also, after the decline of the active phase movement (1932) many new entrants to active politics started looking for suitable outlets for release of their energies and took to organisation of peasants.

India Kisan Congress Sabha

  • Indian Kisan Congress Sabha was founded in Lucknow in April 1936 with Swami Sahjanand Saraswati as the president and N.G. Ranga as the general secretary.
  • A kisan manifesto was issued and a periodical under Indulal Yagnik started.
  • The AIKS and the Congress held their sessions in Faizpur in 1936.
  • The Congress manifesto (especially the agrarian policy) for the 1937 provincial elections was strongly influenced by the AIKS agenda.

Under Congress Ministries

  • The period 1937-39 was the high watermark of the peasant movements and activity under the Congress provincial rule.
  • The chief form of mobilization was through holding kisan conferences and meetings where demands were aired and resolutions were passed.
  • Mobilisation campaigns were carried out in the villages.
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