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Peasant Movements

Colonial economic policies, the new land revenue system, the colonial administrative and judicial system and the ruin of handicrafts leading to the overcrowding of land ,transformed the agrarian structure and impoverished the peasantary.In the vast zamindari areas the peasants were left to the mercies of the zamindar who rack-rented them and compelled them to pay illegal dues and perform beggar. In the ryotwari areas, the government itself levied heavy land revenue. This forced the peasants to borrow money from the moneylenders. Gradually over large areas the actual cultivators were reduced to the status of tenants at will, share croppers and landless labourers while their lands, crops and cattle passed into the hands to landlords, trader moneylenders and such 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 enemies after the barriers were down was the colonial state.

In 1930s nation wide awakening of peasants was largely the result of the combination of particular economic and political developments.

  • The great depression that began to hit India from 1920-30 and
  • The new phase of mass struggle launched by the Indian National Congress in 1930.

The depression brought agricultural prices crashing down to half of less of their normal levels dealt a severe blow to the already impoverished peasants burdened with high taxes and rents. Therefore the peasants were placed in a situation where they had to continue to pay taxes, rents and debts at pre-depression rates while their incomes continued to spiral steadily downward. The civil disobedience movement was launched in this atmosphere of discontent in 1930s and in many parts of the country it soon took on the form of no-tax and no-rent campaign. Peasants emboldened by the recent success of the Bardoli Satyagraha (1928) joined the protest in large numbers. In Bihar and Bengal powerful movements were launched against the hated chowkidar tax by which villages were made to pay for the upkeep of their own oppressors.

In Punjab a no-revenue campaign was accompanied by the emergence of Kisan Sabhas that demanded a reduction in land revenue and water rates and the scaling down of debts. The consolidation of left after the formation of the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 acted as a spur to the formation of an all India body to coordinate the Kisan Movement a process that was already underway through the efforts of N.G Ranga and other Kisan leaders. The culmination was the establishment of the all India Kisan Congress in the Lucknow in April 1936 which later changed its name to All India Kisan Sabha.Swami Sahajanand was elected secretary. The first session was greeted in person by Jawaharlal Nehru.

A Kisan Manifesto was finalized at the All India Kisan Committee session in Bombay and formally presented to the Congress Working Committee to be incorporated into its forthcoming manifesto for the 1937 elections. The Kisan Manifesto considerably influenced the agrarian programme adopted by the congress at its Faizpur session. The formation of Congress ministries in a majority of the provinces in early 1937 marked the beginning of a new phase in the growth of the peasant movement.

The political atmosphere in the country underwent a marked change: increased civil liberties, a new sense of freedom born of the feeling that our own people are in power a heightened sense of expectation that the ministries would bring a pro-people measures- all combine to make the years 1937-39 the high water mar k of the peasant movement. The chief form of mobilization was through the holding of Kisan Conferences or meetings at the Thana, taluqa, district and provincials levels at which peasant demands would be aired and resolutions passed. These conferences would be addressed by local, provincial and All India leaders. During Second World War years the Kisan Sabha continued to play an important role in arranging relief works during Bengal famine of 1943.It also continued its organizational work despite being severally handicapped by its taking the unpopular pro-war stance which alienated it from various sections of the peasantry.

Parth Nath Mukherji has made a study of Naxalbari movement and the peasant revolt in North Bengal in Darjeeling district and the regions are Phansidewa, Naxalbari and Khoribari.There are both tea plantations and paddy cultivation. He analyses the peasant uprising against the background of the communist movement in India. The Communist party of India developed two strands; one which argued that the situation in India was not yet ripe for revolution and the other led by the most articulate group of Siliguri sub division of Darjeeling district under the leadership of Charu Majumdar.Ideological pressures for radicalization of CPI (M) politics were exerted by the Darjeeling District Committee. Even among the radicals there were those who favored participation in the elections while the others proposed to shun the elections and socialize the masses against it. The former held to the primacy of the land problem and recommended mass struggles to solve it.

The Naxalbari peasant movement is related to the Tebhanga Movement of Bengal where the Bengali weavers were exploited. Over a period of time, numerous struggles against such exploitation led to the emergence of Krishak Sabha.But such movements also suffered from various weaknesses.

The weakness of the movement was there were two kinds of leadership. On the one hand there was the urban-based leadership, which claimed superior knowledge and status with regard to the manner in which the movement should be conducted. Among the rural leaders there were the indigenous rural leaders like Kanu Sanyal, Panchang Sarker and urban leaders like Charu Majumdar.When most of the rural leaders were in prison the leadership passed into the hands of the urban leaders who were interested in systemic changes rather than a mere just redistribution of the produce. Charu Majumdar shifted the focus from the narrow economic demands to capture of power. He wanted the annihilation of class enemies, which in effect was indistinguishable from secret assassinations. As a result he drove the movement underground.

Ranga Rao made a study of the Peasant Movement in Telengana based on both secondary sources and fieldwork. He places the communist led peasant movement in the wider context of other social movements, which sprang up in Telengana in the beginning of 20th century. The Telugu Literary Movement introduced ideas of renaissance and was against the Nizam's establishment. Under the influence of Indian National Congress and the Arya Samaj the Telengana elite gave a new direction to the activities of the Andhra Mahasabha in the 1930.They mobilized the public for the abolition of forced labour, untouchability and other social evils, They also demanded equal educational and economic opportunities and equal political representation for the Hindus. According to Narayana Reddy it is not enough if economic conditions are ripe foe such a movement. While similar conditions prevailed in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan it was the added presence of Nizam as a ruler from minority religious group, lack of civil and religious liberties and lack of correct understanding of the socio-economic situation prevailing in Hyderabad state by communists that helped a movement to develop. Ranga Rao adds that it was other structural factors like improvement in the economic and social conditions of the people followed by a period of reversal and oppression that made the peasants, rich and poor take part in the campaign of non cooperation against the Nizam's government under the collective leadership of the Congress, the Communist Parties and the Andhra Mahasabha.Many of these movements have also been changed over time and exist today in some form or the other in some places of India. These movements did not have a solid and unified aim all over India and hence its nature and struggle was also different from region to region.