Farmers' Movements in India

Farmers’ Movements in India

Farmers’ Movements in India boast a rich legacy dating back to the colonial era. During this period, farmers across different regions rebelled against various entities such as Zamindars, landlords, and British colonial powers, as well as feudal lords. This social movement revolves around agricultural policies and reflects a historical continuum of peasant uprisings witnessed globally throughout human history.

These movements hold significant importance within India’s social landscape, with the political dynamics of the peasantry largely shaped by factional interests within rural society, where landlords and affluent peasants occupy the lower echelons of the social hierarchy.

The concept of Farmers’ or Peasants’ Movement encompasses a collective endeavor aimed at advancing shared political, social, or artistic ideals.

In the context of India, scholars like Ghanshyam Shah categorize peasant movements into distinct phases: pre-British, British or Colonial, and Post-Independence. Notably, some movements persist despite shifts in political power, as observed by Oommen.

A.R. Desai further refines this classification, delineating colonial India into regions under British rule (Ryotwari), princely authority (Zamindari), and Tribal Zones. Desai labels movements during the colonial era as ‘Peasant movements’ and those post-independence as ‘Agrarian struggles,’ which encompass not only peasants but also other stakeholders.

Post-independence agrarian struggles are subdivided into movements led by emerging proprietary classes, including affluent farmers and middle peasant proprietors, and those championed by various segments of the agrarian poor, with a notable focus on the agrarian proletariat.

Scholars such as Kathleen Gough and K.P. Kannan offer further insights into the classification and dynamics of these movements based on goals, ideologies, methods of organization, and the development of class consciousness among rural workers, respectively.

Major Peasant Movements in India 

Titu Mir Movement (1782 – 1831)

  • Originated in West Bengal as a resistance against Hindu landlords who imposed a discriminatory beard tax on the Faraizis, a Muslim community.
  • The movement was led by Mir Nisar Ali, popularly known as Titu Mir, who rallied the Faraizis and other marginalized groups against this unjust taxation.

Moplah Uprisings (1836 – 1854)

  • Spanning over the Malabar region, the Moplah uprisings were fueled by grievances arising from increased demands imposed on tenants and the reduction of agricultural land sizes by landlords.
  • The uprising saw significant participation from the Mappila Muslim community, who rebelled against the oppressive land tenure system.

Indigo Revolt (1859-60)

  • Centered in the Nadia District of Bengal Presidency, the Indigo Revolt was led by figures like Digambar Bishwas and Bishnu Biswas.
  • It erupted in response to the exploitation of indigenous farmers by European planters, who coerced them into cultivating indigo without adequate compensation.
  • The movement garnered support from the Bengali Intelligentsia, with influential figures like Din Bandhu Mitra highlighting the plight of the indigo farmers through his play ‘Neel Darpan.’
  • The establishment of the Indigo Commission resulted from this revolt, affirming the rights of peasants to refuse indigo cultivation.

Pabna Agrarian Unrest (1873 – 76)

  • Originating in the Yusufshahi Pargana of Bengal, the Pabna Agrarian Unrest was driven by grievances such as increased rents and the predatory practices of moneylenders.
  • Notable leaders like Ishwar Chandra Roy, Shambhu Pal, and Khoodi Mollah spearheaded this resistance, advocating for the rights of tenant farmers.
  • The agitation contributed to the enactment of the Bengal Tenancy Act in 1885, which aimed to address some of the injustices faced by peasants.

Deccan Riots (1874 – 75)

  • The Deccan Riots erupted in response to heavy taxation imposed on farmers in the Ryotwari areas of Pune and Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.
  • Triggered by economic hardships exacerbated by the American Civil War and subsequent crash in cotton prices, the riots targeted oppressive revenue policies and the exploitation by moneylenders.
  • The movement aimed to nullify debts and obligations to creditors, leading to the passage of the Deccan Agricultural Relief Act in 1879 to alleviate the plight of farmers.

Phadke’s Ramosi Uprising by Ramosi Peasants (1877 – 1887)

  • Led by Vasudev Balwant Phadke in Maharashtra, the Ramosi Peasant Uprising protested against the British administration’s failure to address famine-related issues.
  • Phadke mobilized the marginalized Ramosi community to demand relief measures and resist exploitation during times of crisis.

Punjab Peasants Revolt

  • The Punjab Peasant’s Revolt emerged in the late 19th century in response to the perceived threat of losing ancestral lands due to various socio-economic factors.
  • It culminated in the passage of the Punjab Land Alienation Act, 1900, which sought to safeguard the interests of peasant communities by regulating land sales and revenue demands.

The New Farmer’s Movements

The inception of the modern Farmers’ Movement is commonly traced back to the 1980s, with notable organizations emerging across different states:

  • Shetkari Sanghatana, Maharashtra: Founded by Sharad Joshi, who famously rallied farmers with his powerful slogan, ‘Bharat against India.’
  • Bharatiya Kisan Union, Uttar Pradesh: Led by M.S. Tikait, this union played a crucial role in representing the interests of farmers in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Tamil Nadu Agriculturalists Association, Tamil Nadu: Headed by Narayan Swami Naidu, this association advocated for the rights of agriculturalists in Tamil Nadu.
  • Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Gujarat: Active in Gujarat, this organization focused on addressing the concerns of farmers in the region.
  • Karnataka State Farmer’s Association, Karnataka: Under the leadership of M.D. Nanjundaswamy, this association championed the cause of farmers in Karnataka.

In his book, ‘Populism and Power: Farmer’s Movement in Western India,’ D.N. Dhanagare highlights several key features observed in the analysis of farmer’s movements in Maharashtra:

  • Pan India Scope: The farmer’s movement exhibits a widespread presence across the entire country, reflecting the universality of its concerns and objectives.
  • Uniformity of Demand: Despite regional variations, there exists a commonality in the demands put forth by farmers across different states, indicating shared grievances and aspirations.
  • Common strategies of agitation: Farmers’ movements often employ similar tactics and strategies of agitation to address their issues, demonstrating a cohesive approach towards achieving their goals on a national scale.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the peasant movements have played a pivotal role in challenging prevalent myths and misconceptions surrounding the category of peasants. These movements have demonstrated that the historical significance of peasants remains enduring as long as land remains central to our existence and sustenance. Far from fading into obscurity, the peasant movement today showcases an intersectionality of interests, highlighting the diverse and multifaceted nature of contemporary social movements. By advocating for their rights and interests, peasant movements continue to shape social, economic, and political landscapes, emphasizing the ongoing relevance and importance of agrarian struggles in society.

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