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Tribal and Agrarian movement for land rights in context to united Bengal, Bihar, Orissa

         Social movements are generally conceived as the manifestation of collective behavior.

         The study of this historicity of the social movements is extremely important in order to have an insight into the present structural arrangements of it as well as its future orientations.

         “the tribal communities who with a sensitivity born of isolation and with a relatively intact mechanism of social control revolted more often and far more violently than any other community including peasants of India.’’

         British colonialism made a very excellent use of this situation and added some more dimensions in it. Through the enactment of the Permanent Settlement Regulations Act in 1793 it introduced the concept of private property in land which was unknown in Indian history. As a result of this most of the erstwhile adivasi rajas or chieftains were converted into zamindars or landlords and the common peasants were transformed into serfs or rayats. Instead of payment of nominal subscription to the Mughal emperors, British rule made the payment of land revenue a compulsion. The responsibility of revenue collection was vested with the zamindars. The burden of this proved to be enormous for the peasants and a large number of them were forced to sell their lands, only to become landless labourers. The moneylenders, liquor vendors and other people from outside the region exploited this situation Hence a new class of absentee landlords was also created.

         The land question here requires some more attention. The adivasis of this region conceived of themselves as natural owners of the land, which they have reclaimed by extensive labour. Moreover, land and the forest were not merely viewed as means of production in their custom. They were rather, culturally and religiously, associated with the land and forest. So, they could hardly tolerate their alienation from the land and the forest as created by the British agrarian policies.

Phase of Agrarian Movement (1765 -1845)

         "True agrarian movements have arisen whenever urban interests have encroached, in fact, or in seeming, upon vital rural interests."

         Hence agrarian movements take place whenever urban penetration occurs in the rural areas. It may be through the influence of urban values, (as for example, interdependence, individualism etc.) or through the acquisition of better lands in the rural area, imposition of land revenue, land tax and so on.

The major peasant uprisings of this phase are as following:

         1. First Chuar Rebellion (1767.)

         2. Dhalbhum Rebellion (1769 -1774)

         3. Tilka Majhi's War (1780--1785)

         4. Pahadia Revolt (1788 -1791)

         5. First Tamar Rebellion (1795)

         6. Second Chuar Rebellion (1798-1799)

         7. Nayek Hangama (1806 -1826)

         8. Second Tamar Rebellion (1820)

         9. Kol Insurrection (1831 -1832)

         10. Ganga Narayan's Movement (1832 -1833)

         British encroachment into the Jharkhand region started in the year 1765 after receiving the 'Dewani' of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. At its initial stage colonial administrators were basically interested in collecting land revenues from this region which was quite inaccessible due to its heavy hilly and forest covers. Apart from this the British administrators had to face another difficulty and that was concerning the attitude of the indigenous communities who refused to pay land revenues, as this was not be fitting to their customs. Hence payment of land revenue and that too in a compulsory manner was the basic reason behind the uprisings of this phase, especially those prior to 1793, the year in which the Permanent Settlement Regulation Act was enacted.

         The Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 brought certain administrative changes, which much more directly undermined the customs of the adivasi communities of this region. Firstly, the payment of land revenue by the cultivators to their chiefs were customarily guided but the Permanent Settlement Act

         Secondly, the law and order of this region was maintained by the 'ghatwals' or the pykes under the command of the local chiefs who were well informed of the customs and local cultures of the people. These pykes enjoyed gifts of lands from their chiefs for the service rendered by them.

         Thirdly, due to strict revenue assessment most of the local chiefs were found in huge arrears and their estates were auctioned to meet the revenue balances. The indigenous communities had a traditional organic relationship with their chiefs and could not bear the system that eventually led to their extinction. Finally, and most importantly, the estates of the local chiefs in arrears were auctioned, and in most of the cases, these were purchased by the outsiders, mostly non-adivasi zamindars.


  • Hence, the Permanent Settlement Act of 1793 marginalised the peasantry economically and also drove them towards a state of cultural alienation. The traditional economic and political organisations of the indigenous people centering on the autonomous village community were undermined.


  • The second Chuar Rebellion of 1798-1799, later on the Kol Insurrection of 1831-1832 and the Ganga Narayan's uprising of 1832-1833most prominently showed this trend. In all these the adivasi communities especially the Bhumijs of the Jungle Mahal and adjacent areas of the Chotanagpur plateau region participated in large numbers.


Phase of Consolidation (1845-1920)

These outsiders were mostly the zamindars, moneylenders, etc. created by the British rule, and they used to exploit the peasantry severally.

The major uprisings of the second phase are as under:

1. The Santhal Insurrection (1855)

2. The Sipoy Mutiny (1857)

3. Sardari Agitation or Mulkui Larai (1858-1895)

4. Kherwar Movement (1874)

5. The Birsa Munda Movement (1895-1900)

6. Tana Bhagat Movement (1914-1919)

This was most prominent in the Santhal Insurrection, Kherwar Movement and Birsa Munda Movement. The first two, being predominantly participated by the Santhals tried to establish the Santhal Raj while the Birsa Munda Movement went for the Munda Raj under the leadership of Birsa Munda.



Agrarian movement in Modern India


Understanding Peasant movement

         Peasant movements were almost unknown to the academy, and agrarian structures were expressed solely in the reigning idiom of British policy or economic history.

         Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahadev Desai and tens of other nationalist leaders had written accounts directed at the iniquities of the Indian agrarian social order but mainly directed at the fact of British rule.

         Peasant movements and nationalist politics pressured policy making towards, first, modifying and then ending the era of landlordism in colonial India. Agrarian power at Indian Independence stood redefined.

         The questions that became dated pertained to the role that peasants played in the transformation of the social order.

         British policy in India increasingly became one of support for landlords through whom the officialdom of empire sought to protect their dominions.

         Every now and then there was a deviation from this policy to accommodate the pressure generated by an unequal agrarian society which, under the impact of the market, produced peasant movements

         Between 1930 and 1935 when prices of agricultural produce did indeed fall, there was a rise in prices over this entire period.

         Greatest impact which such a rise in prices produced was manifest in a developing struggle between landlord and peasant for control over the increased value of agricultural surplus. The landlord raised rents. Tenants protested.

Many of those peasants who won tenancy and property rights against the landlords themselves became rent-receivers. They rented out the land rented in (or acquired after a struggle) from superior proprietors. Many others became rich cultivators

The Blue Mutiny, 1859-1862

         Poor peasants and small landlords opposed indigo planters in Bengal. In this they were helped by moneylenders whose own credit resources stood threatened by the structure of the monopolistic rights of the planters.


The Pabna and Boora Uprisings, 1872-1875

         Rich cultivators, benefiting from the commercialization of agriculture and producing cash crops, protested to secure further their occupancy rights granted nominally in 1859. In this they succeeded by 1885 when the Bengal Tenancy Act was passed. Later, by the middle twentieth century, such tenants were transformed into rent-receivers.


The Mappilla Rebellions, 1836-1921

         Poor peasants in Malabar (Kerala) protested for security of tenure. This was granted in 1887 and 1929. But only a rich tenantry benefited from these movements. This tenantry itself acquired afresh and consolidated further its rights as rent-receivers vis--vis.


The Deccan Riots, 1875

         Up against a heavy land revenue demand of the state, 1840-1870,cultivators lost their lands to moneylenders from the towns.

         The state intervened to legislate in favor of the 'agriculturists' in 1879. The state's pro-landlord stance therefore could also become pro-peasant as long as the framework within which it realized its land revenue did not alter to its disadvantage.


Punjab Agrarian Riots, 1907

         The state intervened to prevent alienation of land from peasants to moneylenders in 1900 but urban middle classes protested, in nationalist idiom, against government intervention. Riots broke out against moneylenders. The government appeared pro-peasant, as the peasants rioted against 'agriculturalist' moneylenders, who were landlords. Landlords we might recall were over the long term supported by British rule.


Peasant Movements in Oudh. 1918 - 1922

The peasants of eastern Uttar Pradesh defied large landlords through a tenants movement for security of tenure. Oppressive traditions of forced labour were attacked through fierce agrarian riots. Small landlords and the rural poor supported and led the movement. Statutory rights of occupancy were secured in 1921.The movement marked a phase of retreat for landlordism.


Peasant Protest against Indigo Cultivation in North Bihar, 1860-1920 and Champaran. 1907-1909 and 1917-1918

         Moneylenders and rich peasants voiced grievances of indebted small peasantry and agricultural labourers. Planters of indigo were put to rout by the rural hierarchy was left undisturbed. The movement signified the emergence of the peasant as a symbol in a nationalist ideology.


Agrarian Unrest in Uttar Pradesh, 1930-1932

         When prices slumped, peasants could not pay rents to landlords nor landlords revenue to the state. The Indian National Congress launched a no-rent no-revenue campaign of middle and rich peasants, supported by the rural poor, and small property holders. The movement marked a simultaneous retreat for landlordism and an attrition of the political domination of the colonial state.


Peasant Agitations in Kheda, 1917-1934 and Bardoli, 1928

         In Bardoli a proletariat in traditional agrestic servitude protested against an increased land revenue valuation alongside a dominant and in relation to the 'serfs' exploitative peasant community. The 'serfs' were partly convinced of the validity of nationalist ideology as represented to them and were in part coerced into joining the movement.


Peasant Struggles in Bihar, 1933-1942

         When prices fell in 1930, the rents to which tenants had agreed in a period of rising prices (1900-1920) became too heavy to bear. Peasants were evicted by landlords as the latter attempted to increase their power and control. The tenants movement that developed sought to regain control over the lands from which the peasants had been evicted.


Share-croppers Agitation in Bengal, 1938-1950

         The share-croppers were mostly poor peasants with very small holdings who fought landlords for security from eviction and aright to at least two-thirds of the produce.

         In legislation in 1950 and in 1978-1979 these rights were recognized and pushed through despite landlord opposition by various governments in Independent India.


The Telengana Rebellion, Hyderabad, 1946-1951

         A movement involving sustained armed struggle of rich peasants and the rural poor. The peasantry sought to destroy the political

         power of large landlords while the agricultural labourers fought against forced labour.

Tebhaga Movement in 1946- North Bengal

         Proletariat militant struggle in North Bengal. The stir shaped his vision of a revolutionary struggle.

         The Naxalbari uprising of March 1967.The armed peasants' struggle began in Naxalbadi in West Bengal on March 2, 1967 when a tribal youth named Wimal Kesan, who had a judicial order, went to plough his land. Local landlords attacked him through their goons. This sparked wide-scale violence by tribal who started capturing back their lands and then starts Naxalite movement.