Peasant Movements And Trade Union Movements
Indigo Agitation of Bengal (1859-60)
- Oppression and exploitation of the peasants of Bengal by the European monopolistic indigo planters (vivid portrayal of this oppression by Dina Bandhu Mitra in his play, “Nil Darpan” 1860).
- Refusal of the peasants to cultivate indigo and their armed resistance against the platers (Bishnu Charan Biswas and Digambar Biswas) played a prominent role in this resistance).
- Organisation of powerful campaign by the Bengal intelligensia in support of the rebellious peasants.
- Appointment of the Indigo Commission of 1860 by the Government and removal of some of the abuses of Indigo cultivation.
Pabna Movement of Peasant Unrest in East Bengal (1872-76)
- Oppression of the peasantry by Zamindars through frequent recourse to ejection, harassment, illegal seizure of property, arbitrary enhancement of rent and use of force.
- Organisation of no-rent unions by the peasants and their armed attacks on the Zamindars and their agents (Pabna district was the storm-centre of this movement, and hence the movement is known as the “Pabna Movement”)
- Suppression of the movement only after armed intervention by the government .
- Appointment of an enquiry committee to look into the complaints of the peasantry and the enactment of the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 which conferred permanency of tenure upon some classes of tenants.
Deccan Riots (1875)
- Excessive land revenue demand of the British facilitating exploitation of peasantry by money-lenders.
- Social boycott of money-lenders by the peasants and its transformation into armed peasant revolt in the Poona and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra (here the peasants forcibly seized from the money-lenders debt bonds, decrees and other documents, and set them on fire).
- Failure of the police to suppress the riots which were finally put down with army help.
- Appointment of a Commission and the enactment of the Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act of 1879 which prohibited the imprisonment of the peasants of the Maharashtra Deccan for failure to repay debts to the moneylenders.
Peasant Unrest in Punjab (1890- 1900)
- Resentment of the peasants against the growing alienation of their lands to the moneylenders.
- Assaults and murders of money-lenders by the peasants.
- Enactment of the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1902 which prohibited the transfer of lands from peasants to moneylenders and the mortgages for more than 20 years.
Champaran Satyagraha (1917)
- Oppression of the peasants of Champaran (a district in Bihar) by the European indigo planters through the system of “Tinkathia” (a system in which European planters holding thikadari leases from the big local zamindars made peasants cultivate indigo on part of their land at unremunerative price) and by charging Sharabheshi’ (rent-enhancement) or ‘Tawan’ (lumpsum compensation) if the peasants wanted to be exempted from the obligation to grow indigo.
- Refusal of the peasants either to grow indigo or to pay the illegal taxes; arrival of Gandhi along with Rajendra Prasad, J.B. Kripalani, A.N. Sinha, Mazhar-ul-Haq, Mahadev Desai, etc., in order to conduct a detailed enquiry into the condition of the peasantry and to get their grievances redressed.
- Initial attempt of the government to suppress the movement; Success of Gandhi in forcing the government to appoint an Enquiry Committee with himself as one of its members; Acceptance of the recommendations of the Committee by the Government and the abolition of the “Tinkathia” system.
Khaira Satyagraha (1918)
- Failure of crops due to drought in the Khaira district of Gujarat; refusal of the Government to exempt the peasants from the payment of land-revenue.
- Launching of a no-revenue campaign by the Khaira peasants under the leadership of Gandhi and Vallabhai Patel.
- Suspension of the land-revenue collection for the time being by the government.
- Moplah Rebellion (1921)
- Oppression and exploitation of the Muslim Moplah peasants of Malabar (N. Kerala) by the Hindu Zamindars (Jennis) and British government.
- Outbreak of the rebellion in August 1921 (after a police raid on Tirurangadi mosque in search of arms) and widespread attacks on police stations, public offices, communications, and houses of oppressive landlords and moneylenders.
- Total loss of control by the British over Ernad and Walluvanad taluks for several months; Establishment of “Republics” at several places by the Moplahs under leaders like Kunhammad Haji, Kalathingal Mammad, Ali Musaliar, Sithi Koya Thangal. etc.
- Bloody suppression of the rebellion by the British, leaving 2337 rebels killed, 1650 wounded and more than 45,000 as prisoners. (At Podnur 66 Moplah prisoners were shut in a railway wagon and died of suffocation on 20th November 1921).
- It was anti-British as well as anti-Zamindar, and to some extent anti-Hindu also because most of the local zamindars were Hindus.
Bardli Satyagraha (1928)
- Enhancement of land revenue by 22% in the Bardoli district of Gujarat by the British Government (1927).
- Organisation of a ‘No Revenue Campaign’ by the Bardoli peasants under the leadership of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and their refusal to pay the land revenue at the newly enhanced rates.
- Unsuccessful attempts of the British to suppress the movement by large scale attachment of cattle and land; appointment of an Enquiry Committee to look into the land revenue assessment; Reduction of the land revenue on the basis of the Committee’s recommendations .
Emergence of Class-conscious Peasant Organisations
- Organisaffon of Ryots Assoclaffons and Agricultural Labour Unions in the Guntur district of Andhra by N.G. Ranga (July-December 1923) and their gradual spread to Krishna and West Godavari District (1924-26).
- Organisation of Kisan Sabhas in Bengal, Bihar. Uttar Pradesh and Punjab (1926-27).
- Organisations of the Andhra Provincial Ryots Associations by N.G. Ranga and B.V. Ratnam (1928).
- Foundation of the South Indian Federation of Peasants and Agricultural Labour in 1935 with N.G. Ranga as General Secretary and E.M.S. Namboodripad as a Joint Secretary.
- Holding of the first All-lndia Kisan Congress at Lucknow and the formation of the All-lndia Kisan Sabha (1936). Its first session was presided over by Swami Sahajanand, the peasant leader from Bihar. From 1936 onward All India Kisan Day was celebrated on Ist September every year.
Trade Union Movements
First Factories Commission and Act
- Due to the growing menace of all the evils of factory system, the First Factory Commission was appointed in Bombay in 1875 and the First Factories Act was passed in 1881.
Second Factories Commission and Act
- Another Factory Commission was appointed in 1884. Mr. Lokhande organised a conference of workers in Bombay and drew up a memorandum to be presented to the Factory Commission.
- This was the beginning of trade unionism in India. The memorandum included demands for a weekly rest, half an hour recess, compensation for disablement, payment of wages not later than 15th of every month, and limitation of hours work from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.
- But the Second Factory Act (1891) which was passed on the recommendations of the second factory commission was another great disappointment, because it provided only a few improvements like a weekly holiday, fixation of working hours for only women and children, but the hours of work for men were still left unregulated.
Second Stage (1818-24)
- During the second stage, a good number of trade unions were organised. The Madras Labour Union (1918), was the first trade union of modern type in India. Its President Mr. B. P. Wadia, an active member of Home rule Movement took pains to develop it. Many unions were organised in other places.
- In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was organised at Bombay by N.M. Joshi and others and 64 trade unions with a total membership of about 1,40,000 were affiliated to it. While the interests of workers of different industries were looked after by the concerned unions, the AITUC looked after the interests of labour in general.
- The rise of trade unions was accompanied by a large number of strikes. The demands of the workers were an increase in wages, grant of bonus, rice allowance, reduction of working hours and extra holiday.
- Another important feature of trade unionism in India during this period was its inability to make much headway in the well established manufacturing industries like mining, textile, jute, etc. But it was strong and stable among those who are called “white colored employees”.
Third Stage (1924 - 34)
- During this stage the influence of Communist ideology was clearly seen at work. Communists have begun to infiltrate into the trade unions as early as 1920. Their infiltration had brought about a change in the pattern of strikes.
- Trade unionism during this stage received a set back due to the ideological conflicts among the trade unionists. Radical elements with an intention to use the trade union movement to further their political motives towed the line of the fraternal political body at Moscow. On the contrary, the moderates in trade unions desired to keep the movement away from the communists. Consequently the struggle to capture and strengthen their respective positions in the AITUC began widening the gulf between the Congress and the Communist followers.
- The ideological differences led to the division of the AITUC in 1929, when the moderate faction left it and formed a new organisation, viz. Indian Trade Union Federation (ITUF). A further split occured in the AITUC, and a section formed the “Red Tuc”. All these developments occurred when the country was under the impact of economic depression and Civil Disobedience Movement.
- One important achievement of the trade union movement during this period was the enactment of the Trade Union Act in 1926. This Act made provisions for voluntary registration and gave certain rights and privileges to registered trade unions in return for certain obligations.
- Towards the end of this period attempts were made to forge unity among various trade unions. The attempts by people like N.M. Joshi, R.R. Bakhale, etc. resulted in the foundation of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) in 1933.
Fourth Stage (1935-39)
- In the fourth stage union activities were revived and there was also an increase in strikes. There are some reasons for the revival of the union activities during this period:
- The Provincial Congress Ministries, which had come into existence with the government of India Act of 1935 had adopted a policy of keeping industrial peace not by suppressing the labour organisations and denying their demands, but by prescribing minimum standards of living and general rights of citizenship.
- The Act of 1935 provided for the election of labour representative through labour or trade union constituencies.
- A change of attitude of the employers also encouraged the growth of trade unionism. It had been suggested by the ILO that the employers should not be hostile but friendly towards the trade unions.
- Unity moves were also initiated which resulted in the merger of Indian Trades Union Federation (ITUF) with the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), the merger of the Red Tuc with AITUC and finally the affiliation of NTUF with AITUC in 1938.
Fifth Stage (1939-45)
- The fifth stage corresponds with the War period. The World War II indirectly offered unprecedented protection to Indian Industries. The supply of foreign goods was denied to the Indian market partly because there was shortage of shipping facilities and partly because British industries in India and abroad swtiched over to war production. As a result Indian Industries stepped up their activity. Industrial production in India increased and established new records. However, prices rose sharply and inflation prevailed on account of the continuous purchase by Great Britain in India against sterling securities. There was rapid increase in profits but not in the wages.
- Strikes were, however, very few and wherever they were, they brought concessions to workers. The decline in the number of strikes was due to certain factors:
- l The communist leaders who supported war did not favour strikes.
- l Other sections of trade unions did not have the right type of leaders to guide the movement and to formulate the grievances of the workers.
- l The attitude of the employers was not that hostile.
- l The government of India, under the Defence of India Rules, assumed powers to prevent strikes and refer any dispute for adjudication and enforce the award.
- On the whole, the importance given to trade unions was enhanced.
- A permanent tripartite collaborative, machinery was formed consisting of government representatives, labour union leaders and employers.
- And under the National Service Ordinance of 1940, the rights of the workers were protected, while it was made clear that it was their duty to work.
- Likewise the Essential Services Maintenance Ordinance of 1941 prohibited the employers from dismissing the workers without valid reasons.
Sixth Stage (1945-47)
- The sixth stage i.e., the postwar period was also marked by a further growth in trade unionism, since the end of war brought no material benefits to the workers. The rise in prices and the cost of living showed no signs of abatement in the post-war period. The political developments in the country during this period also promoted the growth of trade unionism. Every political party wanted to secure a foot-hold in the labour movement. Moreover, the attitude of the government was also helpful in this regard. Both the Central and State governments, far from suppressing the labour movement, have realised that labour has to play a valuable role in the changed circumstances. So, the Trade Union Act was amended in 1947 to secure compulsory recognition of trade unions by the employers, provided they fulfilled certain requirements.
- Another important feature of trade union movement during this period was the increase in the number of women member of the trade union. Due to this, their position in trade unions as well as society enhanced considerably.
- A large number smaller unions came to be organised. But these small and local unions could not carry out effective collective bargaining and ensure the effective implementation of awards and agreements, while the employees organisations became powerful and centrally organised. This necessitated the formation of new inter-state, regional organisations among the workers.
- As a result, the strikes increased in number. Bombay and West Bengal, followed by Madras and Uttar Pradesh were the leading states so far as the industrial disputes are concerned.The Government of Independent India was gre- atly worried, becuase the rising unrest caused a decline in the industrial production. Therefore, in December 1947, an Industries Truce Conference was held and attended by the representatives of government workers and employers. This concil- iated the workers, who accepted the principle of compulsory conciliation and arbitration by the government and the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 (which provided for the appointment of concilia- tion machinery) was passed.
- Rabindranath Tagore remarked: Rammohan was the only person in his time, in the whole world of man, to realise completely the significance of the Modern Age. He knew that the ideal of human civilization does not lie in the isolation of independence, but in the brotherhood of interdependence of individuals as well as nations in all spheres of thought and activity.”
- Surendranath Banerjee described the Derozians as, the pioneers of the modern civilization of Bengal, the conscript fathers of our race whose virtues will excite veneration and whose failings will be treated with gentlest consideration.
- The Rahnumai Mazdayasnan: It was a Parsi organisation brought into existence in 1851 under the patronage of Dadabhai Naurojee. It did commendable service to the Parsi religion and community.
- Mirza Ghulam Mohammed of quadian (Punjab) declared himself the promised Mahdi and started the Ahmediya movement. He was a great reactionary in matters of social reform and opposed the abolition of the Purdah and defended divorce and polygamy.
- Gokhale could not pull on with Tilak, so he started the Servants of India Society in 1885. It aimed at producing national workers for India and promoting interests of the Indians by all means.
- Mr. N.M. Joshi founded the Social Service League in 1909. His object was to survey the Indian society to ascertain the nature and scope of work needed to reform the Indian Society.
- The evil custom of infanticide was wiped out of this land through the efforts of Lord Bentinck, Wilkinson and others.
- The Charter Act of 1833 abolished slavery in India. Slave trade became illegal in 1843 while it became a criminal offence under the Penal Code of 1860.
- Rai Sahib Harbilas Sarda put forth a Bill in the Legislative Assembly in 1928 with a view to securing prohibition of child marriage. The Bill became an Act in 1929 and is called the Sarda Act of 1929. According to this Act, a girl below 14 or a boy below 18 cannot contract marriage.