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Spectrum: Summary of Peasant Movements 1857-1947 - History for UPSC CSE

Peasant Movements 1857-1947

The impoverishment of the Indian peasantry was a direct result of the transformation of the agrarian structure due to

  • Colonial economic policies,
  • The ruin of the handicrafts leading to overcrowding of land,
  • The new land revenue system,
  • Colonial administrative and judicial system.

A Survey of Early Peasant Movements

Indigo Revolt (1859-60)

  • In Bengal, the indigo planters, nearly all Europeans, exploited the local peasants by forcing them to grow indigo on their lands instead of the more paying crops like rice.
  • The planters forced the peasants to take advance sums and enter into fraudulent contracts which were then used against the peasants. The planters intimidated the peasants through kidnappings, illegal confinements, flogging, attacks on women and children, seizure of cattle, burning, and demolition of houses, and destruction of crops.
  • The anger of the peasants exploded in 1859 when led by Digambar Biswas and Bishnu Biswas of Nadia district, they decided not to grow indigo under duress and resisted the physical pressure of the planters and their lathiyals ( retainers) backed by police and the courts.
  • They also organized a counterforce against the planters' attacks. The planters also tried methods like evictions and enhanced rents. The ryots replied by going on a rent strike by refusing to pay the enhanced rents and by physically resisting the attempts to evict them. Gradually, they learned to use the legal machinery and initiated legal action supported by fund collection.

Pabna Agrarian Leagues

  • During the 1870s and 1880s, large parts of Eastern Bengal witnessed agrarian unrest caused by oppressive practices of the zamindars. The zamindars resorted to enhanced rents beyond legal limits and prevented the tenants from acquiring occupancy rights under Act X of 1859. To achieve their ends, the zamindars resorted to forcible evictions, seizure of cattle and crops, and prolonged, costly litigation in courts where the poor peasant found himself at a disadvantage

Deccan Riots

Ryots of the Deccan region of western India suffered heavy taxation under the Ryotwari system. The conditions had worsened due to a crash in cotton prices after the end of the American Civil War in 1864, the Government's decision to raise the land revenue by 50% in 1867, and a succession of bad harvests.

Changed Nature of Peasant Movements after 1857

  • Peasants emerged as the main force in agrarian movements, fighting directly for their own demands.
  • Demands were centered almost wholly on economic issues.
  • Movements were directed against the immediate enemies of the peasant foreign planters and indigenous zamindars and moneylenders.
  • Struggles were directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances.
  • Colonialism was not the target of these movements.
  • It was not the objective of these movements to end the system of subordination or exploitation of the peasants.
  • Territorial reach was limited.
  • There was no continuity of struggle or long-term organization.
  • Peasants developed a strong awareness of their legal rights and asserted them in and outside the courts.


  • A lack of an adequate understanding of colonialism.
  • 19th-century peasants did not possess a new ideology and a new social, economic, and political program.
  • These struggles, however militant, occurred within the framework of the old societal order lacking a positive conception of an alternative society

Later Movements

The Kisan Sabha Movement

  • Was set up in 1918 by Gauri Shankar Mishra and Indra Narayan Dwivedi. 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

  • High rents—50 percent higher than the recorded rates; oppression of thikadars in charge of revenue collection; and practice of share-rents.
  • Meetings of the Eka or the Unity Movement involved a symbolic religious ritual in which the assembled peasants vowed that they would
    pay only the recorded rent but would pay it on time; not leave when evicted; refuse to do forced labor; Give no help to criminals; abide by panchayat decisions.

Mappila Revolt

  • Mappilas were the Muslim tenants inhabiting the Malabar region. The communication 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

  • Bardoli taluka in Surat district had witnessed intense politicization 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 percent.
  • Women of Bardoli gave Vallabhbhai Patel the title of “Sardar” In February 1926, Vallabhbhai Patel was called to lead the movement.

The All India Kisan Congress/Sabha 

  • This sabha was founded in Lucknow in April 1936 with Swami Sahjanand Saraswati as the president and N.G. Ranga as the general secretary.

Under Congress Ministries

  • The period 1937-39 was the high watermark of the peasant movements and activity under the Congress provincial rule.

Peasant Activity in Provinces

  • Kerala: One significant campaign by the peasants was in 1938 for the amendment of the Malabar Tenancy Act, 1929.
  • Andhra: This region had already witnessed a decline in the prestige of zamindars after their defeat by Congressmen in elections. Anti-zamindar movements were going on in some.
  • Bihar: Provincial Kisan Sabha developed a rift with the Congress over the 'bakashl land' issue because of an unfavorable government resolution which was not acceptable to the sabha. The movement died out by August 1939.
  • Punjab: A new direction to the movement was given by the Punjab Kisan Committee in 1937. The main targets of the movement were the landlords of western Punjab who dominated the unionist ministry.
  • Peasant activity was also organized in Bengal (Burdwan and 24 Parganas), Assam (Surma Valley), Orissa, Central Provinces, and NWFP.
  • During the War: Because of a pro-War line adopted by the communists, the AIKS was split on communist and non-communist lines

Post-War Phase

Tebhaga Movement 

  • The storm center of the movement was north Bengal, principally among Rajbanshis - a low caste of tribal origin. Muslims also participated in large numbers.

Telangana Movement

  • This was the biggest peasant guerrilla war of modern Indian history affecting 3000 villages and 3 million population. The Telangana movement had many positive achievements to its credit.
  • In the villages controlled by guerrillas, this and forced labor disappeared.
  • Agricultural wages were raised.
  • Illegally seized lands were restored.
  • Steps were taken to fix ceilings and redistribute lands.
  • Measures were taken to improve irrigation and fight cholera.
  • An improvement in the condition of women was witnessed.
  • The autocratic-feudal regime of India's biggest princely state was shaken up, clearing the way for the formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines.

Balance-Sheet of Peasant Movements

  • These movements created an atmosphere for post-independence agrarian reforms, for instance, the abolition of zamindari.
  • They eroded the power of the landed class, thus adding to the transformation of the agrarian structure.
  • These movements were based on the ideology of nationalism.
  • The nature of these movements was similar in diverse areas.
The document Spectrum: Summary of Peasant Movements 1857-1947 | History for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Spectrum: Summary of Peasant Movements 1857-1947 - History for UPSC CSE

1. What were the major peasant movements in India between 1857 and 1947?
Ans. The major peasant movements in India between 1857 and 1947 included the Deccan Riots and various movements that emerged later, such as the Bardoli Satyagraha, the Tebhaga Movement, the Kisan Sabha Movement, and the Telangana Rebellion.
2. What were the causes behind the Deccan Riots?
Ans. The Deccan Riots, which took place in the late 19th century, were primarily caused by the oppressive land revenue policies imposed by the British colonial administration. Peasants in the Deccan region faced high land taxes, forced labor, and arbitrary eviction, leading to widespread anger and protests.
3. What were some of the later peasant movements in India?
Ans. Some of the later peasant movements in India included the Bardoli Satyagraha in Gujarat, led by Vallabhbhai Patel, the Tebhaga Movement in Bengal, demanding two-thirds of the crop for the peasants, and the Kisan Sabha Movement, which was a nationwide peasant organization fighting for the rights of farmers.
4. What was the significance of the peasant movements during the post-war phase?
Ans. The peasant movements during the post-war phase played a crucial role in shaping India's independence struggle. They brought the issues of land rights, agricultural reforms, and social justice to the forefront of the national discourse. The movements also highlighted the exploitation faced by peasants and served as a catalyst for broader social and political changes.
5. What is the overall significance of the peasant movements in India's history?
Ans. The peasant movements in India between 1857 and 1947 were significant in challenging the oppressive colonial policies and advocating for the rights of farmers and rural communities. They paved the way for agrarian reforms, land redistribution, and the empowerment of peasants. These movements also contributed to the overall struggle for independence and shaped the socio-economic landscape of post-independence India.
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