Tuesday, 19 January 2016


#1: Congress Provincial Governments 1937

After the provincial elections in 1937, Congress formed government in




Central  Provinces





Assam, North West Frontier Province

And they implemented certain land reforms in these provinces:



Enacted “Restoration of Bakasht Land Act”- to give back land to farmers who were evicted between 1929-1937.

enacted Bihar Tenancy Act

Reduced the salami rates.

Abolished all increases in rent since 1911. As a result, rents were reduced by ~25%

gave under-ryots occupancy rights after twelve years of cultivating the land.

rents had to be reduced if soil degraded, owner didn’t provide irrigation etc.

Existing arrears of rent reduced.

interest on rent-arrears reduced from 12.5 to 6.25%

Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 9%

Prohibited all illegal exactions. if landlord charged illegal dues, he could be jailed for 6 months.

In sharecropping, landlord’s maximum share was kept at 9/20 part of the produce.

if tenant doesn’t pay rent- he cannot be arrested, his property cannot be attached


Kisan leaders wanted Congress government to abolish zamindari and redistribute the land among poors.

But the Congress Government in Bihar was backed by the zamindars

Therefore, zamindari abolition law couldnot be made.

Bihar Kisan Sabha resorted to militancy- use of Lathis and violence to prevent rent payments, forcibly occupying Zamindari land etc. Congress government resorted to use of police and section 144=> relations between Kisan Sabha and Congress deteriorated.

@Uttar Pradesh


The Congress leaders was more ‘leftist’ than in Bihar. Hence laws/regulations were more pro-farmer

Reduced rents

Tenants of Awadhs and Agra were given hereditary occupancy. (Meaning Zamindar can’t evict family’s farm if the father died.)

Rent of hereditary tenant can be changed only after 10 years.

Tenant cannot be arrested, if he doesn’t pay rent.

Nazrana (forced gifts) and Begari (Forced labour) were abolished.


Governor did not give his assent to the Tenancy Bill even after two years of its passage. Hence most reforms couldn’t be implemented.


During Civil Disobedience movement (CDM) the British had attached lands of farmers who did not pay Revenue

The congress Government restored the land back to those farmers

Forest Grazing fees were abolished.

40,000 bonded labour (Dubla/serfs) were liberated

Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 9%. Although it was opposed by Lawyers who supported Congress. (Because lawyers earned a lot from debt related court cases).

@Other Provinces


Passed: Tenancy act to reduced interest rate on arrears from 12.5 to 6% and provide for free transfer of occupancy holdings.

Failed: bill to reduce rents in Zamindari areas. because governor didn’t give assent.


Congress Socialist Party and Communists had setup peasant associations (Krishak Sangathan)

organized a campaign towards amendment of the Malabar Tenancy Act.


Congress ministry passed law to give debt relief to farmers


agitations against Canal Tax

Hat Tola Movement: in north Bengal against a levy collected by the landlords from peasants at Hat (weekly market).


Agitation against the Union Ministry dominated by landlords of western Punjab for resettlement of land revenue and against increase in canal tax and water rate.


Grazing fees reduced.

Debt Relief act: Reduced interest rate on debts to 6.25%

Committee under Revenue minister T.Prakasam, made recommendations to reduce Zamindar’s rent by 75% (and thus virtually abolishing Zamindari).

CM Rajagopalachari planned to implement this reform, withou paying Zamindars any compensation. But before a bill could be drafted, the ministry resigned.

most states

laws regulating the activity of the moneylenders and providing debt relief.

Overall Limitations

Time limit: They were in power for barely 28 months. They had resigned in 1939. So, long term reforms could not be carried out. Example: In Madras State CM Rajagopalachari planned to reduce rents by 75%, abolish Zamindari without paying Zamindars any compensation. But before a bill could be drafted on the, the ministry resigned.

Vote power: In Orissa the British governor refused assent to a bill that aimed to reduce Zamindar’s income by 50-60%.

Appeasement: Had to maintain unity for anti-British struggle. so, could not afford to annoy upper caste/rich farmers beyond a level. Congress ministries did not pursue abolition of zamindari in UP and Bihar (despite resolutions from Congress PCCs in UP and Bihar).

Power Limit: Under the Act of 1935, Provincial governments lacked the power to abolish Zamindari, even if they wanted.

Creamy Layer: By and large only superior tenants benefited from these Acts/laws. The subtenants/inferior tenants/agri.labourers were overlooked. May be because they did not form ‘vote-bank’ as Act of 1935 provided for a restricted franchise.

#2: Congress Resolutions 4farmers

@Karachi session, 1931

list of ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Programme’ for future India,

Drafted by Dr.Rajendra Prasad. It included following provisions for land reforms:

Reduction in agricultural rent or revenue paid by the peasantry

Farmers with uneconomic holdings, will be exempted from rent payment

Debt Relief for farmers. control of Usury

Serfdom/Bonded labour will be abolished.

Farmers and workers will have right to form unions to protect their interests.

Progressive income tax on agricultural income.

Limitation: Didn’t include the demand to abolish Zamindari / Estates of landlords.

@Kisan Conference, 1935

President: Sardar Patel. passed resolution for:

zamindari abolition

peasant proprietorship without intermediaries

@Firozpur Session, 1936

thirteen point program for All India agrarian reforms

Reduction in rent and revenue,

exemption from rent on uneconomic holdings,

Reduce canal and irrigation rates

living wage for agriculture labors

recognize of peasant associations

introduce cooperative farming

In a way, this Firozpur session’s Agrarian reform program= repeating Karachi Session’s points + some new demands from All India Kisan Sabha’s manifesto.

@election manifesto,1937

The appalling poverty, unemployment and indebtedness of the peasantry is resulted from antiquated and repressive land tenure and revenue systems.

We will give immediate relief to farmers for revenue, rent and debt burden.

Structural reform of the land tenure, rent and revenue systems

Other resolutions/Manifestos


National Planning Committee. Chairman: Nehru


Bombay Plan


Election manifesto by Congress Working Committee

All of above talked about:

abolish intermediaries between farmer and state (Zamindar, Jagirdar, Talukdar etc)

Cheap loans to solve the problem of rural indebtedness

Collective farming should be encouraged. Although collective farming did not gain much attention because there was hardly any peasant mobilization for this.

1946 Provincial Election

An interim government headed by Nehru was formed at the Centre and the Congress governments in the provinces

They set up committees to draw up bills for abolition of the zamindari system.

Rise of All India Kisan Sabha


Awadh Kisan Sabha formed with support of Nehru and Ram Chandra.


NG Ranga formed first Ryot’s association in Guntur, Andhra.


Bihar Kisan Sabha formed by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati.

Akali leaders formed Punjab Riyasati Praja Mandal.


Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha


Krushak Sangha throughout Orissa


South Indian federation of Peasants and agri.laborers with NG Ranga as Secretary.

Up to 1920, the peasant leaders were associated with the Congress. But later the rift widened because:

In Eastern UP, the Kisan groups wanted government to convert Sharecroppers (Bargadars) into tenants. So they can get all legal protections available under Tenancy laws.

But the Swarajist  group did not want such reform. (due to pressure from Zamindar/rural elite groups)

differences of opinion between the supporters of Non-Cooperation and those who preferred constitutional agitation

In the princely states, Congress followed the policy of non-interferance and did not help farmers against high Revenues.

In Ryotwari areas- Government itself collected taxes. So Gandhi would ask farmers to stop paying rent. But in case of Zamindari areas, Gandhi would ask farmers to continue paying rent to the Zamindars and Talukdars.

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, prominent Kisan leader from Bihar- was turning towards leftist-militant type of agitation. He advocated use of Lathis (sticks) against Zamindars and their goons. Hence Congress stopped supporting him.

As a result, by mid 30s, the peasant leaders and unions became disillusioned with Congress. They felt a need to setup a Kisan Sabha at the national level, to coordinate the efforts of regional Kisan Sabhas/associations.

1st Sept 1936: First All India Kisan Congress @Lucknow. All India Kisan Day was celebrated on 1st September every year.

Swami Sahajanand Saraswati (of Bihar) as its President and N.G. Ranga (of Andhra) as General Secretary.

1938: Became All India Kisan Sabha

Launched campaigns in Andra, Bihar and UP

started Kisan Bulletin, editor Indulal Yagnik.

Gave Kisan Manifesto:

Kisan Manifesto, 1936

Protect farmers for  from economic exploitation,

50% reduction in land Revenue

security of tenure for tenants,

reduction in interest rates charged by moneylenders

abolition of begar (forced labour)

reasonable wages for labourers,

promote cooperative farming

transfer uncultivated government land, and Zamindari lands to poor and landless farmers.

Limitation of All India Kisan Sabha

leadership was concentrated in the hands of Bhumihar and other rural elites

landless, SC, ST found no representation in its leadership

Kisan Sabha wanted abolition of Zamindari but not abolition of Sharecropping (Bargadari)

As Swami Sahjanant turned towards militant methods of protest, the Congress ordered its workers not to participate in any activities of Kisan Sabha.

Congress ministries in Provinces used section 144, police force to curtail the activities of Kisan Sabha. (especially in UP, Bihar, Orissa and Madras)

Gandhi’s Views on Land Reforms

‘Land and all property is his who will work it’, = similar to concept of land to the tiller.

During Non-cooperation movement

he asked tenants and landlors to join and fight against the most powerful zamindar- the British.

In the Ryotwari regions (where British directly collected taxes), Gandhi asked farmers to stop paying revenue.

but in Zamindari areas, Gandhi did not ask farmers to stop paying rent. (Because he did not want to antagonize those Zamindars/intermediaries). He explicitly industructed UP farmers….”We want to turn Zamindars into friends. Therefore we many not withhold taxes from Government or rent from landlord.”

During Civil Disobedience movement,

he issued a manifesto to the Uttar Pradesh farmers asking them to pay only 50 per cent of the legal rent.

During Gandhi-Irwin Pact:

Gandhi’s demand

Irwin’s response

wanted Irwin to return the land confiscated from farmers. And if such land was sold to third parties then original farmer be paid some compensation.

didn’t agree

reduce land revenue in all areas

agreed for only some areas.

In Early 30s to UP farmers, “non-occupancy tenants should pay 8 anna rent to the Zamindar and occupancy tenant should pay 12 anna rent to Zamindar. Let me warn you against listening to any advice that you have no need to pay the zamindars any rent at all.”

Quote: Peasants could seize the zamindar’s lands and, while there could be some violence, but the zamindars could also ‘cooperate by fleeing’.

Quote: After Independence, the zamindars’ land would be taken by the state either through their voluntary surrender or through legislation and then distributed to the cultivators. BUT It would be fiscally impossible to compensate the landlords.

Justice Ranade’s Views on Land reforms

Once UPSC asked about Sir Tejbahadur Sapru’s views on Indian Nationalist. (2006) So similar to that…What were Justice Ranade’s views on Land reforms?

Replace the existing semi-feudal agriculture with capitalist agriculture.

Transform rich peasants into capitalist farmers.

Transform tenants to independent proprietors – subjected to low tax and cheap loans.

Quote: ‘A complete divorce from land of those who cultivate it is a national evil, and no less an evil is it to find one dead level of small farmers all over the land. A mixed constitution of rural society is necessary to secure the stability and progress of the country.’

Post-independence, by and large same model was adopted by Government: replace landlordism and give protection to small farmers.

Through Poona Sarvajanik Sabha: Supported Deccan riots and campaign against moneylenders in Maharashtra

 What is land reform?

Robin Hood took money from rich and redistributed among the poor.

Similarly land reform involves taking away land from rich and redistributing among landless.

Although land reform involves not just about ‘redistribution of land’. It involves many other reforms, example:

Static (50s to 80s)

Abolish intermediaries, Zamindar, Jagirdar etc.

land ceilings- redistribute surplus land

Tenancy reforms

current (after 80s)

computerize land records

forest rights act

land consolidation

Formal definitions


Land reforms mean:


Improving land tenure and institutions related to agriculture.


redistribution of property rights

For the benefit of the landless poor.


integrated program

to remove the barriers for economic and social development

Caused by deficiencies in the existing land tenure system.

Observe that word “tenure/Tenancy” keeps reappearing. So what does that mean?


Tenancy in derived from the word ‘tenure’ = ‘to hold’.

Tenancy= Agreement under “tenant” holds the land/building of the original owner.

Players in Land Tenancy system?

The State

enforces tenancy contracts

Maintains law and order.

Earns revenue for doing 1+2


The owner: the guy who owns land

They pay Revenue to the State.

Rich farmers, Zamindars etc. own hundreds of acres of land. Can’t cultivate it on their own.

Similarly minors, disabled, widows, soldiers, fishermen may also own land but they can’t cultivate for one reason or another.

So these people ‘lease’ their land to other farmers (tenants).

Superior tenants

They cultivate on land leased from the ^owner.

These are hereditary tenants. Meaning they cultivate same land generation after generation.

They pay rent to the owner.

They have almost the same rights as the owners.

They can sell, mortgage or rent out the land.

They cannot be evicted against their will.

Inferior Tenants

Other names: tenants at will, subordinate tenants, temporary tenants, subtenants.

They till the land leased from other tenants/owners.

They pay rent to the owners/superior tenants.

They have limited rights over the land.

They cannot sell or mortgage the land.

They can be evicted easily.

Share croppers

Sharecroppers= cultivate other person’s land (Owner, Superior/inferior tenant)

They get share from the produce, and remaining goes to the tenant/owner.

The equipment and inputs items may be provided owner/tenant

They have no rights whatsoever on the land.

They cannot sell, rent or mortgage the land.

Can be evicted easily.

Landless laborers

They get paid in cash or kind by the owners (or tenants)

Sometimes work under begari/bonded labour.

Ok well and good. So far we know: what is land reform and who are the players in a land tenancy system. We have to study land ‘reform’.  Meaning some badass thuggary was going on, otherwise if everything was well and good, then there was no need for ‘reforms’! So what was the cause of thuggary/grievance/resentment? Ans. Land tenure systems of British.

Land Tenure System: British Legacy

In the initial years, East India company faced following problems:

Demand for British goods in India=negligible. (Because East India company was yet to destroy our handicraft and artisans)

Under the Mercantilism policy of British: one country’s gain required another country/colony’s loss. Therefore, British Government prohibited East India company from exporting gold and silver from England to pay for Indian goods import.

Company needed truckload of ca$H to maintain an army for defeating and subjugating native rulers.

East India company came up with following solution:

start collecting revenue from Indians

Use that Revenue to buy Indian raw material- export to England

Import finished goods back to India=> make profit.

But this solution had a problem: the revenue system under Mughals and Native rulers=too complex for the British to understand, and there were no coaching classes or Wikipedia to help white men understand this complex system.

Lord Cornwallis comes with a novel idea: just ‘outsource’ the tax collection work to desi-middlemen: Zamindars, Jagirdar, Inamdars, Lambardar etc. Consequently, British introduced three land tenure systems in India:

Timeline-British India land tenures

Tenure system



Permanent settlement




Who? Cornwallis + John Shore. In Bengal + Bihar. 1793

Company ‘outsourced’ the revenue collection work to Zamindars

Very exploitative. Led to many revolts. Hence British didn’t implement it in other parts of India.

In Awadh/Oudh, Lord Delhousie wanted to implement Mahalwari but then 1857’s munity broke out. Later Lord Canning introduced Talukdari system-similar to Permanent settlement.






Who? Thomas Munro and Read in Madras. (1820)

Who? Wingate and Goldsmid in Bombay (1835). In 1820 it was tried in Poona but failed. Later Wingate and Goldsmid start Bombay Survey System in 1835 for individual settlement system.

Company directly collected revenue from farmers.

Madras was initially under Permanent settlement type system but Thomas Munro convinced the directors of East India company to convert this area under Ryotwari / direct settlement system.


Gangetic valley

north-west provinces,

parts of central India


Company ‘outsourced’ revenue collection work to Village community itself. –Technically village headman (Lambardar) was made responsible for tax collection

North West Provinces initially had Permanent settlement but transformed to Mahalwari system by Holt Mackenzie.(1822)

Overall coverage

Tenure system

% of Agri.land in British Provinces









Permanent Settlement: Features

Cornwallis + John Shore. In Bengal + Bihar. 1793

All the land belonged to the state and was thus at their disposal.

British designated zamindars (local tax collectors) , as owners of the land in their district. This system was adopted in several forms such as Zamindari, Jagirdari, Inamdari, etc.

These zamindars had to collect revenue from farmers and deliver to the British.

Converted Zamindars into landlords. The right to the land conferred on the zamindars was

Revenue amount was fixed at the beginning and remained the same permanently.

Zamindar were given freedom to decide how much to demand from the cultivators. Stiff penalties on defaulters.

there was a provision of keeping a portion of taxes for the zamindar himself.

Zamindar’s right over land was

Alienable: meaning British could take it away and give it to another Zamindar, if first Zamindar did not meet the Revenue collection ‘targets’.

Rentable: meaning Zamindar himself could further outsource his work among more smaller zamindars

Heritable: meaning Zamindar dies, his son/brother etc would get it.

Farmers became tenants. Two types

Tenants-at-will:  farmers who cultivated on Zamindar’s land. They had no rights. They could be evicted as per whims and fancies of Zamindar.

Occupancy Tenants: farmers who owned land. Their occupancy rights were heritable and transferrable and were not tampered with as long as they paid their taxes.

Permanent Settlement: Consequences

#for British

gave financial security for the British administration.

Cost of running administration decreased. Because British had to collect Revenue from only a few Zamindars instead of lakhs of farmers.

British got new political allies (Zamindars). They would keep their own militia to suppress peasant revolts, and act as ‘informers’ and remained loyal to British rule.

#learning from mistake

Permanent settlement system led to many agrarian revolts.

Government’s income declined over the years, Because Revenue was permanently fixed + number of intermediaries kept increasing.

Hence, British learned from the mistake and did not extent this permanent settlement/Zamindari system to the whole of India. Instead, they established Ryotwari and Mahalwari systems in the remaining parts.

#Farmers lose bargaining power

Textile industry was the driver of industrial revolution in Britain. = raw cotton imported + finished textile exported to India.

To prevent any ‘competition’ from Desi textile industries, the British imposed variety of taxes and tariffs on them=>desi textile business collapsed. Lakhs of weavers became unemployed, migrated to villages in search of work.

Since they did not own any land, they had to become tenants-at-will  for Zamindars.

Now Zamindars had the monopoly of controlling livelihood of thousands of people. They extorted more and more taxes.

Moreover, the “begar”, unpaid work which the tenants were forced to perform on the zamindar’s land, took larger proportions. On the average, it amounted to 20-25 % of the lease.

Western Bengal: Farmers got divided into two categories i) Jotedars (Rich farmers) ii)Bargadar (Sharecroppers)

Eastern Bengal: Jute cultivation. Independent farmers with small to middlesize land holdings

#More outsourcing

Permanent settlement system created landed aristocracy for the first time in India. Zamindars used to chow down part of the land Revenue collected. Thus they became wealthy and lazy. They ‘outsourced’ their work to more intermediaries / sub-tenants.

It became quite common to have 10 to 20 intermediaries, more or less without any specific function, between the government and the farmers, And they all had a share in the cultivation yield + other illegal taxes.

As a result, 70-80% of farmer’s produce went to just Revenue and commissions only=> poverty, debts.

None of these middlemen or Zamindars invest money in agricultural improvement or new technology. They just kept increasing rents. Hence traditional agriculture did not shift to capitalist agriculture, unlike other economies.

Ryotwari System

By Sir Thomas Munro at first in Madras State and then adopted in Bombay, and Assam. But Why?

In permanent settlement areas, land Revenue was fixed. But over the years, agriculture prices/exports should increase but government’s income did not increase. (Because middlemen-zamindars chowed it down)

Zamindars were oppressive- leading to frequent agrarian revolts in the permanent settlement areas.

In Bihar, Bengal, there existed Zamindar/feudal lords since the times of Mughal administration. But Madras, Bombay, Assam did not have Zamindars / feudal lords with large estates. So, hard to ‘outsource’ work, even if British wanted.

No middlemen in tax collection=> farmer has to pay less taxes=>increased purchasing power=>will improve demand for readymade British products in India.

Consequently, all subsequent land tax or revenue settlements made by the colonial rulers were temporary settlements made directly with the peasant, or ‘ryot’ (e.g., the ryotwari settlements).

This model was based on English yeomen farmers.

Ryotwari System: Features

government claimed the property rights to all the land, but allotted it to the cultivators on the condition that they pay taxes. In other words, It established a direct relation between the landholder and the government.

Farmers could use, sell, mortgage, bequeath, and lease the land as long as they paid their taxes. In other words Ryotwari system gave  a proprietary rights upon the landholders.

IF they did not pay taxes, they were evicted

taxes were only fixed in a temporary settlement for a period of thirty years and then revised.

government had retained the right to enhance land revenue whenever it wanted

Provided measures for revenue relief during famines but they were seldom applied in real life situation.

Ryotwari System: Consequences

Farmers had to pay revenue even during drought and famines, else he would be evicted.

Replacement of large number of zamindars by one giant zamindar called East India Company.

Although ryotwari system aimed for direct Revenue settlement between farmer and the government but over the years, landlordism and tenancy became widespread. Because textile weavers were unemployed= they started working as tenant farmers for other rich farmers. In many districts, more than 2/3 of farmland was leased.

Since Government insisted on cash revenue, farmers resorted to growing cash crops instead of food crops. And cash crop needed more inputs=>more loans and indebtedness.

After end of American civil war, cotton export declined but government didn’t reduce the revenue. As a result most farmers defaulted on loans and land was transferred from farmers to moneylenders.

Mahalwari System

Location:  Gangetic valley, north-west provinces, parts of central India and Punjab. But why?

In North India and Punjab, joint land rights on the village were common. So, British decided to utilize this utilize this traditional structure in a new form known as Mahalwari system.

Mahalwari System: Features

unit of assessment was the village.

taxation was imposed on the village community since it had the rights over land.

The village community had to distribute these tax collection targets among the cultivators

Each individual farmer contributed his share in the revenue.

Everyone was thus liable for the others’ arrears.

Farmers had right to sell or mortgage their property.

The village community did not necessarily mean entire village population. It was a group of elders, notables of high castes.

A village inhabitant, called the lambardar, collected the amounts and gave to the British

British periodically revised tax rates.

Mahalwari system: Consequences

Since Punjab, Northern India = fertile land. So British wanted to extract maximum Revenue out of this region. Land Revenue was usually 50% to 75% of the produce.

As generations passed- fathers would divide land among sons=> fragmentation=>farms became smaller and smaller and productivity declined.

But still British demanded Revenue in cash. So, farmers had to borrow money to pay taxes in the case of crop failures.

As a result, more and more farms passed into the hands of moneylenders. When farmer failed to repay debt, Moneylender would take away his farm but he has no interest in self-cultivation so he’d leasing it to another farmer.

Thus, sub-leasing, indebtedness and landlessness became more and more common in Mahalwari region

Why is it called Modified Zamindari system?

Because in Mahalwari areas, the Land revenue was fixed for the whole village and the village headman (Larnbardar) collected it. Meaning theoretically Village itself was a landlord/zamindar.

Other names for this system: Joint rent, ‘joint lease’, ‘brotherhood’ tract (mahal) holding and ‘gram wari’ etc.

Result of British Land Tenure system: Perpetual indebtedness, exploitation. When we gained independence, picture was following:


Agro-land of India

7% villagers (richest, Zamindar and other intermediaries)

Owned 75% of fertile land

48% of villagers (tenants, sub-tenants)

Owned 25% of fertile land. (=imagine the land fragmentation and size of landholdings)

45% of villagers

Owned no land. Worked as farm laborers, petty traders, craftsman etc.

Total 100%

Total 100%

Consequences of British Tenure systems

Land becomes a property

Before British

During British rule

private ownership of land did not exist

land belonged to the village community

Land was never treated as the property of the kings -benevolent or despotic, Hindu, Muslims or Buddhist.

Land was not treated as individual cultivator’s property either.

Introduced private ownership of land

This divided village into 1) landlords 2)tenants 3)labourers

This this material transformation the agrarian society in India witnessed profound social, economic, political, cultural and psychological change.

with generations- land kept dividing among sons=>land fragmentation, diseconomies of scale, lower production.

Panchayat lost Prestige

Before British

During British rule

Land matters and civil disputes were adjudicated by Panchayat within the village.

Farmer had to approach British courts for matters related to Revenue, property attachment, debt-mortgage etc.

Panchayats lost their power and prestige

Food insecurity

Before British

During British rule

farmers usually grew foodcrops- wheat, maize, paddy, jowar, bajra and pulses

Since British demand revenue in CASH, farmers resorted to growing cash crops: indigo, sugarcane, cotton=> Area under foodcrop cultivation declined

Then, Lacks of People would die of starvation during famines.

Even after independence, and before green revolution- India was not self-sufficient in grain production.

at independence India was faced with an acute food shortage

near-famine conditions in many areas.

Between 1946 and 1953 about 14 million tonnes of foodgrains worth Rs 10,000 million had to be imported = this was nearly half of the total capital investment in the First Five Year Plan (1951–56).



Before British

During British rule

Kings constructed ponds, canals and wells to improve agriculture

irrigation taxes were moderate.

British did construct new canals

Positive: more area brought under cultivation, particularly in Punjab.

but most canals caused salinity and swamps=>declined productivity over the years

Taxes on Irrigation were quite high. Therefore Canal irrigation was used to grow sugar, cotton and other cash crops, instead of food crops=>food insecurity, starvation and death during famines.

Cash economy & indebted farmers

Before British

During British rule

Land Revenue was paid in kind.

Village was a self-sufficient economy with cooperative units.

e.g. blacksmith would make farm-tools, would get yearly payment in grains/kind.

Moneylending, mortgaging were negligible.

British obliged the farmers to pay revenue in cash and not in kind.

The land revenue was increased arbitrarily to finance British wars and conquests. But The farmers had no right to appeal in the court of law.

Farmers had no understanding of cash economy + frequent droughts and famines

Hence they had to borrow money from unscrupulous grain traders and money-lenders=> compound interest rate, perpetual indebtedness.

Eventually, the typical Indian villager was stripped of all savings, caught in debt trap, mortgaging almost everything-whether personal jewelry, land and livestock, or tools and equipment.

Collective village life based on common economic interests and resultant cooperative relations

A new village came-where existence was based on competition and struggle among independent individuals.

Farmers shifted from food crop to Cash crops. But cash crops need more inputs in terms of seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation, hence farmer had to borrow more.

This brought moneylenders, Shroff, Mahajan, Baniya, into limelight- they were in control of village land without any accountability.

Thus British land revenue system transfered ownership of land from farmer to moneylender.

towards about the end of the colonial period, The total burden on the peasant of interest payments on debt and rent on land could be estimated at a staggering Rs 14,200 million

According to RBI’ss survey in 1954:

credit supplier

gave ___% of farmers’ loan requirements





cooperative societies


commercial banks



Before: slavery/bonded labour/Begari almost non-existent. But During British raj

Zamindars gave loan to farmers/laborers and demanded free labour in return.

This practice prevented farmers/laborers to bargaining wages.

Begari, Bonded labour, or debt bondage became a common feature in large parts of the country.

Even in ryotwari areas, upper caste controlled the land. Lower caste was reduced to sharecroppers and landless laborers.

Rural Industry destroyed

Before British

During and After British rule

India was steadily becoming more urbanized,

Significant portion of the Indian population living in large or small towns.

de-urbanization and de-industrialization of India

This led to even greater pressures on agriculture since large categories of highly skilled artisans and non-agricultural workers were thrown out of work.

When the British left, India had become a village-based agricultural economy.

With an enormous population pressure on agriculture and an adverse land–man ratio of about 0.92 acre per capita at independence.

Even in Villages, there was skilled artisans like weavers, potters, carpenters, metal-workers, painters etc.

Trade tariffs and excise duties were set so as to destroy Indian industries, and squeeze domestic trade.

Bihar and Bengal: severe restrictions were placed on the use of inland water-ways — causing fishing and inland shipping and transportation to suffer.

Lack of Capitalist Agriculture

In most economies, the evolution is traditional farming=>capitalist farming methods. But in India, it did not happen, why?

Large landowners in zamindari and ryotwari areas leased out their lands in small pieces to tenants.

Small tenants continued to cultivate them with traditional techniques= low productivity.

Rich farmers/ zamindars lacked the riskbearing mindset for capitalist mode of production (i.e. invest more money in seeds, fertilizer, animal husbandry, contract farming,  large-scale capitalist agriculture using hired wage labour under their direct supervision. etc).

Even if they wanted to take ‘risk’, government did not give any agricultural support, credit, insurance etc. yet demanded high taxes.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Indian agriculture, which was facing long-term stagnation, began to show clear signs of decline during the last decades of colonialism.

farming technology in 1951

% of farmers

wooden ploughs


iron plough


Use of improved seeds, artificial fertilizers, etc


some more points

Drain of Wealth

Independent Farmer / tenant was hardly left with any money to re-investment in agriculture. Most of his ‘surplus’ income/profit went into paying taxes. These taxes were used for exporting raw material from India to Britain. = Drain of wealth.

Social Banditry

when individuals or small group of farmers couldnot organize a collective action against Zamindars/government, they started robbery and dacoity.

When India got independence, the situation was:



7% villagers (richest, Zamindar and other intermediaries)

Owned 75% of fertile land

48% of villagers (tenants, sub-tenants)

Owned 25% of fertile land. (=imagine the land fragmentation)

45% of villagers

Owned no land. Worked as farm laborers.

Total 100%

Total 100%


Peasant struggles in British India

Can be classified into following groups:

Before 1857′s Mutiny

East India: Sanyasi Revolt, Chuar and Ho Rising, Kol Rising, Santhal Rising, Pagal Panthis and Faraizis Revolt

West India:  Bhil, Ramosis

South India: Poligars

After 1857′s Mutiny

Indigo Movement (1859-60)

Pabna Agrarian Unrest (1873-76),

Deccan riots (1874-75),

No-Revenue Movement  Assam, Maharashtra, and Punjab: (towards the end of 19th century)

Champaran Indigo Satyagraha (1917)

In the 20s and 30s

2nd Moplah, Awadh Kisan Sabha, Eka movement, Bardoli etc.

During and After WW2

Congress Ministries in provinces such as Bihar, UP and Bombay (will be discussed separately in third article)

Faizpur Congress session (1936)

All India Kisan Congress

Tebhaga Movement in Bengal

Telangana Outbreak in Hyderabad

Varlis Revolt in Western India

Peasant Revolts before 1857

Timeline-Peasant revolts before 1857

click to enlarge

Note: I’m also including some tribal revolts that had connections with land settlement/tenancy systems.

Sanyasi Revolt, 1772

British government restricted people from visiting holy places. Sansyasi got angry

Joined by farmers, evicted landlords, disbanded soldiers

Focal point: Rangpur to Dhaka

Leader: Manju Shah Fakir

Sanyasis defeated a company of sepoys and killed the commander. They overran some districts, virtually running a parallel government.

This rebellion continued till the end of the 18th century.

Governor General Warren Hastings launched a military campaign against Sansyasis.

From 1800, sanyasis probably joined the Marathas to fight British.

Pagal Panthi, 1830s-40s

Reason: Zamindari Oppression

Area: North Bengal, Hajong and Garo tribes.

Leader: Karam Shah and his son Tipu

Result: Initially British agreed to Pagal Panthi demand,  made arrangement to protect the cultivators from Zamindar

But later, launched massive military operation to suppress Pagal Panthis

Santhal, 1855

Reason:  oppression of police, atrocities of landlords and moneylenders, ill-treatment of small farmers by land revenue officials. Government banned shifting cultivation in forest areas.

Area: Raj Mahal hills

Leaders: Sindhu + Kanhu

Result: The government could pacified these Santhals by creating a separate district of Santhal Parganas.

some other revolts before 1857’s Mutiny:


1817 to 1819

Reason: agrarian hardship

Area: W.Ghats, Khandesh

Chuar and Ho

1820 to 1837.

Reason: famine, land Revenue

Area: Midnapur, Chhotanagpur, Singhbhum

Tribes involved


Ho and Munda= Chhota Nagpur and Singhbhum


1838 to 1857

Reason: Zamindari Oppression

Area: East Bengal

Leader: Faraizis were followers of a Muslim sect founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur

Kherwar/Sapha Har

Against revenue settlements in tribal areas.


Reason: British transferred of land from Kol headmen (Mundas) to outsiders like Sikh and Muslim farmers.

Area: Chhota Nagpur,  Ranchi, Singhbhum, Hazaribag, Palamau and western parts of Manbhum.

Mophah, First uprising



by Muslim tenants against Hindu Zamindars (Jemnis).


Reason: land Revenue

Area: Dindigul, Malabar, Arcot, Madras presidency

Tiru Mir


Bengal. Against Hindu land lords, who imposed beard tax on Farazis.

Revolts after 1857′s Mutiny

Timeline-Peasant revolts upto 1920s

General features:

After 1857’s revolt, The British had crushed down native princes and zamindars. Hence farmers themselves became main force of agitations.

Target= sometimes government, sometimes moneylender, sometimes landlord/ zamindar

Territorial reach. not organized on mass-scale

Often spontaneous. no coordination

lacked continuity or long term struggle.

never threatened British supremacy

farmers didn’t mind paying rent, revenue, interest on debt but only agitated when they were raised to an abnormal level.

lacked understanding of colonial economic system or divide and rule policy of the British. Farmers’ agitations were based within framework of old social order, hence often failed because government could woo a faction by granting them concession and hence movement would collapse.

Indigo Movement (1859-60)

European planters forced desi farmers to grow the indigo in Eastern India, without paying right price.

If any farmer refused- and started growing rice, he was kidnapped, women and children were attacked, and crop was looted, burnt and destroyed.

If farmer approached court, the European judge would rule in favour of the European planter.

The privileges and immunities enjoyed by the British planters placed them above the law and beyond all judicial control.

Finally Indigo peasants launched revolt in Nadia district of Bengal presidency. Refused to grow Indigo. If police tried to intervene, they were attacked.

European Planters responded by increasing the rent and evicting farmers. Led to more agitations and confrontations.

Later got support from the intelligentsia, press, missionaries and Muslims.

Result: Government issued a notification that the Indian farmers cannot be compelled to grow indigo and that it would ensure that all disputes were settled by legal means. By the end of 1860, Indigo planters should down their factories and cultivation of indigo was virtually wiped out from Bengal.

Harish Chandra Mukherji

editor of Hindu patriot. published reports on indigo campaign, organized mass meetings etc.

Din Bandhu Mitra

wrote a play ‘Neel Darpan’ to portray the oppression of indigo farmers.

Pabna Agrarian Unrest (1873-76)

Area: East Bengal. Pabna=a jute growing district

Reason: Zamindars enhanced rents beyond legal limits through a variety of cesses (Abwab), Farmers had to face costly legal affairs and forced eviction. Nuisance of moneylenders.

Leaders: Ishwar Chandra Roy, Shambhu Pal, Khoodi Mollah.

Notable features

Agrarian league formed to fight legal battle against the zamindars and organized nonpayment of rent campaign.

This league provided a sound platform to the peasants at a time when there was no kisan sabha or any political party to organize the peasants.

by and large non-violent. No zamindar or agent was killed / seriously injured. Very few houses looted, very few police stations attacked.

Hindu Muslim unity, despite the fact that most Zamindars were Hindu and farmers were muslims.

farmers demanded to become ryots of British queen and not of Zamindars.

Got support from Intellectuals: Bankim Chandra Chettarji, RC Dutt, Surendranath Benerjee etc.


This unrest resulted into Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885.

But this act did not fully protect farmers from the zamindari oppression

Even non-cultivators were given occupancy right. It gave rise to a powerful jotedar groups.

Later some of the Jotedars became as exploitative as the zamindars.

Deccan Riots (1874-75)

Area: In the ryotwari areas of Pune and Ahmadnagar of Maharashtra


the land revenue was very high

had to pay land Revenue even during bad seasons

1860: American civil war=boom in demand of cotton export.

But In 1864, war ends=>cotton export declines, yet government raised land revenue.

Farmers had taken loans from moneylenders, but now they cannot repay=>Moneylenders took away their land, cattle, jewelry and property.

Notable features:

The object of this riot was to destroy the dead bonds, decrees, etc. in possession of their creditors.

Violence was used only when the moneylenders refused to hand over the documents.

villagers led by traditional headmen (Patels)

Involved social boycott of moneylender. and social boycott of any villager who didn’t socially boycott the moneylender.

Later got support from Poona Sarvajanik Sabha led by Justice Ranade.


Initially government resorted to use of police force and arrest. but later appointed a commission, passed Agriculturists Relief Act in 1879 and on the operation of Civil Procedure Code.

Now the peasants could not be arrested and sent to jail if they failed to pay their debts.

Ramosi, 1877-87

Reason:  Ramosis of Maharashtra were the inferior ranks of police in Maratha administration.

After the fall of the Maratha kingdom, they became farmers =>heavy land Revenue demands by British.

Area: Satara, Maharashtra, Deccan

Leader:  Chittur Singh (1822), Vasudev Balwant Phadke (1877-87)

Result: Government  gave them land grants and recruited them as hill police.

No-Revenue Movements (1893-1900)

In the Ryotwari areas. Main reason: hike in land revenue.


British increase land Revenue by 50 to 70 per cent in  Kamrup and Darrang districts.

Villager decided not to pay Revenue. And socially boycotted any farmer who paid land Revenue.

Rural elites, Brahmin led the revolt. Social boycott of anyone who paid taxes to British.


farmers wanted revenue remission under famine code during 1896-1900.

Tilak, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha sent volunteers to spread awareness among farmers about their legal rights under Famine code.

These campaigns spread to Surat, Nasik, Khera and Ahmedabad.


Nuisance of moneylenders.

led to assault and murder of moneylenders by the peasants.

Result: Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1902 which prohibited for 20 years transfer of land from peasants to moneylenders and mortgage.

Birsa Munda’s Ulgulan (1899)

South of Ranchi


Tribals practiced Khuntkatti system (joint holding by tribal lineages)

But rich farmers, merchants, moneylenders, dikus, thekedars from Northern India came and tried to replace it with typical Zamindari-tenancy system.

These new landlords caused indebtedness and beth-begari (forced labour) among the tribal.

Birsa Munda organized the Munda tribals, attacked churches and police stations.


Birsa died in jail, while others shot dead, hanged or deported.

Government enacted Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908.

recognized Khuntkatti rights

banned eth Begari (forced labour)

Rajasthan: 1913-17

Bijolia Movement and No tax campaign against Udipur Maharana

reason: The jagirdar levied 86 different cesses on farmers.

leaders: Sitaram Das, Vijay Singh Pathik (Bhoop Singh), Manik lal Verma

Farmers refused to pay taxes, migrated to neighboring states

1922: Bhil movement against begari (forced labour)

Champaran Indigo Satyagraha (1917)

Area: Champaran district of Bihar. Ramnagar, Bettiah, Madhuban.

European planters forced Indian farmers to cultivate indigo on 3/20th of their land holding. Popularly known as tinkathia system.

Under this system, European planters holding thikadari leases from the big local zamindars forced the peasants to cultivate indigo on part of their land at un-remunerative prices and by charging sharahbeshi (rent enhancement) or tawan (lump sum compensation)

if the farmer did not want to grow indigo, he had to pay heavy fines


A farmer Raj Kumar Shukla contacted Gandhi during Congress Session @Lucknow.


Mahatma Gandhi launched an agitation. Demanded a detailed enquiry and redressal of farmers’ grievances.


Government appoints a committee, even included Gandhi as one of the member.

Government abolishes tinkhatia system and pays compensation to the farmers.

Gandhi gets new allies: Rajendra Prasad, JB Kriplani, Mahadev Desai and Braj Kishore Prasad

Kheda Satyagraha (1918)

Severe drought in Khera District, Gujarat

Kanbi-Patidar farmers. Making decent living through cotton, tobacco and dairy. But Plague and famine during 1898-1906 reduced their income. Yet government increased Revenue demand.

Prices of essential commodities: kerosene, salt etc increased because of WW1.

Farmers requested government to waive the land Revenue. Government ignored.

Gandhi + Sardar Patel launched “no-revenue” campaign


Government reduced revenue to 6.03%

Government ordered officials to recover Revenue only from those farmers who were willing to pay.

Gandhi gets new ally: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Peasant revolts in the 20s

Timeline-Peasant revolts 1920-30

General features

Often turned violent/ militant. Created a divide between local leaders and Nationalist Leaders/Congress/Gandhi

Sign of fear among middle-class leadership that movement would turn militant.

Government used full police force and suppression.

Farmers didn’t demand abolition of rent, zamindari. They only wanted a fair system of land tenancy.

Kisan Movement, UP (1920s)

Awadh farmers were suffering because:

Lack of occupancy rights on land in many regions.

Exaction by landlords of tributes, cesses, gifts, forced labour and excessive rent.

Periodic revision of land revenue in ryotwari areas.

Heavy indebtedness to the village land lords or money lenders.

World war I = steep rise in the price of food grains benefiting middlemen and merchants at the cost of the poor.

Farmers had to pay Larai Chanda (War contribution) during WW1.

To counter Gandhi/Congress’s influence, the Government wanted to win over Talukdars in Avadh. Hence, they gave free hand to Taulkdars regarding rent collection, eviction etc.

As a result, Begari (forced labour) and Bedakhli (evicting tenant for land) became a common sight.

+caste domination: “Jajmani system” under which, lower caste were oblighted to supply ghee, cloths etc free/@discounted prices to upper caste.


UP Kisan Sabha setup.

by Home Rule leaders Gauri Shanker Mishra and Indra Narain Dwivedi with the support of Madan Mohan Malviya.


Baba Ramchandra organized peasants of Awadh against the landlords, using Ramayana and caste sloghans.

Methods of Awadh Kisan Sabha

asked farmers to stop working on bedakhli land (i.e. from  where earlier farmer was evicted)

asked farmers to stop giving Begari and Jajmani.

Social boycott of farmers who did not obey 1+2.

By 1921, this movement turned militant and spread to districts of Eastern UP. involved looting, ransacking, attacking zamindar properties.

agitators raided the houses of landlords and moneylenders, looted bazaars and granaries

Result:  Government amended Awadh Rent Act in 1921 and AKS ceased violence.

Later All India Kisan Sabha emerged. Discussed separately in third article along with Congress Provincial government .

Eka Movement (1920s)

Eka=unity movement

Initially by Congress+Khilafat Leaders. Later Madari Pasi and other low caste leaders.

Reason: oppression by Thekedar. High rents

Involved religious ritual, in which farmer would take a tip in Ganges and vow not to do begari, resist eviction etc.

Even included some small zamindars who were unhapped with British demands for high revenue.

By 1922 severe repression by government=Eka Movement vanished.

Second Moplah Uprising (1921)


Hindu Zamindars (Jemnis) exploiting Muslim Moplah/Mappila farmers in Malabar (Kerala)

rumors that British military strength had declined post WW1.

Khilafat movement and general hatred towards British.

Tipping point: Police raided a mosque to arrest a Khilafat leader Ali Musaliar.

Farmers attacked police stations, public offices and houses, land records of zamindars and moneylenders under the leadership of Kunhammed Haji.

For months, British government lost control over Ernad and Walluvanad taluks for several months.

This movement was termed as Anti-British, Anti-Zamindars and, to some extent, as anti-Hindu.

Podanur Blackhole: British put 66 Moplah prisoners into a railway wagon and completely shut it down. They all died of asphyxiation.

Result: Hundreds of Moplah lost lives- as a result they were completely demoralized and didn’t join in any future freedom struggles or even communist movements post independence.

Bardoli Satyagraha (1928)

Area: Bardoli, Gujarat

Reason: land Revenue increased by 22%.

Sardar Patel persuaded the farmers:

not to pay Revenue, required them to take oath in the name of their respective Hindu/Muslim gods.

social boycott of anyone who paid revenue.

Resist eviction and Jabti (Confiscation). Lock houses and migrate to Baroda State

social upliftment of Kaliparaj caste- who worked as landless laborers.

KM Munshi resigned from Bombay Legislative council.

Bombay communists and railway workers also threatened strikes and boycotts.


Government setup Maxwell-Broomfield commission.

Reduced land Revenue to 6.03%

Returned confiscated land back to farmers.

Vallabhbhai got the title of “Sardar”.

Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) 1930-31

In UP, Congress asked Zamindars not to pay revenue to Government. (no-revenue)

And asked Farmers not to pay rent to Zamindars. (no rent)

But Zamindars remained loyal to British =>as a result only farmers participated in no-rent movement.

Misc. Peasant Movements in the 1920 and 30s

Great Depression started in USA, spread in Europe=> agricultural prices crashed.

But Revenue, rents and taxes remained high, impoverishing the peasants.

farmers emboldened by Success of Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928

Many Zamindar leaders stood up in 1937’s provincial elections on Congress tickets but they were defeated =farmers even more emboldened.

Bakasht Movement


Barhaiya Tal

Bihar. To restore Bakasht land. Leader: Karyananda Sharma

Bengal, Bihar

Refused to pay Chaukidari tax


Kisan ran campaign to abolish Zamindari, restore Bakshat lands. Matter Solved when provincial congress government passed act.

Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha, 1929

Bombay, Central Provinces

Against forest grazing regulations

Hajong Tribals

in Garo hills. to reduce rent from 50% to 25%. Leader Moni Singh.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bundelkhand

No-Revenue movement

Malabar, Kerala

against feudal levies, advance rents and eviction. Result: Malabar Tenancy act was amended.


Punjab Riyasati Praja Mandal (1928)

Against Maharaj of Patiala – he had increased land Revenue by 19%

farmers wanted him to abolish his land reserved for shikar (hunting)

for reduction of canal taxes.

Surat, Kheda

Farmers refused to pay Revenue. Migrated to Baroda State.

Peasant Revolts in the 40s

Timeline-Peasant revolts 1930-independence

General features:

During WW2, the peasant movements had declined.

But after the end of WW2 (1945)- peasant leaders anticipate freedom and new social order. Hence new movements with renewed vigour.

Earlier kisan movements usually didn’t demand abolition of Zamindari. They merely wanted a fair system of land revenue and land tenancy. But these new movements strongly demanded for abolition of Zamindari.

Even when they were unsuccessful, they created a climate which necessitated the post-independence land reforms and abolition of Zamindari.

Earlier movements were by and large non-violent. But now they turned militant e.g. Telangana movement in Hyderabad state and the Tebhaga movement in Bengal. Similarly All India Kisan Sabha openly preached militancy, violance against Zamindars.

Tebhaga, Bengal, 1946

in this region: Rich farmers (Jotedars) leased the farms to sharecroppers (Bargadar)

Flout Commission had recommended that Bargadar should get 2/3 of crop produce and jotedar (the landlord) should get 1/3rd of crop produce.

Tebhaga movement aimed to implement this recommendation through mass struggle.


Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha

communist groups

lower stratum of tenants such as bargardars (share croppers), adhiars and poor peasants, tea plantation workers etc.

against whom

zamindars, rich farmers (Jotedars), moneylenders, traders, local bureaucrats

Suharwardy’s Government introduced Bargardari Bill. But overall, Limited success:

Brutal police suppression.

difference of opinion

tribal elements wanted more militant protest

poor and middle level farmer support declined

urban professional did not support (Because many of them had given their village land to Bargadars)

Riots started in Calcutta, demand for partition.

Telangana, Hyderabad State (46-51)

Who? Farmers of Telengana and Madras, Praja Mandal org., Communist party.

Against whom? Nizam’s officials, landlords, moneylenders, traders

Biggest Peasant guerrilla war in Modern Indian history.


Under Asafjahi Nizam- bureaucratic domination by Muslim and Hindu elites

Vethi: forced labour and payments in kind by Jagirdar. Tribals were turned into debt slaves.

high rents, forced eviction and other forms of badass thuggary associated in a feudal area.

Why guerrilla war?

Arms act was implemented in slack manner. Easy to buy country made guns.

Congress, Arya Samaj etc. did not want Nizam/Razakars to setup an independent Hyderabad country after independence. So they gave moral support, funding.


revenue and rent records destroyed

bonded labour/vethi disappeared, decline in untouchability

Agricultural wages were increased.

Destroyed aristocracy/feudalism from Hyderabad. Paved way for formation of Andhra State and Vinoba’s Bhudan movement.

Why decline?

Operation Polo: In 1948, Indian government sent army to overthrow Nizam.

even after liberation of Hyderabad, the Communist had internal political difference. The class war turned into petty murdering of forest officials and moneylenders. As a result movement lost support.

Varli, Bombay Province

Varli=tribals in W.India.

Kisan Sabha supported them. Later under the influence of communists.

Against whom? forest-contractors, the moneylenders, the rich farmers, landlords, British bureaucracy.


No comments:

Post a Comment