Agrarian struggles in the 20th century – 1


Peasant discontent as recorded by historians has been a familiar feature of the 19th and 20th centuries. During the first quarter of the 20th century, the peasant movements became much more violent. This movement was deeply influenced by the struggle for national freedom. Though, in different parts of the country, there were several peasant struggles, but here we will discuss the following important struggles only:

  1. Santhal Insurrection (1855-56)
  2. Peasant Revolt in Punjab (1930)
  3. Champaran (Bihar) Movement (1917-18)
  4. Kheda Peasant Struggle (1918)
  5. The Bardoli Satyagraha (1920)
  6. Moplah Rebellion in Malabar (1921)

Writer of India’s Struggle for independence described that the peasants of the country  began to develop political consciousness only after 1918.  They started taking part in national struggles and rose in revolt with their own problems. In course of time they constituted their own organization, framed their own flag and programme. It is enumerated that a few peasant movement also took place before 1918.  And, then, the period between 1870 and 1897 was interspersed with severe famines in India. Famines in India, particularly those of 1870, 1896 and 1897 were most devastating. This led to great misery among the kisans in affected areas. Periodically occurring economic depressions also led to great hardships among them. As a result of this, occasional peasant struggles brought out against the jamindars, moneylenders and the government.


The very concept paradigm shift was coined by an American Physicist and philosopher named Thomas Kuhn, which implies the fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline. He presented his notion of a paradigm shift in his influential book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolution” in the year 1962.The keywords associated with the term are development, power, modernization, dependency, post-modern, community based resources, neo-liberalism, globalization, etc.

However, in our Indian context the term was predominantly associated with the versatile agrarian system upon which fundamental changes were brought. Tracing back to the system of primitive agriculture practices in comparison with the 20th century illustrate the causes for the changes in the agro-economy in India owing to the colonization done by the British. The simple primitive system of agriculture was replaced with the complex system of agriculture practices. The introduction of new system of land ownership-initially Zamindari and Ryotwari system, the feudal system, moneylenders, the imposition of heavy land taxation, reformation on the land, land auctioning, etc. brought drastic changes in India’s agro-economy sectors. Besides, during the time of natural calamity, draught, famine, crops failure, etc. the colonial government made no effort to extent their help under any consideration. Thus, radical transformation of the pre-industrial agrarian structure and changes from relationships based on customs and status to those based on contract brought rapid development for British. But in Indian, with the modification of traditional agrarian structure and pre-British land relations the traditional cultivators were dissociated from direct land management and ownership. The cultivating peasant castes and the depressed and untouchable castes, standing at the bottom of the social ladder, were constantly victimized to the ranks of tenants, share-croppers and farm servants.

In addition, the lucrative and tedious economic policies of British adversely affected and caused impoverishment of the Indian peasants. The Private sectors and traditional handicrafts declined pathetically due to the arrival of finished goods and products at cheap rates.  Above all, the British Government protected only the landlords and money lenders. On the other hand, they exploited the peasants due to which peasants rose in revolt against these injustice on many occasions. As a result, peasant uprisings took place during the colonial period, and development of peasant movements in the post-colonial period. Consequently, various peasant agitations had been organized extensively because of the paradigmatic transformation brought by British in the pre-industrial agrarian structure in order to protect their rights such as- Champaran peasant agitation and Kisan Sabha in Bihar, Malabar peasant struggle in South-India, Bardoli Movement of Gujurat, Tebhaga Movement in Bengal, Telengana Movement in Telegana (Earlier in Andhra Pradesh) and Tanjore Peasant Movement in Tamil Nadu and so on.