- Santhals 1855-56
- Indigo revolt 1860
- Maratha uprising
The Santhals are a group of tribals largely concentrated in Bihar. They are mainly agriculturists. The first peasant movement which took place in India dates back to Santhal insurrection of 1855-56. This insurrection has reference to the establishment of the Permanent Land Settlement of 1793. The settlement pattern initiated by the British took away lands from the Santhals which they had cultivated for centuries. The jamindars took land on auction from the British government and gave it to the peasants who took it for cultivation.The jamindars and moneylenders and also groups of Europeans and government officers increased the land tax and oppressed the common peasantry. The Santhals were subdued to an extent that they decided to rise against the jamindars, moneylenders and traders.
In the beginning, following Permanent Land Settlement, the Santhals in Bihar did not resist much. They even took to limits of retreat and moved towards the borders of the plains of the Ganga at the very place where the competition for land was the keenest and the rents were the highest. This was unbearable for the Santhals. They took to insurrection.
The jamindars, the police, the revenue and court exercised a combined action of extortions. The Santhals were obliged to pay all kinds of taxes and levies. They were dispossessed of their property. They were abused. The representatives of jamindars, that is, Karendais inflicted personal violence on the Santhals. A variety of petty tyrannies were exercised on the timed and yielding Santhals. The moneylenders charged interest which was incredibly high. These moneylenders came to be known as diku, that is, exploiters by the Santhal. For this matter all the Bengalis who ran their trade in the Santhal areas were known as dikus.
Measures taken by British:
Before the insurrection, the settlement area of the Santhals was broken into several parts for the purpose of administration. Then, a change was made. The government declared the Santhal concentration area as the Santhal Pargana. It was due to the Santhal insurrection that the British government recognised the tribal status of the Santhals. Now they came under uniform administration.
The diku population realised that now the Santhals were not an unorganised mass of people. They are organised and have a vibrating enthusiasm. Not only the Santhals of Pargana but the tribals as whole who were agriculturists got united. This was by no means an ordinary achievement.
Actually, the Santhals gave a message to the peasants of country as a whole to resist the operation of jamindars and moneylenders. The Santhal blood etched the slogan that they were bold and large group of people.
Indigo revolt 1860:
Indigo cultivation started in Bengal in 1777. Indigo was in high demand worldwide. Trade in indigo was lucrative due to the demand for blue dye in Europe. European planters enjoyed a monopoly over indigo and they forced Indian farmers to grow indigo by signing fraudulent deals with them. The cultivators were forced to grow indigo in place of food crops. They were advanced loans for this purpose. Once the farmers took loans, they could never repay it due to the high rates of interest. The tax rates were also exorbitant. The farmers were brutally oppressed if they could not pay the rent or refused to do as asked by the planters. They were forced to sell indigo at non-profitable rates so as to maximize the European planters’ profits. If a farmer refused to grow indigo and planted paddy instead, the planters resorted to illegal means to get the farmer to grow indigo such as looting and burning crops, kidnapping the farmer’s family members, etc. The government always supported the planters who enjoyed many privileges and judicial immunities.
The indigo farmers revolted in the Nadia district of Bengal by refusing to grow indigo. They attacked the policemen who intervened. The planters, in response to this, increased the rents and evicted the farmers which led to more agitations. In April 1860, all the farmers in the Barasat division of the districts Nadia and Pabna went on a strike and refused to grow indigo. The strike spread to other parts of Bengal. The farmers were led by the Biswas brothers of Nadia, Rafiq Mondal of Malda and Kader Molla of Pabna. The revolt also received support from many zamindars notably Ramrattan Mullick of Narail. The revolt was suppressed and many farmers were slaughtered by the government and some of the zamindars. The revolt was backed by the Bengali intelligentsia, Muslims and the missionaries. The whole of the rural population supported the revolt. The press also supported the revolt and played its part in portraying the plight of the farmers and fighting for their cause. The play Nil Darpan (The Mirror of Indigo) by Dinabandhu Mitra written in 1858 – 59 portrayed the farmers’ situation accurately. It showed how farmers were coerced into planting indigo without adequate payment. The play became a talking point and it urged the Bengali intelligentsia to lend support to the indigo revolt. Reverend James Long translated the play into English on the authority by the Secretary to the Governor of Bengal, W S Seton-Karr. The planters who were treated as villains in the play sued Rev. Long for libel. Rev. Long was pronounced guilty and had to pay Rs.1000 as compensation and serve a month in prison.
The revolt was largely non-violent and it acted as a precursor to Gandhiji’s non-violent satyagraha in later years. The revolt was not a spontaneous one. It was built up over years of oppression and suffering of the farmers at the hands of the planters and the government. Hindus and Muslims joined hands against their oppressors in this rebellion. It also saw the coming together of many zamindars with the ryots or farmers. The revolt was a success despite its brutal quelling by the government. In response to the revolt, the government appointed the Indigo Commission in 1860. In the report, a statement read, ‘not a chest of Indigo reached England without being stained with human blood. A notification was also issued which stated that farmers could not be forced to grow indigo. By the end of 1860, indigo cultivation was literally washed away from Bengal since the planters closed their factories and left for good. The revolt was made immensely popular by its portrayal in the play Nil Darpan and also in many other works of prose and poetry. This led to the revolt taking center stage in the political consciousness of Bengal and impacted many later movements in Bengal.
Maratha uprising 1875:
In the Bombay Deccan region, the British had introduced the Ryotwari settlement as the system of land revenue. Under this system, the revenue of land was fixed on a yearly basis. In the Ryotwari system, the agreement was between the government and the ryot (cultivator) directly. The revenue was fixed according to the soil-type and the paying capacity of the farmer. However, the revenues were so high that farmers found it extremely difficult to pay their dues. Any failure in the rains would deteriorate the situation. To pay their revenues farmers generally took loans from moneylenders. Once the loans were taken, the farmers found it impossible to repay them since the interest rates were steep. Peasant indebtedness became a serious problem in the rural areas. In 1861, civil war broke out in the USA. USA was the largest supplier of cotton to Britain. Once the civil war broke out, the demand for cotton from India became high and this led to a surge in cotton cultivation in India and there was a period of ‘boom’ then. However, once the war in America ended, cotton demand sunk and this affected the farmers adversely. The moneylenders, who during the time of the civil war were generous with their loans, once again refused the farmers loans. This infuriated the farmers because they were completely dependent on the moneylenders.
The uprising began at Supa village in the district of Poona. In 1875, farmers attacked a market place where many moneylenders lived. They burnt account books and looted grain shops. They also torched the houses of sahukars (people who were both traders and moneylenders). The farmers were led by the village headmen. The farmers’ main motive was to destroy the account books of the moneylenders and they resorted to violence only when these books were not handed over to them. They also socially boycotted the moneylenders. The movement continued for 2 months and spread to over 30 villages. The movement also got support from the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha co-founded by M G Ranade. It took several months for the police to restore order in the countryside.
The Bombay government initially dismissed the uprising as trivial. However, the Government of India pressurised Bombay to enquire into the matter. Accordingly, the Deccan Riots Commission was set up which presented a report to the British Parliament in 1878. In 1879, the Agriculturists Relief Act was passed which ensured that the farmers could not be arrested and imprisoned if they were unable to pay their debts.