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Peasant movements have a long history

It is generally believed that farmers have not played a meaningful role in the turmoil that has occurred from time to time in Indian society, but this is not true because before independence, the movements in support of their demands by the farmers, due to Gandhi’s influence, were not filled with violence and destruction

Niraj Krishna

The peasant movement is a part of the social movements against British atrocities in the 18th and 19th centuries of the British colonial period. Its origins can be traced back to the colonial era, when farmers across the country united in large numbers against the injustices they faced. They revolted against issues like a high tax regime, blatant exploitation, underpayment, and losing rights over their land.

India is an agricultural and agrarian country. After independence, many governments came to power in the country, but no prime minister paid attention to villages, the poor, or farmers. Due to decades of faulty policies in independent India, the expected development of the country’s agriculture and farming could not be achieved. The most damage was done to those farmers who neither had much land nor many resources.

It is generally believed that farmers have not played a meaningful role in the turmoil that has occurred from time to time in Indian society, but this is not true because before independence, the movements in support of their demands by the farmers, due to Gandhi’s influence, were not filled with violence and destruction. But now, after independence, the movements in the name of farmers or those that have occurred have been more violent and politically motivated than before.

The history of agrarian unrest can be traced back to the first quarter of 1920. Rural sociologists have used various words for agrarian unrest. For some, unrest is called the farmers’ struggle; for others, it is called the farmers’ rebellion; and some others call it the farmers’ revolution. Some other sociologists simply call it a movement.

The history of resistance movements is filled not only with India but with the entire world. Resistance movements have emerged in every era of history. Some have been successful, while many have failed. However, despite this, the sentiment of resistance has not diminished among people. Therefore, it can be questioned why people are resisting, and despite failures and defeats, why have these movements emerged? One reason for this is the nature of humans to tolerate, to some extent, oppression and exploitation, and when their patience runs out, they rebel against the system, tradition, and values that come in their way.

Farmers have been particularly active participants in resistance movements. Whenever food became expensive and the law and order situation deteriorated, these movements suddenly arose, and people gathered on the streets and highways to protest. They consistently opposed rulers and landlords because they oppressed them by snatching away their produce, imposing heavy taxes on them, and levying fines.

History also tells us that when resistance movements started, their leaders were fully aware that their opponents were more powerful and organized than them. They had more weapons than them, yet they were still ready to resist. They had the sentiment of their objective, which prepared them for any sacrifice. They also felt that they would lose the war against the state and its institutions. However, through resistance movements, they created a desire for change among the people and fought against injustice and oppression.

In this way, their victory was their defeat. The special feature of all these resistance movements was that when they raised their voice for a particular purpose, they felt a sense of unity and solidarity. This unity and solidarity were the most effective weapons of the movement, which encouraged them to oppose and sacrifice their lives to achieve their goals.

Farmer movements have played a social and economic role not only in the country but also in the world from time to time. Among these, the rebellion of the Santhal farmers against British laws can be considered the most heroic event in history. The truth is that the foundation of the country’s independence movement was laid along with the fight for the rights of the farmers. It was through the struggle against the inhumanities of indigo farming in Champaran that a new weapon called Satyagraha was born, which led us to the battlefield of the freedom movement.

Some of the most important farmer movements in India are as follows: Champaran Satyagraha (1917), Kheda farmer struggle, Bardoli movement in Gujarat (1925), Moplah rebellion in Malabar (1921), Telangana farmer rebellion (1947–51), and Tebhaga movement in Bengal.

The mention of farmers’ movements in history is first found in Tripura (1767–1768) during the rule of Shamsher Gazi. After that, the farming tribes, identified as Santhals, demonstrated remarkable revolutionary courage, facing long struggles. The Santhals (today’s Jharkhand) had to fight a fierce battle for their rights. They were compelled to fight against landlords, moneylenders, and the ruling British together. Over many years of this popular struggle, more than 20,000 Santhals lost their lives. Gradually, the echoes of resistance from these Santhal farmers reached other parts of the country, where hundreds of rebellions, large and small, by both tribal and non-tribal farmers emerged.

The colonialist and feudal regime crushed their enemies with the help of the settler-dominated political establishment, including the Sardar Rebellion (1778), Koli Rebellion (1784 and 1818), Chouri Rebellion (1795-1800), Chhota Nagpur Rebellion (1807-18), Bhil Rebellion in Gujarat (1809), Tribal Rebellion in Assam (1828), Munda Rebellion (1834), Great Kol Rebellion (1831-32), Santhal Rebellion (1855), Juang Rebellion in Odisha (1861), Koma Tribal Rebellion (1862, 1879, and 1880), Naga Rebellion (1879), Manipur Rebellion (1891), Birsa Munda (1920-21), Bhoomkal (1910-11), Bali Rebellion (1946-48), Naga Rebellion (1963 and 1971), Mizo Rebellion (1966 and 1971), and resistances in states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand, involving tribal and non-tribal regions.

The Avadh farmer movement (1920–22) began with the inspiration of the Champaran struggle. Here, agents of the permanent settlement system, the landlords, enforced forced rent, evictions, and bonded labor in a harsh manner. Led by Baba Ramchandra Das, Sahadev Singh, and Jhinguri Singh, this movement started with the farmers’ assembly, which challenged the landlords of Avadh and the British government within a few months. Baba Ramchandra had gone to work as an indentured laborer in Fiji. Upon returning from there, he used to gather farmers, discuss their problems, and seek solutions to the problems of farmer life.

Fearing the awareness of the farmers’ struggle in the Avadh region, the then government arrested their leaders. Thousands of farmers surrounded the jail. Pressured, the government released them unconditionally. Towards the end of 1920, the arrests of some farmer leaders for minor offenses once again intensified the opposition. This case was to be held in Pratapgarh city, but upon the opportunity of the hearing, the farmers filled the courtroom in thousands.

Even after a long period before and after independence in India, only a difference of 19–20 is seen in the condition of Indian farmers. The count of prosperous farmers can be counted on fingers. Even today, amidst a deep crisis in agriculture, the “Green Revolution” of agricultural development seems to benefit only corporations. India’s identity, which was associated with advanced agriculture and industries, arts, products, and businesses related to agriculture, shifted to prioritizing industries and associated technical development and business after independence. Along with the crisis in agriculture, farmers also had to suffer.

It is true that farmers are a major vote bank in this country, and no government would want to be labeled as anti-farmer. However, despite this, it is also a truth that, since independence, the country’s farmers have been deceived. Regardless of the intentions of the government, the system operating under this same government has always deceived the farmers.

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