The speeches and campaigns of Gandhi and Motilal Nehru made a spectacular impact on the peasants, who, casting off timidity and submissiveness, pleaded with the landlords for justice and fairplay. For instance, in 1932, the tenants of the zamindar of Udayarapalayam put forward sixteen demands, aiming at the improvement of agriculture as well as their own general welfare.
In 1934 the ryots of Andhra Pradesh formed district Association and Ryots Protection Societies to focus the attention of the government on their sufferings. The appealed for the suspension of collection of kits
Dissatisfied with the assessment they demanded a reduction in the enhanced land tax by two annas per rupee. Referring to the new Reforms Act, N.G. Ranga, in an address to the kisans of Ellora in 1934 posed the question that will come into power (under the new constitution)? Zamindars, Sahukars (bankers) and white businessmen who are more arbitrary than Mussolini and Hitler when they get into power he was also critical of the Zamindari system based on Permanent Settlement.
In the same year the peasants chalked out a plan for representation to the Government and organised Ryots-Protection Marches to approach the Governor. In the next year the agitation was further intensified. Several peasant marches were organised throughout Andhra and not less than a lakh of people participated in it with the slogans, "Down with the Zamindari system", "Down with the present system of taxation".
Ranga told the ryots that swaraj could be achieved only though the cooperation and active assistance of the masses of the country.
In 1940 M.K. Gupta of the Justice Party induced the tenants, who were mostly of the Pallar community, of Lalgudi and the adjacent villages to rise against the Mirasdars, majority of whom were Brahmins. There was a touch of anti-Brahmin feeling in this propaganda; Pallars were told that the rent they paid in kind was exorbitant which made considerable impact on them. However with the arrest of Gupta the agitation gradually dwindled and finally disappeared.
By 1945 the Communists had started their activities among the peasant of Madras (Chennai) presidency Kisan Sanghams were organised in Madura, Ramand and Salem. In Chittoor they organised a conference in March, 1945 and demanded equitable taxation in the Zamindari areas of the district. They also held Ryot conferences in Krisna, Salem and Guntur districts.
In 1940, the kisans of Tanjore district managed to enter the fields of landlords at the instigation of leaders, but there was confusion during the time of harvest due to clash of interests between the landlords and tenants.
In Mayavaram and Tanjore talukas, the landlords sought the assistance of police (or harvest due to the outbreak of violence on the part of farm hands. In 1947 the kisans of Mannargudi and Tiruthurajpoondi, under the influence of the Communists, refrained from agricultural work and refused to give varum to the Mirasdar.
Also they influenced the Adidravidas of Thiruvalaputhur village, and engineered a strike at the time of harvest. The government intervened to settle the agrarian dispute and a circular of February 1948 undertook to guarantee the minimum price of paddy, to wipe out all debts of the agricultural labourers etc.
In 1947 agrarian unrest shook Nilakottai taluk, a part of the Periyar Delta. The cultivators demanded an increase in the quantum of varum, which was 1/3 till then, but the landlords refused. Here also the government intervened and arranged a temporary settlement, pending final decision. Likewise, in the same year, in Sholavandam the kisans demanded 1/2 of the produce from the land and started agitation. In both these taluks, the traditional share of the kisans was 1/3 of the produce. However, due to prolonged agitation the landlords finally consented to reduce their varam to 50%.
By the close of the thirties of this century the agrarian movement in Kerala gathered momentum and the grievances of the peasants were brought to the notice of the authorities for redress the first Kisan Congress that met at Ernakulam in 1928, demanded many reforms in the agrarian system.
The Congress Socialist Party, consisting of the radicals of the Indian National Congress gave lead in bringing the peasants and workers to the path of agitation. It was under the pressure from these radicals that the Congress took initiative in convening the First All Kerala Trade Union Congress at Calicut in May 1935. The peasant movement in Kerala was gradually acquiring a new dimension.
Later on, in 1939 at the Pinarayi Conference, the Congress Socialist Party transformed itself into the Communist Party and continued to influence and lead the agrarian agitation Writers of leftist orientation depicted the sorrowful plight of the peasant though their writings, poetry, drama, novels etc., and produced great impact on the general public. The Kisan Sanghams formed in different parts of Malabar demanded reduction of rent, abolition of feudalism and transfer of land to the real cultivators.
In 1938 the Kasargod Taluk Karshaka Sangham was formed with a number of practical proposals aiming at the uplift of peasants. The Sangham held study classes for Kisans and analysed the real position of the latter as well as the general political situation. Establishment of reading clubs, formation of organisations for ladies and children etc., were some of the other objectives of the Sangham.
It directed a frontal attack on landlordism and British imperialism, and in December 1938 the Sangham submitted a memorial to the District Collector, pinpointing the grievances of the peasants of Kasargod, which were more or less identical with the grievances of the entire peasantry of Malabar area. In response to the persistent demands of the peasants, the government appointed the Malabar Tenancy Committee, in July 1939.
Since 1940, the activities of the Karshaka Sangham assumed a militant character and they opposed the activities of the landlords, such crops were harvested by peasant's officials. In the villages where the crops were attached for government dues or for the dues of landlords, such crops were harvested by peasants under the inspiration of Karshaka Sangham. When the authorities turned to legal proceedings to take away the lands from the tenants, the labourers boycotted the landlords and refused to work.
The leftists in the Congress protested against the inclusion of India on the side of Allies irrespective of the consent of national leaders and as such they decided to observe a Black Day on 15th September 1940 against the British rule. The workers and peasants held a public meeting in Tellicherry, but in the scuffle that followed, the police opened fire killing two people. In Morazha, another place in north Malabar, the discontented peasants killed an Inspector and a police constable.
In Kayyoor, also in north Malabar, the Nileswaram Raja was the biggest landlord of the area and as such the ryots decided to submit a memorial to him enumerating their grievances. Also they planned for a procession to the residence of the Raja to submit the same on 30th March 1941.
However, on 28th the villagers had a scuffle with a policeman, who, in order to escape from the fury of the crowd, plunged into a river, and according to official version, he was drowned on account of the pelting of stones by the agitators. The situation became tense. On 30th the police indulged in a cruel retributive charge upon the people; many of them were chained and beaten. For the murder of the policeman sixty-one people were accused and four were sent to the gallows after trial.
Owing to the continued discontent and agitation of the ryots in various parts of the Madras Presidency, in 1947 the Government of Madras (now Chennai) appointed a special officer to study the problems in land tenure. The report of the special officer revealed the necessity for a more rational and just distribution of land, the non-doing of which was the major disturbing factor behind all agitation. However, the report was deferred and the question of a permanent settlement of varam system was left to the Land Reforms Committee.
The period of the late 1930s and the period between 1946-50 witnessed the intense politically inspired activity among the middle class and the poor peasants in South India. It was mainly the work of the Communists, although, Socialist, Congress and independent peasant unions have also sponsored some peasant boycotts and strikes.
Between 1946-47 along with the disgruntled India Navy and the urban classes the peasants in different parts of Telangana, Tanjore and Kerala also rallied against the British. The peculiar socio-economic condition of the Telangana region where the peasants, steeped in debt, oppressed by the landlords, Deshmukhs and Patels, who got no redress from the Government, came under the influence of the Communists, who promised them land and freedom.
The landlords, Patwaris and other government servants exacted free service or Begar from the peasants and ill-treated them. The Nizam State Andhra Mahasabha, which took initiative in ventilating their grievances, at the closing phase of the opposition movement came exclusively under the control of the Communists, and the government resorted to force to suppress it.
In Kerala, by October 1946, the peasants in association with the industrial workers and labourers of various concerns openly challenged the government of the erstwhile native state of Travancore. Though the working class as a whole was dissatisfied with the conditions in the labour front, the peasants in particular were victims of eviction and torture at the hands of landlords and the police. They formed volunteer camps for self- defense and when the oppression of the landlords and their enhancement mounted, they retaliated.
They attacked a police outpost, seized guns and killed some policemen. The police, in company with military, massacred the peasants and labourers who were acting at the directives and by the influence of the Communist Party. The people defended themselves with whatever weapons they could collect; but they were soon suppressed by the superior force of the Government. This agitation is known as Punnapra-Vayalar Uprising, for these were the two centers where the workers concentrated themselves with volunteer camps to challenge, and if necessary to confront the government.
From this account of the peasant resistance and revolt in South India, it is clear that in the early British period the rural class struggle was a spontaneous outcome of the miserable existence and sad experiences of the agricultural masses. In the twentieth century its spontaneity was almost lost in the rush of political ideological and policy crises. The condition of the peasants continued to be hopelessly wretched throughout the period under discussion and marks of change for the better appeared only after independence.