The Struggle of Peasants in the Colonial India


The economic policy instituted by the British Government created discontentment among the peasants of India. Further, the Indian zamindars and money­lenders exploited illiterate peasant mass. After the permanent settlement of 1793, the absentee landlords, the intermediaries and the village money-lenders and the oppression of the Europeans reduced the Indian peasants into beggary. The growing oppression was not simply swallowed by the peasants but they raised voice against it.

The Santhal rebellion, 1855-56:

The Santals of Hazaribagh, Midnapur, Bankura, Birbhum, Manbhum etc. were the worst sufferers due to the permanent settlement. The police and other government officials did not protect their interest; rather exploited them. The Santhals under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanhu raised in 1856 with a view to put an end to colonial rule in India. They disrupted the railway and postal communications between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal.


The British troops became alert and a force under Major Burrough suffered a defeat at the lands of the Santhals. The British took repressive measures, arrested the Santhal leaders and quelled the rebellion. The Rebellion was pacified with the creation of a separate district consisting of the Santhal Parganas.

However, in the great Revolt of 1857, peasants of Oudh and western U.P. participated and fought against the British authority.

Strike of Bengal indigo cultivators 1860:

Bengal projected the first strike in the history of the peasant movement in India. The European planters in Bengal forced the local peasants to resort to indigo cultivation and earned a good deal of profit. The peasants suffered a lot in 1860.


The peasants of the districts of Pabna and Nadia and Barasat sub-division went on strike and refused to cultivate indigo. Soon, the news spread and peasants of Dacca, Malda, Jessore, Khulna, Rajsahi and several other places followed their path.

The British Government was alarmed and issued order to different police stations to take due caution in protecting the peasants from the clutches of indigo planters. In an Act of 1862, it was decided that the planters can go to the court of law. This law freed the peasants from the clutches of the planters who left Bengal and ultimately went to Bihar and U. P.

Peasant uprising in Deccan, 1875:

The payment of Government revenue, fall of the price of cotton and manipulation of bond by the money-lenders in Deccan added plights to the life of the peasants.


In December 1874, a money-lender named Kālu ram obtained decree from the court for evicting Baba Saheb Deshinukh, who failed to pay Rs 150 which he had borrowed from the former. When the money-lender evicted the former, the villagers were infuiiated. The fire of discontent spread in Poona district. The peasants forcibly entered into the house of the money-lenders, burnt their houses and shops and the bond of loans. The government was alarmed and sent police who arrested hundreds of peasants. The government could not take any action against the peasants because there was no evidence to prove it, A Deccan Riots Commission was appointed to investigate the course of such uprising.

The Agriculturists’ Relief Act of 1879 was passed which facilitated the peasants in the payment of their loan but under no circumstance. They could be arrested and sent to jail for non payment of loans. Before riots could spread to other parts of the country, the British Government passed Punjab Land Alienation Act, and pacified the discontent of the peasants of Punjab.

Champaran Movement of 1917:

The peasants of Champaran in Bihar started a movement against their planters who had forced them for indigo cultivation. The intervention of .Mahatma Gandhi solved the problem (for details see ‘Gandhiji and Champaran Satyagraha of 1917).


Kheda Satyagraha, 1918:

The peasant’s m Kheda in Gujarat in 1917 denied paying revenue to the government in 1918. Gandhiji and other leaders guided them and the government had to bend before them.

The Moplah uprising, 1921-22:

In 1921 the Muslim peasants of the Malabar districts of Kerala known as the Moplahs rose against their landlords, the Namboodris and Nairs. These upper classes exploited the peasants. The Moplahs had no security of their tenure.


The renewal of fees, high rents and other extractions by the zamindars, broke the backbone of the Moplahs. They became united and made armed attacks on the Namboodris, Nair’s and other higher castes. The British Government became active and suppressed them.

The Kishan Sahhas:

Formation of the Kishaii Sabhns during 1922-1928 at different places inside the country protected the interests of the peasants. The Kishan Sabhas at Andhra, Bihar, U.P. Gujarai, Karnataka etc. were organised by the national leaders who came forward to champion the causes of the peasants. The peasants came to the great help at different points of India’s struggle for independence. The popular ministries in provinces looked after the problems of the peasants. The Restoration of Bengal Land Act and Bihar Tenancy Act in 1938 were passed in 1938.

Other peasant movements before independence:

Before independence, several peasant movements took place in India. The Tebhaga Movement in Bengal, the Telengana Outbreak in Hyderabad, the revolt of the Varlis, mostly guided by the communist party, were other popular peasant movements in India on the eve of independence. The peasants out and out were the supporters of the Indian National Congress.

The All-India Kisan Congress carried on massive educative propaganda work to bring peasants of the country closer to each other. However, the British Government did not give much importance to the peasants.

The peasant struggle definitely forms a subtle study of Indian history. No doubt, their uprising put pressure on the British Government which devoted at least some time and machinery to solve some of the problems of the peasants and to quell the peasant uprisings wherever it was necessary.

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