Farmers' Movements in Independent India

DOI10.1177/0019556120150309
AuthorKrishna Murari
Publication Date01 Jul 2015
SubjectArticle
FARMERS' MOVEMENTS IN INDEPENDENT INDIA
KRISHNA MURARI
This article divides peasant movements in independant India
into the three categories: (i) movements organised by the
peasants against semi-feudal and neo-feudal exploitation
and
oppressions by
poor
peasants, sharecroppers,
and
landless
agricultural labourers; (ii) movements led by rich peasants
and
farmers who own larger holdings
and
have also enriched
themselves as a result
of
the Green Revolution;
and
(iii)
agrarian movements that were mainly accelerated by the
onset
of
economic liberalisation
and
globalisation in so
far
as
these impacted the agricultural production, processing
and
marketing.
MOST OF the studies
of
peasant movements have regarded them as
spontaneous and lacking in durable organisations. However, such a view may
not always be true. For such studies have generally been inclined to overlook
the organisational and programmatic aspects
of
these movements either
because
of
the Orientalist conceptual blinders about the Indian peasantry
as well as lack
of
documentary evidence. Ranajit Guha has pioneered in his
Subaltern historiography to emphasise that peasant and tribal revolts have
had behind them the experience
of
long suffering and conscious attempts
at resistance and rebellion. 1 Their activities were generally animated by
defined objectives as well as sustained organisational endeavour. Such
revolts prior to the 20th Century would naturally lack the organisational
and communication trappings
of
the late 20th and the early 21st Centuries,
but the political conduct and vigour
of
those movements cannot be
ignored. Sociologists like, D.N. Dhanagare have called those movements
'pre-political' ,2 but Ranajit Guha argues that the political nature
of
such
movements cannot be reasonably dismissed.3 A.R. Desai has gone to the
extent
of
regarding those early movements as the sources
of
inspirations
for Indian National Movement.4 Even though the early movements lacked
concerted organisational networks
on
a larger regional or national scale,
the local peasants or tribals did aim at resisting the oppressors and seeking
to drive away the outsiders
or
foreigners. In their efforts what is more
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remarkable
is
that the leadership emerged from within the local community
with little or no intervention by outsiders. Even in the 1857 Rebellion the
landed elite and the peasantry did rise alongwith the rebellious sepoys
of
the British East India Company.
Peasant movements in Independent India were predictably influenced
by several changes that took place along with the formation
of
the Indian
Republic. For example, several parts
of
British India came to form Pakistan
and
600-odd princely states were integrated with the Indian Union.
Moreover, Post-Independence land reform legislations in the various states
also significantly transformed the conditions
of
the peasantry. In addition,
the differences between Zamindari, Rayotwari and Mahalwari systems
were made more or less uniform but their historical legacies continued to
some extent. All these factors plus agrarian modernisation like the Green
Revolution, in some areas, significantly impacted the nature
of
the agrarian
movements. This
is
also true
of
the economic liberalisation and globalisation
that was particularly accelerated
in
1991.
It
is difficult to present here the narratives
of
every agrarian movement
in
various parts
ofthe
country within the limited space
of
this article. The
variety
of
these movements may well be classified to present a generalised
picture based on the following criteria: (a) the size
of
the land holding
which subsumes the mode
of
production, i.e. relations and techniques
of
productions; (b) agrarian policies adopted by the state; (c) modem agrarian
technology-based changes which is an important factor in its own right; (d)
class- and caste-based political mobilisation; and (e) political leadership,
demands, issues, and strategies.7
PEASANT MOVEMENTS
Differentiation among various agrarian classes had been produced by
the British land settlement and revenue system as well as commercialisation
of
agriculture, e.g. Zamindars, rich peasants, poor peasants, and agricultural
workers. The peasant movements were triggered
by
this process
of
differentiation.8 According to Dhanagarc, a proper study
of
the peasant
movements requires attention to their class base, leadership, relevant
historical events, that influenced the thinking and activities
of
the peasantry.9
Among important post-independence peasant movements one can mention
Tebhaga, Telangana, and land grab movements that started in Naxalbari
area in North Bengal in the late 1960s. Tebhaga and Telangana had started
before Independence but continued even after 194
7.
Tebhaga Movement
Tebhaga Movement (1946-52) took place
in
Bengal. This movement
acquired a revolutionary character and was greatly influenced by Marxist

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