The history of agrarian unrest can be traced back to the first quarter of 1920s. The rural sociologists have used various terms for peasant unrest. For some the unrest is called as a peasant struggle, for some it is called as a peasant uprising and some others call it as a peasant revolution.
The change in the agrarian situation resulted in a change in the situation of the peasants, which gave rise to many problems. The peasants had more demands.
Moplah Rebellion in Malabar
Moplahs were Muslim peasants settled in the Malabar region of Kerala. The social and economic background of the Moplahs was heterogeneous. Certain rich Moplahs earned their livelihood as traders and merchants. The landlords belonged to the high- caste Hindus.
The Moplah Peasant Movement started in August 1921. During this time Malabar was under the British rule. The government officials in alliance with the Hindu landlords oppressed the Moplah peasants. The Moplah tenants agitated against the Hindu landlords and the British government. Most of their grievances were related to security of tenure, high rents, renewal fees, and other unfair exactions of the landlords.
It took place in the Western Ghats in 1882-1889 under Phadke.
It took place in 1872-76 due to the atrocities committed by the zamindars.
It occurred in Rajasthan due to 86 different taxes being imposed on the peasants.
The Indigo Rebellion can be termed the first form resistance of the countryside against the British in economic and social terms.
Indigo was identified as a major cash crop for the East India Company’s investments in the 18th Century. It had worldwide demand similar to cotton piece-goods, opium and salt. The native planters continued their operations but had to face stiff competition from the European planters.
The planters formed their own political association to establish their authority in the indigo districts. Thus, they emerged as a new element in the agrarian economy which eroded the powers and privileges enjoyed hitherto by the Zamindars.
A ryot himself sowed and cultivated indigo and other crops in those lands and had tenancy rights. Once a peasant had grown rice on his plot he was reluctant to return the land to indigo. Heightened labour and unfavourable return from indigo was the main reason for such reluctance.
When such reluctance became widespread, the planters’ association in Calcutta persuaded the government to enact an infamous law — Act XI of 1860, which made breach of contract on the part of the ryots a criminal offence. The planters took full advantage of this law and their oppression became severe in Nadia and Jessore districts of Bengal. The district officials also joined the planters in this oppression. But the ryots were determined. They frankly told the officials that they are ready to obey the sahib but not to plough indigo.
The Santal Revolt (1855-56)
The Santals were a hardworking, peace-loving and simple folk, living mainly off agriculture in the dense forests of Bankura, Midnapur, Birbhum, Manbhum, Chota Nagpur and Palamou.
The Permanent Settlement brought these lands under Company’s revenue control. The Santals fled oppressive zamindars and Company staff and settled down in the hill tracts of Rajmahal and clearings in Murshidabad forests. They started farming here as well, calling it Damin-i-Koh.
But here too their oppressors followed them and exploitation started in full swing. Local moneylenders cheated them with high interest rates of 50% to 500%. The simple-minded Santals reeled under loans and often had to lose everything, even themselves, if loans were not paid back. Shopkeepers gave them short weight. British soldiers and employees forcibly took away their livestock; even the women were not spared.
Two brothers, Sidhu and Kanhu, rose against these dreadful activities. On 30 June 1855, 10,000 Santals assembled at the Bhagnadihi fields and pledged to establish a free Santal state. Common people like blacksmiths, potters, carpenters and weavers supported them. Other leaders were brothers Chand and Bhairav, Bir Singh and Pramanik. The rebels’ ranks swelled and they numbered nearly 50,000.
Postal and rail services were thoroughly disrupted. The rebels targeted railway stations, post offices, police stations, European bungalows and zamindars’ houses. They bravely fought with only bows and arrows with the armed British soldiers and nearly brought British rule down from Bhagalpur to Munghyr. Trouble spread to Birbhum and Murshidabad as well.
Several British armies were dispatched to quell the rebellion. At last in February 1856 the uprising was suppressed and 23,000 rebels were slaughtered. Sidhu, Kanhu and other leaders were hanged, prisoners got jail terms of seven to 14 years and 36 Santal villages were destroyed.
The Munda Rebellion
One of the prominent revolts of nineteenth century tribal rebellions in the Indian subcontinent was the Munda Rebellion. This rebellion was led by Birsa Munda in the south of Ranchi in the year 1899.
The “Great Tumult” aimed to establish Munda raj and independence.