The First Major Challenge: The Revolt of 1857
It was the morning of 11 May 1857. The city of Delhi had not yet woken up when a band of sepoys from Meerut , who had defied and ki l led the European officers the previous day, crossed the Jamuna, set the tol l house on fi re and marched to the Red Fort . Bahadur Shah vaci l lated as he was nei ther sure of the intent ions of the sepoys nor of hi s own abi l i ty to play an effect ive role. He was however persuaded, i f not coerced, to give in and was proclaimed the Shahenshah-e-Hindustan. Simon Fraser, the Pol i t ical Agent , and several other Engl i shmen were ki l led; the publ ic offices were ei ther occupied or dest royed. The Revol t at Meerut and the capture of Delhi was the precursor to a widespread mut iny by the sepoys and rebel l ion almost al l over North India, as wel l as Cent ral and Western India. South India remained quiet and Punjab and Bengal were only marginal ly affected. Almost hal f the Company’s sepoy st rength of 2,32,224 opted out of thei r loyal ty to thei r regimental colours and overcame the ideology of the army.
The 19th Nat ive Infant ry at Berhampur, which refused to use the newly int roduced Enfield ri fle, was di sbanded in March 1857. A young sepoy of the 34th Nat ive Infant ry, Mangal Pande, went a step further and fi red at the Sergeant Major of hi s regiment . He was overpowered and executed and hi s regiment too, was di sbanded. The 7th Oudh Regiment which defied i t s officers met wi th a simi lar fate. At Kanpur, the natural choice was Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the last Peshwa, Baj i Rao II. He had refused the fami ly t i t le and, bani shed from Poona, was l iving near Kanpur. Begum Hazrat Mahal took over the reigns at Lucknow, where popular sympathy was overwhelmingly in favour of the deposed Nawab. Her son, Bi rj i s Qadi r, was proclaimed the Nawab and a regular admini st rat ion was organized wi th important offices shared equal ly by Musl ims and Hindus. At Bariel ly, Khan Bahadur, a descendant of the former ruler of Rohi lkhand, was placed in command. In Bihar, the Revol t was led by Kunwar Singh, the zamindar of Jagdi shpur, a 70-year-old man on the
brink of bankruptcy. He nursed a grudge against the Bri t i sh. He had been deprived of hi s estates by them and hi s repeated appeal s to be ent rusted wi th thei r management again fel l on deaf ears. Even though he had not planned an upri sing, he unhesi tat ingly joined the sepoys when they reached Arrah from Dinapore. The most out standing leader of the Revol t was Rani Lakshmibhai , who assumed the leadership of the sepoys at Jhansi . Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General , had refused to al low her adopted son to succeed to the throne after her husband died and had annexed the state by the appl icat ion of the Doct rine of Lapse. The Revol t was not confined to these major cent res. It had embraced almost every cantonment in the Bengal and a few in Bombay. Only the Madras army remained total ly loyal . Why did the sepoys revol t? It was considered prest igious to be in the service of the Company; i t provided economic stabi l i ty. A proclamat ion i ssued at Delhi indicates the immediate cause: ‘It i s wel l known that in these days al l the Engl i sh have entertained these evi l designs — fi rst , to dest roy the rel igion of the whole Hindustani Army, and then to make the people by compul sion Chri st ians. Therefore, we, solely on account of our rel igion, have combined wi th the people, and have not spared al ive one infidel , and have re-establ i shed the Delhi dynasty on these terms. It i s certainly t rue that the condi t ions of service in the Company’s army and cantonment s increasingly came into confl ict wi th the rel igious bel iefs and prejudices of the sepoys, who were predominant ly drawn from the upper caste Hindus of the North Western Provinces and Oudh. Ini t ial ly, the admini st rat ion sought to accommodate the sepoys’ demands: faci l i t ies were provided to them to l ive according to the dictates of thei r caste and rel igion. But , wi th the extension of the Army’s operat ion not only to various part s of India, but al so to count ries out side, i t was not possible to do so any more. Moreover, caste di st inct ions and segregat ion wi thin a regiment were not conducive to the cohesiveness of a fight ing uni t . To begin wi th, the admini st rat ion thought of an easy way out : di scourage the recrui tment of Brahmins; thi s apparent ly did not succeed and, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the upper castes predominated in the Bengal Army, for instance. The unhappiness of the sepoys fi rst surfaced in 1824 when the 47th Regiment at Barrackpur was ordered to go to Burma. To the rel igious Hindu, crossing the sea meant loss of caste.
The sepoys,therefore, refused to comply. The regiment was di sbanded and those who led the opposi t ion were hanged. The rel igious sensibi l i t ies of the sepoys who part icipated in the Afghan War were more seriously affected. When they returned to India, those at home correct ly sensed that they could not have observed caste st ipulat ions and, therefore, were hesi tant to welcome them back into the bi radi ri (caste fraterni ty). The prest ige of being in the pay of the Company was not enough to hold hi s posi t ion in society; rel igion and caste proved to be more powerful . The rumours about the Government ’s secret designs to promote conversions to Chri st iani ty further exasperated the sepoys. The official -mi ssionary nexus gave credence to the rumour. In some cantonment s, mi ssionaries were permi t ted to preach openly and thei r diat ribe against other rel igions angered the sepoys. The report s about the mixing of bone dust in at ta and the int roduct ion of the Enfield ri fle enhanced the sepoys’ growing di saffect ion wi th the Government . The cart ridges of the new ri fle had to be bi t ten off before loading and the grease was reportedly made of beef and pig fat . The army admini st rat ion did nothing to al lay these fears, and the sepoys fel t thei r rel igion was in real danger. The sepoys’ di scontent was not l imi ted to rel igion alone. They were equal ly unhappy wi th thei r emolument s. He was made to feel a subordinate at every step and was di scriminated against racial ly and in mat ters of promot ion and privi leges. The di scontent of the sepoys was not l imi ted to mat ters mi l i tary, they reflected the general di senchantment wi th and opposi t ion to Bri t i sh rule. The sepoy, in fact , was a ‘peasant in uni form,’ whose consciousness was not divorced from that of the rural populat ion. The new land revenue system int roduced after the annexat ion and the confi scat ion of lands at tached to chari table inst i tut ions affected hi s wel l -being. A proclamat ion i ssued by the Delhi rebel s clearly reflected thesepoy’s awareness of the mi sery brought about by Bri t i sh rule. The mut iny in i t sel f, therefore, was a revol t against the Bri t i sh and, thus, a pol i t ical act . What imparted thi s character to the mut iny was the sepoy’s ident i ty of interest s wi th the general populat ion. The Revol t of the sepoys was accompanied by a rebel l ion of the civi l populat ion, part icularly in the North Western Provinces and Oudh, the two areas from which the sepoys of the Bengal army were recrui ted. Except in Muzzafarnagar and Saharanpur, civi l rebel l ion fol lowed the Revol t of the sepoys. The act ion of the sepoys released the rural populat ion from fear of the state and the cont rol exerci sed by the admini st rat ion.
The civi l rebel l ion had a broad social base, embracing al l sect ions of society— the terri torial magnates, peasant s, art i sans, rel igious mendicant s and priest s, civi l servant s, shopkeepers and boatmen. The Revol t of the sepoys, thus, resul ted in a popular upri sing. Reasons: Under the burden of excessive taxes the peasant ry became progressively indebted and impoveri shed. The t radi t ional landed ari stocracy suffered no less. In Oudh, which was a storm cent re of the Revol t ,the taluqdars lost al l thei r power and privi leges.About 21,000 taluqdars who see states were confi scated suddenly found themselves wi thout a source of income, ‘unable to work, ashamed to beg, condemned to penury.’ These di spossessed taluqdars smart ing under the humi l iat ion heaped on them,seized the opportuni ty presented by the Sepoy Revol t to oppose the Bri t i sh and regain what they had lost . Bri t i sh rule al so meant mi sery to the art i sans and handicraft smen. The annexat ion of Indian states bythe Company cut off thei r major source of pat ronage. Added to thi s, Bri t i sh pol icy di scouraged Indian handicraft s and promoted Bri t i sh goods. The highly ski l led Indian craft smen were deprived of thei r source of income and were forced to look for al ternate sources of employment that hardly exi sted, as the dest ruct ion of Indian handicraft s was not accompanied by the development of modern indust ries. The reforming zeal of Bri t i sh official s under the influence of ut i l i tariani sm had aroused considerable suspicion, resentment , and opposi t ion. The orthodox Hindus and Musl ims feared that through social legi slat ion the Bri t i sh were t rying to dest roy thei r rel igion and cul ture. Moreover, they bel ieved that legi slat ion was undertaken to aid the mi ssionaries in thei r quest for evangel izat ion. The orthodox and the rel igious, therefore, arrayed against the Bri t i sh. Whether Nana Saheb and Maulvi Ahmad Shah of Faizabad had establ i shed l inks wi th various cantonment s and were inst rumental in inst igat ing Revol t i s yet to be proved beyond doubt . Simi larly, the message conveyed by the ci rculat ion of chappat i s and lotus flowers i s al so uncertain. Immediately after the capture of Delhi a let ter was addressed to the rulers of al l the neighbouring states and of Rajasthan sol ici t ing thei r support and invi t ing them to part icipate. In Delhi , a court of admini st rators was establ i shed which was responsible for al l mat ters of state. The court consi sted of ten members, six from the army and four from the civi l ian department s. Al l deci sions were taken by a majori ty vote. Bahadur Shah was recognized as the Emperor by al l rebel leaders. Coins were st ruck and orders were i ssued in hi s name. At Barei l ly, Khan Bahadur Khan conducted the admini st rat ion in the name of the Mughal Emperor. For more than a year, the rebel s carried on thei r st ruggle against heavy odds. They had no source of arms and ammuni t ion.
They were often forced to fight wi th swords and pikes against an enemy suppl ied wi th the most modern weapons. They had no quick system of communicat ion at thei r command and, hence, no coordinat ion was possible. Consequent ly, they were unaware of the st rength and weaknesses of thei r compat riot s and as a resul t could not come to each other’s rescue in t imes of di st ress. The merchant s, intel l igent sia and Indian rulers not only kept aloof, but act ively supported the Bri t i sh. Meet ings were organized in Calcut ta and Bombay by them to pray for the success of the Bri t i sh. Despi te the Doct rine of Lapse, the Indian rulers who expected thei r future to be safer wi th the Bri t i sh l iberal ly provided them wi th men and material s. Almost hal f the Indian soldiers not only did not Revol t but fought against thei r own count rymen. Apart from some honourable except ions l ike the Rani of Jhansi , Kunwar Singh and Maulvi Ahmadul lah, the rebel s were poorly served by thei r leaders. Most of them fai led to real ize the signi ficance of the Revol t and simply did not do enough. Bahadur Shah and Zeenat Mahal had no fai th in the sepoys and negot iated wi th the Bri t i sh to secure thei r safety. Most of the taluqdars t ried only to protect thei r own interest s. Some of them, l ike Man Singh, changed sides several t imes depending on which side had the upper hand. Apart from a commonly shared hat red for al ien rule, the rebel s had no pol i t ical perspect ive or a defini te vi sion of the future. They were al l pri soners of thei r own past , fight ing primari ly to regain thei r lost privi leges. The fi rst to fal l was Delhi on 20 September 1857 after a prolonged bat t le. Bahadur Shah, who took refuge in Humayun’s tomb, was captured, t ried and deported to Burma. Wi th that the back of the Revol t was broken, since Delhi was the only possible ral lying point . The Rani of Jhansi died fight ing on 17 June 1858. General Hugh Rose, who defeated her, paid high t ribute to hi s enemy when he said that here lay the woman who was the only man among the rebel s.’ Nana Saheb refused to give in and final ly escaped to Nepal in the beginning of 1859, hoping to renew the st ruggle. Kunwar Singh, despi te hi s old age, was too quick for the Bri t i sh t roops and constant ly kept them guessing t i l l hi s death on 9 May 1858. Tant ia Tope, who successful ly carried on guerri l la warfare against the Bri t i sh unt i l Apri l 1859, was bet rayed by a zamindar, captured and put to death by the Bri t i sh.
Civil Rebellions and Tribal Uprisings pol igars (landed mi l i tary magnates in South India)
The scholarly and priest ly classes were al so act ive in inci t ing hat red and rebel l ion against foreign rule. The t radi t ional rulers and rul ing el i te had financial ly supported scholars, rel igious preachers, priest s, pandi t s and maulvi s and men of art s and l i terature. Wi th the coming of the Bri t i sh and the ruin of the t radi t ional landed and bureaucrat ic el i te, thi s pat ronage came to an end, and al l those who had depended on i t were impoveri shed. Di splaced peasant s and demobi l ized soldiers of Bengal led by rel igious monks and di spossessed zamindars were the fi rst to ri se up in the Sanyasi rebel l ion, made famous by Bankim Chandra Chat terjee in hi s novel Anand Math, that lasted from 1763 to 1800. It was fol lowed by the Chuar upri sing which covered five di st rict s of Bengal and Bihar from 1766 to 1772 and then, again, from 1795 to 1816. Other major rebel l ions in Eastern India were those of Rangpur and Dinajpur, 1783; Bi shnupur and Bi rbhum, 1799; Ori ssa zamindars, 1804-17; and Sambalpur, 1827-40. In South India, the Raja of Vizianagram revol ted in 1794, the pol igars of Tami l Nadu during the 1790’s, of Malabar and coastal Andhra during the fi rst decade of the 19th century, of Parlekamedi during 1813-14. Dewan Velu Thampi of Travancore organized a heroic revol t in 1805. The Mysore peasant s too revol ted in 1830-31. There were major upri sings in Vizagapatnam from 1830-34, Ganjam in 1835 and Kurnool in 1846-47. In Western India, the chiefs of Saurasht ra rebel led repeatedly from 1816 to 1832. The Kol i s of Gujarat did the same during 1824-28, 1839 and 1849. Maharasht ra was in a perpetual state of revol t after the final defeat of the Peshwa. Prominent were the Bhi l upri sings, 1818-31; the Ki t tur upri sing,led by Chinnava, 1824; the Satara upri sing, 1841; and the revol t of the Gadkari s, 1844. Northern India was no less turbulent . The present states of Western U.P. and Haryana rose up in arms in 1824. Other major rebel l ions were those of Bi laspur, 1805; the taluqdars of Al igarh, 1814-17; the Bundelas of Jabalpur, 1842; and Khandesh, 1852. The second Punjab War in 1848-49 was al so in the nature of a popular revol t by the people and the army. These almost cont inuous rebel l ions were massive in thei r total i ty, but were whol ly local in thei r spread and i solated from each other. They were the resul t of local causes and grievances, and were al so local ized in thei r effect s. They often bore the same character not because they represented nat ional or common effort s but because they represented common condi t ions though separated in t ime and space.
The suppression of the civi l rebel l ions was a major reason why the Revol t of 1857 did not spread to South India and most of Eastern and Western India. The hi storical signi ficance of these civi l upri sings l ies in that they establ i shed st rong and valuable local t radi t ions of resi stance to Bri t i sh rule. The t ribal s had cause to be upset for a variety of reasons. The colonial admini st rat ion ended thei r relat ive i solat ion and brought them ful ly wi thin the ambi t of colonial i sm. It recognized the t ribal chiefs as zamindars and int roduced a new system of land revenue and taxat ion of t ribal product s. It encouraged the influx of Chri st ian mi ssionaries into the t ribal areas. Above al l , i t int roduced a large number of moneylenders, t raders and revenue farmers as middlemen among the t ribal s. These middlemen were the chief inst rument s for bringing the t ribal people wi thin the vortex of the colonial economy and exploi tat ion. The middlemen were out siders who increasingly took possession of t ribal lands and ensnared the t ribal s in a web of debt . Colonial i sm al so t ransformed thei r relat ionship wi th the forest . Oppression and extort ion by pol icemen and other pet ty official s further aggravated di st ress amongthe t ribal s. The revenue farmers and government agent s al so intensi fied and expanded the system of begar — making the t ribal s perform unpaid labour. In t ime, the t ribal people increasingly lost thei r lands and were reduced to the posi t ion of agricul tural labourers, share-croppers and rack-rented tenant s on the land they had earl ier brought under cul t ivat ion and held on a communal basi s.
Al l thi s di ffered in intensi ty from region to region, but the complete di srupt ion of the old agrarian order of the t ribal communi t ies provided the common factor for al l the t ribal upri sings The colonial int rusion and the t riumvi rate of t rader, moneylender and revenue farmer in sum di srupted the t ribal ident i ty to a lesser or greater degree. In fact , ethnic t ies were a basic feature of the t ribal rebel l ions. Fel low t ribal s were never at tacked unless they had col laborated wi th the enemy. At the same t ime, not al l out siders were at tacked as enemies. Often there was no violence against the non-t ribal poor, who worked in t ribal vi l lages in support ive economic roles, or who had social relat ions wi th the t ribal s, such as tel i s, gwalas, lohars, carpenters, pot ters, weavers, washermen, barbers, drummers, and bonded labourers and domest ic servant s of the out siders. They were not only
spared, but were seen as al l ies. In many cases, the rural poor formed a part of the rebel l ious t ribal bands.
Among the numerous t ribal revol t s, the Santhal hool or upri sing was the most massive. The Santhal s,who l ive in the area between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal , known as Daman-i -koh, rose in revol t ; made a determined at tempt to expel the out siders — the dikus — and proclaimed the complete ‘annihi lat ion’ of the al ien regime. ‘Zamindars, the pol ice, the revenue and court alas have exerci sed a combined system of extort ions, oppressive exact ions, forcible di spossession of property, abuse and personal violence and a variety of pet ty tyrannies upon the t imid and yielding Santhal s. Usurious interest on loans of money ranging from 50 to 500 per cent ; fal se measures at the haut and the market ; wi l ful and unchari table t respass by the rich by means of thei r untethered cat t le, tat toos, ponies and even elephant s, on the growing crops of the poorer race; and such l ike i l legal i t ies have been prevalent .’ 1 The Santhal s considered the dikus and government servant s moral ly corrupt being given to beggary,steal ing, lying and drunkenness.
The t ribal leaders cal led an assembly of nearly 6000 Santhal s, represent ing 400 vi l lages, at Bhaganidihi on 30 June 1855. It was decided to rai se the banner of revol t , get rid of the out siders and thei r colonial masters once and for al l , the usher in Satyug, ‘The Reign of Truth,’ and ‘True Just ice.’ The Santhal s bel ieved that thei r act ions had the blessings of God. Sido and Kanhu, the principal rebel leaders, claimed that Thakur (God) had communicated wi th them and told them to take up arms and fight for independence. they at tacked the mahajans and zamindars and thei r houses, pol ice stat ions, rai lway const ruct ion si tes, the dak (post ) carriers — in fact al l the symbol s of diku exploi tat ion and colonial power. The Santhal insurrect ion was helped by a large number of non-t ribal and poor dikus. Gwalas (mi lkmen) and others helped the rebel s wi th provi sions and services; lohars (blacksmi ths) accompanied the rebel bands, keeping thei r weapons in good shape. The rebel l ion was crushed ruthlessly. More than 15,000 Santhal s were ki l led whi le tens of vi l lages were dest royed. Sido was bet rayed and captured and ki l led in August 1855 whi le Kanhu was arrested by accident at the tai l -end of the rebel l ion in February 1866.
three other major t ribal rebel l ions. The Kol s of Chhotanagpur rebel led from 1820 to 1837. Thousands of them were massacred before Bri t i sh authori ty could be re-imposed.
The hi l l t ribesmen of Rampain coastal Andhra revol ted in March 1879 against the depredat ions of the government -supported mansabdar and the new rest rict ive forest regulat ions. the rebel s, numbering several thousands, could be defeated by the end of 1880. The rebel l ion (ulgulan ) of the Munda t ribesmen, led by Bi rsa Munda, occurred during 1899-1900.For over thi rty years the Munda sardars had been st ruggl ing against the dest ruct ion of thei r system of common land holdings by the int rusion of jagi rdars, thikadars(revenue farmers) and merchant moneylenders. OnChri stmas Eve, 1899, Bi rsa proclaimed a rebel l ion to establ i sh Munda rule in the land and encouraged ‘the ki l l ing of thikadars and jagi rdars and Rajas and Hakims (rulers) and Chri st ians.’ Satyug would beestabl i shed in place of the present -day Kalyug. The non-t ribal poor were not to be at tacked
Peasant Movements and Uprisings after 1857 In Ryotwari areas, the Government i t sel f levied heavy land revenue.
The most mi l i tant and widespread of the peasant movement s was the Indigo Revol t of 1859-60.
The indigo planters, nearly al l Europeans, compel led the tenant s to grow indigo which they processed in factories set up in rural (mofussi l ) areas. From the beginning, indigo was grown under an ext remely oppressive system which involved great loss to the cul t ivators. The planters forced the peasant s to take a meager amount as advance and enter into fraudulent cont ract s. The price paid for the indigo plant s was far below the market price.
The peasant was forced to grow indigo on the best land he had whether or not he wanted to devote hi s land and labour to more paying crops l ike rice. At the t ime of del ivery, he was cheated even of the due low price. He al so had to pay regular bribes to the planter’s official s. He was forced to accept an advance. Often he was not in a posi t ion to repay i t , but even i f he could he was not al lowed to do so. The advance was used by the planters to compel him to go on cul t ivat ing indigo. Since the enforcement of forced and fraudulent cont ract s through the court s was a di fficul t and prolonged process, the planters resorted to a reign of terror to coerce the peasant s. Kidnapping, i l legal confinement in factory godowns, flogging, at tacks on women and chi ldren, carrying off cat t le, loot ing, burning and demol i t ion of houses and dest ruct ion of crops and frui t t rees were some of the methods used by the planters. They hi red or maintained bands of lathiyal s (armed retainers) for the purpose.
The beginning was made by the ryot s of Govindpur vi l lage in Nadia di st rict when, under the leadership of Digambar Bi swas and Bi shnu Bi swas, ex-employees of a planter, they gave up indigo cul t ivat ion. And when, on 13 September, the planter sent a band of 100 lathiyal s to at tack thei r vi l lage, they organized a counter force armed wi th lathi s and spears and fought back. The indigo st rikes and di sturbances flared up again in the spring of 1860 and encompassed al l the indigo di st rict s of Bengal . Factory after factory was at tacked by hundreds of peasant s and vi l lage after vi l lage bravely defended i t sel f. Ul t imately, the planters could not wi thstand the uni ted resi stance of the ryot s, and they gradual ly began to close thei r factories. The cul t ivat ion of indigo was vi rtual ly wiped out from the di st rict s of Bengal by the end of 1860. A major reason for the success of the Indigo Revol t was the t remendous ini t iat ive, cooperat ion, organizat ion and di scipl ine of the ryot s. Another was the complete uni ty among Hindu and Musl im peasant s. Leadership for the movement was provided by the more wel l -off ryot s and in some cases by pet ty zamindars, moneylenders and ex-employees of the planters. A signi ficant feature of the Indigo Revol t was the role of the intel l igent sia of Bengal which organized a powerful campaign in support of the rebel l ious peasant ry. It carried on newspaper campaigns, organized mass meet ings, prepared memoranda on peasant s’ grievances and supported them in thei r legal bat t les. Out standing in thi s respect was the role of Hari sh Chandra Mukherj i , edi tor of the Hindoo Pat riot . Din Bandhu Mi t ra’s play, Neel Darpan, was to gain great fame for vividly port raying the oppression by the planters.
Mi ssionaries were another group which extended act ive support to the indigo ryot s in thei r st ruggle. The Government ’s response to the Revol t was rather rest rained and not as harsh as in the case of civi l rebel l ions and t ribal upri sings. It was al so able to see, in t ime, the changed temper of the peasant ry and was influenced by the support extended to the Revol t by the intel l igent sia and the mi ssionaries. It appointed a commi ssion to inqui re into the problem of indigo cul t ivat ion. Evidence brought before the Indigo Commi ssion and i t s final report exposed the coercion and corrupt ion underlying the ent i re system of indigo cul t ivat ion. The resul t was the mi t igat ion of the worst abuses of the system. The Government i ssued a not i ficat ion in
November 1860 that ryot s could not be compel led to sow indigo and that i t would ensure that al l di sputes were set t led by legal means. Large part s of East Bengal were engul fed by agrarian unrest during the 1870s and early 1880s. The unrest was caused by the effort s of the zamindars to enhance rent beyond legal l imi t s and to prevent the tenant s from acqui ring occupancy right s under Act X of 1859. In May 1873, an agrarian league or combinat ion was formed in Yusufshahi Parganah in Pabna di st rict to resi st the demands of the zamindars. The st ruggle gradual ly spread throughout Pabna and then to the other di st rict s of East Bengal . Everywhere agrarian leagues were organized, rent s were wi thheld and zamindars fought in the court s. The main form of st ruggle was that of legal resi stance. There was very l i t t le violence — i t only occurred when the zamindars t ried to compel the ryot s to submi t to thei r terms by force. In the course of the movement , the ryot s developed a st rong awareness of the law and thei r legal right s and the abi l i ty to combine and form associat ions for peaceful agi tat ion. The Government rose to the defence of the zamindars wherever violence took place. Peasant s were then arrested on a large scale. But i t assumed a posi t ion of neut ral i ty as far as legal bat t les or peaceful agi tat ions were concerned. The Government al so promi sed to undertake legi slat ion to protect the tenant s from the worst aspect s of zamindari oppression, a promi se i t ful fi l led however imperfect ly in 1885 when the Bengal Tenancy Act was passed What persuaded the zamindars and the colonial regime to reconci le themselves to the movement was the fact that i t s aims were l imi ted to the redressal of the immediate grievances of the peasant s and the enforcement of the exi st ing legal right s and norms. It was not aimed at the zamindari system. It al so did not have at any stage an ant i -colonial pol i t ical edge. The agrarian leagues kept wi thin the bounds of law, used the legal machinery to fight the zamindars, and rai sed no ant i -Bri t i sh demands. The leaders often argued that they were against zamindars and not the Bri t i sh. In fact , the leaders rai sed the slogan that the peasant s want ‘to be the ryot s of Her Majesty the Queen and of Her only.’
Once again the Bengal peasant s showed complete Hindu-Musl im sol idari ty, even though the majori ty of the ryot s were Musl im and the majori ty of zamindars Hindu. There was al so no effort to create peasant sol idari ty on the grounds of rel igion or caste.
In thi s case, too, a number of young Indian intel lectual s supported the peasant s’ cause. These
included Bankim Chandra Chat terjea and R.C. Dut t . Later, in the early 1880s, during the di scussion of the Bengal Tenancy Bi l l , the Indian Associat ion, led by Surendranath Banerjea, Anand Mohan Bose and Dwarkanath Gangul i , campaigned for the right s of tenant s, helped form ryot ’ unions, and organized huge meet ings of upto 20,000 peasant s in the di st rict s in support of the Rent Bi l l . The Indian Associat ion and many of the nat ional i st newspapers went further than the Bi l l . They asked for permanent fixat ion of the tenant ’s rent . They warned that since the Bi l l would confer occupancy right s even on non-cul t ivators, i t would lead to the growth of middlemen — the jotedars — who would be as oppressive as the zamindars so far as the actual cul t ivators were concerned. They, therefore, demanded that the right of occupancy should go wi th actual cul t ivat ion of the soi l , that i s, in most cases to the under- ryot s and the tenant s-at -wi l l .
A major agrarian outbreak occurred in the Poona and Ahmednagar di st rict s of Maharasht ra in 1875. Here, as part of the Ryotwari system, land revenue was set t led di rect ly wi th the peasant who was al so recognized as the owner of hi s land. Like the peasant s in other Ryotwari areas, the Deccan peasant al so found i t di fficul t to pay land revenue wi thout get t ing into the clutches of the moneylender and increasingly losing hi s land. Three other development s occurred at thi s t ime. During the early 1860s, the American Civi l War had led to a ri se in cot ton export s which had pushed up prices. The end of the Civi l War in 1864 brought about an acute depression in cot ton export s and a crash in prices. The ground sl ipped from under the peasant s’ feet . Simul taneously, in 1867, the Government rai sed land revenue by nearly 50 per cent . The si tuat ion was worsened by a succession of bad harvest s. There was very l i t t le violence in thi s set t l ing of account s. Once the moneylenders’ inst rument s of oppression — debt bonds — were surrendered, no need for further violence was fel t . As in the case of the Pabna Revol t , the Deccan di sturbances had very l imi ted object ives.There was once again an absence of ant i -colonial consciousness. It was, therefore, possible for the colonial regime to extend them a certain protect ion against the moneylenders through the Deccan Agricul turi st s’ Rel ief Act of 1879. Once again, the modern nat ional i st intel l igent sia of Maharasht ra supported the peasant s’ cause. Al ready, in 1873-74, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, led by Just ice Ranade, had organized a successful
campaign among the peasant s, as wel l as at Poona and Bombay, against the land revenue set t lement of 1867. The Sabha as wel l as many of the nat ional i st newspapers al so supported the D.A.R. Bi l l . The Kuka Revol t in Punjab was led by Baba Ram Singh and had element s of a messianic movement . It was crushed when 49 of the rebel s were blown up by a cannon in 1872.
There was a certain shi ft in the nature of peasant movement s after 1857. Princes, chiefs and landlords having been crushed or co-opted, peasant s emerged as the main force in agrarian movement s. They now fought di rect ly for thei r own demands, centered almost whol ly on economic i ssues,and against thei r immediate enemies, foreign planters and indigenous zamindars and moneylenders. Thei r st ruggles were di rected towards speci fic and l imi ted object ives and redressal of part icular grievances. They did not make colonial i sm thei r target . Nor was thei r object ive the ending of the system of thei r subordinat ion and exploi tat ion. The terri torial reach of these movement s was al so l imi ted. They were confined to part icular local i t ies wi th no mutual communicat ion or l inkages. They al so lacked cont inui ty of st ruggle or longterm organizat ion. Once the speci fic object ives of a movement were achieved, i t s organizat ion, as al so peasant sol idari ty bui l t around i t , di ssolved and di sappeared. Thus, the Indigo st rike, the Pabna agrarian leagues and the social -boycot t movement of the Deccan ryot s left behind no successors. He did not object to paying interest on the sums he had borrowed; he hi t back against fraud and chicanery by the moneylender and when the lat ter went against t radi t ion in depriving him of hi s land. He did not deny the state’s right to col lect a tax on land but objected when the level of taxat ion overstepped al l t radi t ional bounds. He did not object to the foreign planter becoming hi s zamindar but resi sted the planter when he took away hi s freedom to decide what crops to grow and refused to pay him a proper price for hi s crop. A major weakness of the 19th century peasant movement s was the lack of an adequate understanding of colonial i sm — of colonial economic st ructure and the colonial state — and of the social framework of the movement s themselves. Nor did the 19th century peasant s possess a new ideology and a new social , economic and pol i t ical programme based on an analysi s of the newly
const i tuted colonial society. Thei r st ruggles, however mi l i tant , occurred wi thin the framework of the old societal order. They lacked a posi t ive concept ion of an al ternat ive society — a concept ion which would uni te the people in a common st ruggle on a wide regional and al l -India plane and help develop long-term pol i t ical movement s.