Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2022 History Optional [Modern India: Day 13]

Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2022 History Optional [Modern India: Day 13]

Q. Critically discuss the nature of peasant movements with certain shifts after 1857. [20 Marks]


  • In post-1857 India we witness a continuation of some of the earlier forms of protest against various oppressive aspects of colonial rule, the tribal and peasant movements being the foremost among them. But now these movements acquired some new features as well.
    • The peasant developed a strong awareness of the legal rights, law and institutions and asserted their rights in and outside the courts.
      • Some of them even embraced those institutions, the law courts for example, as an extended and legitimate space for venting their anger or for seeking redress to existing injustices.
      • And if an effort was made to deprive him of his legal rights by extra-legal means or by manipulation of the law and law courts, they countered with extra-legal means of his own.
      • Often, they believed that the legally-constituted authority (sarkar) approved his actions or at least supported his claims and cause.
    • Princes, chiefs and landlords having been crushed or co-opted, peasants emerged as the main force in agrarian movements.
      • They now fought directly for their own demands, centered almost wholly on economic issues, and against their immediate enemies, foreign planters and indigenous zamindaris and moneylenders.
    • The other important feature was the growing involvement of the educated middle class intelligentsia as spokespersons for the aggrieved peasantry, thus adding new dimensions to their protests and linking their movements to a wider agitation against certain undesirable aspects of colonial rule.
      • The Bengal intelligentsia played an important role by organizing a powerful campaign in support of Indigo peasants by using Press as the tool.
        • Harish Chandra Mukherjee thoroughly described the plight of the poor peasants in his newspaper The Hindu Patriot. Sisir Kumar Ghosh, who later found Amrita Bazar Patrika, was one of the important muffasal correspondents of the Patriot.
        • Dinabandhu Mitra’s play Nil Darpan (The Mirror of Indigo) reflected the peasants’ feelings toward the indigo planters.
    • The nature of this outside intervention in peasant movements has been a subject of intense debate.
      • Ravinder Kumar, on the one hand, would think that these middle-class leaders performed an important and effective function as “a channel of communication, between rural society and the administration”, at a time when the traditional channels and methods had become ineffective.
      • Ranajit Guha, on the other hand, has described the nineteenth century middle-class attitude to peasants as “a curious concoction of an inherited, Indian style paternalism and an acquired, western-style humanism“. Their actions at every stage betrayed their innate collaborative mind and revealed “the futility of liberalism as a deterrent to tyranny”.
      • But whatever might have been the nature or impact of this middle-class mediation, this was nonetheless a new feature of nearly all the peasant movements in the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • Their struggles were directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances.
  • They did not make colonialism their target.
    • Nor was their objective the ending of the system of their subordination and exploitation. They did not aim at turning the world upside down.
  • The territorial reach was also limited.
    • They were confined to particular localities with no mutual communication or linkages.
  • They lacked continuity of struggle or long-term organization.
    • Once the specific objectives of a movement were achieved, its organization, as also peasant solidarity built around it, dissolved and disappeared.
    • Thus, the Indigo strike, the Pabna agrarian leagues and the social-boycott movement of the Deccan ryots left behind no successors.
    • Consequently, at no stage did these movements threaten British supremacy or even undermine it.
  • The lack of an adequate understanding of colonialism and of the social framework of the movements themselves.
  • They did not possess a new ideology and a new social, economic and political programme based on an analysis of the newly constituted colonial society.
    • Their struggles, however militant, occurred within the framework of the old societal order. They lacked a positive conception of an alternative society.
    • This weakness was, of course, not a blemish on the character of the peasantry which was perhaps incapable of grasping on its own the new and complex phenomenon of colonialism. That needed the efforts of a modem intelligentsia which was itself just coming into existence.
  • These movements represented an instinctive and spontaneous response of the peasantry to its social condition.
    • The peasant often rebelled only when he felt that it was not possible to carry on in the existing manner.
  • They were also moved by strong notions of legitimacy, of what was justifiable and what was not.
    • That is why they did not fight for land ownership or against landlordism but against eviction and undue enhancement of rent.
    • They did not object to paying interest on the sums he had borrowed; they hit back against fraud and chicanery by the moneylender and when the latter went against tradition in depriving him of his land.
    • They did not deny the state’s right to collect a tax on land but objected when the level of taxation overstepped all traditional bounds.
    • He did not object to the foreign planter becoming his zamindar but resisted the planter when he took away his freedom to decide what crops to grow and refused to pay him a proper price for his crop.
  • In these movements, the Indian peasants showed great courage and a spirit of sacrifice, remarkable organizational abilities, and a solidarity that cut across religious and caste lines.
    • They were also able to wring considerable concessions from the colonial state. The latter, too, not being directly challenged, was willing to compromise and mitigate the harshness of the agrarian system though within the broad limits of the colonial economic and political structure.
    • In this respect, the colonial regime’s treatment of the post-1857 peasant rebels was qualitatively different from its treatment of the participants in the civil rebellions, the Revolt of 1857 and the tribal uprisings which directly challenged colonial political power.
  • Most of these weaknesses were overcome in the 20th century when peasant discontent was merged with the general anti-imperialist discontent and their political activity became a part of the wider anti-imperialist movement.


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