Chapter 8: LOCAL REBELLIONS
power was established in India after prolonged conquests
and consolidation. These were met by minor resistances by
routed Nawabs, zamindars, landowners and supported by
tribals and peasants. The main cause of localized
rebellions by civilians
was the changes British brought into agrarian society
ruining it by imposing high land revenues. Not even
a part of the revenue was spent on improving agriculture
or welfare of cultivators.
zamindars and poligars were discontent since their lands
were confiscated and they were replaced by government
officials and moneylenders in the societal order.
courts, police and the officials were further increasing
resentment of the people.
artisans and craftsmen were ruined due to the free trade
with Britain that flooded India with machine made goods.
They lost their markets abroad due to high tariff on
also lost their domestic market of princes, chieftains and
rule had affected scholarly and priestly classes as they
lost their traditional patrons viz. princes, landowners
and bureaucratic elite who were ruined by the British.
Finally being under a foreigner rule humiliated all
sections of the society.
rebellions were scattered; their effects were local. They
leaders were mostly interested in restoring the
traditional order rather than freedom from foreign rule.
They were not capable of fighting the organized British
rulers. The repression to these was the main reasons why
revolt of 1857 didn’t spread to south India or eastern and
western India. Even though these rebels failed they had
historical importance and inspired the future national
TRIBAL REBELLIONS FROM
rebelled as they were discontent due to British rule. The
British had ended their isolation from the society and
brought it in contact with colonialism. Tribal
leaders became recognized as zamindars and were given
responsibility to collect land revenue.
also led to influx of missionaries increasing religious
interference. The large number of moneylenders, traders
and revenue farmers came to exploit tribals and made them
into bankrupt, share croppers or landless people. They
were evicted from lands that they had brought into
could no longer access forest lands for shifting
cultivation nor take forest produce due to British
policies. The officials used to harass them and
outsiders forced them to do unpaid labor. All this
uprooted their traditional lives and created conditions
the tribal’s resorted to armed rebellions but were no
match for the organized British troops with the latest
weapons. Lakhs of tribal’s died in these unequal wars.
and birsa uprisings were due to same reasons.
PEASANT MOVEMENTS AND
UPRISING AFTER 1857
riots were due to the oppression of indigo planter,
who were European, on the peasants. The planters forced
the growers to produce indigo which would be processed in
factories. The cultivators had to sow indigo on their best
soil and put labor to sell the plant at a price below
had to accept advance from the planter and since he
couldn’t pay it back he had to keep planting indigo. The forced and
fraudulent contracts couldn’t be discarded by courts
as process was time consuming and costly. The
planters also had armed goons who would force the
cultivator with violence. The
Europeans judges that were in courts also sided with
peasants had to rebel and they stopped growing indigo
under duress. They were withstanding the assaults. The
cultivators attacked planters, their factories and
organized themselves into groups to fight the police and
goons of the planters. The planters then tried to increase
the rent of cultivators. But the peasants refused to pay
it. They organized themselves into groups and pooled money
to fight cases.
the planters surrendered and closed the factories. The
Indian society of intelligentsia was united behind them
and so were the Christian missionaries. The government’s
vary after the 1857 revolts pacified the rioters with a
notification favoring their stand. The unity amongst
rioters irrespective of caste, religion led to their
peasant riots during this period were based on legal
tactics to solve cases and not armed rebellion. They
were for immediate resolution of grievances. They were
against the zamindar and not the British rule. Hence the
tactics of government were also soft unlike on the 1857
rioters. The peasants revolted only when no other remedy
was available and revolt was only alternative. The
government to respond by pacifying rebels with
legislations. Intelligentsia was in support of rioters
here unlike in pre-1857.
A bitter anti-white temper had
developed among sections of the Malabar Muslims ever since the Portuguese had come in 1498
to capture the spice trade and seek to extend Christianity by fire and sword—a spirit reflected in
Zayn al-Din's, Tuhfat al-Mujahidin of che 1580s and ballads like the Kothupali Mala, still
popular today, honouring the martyrs or shahids of the holy war.
British rule with its insistence
on landlord rights had reestablished and vastly enhanced the position of the Hindu upper caste
Namboodri and Nair jenmis (many of whom had been driven out by Tipu Sultan), and
correspondingly worsened the condition of the largely Muslim leaseholders (kanamdars) and
cultivators (verumpattam-dars), locally known as Moplahs.
An immediate consequence was a
strengthening of communal solidarity, with the number of mosques in Malabar going up from
637 in 1831 to 1058 by 1851, and with the Tangals of Mambram near Tirurangadi (Sayyid Alawi
followed by his son Sayyid Fadl who was exiled by the British in 1852) becoming increasingly
prominent as the religious cum-political heads of Moplah society.
Revolt became practically endemic in the Ernad and Walluvanad talukas of
south Malabar. It took the form of attacks on jenmi property and desecration of temples, by small bands
of Moplahs who then committed what was practically a kind of collective suicide in the face of
police bullets, courting death in the firm belief that as shahids they would go straight to heaven.
Collective mass resistance was difficult in south Malabar with its poor
communications and scattered homesteads.
Most Moplah martyrs were
poor peasants or landless labourers, but they usually got the sympathy of the better-off
kanamdars and petty traders.
The roots of
Moplah discontent were clearly agrarian—there was a 244% increase in rent suits and a 441%
increase in eviction decrees between 1862 and 1880 in the talukas of south Malabar. Hindu
peasants also suffered, but the form of resistance differed.
Large numbers of Hindu robber bands
are reported to have been active in the Malabar villages in the 1860s and 1870s. In the absence of
a millenarian ideology such as Islam could offer, Hindu peasant disaffection could not rise above
the level of social banditry.
In the Maharashtra
Deccan, for instance, the rich peasant development brought about by the cotton boom of the
1860s had been abruptly cut short by the fall in prices in the next decade—a fall which coincided
with sharp upward hikes in land revenue from 1867 onwards.
The result was widespread indebtedness, and the immigrant Marwari moneylender became an obvious target of
The anti-sowkar Deccan riots of May-September 1875 affected 33 places in 6
talukas of Poona and Ahmednagar distiicts, and took the form of forcible seizure of debt bonds
by enraged villagers led by their traditional headmen (patels).
Riots were significantly
uncommon in areas where the moneylenders were not outsiders but local petty-landholders or
rich peasant elements turning to usury and trade (like the khots in Ratnagiri). Four years after the
disturbances, the Deccan Agriculturists' Relief Act of 1879 provided some limited protection to
better-off peasants through strengthening judicial procedures and remedies.
Deccan riots were different as so far we have been considering outbreaks aiming at something like a total change, often with
strong religious and millenarian overtones (natural in the absence of any secular modern
ideology of social transformation), and rooted in the lowest depths of Indian society—tribals and
poor peasantry. But there was also a tradition of another type of rural protest, sparked off by
particular grievances and with specific and limited objectives, and deriving its leadership and
much of its support from relatively better-off sections of the peasantry.
Anti-moneylender riots were rare also in Bengal (except in tribal pockets), for here too the
mahajan was often the local rich peasant or jotedar whose credit in any case was quite
indispensable for production.
The landlords had launched a concerted drive in the 1860s and early
'70s to enhance rent through a variety of abwabs (cesses), the use of arbitrarily short standards of
measurement which automatically multiplied the cultivated area, and sheer physical coercion
peasants of Yusufshahi pargana of Pabna organized an agrarian league which raised funds to
meet litigation expenses, held mass meetings to which villagers were called by the sounding of
buffalo horns, drums and night cries passing from hamlet to hamlet, and also occasionally
The aims of the movement
were quite limited, for the withholding of rents was no more than a method for winning
specific demands like a change in the measurement standard, abolition of illegal cesses, and
some reduction in rents.
The Pabna agitation wasnt consciously anti-British: the most extreme
demand raised in fact was that the raiyats wanted 'to be the ryots of Her Majesty the Queen and
of Her only'.
The Pabna league and similar movements in other districts evoked sharply varied reactions
among the Bengali intelligentsia. The zamindar-dominated British Indian Association was
bitterly hostile, and its organ Hindoo Patriot tried to portray the Pabna movement as a communal
agitation of Muslim peasants against Hindu landlords. Actually, though the bulk of the peasants
in Pabna happened to be Muslim and their zamindars mostly Hindus, the communal element was
as yet virtually absent .
Aftermath of the Revolts
1857 most princes, landlords and zamindars were ruined and
cultivators assumed important role in agrarian society. The
feeling of humiliation of being under foreign rule
wasn’t there. The peasant didn’t oppose imposition
of land revenue or zamindar but only was against high land
revenue and oppressive attitude of zamindars. The peasants
didn’t understand the effect of colonialism at this stage.
this was changed in 20th century when
peasant discontent was merged with anti imperial
discontent and they became part of the wider anti imperial
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