Chapter 3:OUR PAST PART - III
The British conquered Bengal first and then they reordered its rural
society and established a regime of land rights and revenue system.
The first revenue collection system was introduced in Bengal and
Bihar. It was known as the Permanent settlement by Lord
As per this system, the zamindars and taluqdars were recognised as
estate owners and were given revenue collection responsibility. They
had to collect land revenue from farmers, pass on the share fixed by
British to them and keep the rest. Since the revenue rate were
permanent they were kept high. It was argued that as they couldn't
be increased the subsequent loss to British had to be overcome
initially. The British felt this system would benefit
British, Zamindars who would invest in the land to improve its
productivity as it would increase their share and farmers too. But
the system was a big failure.
However the system failed and large number of zamindars defaulted.
Reasons: The system limited their power of collecting revenue by
force, they agriculture prices were stagnating during that period.
The jotedars were rich farmers who cultivated land directly
became more powerful under this system. They resisted
payment of rent to zamindars as they were happy to see them in
trouble. The jotedars also bought most the land auctioned of a
defaulting zamindar. Jotedars soon possessed thousand acres of land
and became powerful in the rural society. The zamindars couldn't get
relief from the judicial process too as it was overburdened. So
their influence decreased.
However zamindars devised newer ways to cheat the system. They
collected rent but never past on the share to the British. Thus when
the British auctioned the property the zzamindars would use his
agents to purchase it back but not pay the purchase money. The
property would then be reauctioned. This process would continue till
finally the same property would be returned to the zamindar.
The rural society viewed zamindar as the lord and themselves as his
praja and hence rejected authority of new zamindars if they came.
Thus zamindars remained in power for a long time but collapsed
finally in 1930 due to the Great Depression and Jotedars became
Shifting Cultivators: Pahadias and Settled Cultivators: Santhals
Pahadias were forest dwellers of Rajmahal hills.
They were hunters, gatherers, shifting cultivators. Their social
structure consisted of tribal chiefs and tribes which would live as
a community and go to war with other tribes. Settled cultivators
were outsiders and would be raided if scarcity was faced. Hence the
settled cultivators or traders would pay tributes to the tribal
chiefs to buy peace or to use travel routes controlled by them.
The British viewed shifting cultivators are dangerous and wanted
them to settle as it would ensure control and a source of revenue.
They offered stipend to tribal chiefs to control their tribes and
settle down but if the tribal chiefs refused this they would follow
a policy of extermination. The Pahadias were therefore forced to
move to inner parts of the jungle to escape this persecution.
Soon another threat appeared to them in the Rajmahal
jungles: Settled cultivators called Santhals.
Santhals too were moving cultivators but were provided the
foothills of Rajmahal for settling down. They occupied and cleared
the forest for settled cultivation. The Pahadias were forced now to
move to deeper areas which were drier and infertile. Their shifting
cultivation also failed as newer areas couldn't be accessed as these
were occupied by Santhals. Meanwhile Santhals prospered and brought
high revenues to the British. Soon they realised that the land
revenues were high and the trader - moneylenders were making them
impoverished by usurping their land. Finally in 1850's they rebelled
against the colonial state and its agents.
Bombay Province and the Ryotwari Settlement
Due to the defects of the Permanent Settlement System of Bengal the
british felt the need for a better system of revenue and so Thomas
Munro proposed the Ryotwari Settlement which was operated
in Madras, Bombay and Assam. Under this land was
reassessed every 30 years and revenue was revised.
However the revenue demand was very high and rigid. The tax
officials collected with utmost severity and forced the peasants to
escape from his village. The peasants were forced to borrow from
moneylenders at high rates to pay the revenue. This made them
indebted and they lost their possessions.
Things turned better during the American Civil War as cotton supply
to British was cutoff and India became a sole source. Thus prices of
cotton boomed. The moneylender lent long term loans to ryots for
cotton production. But as the Civil war ended the loans had to be
repaid but the prices of cotton had fallen. In such cases the
peasant had no choice but to revolt. His anger was focused on the
moneylenders and traders who cheated him and usurped his land. He
therefore rioted till his immediate problems were solved.
The British supported the rioting peasants and appointed a
relief commission and took steps to alleviate their plight. The
reasons for British sympathy were that farmers revolted against
moneylenders not them and these revolts ad occurred in the
aftermath of the 1857 revolt.
A Leader is Born
Gandhiji was invited in 1915 to talk at the inauguration
of Benaras Hindu University. On that event many dignitaries, guests
and prominent leaders like Jinnah, Beasant were present. Gandhiji
was a relatively unknown figure amongst them but when it
was his turn to speak he charged the audience. He spoke about how
the Indian National Congress was a league of influential people and
the National Movement was a movement of elite without participation
of poor. He said that independence can be achieved only if the poor
were brought into this movement. He got a chance to put his
principles into practice when a member of the audience asked him for
assistance in Champaran village.
Limits to the Civil Disobedience
Civil disobedience movement was called in 1930 after the
British refused to acept the congress demands. Gandhiji launched the
movement with the Salt Satyagraha. Till the Gandhi Irwin pact was
signed the frst phase of Civil Disobedience continued. This was the
most organized mass movement of Freedom struggle but it
wasn't embraced by all social groups.
- Dalit leaders believed that the answer to
emancipation was through political solutions. The dalit leaders
therefore wanted separate electorates and reservations in
education and politics. To petition for this they needed support
of the British and so didn't ask the community members to join
the Civil Disobedience.
- Muslims too didn't participate in the
movement as they felt disillusioned with radical calls by Hindu
Mahasabha and their own community leaders. They felt that they
would lose their identity in a Hindu dominated country. Since
the Congress failed to quell these thoughts, the Muslim's
couldn't unite when the movement was announced.
- Industrial workers too didn't
participate in large number except in Nagpur. But this was due
to the proximity of congress to industrialist's.
- Big Zamindars participated but they were
motivated by their own demands of reducing the government's
revenue demand on them. As falling prices and poor productivity
had made it impossible to pay the government's.
- Poor peasants participated due to the call of
radical socialist and communists. They wanted a No Rent campaign
against the landlords but the congress didn't want to displease
the landlords and so didn't support them fully.