Tribal and Peasant Movements

Tribal and peasant movements are social movements that involve the marginalized and oppressed sections of society, such as tribal communities and peasants. These movements aim to bring social and economic justice to these communities by challenging power structures that exploit and oppress them.

Factor Responsible for Tribal and Peasant Movements

  • Colonial land revenue settlements; heavy burden of new taxes and eviction of peasants from their land.
  • Growth of intermediary revenue collectors, tenants, and money-lenders.
  • Expansion of revenue administration over tribal lands.
  • Destruction of indigenous industry and promotion of British manufactured goods.
  • End of patronage to priestly and scholarly classes.
  • The foreign character of British rule.

Forms of People Uprisings

  • Civil Uprisings
  • Peasant Movements
  • Tribal Revolts
  • Military Revolts

Tribal Revolt in India

British colonialism faced a revolt by the tribes of various regions throughout colonial India. The strong wave of resistance against British rule was there in present-day Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bengal, and North-Eastern states.

  • The tribal population of the contemporary Orissa region is considered to be the first among these groups to revolt against the tyranny of British colonial rule.
  • On the basis of the geographical area occupied by different tribal groups, these uprisings are further subdivided into two categories:
    • Uprisings by Non-frontier Tribes
    • Uprisings by Frontier Tribes

Non-Frontier Tribal Revolts

YearsUprisingFacts related to the uprising
1778Pahariyas RebellionPlace: Rajmahal Hills
Led by: Martial Pahariyas
Cause: against the British expansion on their lands
1776Chuar UprisingPlace: Bengal
Led by: Chuar aboriginal tribesmen
Cause: economic privatization by the British
1831Kol UprisingPlace: Chotanagpur
Led by: Buddho Bhagat
Cause: British rule expansion and land transfers
1827-1831Ho and Munda UprisingPlace: Singhbhum and Chotanagpur
Led by: Raja Parahat and others
Cause: British expansion and revenue policy
1890s-1900sLater Munda and Ulugulan UprisingPlace: Ranchi and Chotanagpur
Led by: Birsa Munda
Cause: against feudal and zamindari systems and exploitations by money lenders, denial of their rights over forested areas
1855-56Santhal RebellionPlace: Bihar
Led by: Side and Kanhu
– Against Feudal and zamindari systems and exploitations by money lenders. It later turned out Anti-British and was suppressed
– The defeat of the British under Major Burrogh by Santhals in 1855
– Transfer of disturbed area to military & final suppression of the revolt by the end of 1856
– a separate district of Santhal Parganas was created to prevent Santhals from revolting again in the future.
– Among the numerous tribal revolts, the Santhal uprising was the most remarkable one. When the Permanent Settlement was introduced in Bengal in 1793, the Santhals were employed as laborers with the promise of wages or rent-free lands. However, they were forced to become agricultural surfs, exploited at will.
1837-56Khond UprisingPlace: from Tamil Nadu to Bengal
Led by: Chakra Bisoi
Cause: interference in tribal customs and imposition of new taxes
1860sNaikdas MovementPlace: M.P. and Gujrat
Cause: against British and caste Hindus Suppression of the revolt after the capture & execution of leaders Rupsingh & Joria
1870sKharwar RebellionPlace: Bihar
Cause: against revenue settlement activities
1817-19 & 1913Bhil RevoltsPlace: regions of Western Ghats
Cause: against company rule and to form Bhil Raj
1867-68; 1891-93Bhuyan and Juang RebellionPlace: Kheonjhar, Orissa
Led by: Ratna Nayak and Dharni Dhar Nayak
Cause: Policy of annexation
1880sKoya RevoltsPlace: Godavari region of Andhra Pradesh
Leader: Raja Anantayyar
Cause: against feudal and zamindari systems and exploitations by money lenders, denial of their rights over forested areas
1910Bastar RevoltPlace: Jagdalpur area
Cause: New feudal and forest levies
1914-15Tana Bhagat MovementPlace: Chota Nagpur area, Jharkhand
Led by: Jatra Bhagat and Balram Bhagat.
Cause: against the interference of outsiders, began the Sanskritization Movement
1916-1924Rampa RevoltsPlace: Andhra Pradesh region
Leader: Alluri Sitarama Raju
Cause: interference in tribal customs and imposition of new taxes
1920 onwardsJharkhand UprisingPlaces: Chhotanagpur region; parts of Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal.
Adivasi Mahasabha was formed in 1937
1920s-1930sForest SatyagrahasLed by: Chenchu tribals and Karwars of Nallamala Hills (AP)
Leader: Hanumanthu
– British interference in the internal affairs of tribal areas
– British administrative innovations
– Excessive land assessments
1940sGond UprisingTo bring together the believers of Gond Dharma

North-East Frontier Tribal Uprisings

1823-33Ahom’s RevoltPlace: Assam
Cause: against non-fulfillment of the pledges of the British after the Burmese War
Results: The British had pledged to withdraw after the first Burmese War (1824-26) from Assam but in contrast, the British attempted to incorporate the Ahom’s territories into the company’s dominion after the war.
This initiated a rebellion in 1828 under the leadership of Gomdhar Konwar.
Finally, the company decided to follow a conciliatory policy and handed over upper Assam to Maharaja Purandar Singh Narendra, and parts of the kingdom were restored to the Assamese King.
1830sKhasi’s RevoltPlace: Hilly regions of Meghalaya
Leader: Nunklow ruler Tirath Singh
Cause: against the occupation of hilly regions
Results: Due to the compulsory enlistment of laborers for road construction led the Khasis to revolt under the leadership of Tirath Singh, a Khasi Chief. The Garos joined them.
The long and harassing warfare with Khasis continued for four years and was finally suppressed in early 1833
1830sSinghphos RebellionPlace: Assam
Cause: British interference in internal affairs of tribal areas and administrative innovations along with Excessive land assessments
1917-19Kuki’s RevoltPlace: Manipur
Leader: Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu
Cause: against British labor recruitment policies during WW-I Guerrilla War
1920sZeliangsong MovementPlace: Manipur
Led by: Zemi and Liangmei tribes
Cause: The British failed to protect these tribes during Kuki’s violence
1905-31Naga MovementPlace: Manipur
Led by: Jadonang
Cause: It was against British rule and about the setting up of a Naga Raj
1930sHereka CultPlace: Manipur
Led by: Rani Gaidinliu
Result: Kabui Naga Association was formed in 1946.

Peasant Movements in India

Peasant movements have a long history going back to the colonial period. The term peasant includes different kinds of cultivators who had vested interests in lands, namely small cultivators, rich landlords, landless laborers who were hired to cultivate the land, sharecroppers, and other groups who regard land as a source of livelihood.

The basic objective was to restore earlier forms of rule and social relations. There were various reasons related to agrarian restructuring for peasants to revolt.

Important Peasant Movements

YearPeasant MovementFacts
1859-60Indigo RevoltArea: Bengal
Leader: Digambar Biswas & Bishnu Biswas
Main Cause: Forced cultivation of Indigo without any proper remuneration
Indigo was identified as a major cash crop for East India Company’s Investments in the 18th Century
Indigo had worldwide demand for similar piece-goods, opium, and salt. Indigo planting in Bengal dates back to 1777 when Louis Bonnard, a Frenchman introduced it to the Indians.
The Indigo revolt (or Nil bidroha) was a peasant movement and subsequent uprising of indigo farmers against the indigo planters that arose in the Chaugacha village of Nadia in Bengal in 1859.  
1872-85Pabna MovementArea: Bengal
Leader: Keshav Chandra Roy, Sambhunath Pal
Young Indian intellectuals support – Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt, and the Indian Association under Surendranath Banerjee.
Main Cause: Enhanced rent Beyond the legal limit and prevention of tenants from acquiring occupancy rights.
Govt. accepted the demands and promised to protect Tenants.
It enacted the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885.
1874Deccan RiotsArea: Poona and Ahmadnagar.
Main Cause: Riots against the moneylenders, and heavy taxation under the Ryotwari System.
Peasants found themselves trapped in an endless network with the moneylender as the exploiter and the main beneficiary.
Money lenders were mostly outsiders including Marwaris or Gujaratis.
In 1874, the growing tension between the moneylenders, and the peasants resulted in a social boycott movement organized by the ryots against the “outsider” moneylenders.
Transformed into agrarian riots with systematic attacks on the moneylender’s houses and shops. It enacted the Deccan Agriculture Relief Act, of 1879 to protect peasants against money lenders.
1890-1900Punjab Peasant MovementArea- Punjab
Main Cause-
Against the acquisition of the land by the money lenders.
Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1902 enacted prohibited the transfer of land from the peasants to money lenders and mortgages for more than 20 years.
1917Champaran MovementArea: Bihar
Leader: Mahatma Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, A.N. Sinha, JB Kriplani, Mazhar-Ul Haq and Mahadev Desai.
The first civil disobedience movement by Gandhi in the freedom struggle.
Persuaded by Rajkumar Shukla, an indigo cultivator, Gandhi went to Champaran in Bihar to investigate the conditions of the farmers there.
The farmers were suffering under heavy taxes and an exploitative system.
They were forced to grow indigo by the British planters under the Tinkathia System.
After peaceful protests against the planters and landlords led by Gandhi, the government agreed to abolish the exploitative Tinkathia System.
The peasants also received a part of the money extracted from them as compensation.
The champaran struggle is called the first experiment on Satyagraha by Gandhi in India.
It was during this time that Gandhi was given the names ‘Bapu’ and ‘Mahatma’ by the people.
1918Kheda SatyagrahaArea: Gujarat
Leader: Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel
Main Cause: Refusal of remission from paying land revenue.1918 was a year of failed crops in the Kheda district of Gujarat due to droughts.
As per law, the farmers were entitled to remission if the produce was less than a quarter of the normal output.
But the government refused any remission from paying land revenue.
People from all castes and ethnicities of the district lend their support to the movement.
The protest was peaceful, and people showed remarkable courage even in the face of adversities like confiscation of personal property and arrest.
Finally, the authorities gave in and gave some concessions to the farmers.
1918-21The Kisan Sabha MovementArea: Uttar Pradesh
Leader: Gauri Shankar Misra, Indra Narain Dwivedi supported by Madan Mohan Malviya.
In the mid-1920, Baba Ramchandra emerged as the leader of peasants in Avadh.
In late 1920 an alternative was Awadh Kisan Sabha at Pratapgarh with the efforts of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mata Badal Pande, Baba Ram Chandra, Dev Narayan Pande, and Kedar Nath.
The Government easily suppressed these outbreaks of violence and passed the Awadh Rent (Amendment) Act, which brought little relief to the tenants.
1921-22Ekka MovementArea: Harrdoi, Bahraich, Barabanki, and Sitapur (Uttar Pradesh) Leader: Madari Pasi
Main Cause: Enhanced rent Oppression of the contractors.
Congress and Khilafat leaders provided the initial thrust to the peasant grievances and the movement grew under the name Eka or Unity Movement.
With grass-root leadership not in favor of non-violence taking over the movement, the authorities succeeded in bringing it to an end.
The Kisan movements were also overshadowed by the Non-Cooperation Movement in UP.
Police managed to crush the movement.
1921Mappila RevoltArea: Kerala
Leader: Kunhammad, Haji, Ali Musaliyar, Sithi Koya Thangal, and Kalathingal Mammad Muslim tenants inhabiting the surging where most of the landlords were Hindus.
The Mappila movement merged with the ongoing Khilafat agitation.
Khilafat: Non-Cooperation Movements like Gandhi, Shaukat Ali, and Maulana Azad addressed Mappila meetings.
A respected priest leader, Ali Musaliar was arrested in August 1921.
By December 1921, all resistance had come to a stop.
1926-28Bardoli SatyagrahaArea: Gujarat
Leader: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
Main Cause: Enhancement of the land revenue by 30% even though cotton prices had declined.
In February 1926, Vallabhbhai Patel was called to lead the movement.
The women of Bardoli gave him the title of “Sardar”.
Under Patel, the Bardoli peasants resolved to refuse payments of the revised assessment.
Bardoli Satyagraha Patrika was brought out to mobilise public opinion.
M. Munshi and Lalji Naranji resigned from the Bombay Legislative Council in support of the movement.
The Civil Disobedience Movement took the form of a ‘No-rent, No-revenue Movement’ in many areas.
Maxwell Broomfield Enquiry Committee set up by the government admitted Bardoli assessment was faulty and enhancement was cut down.
1936All India Kisan CongressArea: Lucknow
Leader: Presided over by Swami Sahajanand and N. G. Ranga
Against money lenders, Zamindars, traders, and the government.
A Kisan manifesto was adopted in the Bombay Session in 1937.
1938-47Bakasht Land StruggleArea: Bihar
Leader: Karyanand Sharma; Yadunandan Sharma, Jauna Karjee, and Rahul Sanskritayana
Main Cause: Bakasht lands were those lands that tenants had lost to zamindars during the depression years by virtue of non-payment of rent which they continued to cultivate as sharecroppers.
The movement continued till the zamindari was abolished.
1946Tebhaga MovementArea: Bengal
Leader: Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha
Main Cause: By the sharecroppers were against the Jotedar’s demand of ½ share of the crop instead of 1/3rd share.
The storm center of the movement was north Bengal, principally among Rajbanshis, a low caste of tribal origin.
Muslims also participated in large numbers.
1946-48Telangana MovementArea: The princely state of Hyderabad under Aashahi Nizam
Main Cause: Total lack of political and civil liberties, grossest forms of forced exploitation by Deshmukh, jagirdars, doras, i.e., landlords in forms of forced labor i.e. Vethi, illegal exactions, abuse of rationing, and excessive rent.Biggest Peasant Guerrilla War of modern Indian history.
The peasants organized themselves into village sanghams, and attacked using lathis, stone slings, and chilli powder.
The greatest intensity was between August 1947 and September 1948.
The peasants brought about a rout of the razaqars, the nizam’s stormtroopers.
Vethi and forced labor disappeared, agricultural wages were raised, illegally seized lands were restored, steps were taken to fix ceilings and redistribute lands, and measures to improve irrigation and fight cholera.
An improvement in the condition of women.
The formation of Andhra Pradesh on linguistic lines.

Difference between 19th and 20th Century Peasant Movements

Characteristics19th Century Peasant Movements20th Century Peasant Movements
The objective of Movements:The objective of these movements was centered almost wholly on economic issues rather than ending the exploitation of the peasants.The peasants were brought into the broader struggle against colonialism beginning with Champaran, Kheda, and later the Bardoli movement.
Leadership:The leadership of these revolts was from the peasantry itself.The movements were led by Congress and communist leaders.
The extent of Movements:Territorial reach was limited to a particular local region.All India movements. 
The chief form of mobilisation was through holding Kisan conferences and meetings.
Understanding of Colonialism:Directed towards specific and limited objectives and redressal of particular grievances.
Colonialism was not the target of these movements.
There was an emergence of anti-colonialism consciousness among peasants.
Formal Organization:No formal organization.
These caused movements to be a short-term phenomenon.
The emergence of independent class organizations of kisans in rural India.
The All India Kisan Sabha was formed in 1936.

Peasant Activities in Provinces

KeralaPeasants mobilized mainly by the congress socialist activists.
Existence of “Karsak Sanghams”- Peasants Organisations
Popular methods: Marching of jaths to the landlords for the acceptance of their demands.Amendment of Malabar Tenancy Act, 1929 in 1938 (Significant campaign by the peasants)
AndhraMany provincial ryot associations were active.
G. Ranga set up the India Peasants’ Institute in 1933.
After 1936, the Congress socialists started organizing the peasants.
In many places, the summer schools of economics and politics were held and addressed by leaders like P.C. Joshi, Ajoy Ghosh, and R.D. Bhardwaj.
BiharSahjanand Saraswati was joined by Karyanand Sharma, Yadunandan Sharma, Rahul Sankritayan, Panchartan Sharma, and Jamun Karjiti.
In 1935, the Provincial Kisan Conference adopted the anti-zamindari slogan.
The Provincial Kisan Sabha developed a rift with Congress over the ‘Bakasht Land’ issue because of an unfavorable government resolution that was not acceptable to the Sabha.
The movement ceased to exist by August 1939.
PunjabPunjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, the Kirti Kisan Party, the Congress, and the Akalis mobilized the peasants in early movements.
A new direction to the movement was given by the Punjab Kisan Committee in 1937.
The main targets of the movement were the landlords of western Punjab who dominated the unionist ministry.
The immediate issues taken up were the resettlement of land revenue in Amritsar and Lahore and an increase in water rates in the canal colonies of Multan and Montgomery where feudal levies were being demanded by the private contractors.
Activities were mainly concentrated in Jullundur, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Lyallpur, and Shekhupura.

Weakness of People’s Uprisings

  • These uprisings drew a large number of participants but were, in fact, localised and occurred at different times in different regions.
  • They mostly arose out of local grievances.
  • The leadership was semi-feudal in character, backward-looking, and traditional in outlook and their resistance did not offer alternatives to the existing social set-up.
  • If any of these revolts seemed similar to one another in wanting to oust the alien rule, it was not because of some ‘national’ impulse or common effort, but because they were protesting against conditions that were common to them.
  • These rebellions were centuries-old in form and ideological/cultural content.
  • Those who were not so uncooperative or obstinate were pacified through concessions by the authorities.
  • The methods and arms used by the fighters in these uprisings were practically obsolete compared to the weapons and strategy—as well as deception and chicanery—employed by their opponents.


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