1. Prologue
  2. Peasant struggles in British India
  3. Peasant Revolts before 1857
    1. Sanyasi Revolt, 1772
    2. Pagal Panthi, 1830s-40s
    3. Santhal, 1855
  4. Revolts after 1857’s Mutiny
    1. Indigo Movement (1859-60)
    2. Deccan Riots (1874-75)
    3. Ramosi, 1877-87
    4. No-Revenue Movements (1893-1900)
    5. Birsa Munda’s Ulgulan (1899)
    6. Rajasthan: 1913-17
    7. Champaran Indigo Satyagraha (1917)
    8. Kheda Satyagraha (1918)
  5. Peasant revolts in the 20s
    1. Kisan Movement, UP (1920s)
    2. Eka Movement (1920s)
    3. Second Moplah Uprising (1921)
    4. Bardoli Satyagraha (1928)
  6. Peasant Revolts in the 40s
    1. Tebhaga, Bengal, 1946
    2. Telangana, Hyderabad State (46-51)
    3. Varli, Bombay Province
  7. Mock Questions


This [Land Reforms] Article series will (try to) cover following issues for UPSC Mains GS/Optionals:

  1. Three land tenure system of the British: Their features, implications. We saw in previous article.
  2. Peasant struggles in British Raj: causes and consequences. Discussed in this article.
  3. Land reforms, Before independence: by Congress governments in Provinces, their benefits and limitations. Gandhi and Ranade’s views on Land reforms, All India Kisan Sabha etc.
  4. Land reforms, After independence: abolition of Zamindari, Land Ceiling and Tenancy reforms. Their benefits and limitations
  5. Land reforms by non-governmental action: Bhoodan, Gramdan, NGOs etc. their benefits and limitations
  6. Land reforms in recent times: Computerization of land records, Forest rights Act, land reform policy etc. their benefits and limitations.

Peasant struggles in British India

Can be classified into following groups:

Before 1857’s Mutiny
  • East India: Sanyasi Revolt, Chuar and Ho Rising, Kol Rising, Santhal Rising, Pagal Panthis and Faraizis Revolt
  • West India:  Bhil, Ramosis
  • South India: Poligars
After 1857’s Mutiny
  • Indigo Movement (1859-60)
  • Pabna Agrarian Unrest (1873-76),
  • Deccan riots (1874-75),
  • No-Revenue Movement  Assam, Maharashtra, and Punjab: (towards the end of 19th century)
  • Champaran Indigo Satyagraha (1917)
In the 20s and 30s 2nd Moplah, Awadh Kisan Sabha, Eka movement, Bardoli etc.
During and After WW2
  • Congress Ministries in provinces such as Bihar, UP and Bombay (will be discussed separately in third article)
  • Faizpur Congress session (1936)
  • All India Kisan Congress
  • Tebhaga Movement in Bengal
  • Telangana Outbreak in Hyderabad
  • Varlis Revolt in Western India

Peasant Revolts before 1857

Timeline-Peasant revolts before 1857

click to enlarge

Note: I’m also including some tribal revolts that had connections with land settlement/tenancy systems.

Sanyasi Revolt, 1772

  • British government restricted people from visiting holy places. Sansyasi got angry
  • Joined by farmers, evicted landlords, disbanded soldiers
  • Focal point: Rangpur to Dhaka
  • Leader: Manju Shah Fakir
  • Sanyasis defeated a company of sepoys and killed the commander. They overran some districts, virtually running a parallel government.
  • This rebellion continued till the end of the 18th century.
  • Governor General Warren Hastings launched a military campaign against Sansyasis.
  • From 1800, sanyasis probably joined the Marathas to fight British.

Pagal Panthi, 1830s-40s

  • Reason: Zamindari Oppression
  • Area: North Bengal, Hajong and Garo tribes.
  • Leader: Karam Shah and his son Tipu
  • Result: Initially British agreed to Pagal Panthi demand,  made arrangement to protect the cultivators from Zamindar
  • But later, launched massive military operation to suppress Pagal Panthis

Santhal, 1855

  • Reason:  oppression of police, atrocities of landlords and moneylenders, ill-treatment of small farmers by land revenue officials. Government banned shifting cultivation in forest areas.
  • Area: Raj Mahal hills
  • Leaders: Sindhu + Kanhu
  • Result: The government could pacified these Santhals by creating a separate district of Santhal Parganas.

some other revolts before 1857’s Mutiny:


1817 to 1819

  • Reason: agrarian hardship
  • Area: W.Ghats, Khandesh
Chuar and Ho

1820 to 1837.

  • Reason: famine, land Revenue
  • Area: Midnapur, Chhotanagpur, Singhbhum
  • Tribes involved
  • Chuar=Midnapur
  • Ho and Munda= Chhota Nagpur and Singhbhum

1838 to 1857

  • Reason: Zamindari Oppression
  • Area: East Bengal
  • Leader: Faraizis were followers of a Muslim sect founded by Haji Shariatullah of Faridpur
Kherwar/Sapha Har
  • Against revenue settlements in tribal areas.
  • Reason: British transferred of land from Kol headmen (Mundas) to outsiders like Sikh and Muslim farmers.
  • Area: Chhota Nagpur,  Ranchi, Singhbhum, Hazaribag, Palamau and western parts of Manbhum.
Mophah, First uprising


  • Malabar.
  • by Muslim tenants against Hindu Zamindars (Jemnis).
  • Reason: land Revenue
  • Area: Dindigul, Malabar, Arcot, Madras presidency
Tiru Mir


  • Bengal. Against Hindu land lords, who imposed beard tax on Farazis.

Revolts after 1857’s Mutiny

Timeline-Peasant revolts upto 1920s

General features:

  1. After 1857’s revolt, The British had crushed down native princes and zamindars. Hence farmers themselves became main force of agitations.
  2. Target= sometimes government, sometimes moneylender, sometimes landlord/ zamindar
  3. Territorial reach. not organized on mass-scale
  4. Often spontaneous. no coordination
  5. lacked continuity or long term struggle.
  6. never threatened British supremacy
  7. farmers didn’t mind paying rent, revenue, interest on debt but only agitated when they were raised to an abnormal level.
  8. lacked understanding of colonial economic system or divide and rule policy of the British. Farmers’ agitations were based within framework of old social order, hence often failed because government could woo a faction by granting them concession and hence movement would collapse.

Indigo Movement (1859-60)

  • European planters forced desi farmers to grow the indigo in Eastern India, without paying right price.
  • If any farmer refused- and started growing rice, he was kidnapped, women and children were attacked, and crop was looted, burnt and destroyed.
  • If farmer approached court, the European judge would rule in favour of the European planter.
  • The privileges and immunities enjoyed by the British planters placed them above the law and beyond all judicial control.
  • Finally Indigo peasants launched revolt in Nadia district of Bengal presidency. Refused to grow Indigo. If police tried to intervene, they were attacked.
  • European Planters responded by increasing the rent and evicting farmers. Led to more agitations and confrontations.
  • Later got support from the intelligentsia, press, missionaries and Muslims.
  • Result: Government issued a notification that the Indian farmers cannot be compelled to grow indigo and that it would ensure that all disputes were settled by legal means. By the end of 1860, Indigo planters should down their factories and cultivation of indigo was virtually wiped out from Bengal.
Harish Chandra Mukherji editor of Hindu patriot. published reports on indigo campaign, organized mass meetings etc.
Din Bandhu Mitra wrote a play ‘Neel Darpan’ to portray the oppression of indigo farmers.

Pabna Agrarian Unrest (1873-76)

  • Area: East Bengal. Pabna=a jute growing district
  • Reason: Zamindars enhanced rents beyond legal limits through a variety of cesses (Abwab), Farmers had to face costly legal affairs and forced eviction. Nuisance of moneylenders.
  • Leaders: Ishwar Chandra Roy, Shambhu Pal, Khoodi Mollah.

Notable features

  • Agrarian league formed to fight legal battle against the zamindars and organized nonpayment of rent campaign.
  • This league provided a sound platform to the peasants at a time when there was no kisan sabha or any political party to organize the peasants.
  • by and large non-violent. No zamindar or agent was killed / seriously injured. Very few houses looted, very few police stations attacked.
  • Hindu Muslim unity, despite the fact that most Zamindars were Hindu and farmers were muslims.
  • farmers demanded to become ryots of British queen and not of Zamindars.
  • Got support from Intellectuals: Bankim Chandra Chettarji, RC Dutt, Surendranath Benerjee etc.


  • This unrest resulted into Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885.
  • But this act did not fully protect farmers from the zamindari oppression
  • Even non-cultivators were given occupancy right. It gave rise to a powerful jotedar groups.
  • Later some of the Jotedars became as exploitative as the zamindars.

Deccan Riots (1874-75)

Area: In the ryotwari areas of Pune and Ahmadnagar of Maharashtra


  • the land revenue was very high
  • had to pay land Revenue even during bad seasons
  • 1860: American civil war=boom in demand of cotton export.
  • But In 1864, war ends=>cotton export declines, yet government raised land revenue.
  • Farmers had taken loans from moneylenders, but now they cannot repay=>Moneylenders took away their land, cattle, jewelry and property.

Notable features:

  1. The object of this riot was to destroy the dead bonds, decrees, etc. in possession of their creditors.
  2. Violence was used only when the moneylenders refused to hand over the documents.
  3. villagers led by traditional headmen (Patels)
  4. Involved social boycott of moneylender. and social boycott of any villager who didn’t socially boycott the moneylender.
  5. Later got support from Poona Sarvajanik Sabha led by Justice Ranade.


  1. Initially government resorted to use of police force and arrest. but later appointed a commission, passed Agriculturists Relief Act in 1879 and on the operation of Civil Procedure Code.
  2. Now the peasants could not be arrested and sent to jail if they failed to pay their debts.

Ramosi, 1877-87

  • Reason:  Ramosis of Maharashtra were the inferior ranks of police in Maratha administration.
  • After the fall of the Maratha kingdom, they became farmers =>heavy land Revenue demands by British.
  • Area: Satara, Maharashtra, Deccan
  • Leader:  Chittur Singh (1822), Vasudev Balwant Phadke (1877-87)
  • Result: Government  gave them land grants and recruited them as hill police.

No-Revenue Movements (1893-1900)

In the Ryotwari areas. Main reason: hike in land revenue.

  • British increase land Revenue by 50 to 70 per cent in  Kamrup and Darrang districts.
  • Villager decided not to pay Revenue. And socially boycotted any farmer who paid land Revenue.
  • Rural elites, Brahmin led the revolt. Social boycott of anyone who paid taxes to British.
  • farmers wanted revenue remission under famine code during 1896-1900.
  • Tilak, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha sent volunteers to spread awareness among farmers about their legal rights under Famine code.
  • These campaigns spread to Surat, Nasik, Khera and Ahmedabad.
  • Nuisance of moneylenders.
  • led to assault and murder of moneylenders by the peasants.
  • Result: Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1902 which prohibited for 20 years transfer of land from peasants to moneylenders and mortgage.

Birsa Munda’s Ulgulan (1899)

South of Ranchi


  • Tribals practiced Khuntkatti system (joint holding by tribal lineages)
  • But rich farmers, merchants, moneylenders, dikus, thekedars from Northern India came and tried to replace it with typical Zamindari-tenancy system.
  • These new landlords caused indebtedness and beth-begari (forced labour) among the tribal.
  • Birsa Munda organized the Munda tribals, attacked churches and police stations.


  • Birsa died in jail, while others shot dead, hanged or deported.
  • Government enacted Chotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908.
  • recognized Khuntkatti rights
  • banned eth Begari (forced labour)

Rajasthan: 1913-17

  • Bijolia Movement and No tax campaign against Udipur Maharana
  • reason: The jagirdar levied 86 different cesses on farmers.
  • leaders: Sitaram Das, Vijay Singh Pathik (Bhoop Singh), Manik lal Verma
  • Farmers refused to pay taxes, migrated to neighboring states
  • 1922: Bhil movement against begari (forced labour)

Champaran Indigo Satyagraha (1917)

Area: Champaran district of Bihar. Ramnagar, Bettiah, Madhuban.

  • European planters forced Indian farmers to cultivate indigo on 3/20th of their land holding. Popularly known as tinkathia system.
  • Under this system, European planters holding thikadari leases from the big local zamindars forced the peasants to cultivate indigo on part of their land at un-remunerative prices and by charging sharahbeshi (rent enhancement) or tawan (lump sum compensation)
  • if the farmer did not want to grow indigo, he had to pay heavy fines
1916 A farmer Raj Kumar Shukla contacted Gandhi during Congress Session @Lucknow.
1917 Mahatma Gandhi launched an agitation. Demanded a detailed enquiry and redressal of farmers’ grievances.


  1. Government appoints a committee, even included Gandhi as one of the member.
  2. Government abolishes tinkhatia system and pays compensation to the farmers.
  3. Gandhi gets new allies: Rajendra Prasad, JB Kriplani, Mahadev Desai and Braj Kishore Prasad

Kheda Satyagraha (1918)

  • Severe drought in Khera District, Gujarat
  • Kanbi-Patidar farmers. Making decent living through cotton, tobacco and dairy. But Plague and famine during 1898-1906 reduced their income. Yet government increased Revenue demand.
  • Prices of essential commodities: kerosene, salt etc increased because of WW1.
  • Farmers requested government to waive the land Revenue. Government ignored.
  • Gandhi + Sardar Patel launched “no-revenue” campaign


  1. Government reduced revenue to 6.03%
  2. Government ordered officials to recover Revenue only from those farmers who were willing to pay.
  3. Gandhi gets new ally: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Peasant revolts in the 20s

Timeline-Peasant revolts 1920-30

General features

  1. Often turned violent/ militant. Created a divide between local leaders and Nationalist Leaders/Congress/Gandhi
  2. Sign of fear among middle-class leadership that movement would turn militant.
  3. Government used full police force and suppression.
  4. Farmers didn’t demand abolition of rent, zamindari. They only wanted a fair system of land tenancy.

Kisan Movement, UP (1920s)

Awadh farmers were suffering because:

  1. Lack of occupancy rights on land in many regions.
  2. Exaction by landlords of tributes, cesses, gifts, forced labour and excessive rent.
  3. Periodic revision of land revenue in ryotwari areas.
  4. Heavy indebtedness to the village land lords or money lenders.
  5. World war I = steep rise in the price of food grains benefiting middlemen and merchants at the cost of the poor.
  6. Farmers had to pay Larai Chanda (War contribution) during WW1.
  7. To counter Gandhi/Congress’s influence, the Government wanted to win over Talukdars in Avadh. Hence, they gave free hand to Taulkdars regarding rent collection, eviction etc.
  8. As a result, Begari (forced labour) and Bedakhli (evicting tenant for land) became a common sight.
  9. +caste domination: “Jajmani system” under which, lower caste were oblighted to supply ghee, cloths etc free/@discounted prices to upper caste.
1918 UP Kisan Sabha setup.

by Home Rule leaders Gauri Shanker Mishra and Indra Narain Dwivedi with the support of Madan Mohan Malviya.

1920 Baba Ramchandra organized peasants of Awadh against the landlords, using Ramayana and caste sloghans.

Methods of Awadh Kisan Sabha

  1. asked farmers to stop working on bedakhli land (i.e. from  where earlier farmer was evicted)
  2. asked farmers to stop giving Begari and Jajmani.
  3. Social boycott of farmers who did not obey 1+2.
  4. By 1921, this movement turned militant and spread to districts of Eastern UP. involved looting, ransacking, attacking zamindar properties.
  5. agitators raided the houses of landlords and moneylenders, looted bazaars and granaries

Result:  Government amended Awadh Rent Act in 1921 and AKS ceased violence.

Later All India Kisan Sabha emerged. Discussed separately in third article along with Congress Provincial government .

Eka Movement (1920s)

  • Eka=unity movement
  • Initially by Congress+Khilafat Leaders. Later Madari Pasi and other low caste leaders.
  • Reason: oppression by Thekedar. High rents
  • Involved religious ritual, in which farmer would take a tip in Ganges and vow not to do begari, resist eviction etc.
  • Even included some small zamindars who were unhapped with British demands for high revenue.
  • By 1922 severe repression by government=Eka Movement vanished.

Second Moplah Uprising (1921)


  1. Hindu Zamindars (Jemnis) exploiting Muslim Moplah/Mappila farmers in Malabar (Kerala)
  2. rumors that British military strength had declined post WW1.
  3. Khilafat movement and general hatred towards British.
  • Tipping point: Police raided a mosque to arrest a Khilafat leader Ali Musaliar.
  • Farmers attacked police stations, public offices and houses, land records of zamindars and moneylenders under the leadership of Kunhammed Haji.
  • For months, British government lost control over Ernad and Walluvanad taluks for several months.
  • This movement was termed as Anti-British, Anti-Zamindars and, to some extent, as anti-Hindu.
  • Podanur Blackhole: British put 66 Moplah prisoners into a railway wagon and completely shut it down. They all died of asphyxiation.
  • Result: Hundreds of Moplah lost lives- as a result they were completely demoralized and didn’t join in any future freedom struggles or even communist movements post independence.

Bardoli Satyagraha (1928)

  • Area: Bardoli, Gujarat
  • Reason: land Revenue increased by 22%.
  • Sardar Patel persuaded the farmers:
    • not to pay Revenue, required them to take oath in the name of their respective Hindu/Muslim gods.
    • social boycott of anyone who paid revenue.
    • Resist eviction and Jabti (Confiscation). Lock houses and migrate to Baroda State
    • social upliftment of Kaliparaj caste- who worked as landless laborers.
  • KM Munshi resigned from Bombay Legislative council.
  • Bombay communists and railway workers also threatened strikes and boycotts.


  • Government setup Maxwell-Broomfield commission.
  • Reduced land Revenue to 6.03%
  • Returned confiscated land back to farmers.
  • Vallabhbhai got the title of “Sardar”.

Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) 1930-31

  • In UP, Congress asked Zamindars not to pay revenue to Government. (no-revenue)
  • And asked Farmers not to pay rent to Zamindars. (no rent)
  • But Zamindars remained loyal to British =>as a result only farmers participated in no-rent movement.

Misc. Peasant Movements in the 1920 and 30s

  • Great Depression started in USA, spread in Europe=> agricultural prices crashed.
  • But Revenue, rents and taxes remained high, impoverishing the peasants.
  • farmers emboldened by Success of Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928
  • Many Zamindar leaders stood up in 1937’s provincial elections on Congress tickets but they were defeated =farmers even more emboldened.
Bakasht Movement Bihar
Barhaiya Tal Bihar. To restore Bakasht land. Leader: Karyananda Sharma
Bengal, Bihar Refused to pay Chaukidari tax
Bihar Kisan ran campaign to abolish Zamindari, restore Bakshat lands. Matter Solved when provincial congress government passed act.

Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha, 1929

Bombay, Central Provinces Against forest grazing regulations
Hajong Tribals in Garo hills. to reduce rent from 50% to 25%. Leader Moni Singh.
Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bundelkhand No-Revenue movement
Malabar, Kerala against feudal levies, advance rents and eviction. Result: Malabar Tenancy act was amended.
  • Punjab Riyasati Praja Mandal (1928)
  • Against Maharaj of Patiala – he had increased land Revenue by 19%
  • farmers wanted him to abolish his land reserved for shikar (hunting)
  • for reduction of canal taxes.
Surat, Kheda Farmers refused to pay Revenue. Migrated to Baroda State.

Peasant Revolts in the 40s

Timeline-Peasant revolts 1930-independence

General features:

  • During WW2, the peasant movements had declined.
  • But after the end of WW2 (1945)- peasant leaders anticipate freedom and new social order. Hence new movements with renewed vigour.
  • Earlier kisan movements usually didn’t demand abolition of Zamindari. They merely wanted a fair system of land revenue and land tenancy. But these new movements strongly demanded for abolition of Zamindari.
  • Even when they were unsuccessful, they created a climate which necessitated the post-independence land reforms and abolition of Zamindari.
  • Earlier movements were by and large non-violent. But now they turned militant e.g. Telangana movement in Hyderabad state and the Tebhaga movement in Bengal. Similarly All India Kisan Sabha openly preached militancy, violance against Zamindars.

Tebhaga, Bengal, 1946

  1. in this region: Rich farmers (Jotedars) leased the farms to sharecroppers (Bargadar)
  2. Flout Commission had recommended that Bargadar should get 2/3 of crop produce and jotedar (the landlord) should get 1/3rd of crop produce.
  3. Tebhaga movement aimed to implement this recommendation through mass struggle.
  • Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha
  • communist groups
  • lower stratum of tenants such as bargardars (share croppers), adhiars and poor peasants, tea plantation workers etc.
against whom zamindars, rich farmers (Jotedars), moneylenders, traders, local bureaucrats

Suharwardy’s Government introduced Bargardari Bill. But overall, Limited success:

  1. Brutal police suppression.
  2. difference of opinion
    • tribal elements wanted more militant protest
    • poor and middle level farmer support declined
    • urban professional did not support (Because many of them had given their village land to Bargadars)
  3. Riots started in Calcutta, demand for partition.

Telangana, Hyderabad State (46-51)

  • Who? Farmers of Telengana and Madras, Praja Mandal org., Communist party.
  • Against whom? Nizam’s officials, landlords, moneylenders, traders
  • Biggest Peasant guerrilla war in Modern Indian history.
  • Reasons?
  1. Under Asafjahi Nizam- bureaucratic domination by Muslim and Hindu elites
  2. Vethi: forced labour and payments in kind by Jagirdar. Tribals were turned into debt slaves.
  3. high rents, forced eviction and other forms of badass thuggary associated in a feudal area.

Why guerrilla war?

  1. Arms act was implemented in slack manner. Easy to buy country made guns.
  2. Congress, Arya Samaj etc. did not want Nizam/Razakars to setup an independent Hyderabad country after independence. So they gave moral support, funding.


  1. revenue and rent records destroyed
  2. bonded labour/vethi disappeared, decline in untouchability
  3. Agricultural wages were increased.
  4. Destroyed aristocracy/feudalism from Hyderabad. Paved way for formation of Andhra State and Vinoba’s Bhudan movement.

Why decline?

  • Operation Polo: In 1948, Indian government sent army to overthrow Nizam.
  • even after liberation of Hyderabad, the Communist had internal political difference. The class war turned into petty murdering of forest officials and moneylenders. As a result movement lost support.

Varli, Bombay Province

  • Varli=tribals in W.India.
  • Kisan Sabha supported them. Later under the influence of communists.
  • Against whom? forest-contractors, the moneylenders, the rich farmers, landlords, British bureaucracy.

Mock Questions

5 marks

  1. Pabna movement.
  2. Indigo Movement (1859-60)
  3. Deccan Riots (1874-75)
  4. Sanyasi Revolt
  5. Bardoli Peasant Movement (1921)
  6. Indigo Movement (1959-60)
  7. Pagal Panthis and Faraizis Revolt
  8. Peasant Movement in Avadh
  1. Baba Ramdev Chandra.
  2. Eka Movement
  3. Kheda Satyagraha
  4. Ramosi Revolts
  5. Birsa Munda’s contribution in Freedom struggle
  6. Tebhaga Movement
  7. Telengana movement (1946-51)

12 marks

  1. The most important contribution of the peasant movements that covered large areas of the subcontinent in the 30s and 40s was that they created the climate which necessitated the post-independence agrarian reforms. Comment
  2. Write a note on Peasant movements under Gandhi’s leadership
  3. Write a note on Peasants movements under Sardar Patel’s leadership.
  4. Write a note on the characteristics of peasant movements in India from 1857 to Second World War.
  5. Write a note on the growth of Peasant movements after 1920s.
  6. Underline the critical link between the long history of the national and peasant movements in India and the nature and intensity of the land reform initiatives taken after independence.
  7. What were the important peasant struggles that took place on the eve of Indian independence?

In the next article, we’ll see the land reforms initiated by Provincial Congress governments before independence, role of All India Kisan Sabha, views of Gandhi and Ranade on Land reforms etc.