Farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur region have been agitating against the government for over a week now. Their demands include a minimum support price for farm produce, among few other things. Similar voices of protests have been echoing from other parts of the country as well, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu who have been demonstrating against huge loans and the distress caused by drought situations respectively. The agricultural community of India has for decades faced duress, first under the ruthless economic exploitation of the British and then under the inability of the Indian government to provide adequate measures to redeem them from their financial distress.
The consequences of the British colonial expansion, resulting in agricultural policies like the Zamindari system, unpaid labour, high rents and arbitrary evictions, were felt by the peasant community who rose up in protest over and again. Post independence, the Indian government was faced with two immediate tasks. On the one hand, it had to modernise agriculture and on the other bring about a uniform ownership system. However, despite the efforts of the government the benefits of the agricultural policies failed to seep down to the low and middle-income farmers, who were also tormented by the rampant exploitation carried out by the rich farmers. The grievances of the agricultural community in India has resulted in them carrying out few of the most fervent agitations in the country.
Here we reflect upon some of the most significant agrarian protest movements in India.
Telangana movement (1946-51)
Considered to be one of the largest peasant guerilla war of modern Indian history, the Telangana movement of farmer protests was led by Communists in the Telugu speaking regions of southern India. Originally the protests were against oppressive feudal extortions. But it soon rose to agitate against repression of the landlord and the Nizam’s governmental machinery. The movement was spread across 3,000 villages and involved 3 million people and was at its zenith in the period between August 1947 and September 1948 and involved a large-scale armed conflict. The Telangana movement resulted in a large number of achievements including agricultural wages being raised, steps taken to redistribute land and to improve irrigation systems in the rural areas.
Tebhaga movement (1946-47)
The Tebhaga movement in Bengal was infused with the independence struggle and was started by the Kisan Sabha, which was the peasant front of the Communist Party of India. The demand of the movement was to reduce the share of the landlord while distribution of farm produce between the farmer and the landholder. Further, the farmers agitated that before the division of the crop produce, the entire amount be kept in their godowns rather than that of the jotedars. The protests soon turned violent when the police, at the behest of the jotedars struck down upon the agitators. By March 1947, the movement had gradually died down.
Farmers’ movement in Karnataka (1980s)
Organised by the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), the farmers protests in Karnataka in the early 1980s focused on economic issues facing farmers. Issues like terms of trade unfavourable to agriculturists, declining per capita income, high prices of input products and the low prices of farm produce. Later their movement focused on genetically modified crops.
Farmers’ movement in Maharashtra (1970s)
Organised by the Shetkari Sangathan under the the leadership of Sharad Joshi,the movement gathered its strongest momentum in the 1970s. The protest demanded the remunerative prices of farm produce and improvement in terms of trade. The thrust of the movement was against the economic forces that led to agricultural surplus accumulating in the hands of the rich farmers . The Shetkari Sangathan launched the movement by agitating for remunerative prices for onions, sugarcane, tobacco and cotton.
Nandigram agitation (2007)
The tussle between the government of Bengal and the farmers of Nandigram in 2007 went on to decide the course of Bengal politics in the upcoming years. The conflict began when the West Bengal government decided to allow the Salim group from Indonesia to set up a chemical hub at Nandigram, occupying 10,000 acres of land. The farmers agitated against the decision under the banner of the Bhoomi Raksha Committee which was backed by the Maoists. The violent protests carried out by the farmers led to casualty among both the police and the farmers. The deaths in Nandigram were a point of huge criticism for the Left government in Bengal.