Social and Religious Movements and Tribal and Peasant Movement

Why reform ?

• India in the 19th century witnessed a series of reform movements undertaken in various parts of the country which were oriented toward a re-structuring of the Indian society along modem lines.
• Impact of modern Western culture soon gave birth to a new awakening in India.
• Western conquest exposed the weakness and decay of Indian society.
• Thoughtful Indians began to look for the defects of their society and for ways and means of removing them.
• While large number of Indians refused to come to terms with the West and still put their faith in traditional Indian ideas and institutions, others gradually came to hold that modern Western thought provided the key to the regeneration of their society.
• They were impressed in particular by modem science and the doctrines of reason and humanism.
• The new social groups-the capitalist class, the working class, the modern intelligentsia-demanded modernisation since their own interests demanded it.
• Attempts to explore India’s past by the first generation of British rulers helped to sharpen educated classes’ consciousness of their own existence.
• Early reformers were groping to find suitable answers. But the agenda for the modernization was not set by the western influence because the logic for reform was sought to be located within India’s past.


• Reform movements which took deep roots within Bengal have often been also termed as Bengal Renaissance.
• Bankim Chandra Chatterji and Bipin Chandra Pal referred to developments in the 19th century Bengal as a period of Renaissance.
• It may not be proper to compare European Renaissance with developments in Bengal as the context was entirely different and the patterns not too similar.
• The features which were referred to while talking of a Bengal Renaissance may be clubbed under three major categories, i.e. historical rediscovery, linguistic and literary modernization and socio-religious reforms.

Raja Rammohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj

• Raja Rammohan Roy from Bengal was the most notable reformer of the modern times.
• Raja Ram Mohan Roy was born in 1772 in Radhanagar in Burdwan districtin West Bengal and died in Bristol in England.
• He is considered as the first ‘modern man’ as he was the pioneer of socio-religious and political reformmovements in modern India.
• He studied numerous languages – Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, etc. in order to study the various religious scriptures in their original.
• He believed in monotheism i.e. doctrine of the unity of God-head and opposed idol-worship.
• In 1803 he published a Persian treatise named ‘Tuhfat-ul Muwahidin’ or ‘A Gift to Monotheists’ wherein he explains his concept of monotheism.
• He was among the first to bring political questions in the ambit of public debate.
• His Atmiya Sabha, founded in 1814, discussed important social and political questions of the time. In 1828, its enlarged edition was called the Brahmo Sabha which was renamed Brahmo Samaj later on.
• He started touching upon many burning social issues of the time including the widely-prevalent practice of becoming sati.
• He rallied support to the efforts of William Bentinck (Governor General) for abolition of this custom and wrote extensively for the cause.
• In 1829, the custom of sati was formally abolished. He also condemned polygamy and many other forms of subjugation of women.
• Roy was also an advocate of modern education. He opened an English school as well as a Vedanta college (1825).
• He was a firm believer in the concept of one God. He was opposed to idolatry and found Upanishads as the basis of true Hinduism.
• He wished to purify Hinduism by removing all kinds of evils that had crept into it over centuries.
• After Roy’s death in 1833, the Brahmo Samaj started getting disorganized.

Debendranath Tagore

• Brahmo Samaj was given a definite shape and popularized beyond the city of Calcutta under the leadership of Debendranath Tagore who joined in 1842.
• A year later, he wrote Brahmo Covenant. This Covenant was a statement of the creed of the Samaj and made a list of the duties and obligations of its members.

Keshab Chandra Sen

• Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-84) who joined the Samaj in 1858 took the activities of the Samaj beyond Bengal and into UP, Punjab, Madras and Bombay.
• Keshab Chandra Sen radicalized the Samaj by attacking caste system, underlining women’s rights, promoting widow remarriage and raising the issue of caste status of Brahmo preachers which was earlier reserved for Brahmans.
• He laid stress on universalism in religion.
• His radicalism brought him into opposition with Debendranath.
• In 1866, the Samaj was formally divided into Adi Brahmo Samaj (headed by Debendranath) and the Brahmo Samaj of India (headed by Keshab Chandra).

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

• Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a Bengali reformer actively raised the issues related to women.
• He was an active proponent of education of girl child as he believed that lack of education was the real cause underlying all their problems.
• With the help of an Englishman named Bethun, he set up many schools devoted especially to girl child.
• He forcefully attacked child marriage and polygamy.
• He was a strong advocate of widow remarriage.
• It was due to his active mobilization of support that the Widows’ Remarriage Act was passed in 1856 legalizing all widow remarriages. He arranged many such remarriages.
• He set a personal example when his son Narayan also married a widow.

Ramakrishna Mission

• During the late 19th century, another notable reform movement in Bengal, which soon spread to other parts of the country, was the Ramakrishna Mission.
• The movement began under an ascetic and priest Gadadhar Chatterjee or Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836-86).
• He preached universality of all religions and favoured preserving beliefs and rituals of Hinduism.
• Among his important disciples was Narendra Nath or Swami Vivekananda who accepted Ramakrishna as his guru in 1885.

Swami Vivekananda

• He spread the message of spiritual Hinduism in America and Europe during his tour of 1893-97.
• He established Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 and set up a Math at Belur.
• He died at a young age of forty in 1902.
• Vivekananda was opposed to degeneration in religion, manifold divisions, caste rigidities, practice of untouchability, superstitions etc.
• He pointed out that the present condition of Hindus was due to their ignorance which was helped by their being a subject race.
• He attempted to establish Hindu spiritual supremacy vis-à-vis the selfish civilization of the West.
• He believed that India had to learn work ethics, forms of organization and technological advances from the West.

Arya Samaj

• The most profound reform movement which can be also termed as revivalist movement in the late 19th century India was the Arya Samaj.
• It started in the western India and the Punjab, and gradually spread to a large part of the Hindi heartland.
• It was founded by Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83).
• In 1875, he wrote Satyarth Prakash (or the light of truth) and in the same year founded the Bombay Arya Samaj.
• The Lahore Arya Samaj was founded in 1877. Subsequently, Lahore became the epicentre of the Arya movement.
• Dayanand opposed a ritual-ridden Hindu religion and called for basing it on the preaching of the Vedas. Only Vedas, along with their correct analytical tools, were true.
• He attacked puranas, polytheism, idolatry and domination of the priestly class.
• He adopted Hindi for reaching out to the masses.
• He also opposed child marriage.
• He was fiercely opposed to multiplicity of castes which he thought was primarily responsible for encouraging conversion of lower castes into Christianity and Islam.
• After Dayanand’s death in 1883, the Samaj lay scattered.
• Most important attempt to unite the Samaj and its activities was the founding of the Dayanand Anglo Vedic Trust and Management Society in Lahore in 1886.
• In 1886, this society opened a school with Lala Hansraj as its principal. However, some leaders of the Samaj like Munshi Ram (Swami Shraddhanand), Gurudatt, Lekh Ram and others were opposed to Anglo Vedic education.
• They argued that the Arya Samaj’s educational initiative must focus on Sanskrit, Aryan ideology and Vedic scriptures and should have little space for English learning.
• This militant wing thought that Dayanand’s words were sacrosanct and his message in Satyarth Prakash could not be questioned.
• While the moderate wing led by Lala Hansraj and Lajpat Rai pointed out that Dayanand was a reformer and not a rishi or sadhu.
• Conflicts also arose over the control of the DAV Management Society.
• These differences finally led to a formal division of the Arya Samaj in 1893 when Munshiram broke away along with his supporters to initiate a gurukul-based education. Therefore, after 1893 the two wings of the Arya Samaj were – DAV group and Gurukul group.
• Munshi Ram and Lekh Ram devoted themselves to popularizing of the teachings of the Vedas and began an Arya Kanya Pathsala at Jalandhar to safeguard education from missionary influence.
• In 1902, Munshi Ram founded a Gurukul at Kangri in Haridwar. This institute became the centre of the gurukul education wing of the Arya Samaj in India. It was here that Munshi Ram adopted sanyas and became Swami Shraddhanand.
• The two wings of the Arya Samaj, i.e. DAV wing and the Gurukul wing had differences on the question of education but were united on important political and social issues of the time.
• The Arya Samaj as a whole opposed conversion of Hindus to Islam and Christianity and therefore advocated re-conversion of recent converts to Hinduism. This process was called shuddhi.
• They also advocated greater usage of Hindi in Devanagari script.
• In the 1890s, the Arya Samaj also raised the issue of cow slaughter and formed gaurakshini sabhas (or the cow protection societies) for protection of cows.
• The Arya Samaj led a prolonged movement against untouchability and advocated dilution of caste distinctions.


• The Prarthana Samaj was founded in 1867 in Bombay by Dr. Atmaram Pandurang.
• It was an off-shoot of Brahmo Samaj.
• It was a reform movement within Hinduism and Justice M.G. Ranade and R.G. Bhandarkar joined it in 1870 and infused new strength to it.
• Mahadev Govind Ranade, also ran the Deccan Education Society.
• Several members of the Prarthana Samaj had earlier been active in the Paramhansa Mandali.
• This Samaj denounced idolatry, priestly domination, caste rigidities and preferred monotheism.
• It also concentrated on social reforms like inter-dining, inter-marriage, widow remarriage and uplift of women and depressed classes.
• Apart from Hindu sects, it also drew upon Christianity and Buddhism.
• It sought truth in all religions.
• Drawing inspiration from the Maratha Bhakti saints of the medieval period, Ranade sought to establish the concept of one compassionate God.


• Many important reform movements arose during the 19th century western India.
• Reformers like KT Telang, VN Mandalik and RG Bhandarkar glorified India’s past.
• There were some who led a direct attack on social evils like caste system and encouraged widow remarriage, e.g., Karsondas Mulji and Dadoba Pandurang. They formed Manav Dharma Sabha in 1844 and Paramhansa Mandali in 1849.
• The Mandali carried its activities secretly.
• Its members took a pledge that they would abandon all caste distinctions.
• The Mandali declined after 1860 as its membership and activities lost secrecy.


• Madam H.P. Blavatsky laid the foundation of the movement in the Unites States in 1875 and later Colonel M.S. Olcott joined her.
• In 1882 they shifted their headquarters to India at Adyar.
• The members of this society believe that a special relationship can be established between a person’s soul and God by contemplation, prayer, revolution.
• The theosophical movement came to be allied with Hindu renaissance.
• The society believes in re-incarnation, Karma and draws from the philosophy of the upanishads and Samkhya, yoga and vedanta schools of thought.
• After the death of Olcott in 1907 Annie Besant was elected as its President. She had joined the society in 1889.
• The society under Besant concentrated on the revival of Hinduism and its ancient ideas and in order to provide Hindu religious instruction.
• She founded the Central Hindu University at Varanasi in 1898 which was later developed into the Benaras Hindu University by Madan Mohan Malaviya.


• Its founder was Henry Vivian Derozio, who taught at the Hindu college between 1826 and 1831.
• His followers were known as the Derozians and their movement as the Young Bengal Movement.
• The movement attacked old traditions and decadent customs, advocating women’s rights and education and educating the public on the current socio-economic and political questions through press and public associations.
• They carried on public agitation on public questions like freedom of the press, trial by jury and protection of peasants, etc.


• In Western India Prof D.K. Karve took up the cause of widow remarriage and in Madras Veerasalingam Pantulu made Herculean efforts in the same direction.
• Prof. Karve opened a widow’s home in Poona in 1899. He set up the Indian Womens University at Bombay in 1916.
• B.M. Malbari started a crusade against child marriage and his efforts were crowned by the enactment of the age of consent Act, 1891.
• In 1849 J.E.D. Bethune founded a girl’s school in Calcutta.
• All India women’s conference was organised in 1936.
• Radha Soami Satsang was founded by Tulsi Ram.
• Deva Samaj was founded by Shiva Narain Agnihotri.
• Nadwah-ul-ulama was founded by Maulana Shibli Numani in 1894 in Lucknow.
• Justice movement was started in 1915-16 by C.N. Mudaliar, T.M. Nair and P. Tyagaraja Chetti in Madras. It was against the predominance of the Brahmins in education, government services and politics.
• Ezhava movement was launched by Sri Narayan Guru. He started the movement of untouchable Ezhava against the Brahmin dominance in Kerala. He rejected the caste system and developed the concept of one caste, one religion and one God for mankind. His disciple Ayappan made it into no religion, no caste and no God for mankind.
• In Kerala, the Nairs started movement against the dominance of Nambudari Brahmins. C.V. Raman Pillai organised the Malyali Memorial. He wrote a novel Martanda Verma to show the military glory of the Nairs. Padmanabha Pillai founded the nair service society in 1914.
• In 1873, Satya Sodhak movement was launched by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra to save the lower castes from the Brahmins. He wrote ‘Gulamgiri’ and ‘Sarvajanik Satyadharma Pustak’. His theory of exploitation of lower castes was focused on cultural and ethnic factor rather than on political and economic one.
• The Mahars were organised by Gopal Baba Walangkar in late 19th century against Brahmins in Maharashta. Baba Bhim Rao Ambedkar became their leader in the 20th century. Under his leadership the Mahars started burning Manusmriti and tried to break with the Hinduism.
• In 1932 Gandhiji founded the Harijan Sevak Sangh.
• Ambedkar founded the Scheduled Castes Federation.


• There was a sense of loss of power among educated and elite Muslims of India. This happened mainly because of-
• Transfer of power from Mughals to British, and
• Replacement of Persian by English as the language of employment and advancement in the new bureaucracy.

Farazis Movement

• The movement of the Farazis which arose among the peasants of early 19th century Bengal advocated return to pure Islam.
• They followed the teachings of Shah Walliullah of Delhi (1703-63) who had, a century earlier, talked about regaining purity of Islam and objected to infiltration of non-Islamic customs among Muslims.
• Founding leader of the Farazis, Shariat Ullah (1781-1839) preached religious purification and advocated return to the faraiz, i.e. obligatory duties of Islam, namely – kalimah (profession of faith), salat (or namaz), sawn ( or rozah), zakat (or alms to poor) and Hajj. He also preached tawhid or monotheism.
• Another movement which arose among Muslims of Bengal was the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiyah under the leadership of Titu Mir who was initiated by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi. This movement also talked about return to past purity.
• Another movement which was more concerned about the decline in power of the ulema class (Muslim priestly class) arose at Deoband in the United Provinces.
• Delhi School of Islamic Thought was derived from the Delhi College (currently Zakir Husain College) which had begun imparting a parallel education – Islamic as well as English.
• Beginning 1830s, the college helped to foster a modern consciousness in the Muslim community.
• The revolt of 1857 and consequent crackdown by the British forces ended this intellectual excitement. However, the urge for modernization could easily be felt among a section of Muslims.

The Wahabi Movement

• The Muslims lost their political power with the replacement of the Mughals by the East India Company.
• The spread of Christianity and the Western culture were viewed as a threat to Islam. They resisted English education and remained aloof from Western influences.
• The Wahabi movement was introduced in India by Syed Ahmed of Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.
• The Wahabi movement aimed at the purification of Islam and to return to the simplicity of religion.
• In India the Wahibis did not restrict to the religious reforms only.
• They aimed at the replacement of the British rule by the rule of the true believers.
• The Wahabi movement took the nature of the political revolt.

Sayyid Ahmad Khan

• According to Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) modern education was the most important path for improvement in the condition of Indian Muslims.
• He called for the study of European science and technology.
• In 1866, he formed the British Indian Association.
• He stayed in England for more than a year during 1869-70.
• On his return, he asked his Muslim brethren to adopt some positive features of the English society like its discipline, order, efficiency and high levels of education.
• He pointed out that there was no fundamental contradiction between Quran and Natural Science and the new circumstances demanded dissemination of English language within an Islamic context.
• He founded the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875 which went on to become the most important seminary for modern higher education among Muslims.
• At the elementary level, students followed the standard government curriculum in a carefully constructed Islamic environment. In 1878, the college classes were also started and non-Muslims were also enrolled.
• In 1886, Sayyid Ahmad Khan founded also the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental Educational Conference.
• The Muslim graduates of Aligarh who numbered 220 during 1882-1902, provided lot of excitement to the Muslim intellectual world and in due course of time provided an able and modern leadership to the community.

The Deoband School

• The orthodox section among the Muslim ulema organised the Deoband Moovement. It was a revivalist movement whose twin objectives were:
• To propagate among the Muslims the pure teachings of the Koranand the Hadisand.
• To keep alive the spirit of jihad against the foreign rulers.
• The new Deoband leader Mahmud-ul-Hasan (1851-1920) sought to impart a political and intellectual content to the religious ideas of the school.
• The liberal interpretation of Islam created a political awakening among its followers.

Ahmadiya Movement

• The Ahmadiya movement was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahamad of Qadiyan (1839-1908) in 1889, who began his work as a defender of Islam against the polemics of the Arya Samaj and the Christian missionaries.
• In 1889, he claimed to be Masih and Mahdi and later also to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Krishna and Jesus, returned to earth.
• The movement was really a heresy well within the bounds of Islam as Ghulam Ahamad, though he called himself a minor prophet, regarded Muhammad as the true and great prophet whom he followed.
• The Ahmadiya movement based itself, like the Brahmo Samaj, on the principles of at universal religion of all humanity.
• Ghulam Ahmad was greatly influenced by western liberalism theosophy, and the religious reform movements of the Hindus.
• The Ahmadiyas opposed Jihad or sacred war against non-Muslims and stressed fraternal relations among all people.
• The movement spread western liberal education among Indian Muslims and started a network of schools and colleges for that purpose.

Ahrar Movement

• It was a movement founded in 1910 under the leadership of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Hasan Imam, Maulana Zafar Ali Khar and Mazhar-ul-Haq in opposition to the loyalist policies of the Aligarh movement.
• Moved by modern ideas of self-government its members advocated active participation in the nationalist movement.



• Baba Dayal Das (1783-1855) was the founder of this movement of purification and return.
• In 1840s he called for the return of Sikhism to its origin and emphasized the worship of one God and nirankar (formless).
• Such an approach meant a rejection of idolatry and also prohibition of eating meat, drinking liquor, lying, cheating, etc.
• It laid emphasis on Guru Nanak and on Sikhism before the establishment of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Sing at Anandpur and this separated them from the Namdaris.


• It was founded by Baba Ram Singh (1816-1885) in 1857, who in 1841 became a disciple of Balak Singh of the Kuka movement.
• The movement was founded on a set of rituals modeled after Guru Gobind Singh’s founding of the Khalsa with the requirement of wearing the five symbols but instead of the sword the followers were supposed to carry a stick.
• The movement required the followers to abandon the worship of gods, idols, tombs, trees, snakes, etc. and abstain from drinking, stealing, falsehood, slandering, backbiting, etc.
• Further the consumption of beef was strictly forbidden as protection of cattle was important.

Singh Sabha

• To strengthen Sikhism, a small group of prominent Sikhs led by Thakur Singh Sandhawalia and Giani Gian Singh founded the Singh Sabha of Amritsar on October 1, 1873.
• The objectives of the Sabha were to restore Sikhism to its pristine purity, to publish historical religious book and periodicals, to propagate knowledge, sing Punjabi, to return Sikh apostles to their faith and to involve Englishmen in educational programme of the Sikhs.
• Later the Singh Sabha Amritsar was emulated by a new organization, the Lahore Singh Sabha more democratic in nature.
• After a while, the Singh Sabhas were overwhelmed by other organisation such as Khalsa Diwani and in 1920, by a struggle for control over Sikh places of worship.

Gurudwara Reform Movements

• Before 1920 the Sikh Gurudwara were governed by the Udasi Sikh mahants, who treated the Gurudwara offerings and other income of the Gurudwaras as their personal income.
• The British government supported these mahants as a counterpoise to the rising tide of nationalism among the Sikhs.
• Matter came to such a pass that the priest of the golden temple issued a hukmnama (injunction) against Ghadarites, declaring them renegades, and then honored General Dyer, the butcher of Jalianwala massacre with a saropa.
• The Gurudwara Reform Movement launched an agitation for freeing the Gurudwaras from these corrupt mahants and for handing over the Gurudwaras to a representative body of Sikhs.
• Under the growing pressure of the nationalist and Gurudwara agitators, the Gurudwaras came under the control of an elected committee known as the Shiromani Gurudwara Prablandhalk Committee, in November 1920.
• The movement for liberation of Gurudwaras soon turned into Alkali movement, which later on got divided into three streams, namely moderate nationalist reformers, pro-government loyalists and political organ of Sikh communalism.


• The Parsi Religious Reform Association was founded at Bombay by Furdunji Naoroji and S.S. Bengalee in 1851 with funds provided by K.N. Kama.
• Furdunji Naoroji became its President and S.S. Bengali its secretary.
• Naroji Furdunji edited in 1840s the Fam-i-Famshid, a journal aimed at defending the cause of Zoroastrianism.
• He also wrote a number of pamphlets and published the book Tarika Farthest in 1850.
• All these events led to the formation of a socio-religious movement designed to codify the Zoroastrian religion and reshape Parsi social life.
• In 1851 a small group of educated Parsis formed the Rahnumai Mazdayasnan Sabha (Parsi Reform Society)
• In 1850 Bengali started publishing a monthly journal Jagat Mitra and the Jagat Premi in 1851.
• The sabha’s journal Rast Goftar was the main voice of the movement.
• The leaders criticized elaborate ceremonies at betrothals, marriages and funerals and opposed infant marriage and the use of astrology.
• But the activities of the sabha divided the Parsis into two groups: those who advocated radical change and those who wished only limited altercations in rituals and customs, organized under the Raherastnumi Mazdayasnan in opposition to the radicals.


• Periyar E.V. Ramaswamy, a great social reformer took an active part in the anti-liquor movement and Vaikam Satyagraha in 1924.
• He was the leader of the self-respect movement. It was a popular movement, which occurred in Tamil Nadu in 1925.It had two aims:
• Demanding the sanction of more concessions and privileges (which would cause discrimination against the Brahmins) to surpass Brahmins in education and social status.
• Achieving ‘Swayam Maryada’ or self-respect.
• This movement formed a part of the many social reforms occurred during that period.
• Its main approach was to improve upon the socio-economic conditions of the low castes Tamils. Later it had profound implications.
• The main objectives of this movement were inculcation and dissemination of knowledge of political education; Right to lead life with dignity and self-respect and do away with the exploitative system based on superstitions and beliefs.
• Abolition of the evil social practices and protection of women rights. Establishment and maintenance of homes for orphans and widow and opening of educational institutions for them.
• This movement gained popularity in no time and became a political platform.
• He attacked the laws of Manu, which he called the basis of the entire Hindu social fabric of caste.
• He founded the Tamil journals Kudiarasu, Puratchi and Viduthalai to propagate his ideals.
• In 1938 the Tamil Nadu Women’s Conference appreciated the noble service rendered by E.V.R. and he was given the title “Periyar”.
• On 27th June 1970 by the UNESCO organisation praised and adorned with the title “Socrates of South Asia”


• These reformist played a prominent role in the social life of the 19th century.
• One may mention such names as Pandita Ramabai in western part, Sister Subbalaksmi in Madras and Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain in Bengal.
• Reform movements helped the growth of a modern middle class which was conscious of its rights.
• Some Indian reformers also protested British attempts to pass those laws which they thought interfered with their religion and society.
• This was evident in the case of the Age of Consummation of marriage by raising the age of consent from 10 to 12.
• Some of these reform movements, by raising issues which were in conflict with interests of other communities or were revivalist in nature, also worked towards polarization along communal lines.


• The Permanent Settlement made the zamindar the owner of the land, but this land could be sold off if he failed to pay the revenue on time and this forced the zamindars and the landlords to extract money from the peasants even if their crops failed.
• The peasants often borrowed money from the moneylenders, who were also called mahajans.
• The impoverished peasants could never pay back this borrowed money. This led to many hardships like extreme poverty and were forced to work as bonded labourers. Hence the lower and exploited classes often attacked their exploiters.
• Failure to pay by the zamindars also meant that the land would be taken away by the Britishers. The British then auctioned the land to the highest bidder, who often came from the urban areas.
• The new zamindars from the urban areas had little or no interest in the land. They did not invest money in seeds or fertilizers to improve the fertility of the land but only cared to collect as much revenue as they could. This proved destructive for the peasants who remained backward and stagnant.
• To get out of this situation, the peasants started producing commercial crops like indigo, sugarcane, jute, cotton, opium and so on. This was the beginning of commercialisation of agriculture.
• The peasants depended on merchants, traders and middlemen to sell their produce during harvest time. As they shifted to commercial crops, food grain production went down. Less food stocks led to famines. All these forced the peasantry to revolt.
• Peasant movements varied in nature:

– Prior to the commencement of mass movements of the freedom struggle, these peasant movements were localized based on religion, caste and social consciousness.
– Later on, some secular trends were observed in these movements which became national level mass movements resulting in formation of platforms such as Kishan Sabha, Congress Socialist Party, etc.

Some of the important peasant revolts are discussed below:

a) The Mappila Uprisings (1836-1854)

• The Mappilas were the Muslim cultivating tenants, landless labourers and fishermen of Malabar region.
• British occupation of Malabar region and their new land laws along with the atrocities of the landlords (mainly Hindus) led the Mappilas to revolt against them in 1836.

b) Farazi Movement (1838-1848)

• This was the first ever no-tax campaign against the British Government led by Shariatullah Khan and Dadu Mian.
• Their band of volunteers fought heroically with the armed group of Indigo planters and zamindars.
• It brought together all the cultivators of Bengal against the tyranny and illegal extractions by the landlords.

c) Wahabi Movement (1830’s-1860’s)

• The leader of the movement was Syed Ahmed Barelvi of Rae Bareilly who was greatly influenced by the teachings of Abdul Wahab of Arabia and Shah Waliullah, a Delhi saint.
• The movement was primarily religious in its origin.
• It soon assumed the character of a class struggle in some places, especially in Bengal. Irrespective of communal distinctions, peasants united against their landlords.

d) Indigo Revolt (1859-1860)

• The peasants were forced to grow indigo in their lands by the European factory owners which exploded into a revolt in Govindpur village of Nandia district in Bengal under the leadership of Digamber Biswas and Vishnu Biswas.
• Others who played an important role included Harish Chandra Mukherjee (editor of the newspaper Hindu Patriot), Dinbandhu Mitra and Michael Madhusudan Dutta.
• As a result the government appointed an Indigo Commission in 1860 and removed some of the abuses of the indigo cultivation.

e) The Faqir and Sanyasi Rebellions (1770-1820s)

• The establishment of British control over Bengal after 1757 led to increase in land revenue and the exploitation of the peasants.
• The Bengal famine of 1770 led peasants whose lands were confiscated, displaced zamindars, disbanded soldiers and poor to come together in a rebellion. They were joined by the Sanyasis and Fakirs.
• The Faqirs were a group of wandering Muslim religious mendicants in Bengal.
• Two famous Hindu leaders who supported them were Bhawani Pathak and a woman, Devi Choudhurani. They attacked English factories and seized their goods, cash, arms and ammunition.
• Maznoom Shah was one of their prominent leaders. They were finally brought under control by the British at the beginning of the 19th century.
• The Sanyasi Uprisings took place in Bengal between the periods of 1770-1820s.
• The Sanyasis rose in rebellion after the great famine of 1770 in Bengal which caused acute chaos and misery.
• However, the immediate cause of the rebellion was the restrictions imposed by the British upon pilgrims visiting holy places among both Hindus and Muslims.

f) Pabna Agrarian Unrest

• Peasants unrest broke out due to the efforts of the zamindars to enhance rent beyond legal limits & prevent the tenants from acquiring occupancy right under Act X of 1859.
• As a result in May 1873, an agrarian league was formed at Yusuf Shahi Pargana in Pabna district of East Bengal to resist the zamindari oppression.
• Like the Indigo Revolt, the Pabna Movement was non-communal despite the fact that majority of the zamindars were Hindus and the peasants from Muslim background.
• However, many newspapers of the region, like Hindu Patriot and Anand Bazar, being pro-landlord, opposed the peasant’s limited demands and even tried to portray it as a communal struggle of Muslim tenants against Hindu zamindars.
• This movement led by Ishan Chandra Roy, Shambhu Pal and Khoodi Mollah lasted till 1885, when the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 was passed.

g) Deccan Riots

• A major agrarian revolt occurred in Pune and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra in 1875 due to the difficulty which the peasants faced in paying land revenue in the Ryotwari System.
• Peasants were forced to look towards the money-lenders, mostly Marwaris and Guajratis for the payment of revenue.
• The money-lenders began to tighten the grip on the peasants and their lands.
• In December 1874 peasants organised a social boycott to money-lenders & other outsiders.
• The boycott soon transformed into agrarian riots and the peasants started attacking the houses and shops of these money-lenders which soon spread to other areas of the region.
• Though this revolt had localized character and limited objectives with no anti-colonial features, it got supports of the intelligentsia of Maharashtra.
• The Poona Sarvajanik Sabha led by Justice Ranade rallied with the peasants’ cause.
• With the passing of the Deccan Agriculturist Relief Act of 1879, the movement came to an end.

h) Uprising of Vasudev Balwant Phadke

• Vasudev Balwant Phadke, an educated clerk, raised a Ramosis peasants force during 1879, and organized social banditry on a large scale.
• He was deeply stirred by the devastation caused in western India by the famine of 1876-77.
• He was arrested in 1880 and died three years later (1883) in prison.

i) Champaran Satyagraha

• This satyagraha formed the base of the transition of peasant movement from a localized one to mass movement.
• The cultivation of indigo on tinkathia system was in existence in Champaran earlier.
• In the 20th century, with the declining market of indigo in the face of synthetic dyes, the planters were now willing to release the farmers from their irksome crop, but only by recurring increase in revenue and other dues.
• In 1917, Gandhiji offered civil disobedience in Champaran on the persuasion of Raj Kumar Shukla.
• The Government ordered an enquiry involving men like Rajendra Prasad and J. B. Kriplani and recording statements of peasants.
• Ultimately, the first experiment of Mahatma Gandhi in India succeeded with the abolition of the tinkathia system.

j) Kheda Satyagraha

• Again led by Gandhiji, this Satyagraha was directed against the distress of the Kunbi Patidars peasants of Kheda in Gujarat.
• It was well-supported by leaders like Indu Lal Yagnik and Vallabbhai Patel.
• Gandhiji urged the peasantry to withhold the revenue.
• At the end, Gandhiji withdrew the movement in 1918, with the government passing orders that revenue should be recovered only from those peasants who could pay.

k) Kisan and Eka Movements (Awadh)

• The grievances of the peasantry and the outbreak of the First World War instigated the problems and misery of the peasants to a new height.
• During this period, sharp increase in the price of food grains, benefiting middlemen and money-lenders and the government’s encouragement to talukdari and zamindari increased the peasants’ problem in Uttar Pradesh.
• The members of Home Rule League, Gauri Shankar Mishra and Indra Narayan Dwivedi, with the support of Madan Mohan Malviya, started organising the peasants of Uttar Pradesh into Kishan Sabhas in 1918.
• The U.P. Kisan Sabha demonstrated considerable activity, and by June 1919 had established at least 450 branches in 173 tehsils of the province.
• Towards the end of 1919, first signs of grass-root level were evident in the reports of a Nai-Dhobi band (a form of social boycott) on an estate in Pratapgarh district.
• These movements started moving towards a religious character when a Maharashtrian Brahman, Baba Ramchandra initiated the process of organising peasants against the zamindars. He wandered around as a Sadhu, quoting verses from the Ramcharitmanas to awaken the peasantry to a sense of dignity.
• In June 1920, Ramchandra persuaded Gauri Shankar Mishra and Jawahar Lal Nehru to visit the village and to see the living condition of the tenants. Thus, the peasant movement got associated with the national movement.
• But, differences in the group led to the formation of Awadh Kisan Sabha at Pratapgarh in October 1920.
• A marked feature of the Kisan Sabha movement was the participation of both high as well as low caste peasants.
• The pattern of activity involved the looting of bazaars, houses, granaries and clashes with the police. These activities were not carried out by recognized Kisan Sabha activitsts, but by local figures, Sadhus, holy men and disinherited ex-proprietors.
• The government tried to uproot the movement with the Seditious Meetings Act and Awadh Rent (Amendment) Act.
• But, the discontent surfaced again in the districts of Hardoi, Bahraich and Sitapur under the new banner i.e., Eka movement. It was purely religious in nature and soon developed its own grass-root leadership in the form of Madari Pasi and other low-caste leaders who were not particularly inclined to accept the discipline of non-violence of the Congress.
• The Eka movement also included many small zamindars, discontent with the British agrarian policy. By March 1922, however, severe repression in the part of the authorities succeeded in bringing the Eka movement to its end.

l) Bardoli Satyagraha

• It was one of the important satyagrahas fully based on the Gandhian method of struggle.
• It started in 1928 at Bardoli in Surat district, it incorporated both the land owning peasants as well as the low caste untouchables and tribes like Kali-praja (dark people).
• These tribes were given the name of Ranipraja (inhabitants of the forest).
• When the Bombay government announced an enhanced revenue by 22% in spite of the fall in the prices of cotton, the followers of Gandhiji, like the Mehta brothers persuaded Vallabbhai Patel to organize a sustained no-revenue campaign.
• Skillful use of caste associations, social boycott, religious appeals and bhajans made Bardoli Satyagraha a national issue which forced the government to reach a settlement on the basis of a judicial enquiry and return of the confiscated lands.


• The tribal groups were an important and integral part of Indian life.
• Before their annexation and subsequent incorporation in the British territories, they had their own social and economic systems. These systems were traditional in nature and satisfied the needs of the tribals.
• They also enjoyed independence regarding the management of their affairs. The land and forests were their main source of livelihood. The forests provided them with basic items which they required for survival.
• The tribal communities remained isolated from the non-tribals.
• The British policies proved harmful to the tribal society. This destroyed their relatively self-sufficient economy and communities.
• The tribal groups of different regions revolted against the Britishers.
• These movements were basically directed to preserve the tribal identity which was thought to be in danger due to intrusion of external people affecting the social, political and geo-economical position of the tribes.
• These movements were mostly violent, isolated and frequent.

Factors Responsible for Tribal Movements

• Resentment of the tribes against the extension of the British rule to their areas.
• The introduction of general administration & laws in their areas which were considered by them as intrusions into the traditional political system of the tribal community.
• Reaction against the penetration of tribal areas by peoples from plains in form of money lenders, traders, contractors etc.
• Protection given to the outsiders in tribal areas by British government.
• The tightening of British control over their forest zones, creation of reserved forests and attempts to monopolize forest- wealth through curbs on the use of timber and grazing facilities.
• The activities of Christian missionaries in their areas were looked upon by them as anti-religious and hence resented.
• British attempts to suppress certain tribal traditions and practices like infanticide, human sacrifices etc hurted the tribal social beliefs.
• The British colonialism devoid the tribal people of their traditional economic set up and hence they were forced to serve as menial labourers, coolies in plantation, mines and factories.
• However, not all outsiders were targeted as enemies. The non-tribal poor and service castes were spared and sometimes seen as allies.
• The movements began normally when the tribes felt oppressed and had no alternatives but fight. This led to clashes with the outsiders and colonial authorities.
• The tribes organised themselves for an armed resistance.
• Generally there was one or other religious leaders-Messiahas whom the tribes looked as divine power who could end up their sufferings & hence followed them.

Some of the important movements are discussed below:

a) Bhil Uprising

• The Bhils were largely concentrated in Khandesh (present day Maharashtra & Gujarat). Khandesh came under British occupation in 1818.
• The Bhils considered them as outsiders. On the instigation of Trimbakji, rebel minister of Baji Rao II they revolted against the Britishers.
• Their struggle lasted for thirty years which was finally suppressed after large scale military operations combined with conciliatory measures.

b) The Kol Uprising

• The Kols of Singhbhum in the Chhotanagpur area enjoyed autonomy under their chiefs but the entry of the British threatened their independence.
• Later the transfer of tribal lands and the coming of moneylenders, merchants and British laws created a lot of tension. This prompted the Kol tribe to organise themselves and rebel(1831-1832).
• The impact was such that the British had to rush troops from far off places to suppress it.

c) The Santhal Rebellion

• The area of concentration of the Santhals was called Daman-i-Koh or Santhal Pargana.
• It extended from Bhagalpur in Bihar in the north to Orissa in the south stretching from Hazaribagh to the borders of Bengal.
• They cultivated their land and lived a peaceful life which continued till the British officials brought with them traders, moneylenders, zamindars and merchants.
• They were made to buy goods on credit and forced to pay back with a heavy interest during harvest time. As a result, they were sometimes forced to give the mahajan not only their crops, but also plough, bullocks and finally the land.
• Very soon they became bonded labourers and could serve only their creditors.
• The peaceful tribal communities revolted (1855-57) under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanu were Santhal rebel leaders.
• The British government started a major military campaign to suppress the rebellion.
• Sidhu was killed in August 1855 and Kanhu was arrested in 1856.
• It was one of the most deadly suppressed rebellions of Indian history.
• A separate Santal Pargana district was created cutting from the parts of Birbhum (Jamtara and Deoghar) and Bhagalpur districts.

d) Jaintia and Garo Rebellion Rebellion

• After the First Anglo-Burmese War, the British planned the construction of a road connecting Brahmaputra Valley (present day Assam) with Sylhet (present day Bangladesh).
• The Jaintias and the Garos in the North-Eastern part of India (present day Meghalaya) opposed the construction of this road which was of strategic importance to the British for the movement of troops.
• The Jaintias tried to stop work and soon the unrest spread to the neighbouring Garo hills. Alarmed, the British burnt several Jaintias and Garo villages.
• The Jaintias leader U Kiang Nongbah was captured and publicly hanged and the Garo leader Pa Togan Sangma was defeated by the British.

e) Rampa Rebellion

• The hill tribes, Koya and Khonda Dora of Rampa region of Chodavaram revolted in March 1879 against the depredation of the government supported zamindars and the new restrictive forest regulations.
• It was led by Tomma Sora who was later shot dead by the Police.
• The authorities launched military campaigns against the rebellious people and several other ways were used for suppression of the movement.

f) Munda Rebellion

• The Mundas traditionally enjoyed certain rights as the original clearer of the forest which was not given to the other tribes. But this land system was getting destroyed in the hands of the merchants and moneylenders long before the coming of the British.
• When the British actually came into these areas they helped to destroy this system with a rapid pace when they introduced contractors and traders. These contractors needed people to work with them as indentured laborers.
• This dislocation of the Mundas at the hands of the British and their contractors gave birth to the Munda Rebellion.
• The most prominent leader of this rebellion was Birsa Munda who encouraged his tribe people to keep the tradition of worshipping of the sacred groves alive. This move was very important to prevent the Britishers from taking over their wastelands.
• He attacked Police Stations, Churches and missionaries.
• The rebels were defeated and Munda died in prison soon after in 1900. But his sacrifice did not go in vain. The Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 provided some land ownership rights to the people and banned bonded labour of the tribal.

g) Khonda Dora Uprisings

• It was also against the colonial exploitation which was led by a religious leader Korra Mallaya who claimed to be an Avatar of the Pandavas.
• Large scale police suppression ended the revolt.

h) Bastar Rebellion

• Tribal resentment against the imposition of forest laws and feudal system led to the rise of the revolt of the tribes of Jagdalpur region in modern Chhattisgarh.
• The rebels disrupted communication system, attacked symbols of colonial power and tried to seize Jagdalpur town.
• The British military operation in 1910 suppressed the rebellion.

i) Tana Bhagat Movement

• In the second decade of the 20th century, Tana Bhagat movement started initially in a religious form but later transformed into a political one under the impact of the Indian National Congress.
• This movement was centred on the Oran tribes of Chhotangapur in Jharkhand.
• The resistance of the local grievances and problems was amalgamated with the National movement.
• There were a number of these Bhagat movements like that of Jatra Bhagat, Balram Bhagat, Gau Rakshini Bhagats, and even woman Bhagat named Devamenia.
• These movements were local in character inside and national outside.
• Internally it was called as movements for Kurukh dharma or the real religion which emphasized on celibacy and pure living, devoid of meat, liquor etc.
• Externally, it was under the impact of the Congress, holding demonstration, Satyagrahas, Dharanas etc.
• Like other tribal movements, the British government acted harshly on these rebels. They were imprisoned and their properties were seized.

j) Forest Satyagraha

• Just like the Tana Bhagat movements, these forest satyagrahas were widespread acquiring political character under the influence of the Congress and national movements.
• During the Non-cooperation movement, the Chenchu tribals of Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh started a strong forest satyagraha.
• Though these movements were inspired by the Congress, it often surpassed the limit of Gandhian process of satyagraha.
• Like other movements of the phase, stress was laid on righteous and virtuous living in conformation with the Gandhian method


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