India Struggle for Independence(1857-1947) Notes

Revision Notes or Short Notes



Effects of Colonial Exploitation on Indian Peasants

Economic Policies:

  • Land revenue system burdened peasants.
  • Ruin of handicrafts led to overcrowding on land.

Zamindari System:

  • Zamindars charged high rents and illegal dues.
  • Peasants forced to borrow from moneylenders.

Ryotwari System:

  • High government land revenue forced borrowing.


  • Peasants lost land to landlords, moneylenders, rich peasants.
  • Reduced to tenants, sharecroppers, or landless laborers.


  • Peasants resisted exploitation (against zamindars or colonial administration).

Forms of Protest:

  • Individual or small group crime (robbery, dacoity).
  • “Social banditry” – stealing from rich to survive.



The Indigo Revolt (1859-1860)


  • European planters forced peasants to grow indigo under oppressive system.
  • Peasants received low prices, had to accept advances they couldn’t repay, and faced violence from planters’ men (lathyals).
  • Magistrates often sided with planters.


  • Misinterpreted official letter led to belief that peasants could choose crops.

Peasant Actions:

  • Petitions and demonstrations (September 1859).
  • Refusal to grow indigo, defend villages with weapons (spears, slings, etc.).
  • Rent strikes against planters who were also zamindars.
  • Legal action against planters.
  • Social boycott of planters’ servants.

Success Factors:

  • Strong initiative, cooperation, organization, and discipline of peasants.
  • Unity between Hindu and Muslim peasants.
  • Leadership from well-off peasants, petty zamindars, moneylenders, ex-planter employees.

Support from Bengali Intelligentsia:

  • Newspaper campaigns (Harish Chandra Mukherji of Hindoo Patriot).
  • Mass meetings, memoranda on grievances, legal support.
  • Din Bandhu Mitra’s play “Neel Darpan” exposed planter oppression.
  • This support established a tradition for future nationalist movements.

Missionaries’ Support:

  • Extended active support to indigo ryots.

Government Response:

  • Restrained due to recent uprisings and public pressure.
  • Appointed Indigo Commission to investigate.
  • Commission exposed coercion and corruption in the system.
  • Government issued notification (November 1860) protecting peasants’ rights.


  • Planters closed factories due to resistance and inability to operate without force/fraud.
  • Worst abuses of the system mitigated.
  • Indigo cultivation almost wiped out in Bengal by 1860.


Agrarian Unrest in East Bengal (1870s-Early 1880s)


  • Zamindars trying to:
    • Increase rent beyond legal limits.
    • Prevent occupancy rights under Act X of 1859.
  • Illegal methods used by zamindars:
    • Forced eviction.
    • Seizure of crops and cattle.
    • Costly litigation.

Peasant Resistance:

  • May 1873: Agrarian league formed in Pabna district.
  • Tactics:
    • Mass meetings.
    • Rent strike.
    • Legal challenges.
    • Raising funds for legal battles.
  • Movement spread throughout East Bengal.
  • Focus on legal resistance, minimal violence.
  • Developed legal awareness and ability to form associations.


  • Partial settlements:
    • Official pressure.
    • Zamindar fear of litigation.
  • Many peasants acquired occupancy rights and resisted rent increases.
  • Government:
    • Defended zamindars during violence.
    • Neutral in legal battles and peaceful protests.
    • Passed Bengal Tenancy Act (1885) – partially addressed issues.

Reasons for Movement’s Acceptance:

  • Limited goals:
    • Address immediate grievances.
    • Enforce existing legal rights.
  • Not aimed at ending zamindari system.
  • No anti-colonial stance:
    • Operated within legal bounds.
    • Sought status as “ryots of the Queen.”

Solidarity and Support:

  • Hindu-Muslim solidarity among peasants.
  • Support from Indian intellectuals (Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt).
  • Later support from Indian Association (Surendranath Banerjee, Anand Mohan Bose, Dwarkanath Ganguli):
    • Campaigned for tenant rights.
    • Helped form ryot unions.
    • Organized mass meetings.
  • Nationalist newspapers advocated for stronger protections than Tenancy Bill.


Deccan Riots (1875): A Peasant Uprising in Maharashtra


  • Ryotwari System:Land revenue directly settled with peasants (ryots) who owned the land.
  • Debt and Moneylenders:Peasants struggled to pay revenue, relied on moneylenders who charged high interest and seized land.

Key Events:

  • 1860s:American Civil War boomed cotton exports and prices.
  • 1864:Civil War ended, cotton prices crashed, hurting peasants.
  • 1867:Government raised land revenue by 50%, worsening situation.
  • Bad Harvests:Further strained peasants’ ability to pay revenue.

Trigger Point (December 1874):

  • Peasants in Kardab village failed to convince moneylender Kalooram to halt eviction.

Peasant Actions:

  • Social Boycott:Villagers refused to interact with moneylenders (shops, services, labor).
  • Target:“Outsider” moneylenders (Marwaris, Gujaratis).
  • Spread:Boycott grew across Poona, Ahmednagar, Sholapur, Satara districts.

Escalation to Violence (May 12, 1875):

  • Peasants in Supa village attacked moneylenders’ houses and shops.
  • Burned debt bonds, deeds, and other debt-related documents.
  • Violence minimal, focused on destroying symbols of debt.

Government Response:

  • Suppressed the movement within a few weeks.
  • Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act (1879): Offered limited protection against moneylenders.

Support for Peasants:

  • Poona Sarvajanik Sabha (led by Justice Ranade) supported peasant resistance against 1867 revenue increase.
  • Nationalist newspapers advocated for the D.A.R. Bill.

Peasant Resistance Elsewhere:

  • Mappila outbreaks in Malabar.
  • Vasudev Balwant Phadke’s social banditry in Maharashtra (1879).
  • Kuka Revolt in Punjab (1872).
  • Peasant riots in Assam (1893-94) due to high land revenue.


Peasant Movements after 1857

Shift in Nature:

  • Princes, chiefs, and landlords no longer the main force.
  • Peasants fight directly for economic issues.
  • Targets: foreign planters, zamindars, moneylenders.
  • Limited goals, specific grievances, not anti-colonial.
  • Localized movements, lacked continuity or long-term organization.

Nature of Protests:

  • Spontaneous reactions to excessive oppression, deprivation, exploitation.
  • Fought to maintain existing position, not for land ownership.
  • Objected to eviction, rent increase, moneylender abuse, unfair taxation.
  • Utilized legal system and extra-legal means when necessary.
  • Believed actions were sanctioned by legal authority (“sarkar”).

Peasant Strengths:

  • Courage, sacrifice, organizational skills, cross-religious/caste solidarity.
  • Secured concessions from the colonial state.

Colonial Response:

  • Willing to compromise within colonial economic/political structure.
  • Treatment differed from response to civil rebellions/tribal uprisings.

Weaknesses of Movements:

  • Limited understanding of colonialism, social framework.
  • Lack of new ideology, social/economic/political program.
  • Struggles within framework of old societal order.
  • No vision of alternative society or all-India leadership.


  • Colonial state offered concessions or used force to suppress movements.
  • 20th century saw peasant movements merge with anti-imperialist movement.
  • Peasant participation strengthened national movement and enabled class-based struggles.


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