Discuss the nature of popular movements before 1857.

Discuss the nature of popular movements before 1857.

The century after 1757 witnessed a number of popular mobilizations, revolts and mutinies against foreign rule and its attendant evils. The pinch of the loss of independence, foreign intrusion into local autonomy, introduction of administrative innovations, and excessive land revenue demands dislocation of economy was felt in different regions of India at different points of time and as such caused disturbances mostly of a local nature. In pre-colonial India popular protest against the Mughal rulers and their officials was not uncommon.

The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed many peasant uprisings against the ruling class. Imposition of a high land revenue demand by the state, corrupt practices and harsh attitude of the tax collecting officials were some of the many reasons which provoked the peasants to rise in revolt. The establishment of colonial rule in India and the various policies of the colonial government had a much more devastating effect on the Indian peasants and tribes.


The overall impact of changes on the peasant and tribal society was very destructive. The appropriation of peasant’s surplus by the company and its agents, the increasing burden of taxes made the peasants completely dependent on the mercy of the revenue intermediaries and officials, the merchants and the money-lenders.

The destruction of indigenous industry led to migration of large scale workers from industry to agriculture. The pressure on land increased, but the land revenue and agricultural policy of the government allowed little scope for the improvement of Indian agriculture.

While the British economic policy led to pauperization and impoverishment of the Indian peasantry, the British administration turned a deaf ear to the peasant’s grievances. British law and judiciary did not aid the peasantry, it safeguarded the interest of the government and its collaboration-the landlords, merchants and the money-lenders. Thus, being the prey of colonial exploitation and being deprived of justice from the colonial administration the peasant took up arms to protect themselves.

The grievances of the tribal people not different from those of the peasants. But what made them more aggrieve was the encroachment by outsiders into their independent tribal polity. Peasant and tribal movements have been interpreted differently by different schools of historians. The historians with sympathies towards the British and the established order often regarded these uprisings as a problem of law and order.

The range of problems faced by these tribals and peasants from the pre-colonial to the colonial times were often overlooked as possible cause for these uprisings. The rebels were often portrayed as primitive savages resisting “civilisation”

The Nationalists tended to appropriate the peasant the tribal history to the purposes of the anti-colonial struggle ignoring certain other facets of the oppressed people’s struggle. Those more sympathetic to the cause of the tribals and peasants however tended to negate very often the logic of peasant and tribal protest in terms of the people’s own experience. It is also necessary’ to understand the domain of peasant and tribal action in its own terms. This effort has scarcely begun yet.

i. Leadership:

In the movements leadership i.e., who led these movements becomes important. Movements in this phase of our history tended to throw up leaders who rose and fell with the movement.

The context in which these movements arose gave very little scope for a leadership to make an entry from outside the immediate context of the rebellion. This is quite in contrast to the times of the national movement where leaders from various sections of upper strata consciously, on certain ideological premises, made an intervention into the peasant and tribal movements.

ii. Participation and Mobilisation:

Some features of the peasant and tribal protest movements demonstrate a certain level of political and social consciousness. For example, it has been pointed out that the rebels against Debi Sinha in 1783 attacked Kacharis in a definite recognition of where the political source of the peasant’s oppression lay.

Similarly the Kols in 1832 did not attack the tribal population in a clear recognition of who their allies were. In course of the development of a movement it sometimes broadened its ambit to include issues beyond the immediate grievances which started off a protest movement.

For example the Moplah rebellions in the 19th century Malabar started as struggles against the landlord, but ended up as protest against British rule itself. Protest of the oppressed also often involved redefinition of the relationship of the oppressed to the language, culture and religion of the dominant classes.

This may take the form of denial of the convention of respect and submission in speech or the destruction of places of worship or symbols of domination or oppression. Thus, protests took myriad forms in many spheres, from everyday life to organised insurgency.





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