Workers, Peasant and Tribal Movements in Madhya Pradesh


Workers, Peasant and Tribal Movements in Madhya Pradesh

Tribal Movement

  • The tribals of India, like other social groups, participated in the anti-colonial movement.
  • The tribal anti-colonial movements were of two types –
  1. The movements against their oppressors i.e. landlords, money-lenders, traders, thekedars (contractors), government officials and Christian missionaries and
  2. The movements which were linked to and merged with the Indian , National movement.
  • The first type of movements can be called as anti-colonial because these movements were directed against those classes which were the creation of British colonialism and who collaborated with the tribals.
  • These classes were considered outsiders by the tribals.
  • According to an estimate there were more than 70 tribal revolts over a period of 70 years (1778 to 1948). These revolts were anti-colonial in varying degrees.
  • The tribals responded to their exploitation and oppression in the form of revolts and movements.
  • They identified their enemies in the outsiders (dikus) – landlords, money-lenders, thekedars and missionaries and European government officials.
  • They launched movements against their oppressors in their respective regions.
  • Their agitations against the outsiders called anti-colonial.
  • They revolted against them because of their exploitation in the form of encroachment on their land, eviction from their land, annulment of their traditional legal and social rights and customs, against enhancement of rent, and for transfer of land to the tiller, abolition of feudal and semi-feudal form of land ownership.
  • On the whole, these movements had social and religious implication but they were directed against the issues related to their existence.
  • These ‘movements were launched under the leadership of their respective chiefs. Although the movements initially began on social and religious issues and against the oppression of outsiders, in course of time, they merged with the National movement and with the no-tax campaign.
  • The tribals fought against their enemies with their conventional weapons i.e. bows, arrows, lathis and axes.
  • Their movement often took a violent turn resulting in the murder of oppressors and the burning of their houses.
  • Most of the movements were ruthlessly suppressed by the government.
  • The tribals had to comply with British policies: which were detrimental to their interests.
  • The government introduced protective administration in tribal areas.
  • The government thought that the normal laws could not be applied in the tribal areas.
  • The government passed Scheduled District Act (1874) and categorised the tribal areas as excluded area in the Govt. of India Act of 1935.
  • Tribal movements are further subdivided into two categories along two main divisions of tribes based on the geographical region occupied.
  1. Non- Frontier Tribe: constitute 89 percent of the total tribal population. The nonfrontier tribes were mainly confined to central India, West-Central India and Andhra. Among the tribes that participated in the movements were Khonds, Savara, Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Koya, Kol, Gond and Bhil. The uprising of these tribes were quite volatile and constitute some of major uprising.
  2. Frontier Tribes: of the seven North-eastern frontier states of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura

Cause of Tribal Movement

  • Imposition of Land revenue Settlement: Expansion of agriculture by the non- tribals to tribal area or over forest cover let to the erosion of tribal traditions of joint ownership and increased the socio-economic differentiation in the egalitarian structure of the tribal society.
  • Work of Christian Missionaries brought about additional changes in the socio economic and cultural equation of the tribals and the mainstream society plus in turbulent times, the tendency of the missionaries to refuse to take up arms or in discouraging people from rising against the government made the missionaries to be viewed as extension of colonialism and were often attacked by the rebels.
  • Increasing demand for good from early nineteenth century– first for the royal navy and then railways, led to increasing control of government over forest land. The establishment of the Forest department in 1864, Government Forest Act(1865)and Indian Forest Act in 1878 together established complete government monopoly over Indian forest land. Shifting Agriculture, a wide spread practice amongst the various tribal communities was banned from 1864 onwards on the reserved forest. Restrictions were imposed on the previously sanctioned timber and grazing facilities.
  • Extension of settled agriculture led to influx of non tribals in the tribal areas. These outsiders exploited them and extension of settled agriculture led to the loss of land by the tribals which reduced them to agricultural labourers.
  • Some of the tribal uprising took place in reaction to the effect of the landlords to impose taxes on the customary use of timber and grazing facilities, police exaction, new excise regulations, exploitation by low country traders and money lenders, and restrictions on shifting cultivation in forest.
  • The rebellions by the non-frontier tribals were usually reactions against outsiders (dikus), local landlords and rulers, the support provided to the later by the British administration and intervention by them in the life of the tribals. The indigenous names for these tribal movements were Meli, Hool and Ul-Gulan.
  • Introduction of the notion of private property- Land could be bought, sold, mortgaged which led to loss of land by the tribals.

Various Tribal movements in Madhya Pradesh

Khond Uprising:

  • The Khonds lived in vast hill tracts stretching from Tamil-nadu to Bengal, covering central provinces, and in virtual independence due to the inaccessible mountainous terrain.
  • Their uprisings from 1837 to 1856 were. directed against the British, in which the tribals of Ghumsar, china-ki-medi, kalahandi and Patna actively participated. The movement was led by Chakra Bisoi in the name of the young Raja
  • The main issue was the attempt by the government to suppress human sacrifice (Mariah), introduction of new taxes by the British and the influx of Zamindars and sahookars (money-lenders) into their areas which was causing the tribals untold misery.
  • The British formed a Maria agency, against which the Khonds fought with Tangi, a king of battle axe, bows-arrows and even swords. Latter Savaras and some local militia clans also joined in, led by Radha Krishna Dand Sena. Chakra Bisoi disappeared in 1855 after which the movement petered out.

Bhils and Kolis Uprisings:

  • The Bhils were concentrated in the hill ranges of Khandesh in the previous Maratha territory.
  • British occupation of this region in 1818 brought in, the outsiders and accompanying dislocations in their community life.
  • A general Bhil insurrection in 1817-19 was crushed by the British Military forces and though some conciliatory measures were taken to pacify them, they again revolted under the leadership of Seva Ram in 1825 and the situation remained unsettled until 1831 when the Ramosi Leader Umaji Raje of Purandhar was finally captured and executed.
  • Minor revolts again took place in 1836 and 1846 as well.
  • The Bhils’ local rivals for power, the Kolis of Ahmednagar district, also challenged the British in 1829, but were quickly subdued by a large army contingent.
  • The seeds of rebellion however persisted, to erupt again in 1844-46, when a local Koli leader successfully defied the British government for two years.

The Naikda in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat

  • They were relatively small in number, also launched movements against the British officers and caste-Hindus with religious fervor.

Land Grab Movement

  • The tribes in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra joined the land grab movement of 1969-70.


Peasant movements

  • When the elites of the Indian society were busy in initiating and social reforms to change their society from within to answer the moralistic critiques of the West, the rural society was responding to the imposition of colonial rule in an entirely different way.
  • In contrast to the urban intelligentsia, who were also the chief beneficiaries of colonial rule, the response of the traditional elite and the peasantry, who were losing out as a result of colonial impositions, were that of resistance and defiance, resulting in a series of unsuccessful attempts at restoring the old order.
  • Not that peasant revolts were unknown in Mughal India; indeed, they became endemic in the first half of the eighteenth century as the rising revenue demands breached the Mughal compromise and affected the subsistence provision of the peasants, and the Mughal provincial bureaucracy became ever more oppressive and rigorous in collecting it.
  • The tendency became even more pervasive as the colonial regime established itself, enhanced its power and introduced a series of revenue experiments, the sole purpose of which was to maximize its revenue income.
  • Ruin of handicraft added to the situation. Thus it can be said that resistance to colonial rule was there as old as the rule itself.
  • Some of the peasant rebellions in pre-1857 India were participated exclusively by the tribal population whose political autonomy and control over local resources were threatened by the establishment of British Rule and the advent of its non-tribal agents. But as the time line of peasant movement mainly stretches from 1857 to 1957.
  • Thus it is evident that the colonial rule even, during the days of the east India Company witnessed numerous uprising and disturbances.
  • The nature of these disturbances varied from elitist grievances as manifested in the rebellions headed by deposed rulers to the popular grassroots or people’s movement, as exemplified by various tribal movements.
  • These varied grievances reached their climax in the revolt of 1857, which in spite of targeting certain groups of Indians remains the prominent uprising against the British before the beginning of the Indian Freedom movement.
  • there were five types of peasant revolts:
  1. Restorative rebellions to drive out the British and restore earlier rulers and social relations.
  2. Religious movements for the liberation of a region or an ethnic group under a new form of government.
  3. Social banditry.
  4. Terrorist vengeance with the idea of meting out collective justice.
  5. Mass insurrections for the redress of particular grievances.

Bhoodan Movement in Madhya Pradesh

  • The Bhoodan movement launched by Vinoba Bhave in the early 1950s, to counter the leftist movements, also focused the issue on the distribution of land.
  • It followed a peaceful non-violent path of acquiring land from those who had more, and distributing it among the poor cultivators and landless labourers).’ Some struggles led by non-party people’s organisations demanded ‘community’ rights over land, forest and water.
  • Their slogan in Madhya Pradesh was ‘Jal, jangal, zameen. Ye hon janata ke adheen (Land, water and forest, must be brought to the collective control of the people)


Worker Movement

Kisha Sabha

  • Peasant movements took place too at this time.
  • In the Civil Disobedience movement the peasants played an important part.
  • In many districts of the United Province, Bengal and Bihar peasants stopped paying rents.
  • The peasants of East Bengal, Oudh and Berar showed great tenacity.
  • In 1936 an “All India Kishan Sabha” was formed.Workers, Peasant and Tribal Movements in Madhya Pradesh
  • It was led by the Congress.
  • When Congress ministries were formed in 1937 in different provinces, the peasant movement became stronger owing to congress support.


Working movement in India and MP- A brief note

The first phase: 1850 till 1918

  • The actions of the working class in the earliest stage were irregular and unorganised in nature and hence were mostly ineffective.
  • It is only from the late 19th century in Madras, and from the second decade of the twentieth century in Bombay that grave attempts were made for the formation of associations that could lead organized form of protests.
  • Prior to that some philanthropists in the 1880s sought to improve working conditions by urging the British authorities in India to introduce legislations for improving its condition. S. S. Bengalee in Bombay, Sasipada Banerjee in Bengal and Narayan Lokhandya in Maharashtra was important among them.
  • Several movements took place even before the Congress took a serious note of the interests of the working class questions.
  • Though the Congress was formed in 1885, it critically thought of organising the working class only in the early 1920s.
  • The Working class in the country was organising struggles against capital much before the 1920s.
  • In the last decades of the 19th century, there occurred strikes at Bombay, Kurla, Surat, Wardha, Ahmedabad and in other places.
  • According to official sources there were two strikes per year in every factory.
  • The strikes however were only irregular, spontaneous, localised and short-lived and were caused by factors such as decline in wages, imposition of fines, dismissal or reprimand of the worker.
  • These actions and militancy, which they showed, helped in the development of class solidarity and consciousness, which was missing earlier.
  • The resistance was mediated by outsiders.
  • Agitations grew and they were not on individual issues but on broader economic questions, thus leading to a gradual improvement later on.

The Second Phase: 1918 till Independence

  • It was after World War First that the working class struggle in the country entered into a different phase.
  • The unorganised movement of the workers took an organised form; trade unions were formed on modern lines.
  • In several ways the decade of the 1920s is central in this regard.
  1. Firstly in the 1920s serious attempts were made by the Congress and the Communists to mobilise the working class and hence from then onwards the national movement established a connection with the working class.
  2. Secondly, it was in 1920 that the first attempt to form an all India organisation was made. Lokmanya Tilak, a Congressman from Bombay was instrumental in the formation of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) with Chaman Lal and others as office bearers of the organisation.
  3. Thirdly, in this decade, India witnessed a large number of strikes; the strikes were prolonged and well participated by the workers. The number of strikes and the number of workers involved in these strikes went on increasing in the succeeding decades.
  • The Indian National Congress started thinking of mobilising the working class from the 1920s.
  • There were at least two reasons behind that:
  1. Firstly, it felt that if it failed to bring the working class into their fold and control, India might face a people’s revolution
  2. Secondly, because it realised that to launch an effective struggle against imperialism all the sections of the Indian society were to be mobilised.
  • Though some Congressmen formed the AITUC in 1920 and resolutions were passed in 1920, 1922, 1924 and in 1930 in the all India conferences, the clearest policy of the Congress came only in 1936 when it appointed a committee to look after labour matters.
  • Thus it was from the late 1930s that the Congress established deep links with the working class in the country.
  • The Congress, however, believed in the Gandhian strategy of class harmony and as a result it did not lead any radical working class agitations.
  • In fact two different strategies were to be found in operation, one was a radical one to be seen in industries owned by foreign capital and the other, a mild one that was in operation in the Indian owned industries.
  • All this was because the Congress, from the very beginning, attempted to become a political party of all the sections of the Indian society including the capitalists.
  • Therefore, the Congress controlled and disciplined labour and was not seriously interested in radical working class movements.

The Workers and Peasant Parties (WPPs)

  • The Communists who arrived in the 1920s seriously became attracted in working class questions and therefore they sought to mobilise the working class through the Workers and Peasant Parties in which they were active throughout the country.
  • It was because of the seriousness of the Communists, the WPPs were able to organise the working class considerably.
  • The WPPs were most victorious in Bombay where it organised a strike in 1928 than in other cities of India.
  • In the period from 1930-35, the Communists however played no meaningful role in mobilizing the workers but from the second half of the 1930s by following a policy of ‘United National Front’, it was able to secure a foothold among the working class.
  • According to official sources there were 396 strikes in 1921 involving 600,000 workers.
  • In the period between 1921-1925, on an average 400,000 workers in a year were involved in strikes. Similarly the year 1928 saw protracted strikes throughout the country.
  • There were strikes in the jute mills in Calcutta and in the Eastern Railways; in the latter, the strike continued for four months.
  • On the whole, there was a radicalization of working class activity by the end of the 1920s but what is also crucial is that there also grew differences between the Moderates & the Communists; as a result, the AITUC divide and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) was formed by the moderate leaders such as M. Joshi, V.V. Giri, B. Shivarao etc.
  • Differences also cropped up among the Leftists due to which the extreme Leftists under the leadership of S.K. Deshpande and B.T. Ranadive broke away from the AITUC in 1930 and formed the All India Red Trade Union Congress (RTUC).
  • The number of industrial disputes increased from 141 in 1929 to 148 in 1930 and 166 in 1931, involving more than one lakh workers every year.
  • Between 1931 and 1934, there were 589 disputes out of which around 52% of the disputes were in the cotton textile industry.
  • Concerns regarding wage were the main questions that precipitated the disputes.
  • The Left led the unions that had become weaker in the early 1930s, but were able to reassert their influence by the year 1934.
  • India was to witness a new strike wave and the issues that precipitated the strikes were the demand for the restoration of wage cuts, wage increases and the stopping of new forms of offensives against labour.
  • In the year 1935 there were disputes in which there was a heavy loss.
  • In the following year 12 more disputes took place than that of 1935 but the number of workers involved during disputes was much higher than that of the previous year.
  • The important strikes that took place were the strikes in cotton textile industry, jute industry and the strike in the railways.
  • The number of registered trade unions also increased in these 2 years.
  • In 1935 there were 213 registered unions in the country with a membership figure of 284,918. The number of unions increased to 241 by
  • The RTUC merged with the AITUC in 1935 and the NTUF affiliated itself with the AITUC in 1938.
  • Outcome of this, there was a growth of trade unions and trade union activity throughout the 1930s and the 1940s.
  • The number of strikes went up by the end of the 1930s.
  • During the period 1937-1939 the frequency of strikes and the number of strikes increased. In 1937 there were 379 strikes and in 1938 there were 399 strikes.
  • In 1939, 406 disputes took place. The involvement of workers in these strikes was also higher.
  • The movement entered into a decisive phase in the 1940s and this phase coincided with the final phase of the National Movement, when the latter entered into its last phase commencement with the Quit India Movement of 1942.
  • On the industrial front, from 1939 onwards the working condition of the workers was affected seriously.
  • There was an increase in the working hours, multiple shift systems were introduced, wages were significantly reduced, and workers, on the whole, were subjected to great hardships. As a result, strikes erupted throughout the country and probably the most important demand of the workers was the demand for a Dearness Allowance against rising prices and cost of living. In 1942 there were 694 disputes, this increased to 820 in 1945.
  • The number of workers involved in these disputes also increased to 7.47 lakhs in 1945. Between 1945-1947, after the end of the war, the working class confronted two distinct problems. F
  • First, was the problem of large- scale retrenchments and second, the problem of decline in earnings.
  • As a result, the number of strikes reached a peak in 1947; there were 1811 strikes involving 1840 thousand workers.

Movements since Independence

  • The transfer of power and Independence in 1947 meant a different atmosphere for the entire working class in the country.
  • The movement entered into a different phase.
  • In the initial years after independence between 1947-1960 due to the coming of several new industries whether in the private sector or in the public sector under the Five- year plans, the working class in the country as a whole was in a better condition; therefore organised action was not resorted to very frequently.
  • As a result the number of conflicts including strikes declined between 1947 and 1960. The situation however changed in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • The inflation years of the mid-1960s saw the real wages of the working class declining; as a result, disputes in the industrial front increased.
  • In 1964 there were 2,151 disputes involving 1,002 thousand workers in which 7,725 man-days were lost.


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