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Indian Peasant Uprisings

Kathleen Gough
Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 9, No. 32/34, Special Number (Aug., 1974), pp. 1391-1393+1395-1397+1399+1401-1403+1405-1407+1409+1411-1412
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4363915
Page Count: 16
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Indian Peasant Uprisings
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Abstract

Indian peasants have a long tradition of armed uprisings, reaching back at least to the initial British conquest and the last decades of Moghul government. For more than 200 years peasants in all the major regions have risen repeatedly against landlords, revenue agents and other bureaucrats, moneylenders, police and military forces. During this period there have been at least 77 revolts, the smallest of which probably engaged several thousand peasants in active support or in combat. About 30 of these revolts must have affected tens of thousands of peasants, and about 12, several hundreds of thousands. The uprisings were responses to deprivation of unusually severe character, always economic, and often also involving physical brutality or ethnic persecution. The political independence of India has not brought surcease from these distresses. Major uprisings under communist leadership since British rule not unnaturally show a continuity of tactics with earlier peasant revolts. Of these, the more successful have involved mass insurrections, initially against specific grievances, and the less successful, social banditry and terrorist vengeance. Both in the case of communist revolts and in that of earlier peasant uprisings, social banditry and terrorist vengeance, when they occurred, appear to have happened in the wake of repression of other forms of revolt. Although the revolts have been widespread, certain areas have an especially strong tradition of rebellion. Bengal has been a hotbed of revolt, both rural and urban, from the earliest days of British rule. Some districts in particular, such as Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Rangpur and Pabna in Bangladesh and the Santhal regions of Bihar and West Bengal, figured repeatedly in peasant struggles and continue to do so. The tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh and the state of Kerala also have long traditions of revolt. Hill regions where tribal or other minorities retain a certain independence, ethnic unity and tactical manoeuvrability, and where the terrain is suited to guerilla warfare, are of course especially favourable for peasant struggles, but these have also occurred in densely populated plain regions such as Thanjavur, where rackrenting, land hunger, landless labour and unemployment cause great suffering.

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