In my previous article, Colonialism and resistance (May 16), I briefly described the Anglo-Indian battles, suggesting that the process of colonisation was not smooth and straightforward but met tremendous resistance by the Rajas and Nawabs of different local states.
The last battle was fought between the East India Company (EIC) and the Sikhs where Sikhs were defeated and the process of subjugation of India was complete. But the journey of resistance did not stop here as a number of popular movements emerged and challenged the oppressive policies of the EIC. These movements were prompted by political, economic, social, tribal, and religious considerations.
Under colonisation, the people of India became victims of harsh economic policies that were focused on extraction of money through heavy taxation on peasants. As a result the farmers got trapped in the clutches of money lenders and many of them started thinking of giving up farming.
A number of resistance movements were political in nature where people refused to accept the foreign power as their rulers. A closely linked factor of some resistance movements was the threat to the local culture. Still another influential factor for some resistance movements was religion. Such movements, though religious in essence, resisted against the economic, political, social exploitation by the British.
A number of resistance movements were triggered by unfair economic policies of the EIC. The company levied a number of taxes on lands. The zameendars had to pay a certain amount of taxes, irrespective of poor crop as a result of bad weather. The zameendars would extract the tax money from the peasants. Such tyrannical policies put tremendous pressure on the peasants. They were forced to grow crops that were commercially viable and would suit the EIC as a source of raw material for the factories in England. These products replaced the crops the farmers used to grow that were sufficient for their livelihood.
The outcomes of such policies led to severe impoverishment of peasants. Some of them would give up farming which led to shortage of edibles. One of the manifestations of the shortage of food was the famine of Bengal in 1770. A number of resistance movements emerged from the impoverished position of peasants. From 1770 to 1820 the Faqir-Sanyasi movement, started by Muslim sufis and Hindi yogis, protested against the despotic rule of the EIC in Bengal. The movement was violent in nature as the peasants would attack factories and take away cash, commodities, and arms. These armed attacks continued until the EIC crushed the movement by using coercive tactics.
As mentioned earlier, the peasants were burdened by the new taxes imposed by the East India Company. It became difficult for them to make both ends meet. The peasants, under the leadership of Haji Shariatullah and Dadu Mian, started the Faraizi movement that denied taxes to the EIC. This movement became violent as the peasants attacked the Indigo planters. The movement provided an opportunity to the peasants of Bengal to be united on one platform. The movement was a strong protest against the illegal and forcible cultivation of crops like Indigo and gained popularity in different parts of Bengal.
During the 1830s and the 1860s Ahmed Brailvi led the Wahib movement. It was called Wahabi movement as there was a strong ideological influence of Abdul Wahab of Saudi Arabia. The movement was also motivated by the thoughts of Shah Waliullah from Delhi. The movement was essentially religious but in some parts of the country, like Bengal, different ethnic groups used this movement as a platform to fight against the landlords.
Some resistance movements were initiated by different tribes in order to preserve the local culture, economy, and lifestyle. The infringement of the British was detested by the local peasants of the Santhal tribe, living in some parts of Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. The British policies forced the peasants to buy goods on credit from mahajins (local lenders) and return the money with heavy interest. Ultimately the peasants initiated a movement to protest against the landlords. The movement, spread over 1855-57, was called the Santhal Rebellion. It gave a tough time to the EIC but was finally crushed by the coercive tactics of the British.
In Maharashtra and Gujrat, the Bhils had a visible presence. The intrusion of the British disturbed their ways of living. The Bhils, being passionate about their freedom, rebelled against the British during 1818-1831 and put up a tough fight against them.
The Kol tribe’s independence was also threatened by the British. As a reaction to the British policies, the Kol tribe challenged the British and put up a stiff resistance from 1831to 1832 to regain their freedom. The rebellion was finally quelled by the British forces.
A similar resistance was put up by the Moplahs during 1836-1854 in Malabar. The resistance was a manifestation of resentment against the EIC occupation, and the new land rules introduced by it. The confrontation lasted for eight long years before it was finally trampled by the British.
Though most of these popular people’s movements were crushed by the repressive tactics of the EIC, they successfully created political awareness among the masses of India by sharing with them that how the British colonisers tore apart the economic, political, social, and cultural fabric of Indian society. These resistance movements, which belonged to different ethnic groups and parts of India, engaged the colonisers in a prolonged resistance struggle.
The culmination of these resistance movements was the war of independence in 1857 when different ethnic groups got together and shook off the might of the EIC.
The writer is an educationist.