People may damage a bus and attack its driver when the bus has run over a child. This is an isolated incident of protest. Since it flares up and dies down, it is not a social movement.

  1. A social movement requires sustained collective action over time.
  2. Such action is often directed against the state and takes the form of demanding changes in state policy or practice.
  3. Spontaneous, disorganized protest cannot be called a social movement Collective action must be marked by some degree of organization.
  4. This organization may include a leadership and a structure that defines how members relate to each other, make decisions and carry them out
  5. Those participating in a social movement also have shared objectives and ideologies.
  6. A social movement has a general orientation or way of approaching to bring about (or to prevent) change.
  7. These defining features are not constant. They may change over the course of a social movement’s life.

Social movements often arise with the aim or bringing about changes on a public issue, such as ensuring the right of the tribal population to use the forests or the right of displaced people to settlement and compensation; While social movements seek to bring in social change, counter movements some times arise in defence of status quo. There are many instances of such counter movements.

  1. When Raja Rammohan Roy campaigned against sati and formed the Brahmo Samaj, defenders of sati formed Dharma Sabha and petitioned the British not to legislate against sati.
  2. When reformers demanded education for girls, many protested that this would be disastrous for society. When reformers campaigned for widow remarriage, they were socially boycotted
  3. When the so called ‘lower caste’ children enrolled in schools, some so called Tipper caste’ children were withdrawn from the schools by their families.
  4. Peasant movements have often been brutally suppressed
  5. More recently the social movements of erstwhile excluded groups like the Dalits have often invoked retaliatory action.
  6. Likewise proposals for extending reservation in educational institutions have led to counter movements.

Social movements cannot change society easily Since it goes against both entrenched interests and values, there is bound to be opposition and resistance. But over a period changes to take place.

Social Movement and Social Change

  1. It is important to distinguish between social change in general and social movements. Social change is continuous and ongoing process. The broad historical processes of social change are the sum total of countless individual and collective actions gathered across time and space. Social movements are directed towards some specific goals. It involves long and continuous social effort and action by people. Sanskritisation and westernization are examples of social change and the 19th century social reformers effort to change society are examples of social movements.
  2. Social movements in India have not only been protest and dissent movements but also reform and reaction aryas well as socio-religious and freedom movements. These movements defined as “collective effort to promote/resist change” came into origin only after uniformity in intellectual orientations, social structures, ideological presences, and perceptions of truth came into existence. It is a well-known fact that characteristics of society shape the styles of movements. Therefore, the elements of social structure and the future vision of society provide the focal point of analysis of social movements.

The orientation of social movements :

Till the British period, the orientation of social movements in our country was religious, though national liberation movement also emerged after the 1930s which was overtly against the forces of imperialism and colonialism. But, after independence, the new situation that emerged led to divergence in the targets of attack, say political authority, economic exploitation, cultural domination, male domination and humiliation of women and so forth. This led to proliferation of diverse movements.

Classification of Social Movements :

  1. Social movements have been classified on the basis of numerous criteria. Nature of change intended, organizational mode and strategy, nature of demands, groups and collectivities involved are some of the major criteria used for the purpose, e.g., tribal movement, Harijan movement, women’s movement, peasant movement, student movement, industrial workers’ movement, and on the basis of the nature of collectivities against which they are led, e.g.,anti-Brahminism, anti-leftist, anti-Dalits and so on.
  2. Yet other basis of classification is their territorial anchorage, e.g., locality in which they originate and operate, e.g., Vidharbha movement, Telangana movement, Chhattisgarh movement, Jharkhand or Vananchal movement, Uttaranchal movement, and so on. Such names indirectly point out the goals pursued
  3. Movements are also named after the issues they pursue, e.g., Anti-Hindi movement, Anticorruption movement, Movement are named after their initial or top leadership too, e.g., Gandhian movement, Ramakrishna movement, J.R (Jayaprakash) movement, etc. M.S.A.Rao has talked of three types of movement-reformist, transformative, and revolutionary.
All these movements are characterized by five elements
  1. Collective goal
  2. Common ideology of widely accepted programme
  3. Collective action
  4. Minimal degree of organization and leadership.
  5. Thus, a ‘social movement’ with above characteristics is different from ‘agitation’ as the latter has no ideology and no organization.
  6. Ghanshyam Shah holds that some co-active actions termed by some scholars as ‘agitations’ are considered by others as movements; e.g., demand for the formation of linguistic states. Shah himself considers them as ‘movements’ or a part of a social movement of a particular stratum of society. Thus demand for Jharkhand in Bihar, Uttaranchal in Uttar Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh in Madhya Pradesh can be described as social movements according to him.
  7. Desai held that some movements are caused by the inability of our Constitution to protect the civil and the democratic rights of people. Rajni Kothari is of the opinion that failure of the state in ‘social transformation’ of society in which repression and intimidation of large masses of people has become common compels people to assert their rights through various struggles.
  8. Gurr and M.S.A. Rao have explained social movements in terms of ‘relative deprivation.’ Rao focuses on the ‘possibility of doing something by the sufferer’ along with relative deprivation.
  9. Ghanshyam Shah and T.K. Oommen do not accept Relative Deprivation Approach in explaining social movements. Oommen’s argument is that deprivation theorists do not view movements as ‘ongoing process of change’. They also do not deal with the sources of deprivation. Shah holds that deprivation theorist ignore the importance of consciousness and the ideological aspects of the participants.


The study of peasant movements has emerged as an important area in the study of social movement in India. Since India is essentially an agrarian country, it is natural that the study of agrarian problems has assumed a central place in sociological issues.

  1. Patterns of landownership, tenancy, use and control of land, all reflect the complex nature of agrarian structure. The complexity of agrarian structure is also manifested in the agrarian class structure which has existed since long in rural areas. The diversity of land systems and agrarian relations has produced an elaborate structure of agrarian classes. The later vary from one region to another. However, based on the nature of rights in land and the type of income derived from it, Daniel Thorner has identified three major agrarian classes in India. They are Maliks, Kisans and Mazdoors. Big landlords and rich landowners are included under the category of Maliks. Kisans are inferior to Maliks comprising self-cultivating owners of land They are small landowners and tenant Mazdoors earn their livelihood from working on others lands. This category includes poor tenants, share-croppers and landless labourers. This classification of agrarian classes broadly reflects the Indian reality.
  2. But it needs to be recognized that the agrarian hierarchy, Corresponds with the caste hierarchy which we find in different parts of the country. The rich landowners and moneylenders mainly belong to the upper castes. The middle and small peasants come from the traditional peasants castes. The landless labourers belong primarily to the lower classes. Such a position merely shows a pattern. It does not refer to the exact situation in the rural areas.
  3. The nature of agrarian class structure has been mentioned here to understand the structural background in which movements have been launched by different classes of peasantry. D.N. Dhanagare’s study of peasant movements in India helps us to know the nature of these movements. According to Dhanagare, the term ‘peasant movement’ refers to all kinds of collective attempts of different strata of the peasantry either to change the system which they felt was exploitative, or to seek redress for particular grievances without necessarily aiming at overthrowing the system. Peasant movements thus include all kinds of movements, violent and non-violent, organized and specific.

Issues Involved in Peasant Movements :

  1. Some were related to conflicts between tenants and landlords; some were because of the oppression by zamindars of majority religious community (Hindus), and
  2. Some were because of the factors like communal outburst, provocation by government officials and police etc., for improving economic conditions, demands for higher wages, forced labour (beggar) and so on.
  3. It is held by some writers that Gandhi mobilized the peasantry for the cause of national freedom and not for fighting against zamindars and money lenders.
  4. There are other writers who suggest that the relationship between peasant movements and the national movements was one of reciprocity, i.e., give and take. The tasks of taking up peasants class demands as well as fighting against imperialists were dealt with simultaneously In any case peasants specific needs and interests of security of tenure, debt relief and cheap credit etc., could not be emphasized strongly by the nationalist leaders.

After independence, however, the leaders tried to mobilize peasantry against zamindars and landlords. The exploited peasantry was not a united group as they were vertically aligned with the masters through factional ties. Initially, the poor peasants were least militant but as the anti-landlords and anti-rich peasant sentiment was built up by the middle peasant, the revolutionary energy of the poor peasant was transformed into a revolutionary force. But peasants taking up revolutionary action were not on all India basis. It was only in some regions.

Six different viewpoints of the agrarian movements in India have been studied by sociologists :
  1. In terms of their functioning as associations at micro levels;
  2. Relationship between politics and agrarian movements, i.e., mobilizing peasants by political parties like Congress, communists etc.
  3. Relationship between social structure (caste, class and power) and agrarian movements;
  4. Relationship between the green revolution and agrarian movements. (The green revolution not only affected the traditional agrarian relations but it also accentuated economic disparities and accelerated social aspirations of villagers);
  5. Relationship between agrarian legislation and movements (i.e., movements causing legislation and legislation causing movements); and
  6. Relationship between mobilization and organization of movements. Some movements for the welfare of peasants were organized on Gandhian principles. Two such movements were Bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave and Sarvodya movement of Jayaprakash Narayan. The immediate objective of the Bhoodan movement was collecting land from the rich and its distribution to the poor. However, this movement failed in achieving its goal.
  7. India has a long history of peasant movements. The nineteenth century India is considered a treasure house of materials on peasant heroism. The movements in the period between 1858 and 1914 tended to remain localized disjointed and confined to particular grievances. The most militant peasant movement of this period was the Indigo Revolt 1859-60 in Bengal. Only a decade later, similar violent disturbance took place in Babana and Bogara in Bengal in 1872-73. These struggles were directed against Zamindars who were the symbols of exploitation and atrocities.
  8. The landowning and money-lending classes had consolidated their position not only in zamindari areas but also in Ryotwari and Mahalwari areas. The small landholders, tenants and share-croppers were the victims of the moneylender’s tyranny. Accordingly, the peasants revolted against the oppression of the powerful agrarian classes. One of such revolts in Ryotwari area is known as the Deccan Riots of 1875 that occurred in western Maharashtra. A series of Moplah uprisings in Malabar region of southern India also took place throughout the nineteenth century. They were expressions of long-standing agrarian discontent among the poor Moplah peasantry.
  9. It is fascinating to note that peasants’ grievances also became a component of the India’s freedom struggle during the early twentieth century. The Champaran Movement in 1917, the Kheda Satyagrah of 1918 and Bardoli Satyagrah of 1928 were the major non-violent anti-British struggles. Since Mahatma Gandhi was involved in these satyagrahas, they are popularly known as Gandhian agrarian movements. Most of these movements took up relatively major agrarian issues but they succeeded in arousing political awareness among the masses. Thus, the most significant aspect of these movements was their simultaneous involvement in the nation-wide struggle for freedom.
  10. However, peasants in other parts of the country were not inactive. They were equally restive and raised their grievances. Between1920 and 1946 several peasant organizations and movements emerged in Bihar and Bengal which protested against the deplorable condition of the middle and poor peasants. The first organization to be founded was the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha and in 1936 the All India Kisan Sabha.

The peasants organized by the Sabha. The peasants organized by the Sabhas demanded freedom from economic exploitation for peasants, workers and all other exploited classes. The more important peasant movements in different regions were: Tebhaga, Telangana and Naxalite. The Bhoodan and Sarvodya movements also took up peasants interests but they were taken up not by the peasants themselves but by Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan.

Peasant Movement After Independence

We have briefly discussed above the nature and features of peasant movements to familiarize ourselves with the role of social movements in social change. True, these movements have not always been successful in achieving their immediate goals but they created the climate which produced post-Independence agrarian reforms. Certain issues which had dominated colonial times changed after independence. For land reforms, zamindari abolition, declining importance of land revenue and public credit system began to alter rural areas. The period after 1947 was characterized by two major social movements-the Naxalite struggle and the ‘new farmer’s movements’.

Tebhaga movement (1946-47) was caused and facilitated by a large number of factors
  1. The 1943 famine,
  2. Drive against jotedars, hoarders and black-marketers,
  3. Social solidarity of the tribals involved in the movement, and
  4. The increased bargaining capacity of share-croppers.

Since this movement was limited in its spread it failed The wedge between Hindus and Muslims-the participants groups i.e., communal politics, lack of harmony between caste and class and the upper class manipulation of loyalties within the peasants also contributed to its failure (Dhanagare).

Telangana movement: The Telangana movement (1946-52) of Andhra Pradesh was fought against the feudal oppression of rulers and local land owners. The process of sub infeudation and oppressive social structure. Rural telangana’s political economy consisted of jagirdars or deshmukhs. They were intermediary land owners with higher title cum-money lenders cum-village officials and were mostly form the upper caste or influential muslim community. Because to their privileged economic and political status they could easily subject the poor peasantry to extra economic coereion though vetty (forced labour) system. At the bottom of agrarian hierarchy were the untouchable castes and tribals.

The Inadian national congress, Andhra Jan Sangham and Andhra Maha Sabha Raised the issue of poor Condition of peasantry since1920’s.Several resolutions were passed against the jagirdari and the vetty system by AMS. Significantly Andhra Communist party was established in 1934. After ban on community party was lifted in 1942, they captured the leadership of AMS. They raised the issue of ‘abolition of vetty prevention of reek-renting and eviction of tenants, ‘reduction of taxed revenues and rents’, ’confirmation of occupancy rights of the cultivating tenants’. All these process of mobilization culminated into political consciousness of peasant and led to new awakening.

After 1947 the movement took a new turn with India independence and subsequent refusal of nizam to join Indian union. The CPI penely called for guerrilla struggle against the razakars and government forces by forming village defense committees. Administration of Nizam came to stand still in near 4000 village vetty was abolished Untouchbility was prohibited Land was redistributed very quickly. Unpaid debts were cancelled tenants were given full tenancy rights. Armed women defended themselves against the nazakar (k. Lalita, Vekannabirn 1989) Indian union initiated Army Action Against Nizam and subsequently against CPI in1978. They pained protracted struggle however it was difficult for communist cadre to withstand against Army. Several hundreds of peasant rebels killed The logic of movement was rethought by the leaders and common peasantry. In 1951the politburo of CPI called of the struggle.

The Naxalbari Movement : When the United Front government with CPI participation came into power in West Bengal in February 1967, some active and vocal groups emerged One of them under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal insisted on developing militancy on the peasant front, and preparing peasants for an armed struggle. Initially, the leaders preached massive participation of peasants for forcible occupation of benamy land but later on they emphasized liquidation of class enemies through the use of guerrilla tactics. Thus, mass movements were replaced by underground small group squads. This guerrilla activity of Naxalbari movement struck most in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh and later on in Bihar and presently in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

The peasant revolt in Naxalbari started in 1972 in three areas in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Landowners were called jotedars and tenants were called adhiari. The status of adhiari was precarious. They were so much exploited and treated like bonded labour that it led to peasant revolt in the 1950s and the 1960s.

Kanu Sanyal and others made their first entry amongst the exploited peasants in the 1960s, demanding
abolition of zamindari, land to the tiller, prevention of tenant eviction, etc. In the second phase of Naxalbari peasant uprising in the late 60s and early 1970s, secret combat groups were formed and peasants were urged to seize the lands of jotedars and the plantation workers who had purchased land from poor peasants, cultivate the seized land and retain all the produce from lands, ask landlord for food and if he refused, take it by force, deprive jotedars of his firearms.

The important characteristics of Naxalbari peasant uprising in West Bengal were :

  1. Mobilization to protect the interests of the peasant and the labourer classes and covering all ethnic (including tribes) and caste groups;
  2. The means adopted were non-institutionalized and violence was encouraged;
  3. Leadership was provided by communist party leaders;
  4. It aimed at downward mobility of jotedars and upward mobility peasants and labourers. Sarvodya movement and Naxalbari movement was different than the former aimed at replacing individual ownership of land with communal ownership while the latter aimed at individual ownership.

The factors which had contributed to the failure of this movement were :

  1. Its anti-national slant as manifested in the Chinese support for it,
  2. Its vocal denunciation of the Indian national leadership and acceptance of Chinese leadership as source of its aspiration.
  3. It’s declared intention to capture state power its open support to violence and factionalism among the leftists.
  4. R.K. Mukherjee has analyzed this movement in terms of relationship between social structure and social change. He argues that although the declared intention of the movement was capturing state power, in reality, the revolt was not directed against the system but against its excesses. It was the exchange of goods between the peasant and the owner landlords that was sought to be properly regulated.

The so called ‘new farmer’s movements began in the 1970s in Punjab and Tamil Nadu. These movements were regionally organized, were non-party, and involved farmers rather than peasants (farmers are said to be market-involved as both commodity producers and purchasers). The basic ideology of the movement was strongly anti-state and anti-urban. The focus of demand was subsidy for agricultural inputs, taxation and non-repayment of loans. Novel methods of agitation were used for blocking of roads and railways, refusing politicians and bureaucrats entry to villages, and so on. It has been argued that the farmers’ movements have broadened their agenda and ideology and include environment and women’s issues. Therefore, they can be seen as a part of the worldwide ‘new social movements’.

Overall Nature of Peasant Movements :

  1. That these movements originated only after independence and that these are purely social and cultural in nature;
  2. Moore Junior (quoted by Ghanshyam Shah), writing about the peasant movements in India has not accepted the revolutionary potential of the Indian peasantry. According to him, Indian peasants are traditionally docile and passive because of which cultivation remained lackadaisical and inefficient during the Mughal and the British periods. Hence, there were no widespread peasant movements.
  3. But Moore’s contention has been challenged by A.R.Desai, Kathleen Gough and D.N. Dhanagare. They argue that a number of peasant revolts have been overlooked by historians.
  4. Gough has talked of 77 revolts in the last two centuries, the smallest of which engaged several thousand peasants in active support.
  5. A.R. Desai has also observed that the Indian rural scene during the entire British period and thereafter had been bristling with protests, revolts and even large scale militant struggles involving hundreds of villages and lasting for years.
  6. Ranjit Guha has said that agrarian disturbances of different forms and scales were endemic until the end of the nineteenth century. There were no fewer than 110 known revolts during117 years of the British rule.
  7. Dhanagare has argued that Moore’s generalizations are questionable because there were various peasant resistance movements and revolts in India.

Classification of Peasant Movements

  1. According to A.R. Desai and Ghanshyam Shah, peasant movements in India, have been classified on the basis of time period-into pre-British and post-independence. The post-independence period is classified into pre-Naxalite and post-Naxalite periods or pre and post-green revolution periods. The latter period is further divided into pre and post-Emergency periods.
  2. A.R. Desai is also of the opinion that the nature of peasant movements varies according to the agrarian structures which have undergone changes during different periods. He has classified colonial India into ryotwari areas under British territory, zamindari areas under princely authority and tribal zones. The peasant struggles in these areas had different characteristics, raised different issues and involved different strata of the peasantry.
  3. He further divides post- independence agrarian struggles into two categories: struggles launched by rich farmers and by poor farmers. The agrarian structure has thus not evolved a unified pattern throughout the country.

Kathleen Gough has classified peasant revolts on the basis of their goals, ideology and methods of organization into five types :

  1. Restorative rebellions to drive out the Britishers and restore earlier rulers,
  2. Religious movements,
  3. Social banditry,
  4. Terrorism for collective justice, and
  5. Mass insurrections for the redress of particular grievances.

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