Colonial Agrarian Policy and its Impact- History Guide for Class 8

Colonial Agrarian Policy and its Impact- History Guide for Class 8

Information about Colonial Agrarian Policy and its Impact


Colonial Agrarian Policy and its Impact


Class 8


Class 8 History

Topics Covered

  • Zamindari System (The Permanent Revenue System)
  • Ryotwari System
  • Mahalwari System
  • Growth of Commercial Crops
  • Revolts by Farmers

East India Company's rule in India was a long journey full of confrontations, struggles, battles, wars and diplomatic moves. The English came as traders and became our masters. Slowly, they conquered India from South to East and then headed towards the North. Gradually, they emerged as the supreme power in India.

There was hardly any aspect of Indian economy which was not affected by the British. Unlike the earlier rulers and invaders, the English totally shattered the traditional self-sufficient rural economy. The economic exploitation of India by the British ruined the peasantry, uprooted the tribals and destroyed Indian trade and handicrafts. 

Colonial Agrarian Policy and its Impact

Before the advent of the East India Company, the rural life in India was simple and self-sufficient. The British brought many changes in the field of land revenue system, agriculture, trade, industry and administration to guard their own interests. Therefore, the East India Company devised various methods to ensure the collection of revenue from Indian territories, annexed and controlled by them.

As the British empire expanded, the amount of revenue also increased. So much so that land revenue became the biggest source of income for the Company. At this stage, Land Revenue Settlements were introduced with an aim to legitimise the practice of economic exploitation. Therefore, the Zamindari System under the Permanent Settlement was introduced in Bengal in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis. Large parts of South and West India were put under the Ryotwari System, whereas Punjab, North-West Provinces and Awadh came under Mahalwari System.

Let us study in brief about these Land Revenue Settlements.

Zamindari System (The Permanent Revenue System)

Zamindari System was made a hereditary right of the zamindars under the Permanent Settlement or the Zamindari Bandobast in 1793. They were made the owners of the land and were forced to pay 89% of the total revenue to the British government. Their own share was 11%.

The system gave birth to a new class of landlords consisting of the rajas and talucidars called the Zamindars who had the power to evict any cultivator of the soil due to non-payment of revenue. As such, they used oppressive methods to collect the taxes. The peasants were compelled to take loans from the moneylenders to pay unpaid rent, which made their life miserable. On the other hand, maximum benefit went to the zamindars. 

As the Company could not claim on the increased income of zamindars as they had fixed it permanently, they decided not to implement this system in the newly conquered territories.

Ryotwari System

This system of land revenue was introduced in South India by Thomas Munro in 1820. Later it came into effect in Bombay area also. This system established a direct settlement between the government and the ryots, i.e. the cultivators. The revenue was directly collected from the cultivator and it was quite high. 

Mahalwari System

The Mahalwari System was a modified version of Zamindari System introduced by Holt Mackenzie. It was introduced in 1822 in Gangetic Valley, North-West provinces, Central India and Punjab. In this system, a collective settlement was made with a group of villages called mahal. Since the land, the forests and the pastures belonged to the village community, the villages were jointly responsible for the payment of land revenue. It was levied on the produce of a mahal.

The Mahalwari System proved to be a curse for the peasants in the form of impoverishment, eviction from land and exploitation at the hands of the moneylenders. The widespread resentment among the farmers of North India between 1830 to 1840 was one of the causes of the Revolt of 1857. 

Growth of Commercial Crops

With strong footholds in South India, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, the East India Company wanted to collect maximum taxes to meet their military and administrative expenses. They also wanted to gain maximum profit. So, the company started using coercive methods to procure goods which were in great demand in Europe. The agricultural raw material was purchased at very low rates and sent to England. The finished goods were brought back to India and sold at high price to earn more profits. The Company forced the farmers to grow cash crops like indigo, cotton, opium, pepper, tea, sugarcane, etc., and compelled them to raise silkworm for the production of raw silk.

The Britishers wanted to smuggle and sell opium to China so that they could earn huge profits. Similarly, indigo, called neel in Hindi, was in great demand in the textile industries of Britain. The peasants were forced to cultivate indigo plants to extract blue dye. They led miserable life as it fetched very low prices of indigo.

The rising demand of sugar in the West, attracted many Europeans to set-up sugar plantations in India. The farmers, who produced gur (jaggery) for local requirement, were now forced to produce thickened sugarcane juice for the sugar factories and sell their produce at a very low price. The British industries flourished at the cost of Indian industries.

Condition of the Farmers

Already suffering from natural calamities like flood, drought and famine, Indian farmers were further over-burdened with high taxes, repayment of loans, debts and high rate of interest. They were leading a life of misery, poverty and frustration. As a result, many peasants, who failed to pay the land revenue, lost their land and became landless labourers. They were forced to work at very low wages. 

Revolts by Farmers

Whenever atrocities, repression and exploitation reached beyond a certain limit, there was a mass outburst in the form of revolt or rebellion. There was a long list of injustices meted out to the farmers at various times during the British rule.
Some of these were as follows:
  • Land Revenue Settlements and their administration.
  • Economic exploitation, especially, of the rural masses.
  • Long standing loans and indebtedness.
  • Eviction of peasants from land led them to become landless labourers.
These causes resulted in revolts, outbreaks and rebellions even before the First War of Independence in 1857. It was only in 1930 that the organisation of Kisan Sabhas started supporting the cause of the peasants.

Some more Important Points

  • The Ryots of Bengal refused to grow indigo and a rebellion broke out in 1859 known as Blue Rebel.
  • Moplahs of South India revolted against the increasing burden of taxation in 1860s and 1870s.
  • The Deccan riots turned violent in 1875 due to rural indebtedness.
  • The Peasant Movement of Champaran in north-west Bihar started in 1860 and went on till 1920s. The peasants opposed cultivation of indigo and high taxes.
  • Pratapgarh, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh witnessed opposition by the farmers against high revenue.
  • The Oudh Kisan Sabha was formed under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1920.
  • Increase in revenue was opposed by farmers of Tanjore in 1923-24.
  • The first Ryots Association was organised by N.G. Ranga in 1923.
  • The Kisan movement in Uttar Pradesh demanded the abolition of Zamindari system.
  • In 1927 at Bardoli, Sardar Patel opposed the increase in revenue by the Bombay Presidency. Satyagraha forced the government to revise the revenue.
  • The peasants of Kheda opposed the revenue rise. 
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