The British pursued different policies in the economic field. However, their sole motive was to serve their own economic interests. All policies were pursued by them with this objective and, therefore, none of them proved beneficial to the Indians. Some of the practices introduced by the British to exploit economically were changes in the land revenue settlements. The demand of the revenue was high; the Government did nothing to remove the intermediaries who came into existence even where Ryotwari and Mahalwari systems existed.
By the first half of the 19th Century, the Government started collecting revenue in cash except in such outlying areas as Assam; and, collected revenue by a fixed date. In the Zamindari system, the peasants were left at the mercy of zamindars who raised rents to unbearable limits and compelled them to pay illegal dues also. In the Ryotwari and the Mahalwari areas, the Government took the place of the zamindars and levied excessive land revenue which, in the beginning, was fixed as high as one-third or one-half of the produce.
Until the 19th Century, there was a little change in the agricultural practices adopted in India. Throughout the past centuries, Indian farmers were growing the same crops. Rice and wheat were the two principal crops in India followed by jowar and barley. Other crops, produced in India from the very beginning, consisted of pulses of different types, oil seeds, jute, cotton, indigo and spices.
Feeding Industries of England
At the end of the 18th Century, the British commercialised Indian agricultural practices. This was mostly resulted from growing demand for agricultural raw materials like jute and raw cotton arising out of the Industrial Revolution in England and imposition of restrictions on the export of manufactured and finished goods from India.
Raja Ram under whose leadership the Jats rose to the prominence was born into the family of Bhajja Singh who was the brother of Brij Raj. Raja Ram organized the Jats of different clans and Hindus of other communities who were willing to fight into a united force under his own leadership and he soon created a small army with different regiments and strengthened the defences of his forts, having thus secured his position, he soon began to raid caravans and merchants of the Mughals and plundered them The Jats under his leadership became so powerful that they soon overwhelmed Safi Khan, the Agra Suabadar and besieged him in his fort. They practically closed the roads for normal traffic between Dholpur and Delhi, and Agra and Ajmer via Hindaun and Bayana. Raja Ram attacked Akbar’s Mausoleum number of times. Rajaram supported Chauhanas in their fight against the Mughals. While the battle was going on, a Mughal musketeer hid himself behind a tree and shot at Raja Ram’s chest which
caused his death.
It was a necessity for an industrially developing country. If industries are to be fed then agricultural production on a commercial basis has to be raised. Nevertheless, in India, the commercialisation of agriculture took place not to feed the industries of India but to feed the industries of England.
Exploitation of Peasants
The Indian peasantry suffered miserably from this policy of the British. The net result of this process was that India failed to produce even that much food crops, which could provide even two square meals a day to its population. In 1945, Sir Manilal B. Nanavati, formerly Deputy-Governor of Reserve Bank of India observed in his presidential address to the sixth conference of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics at Banaras: “During the last 75 years continuous deterioration in the condition of the masses is taking place. In 1880 India had a surplus foreign foodstuff to the extent of 5 million tons and today we have a deficit of 10 million tons. The consumption of food was then estimated at 1½lb. per individual and now it is 1 lb. nearly 30 per cent of the population of India is estimated to be suffering from chronic malnutrition and under-nutrition”.
Kheda Satyagraha took place in 1918 and it was led by Sardar Patel. Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928 turned into no revenue campaign and it too was led by Sardar Patel. The results of various peasant movements were the emergence of various Kisan Sabha or organisations such as Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (1929) and the All India Kisan Sabha (1936)
Economic factors which led to the growth of agricultural labour were largely the creation of the policies of the British-pursued in different fields for safeguarding and enhancing their and their country’s economic interests. The 50 years of British rule in India witnessed the ruin of her trade and industry, driving an increasingly large proportion of her people to the lands and, next 50 years of their rule brought temple cultivators as a class, forming nearly four-fifths of the Indian population, to the brink of ruin and destruction. Its final result was a tremendous rise in the growth of agricultural labourers. The British, during their earliest period of rule in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, destroyed the trade and industries particularly that of cotton cloth of these provinces.
R.C. Dutt writes: “It is literally a fact and not a figure of speech that agricultural labourers and their families in India generally suffer from insufficient food from year’s end to year’s end. They are brought up from childhood on less nourishment than is required even in the tropics, and grow up to a nation weak in physique, stunted in growth, easy victims to disease, plague or famine”.
Destruction of Handicraft
Cotton and silk cloth, indigo, saltpetre, ivory-goods, sea-pearls etc. were some important items of export from India and, among them cotton and silk cloth were the primary ones. Therefore, cloth manufacturing of cloth was the most prominent handicraft industry of India. British policies were instrumental in destroying most of the handicraft industries in India but the worst affected were the cotton and silk cloth handicraft industries which, prior to their destruction, brought immense wealth to India from foreign countries.
The economic exploitation of India was the worst feature of British rule in India. The British drained off the economic resources of India continuously in a systematic way during their rule in India and sent the wealth of India to Britain. Even the loot and plunder of India by Mahmud of Ghazni and Nadir Shah are reduced to insignificance when compared with that of the British.
It has been roughly calculated that a sum of about ten million pounds, in the form of goods, was sent to England between the period 1766 to 1780 alone. The British gradually increased their demand for land revenue. In 1767, in Bengal it was Rs 60 lakhs. In 1793, it totalled Rs. 1, 09, 59,130. The policy was pursued in other parts of India as well. Further, the British found other means to increase their economic resources in India. The salt-tax. The system of monopoly of salt was revised several times after the Diwani, each resulting in larger collections. By gradual increase, the salt-revenue had risen to Rs 45 lakh per annum during the three years preceding the arrival of Cornwallis. In 1789 it rose to seventy lakhs. It went on increasing. By 1883, the salt-revenue had risen to 6 million Sterling. The price of the salt sold to the people by the government was reckoned at 1,200 to 2,000 per cent of its cost value at that time.
Dr Bisheshwar Prasad writes: “Prosperity of England betokened poverty of India, for imperialism, based on a system of colonial economy, thrives on the exploitation of its dependent subjects. India had become the victim of colonialism and all the evils of imperialism had become evident before the East India Company had been extinguished after the revolt of 1857”.
Various movements arose over a period of time when British economic policies resulted in the ruin of traditional handicrafts and other small industries leading to change of ownership and overburdening of agrarian land, and massive debt and impoverishment of peasantry. The Indigo Revolt took place during 1859-1862
On the contrary, the legal system of the British greatly helped the money-lender. In pre-British times, the money-lender was subordinated to the village community which safeguarded the interest of the peasants. But the British made the moneylender free from this bondage and also gave him the right to capture the land of the debtor-peasant in case he failed to pay his debt.
The peasants suffered from high rents, illegal levies, arbitrary evictions and unpaid labour in Zamindari areas. Various movements arose over a period of time when British economic policies resulted in the ruin of traditional handicrafts and other small industries leading to change of ownership and overburdening of agrarian land, and massive debt and impoverishment of peasantry. The Indigo Revolt took place during 1859-1862. Harish Chandra Mukherjee, a Bengali journalist, described the plight of peasants of Bengal in his newspaper
The Hindu Patriot.
Dinabandhu Mitra, Bengali writer and dramatist, in his play Nil Darpan depicted the treatment of the Indian peasantry by the indigo planters. It was first published in 1860. The Government appointed an Indigo Commission and issued an order in November 1860, notifying that it was illegal to force the ryots to cultivate indigo. This marked the victory for the peasants. The Pabna Movement took place in Bengal during the 1870s and 1880s. The Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 enhanced the occupancy rights. The struggle was supported by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, R.C. Dutt and the Indian Association under Surendranath Banerjea. Deccan uprisings took place in 175. The struggle spread rapidly to the villages of Poona, Ahmednagar, Solapur and Satara and was transformed into agrarian riots with systematic attacks on the moneylenders’ houses and shops. Champaran Satyagraha took place in 1917 against the infamous tinkathia system. Kheda Satyagraha took place in 1918 and it was led by Sardar Patel. Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928 turned into no revenue campaign and it was led by Sardar Patel. The results of various peasant movements were the emergence of various Kisan Sabha or organisations such as Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (1929) and the All India Kisan Sabha (1936).