Caste and Peasent Movements movements Web Notes @ abhipedia Powered by ABHIMANU IAS (2023)


Indian Freedom Struggle (1857-1947)(PCS) Socio-religious reform Movements Add to Study Deck 185


Causes of the rise of the caste movements

  • One of the major causes was the grievances of the educated men belonging to the lower and intermediate castes. They raised their voice against a system which discriminated against them, as for instance in justice movement in south India and Satyashodak movement in Maharashtra.
  • The desire of some of the lower castes to move upward in the social ladder through the process of Sanskritisation (castes asserting a higher status for themselves through borrowed customs, manners and taboos from groups traditionally superior) also led to these movements, for example, movements of the Nadars and Pallis of Tamil Nadu and those of the Ezhavas and Nairs of Kerala.
  • Further, the desire of some radical elements to improve the lot of the lower and intermediate castes by attacking Brahmin domination and at times by challenging the very basis of the caste system played a dominant role in these movements, for instance. Self respect movement in Tamil Nadu and the Mahar and Satyashodok movements in Maharashtra.
  • Finally, the British also contributed to the rise of these movements. Their contribution was indirect before 1901 (through their policy of divide and rule, that is turning caste against caste) and direct after 1901 (the 1901 census began the practice of classifying castes in a social hierarchical order which encouraged a flood of claims and counter claims by different castes).

Movements in Brief

Justice movement – It was an intermediate caste movement launched in Madras around 1915-16 by C N Mudaliar, T M Nair and P Tyagraja Chetti on behalf of intermediate castes (like Tamil Vellalas, Mudaliars and Chettiars, Telugu Reddis, Kammas and Baliza Naidus and Malayali Nairs) against Brahmin predominance in education, government service and politics. They founded a new political party known as the justice party which exhibited its loyalty to the British government in the hope of getting more government jobs and representation in the new legislatures.

Self Respect Movement - It was a populist and radical movement founded in 1925 in Tamil Nadu by E.V Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as Periyar against the Brahmin domination. It advocated weddings without Brahmin priests, forcible temple entry, burning of the Manu Smriti and outright atheism at times. Periyar founded a Tamil journal, Kudi Arasa, in 1924 in order to propagate his ideas.

Nadar movement – In the Ramnad district of south Tamil Nadu, an untouchable caste of agricultural labourers, originally called ‘shanans’, emerged as a prosperous mercantile class by the end of the 19th century and began to call themselves by the prestigious title of ‘Nadars’ to claim Kshatriya status. They organized a ‘Nadar Mahajan Sangam’ in 1910, imitated upper caste customs and manners (sanskritisation) and raised funds for educational and social welfare activities.

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Ezhava Movement – The untouchable Ezhavas of Kerala, under the leadership of Nanu Asan (also known as Narayan Guru), began in the early 20th century a movement known as the SNDP yogam (Sri Narayan Dharma Paripalana Yogam). Its twin objectives were to abolish untouchability and to build a simplified system of rituals regarding worship, marriage and funerals. They also imitated some of the customs of the higher castes. In the latter period they became the firmest supporters of the communists in Kerala.

Nair Movement - In the state of Travancore the intermediate caste of Nairs (numerically the dominant caste) started in the late 19th century a strong movement against the social and political domination of the Nambudri Brahmins and the non Malayali Brahmins (Tamil and Maratha). C.V. Raman Pillai organized the Malayali Memorial (1891) which attacked Brahmin predominance in government jobs. His historical novel Martanda Varma (1891) attempted an evocation of the lost Nair military glory. His group was, however, easily accommodated within the official elite by the late 1890’s. After 1900, however a more energetic Nair leadership emerged under K Rama Krishna Pillai and M Padmanabha Pillai. The former edited the Swadeshabhimani from 1906 till 1919 when its attacks on the court and demands for political rights led to his expulsion from Travancore. Padmanabhai Pillai founded the Nair Service Society (1914) which worked for the social and political advancement of the Nairs.

Satyashodak Movement - It was a movement started by Jyotiba Phule in Maharashtra. Phule, through his book Gulamgiri (1872) and his organization Satyashodak Samaj (1873) proclaimed the need to save the lower castes from the hypocritical Brahmins and their opportunistic scriptures. This movement was dual in character. That is, it had an urban elite based conservatism (the trend representing the desire of the urban educated members of the intermediate and lower castes to move upwards in the social ladder by Sanskritisation) as well as a more genuine rural mass based radicalism (the trend representing the desire of the rural Maratha peasants to do away with the evils of the caste system itself).

Mahar movement - It was the movement of the untouchable Mahars of Maharashtra, under the leadership of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar (their first graduate), which gained momentum in the 1920s. Their demands included the right to use public drinking water tanks and enter temples, abolition of the mahar watan (traditional services to village chiefs) and separate representation in the legislative councils. From 1927, some of them even started burning the Manu Smriti as a symbol of a sharper break with Hinduism.


Caste Movements





Nair Movement



C.V. Raman Pillai, K. Ramakrishna Pillai

Nadar Movement




Justice Movement


South India

C.N. Mudaliyar, T.M. Nair & P.T. Chetti

Self Respect Movement



E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar)

Ezhava Movement



Nanu Asan (Narayan Guru)

Satyashodhak Movement



Jyotiba Phule

Mahar Movement



B.R. Ambedkar



Midnapur (Bengal)




Faridpur (Bengal)



Types of peasant resistance – some scholars have attempted to divide popular resistance into five types:

  • restorative rebellions to drive out the British and restore earlier rulers and social relations
  • religious movements for the liberation of a region or an ethnic group so as to establish a new form of government
  • social banditry
  • terrorist vengeance, with ideas of meting out collective justice
  • Mass insurrections for the redress of particular grievances.

Three phases of Peasant Movements –

Historically, the peasant movements in pre-independence India can broadly be grouped in the following three distinct phases: the first phase was characterised by the absence of proper leadership, the second phase witnessed the rise of well organized peasant movements in which the congress party, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, took active part and the third phase was marked by the emergence of the class conscious peasant organizations. Its distinct features were that, during this period, peasant movements were led by people who gave priority to kisan problems in the struggle for national liberation.

Indigo Agitation of Bengal (1859 – 60) – the indigo agitation of Bengal was the result of the oppression and exploitation of the peasants of Bengal by the European monopolistic indigo planters. This was vividly portrayed by Dina Bandhu Mitra in his play Nil Darpan enacted in

1869 - Following this oppression the peasants refused to cultivate indigo and took to armed resistance against the planters. Bishnucharan Biswas and Digambar Biswas played a prominent role in this resistance. Further, the intelligentsia of Bengal organized a powerful campaign in support of the rebellious peasants. The Government appointed an indigo commission to inquire into the problem of indigo cultivation. Based on its recommendations, the Government issued a notification in November 1860 that the ryots could not be compelled to grow indigo and that it would ensure that all disputes were settled by legal means.

Pabna Movement Or Peasant Unrest in East Bengal (1872 –76) – in east Bengal the peasantry was oppressed by zamindars through frequent recourse to ejection, harassment, illegal seizure of property, arbitrary enhancement of rent and use of force. Consequently, the peasants organized no rent unions and launched armed attacks on the zamindars and their agents. Pabna district was the storm-centre of this movement, and hence the movement is known as the Pabna movement. The movement was suppressed only after armed intervention by the government. Later an enquiry committee was appointed to look into the complaints of peasantry which led to the enactment of an act.

Bengal Tenancy Act (1885) – under the new law, the peasant was given occupancy rights if he had held land in the same village for 12 years, the practice of shifting was stopped and no eviction was possible except for misuse of land or breach of contract. Thus occupancy rights were made hereditary, yet they were not transferable. Further, the peasant was denied the right to sub- lease without the landlord’s consent. Limits on enhancement of rent were set aside, and the rent itself could now be increased by 12 percent by a contract out of court. Compensation for improvement in cases of eviction was provided.

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Evidently the complexities of the act gave ample opportunities for resort to law and it was the zamindar, not the tenant, who was an adept at going to the law court. A mere threat to do so was enough to persuade a recalcitrant tenant to agree to an increase.

Still there can be no denial of the gains made by the tenant, who had now secured his three F’s – fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale of occupancy rights. Tenants – farmers did receive protection, though limited in scope. The importance of the new law, thus, lay primarily in its recognition of their rights, and in setting a precedent for future legislation.

Deccan Riots (1875) - excessive land revenue demand of the British facilitating exploitation of peasants by money lenders was responsible for the uprising in the Deccan. Social boycott of moneylenders by the peasants was later transformed into armed peasant revolt in the Poona and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra. The peasants forcibly seized from the moneylenders debt bonds, decrees and other documents and set them on fire. When the police failed to suppress the riots army help was sought to put down the riots. It was the appointment of a commission and the enactment of the Deccan Agriculturalist Relief Act of 1879 which prohibited the imprisonment of the peasants of the Maharashtra Deccan for failure to repay debts to the moneylenders.

Peasant unrest in Punjab (1890-1900)- It was the resentment of the peasants against the growing alienation of their lands to the moneylenders led to the assault and murder of moneylenders by the peasants. The government responded by the enactment of the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1902 which prohibited the transfer of lands from peasants to moneylenders and the mortgages for more than 20 years.

Moplah rebellion (1921) – Oppression and exploitation of the Muslim Moplah peasants of Malabar (Kerala) by the Hindu zamindars (Jemmis) and British government was the main cause of this revolt. Its major events were : outbreak of the rebellion in August 1921 (after a police raid on Tirurangadi masque in search of arms) and widespread attacks on police stations, public offices, communications and houses of oppressive landlords and moneylenders, total loss of control by the British over Ernad and Walluvanad taluks for several months, establishment of Republics at several places by the Moplahs under leaders like Kunhammad Haji, Kalathingal Mammad, Ali Musaliar, Sithi Koya Thangal etc. bloody suppression of the rebellion by the British, leaving 2337 rebels killed, 1650 wounded and more than 45000 as prisoners. At Podnur 66 Moplah prisoners were shut in a railway wagon and died of suffocation on 20th November 1921.

Peasant Movements





Indigo Movement



Bishnucharan Biswas and Digambar Biswas

Pabna Movement


East Bengal

Keshab Chandra Roy, Sambhunath Pal

Deccan Riots




Punjab Peasant Movement




Champaran Movement



Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, A.N. Sinha, JB Kriplani, Mazhar-Ul Haq & Mahadev Desai

Kheda Satyagraha



Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel

Moplah Rebellion



Kunhammad, Haji, Ali Musaliyar, Sithi Koya Thangal & Kalathingal Mammad

Bardoli Sayagraha



Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Ekka Movement


Northwest Frontier

Madari Pasi

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