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Deccan Riots 1875: Causes, Events, Outcomes

The Deccan Uprising of 1875 was a significant peasant rebellion in Maharashtra, India. This four-month uprising was primarily directed against the oppressive conditions of debt peonage enforced by moneylenders. It saw the participation of farmers from over 30 villages in the Bombay Province, who collectively revolted against the sahukars, or moneylenders. The roots of this uprising can be traced back to approximately 40 years prior, when changes were made to the land revenue rules by the colonial administration.

Deccan Riots 1875 mind map

This topic of “Deccan Riots 1875: Causes, Events, Outcomes” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

Historical Context & Causes of Deccan Uprising

  1. Colonial Land Revenue System:
    • Post Anglo-Maratha War (1818), the British introduced the Ryotwari system in the Bombay Presidency during the 1850s.
    • This system involved direct agreements between the government and cultivators (ryots), with revenue fixed according to soil type and farmer’s paying capacity.
    • The revenues were exorbitantly high, making it difficult for farmers to pay their dues.
  2. Exponential Increase in Land Revenue (1837):
    • The British significantly raised land revenue in 1837, expecting that their modern infrastructure would boost yields.
    • Farmers were forced to pay fixed, high land revenue regardless of weather conditions and harvest outcomes.
  3. Impact of the American Civil War (1861):
    • The American Civil War led to a surge in demand for Indian cotton, causing a boom in cotton cultivation in the Deccan.
    • Post-war, demand and prices for cotton plummeted, leading to economic depression among farmers and increased borrowing from moneylenders.
    • A sudden increase in land revenue by over 50% in 1875 exacerbated the crisis, leading to the outbreak.
  4. Shift in Power Dynamics:
    • The Ryotwari System and the establishment of courts of law in 1827 allowed sahukars (moneylenders) to become economically and socially dominant.
    • Farmers increasingly became powerless, losing land to sahukars and becoming bonded laborers.
  5. Targeting of Specific Moneylenders:
    • Neil Charlesworth’s analysis suggests the riots were not just about indebtedness.
    • Indigenous moneylenders were largely spared, while immigrant Marwari and Gujar moneylenders were targeted, indicating a dynamic of ‘foreignness’ being a key factor.
  6. Social and Economic Conditions:
    • Farmers faced immense hardship due to high land revenue, inability to repay loans, and lack of legal recourse against sahukars.
    • The perception of moneylenders as ‘outsiders’ exacerbated tensions between different communities.
  7. Role of British Policies:
    • British interference in Indian social ecology is blamed for turning interdependent communities of cultivators and moneylenders into adversaries.
    • British reforms are seen as a major factor in breaking down the social structure in rural society.
  8. Florence Nightingale’s Observation:
    • Nightingale commented on the lack of interest in England regarding the Deccan Riots and the plight of Indian farmers.
    • She highlighted the devastating impact of British laws encouraging usury over agriculture.

The Outbreak of the Deccan Riots

  1. Initial Violence in Supa Village:
    • The riots began on May 12th, 1875, in Supa village, Pune district.
    • Characterized by wholesale plunder of property and assaults on moneylenders.
    • The violence was notable for its focus on destroying debt records rather than physical harm.
  2. Spread to Pune, Satara, and Ahmednagar Districts:
    • Following the initial outbreak, the riots spread to other villages in the Pune, Satara, and Ahmednagar districts.
    • Rioters broke into sahukar (moneylender) homes, vandalizing and burning documents evidencing debts.
    • Violence was not a primary objective, but some moneylenders were attacked, and others fled for safety.
  3. Failure of Social Boycott Leading to Riot:
    • Prior to the riot, there was an attempt at a social boycott of the moneylenders, which did not prove effective.
    • The failure of the boycott likely contributed to the escalation into violent riots.
  4. Targeted Destruction of Debt Records:
    • A key aim of the rioters was to obtain and destroy bonds, decrees, and other documents in possession of their creditors.
    • This objective underscores the primary grievance against the moneylenders and the dire financial circumstances of the peasants.
  5. Duration and Impact:
    • The riots lasted four months, till September 1875.
    • While some areas experienced significant violence, other parts of the Deccan remained largely peaceful.

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Response of the British Administration

  1. Suppression by British Authorities:
    • The British colonial authorities employed forceful measures to suppress the riots.
    • Many participants in the uprising were arrested, and the British administration implemented punitive measures to restore order.
  2. Establishment of the Deccan Riots Commission:
    • In response to the widespread disturbances, the British Government of Bombay appointed a committee, known as the Deccan Riots Commission, to investigate the causes of the riots in Poona and Ahmednagar.
    • The Commission’s focus was more on the agrarian conditions leading to the riots rather than the riots themselves.
    • Analysis of Agrarian Distress:
      • The Commission recognized that the riots were a result of acute agrarian distress, rooted in the over-assessment of land revenue and the crippling debt situation faced by ryots (peasants).
      • They acknowledged that these factors led to the cultivators’ financial ruin and subsequent rebellion.
    • Legislative Recommendations:
      • The Deccan Riots Commission was authorized to recommend legislation that would impact cultivators not only in the affected areas but throughout India.
      • This was in line with similar commissions of the time, focused on investigating agrarian distress and land reforms.
  3. Enactment of Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act (1879):
    • Following the recommendations of the Commission, the British government in India enacted the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act in 1879.
    • This act provided significant financial relief to farmers, including sparing them from arrest on grounds of unpaid dues.
  4. Amendment of the Code of Civil Procedure (1877):
    • The British government also amended the Code of Civil Procedure in 1877, as part of their response to the riots and the findings of the Commission.
    • These legal changes aimed to alleviate some of the pressures on the peasantry and address the systemic issues highlighted by the riots.
  5. Continued Social Boycott in Villages:
    • Despite the police crushing the riot, the social boycott of moneylenders continued in many villages, indicating the deep-rooted resentment and the ongoing struggle of the peasants.
  6. British Concerns Stemming from Historical Context:
    • The British administration’s response was also influenced by their memories of the Revolt of 1857, leading to a sense of urgency in addressing the peasant grievances.

Social and Political Implications

  1. Exacerbation of Agrarian Distress:
    • The riots highlighted the increasing agrarian distress in the Pune and Ahmednagar districts of Maharashtra, focusing on the oppressive conditions of debt peonage to moneylenders.
  2. Increased Awareness of Economic Hardships:
    • The riots raised awareness about the severe economic hardships and exploitation faced by the rural population.
    • This led to broader discussions about the need for agrarian reform and improved land rights for peasants.
  3. Shift in Peasant-Landlord Dynamics:
    • The commercialization of agriculture under colonial policies emphasized the need for credit, leading to small peasants being burdened by heavy taxation and a sense of political powerlessness.
    • This dynamic helped moneylenders gain significant control over peasant labor and property, further exacerbating inequality and exploitation.
  4. Undermining of Communal Village Life:
    • The changes in agriculture and land revenue policies undermined traditional communal traditions that were the basis of Indian village life.
    • Access to common resources declined, and the colonial government’s redefinition of its relationship to pastoral communities disrupted existing social structures.
  5. British Reforms Leading to Social Conflict:
    • British interference in Indian social ecology is blamed for the conflict, as their reforms disrupted the rural social structure and turned previously interdependent communities, like cultivators and moneylenders, into adversaries.
  6. Land Revenue Reforms by British Government:
    • In response to the riots and similar agrarian protests, the British government initiated reforms aimed at reducing land revenue rates and addressing peasant grievances.
  7. Contribution to Indian Freedom Movement:
    • The Deccan Riots, along with other agrarian protests, contributed to a growing awareness of the injustices of colonial rule.
    • This fostered a sense of unity among Indians and a desire for social and economic justice, impacting the broader Indian freedom movement.

In essence, the legacy of the Deccan Uprising encompasses both the continued struggles of farmers in India and the significant socio-political changes it spurred, including raising awareness about agrarian issues, influencing the Indian freedom movement, and leading to crucial reforms and legal protections for peasants.

  1. Analyze the socio-economic conditions in rural Maharashtra under British rule that led to the Deccan Uprising of 1875. Discuss the role of the Ryotwari system and moneylenders in this context. (250 words)
  2. Evaluate the response of the British administration to the Deccan Uprising of 1875. How did their initial dismissal of the uprising impact the course of events? (250 words)
  3. Discuss the social and political implications of the Deccan Uprising of 1875. How did the uprising reflect the tensions within rural society due to legal and administrative reforms? (250 words)

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