Social Scientist. v 11, no. 123 (Aug 1983) p. 39.

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Peasant Movement and Agrarian Change in India

DURING the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Indian agriculture had already started undergoing some important changes because of the deliberate attempts to increase the production of commercial crops and also because of the introduction of canal irrigation in some parts of India. However, both the extent and nature of this change was limited, firstly because irrigation investment was confined to only limited areas, and also because the archaic land relations provided a strong barrier to the full exploitation of the benefits of new technology.

The lands relations were more or less semi-feudal in the permanently settled areas. Even in the Mahalwari and Ryotwari areas, where land transfers had been legalised, large tracts of land had passed to absentee money-lenders and Sahukars, due to large-scale peasants' indebtedness. Superimposed on this were the various land grants and Jagirs given to feudal remnants by the British. In the princely states, the land relations were even more archaic.

Because of the non-differentiation in the peasantry, and the all-embracing nature of the anti-imperialist struggle, the peasant movement was able to unite all sections of the peasantry, including the landless labour in its anti-feudal and anti imperialist crusade.

The relations of production in agriculture have undergone profound changes as a result of land reforms on the one hand and changing production technology on the other. Any meaningful peasant movement has to take full account of these changed production relations for formulating its future strategy.

India was an underdeveloped backward economy on the eve of independence; 69.74 per cent of its working force was employed in the primary sector which contributed 59.61 per cent to net domestic product (at constant 70-71 prices). Out of this the contribution of agriculture alone was 57.05 percent. Thus, both in terms of income generation and of employment, the primary sector, and within it, agriculture, was the dominant sector of the economy. The productivity level in

*Professor, Centre for Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nenru University, New Delhi.

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