DEB JAN I SEN GUPTA^
Khetmajoor Movement : A Case Study in West Bengal (1974)
THIS PAPER examines the agricultural labour wage movement in West Bengal, which flared up in the year 1974-75. We have adopted the case study method in order to substantiate a macro-level argument. The wage struggle marks a major change in the politics and programme of the West Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha. Since the Tebhaga movement (1946-47), in all the major movements, particularly in the Anti-eviction struggle (1953-54) and the struggle for land (1967-69), the major contenders were the bargadars and ibejotedars.
During the land struggle in 1967-69 the khetmajoor first emerged as a revolutionary force in rural Bengal in spite of the fact that they were not the direct beneficiaries.1 The Kisan Sabha for long hesitated to launch a separate khetmajoor movement fearing that it would jeopardise the cause of "all-in peasant unity'. It was thought that demands like enhancement of wages would directly antagonize the middle and rich peasants. It was only in 1970 in its 21st session at Chinsura that the issue of organizing a separate khetmajoor movement for enhancement of khetmajoori was discussed in detail though the conflicting interest of the khetmajoor and other sections of the peasantry was not given due attention. For a long period there remained a ticklish question—which should get the priority, the issue of land or of wages. This was resolved in the Chinsura Report.
In its next session at Berhampore (1972), though the Kisan Sabha resolved to launch a khetmajoor movement and formally declared the 'big jotedars and the rich peasants' as the targets of tlie movement, in practice vthe emphasis was on pressurizing the government to fix the minimum wage and provide for either twelve months9 work or employment wages for the khetmajoors. Naturally the movement did not gain any momentum with such an inconsistent and hesitant stand. However, the Sabha went a step forward at the Maldah Conference (1974) and fixed the minimum daily wage at Rs. 5.00 which should be enhanced to Rs. 7.00 during the peak season. In this conference, though the Sabha took an explicit stand on the
*pepartment of Sociology, Kalyani University, West Bengal.