Source: New International April 1939 (Volume V, Number 4) pp. 28 & 29
Transcribed/HTML: Mike B. for MIA, March 2005
THE small village of Reora—one among the 700,000 villages of vast peasant India —lies in the District of Gaya, a remote part of the British province of Bihar. The peasants of this village are making history by lighting the torch of agrarian revolution in India. For months now their struggle— conducted under the slogan of land to those who till it—has been a living example to the 330,000,000 peasants of India.
We are publishing these extracts from statements made by Jadunandan Sharma, peasant leader of Bihar and a member of the Congress Socialist Party of India, because we believe they will become significant documents when the story of the origin of India's agrarian revolution will be written.
The first extract tells of the bitter feudal oppression lying behind the peasant movements now shaking the length and breadth of India. The second is an equally bitter indictment of the reactionary, Gandhist ministry that now rules over Bihar province—1 among 8 such ministries that do the bidding of the British slave-masters. Comrade Sharma describes how this ministry, which is merely another form of a Popular Front, bends its untiring efforts towards the appeasement of the Bihar landlords and capitalists, while striking double blows at the workers and peasants. The kisans (peasants) of Bihar province are the best organized of India. About ½ million belong to the Kisan Sabha (peasant union) and this solid mass can rally 5 million other peasants in their support. Practically all the kisans are tenants, working for landlords. They pay $85,000,000 rent to these landlords each year. Interest charges on their well-nigh unbelievable debt of one-half a billion dollars amount to $100,000,000 yearly. Cultivation of their small tenant farms requires another $85,000,000 annually. Thus, the total expenditure of the Bihar kisans amounts to $270,000,000 per year. The maximum total income they may expect according to British official reports is $250,000,000 per year—a deficit of $20,000,000. And the peasants still have to meet British land taxes and find some means of livelihood! Here in a nutshell is the problem of the Indian agrarian revolution—the eternally growing burden of debt, interest and taxation with its accompanying poverty, starvation and backwardness.
We must emphasize that the description of the Reora land struggle is but the beginnings of that which must come. Yadunandan Sharma reflects the growing militancy and consciousness of the peasant masses. And even he lags behind the peasant himself for he has yet to slough off completely the reactionary, passive doctrines of Gandhi. As for the peasant masses, they have long shown their readiness to join with the revolutionary workers of India and carry out precisely what the peasant masses of Russia did in 1917.
THE IRON WHEELS of the zamindari (landlord) system have been relentlessly crushing the helpless peasants of the village of Reora—Gaya District—for the last 40 years. In spite of rent payments, their land —the only source of their livelihood—was being wrested from them. The granaries of the present chairman of the Gaya District Board, Rameshwar Babu, were being filled up with whatever they produced. The greater portion of the small share of produce the kisans got was taken away by fines and farkanas (feudal dues). To keep their bodies and souls together they had to take figs, and fruits of peepal and banian trees to supplement the scanty share left to them. They had to make provision for their food by selling their small girls to old men. Those who challenge this cruel truth should come with me to visit the childless widows who, as a result of their marriage with old men are bemoaning their lot in several villages of the district.
Being emboldened by this, Rameshwar Babu once, in the case of a kisan's refusal to give cow's milk, went to the length of ordering his hirelings to go and milk the kisan's daughters!
There was an awakening among the kisans of Reora and they became determined to break asunder the chains of slavery by which Rameshwar Babu bound them. The government was informed of this and it stopped cultivation of the paddy crop—the staple crop—by promulgation of orders under Section 144, Criminal Code…The harvest was destroyed by wild bears, jackals and dogs.
[Then the landlords, aided by the Congress ministry with its police and Gurkha (native) soldiers, launched their campaign against the peasant union. They began dispossessing the kisans from their lands. Babu, the leading zamindar, tried to claim the entire area for himself. The ministry declared martial law at the first action of the peasantry and sent in armed troops.
But the kisans refused to vacate their lands. Negotiations yielded no tangible results and the time to cut the paddy crop approached. In defiance of the Congress ministry, which was pursuing exactly the same tactics used by the British bureaucracy during the 1932 Civil Disobedience movement, the peasants on December 20, 1938 cut their crops. Immediately comrade Sharma, together with 34 other peasant leaders, was arrested. Below is the statement made by Jadunandan Sharma, in the court of the Senior Deputy Magistrate, Gaya district.]
I have been shut behind the bars at a time when events are fast moving…
History tells us how human society came to be divided into classes and how a microscopic minority asserted itself by hook or by crook,over the vast human majority and took control of all the resources which are essentially necessary for mankind as a whole. The result of this has been horrible. The vast majority has been deprived of all its rights, its privileges and is facing starvation, poverty, misfortune, calamities and disease while the microscopic minority is enjoying and merrymaking.
Both forces have come to grips. This is what we find in the world today, this is what we find in our country today. The state—which is the political organization and power of the vested interests—comes to the aid of the property-owners. This is why when the hungry fight for their bread, the state police and all its resources come forward to crush and suppress them. Hunger marchers get lathis and bullets instead of bread.
As a result of national awakening in this country a movement for complete independence started. British imperialism resorted to repression. It is still vividly before our eyes how all sorts of weapons were used to suppress the movement. We have not forgotten the lath charges, shootings, arrests and similar measures adopted then. A worker in Bihar was put under the sand alive and murdered.
When it became clear that the movement was not to be crushed, the statesmen and advisors of British imperialism suggested another method, and a weapon was forged —the weapon of reform. This weapon was forged to keep the British hold intact. With reservations and special powers in the hands of its representatives, the Viceroy and the provincial Governors, it gave only those rights to the ministers which they could exercise only as trustee of the interests of the British imperialists.
An example of agrarian satyagraha [mass civil-disobedience] will confirm this. Before the formation of the ministry, satyagraha was resorted to by the kisans of Bakhawara, Subbazpur, Tarad and Sanda. The provincial government had to give way and the kisans got rights over their lands. British imperialism with all weapons at its disposal, could not resist the satyagraha. The picture changed with the introduction of Provincial autonomy. The representatives of the people—those representatives who were brave fighters for the cause of the country and who had sacrificed a lot and suffered incarceration— were now in power. Responsibility for so- called law and order rested on their shoulders. During their regime labor strikes were suppressed, peasant movements were crushed, honest Congress workers were arrested on frivolous grounds and some were even charged with theft!
And in Reora — Reora where the problem of Bakashi lands [i.e., lands claimed by the landlords from tenants who have held them for innumerable years] is a problem of life and death with the kisans — the kisans who have been put under the zamindari yoke for over 40 years, have tried all avenues of law, negotiation, persuasion and have failed. Their satyagraha — their last weapon — was resorted to after everything else met with governmental repression.
The zamindar — Rameshwar Babu — who was adamant and unreasonable from beginning to end received full support of the authorities. The kisans who had a right and just claim were branded as thieves for cutting the crops which they had sown. Some of them were arrested with me and my volunteers. The argument that Provincial autonomy gave Indians power has proven wrong. Imperialism has proven itself correct by experience. In Reora, ministers were in a mood to release me and others arrested but the District Magistrate [British] refused to be a party to my release or that of my comrades and the ministers had to bow to the wishes of a civilian. This is the picture, the true picture of Provincial autonomy.
As I am a kisan worker I shall not fail to mention the agrarian movement in the province and especially in the Gaya District. The growing discontent and acute zamindari exactions began to tire the patience of the kisans. The only source of their existence—the land—was being converted to Bakasht, rent was increased, illegal taxes were being realized without any check and the kisans were forced to give free labor to the landlords.
Just then the Gandhi-Irwin pact was made and a truce declared. Some of the political workers interested themselves in the peasant problem and as a result a movement was started. Organization was a natural outcome and the real Kisan Sabha [peasant union] came into existence.
The Sabha, being the class organization of the kisans, aimed at the interests of the landlords, but it was never blind to the facts existing around it and while declaring as its goal the abolition of the zamindari system and exploitation, it confined its activities to the immediate and more pressing demands of kisans…
Then the Faizpur agrarian program (consisting of various radical reforms) was adopted by the Congress and a solution of some acute and immediate problems once again appeared hopeful. The kisans with one voice supported the Congress candidates and secured a Congress majority in the Assembly. The joy of the kisans knew no bounds when the Congress ministry was formed. The Congress ministers, working under limitations and in the state structure of the vested interests, capitulated to the British zamindar and capitalist interests and the Faizpur program was thrown in the background. Legislation began to be made in the name of the tenants but they were actually making the existence of zamindars and their system secure. Kisan workers and kisans were made prey as before to all governmental repressions. The old things repeated themselves in more intensified form and to this the sections on theft and the like were also added.
Now I come to the Bakasht question. Over 100,000 acres of land in my district have been turned into Bakasht by fair and foul means adopted by the zamindars.
An example will prove quite convincing. The Reora kisans have been in possession of their lands and their possession is recognized by all. But the law as it is constituted has no benefit for them. What is there left for the kisans then? The government stands for the zamindars—for the kisans it is only a weapon to dislodge them, to expropriate them. What was the choice left to the kisans but to fight with their lives to save their lives! Satyagraha started as a result. The fight for the existence of the hungry and the dying met governmental repressions. The kisans were terrorized by Gurkhas and police, before they started satyagraha. The terror had no effect and the kisans moved forward. We were then arrested for theft and the kisans were also not spared. It was freely argued that the arrests were made in the sacred name of law and order. One will laugh at the idea when one finds that the upholders of law and order have not been able to come to its rescue in Reora. The whole village is doing the same as was done by the few who have been arrested…
[Sharma was given a six months jail sentence. Meanwhile, the struggle in Reora continues, with the kisans still in possession of their lands and their crops.]