In Maharashtra majority of the people were cultivators. The agrarian discontent against the British rule was due to the exploitative agrarian policy of the British rule. The heavy land tax fixed by the land settlement, fall in agricultural produce, growing poverty of the agricultural masses and their indebtness added to the miseries of the peasants. The British neglected the agricultural industry and their alliance with the moneylenders created serious unrest in the minds of the people.
As the insurrections of the Bhills, Kolis and the Ramoshis, the peasants in Maharashtra also raised the standard of revolt in the later half of the Nineteenth century, which had spread to the areas of Poona, Satara, Ahmednagar and Solapur. That was the result of the long standing grievances, oppression and unrest in the peasant community.
Causes of Peasant’s Unrest
Cultivation was the profession of a majority of people in Maharashtra. The society in Maharashtra was primarily an agrarian in the 19th century. The rural people engaged in the cultivation. Land was the only source of livelihood for them. So the policy of British Government related with the agricultural sector was likely to affect them.
The British introduced a new system to collect the taxes from the agricultural sector. They introduced Rayatwari system, in which land settlement was done with individual who occupied the land. Though it was not as harsh as Zamindari in Bengal, the peasants found it difficult to pay the taxes to the British government. The condition of the peasant was worse due to the scanty rainfall and lower prices of grains. The increasing burden on land and increasing land revenue all resulted in the indebtness of the peasants. This resulted in the miserable condition of the peasants.
End of American Civil War (1861-65)
In the early days of occupation of Maharashtra, the British government brought changes in the mode of land settlement. The Sincere efforts were made to modify system to promote cultivation. With the outbreak of American civil war, there was an increase in demand of Indian cotton in England. It seemed that Indian peasants were enjoying prosperity. However this temporary boon was soon ended. With the end of American civil war, American cotton replaced the demand of Indian cotton. Peasants suffered due to this event. They were not prepared to face the changed circumstances and this led to the further problems in their life.
Exploitation by the Moneylenders
The moneylenders were the exploiter of the poor peasantry. There was an evil union between moneylenders and the British government. The government used to take enough care to save the money lenders from the wrath of the poor peasants. But they never took any initiative to solve the peasant’s problems. British had given land an exchange value so it became easier for the moneylenders to confiscate the mortgaged property of the peasants. The limitation of the law encouraged the moneylenders to exploit poor peasants.
From 1832 to 1872 the population in Maharashtra was growing rapidly. This led to an increased burden on the land. Moreover the artisans and soldiers, who were deprived of their work due to the arrival of new regime, engaged themselves in the agrarian sector. This led to increasing burden on the agricultural sector because a land in Maharashtra was not so fertile as to accommodate all the elements of the society.
The Economic Policies of the British
The economic policies of the British rulers such as new land revenue system, colonial administration and ruins of handicrafts resulted in the increasing burden on land. This transformed the agrarian structure and extra burden on land led to the impoverishment of the peasants. East India Company introduced various experiments and their various methods of revenue settlement led to the rising misery of the peasants. The cultivator became landless labour in their own land. They just wanted to collect taxes from the peasants. The revenue was collected without mercy. In Deccan natural calamities like floods and famines added to the impoverishment of peasants. They were exploited by the moneylenders who usually confiscated their land for failure to repay their debt.
On such background it was but natural the cultivators became rebellious against the British. This led to the Deccan riots.