Short Note on Deccan Riots (1857)

Peasants in Maharahtra had to face number of problems due to several reasons which led to Peasants’ unrest in the Deccan and riots broke out in 1875. The life of cultivator was not easy. It was full of hardship. The first period of three decades after the British conquest led to the economic depression. The cultivators were harassed by moneylenders. They began to press for the recovery of debt. Peseant’s failure to pay interest or loan further added problems. Moneylenders saw as an opportunity to confiscate the land of the peasant. The riots were only a symptom of the condition prevailing in rural Deccan in the later part of the 19th Century. The majority of poor people were born in debt, and die in debt. Moneylenders in Maharashtra used to lend money at higher interest. The poor land laboures and peasants could never repay the original amount of debt for they could pay only interest of the debt. The Marwadi moneylenders have no any kind of sympathy with the poor villagers. The Government and moneylenders used to exploit poor peasants. This resulted into hopeless state of distress growing among the agricultural population of the Deccan. As a result, the lands of people began to pass in the hands of moneylenders.

At the end of 1874 their feelings against the moneylenders burnt into flame and their unrest exploded into violence in the village of Sirur taluka in Poona. The people of the village declared social and economic boycott on the moneylenders. The moneylenders were forced to flee the village. The first outbreak of violence occurred at Supa in Pune where the houses of the money lenders were attacked by the people. The riots spread rapidly to the other parts of Pune. The riots of 1875 in Pune and Ahmadnagar were rooted in acute agrarian distress. The riots were the reaction to the extreme exploitation of the peasants by the moneylenders. In 1873-74 the hill tribes of the western part of Pune and Ahamadnagar took up arms against moneylenders under the leadership of Honya an influential Koli leader. The Koli tribes started struggles against the moneylenders. Many of them were robbed and physically attacked. However Honya was caught in 1876. The British government finally appointed a commission to report of the causes of riots and to suggest measures to overcome.

Soon it became clear that the riot against the moneylenders was not just problem of law and order. The problem was rooted in the merciless exploitation of the peasantry. Hence the Government appointed a commission to inquire, the causes of the riots. The Deccan Riot commission found that the indebtness of peasantry had grown to an extreme level. Their inquiries showed that only one third of the land was retained by the cultivator. Rest of the land was confiscated by the moneylenders. The interest of the debt was so high that the debt was nearly double than the capital volume of the debt. Commission came to conclusion that feeling of bitterness or hated towards the moneylenders was due to excessive exploitation of the peasants. By studying all the facts founded by commission, British government passed the ‘Deccan Agricultural Relief Act of 1879’ to provide financial relief to the peasants.

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