Accompanied by the foreign-eyed imperialist power, the local landlords-zamindars kicked the helpless comrades on the hungry backs, snatched food from their mouths, and made it clear that there was no caste distinction between the exploiters and no class division among the exploiters. For centuries, farmers in this subcontinent have been subjected to the most oppressive exploitation by indigenous landlords and moneylenders. Behind it is the history of blood, sweat, and sacrifice of the peasants and workers of Bengal. However, in the evolution of time, many of their struggles have been separated from the pages of history. Similarly, the Tebhaga movement is an impeccable revolution for the establishment of a classless society hidden behind history.
What is this Tebhaga?
The Tebhaga movement was basically a revolution to establish a classless society. Although India was dependent on agriculture, most of the farmers were landless. As a result, they used to cultivate the land under a zamindar or jotted. Two-thirds of the crop produced at the end of cultivation had to be given to the landowners or zamindars or landlords. And the remaining part would be shared by the sharecroppers. But the farmers paid all the production costs and manual labor. But in return they would get only one share, the profit would be taken by the owner of the land. The sharecroppers used to spend their days without eating with this part of the crop.
The conventional system of yield sharing between owners and sharecroppers was threatened in 1947 when sharecroppers called it unjust. After being the victims of exploitation and oppression for ages, when the backs are against the wall, the sharecroppers become vocal. They claim that the landowners will get one-third of the produce and the sharecroppers will have to pay the remaining two-thirds. Because the sharecroppers give all kinds of physical labor starting from sowing seeds in the land. From the demand of one-third of them, the name of the movement became the ‘Tebhaga movement’.
Behind the movement
The peasantry in India has been destitute since British rule. Even before this, even though the regime was exploited by foreign merchant groups, no other ruling group has given such a greedy look at the farmers. During the Mughal rule, one-third or less of the land was paid to the landlords or rulers as rent. At that time, of course, the peasants owned enough land, and the rulers were flexible enough.
But in order to understand the current state of the peasantry and how the field of the Tebhaga movement has been prepared, we have to go back to the permanent settlement. There is an indirect and subtle link between the Tebhaga movement and the permanent settlement. Since the introduction of the permanent settlement by the British Governor Cornwallis in 1793, the peasants of Bengal have been losing land ownership one by one. As a result of the introduction of this settlement, the ownership of the land passed into the hands of the zamindars. Farmers lose ownership of land and become mercenaries.
Meanwhile, as there was no relation of crop production with the zamindars, a middle class called jotdar emerged between the peasants and the zamindars. They used to lease land from zamindars and cultivate through farmers and collect rent. Revenue was determined without land survey. As a result, in most cases, the rate of revenue would be much higher than that of land.
Then at some point, he started making money as rent in exchange for the crop. Even if he takes a loan from the moneylenders, he is forced to pay extra rent. He used to collect revenue through strong oppression and persecution. In this way, only one part of the crop is imposed on the sharecroppers in the name of sharecropping, taking advantage of the phased exploitation and misery of the farmers. The farmers gradually disappeared. Their anger against the zamindars and tears began to grow. This anger was prepared by a historical revolution like the Tebhaga movement. It is the long-term impact of the permanent settlement that opens the door to the Tebhaga movement.
In 1936, the ‘All India Krishak Sabha’ was formed with vocal farmers. Their policy was, ‘Plow whose land is his’. The ‘Flood Commission’ was proposed by Fazlul Huq’s cabinet in 1940 to reform the land system of Bengal. The commission recommended the abolition of the zamindari system, the ownership of land by the farmers, and the ownership of two-thirds of the crops produced.
Moreover, the catastrophic famine of 1943 killed some three million people and displaced one million. From the middle peasant to the marginal peasant, everyone is forced to sell the remaining land. In this situation, there was no other way but to rush towards their revolution. In 1947, under the leadership of the Provincial Krishak Sabha of Bengal and the Communist Party, a movement was started to understand their fair account – the Tebhaga movement.
The demands and slogans of the Tebhaga movement
The main demand of the Tebhaga movement was that the farmers should pay two-thirds of the crop produced by the sharecroppers and the landlords should get the remaining one-third. No farmer will work on the land of the owners who will not agree to pay. At the same time, they decided that no Namasudras or Muslims would cultivate in the houses of upper-caste Hindus. Moreover, the farmers who consume betel, will either cultivate betel themselves or give up betel eating. Don’t buy drinks from Barris anymore. This was basically their main claim.
They decide more, this time the paddy will grow in the farmer’s house. They will cut paddy in an organized manner. One group will cut the paddy, the other group will guard with arrows, bows, and spears. In this way, paddy will be harvested in phases. At the center of each Tebhaga movement was thus formed a voluntary group.
Their slogan was,
” ‘Inquilab Zindabad’
‘Rice in your own field’
‘I want Tebhaga instead of Adhir’
‘No interest on loan paddy’
‘No share without receipt’
‘I will know but I will not give rice’
‘Shareholders should not be evicted’
‘The zamindari system is extinct”
Tebhaga movement in two Bengals
In 1947-48, the spark of the Tebhaga movement was ignited in 19 districts including Upper Bengal and Upper Bengal. The Hindu-Muslim leadership of the ‘All India Krishak Sabha’ came under the shadow of one brotherhood, pointing the finger at all communalism and strife. As a result, the Tebhaga movement gained momentum in both Bengals. The movement was organized in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Jessore, Khulna, Dhaka, Chittagong, Bogra, Pabna, Faridpur, Howrah, Hooghly, Malda, Bankura, Nadia, Chabbish, Pargana, Medinipur, and Jalpaiguri districts. However, the highest intensity of the movement was felt in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri, Khulna, Mymensingh, Jessore, and 24 Parganas districts.
Haji Mohammad Danesh of Dinajpur, Chair Sai, Comrade Mani Singh of Mymensingh, Altaf Ali, Zahur Uddin Munshi, and Maulvi Abdul Hannan, Dr. of Bogra have led the Tebhaga movement from the front. Abdul Quader, Tagnarayan of Rangpur, Ramen Mitra of Rajshahi, Ila Mitra, Kashim Mia and Nur Jalal of Jessore.
The Tebhaga movement was formed in the districts where the level of oppression of the sharecroppers was high. Nevertheless, 6 million sharecroppers took part in the movement. The then Thakurgaon subdivision of the Dinajpur district was the main birthplace of the Tebhaga movement. The influence of the movement spread to 22 out of 30 police stations in Dinajpur at that time. Haji Mohammad Danesh was one of the leaders of the Tebhaga movement in Dinajpur. He is also called the father of the Tebhaga movement.
The Tebhaga movement under the leadership of Comrade Mani Singh continued to flourish in the greater Mymensingh region. The movement intensified in Bengal, Rameshwarpur, and Kailati of Netrokona Singh. In 1945, the All India Kisan Conference was held in Netrokona.
In the Nilphamari subdivision of Rangpur, the Tebhaga movement gained momentum. As much as the peasants were vocal, the landlords also brutally suppressed them with mercenaries and police. The peasants were cutting paddy in a disciplined manner as part of the movement. Just then the jatdars’ baton force brutally attacked the peasants. The peasants bravely faced and drove away from the battalion. In this situation, the Lathial forces shot Taganarayan, a peasant leader of Rangpur, and seriously injured Bachchu Mamud. The Tebhaga movement became more intense. The peasants snatched Taganarayan’s body from the police and the next day a historic procession of 25,000 people shook the whole city. This affects the surrounding areas.
Shortly afterward, a total of 27 farmers, including Chair Sai, a farmer leader, were killed in Khanpur of Patiram police station in Dinajpur district. In January 1948, he killed the farmers Shivram and Jamiruddin at the port of Chichi, Sarveshwar Dalu of Mymensingh, and carried out barbaric attacks on Santal, Hindu and Muslim farmers. Farmers also build counter-resistance.
The spark of the Tebhaga movement was ignited in Boda, Debigantha, Pachagarh, Sundardighi of Jalpaiguri, and in Tamluk, Keshpur, Dispur, Chandrakona, Nandigram, Panshkura, and Mahishadal of Midnapore district. Thus intense resistance developed in 19 districts including West Bengal and East Bengal.
The government took a strict stand to suppress the logical movement of the peasant community. The soldiers came down and set fire to the village after village, took women from their homes, and raped them, creating a horrible situation in the villages. Many tribals and farmers were killed by the police, and the districts were turned into concentration camps. Around 3,000 farmers were arrested and 50 were killed across the country.