ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Agrarian Contradictions and the Conception of ‘Kisan’

Revisiting Swami Sahajanand

A response to “Peasants and Their Interlocutors: Swami Sahajanand, Walter Hauser and the Kisan Sabha” (EPW, 16 May 2020) by Manish Thakur and Nabanipa Bhattacharjee argues for a more nuanced understanding of agrarian class relations by incorporating the significance of caste, without underestimating the significance of the struggles of the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha against zamindari oppression. A need for a degree of moderation in judging the transformative impact of Sahajanand and the BPKS is thereby highlighted.

 

The review article titled “Peasants and Their Interlocutors: Swami Sahajanand, Walter Hauser and the Kisan Sabha” (EPW, 16 May 2020) by Manish Thakur and Nabanipa Bhatta­charjee raises critical issues concerning agrarian social stratification and conflict in Bihar from about 1930 till the early 1940s. At the centre of the article are Swami Sahajanand, the most prominent leader of the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS), and Walter Hauser, a historian who documented the struggles spearheaded by the organisation, and the significant role played by Sahajanand in them. Hauser’s doctoral thesis (now published as a book [Thakur and Bhattacharjee 2020: 24]) was part of the literature I had used as background material to write my study of the struggle, between 1938 and 1942, of the Santhal (Adivasi) bataidars (sharecroppers) in Purnea district (in north Bihar) to claim stable tenancy rights, which the dominant caste landholders aggressively denied to them (Chakravarti 1986).

The literature, and especially Hauser’s thesis, made me aware that many parts of the Bihar countryside had been in ferment during the last decades of the colonial period because the BPKS was pitted against the iniquities of the zamindari system. The contradiction between zamindar (big landlord) and kisan (an omnibus term covering all cultivators, whose interests the BPKS sought to represent) was as much a reality in Purnea as elsewhere in Bihar.

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Updated On : 1st May, 2021

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