Saturday, March 04, 2017

State of Indian Agriculture & Farmers in Pre-Independence Era

The Indian economy in present times is growing at a steady pace which is better than the economic conditions of some of the other developing nations. 

The agricultural sector alone contributes about 15-18% of the gross domestic product of the country. 

But as we can all imagine, this was not the case back in the old days when the British ruled the country before we got our independence in 1947. 

The Indian economy before independence was gravely infected by a number of bad seeds which we shall discuss in this article elaborately. 

The Indian economy consisted of five sectors before independence, the agricultural sector, industrial sector, foreign trade, infrastructure and the population profile of the country.

Agricultural Sector before Independence

The Indian agricultural sector before independence displayed mainly three characteristics which gave the lay down to the backwardness and stagnation of the economy.

1. Low productivity

Productivity is measured or counted in terms of the area of land cultivated and the corresponding amount of output that was harvested from it. 

Just before independence, the levels of productivity were dangerously low to the point that it can be termed as backward. 

This meant that despite huge areas of lands or fields being sown every season, the output was very low. 

If we compare the productivity data of 1947 to that of 2008 and 2009, as is show in the table below, we find that the productivity of rice was about 20 times lower in 1947 as compared to the productivity in 2008. 

For wheat, the productivity was four times less in 1947 as compared to that of 2008. 

Similarly, if we compare the data of productivity of rice and wheat from 1947 to 2009, we find that the productivity of rice was fifty seven times lower in 1947 than in 2009 and the productivity of wheat was twelve times lower than what was in 2009.
Crop                                       Productivity in kg per hectare

2. High levels of risk and instability

The agricultural sector in pre-independence India was very prone to crumbling and highly volatile. 

In other words, there was not stable production rate for various crops. 

The main reason for this was improper infrastructure for perennial irrigation. 

The farmers were mainly dependent upon rain for irrigating their fields due to lack of a proper and efficient canal network. 

In times when the rainfall was good and abundant, the output was favorable and conversely, if the rainfall was scarce, the output took a huge drop. 

There were no efforts made by the British rulers to ensure permanent ways for irrigation in the forms of wells or canals.

3. Tension between the Zamindars and the tillers of the soil

During the British rule, the main characteristic of Indian agriculture was the unending quarrel between the tillers and the Zamindars. 

Tillers were the people who actually worked on the farms while the Zamindars were the people who owned those fields. 

A case where the owner of the land was the actual farmer working on that field was very rare. 

The Zamindars were never too concerned about the happiness and comfort of the workers as they were more concerned with maximizing their profits. 

Almost all the Zamindars had given their ‘owned’ lands on rent to the tillers. 

The tillers then worked on those lands and grew crops. 

The Zamindars took all the output from the lands and only gave the tillers just enough share of the total output to survive. 

Due to such a huge imbalance of wealth between the factions, the obvious result was a stand-still and deterioration in the economic conditions of the country.

Factors that caused the stagnation of India agriculture

Now that we know the conditions of agriculture sector in pre independence time, we shall now look at the causes and factors which caused this situation. There are mainly two factors that caused the backwardness of the agricultural sector.

1. Land revenue system

When the British ruled our country, the invented a unique system of land revenue. 

It was a triangular relationship among the tillers, the Zamindars and the British government. 

This system was popularly known as the Zamindari system. 

As we discussed earlier, the Zamindars were appointed and recognized as the owners of the land. 

These Zamindars had to pay a fixed amount of revenue or tax to the British government. 

This revenue was known as the land revenue. Now, these owners were absolutely free to take as much work and output from the tillers as they wished. 

The tillers were utterly suppressed and even not given enough to survive with basic necessities.

The main consequence of this system was that the Zamindars often fired the tillers in order to increase their profits as they would then have a bigger of share of the output crop. 

Due to this fear of losing their livelihood, there was no interest left in agriculture. 

It had become mere labour work which the tillers were forced to do if they wanted to survive as there were no other alternatives for income at that time.

2. Forcing the tillers to farm commercialized goods

The tillers were being forced by the Zamindars and the British government to abandon the production of traditional crops like wheat, rice and barley and start the production of indigo. 

The reason for that was that there was very high demand for it in Britain as it was used for the dyeing and bleaching of textiles. 

Sometimes, these tillers were forced paid in advance for the production of indigo. 

This commercialization of the crops and agricultural sector put an immense amount of burden and stress on already barely sustaining tiller. 

This was because of the fact that, before the tillers were forced to produce indigo, they produced crops like wheat and rice which could then be directly consumed by their families. 

Now, they had to produce indigo on their lands and had to buy the food from the market.

To do this they needed cash and owing to the already indebted farmers, they never really had much of it. 

Therefore, as long as people stuck to agriculture, they were always under the debts of the landowners and money lenders. 

These debts were even carried down the generations and hence, the indebtedness never ended.

Agriculture at that time was used and exploited as a means of generating revenue and profit. 

The profits which were earned by the Zamindars were never invested back into agriculture. 

These were only used to sustain their luxurious lifestyles. 

Therefore, the agricultural state was very poor and backward at that time. 

The situation was even made worse by the partition in 1947 when the centre of the jute industry of the country, East Bengal, went into the newly formed Pakistan territory.


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