The Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, in the state of Gujarat, India during the period of the British Raj, was a major episode of civil disobedience and revolt in the Indian Independence Movement. The movement was eventually led by Vallabhbhai Patel, and its success gave rise to Patel becoming one of the main leaders of the independence movement.
In 1925, the taluka of Bardoli in Gujarat suffered from floods and famine, causing crop production to suffer and leaving farmers facing great financial troubles. However, the government of the Bombay Presidency had raised the tax rate by 30% that year, and despite petitions from civic groups, refused to cancel the rise in the face of the calamities. The situation for the farmers was grave enough that they barely had enough property and crops to pay off the tax, let alone for feeding themselves afterwards.
Considering the options
The Gujarati activists Narhari Parikh, Ravi Shankar Vyas, and Mohanlal Pandya talked to village chieftains and farmers, and solicited the help of Gujarat's most prominent freedom fighter, Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel had previously guided Gujarat's farmers during the Kheda struggle, and had served recently as Ahmedabad's municipal president. He was widely respected by common Gujaratis across the state.
Patel told a delegation of farmers frankly that if they should realize fully what a revolt would imply. He would not lead them unless he had the unanimous understanding and agreement of all the villages involved. Refusing payment of taxes could lead to their property being confiscated, including their lands, and many would go to jail. They could face complete decimation. The villagers replied that they were prepared for the worst, but definitely could not accept the government's injustice.
Patel then asked Gandhi to consider the matter. But Gandhi merely asked what Patel thought, and when the latter replied with confidence about the prospects, he gave his blessing. But Gandhi and Patel agreed that neither the Congress nor Gandhi would directly involve themselves, and the struggle left entirely to the people of Bardoli taluka.
Patel first wrote to the Governor of Bombay, asking him to reduce the taxes for the year in face of the calamities. But the Governor ignored the letter, and reciprocated by announcing the date of collection.
Patel then instructed all the farmers of Bardoli taluka to refuse payment of their taxes. Aided by Parikh, Vyas and Pandya, he divided Bardoli into several zones – each with a leader and volunteers specifically assigned. Patel also placed some activists close to the government, to act as informers on the movements of government officials.
Above all, Patel instructed the farmers to remain completely non-violent, and not respond physically to any incitements or aggressive actions from officials. He reassured them that the struggle would not end until not only the cancellation of all taxes for the year, but also when all the seized property and lands were returned to their rightful owners.
The farmers received complete support from their compatriots in Gujarat. Many hid their most precious belongings with relatives in other parts, and the protestors received financial support and essential supplies from supporters in other parts. But Patel refused permission to enthusiastic supporters in Gujarat and other parts of India from going on sympathetic protest.
The Government declared that it would crush the revolt. Along with tax inspectors, bands of Pathans were gathered from northwest India to forcibly seize the property of the villagers and terrorize them. The Pathans and the men of the collectors forced themselves into the houses and took all property, including cattle (resisters had begun keeping their cattle inside their locked homes when the collectors were about, in order to prevent them from seizing the animals from the fields).
The government began to auction the houses and the lands. But not a single man from Gujarat or anywhere else in India came forward to buy them. Patel had appointed volunteers in every village to keep watch. As soon as he sighted the officials who were coming to auction the property, the volunteer would sound his bugle. The farmers would leave the village and hide in the jungles. The officials would find the entire village empty. They could never find out who owned a particular house.
However, some rich people from Bombay came to buy some lands. There was also one village recorded that paid the tax. A complete social boycott was organized against them, wherein relatives broke their ties to families in the village. Other ways social boycott was enforced against landowners who broke with the tax strike or purchased seized land were to refuse to rent their fields or to work as laborers for them.
Members of the legislative councils of Bombay and across India were angered by the terrible treatment of the protesting farmers. Indian members resigned their offices, and expressed open support of the farmers. The Government was heavily criticized, even by many in the Raj's offices.
In 1928, an agreement was finally brokered by a Parsi member of the Bombay government. The Government agreed to restore the confiscated lands and properties, as well as cancel revenue payment not only for the year, but cancel the 30% raise until after the succeeding year.
The farmers celebrated their victory, but Patel continued to work to ensure that all lands and properties were returned to every farmer, and that no one was left out. When the Government refused to ask the people who had bought some of the lands to return them, wealthy sympathizers from Bombay bought them out, and returned the lands to the rightful owners.
The momentum from the Bardoli victory aided in the resurrection of the freedom struggle nationwide. In 1930, the Congress would declare Indian independence, and the Salt Satyagraha would be launched by Gandhi.
While Patel credited Gandhi's teachings and the farmers' undying resolve, people across the nation recognized his vital leadership. It was women of bardoli who bestowed the title Sardar for the first time, which in Gujarati and most Indian languages means Chief or Leader. It was after Bardoli that Sardar Patel became one of India's most important leaders.
- Non-Cooperation Movement
- Champaran Satyagraha and Kheda Satyagraha
- Farmers' movements in India
- Patel: A Life, Rajmohan Gandhi
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