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Bardoli Satyagraha: Useful Notes on

Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928:


Bardoli Satyagraha: Useful Notes on Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928!
Quite like Kheda peasant struggle, the Bardoli (Surat, Gujarat) movement was also a no-tax
movement. It would not be wrong to say that the Bardoli satyagraha of the peasants was the child
of the non-cooperation movement started by Gandhiji.
Gandhiji selected Bardoli as a suitable place for launching civil disobedience campaign because
the place had witnessed and participated in the constructive work. D.N. Dhanagare has sketched
a portrait of the socio-economic background of Bardoli. He says that Patidars were the dominant
cultivators in Surat taluka.
They were divided into two classes:
(1) Kali Paraj, and
(2) Ujta Paraj. The Kali Paraj class of peasants literally means black skinned.
It included the lower castes, tribals, backward classes and untouchables. The Ujla Paraj literally
means fair-complexioned people comprising all upper and well-to-do castes such as Patidar,
Vania, and Brahmin and so on. Gandhiji observed that the Kali Paraj was living in dire poverty.
Actually, they survived a near-slave life in Bardoli.
The Patidars were a well-to-do class of peasants. Their relations with the lower caste, that is,
small, marginal and agricultural labourers were quite unsatisfactory. The land with the poorer
peasants was very meagre and largely unproductive. The wages of the agricultural labourers
were so small that they could hardly keep their body and soul together.
The Patidars could afford to invest their surplus money in the improvement of land. Some of the
Patidars also worked in London and Africa. Whatever surplus money they got from foreign
countries was also invested in the purchase of new land and provision of irrigation facilities. It
may also be pertinent to mention here that the land of Surat taluka was quite fertile. The black
soil was quite suitable for taking cotton crop.

The Bardoli satyagraha was launched in mid-February 1928. By July all noon-agriculturists
holdings were forfeited by the government. Out of the land taken over about one tenth was sold.
As regards the cultivating landowners, 50,000 acres of land were forfeited though not sold. The
movement thus became serious during the months of April and May.
Some of the causes of the Bardoli movement are given below:
(1) Jan Breman has very elaborately discussed the causes by providing historical review. His
main argument is that the relations between the Kali Paraj and the landlords were characterised
by exploitation. The stock of Kali Paraj people mainly consisted of Dubla, also called Halpati.
The Ujli Paraj peasants cornered most of the benefits in terms of ownership of land and other
facilities. All this created an antagonism between the rich and big Patidar peasants and the poor
and slave-like small, marginal peasants and agricultural labourers.
(2) At the initiation of Gandhiji some constructive work was started in the entire Bardoli taluka.
On the one hand schools, ashrams and hostels were started whereas on the other hand reform
movements were begun. This created an awakening among the peasant masses to get mobilised
for fulfilling their demands. The constructive programmes also trained the youths to prepare for
non-violence and satyagraha movement.
(3) Interestingly enough, the Patidar Yuvak Mandals were constituted for the social reforms of
the members of Patidar community. These youth associations had not only created unity among
the Patidars but also developed among them a sense of antagonism against the peasants of lower
castes. There is an interesting anecdote given by Gandhiji in Harijan. He happened to visit
Bardoli and was accompanied by Mahadev Desai.
Desai reported the anecdote in Harijan in the following words:
In 1921 when Gandhiji asked someone about the population of Bardoli taluka, he said it was
60,000, the poor Dubla (Halpati) and the Chaudhra (tribal) not counting at all, whereas, they
were not less than one-third of these.
Dhanagare argues that the status of the Kali Paraj peasants was that of a serf of medieval Europe.
What is worse, the slave in America before the abolition was the legal property of his master. The
Dubla or the Hali has never been that kind of poverty. He borrowed money and in repayment of
it worked as his masters permanent agricultural labourer for a lifetime, simply because he could
never repay the loan.

(4) As a result of the constructive work done by Gandhiji the spinning wheel Charkha had
become popular among the backward castes and tribes. A Swarajya Asharam was established in
Surat and six similar centres were set up in Bardoli taluka to carry out constructive activities and
to diffuse new political culture. Though the Patidars appeared to be benevolent to the lower
castes, the harmonisation of the latter prepared a suitable ground for peasant satyagraha.
(5) The Hali system, though was prevalent in south Gujarat, was a speciality of Bardoli. This
system is based on the tribal agricultural labourers and the high caste landlords, that is, Patidars.
Explaining the Hali system which is largely responsible for Bardoli satyagraha, Dhanagare
observes:
Relations between a Hali labourer and the landowner who hired him were the same as those
between a serf and his master in medieval feudal society. This system of recruiting agricultural
labour had grown out of money-lending practices.
When a poor Dubla borrowed money for the marriage of his son, he in return, agreed to work on
his creditors farm. Wages, just enough for subsistence, were paid in kind and were so low that
the amount borrowed could never be repaid. Consequently, for a Hali the chain of bondage
continued from one generation to another.
The fact of the matter is that the Hali cultivated the lands owned by upper caste people like
Patidars, Anavil Brahmins and also Rajputs. What is worse, the higher castes only helped to
reinforce the economic ties between the serfs, that is, tenants and their owners. And the fact that
until 1938 no movement was launched for freeing the Dubla agricultural serfs. And, the abolition
of the Hali system in Surat district, suggests how deeply serfdom was rooted in the agrarian system there.
The Bardoli satyagraha thus was much against the Hali system.
(6) It was in January 1926 that Jayakar who was incharge of reassessment of land revenue had
recommended a 30 per cent increase over existing assessment. This increase in land tax was
immediately opposed by the Congressmen.
They set up an inquiry committee to go into the issue. Its report, published in July 1926, came to
the conclusion that the increase was unjustified. At a later stage, in July 1927, some reduction in
land tax was made. The Congress Party found the concessions too meagre. These were not
acceptable to them.

The course of events that led to the Bardoli satyagraha can be described as under:
(1) The Bardoli peasant agitation had the sympathy of educated persons and also nationalist
leaders. Vallabh Bhai Patel was contacted by the local leaders to take up the leadership of
movement. A meeting of representatives of 60 villages at Bamni in Kadod division invited
Sardar Patel to lead the campaign. The local leaders also contacted Gandhiji and after having
assured him to observe non-violence, seriously launched the movement.
(2) Sardar Patel assumed the leadership and went to Bardoli. He wrote to the government to fulfil
the demands of the peasants. Meanwhile, a meeting of a peasant of Bardoli taluka passed a
resolution advising all occupants of land to refuse payment of the revised assessment until the
government appointed an independent tribunal or accepted the current amount as full payment.
Describing the decision of the peasants committee, Bipan Chandra observes:
Peasants were asked to take oaths in the name of Prabhu (the Hindu name for god) and Khuda
(the Muslim name for god) that they would not pay the land revenue. The resolution was
followed by the recitation of sacred texts from the Gita and the Koran and songs from Kabir,
who symbolised Hindu-Muslim unity. The satyagraha had begun.
In this connection it may be said that Patel was in-charge of the whole agitation. His capacity as
an organiser, speaker, indefatigable campaigner and inspirer of ordinary men and women was
already known. But these were the women of Bardoli who gave him the title of Sardar.
(3) The Bardoli taluka was organised in such a way that the agitation could be started effectively.
The whole taluka was divided into three camps, chhavanis, each under the charge of an
experienced leader. One hundred political workers, drawn from all over the province, assisted by
1,500 volunteers, many of whom were students, formed the army of the movement. It was for the
first time that an army of non-violent workers was developed.
(4) An extensive network of mobilising the peasants was made. Regular meetings, speeches,
distribution of pamphlets, door-to-door persuasion and other things of propaganda were taken up
by the volunteers. The important point is that the organisation of movement was so very well
executed that the peasants of the whole taluka demonstrated their strength through rallies and
strikes to the government.
(5) The government of Bombay became stern and took all repressive measures such as
attachment of land, and crops, and confiscation of cattle and other movable property. The
government forfeited a large chunk of land, say 50,000 acres.

At their level, the agitating peasants boycotted all government officials and purchasers of
auctioned property. And, thus, drove them to desperation. In short, the governments handling of
Bardoli agitation was both impolite and crude.
(6) The national leadership was much influenced by the satyagraha displayed by the Bardoli
peasants. The members of the Bombay Legislative Council from Gujarat resigned en masse as a
mark of protest against the governments policy; this was followed by Vitthalbhai Patels threat
to resign. Vallabhbhai was a big leader who was president of the Bombay Legislative Council. As
a matter of fact, the pressure of the legislative assembly was so strong that the government was
obliged to take a soft stand against the movement.
(7) The Bardoli peasant movement, in course of time, took an altogether new dimension.
Workers in Bombay textile mills went on strike and there was a threat to bring about a railway
strike that would make movement of troops and supplies to Bardoli impossible. Even the flames
of Bardoli had reached to Punjab and many jathas of peasants were despatched to Bardoli. Yet
another strength of the movement came from Gandhiji who shifted to Bardoli on 2nd August,
1928.
(8) An enquiry committee was constituted by the government under the presidentship of a
judicial officer, Broomfield in association with Maxwell, to find out the details about Bardoli
agitation. The findings of the committee came to the conclusion that the increase had been
unjustified. The committee also suggested reducing the enhancement of land tax.
Soon, the Bardoli peasant movement became a national issue. Gandhiji, along with Patel,
conducted the movement in such a way that it carried, throughout the period, its non-violent
character. The national leaders linked the movement with the movement for freedom.
The British government thus had high stakes in the Bardoli agitation. The Simon Commission
was about to come in India and the Congress declared that it would have nation-wide boycott of
the Simon Commission. Looking to the national importance of Bardoli the British government
took a soft-line. Sardar Patel was contacted and some kind of agreement was struck.
Referring to the outcome of Bardoli agitation D.N. Dhanagare writes:
Accordingly, on 18 July, 1928 Wilson offered terms to Patel whereby the peasants of Bardoli
paid the full assessment or the differences between the old and new revenue demands, and
abandoned the satyagraha first so that a special inquiry into only the disputed facts regarding
revenue settlement in Bardoli taluka could be conducted.

Patel once again rejected them and insisted on the release of all prisoners satyagrahis, restoration
of forfeited lands (whether sold or not) to original landowners and appointment of an impartial
committee as his pre-conditions for withdrawing the agitation.
The withdrawal of the movement was not a happy affair. Verbally the government agreed that the
pre-conditions of Patel would be fulfilled but informally it was decided that the full enhancement
of rent would not be paid. Nobody took the governors declaration seriously when he declared
that he had secured an unconditional surrender. In fact, it was the peasants who laughed the last.
The Bardoli satyagraha influenced not only other peasant movements in the country, but it also
provided a new strength to the national freedom movement. Gandhiji very rightly observed on
the success of Bardoli agitation:
Whatever the Bardoli struggle may be, it clearly is not a struggle for the direct attainment of
swaraj. That every such awakening, every such effort as that of Bardoli will bring swaraj nearer
and may bring it nearer even then any direct effort is undoubtedly true.
The Bardoli movement has been criticised from varying perspectives. D.N. Dhanagare has raised
the issue as to what extent the satyagraha was a reality or a myth created by the Gandhians. At a
broader plane it could be safely said that the Bardoli agitation was more a national issue for
experimenting satyagraha as a method for freedom struggle. Definitely, not much attention was
paid to the basic problems of the peasants.
The problem of Hali Pratha, which was highly exploitative, was not raised at all by the
movement. Dhanagare argues that the movement pleaded the cause of the rich and middle class
peasants. The poorer masses of peasantry who had very little land in their possession were
altogether neglected. But, surely, the movement provided strength to the national freedom
struggle.