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Social Movements in India (Studies in Peasant, Backward Classes, Sectarian, Tribal and Women's Movements)

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Item Code: NAM698
Author: M. S. A. Rao
Publisher: Manohar Publishers and Distributors
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 8173043353
Pages: 465
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 530 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

While social movements have emerged throughout the history of Indian society and culture, their study in a sociological framework is recent. This book is the first of its kind to bring together twelve empirical studies of diverse social movements in different parts of the country.

This book is divided into two parts. Part I includes six types of movements: peasant, backward classes, sectarian, tribal and woman’s. The three peasant movement: Naxalbari movement in Bengal, Nijai Bol (declare ownership of land) and land grab movements in U.P. and the peasant movement in Telangana unfold the abject conditions of the Indian peasant, the way they organized around revolutionary ideologies of class struggle and the changes these movements has been on protest reform and social transformation. One paper points out parallels between the backward classes here and Black movements in the U.S.A. In their fight against discriminations. There are four paper on religious and sectarian movements among the Hindus and Muslim. The paper of Akhand Mahayoga, a guru centered movement in Benaras, gives the insider’s view of the process of sect formation by an American couple who got intiated into the sect. The two essays on tribal movements reveal the nature of stresses and strains that the tribes are undergoing and their responses. The single paper on Women’s movements shows the combination of traditional symbols and new roles in social mobilization during the Independence movement. A theoretical paper provides the conceptual framework for analyzing diverse social movements.

Part two contains an extensive bibliography supporting the six types of movements and concepts. It also covers three other types of movements- students, trade union and national- which are not included in the volume, for the benefit of the general readers.

About the Author

M.S.A. Rao was Professor of Sociology in the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. Author of several books, Professor Rao was awarded during his lifetime, the sarat Chandra Memorial Medal by the Asiatic Society for his outstanding contributions to cultural anthropology.

Preface to the Second Edition

The two Volumes on Social Movements in India published separately in 1978-79, went out of print within two years of their publication. The enthusiasm with which the two Volumes were received by the readers prompted the publishers to bring out a paperback reprint edition. This edition puts together the earlier two Volumes into one. Only such organizational changes that are necessary to combine the two Volumes have been made leaving all the essays, the Introduction and the bibliography intact.

The publication' of Social Movements in India was acclaimed by the critics as a turning point in the development of sociology in India, in so far as it marked a shift from the conventionalist structure-functional approach to the study of dynamic processes and movements highlighting conflict and contradiction as the basis of protest, reform, transformation and revolution. It was also pointed out that the study of social movements which was the preserve of the historians, came to be established as an area of specialization in sociology. Some critics (Bhatia J 979) welcomed the sociological perspective in the understanding of historical processes. However. two developments have taken place since the publication of the two Volumes. First, the theoretical formulations of the editor of the Volumes generated wide ranging controversies. Secondly, many seminars and conferences have been organized centring round the theme of social movements, and many more books have been published. In this preface I wish to capture the excitement in the study of social movements as reflected in seminars and publications, and clarify some of my own ideas regarding the conceptual issues.

It is necessary to stress that there had been studies of social movements before the publication of the two Volumes. For instance, Fuchs (1965) brought out a collection of different types of Messianic movements in Indian Religions. Singh (1966) wrote on the Birsa Munda movement. Alvi (1965) analysed the peasants and revolution. Kathleen Gough '(1968) studied peasant resistance and revolts in South India. While Sen (I972) analysed the agrarian struggles in Bengal, Dhanagare (1974) made a study of the Telangana movement. All these studies of peasant movements used the Marxian frame of analysis. However, Oommen (1972) in his study of the Bhoodan movement (a movement among the peasants) used Weberian ideas of charisma and routinization.

The first major all India inter-disciplinary conference, to my knowledge, on Dissent, Protest and Reform Movements was organised by S.C.' Dube and Mallik in 1974 at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla. The proceedings of the conference, published in 1978. included diverse kinds of movements such as Bhakti movement, .Versasaiva movement, Bhagat movement, Arya Samaj movement, and Backward Classes movements. Sociologists, historians, literary experts, political scientists-all participated in the conference.

However, the seminar that was organized in the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi in 1976 which resulted in the publication of the two Volumes was mainly focused on sociological analysis of different kinds of social movements. Hence there was pointed discussion on the sociological approach to the study of social movements. The sociological viewpoint on social movements was further expanded at a special panel on social movements at the XII All-India Sociological Conference in December 1976, and at a national seminar on Tribal Movements in India,organized by the Anthropological Survey of India in 1976. International seminar on "Anthropology of Social and Cultural Movements" at the Xth Internationaj Congress of Anthropological and Ethno- logical Sciences, December 1978 further generated discussion on the conceptual issues. Other conferences and seminars with social movements as a component followed: "Agrarian Situation in India" organized by the Anthropological Survey of India, 1982; "Harijans and Mass Religious Conversions" organized by the Department" of Sociology, University of Madras in 1982; "Social Movements of the Under Privileged" organized by the Department of Sociology, SNDT University in 1983; a Summer School on "Social and Political Movements" organized by the Department of Political Science, Marathwada University in 1983.

The discussions on different types of movements at these seminars and summer schools in which I participated, reflected great enthusiasm among scholars belonging to different social science disciplines and keenness on their part to come to grips with the conceptual problems. Before I discuss the latter, let me give a brief account of some major publications on Movements since the publication of the two Volumes in 1978.

A major theme that has attracted the attention of many social scientists has been that of peasant movements. A.R. Desai (1.978) published his book on peasant struggles, -and his another book is in the press. Siddiqi (1978) wrote on agrarian unrest in north India. Dhanagare's study of seven different peasant movements which occurred during 1920-1950 was published in 1983. Sunil Sen (1979) analysed the agrarian relations in India during 1793-1947 in the political economy framework. Ranjit Guha (1983) has recently published a book on peasant insurgency. It is important to note that almost all the .studies of peasant movements use the Marxist frame of reference of class struggle. However some of them stretch the argument too far as to ignore other important forces behind the peasant movements especially during the period of British rule before 1945. A few of them were organized on the basis of the ideology of national struggle for Independence and not of class struggle The peasant movements led by Mahatma Gandhi were not intended to pitch one class of peasants against another, but to incorporate different sections of peasantry including the Harijans (landless agricultural labourers) in the Independence movement against the British through different channels of mobilization. Similarly the chipko and appiko movement, and the Sarvodaya movement cannot be wholly explained in terms of class struggle ideology.

Another main theme of social movements has been the backward classes and tribal movements. The Dalit and Neo-Buddhist movement has come ill for special studies. Similarly there are studies of Kurmi movement in Bihar. K.S. Singh has edited (1982, 1983) two. volumes on Tribal Movements in India. Soria of the soil movements have attracted the attention of some sociologists and political scientists (Weiner 1978; Gupta 1982; Katzenstein 1979). The Assam and the Akali movements are waiting to be studied by sociologists. Studies of women's movements have gathered some momentum and one might expect shortly major publications in this area. Student, trade union, linguistic, sectarian and other ethnic movements have yet to attract the attention of sociologists. However, studies of political movements have received special attention from historians, political sociologists and party men (Panikar 1980).

This is the state of development of studies of social movements in India in the context of which the present second edition has to be placed. Now let me briefly indicate the theoretical advancements made in the study of social movements.

There is a greater concensus today that social movements constitute an area of sociological analysis in their own right. They are located in the domain of social process and change. The processual changes are no doubt related to .the pre-existing structural conditions. In studying social movements, as some critics would fear, the structural context is not neglected but is studied in detail so as to locate the areas of conflict and contradiction which provide the necessary conditions for the emergence of social movements. It is also realized that the awareness and consciousness of the conditions of existence on the part of the concerned section in an effort (collective mobilization) to change them, provide the sufficient conditions in the emergence of movements. While all critics agree that ideology is an important aspect of social movement, some (Dhanagare 1979; Imtiaz Ahmad 1980) hold that the ideology need not be present initially. I am grateful to them for providing this useful clarification. Ideology may emerge later along with collective mobilization. It is necessary to stress further the steering role that ideology plays in the communication process and how crucial it is in developing an emic point of view of social movements (Rao 1984).

No doubt the Marxian framework provides important leads in conceptualizing social movements. However, I argue that it is helpful in understanding only certain types of movements such as the peasant movements and trade union and workers' movements where class conflict and struggle are of primary importance. It however, cannot explain every type of movement-sectarian, different caste and ethnic movements-although they are related to social conditions of existence. It is necessary therefore to look for concepts which are more inclusive. In this context the concept of relative deprivation in different areas of social life has proved more useful in understanding those social movements which have emerged among the deprived sections. It incorporates the virtues of the Marxian analysis without necessarily accepting the class struggle ideology. It enables one to take account of the structural conditions of existence (relations of production and class structure) and the elements of conflict and contradiction, the nature of ideological formulations and the nature of social changes envisaged by the leaders of the movement. In my paper on conceptual problems although I have not explicitly mentioned the Marxian perspective, it was implicit in developing the concept of relative deprivation. I do realize that it needed a fully-fledged discussion.

Similarly, although I have used Max Weber's notions of church- sect, prophecy, charisma, legitimacy, routinization, they needed an elaborate discussion. I (1981) have elsewhere developed these ideas but suffice it to say here that it will be artificial to impose a conceptual framework on the data, rather the data themselves should lead to particular ways of conceptualization. For instance, it is hard to analyst: the sons of the soil t Shivsena) movement in Bombay wholly in the Marxian perspective, as Gupta (1972) has done, because it is ethnicity cutting across classes and not class cutting across natives and aliens that is at the root of the conflict.

There are two other points which need consideration: one regarding the process of routinization and the second concerning the characterization of social change consequent upon social movements. If social movements belong to the logical area of process, over a period of time they, in that form, are likely to get routinized and develop into establishments. Their character might change into political movements, or the internal contradictions might become the bases of new movements. This is what I meant when I said that 'when a movement with an ideology becomes a well established political party it ceases to be a movement'. Routinization and deroutinization are dialectically related in the process of change (in response to Dhanagare 1979 and Aurora 1981).

As regards characterizing the nature of change that many social movements bring about. I have found greater confirmation in the notions of reform, transformation and revolution. I agree that all revolutions need not be violent, but they imply a total change in the mode of production, quality of social relations and the nature of dominance, power and the state. Whereas transformation is useful to describe the changes in the superordination and subordination relationships, dominance and the power relations without any basic change in the mode of production. Reform describes changes in the value system and status hierarchy without necessarily .changing the existing power relations. Transformatory changes in most cases include reformatory changes. All the three signify different levels of structural changes. Instead of having only a binary distinction between structural and organizational changes, it is useful and realistic to distinguish different levels of structural changes.


In recent years Indian sociologists and social anthropologists have shown increasing interest in the study of social movements-a field that has long been considered to be the province of historians. No doubt the study of any social movement involves a long or short time span, occurrence of events, and a body of written documents, the analysis of which demands the skills of a historian. However, the theoretical framework of interpretation and explanation that a sociologist uses will be sociological. Hence, there is a case for a sociology of social movements.

Although there is a considerable body of theoretical literature on the sociology of social movements, this area of specialization is still in the formative stages. A body of concepts have, however, been developed which enables a scholar to interpret the genesis of movements, the formation of ideology, the sources of identity, organization and leadership, the event structure, the intern a I dynamics, and the social consequences. But, the logical boundary of the phenomena needs to be sharpened and more appropriate concepts and techniques need to be developed to handle problems of processual analysis, as social movements logically belong to the area of processes having connections with structure and change.

For long, sociologists and social anthropologists have been preoccupied with the concept of social structure at various levels of abstraction-from empirical relations to the relationship. of relation- ships. There is often an excessive concern either for what goes on in the minds of people or what their actual behaviour is Social movements deal with a class of social phenomena which are connected with the two in the realm of process. If we consider a social movement to be an organized effort on the part of a section of the population, involving collective mobilization based on an ideology, to bring about changes (either partial or total) in the social system, then we have to see the social process as consisting of inter- related social activities, interactions and events as related .to ideology (or structure at a higher level of abstraction) on the one hand, and as connected with social and cultural changes on the other.

The character of a social movement as an instrument of social change is quite different from an imitative or emulative process of mobility and change. While the latter centres around acquiescence, the former is focused on protest of one kind or the other. Following from this, the latter emphasizes the functional unity of the social system, whereas the former places emphasis on contradiction and conflict. The social mobility and change that are brought about by social movements are based on challenge, protest, confrontation, aggression and revolt as opposed to acquiescence, request, obedience and loyalty. The latter type of process of mobility and change only perpetuates the established order, whereas social mobility and change brought about by social movements lead to social transformation thereby changing the traditional balance of power. Thus, social movements based on protest bring about qualitative changes in the traditional structure of social relationships. Protest and acquiescence are logically opposed to each other and the nature of changes that are brought about by protest is qualitatively different. An approach to the study of change through social movements centred around contradiction and conflict offers a corrective to the simplistic explanation of emulative process of mobility and change.

Many of the papers included in this volume were presented at a workshop on social movements held in March 1976, at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi. All except one are being published for the first time. The twelve papers included here constitute Part I with six sections: conceptual problems, peasant movements, religious and sectarian movements, tribal movements and women's movements.

Part 2 of the Volume includes a select bibliography compiled by Arun P. Bali and Anjali Arun Bali covering the six sections. In addition, select bibliographies on student, trade union and national movements are included for the benefit of the readers interested in these types of social movements which are not included in the book.

CONCEPTUAL PROBLEMS Any emerging field of specialization is beset with problems of conceptualization, and the sociology of social movements is no exception. The first section of this volume consists of an essay on 'Conceptual Problems in the Study of Social Movements'. Rao outlines the conceptual problems in terms of definition and classification, genesis, ideology and identity, organization and leadership, internal dynamics and routinization and social consequences. He considers social movements. as being characterized by three important features: collective mobilization, ideology and orientation to change. Examining three theories explaining the genesis of social movements- namely, relative deprivation, the strain theory and revitalization- he shows that the latter two do not adequately explain the ideological underpinnings of a social movement and the consequent social changes. He suggests that the theory of relative deprivation, with suitable modifications, has a greater explanatory power as it places the perception of contradiction, conflict and protest at the centre of social movements. He also suggests the notion of opposition reference groups in discussing the formulation of ideology, establishment of identity and the mechanics of confrontation.

Ideology is considered to be a crucial aspect of any social movement. Rao points out the variations in the themes of protest ideologies in terms of reinterpretation and rejection of religious sources of identity, class conflict and millenarian themes.

As regards the problem of the organization of a social movement, Rao discusses the aspects of recruitment, commitment and leader- ship. He suggests that when a movement develops a high degree of formal organization with sanctions of rewards and punishment, it ceases to be a movement.

Discussing the nature of social changes brought about by social movements, Rao distinguishes three levels of structural change: reform, transformation and revolution. While reform aims at modifying the belief system and life-styles of the members of a group, revolutionary changes aim to bring about sudden and total changes in all the aspects of society. Transformative changes refer to changes in the traditional balance of power relations, altering the economic and political superordination-subordination relationships.

As regards the methodological question, Rao points out that a study of social movements involves acquisition of the skills 'of a historian and adoption of diverse field techniques such as participant observation, survey, interviews, content analysis and working' out social networks. For a sociological analysis, intensive fieldwork is a necessary complement to the analysis of documentary data.

PEASANT MOVEMENTS Peasant movements, like workers movements belong to a distinct category of social movements with the ideology of class conflict as their basis. While Marx considered the peasantry to be passive. Lenin, Mao and Fanon placed the peasants at the centre of the revolution. In the Indian context two ideologies are associated with peasant movements-the bhoodan and sarvodaya of Vinoba Bhave and Jai Prakash Narain, and the communist. However, significant peasant movements-such as Tebhaga, Telangana, Naxalite and land-grab-have emerged on the basis of communist ideology.

The section on Peasant Movement consists of three papers: Naxalbari Movement in North Bengal, Peasant Movements in Uttar Pradesh and Peasant Movement in Telangana. Partha Nath Mukherji's study on Naxalbari Movement and the Peasant Revolt in North Bengal is based on extensive fieldwork carried out under most difficult circumstances- He handles his rich empirical data in a neat analytical farmework yielding valuable insights. Since the ideological question is central to the Naxalite peasant movement, he examines the evolution of the communist movement in India in the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideological framework. He shows that after the split in the CPI, ideological pressures for radicalisation of CPI (M) politics was exerted by the Darjeeling District Committee.

But right from the very inception there were two lines of thinking amongst the radicals. One favoured participation in the elections for furthering the revolutionary cause, whilst the other proposed to shun the elections altogether and socialise the masses against it. The former held to the primacy of the land problem and recommended mass struggles to solve it, whereas the latter ridiculed narrow economism and prescribed seizure of political power by guerilla squads.

The Naxalbari peasant revolt owes its origin to the dying waves of tebhaga movement in Bengal in the forties. In an agrarian system, which had evolved from a feudal jotedari system to a semi-feudal jotedari-adhiari system in the context of money market forces, a small group of communist cadres inspired by the tebhaga struggle, began systematically unweiling the contradictions between labour and capital that was increasing the burden of exploitation on the poor and marginal peasants. Over a period of time numerous struggles against such exploitation led to the emergence of a strong Krishak Sabha with increasing membership. Interestingly enough, it is the peasant leadership that initiated the unionisation of the plantation labour, which constitutes nearly 30 per cent of the population in that area . The unionisation of plantation labour was considered necessary not merely for the plantation labour but also for the peasant struggle’s, There developed, since the mid-fifties an alliance between the peasants and the workers which is remarkable in as much as it was unique.

Mukherji considers the question of, means as important as the goals in a movement. Thus he argues that the Naxalbari struggle like the tebhaga is yet another instance of the use of non-institutionalized means for securing intra-systemic changes. However, neither the objective conditions nor the subjective preparations warranted such a strategy. Hence Mukherji points out that it is not sufficient that objective conditions for social transformation exist, it is more important that the actors in the system internalise the contradictions through experience before subjectively preparing for the struggle .

Mukherji evolves a classification of movements on the basis of quality of change it intends to bring about or the kind of change that has already been accomplished. Thus, jf social mobilisation has been demanding changes within the system, the changes that are likely to occur will be accumulative. However, if the social mobilisation is directed. towards creating new structures which by their existence would qualitatively affect the entire system, then the change, in the event that it is. accomplished, will be alternative. Finally, if a social mobilisation is determined.to replace one structure and substitute it by another, the change should it materialise, would be transformative. Mobilisations of the first variety are quasi-movements, whilst those of the second' and third variety, are social movements, Hence ail mobilizations in a conflict dimension need not be social movements. In this framework, Naxalbari movement is a transformative movement. Mukherji concludes by pointing out that the search for a radical 'ransformation is on, both among Naxalites and those who subscribe to a radically different methodology of militant struggle, and the movement is kept alive.


Preface to the New Edition v
Contributors vi
Introduction ix
Part 1
Section I Conceptual Problems
Conceptual Problems in the Study of Social Movements 1
Section II Peasant Movements
Naxalbari Movement and the Peasant Revolt in North Bengal 17
Peasant Movements in Uttar Pradesh 91
Peasant Movement-in Telangana 149
Section III Backward Classes Movements
Reform Movement among the Waddars of Karnatak 169
Social Movements among the Backward Classes and Blacks: Homology in the Sources of Identity 191
Section IV Religious and Sectarian Movements
Social Change and Religious Movements in Nineteenth Century Punjab 217
Organization of Viraniva Movement: An Analysis in the Sect-Church Framework 233
A Guru-centered Movement in the Making 269
Tabligah Movement among the Meos of Mewat 297
Section V Tribal Movements
Challenges and Responses in Tribal India 319
Social Movements among the Santals 341
Section VI Women's Movements
Women's Movements 'in India: Traditional Symbols and New Roles 365
Part 2
Select Bibliography 385
Index 435

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