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     P  e  a  s  a  n   t  s  a  n   d   F  a  r  m  e  r  s 117 PPPPPeasants and Farmerseasants and Farmerseasants and Farmerseasants and Farmerseasants and Farmers      P  e  a  s  a  n   t  s  a  n   d   F  a  r  m  e  r  s In the previous two chapters you read about pastures and forests,and about those who depended on these resources. You learnt aboutshifting cultivators, pastoral groups and tribals. You saw how accessto forests and pastures was regulated by modern governments, andhow these restrictions and controls affected the lives of those whoused these resources.In this chapter you will read about peasants and farmers, with aspecial focus on three different countries. You will find out aboutthe small cottagers in England, the wheat farmers of the USA, andthe opium producers of Bengal. You will see what happens to differentrural groups with the coming of modern agriculture; what happens when different regions of the world are integrated with the capitalist world market. By comparing the histories of different places you will see how these histories are different, even though some of theprocesses are similar.Let us begin our journey with England where the agriculturalrevolution first occurred.    C   h  a  p   t  e  r   V     I     I  n   d   i  a  a  n   d   t   h  e   C  o  n   t  e  m  p  o  r  a  r  y   W  o  r   l   d 118 Source A On 1 June 1830, a farmer in the north-west of England found hisbarn and haystack reduced to ashes by a fire that started at night. Inthe months that followed, cases of such fire were reported fromnumerous districts. At times only the rick was burnt, at other timesthe entire farmhouse. Then on the night of 28 August 1830, a threshing machine of a farmer was destroyed by labourers in East Kent inEngland. In the subsequent two years, riots spread over southernEngland and about 387 threshing machines were broken. Throughthis period, farmers received threatening letters urging them to stopusing machines that deprived workmen of their livelihood. Most of these letters were signed in the name of Captain Swing. Alarmedlandlords feared attacks by armed bands at night, and many destroyedtheir own machines. Government action was severe. Those suspectedof rioting were rounded up. 1, 976 prisoners were tried, nine men were hanged, 505 transported – over 450 of them to Australia – and644 put behind bars.Captain Swing was a mythic name used in these letters. But who were the Swing rioters? Why did they break threshing machines? What were they protesting against? To answer these questions, weneed to trace the developments in English agriculture in the eighteenthand nineteenth centuries. 1.1 The Time of Open fields and Commons Over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Englishcountryside changed dramatically. Before this time in large parts of England the countryside was open. It was not partitioned intoenclosed lands privately owned by landlords. Peasants cultivated onstrips of land around the village they lived in. At the beginning of each year, at a public meeting, each villager was allocated a numberof strips to cultivate. Usually, these strips were of varying quality and often located in different places, not next to each other. Theeffort was to ensure that everyone had a mix of good and bad land.Beyond these strips of cultivation lay the common land. All villagershad access to the commons. Here they pastured their cows and grazedtheir sheep, collected fuelwood for fire and berries and fruit for food. They fished in the rivers and ponds, and hunted rabbit in commonforests. For the poor, the common land was essential for survival. It 1 The Coming of Modern Agriculture in England The threatening letters circulated widely.At times the threats were gentle, atothers severe. Some of them were asbrief as the following.SirThis is to acquaint you that if yourthreshing machines are not destroyedby you directly we shall commence ourlabours.Signed on behalf of the whole Swing From E.J. Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing.     P  e  a  s  a  n   t  s  a  n   d   F  a  r  m  e  r  s 119 Source B This Swing letter is an example of asterner threat:Sir,Your name is down amongst the Blackhearts in the Black Book and this is toadvise you and the like of you, who are…… to make your wills.Ye have been the Blackguard Enemiesof the people on all occasions, ye havenot yet done as ye ought.Swing supplemented their meagre income, sustained their cattle, and helpedthem tide over bad times when crops failed.In some parts of England, this economy of open fields and commonlands had started changing from about the sixteenth century. Whenthe price of wool went up in the world market in the sixteenthcentury, rich farmers wanted to expand wool production to earnprofits. They were eager to improve their sheep breeds and ensuregood feed for them. They were keen on controlling large areas of land in compact blocks to allow improved breeding. So they begandividing and enclosing common land and building hedges aroundtheir holdings to separate their property from that of others. They drove out villagers who had small cottages on the commons, andthey prevented the poor from entering the enclosed fields. Till the middle of the eighteenth century the enclosure movementproceeded very slowly. The early enclosures were usually created by individual landlords. They were not supported by the state or thechurch. After the mid-eighteenth century, however, the enclosuremovement swept through the countryside, changing the Englishlandscape for ever. Between 1750 and 1850, 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British Parliament no longer watched this processfrom a distance. It passed 4,000 Acts legalising these enclosures. Fig.1  – Threshing machines broken in different counties of England during the Captain Swing movement.(1830-32)Based on E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing .  Number of machines brokenSwing movement areas     I  n   d   i  a  a  n   d   t   h  e   C  o  n   t  e  m  p  o  r  a  r  y   W  o  r   l   d 120 1.2 New Demands for Grain  Why was there such a frantic effort to enclose lands? What did theenclosures imply? The new enclosures were different from the old.Unlike the sixteenth-century enclosures that promoted sheep farming,the land being enclosed in the late eighteenth century was for grainproduction. The new enclosures were happening in a different context;they became a sign of a changing time. From the mid-eighteenthcentury, the English population expanded rapidly. Between 1750 and1900, it multiplied over four times, mounting from 7 million in 1750to 21 million in 1850 and 30 million in 1900. This meant an increaseddemand for foodgrains to feed the population. Moreover, Britain atthis time was industrialising. More and more people began to liveand work in urban areas. Men from rural areas migrated to towns insearch of jobs. To survive they had to buy foodgrains in the market. As the urban population grew, the market for foodgrains expanded,and when demand increased rapidly, foodgrain prices rose.By the end of the eighteenth century, France was at war with England. This disrupted trade and the import of foodgrains from Europe.Prices of foodgrains in England sky rocketed, encouraging landownersto enclose lands and enlarge the area under grain cultivation. Profitsflowed in and landowners pressurised the Parliament to pass theEnclosure Acts.  Activity Look at the graph carefully. See how the priceline moves up sharply in the 1790s and slumpsdramatically after 1815. Can you explain why theline of the graph shows this pattern? New words Bushel – A measure of capacity.Shillings – An English currency. 20 shillings = £1 Fig.2 – Annual average wheat prices in England and Wales: 1771-1850. 020406080100120   1 7   7  1  -   7   5  1   7   7   6 -   8   0  1   7   8  1  -   8   5  1   7   8   6  -   9   0  1 7   9 1  -   9   5  1   7   9   6  -  1   8   0 0  1   8   0  1  -   0   5  1 8   0   5  -  1   0  1   8  1  1  -  1   5  1 8  1   6  -   2   0  1   8   2  1 -   2   5  1   8   2   6  -   3   0  1   8   3  1  -   3   5  1   8   3 6  -  4   0  1   8  4  1  -  4   5  1   8  4   6  -   5   0 YEARS    S   H   I   L   L   I   N   G   S   P   E   R   B   U   S   H   E average price
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