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Tebhaga Movement


Tebhaga Movement was the sharecroppers' movement demanding two thirds of the produce from land for themselves and one third for the landlords. Tebhaga literally means 'three shares' of harvests. Traditionally, sharecroppers used to hold their tenancy on fifty-fifty basis of the share of the produce. In land control parlance such crop sharing system was known as barga, adhi, bhagi, etc., all meaning half share. The sharecroppers were commonly called bargadars, adhiars etc. The traditional system of dividing the produce between the sharecroppers and owners came under challenge in 1946-47, when the sharecroppers called the traditional system unjust and claimed two-thirds share of the whole produce on the ground of their investment and labour input. During the winter or aman harvest of 1946, sharecroppers of some north and northeastern districts of Bengal and their supporters had gone to fields and cut down crops and thrashed them on their own khalan (harvest processing field).

On two counts the action was indeed an insurrection. First, they demanded that the half-sharing system was unjust and unjustified. Since all the labour and other investments were made by the tenants and since the landowner had virtually no participation in the production processes in terms of capital input, labour and infrastructure, the latter should get at most one-third of the crops, not one half. Second, the tenants were traditionally required to stack the harvests at the owner's khalan (thrashing floor) and share the straw and other by-products on half-sharing basis. The tenants refused to obey this. They argued that the harvests would be stacked at the tenant's compound and the landlord would not get any share from the by-products.

Tebhaga movement was organised mainly by the communist cadres of the bengal provincial krishak sabha. Under their leadership the barga (sharecropping) peasants were mobilised against the landlord class. Tebhaga movement spread out to nineteen districts of Bengal. However, the movement was most intensely felt in the districts of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri, Khulna, Mymensingh, Jessore and the 24-Parganas. As expected, the landholders had refused to accept the terms dictated by their tenants. They called in police and caused many of the tebhaga activists arrested and jailed. But the zamindari repression could not subdue the resistance movement. The resisting tenants rather added a new slogan to their agenda: the total abolition of zamindari system. The slogan for reduction of rent rate was also raised by the peasants supporting the tebhaga struggle.

In some places the tebhaga movement made such an advance that the peasants declared their zone as tebhaga elaka and tebhaga committees were set up for the governance of the area locally. Under the tebhaga pressure many of the landholders withdrew their litigation filed against the tebhaga activists and came to terms with them. The tebhaga movement was most successful in the districts of Jessore, Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri. The tebhaga rights were extensively established in Midnapur and 24-Parganas. All these developments led the government to initiate a bill in the Legislative Assembly in early 1947. The bill intended to reform the barga system in the country in the light of the latest agrarian unrest. But other political developments handicapped the government to get the Barga Bill enacted into a law. The Partition of Bengal and the promises of the new government led to the suspension of the movement.

The tebhaga struggle was successful in so far as it has been estimated that about 40% of the sharecropping peasants got tebhaga right granted willingly by the landholders. The struggle also led to the abolition or reduction of unjust and illegal exaction in the name of abwabs. But the movement had limited success in East Bengal districts. There was another spate of tebhaga movement in these districts in 1948-50. The government attributed the movement to the Indian agents, an allegation, which the general people tended to believe and thus refrained themselves from participating in the movement. But the movement had definitely influenced the passage of the east bengal state acquisition and tenancy act of 1950. [Sirajul Islam]