In the 1870s, the Maharaja (prince) of Patiala, a small princely state in the Punjab region of northern India, implemented the Biswedari (big landlord) system, which appointed biswedaris as local authorities of agrarian villages. The biswedaris, mostly government officials and close kin of the Maharaja, gradually took full possession of lands and reduced the original owners to the status of muzaras (tenants). Muzaras had to pay batai (share rent) to their landlords, consisting of half of their crop, though landlords often overestimated the crop yield to justify taking a larger share.
In the early 2000s, many residents of rural India did not own the land on which they lived and worked. Without land rights, peasant farmers were often economically insecure.
India has maintained much of its traditional caste system, which separates communities based on the socioeconomic status of the communities’ forefathers. Early 20th century constitutional reforms prevented the kind of medieval discrimination that used to make some castes literally ‘untouchable’. The untouchables were replaced by what are referred to as ‘scheduled tribes’ (STs), ‘scheduled castes’ (SCs) and ‘other backward castes’ (OBCs) that collectively refer to India’s socioeconomically disadvantaged people. Combined, they represent about 85% of India’s population.
The Salt Satyagraha campaign that began in 1930 sought to continue previous efforts that had attempted to undermine British colonial rule in India and establish Purna Swaraj (complete self-rule). The previous nationwide nonviolent campaign for independence (1919-22) had been called off by Gandhi because it broke into disarray and violence, even though it had been preceded by local campaigns: a campaign in Champaran (Indian peasants in Champaran campaign for rights, 1917) and a textile workers strike in Ahmedabad in 1918.
During the time of British occupation of India, peasants of Champaran district of the Bihar state were highly exploited by the indigo cultivation. The lessees of Indigo and agricultural areas had been Indians until 1793, but as the British Empire began its rule in India, European planters began to take over and gained total control of the indigo and sugar cane cultivation.
In March 1942, the British Parliament sent a delegation to India under Sir Stafford Cripps, a Labor Party Politician, in order to negotiate with the Indian National Congress a constitution that would secure Indian support of World War II. The Indian National Congress (INC) found the proposal for the new constitution unsatisfactory, since the draft declaration promised India domination status—but not complete independence—in return for its total cooperation during the war.