Naragunda, a taluk in Gadag district of Northern Karnataka is a historical place. It is a town that was administered by the Chalukyas and was ruled subsequently by Hyder Ali, Tippu Sultan, Peshwa and Shivaji.
In 1857, when the First War of Independence was being fought, Baba Saheb rebelled against the British in Naragunda for his existence. Not having any children, Baba Saheb wished to adopt a child. Baba Saheb rebelled against the British when they did not allow him to do so. Naragunda played a major role in Indian Mutiny of 1857. The British invasion of the country was fiercely fought here. In 1858, the British won over Baba Saheb and demolished the fort.
Historic Rebellion of Nargunda
Another historic rebellion took place on July 21st 1980 when farmers protested for securing their rights and their very existence in the historic Naragunda.
The Malaprabha dam was constructed in Naviluteertha near Savadatti in Belgaum district. The Gundu Rao led-government which was then in power, levied the Betterment Levy (as per the Levy of Betterment Contribution and Water Rate Act-75) on farmers who were being provided water from from the Malaprabha Irrigation Project between 1976-77.
As amended in 1974, the farmers had to pay, at the maximum Rs 1500 per acre as tax. This was mandatory for the farmers who were to benefit permanently from the reservoirs. Naragunda taluk in Gadag district, Ramadurga and Savadatti taluk in Belgaum district and Navalgunda taluk in Dharwad district were declared as fully irrigated areas.
However, most of the farmlands in Naragunda were not irrigated. The whole farmland was taxed for even when only a part of the farm was irrigated. In addition, the government had doubled the irrigation and revenue tax despite opposition from the farmers. They appealed many a times to the government about the issue. When farmers couldn’t take these excesses any longer, they started an agitation against the government demanding that the Betterment Levy Act be repealed.
Varalakshmi cotton was an important crop in the Malaprabha region. It had earlier brought much profit and prosperity. In the early 1980’s when the value for the crop fell drastically, peasantry were forced to take to struggles.
In April 1980, the movement intensified. In line with the non-cooperation movement, in June 1980, more than 13,000 farmers from Navalagunda pledged to not pay taxes and duties.
A coordination committee was formed under the guidance of Prof Halakatti from Dharwad to get the taxes cancelled. The movement spread and was also intensified as it spread to neighbouring taluks of Savadatti and Naragunda.
On July 21, 1980, the Farmers had decided to warn the government by calling for a strike and by shutting down the government offices. Preparations were underway for organizing a massive protest rally and a public meeting.
Many eyewitnesses share accounts that several government officials and officers of the irrigation department along with their families left the town and moved elsewhere as the farmer’s struggles intensified.
The farmers gheraoed the taluk office in an attempt to shut the government offices of the taluk for the day. However, Tehsildar who arrived at the office had a heated argument with the farmers. As the situation worsened, the Tehsildar under the police security attempted to enter the office.
The Tehsildar attempting to enter the office stamped and walked past a farmer who was lying down to obstruct his entry into the office. Angered peasants expressed extreme outrage against the Tehsildar. Seeing the situation was getting out of control, the Police Inspector at the spot open fired. This ensured that the movement turned violent.
A farmer, Veerappa Kadlikoppa died on the spot after being hit by the bullet.
Meanwhile, a farmer, Basappa Lakkundi died of a gun-shot in the Police firing. The firing further angered the farmers who had already lost their trust in government officials. Farmers rushed into the taluk office and set it on fire. They also assaulted the police. The police inspector was severely assaulted. Many were wounded in a farmer-police clash at Navalagunda-Naragunda.
Soon after, the local administration began arresting the peasantry to suppress the peasant struggle. But the rebellion sparked a fury against the government which spread across the state like a wildfire and the Gundu Rao government fell. It also inspired the formation of the Rajya Raitha Sangha. From then on, Naragunda has served as a source of inspiration for all the people struggling to secure the rights of farmers across the state and beyond.
The fight has not ended.
The struggle that was initiated demanding the Minimum Support Price and opposing the imposition of taxes by the government has been able to get the taxes revoked. However, the issues of the farmers have not been solved as yet. Hence, the struggle continues.
Naragunda peasant’s movement that has been organized in the name of Mahadayi has a very long history.
The spark of Naragunda at Delhi
Farmers have been protesting at the borders of Delhi since November last year. Protests are happening across the country demanding the repeal of the three anti-peasant farm laws. One can witness the grit of the farmers of Naragunda who fought for their lives in this seven-month-long struggle.
Farmers of the Malaprabha region post the Naragunda Rebellion have been protesting for the interlinking of the canals of Mahadayi, complete loan waivers, declaration of Minimum Support Price for groundnuts amongst other demands.
Union Government’s go-to strategy to keep farmers out of the cold, rainy season in Delhi Are fighting against.
In India, the farmer has always lived amidst uncertainty and precarity of all kinds. None of the political parties that come to power has shown commitment to work in the interests of the farmers. Thus, the peasantry of Naragunda, of Rajasthan, of Punjab, of Haryana, or our fellow ones protesting at Delhi are not very different. It is hoped that the peasantry which is fighting for its very existence and to secure its rights, with its grit, will teach the political forces a lesson by toppling the government and thereby recreating history, as was in the case of Naragunda.