The Inclosure Act, 1845 and birth of the landless

On 8 August, over 174 years ago, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Inclosure Act, 1845. One among a series of laws, majority of which was passed between 1750 and 1860, it allowed for commons, or communally held and cultivated land and pastures to be converted into pieces of individual property to which the owner could deny access and use.

Feudal lords in England did so with an alarming pace. Between 1750 and 1820, peasants were dispossessed of about 30% of all agricultural land in England often accompanied by violence and brutality. This created a new class of people; peasant with rights to the land and a share in village life were transformed into workers with nothing but their labour to sell. Enclosures allowed landlords increase land productivity. Many former peasants, now agricultural workers were made unnecessary for agricultural production. It was these workers that flocked to cities and towns to work in the expanding industry for the lowest of wages, longest of hours and worst of working conditions. They formed the labour force of the Industrial Revolution.

In India, we still see today what happened all those years ago in England. Farmland is acquired for industrial development, often without consent. Coastlines are encroached by ports and industrial clusters. Forests are diverted for mining and other business purposes, including tourism. All these play a similar role to the Inclosure Acts. They deprive farmers, fish workers, forest workers, etc. of land essential to sustaining their livelihoods. Deprived of such, these people are forced to join the lowest end of the workforce, working for the lowest of wages, longest of hours and in the worst conditions. However, as the lack of jobs grows more acute, it is doubtful if there will be any work available for them.

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