Forest Society and Colonialism
Q73. What kind of life is led by the tribals of Bastar?
Give a brief account of the people of Bastar.
Describe the life of the tribal people of Bastar.
Ans. The People of Bastar
- Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh and borders Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra. A number of different communities live in Bastar such as Maria and Muria Gonds, Dhurwas, Bhatras and Halbas. They speak different languages but share common customs and beliefs.
- The people of Bastar believe that each village was given its land by the Earth, and in return, they look after the earth by making some offerings at each agricultural festival.
- They show respect to the spirits of the river, the forest and the mountain. The local people look after all the natural resources within the boundary. If people from a village want to take some wood from the forests of another village, they pay a small fee called devsari, dand or man in exchange.
- Some villages also protect their forests by engaging watchmen and each household contributes some grain to pay them.
- Every year there is one big hunt where the headmen of villages in a pargana (cluster of villages) meet and discuss issues of concern, including forests.
Q74. Why was Dietrich Brandis invited by the British government? What steps were taken by him to protect forests?
Ans. The British were worried that the use of forests by local people and the reckless felling of trees by traders would destroy forests. So they decided to invite a German expert, Dietrich Brandis, for advice, and made him the first Inspector General of Forests in India.
Steps taken by Dietrich Brandis to protect forests were:
- Brandis realised that a proper system had to be introduced to manage the forests and people had to be trained in the science of conservation. This system would need legal sanction. Rules about the use of forest resources had to be framed.
- Felling of trees and grazing had to be restricted so that forests could be preserved for timber production.
- Anybody who cut trees without following the system had to be punished.
- So Brandis set up the Indian Forest Service in 1864 and helped formulate the Indian Forest Act of 1865.
- The Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up at Dehradun in 1906. The system they taught here was called scientific forestry.
Q75. Discuss how the changes in forest management in the colonial period affected the following groups of people:
- Nomadic and pastoralist communities
- Firms trading in timber/forest produce
- Kings/British officials engaged in shikar
Ans. Shifting cultivators - In shifting cultivation, parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation. European foresters regarded this practice as harmful for the forests. They felt that land which was used for cultivation every few years could not grow trees for railway timber. When a forest was burnt, there was the added danger of the flames spreading and burning valuable timber. Shifting cultivation also made it harder for the government to calculate taxes. Therefore, the government decided to ban shifting cultivation. As a result, many communities were forcibly displaced from their homes in the forests. Some had to change occupations, while some resisted through large and small rebellions.
Nomadic and pastoralist communities - With the coming of the British, however, trade was completely regulated by the government. The British government gave many large European trading firms the sole right to trade in the forest products of particular areas. Grazing and hunting by local people were restricted. In the process, many pastoralist and nomadic communities like the Korava, Karacha and Yerukula of the Madras Presidency lost their livelihoods. Some of them began to be called criminal tribes’, and were forced to work instead in factories, mines and plantations, under government supervision.
Firms trading in timber/forest produce - The British government gave many large European trading firms the sole right to trade in the forest products of particular areas. Grazing and hunting by local people were restricted.
Plantation owners - The colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea or coffee.
Kings/British officials engaged in shikar - While the forest laws deprived people of their customary rights to hunt, hunting of big game became a sport. Under colonial rule the scale of hunting increased to such an extent that various species became almost extinct. The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society. They gave rewards for the killing of tigers, wolves and other large animals on the grounds that they posed a threat to cultivators.
Q76. Between 1880 and 1920, forest cover in the Indian subcontinent declined by 9.7 million hectares, from 108.6 million hectares to 98.9 million hectares. Discuss the role of the following factors in this decline:
- Adivasis and other peasant users
Explain any five causes of deforestation in India under colonial rule.
Ans. Railways - The spread of railways from the 1850s created a new demand. Railways were essential for colonial trade and for the movement of imperial troops. To run locomotives, wood was needed as fuel, and to lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together. As the railway tracks spread through India, a larger and larger number of trees were felled. The government gave out contracts to individuals to supply the required quantities. These contractors began cutting trees indiscriminately. Forests around the railway tracks fast started disappearing.
Shipbuilding - By the early nineteenth century, oak forests in England were disappearing. This created a problem of timber supply for the Royal Navy. By the 1820s, search parties were sent to explore the forest resources of India. Within a decade, trees were being felled on a massive scale and vast quantities of timber were being exported from India.
Agricultural expansion - As population increased over the centuries and the demand for food went up, peasants extended the boundaries of cultivation, clearing forests and breaking new land. In the colonial period, cultivation expanded rapidly for a variety of reasons.
Commercial farming - British directly encouraged the productions of commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and cotton. The demand for these crops increased in nineteenth-century Europe where food grains were needed to feed the growing urban population and raw materials were required for industrial production. Hence forest lands were cleared to make land available for commercial farming.
Tea/Coffee plantations - Large areas of natural forests were also cleared to make way for tea, coffee and rubber plantations to meet Europe’s growing need for these commodities. The colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea or coffee.
Adivasis and other peasant users - In 1600, approximately one-sixth of India’s landmass was under cultivation. Now that figure has gone up to about half. As population increased over the centuries and the demand for food went up, peasants extended the boundaries of cultivation, clearing forests and breaking new land. Adivasis and other peasant communities practiced shifting cultivation. In shifting cultivation, parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation.