Page No 96:
Discuss how the changes in forest management in the colonial period affected the following groups of people:
- Shifting cultivators
- Nomadic and pastoralist communities
- Firms trading in timber/forest produce
- Plantation owners
- Kings/British officials engaged in shikar
The effect of changes in forest management in the colonial period on —
(a) Shifting cultivators: Also known as swidden agriculture, shifting cultivation is a practice wherein part of a forest is burnt for farming; this is done in rotation. With the emergence of forest management, shifting cultivators were dispossessed of their occupation and displaced from their homes. The government found it difficult to calculate their taxes. The forest officials considered burning the forest dangerous because it could spread further; they also considered it a waste of fertile land, which could instead be used for growing railway timber. Shifting cultivators were forced to change professions, while some participated in large and small rebellions opposing the changes.
(b) Nomadic and pastoralist communities: Their daily lifestyles were badly affected by the new forest laws. Due to the changes brought in by forest management, nomadic and pastoralist communities could not cut wood, graze cattle, collect fruits and roots, and hunt or fish. All this was made illegal. As a result, they were forced to steal wood, and if caught, they would have to offer bribes to the forest guards. Some of these tribes were even labelled “criminal”.
(c) Firms trading in timber/forest produce: Trade was conducted under complete government regulation. The British administration gave European firms the sole rights to trade in forest products of certain areas. This was a huge profit-making step for firms trading in timber/forest produce.
(d) Plantation owners: They were also a happy lot like the timer-trading firms. The displaced nomadic and pastoralist tribes were often recruited by plantation owners to work on their farms. Plantation owners made big profits, making the workers work for long hours and at low wages. Due to the new forest laws, the workers could not even protest as this was their sole means of earning a livelihood.
(e) Kings/British officials engaged in shikar: This group was a happy lot because the British government viewed large animals as symbols of a wild, savage and primitive society. Consequently, hunting tigers, wolves and the like was encouraged. Around 80,000 tigers, 150,000 leopards and 200,000 wolves were hunted down for reward during 1875-1925.
What are the similarities between colonial management of the forests in Bastar and in Java?
The similarities between colonial management of the forests in Bastar and in Java are many. The Dutch started colonial forest management in Java just as the British had done in India, for timber. The villagers in Bastar were allowed to stay on in reserved forests if they provided free labour for timber firms; likewise, the blandongdiensten system in Java demanded free labour from forest villagers for cutting and transporting wood. Just as the Kalangs uprising in Java was quelled in 1770, the Bastar residents revolt was also suppressed by the British, in 1910.
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:
- Agricultural expansion
- Commercial farming
- Tea/Coffee plantations
- Adivasis and other peasant users
(a) Railways: These were a necessary mode of transport for colonial trade and movement of troops. To run the locomotives, wood was needed as fuel and also for railway sleepers. As railways spread throughout India, a huge number of trees were felled. In the Madras Presidency itself, 35,000 trees were cut annually for sleepers, in the 1850s.
(b) Shipbuilding: This was also important from the perspective of colonial trade. When England’s own forests began to deplete, teams were sent to India to explore timber resources here. New ships were needed for the continuance of the English imperial power. Being an island nation, England had an essential need for timber for shipbuilding, and huge quantities of this timber was being exported from India.
(c) Agricultural expansion: In order to expand production of cash crops, whole forests were felled to make way for cultivation of crops that brought in revenue. Commercial agriculture fast replaced shifting agriculture.
(d) Commercial farming: This was a direct corollary of agricultural expansion. In commercial forestry, a particular type of tree was grown for trade pruposes. Older forests which had a wide variety of trees were no longer considered of use. These were cut down and replaced with “managed” forests.
(e) Tea/Coffee plantations: They hired displaced village community members on low wages. The forest tribes no longer lived where they had been located for generations. Shifting cultivators would sow seeds in burnt out forest land and re-grow trees. When they were gone, there was no one left to tend to the forests, something they had done naturally in their home villages.
(f) Adivasis and other peasant users: As mentioned in the previous note, when they were forced to leave their forest homes, the forests became victim to trade avarice. Industry did not worship the earth or its resources like the adivasis had done.
Why are forests affected by wars?
Forests are affected by wars on account of a variety of reasons. During the World Wars, Britain was ruthless in cutting down forests in India for war needs. To avoid Japan the profits from the forest industry, the Dutch destroyed saw mills and teak logs in Java. This blind destruction and cutting down of forests to fulfill national war requirements affects forests as they get depleted rapidly and are slow to grow back.