NCERT (9th History) – Forest Society and Colonialism

India and the Contemporary World – I

(NCERT – History)

4. Forest Society and Colonialism

The disappearance of forests is referred to as deforestation.

Deforestation is not a recent problem.

The process began many centuries ago; but under colonial rule it became more systematic and extensive.

Let us look at some of the causes of deforestation in India.

Land to be Improved

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.

In the colonial period, cultivation expanded

rapidly for a variety of reasons. First, the British directly encouraged the production of commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and
cotton. The demand for these crops increased in nineteenth-century
Europe where foodgrains were needed to feed the growing urban

population and raw materials were required for industrial
Second, in the early nineteenth century, the colonial
state thought that forests were unproductive. They were considered

to be wilderness that had to be brought under cultivation so that
the land could yield agricultural products and revenue, and enhance
the income of the state.

So between 1880 and 1920, cultivated area

rose by 6.7 million hectares.

We always see the expansion of cultivation as a sign of progress.

But we should not forget that for land to be brought under the
plough, forests have to be cleared.

By the early nineteenth century, oak forests in England were

This created a problem of timber supply for the Royal

How could English ships be built without a regular supply of
strong and durable timber?

How could imperial power be protected

and maintained without ships?

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.

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.

Each mile of railway track required between 1,760 and 2,000 sleepers.

From the 1860s, the railway network expanded rapidly.

By 1890,
about 25,500 km of track had been laid.

In 1946, the length of the
tracks had increased to over 765,000 km.

As the railway tracks spread
through India, a larger and larger number of trees were felled.

early as the 1850s, in the Madras Presidency alone, 35,000 trees were
being cut annually for sleepers.

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.


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.

Part I – The Rise of Commercial Forestry

Why British feared about the Practice of Shifting Cultivation?

British needed forests in order to build ships and railways.

The British were worried that the use of forests by local people and the reckless felling of trees by
traders would destroy forests.

Felling of trees and grazing had to be restricted so that forests could be preserved for timber production.

Who is the First Inspector General of Forest in India?

When was the Indian Forest Service established?

When was the Indian Forest Service act passed?

Where and When was the Imperial Forest Research Institute set up?

Dietrich Brandis,german expert – 1st I.G of Forest in india – 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.

Which Forest system the Britishers taught in India?

What is Scientific Forestry?

The system they taught here was called scientific forestry. Many people now, including ecologists, feel that this system is not scientific at all.

In scientific forestry, natural forests which had lots of different types of trees were cut down. In their place, one type of tree was planted in straight rows. This is called a plantation.

How many times the Forest Act was amended?

After the Forest Act was enacted in 1865, it was amended twice, once in 1878 and then in 1927.

In India, the Forest areas is divided into how many categories?

The 1878 Act divided forests into three categories:

  1. Reserved
  2. Protected and
  3. Village forests

Which Forest area was considered has best?

What is Reserved Forests?

Is villagers had freedom to collect Forest Products from Reserved Forest?

The best forests were called reserved forests.

  • Villagers could not take anything from these forests, even for their own use.
  • For house building or fuel, they could take wood from protected or village forests.

How were the Lives of People Affected?

Differenciate the thoughts of Villagers and Britishers about the Forest usage?

Villagers wanted forests with a mixture of species to satisfy different needs – fuel, fodder, leaves.

The forest department on the other hand wanted trees which were suitable for building ships or railways. They needed trees that could provide hard wood, and were tall and straight. So particular species like teak and sal were promoted and others were cut.

In forest areas, people use forest products – roots, leaves, fruits, and tubers – for many things.

  • Fruits and tubers are nutritious to eat, especially during the monsoons before the harvest has come in.
  • Herbs are used for medicine,
  • Wood for agricultural implements like yokes and ploughs,
  • Bamboo makes excellent fences and is also used to make baskets and umbrellas.
  • A dried scooped-out gourd can be used as a portable water bottle.
  • Leaves can be stitched together to make disposable plates and cups,
  • The siadi (Bauhinia vahlii) creeper can be used to make ropes,
  • Thorny bark of the semur (silk-cotton) tree is used to grate vegetables.
  • Oil for cooking and to light lamps can be pressed from the fruit of the mahua tree.

Explain about the hardship of Forest Act?

The Forest Act meant severe hardship for villagers across the country. After the Act, all their everyday practices –

  • Cutting wood for their houses,
  • Grazing their cattle,
  • Collecting fruits and roots,
  • Hunting and Fishing – became illegal.

People were now forced to steal wood from the forests, and if they were caught, they were at the mercy of the forest guards who would take bribes from them.

Women who collected fuelwood were especially worried. It was also common for police constables and forest guards to harass people by demanding free food from them.

How did Forest Rules Affect Cultivation?

What is Swidden Agriculture?

One of the major impacts of European colonialism was on the practice of shifting cultivation or swidden agriculture.

This is a traditional agricultural practice in many parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

It has many local names such as

  • Lading in Southeast Asia,
  • Milpa in Central America,
  • Chitemene or Tavy in Africa, and
  • Chena in Sri Lanka.

In India,

  • Dhya,
  • Penda,
  • Bewar,
  • Nevad,
  • Jhum,
  • Podu,
  • Khandad and
  • Kumri are some of the local terms for swidden agriculture.
In shifting cultivation

Parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation

Seeds are sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rains

the crop is harvested by October-November

Such plots are cultivated for a couple of years and then left fallow for 12 to 18 years

for the forest to grow back.

A mixture of crops is grown on these plots.

  • In central India and Africa it could be millets,
  • In Brazil manioc, and
  • In other parts of Latin America maize and beans.

Why the British felt that the Shifting Cultivation was harmful?

Why the British banned Shifting Cultivation?

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.

What was the affect of Banning the 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.

Who could Hunt?

What was the Forest Act affected the tribals in another way?

The new forest laws changed the lives of forest dwellers in yet another way.

Before the forest laws, many people who lived in or near forests had survived by hunting deer, partridges and a variety of small animals.

This customary practice was prohibited by the forest laws. Those who were caught hunting were now punished for poaching. While the forest laws deprived people of their customary rights to hunt, hunting of big game became a sport.

In India, hunting of tigers and other animals had been part of the culture of the court and nobility for centuries.

Is Britishers only hunted the Big cats in India?

Why the Britishers killed huge number of Big cats?

Many Mughal paintings show princes and emperors enjoying a hunt.

But 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 believed that by killing dangerous animals the British would civilise India.

They gave rewards for the killing of tigers, wolves and other large animals on the grounds that they posed a threat to cultivators.

Figure out the Big Cats killing during the British time?

0ver 80,000 tigers, 150,000 leopards and 200,000 wolves were killed for reward in the period 1875-1925.

Gradually, the tiger came to be seen as a sporting trophy.

The Maharaja of Sarguja alone shot 1,157 tigers and 2,000 leopards up to 1957.

A British administrator, George Yule, killed 400 tigers.

Initially certain areas of forests were reserved for hunting.

Only much later did environmentalists and conservators begin to argue that all these species of animals needed to be protected, and not killed.

New Trades, New Employments and New Services

While people lost out in many ways after the forest department took control of the forests, some people benefited from the new opportunities that had opened up in trade.

Is the tribals left their traditional occupations and started trading in forest products was happened only in India?

Many communities left their traditional occupations and started trading in forest products.

This happened not only in India but across the world.

For example,with the growing demand for rubber in the mid-nineteenth century, the Mundurucu peoples of the Brazilian Amazon who lived in villages on high ground and cultivated manioc, began to collect latex from wild rubber trees for supplying to traders.

Gradually, they descended to live in trading posts and became completely dependent on traders.

Is the trading of Forest Products was new in India during Britisher’s time?

In India, the trade in forest products was not new. From the medieval period onwards, we have records of adivasi communities trading elephants and other goods like hides, horns, silk cocoons, ivory, bamboo, spices, fibres, grasses, gums and resins through nomadic communities like the Banjaras.

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.

Is New Opportunties of work would benifitted the tribals?

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.

“New opportunities of work did not always mean improved well- being for the people”

In Assam, both men and women from forest communities like Santhals and Oraons from Jharkhand, and Gonds from Chhattisgarh were recruited to work on tea plantations.

Their wages were low and conditions of work were very bad. They could not return easily to their home villages from where they had been recruited.

Part II – Rebellion in the Forest

In many parts of India, and across the world, forest communities rebelled against the changes that were being imposed on them.

Who were the leaders of Santhal Uprisings, Munda Rebellion and Andhra Pradesh Rebellion?

The leaders of these movements against the British like

  • Siddhu and Kanu in the Santhal Parganas,
  • Birsa Munda of Chhotanagpur or
  • Alluri Sitarama Raju of Andhra Pradesh are still remembered today in songs
    and stories.

We will now discuss in detail one such rebellion which took place in the kingdom of Bastar in 1910.

Write a detail account on the story of Bastar Rebellion?

Where is the Bastar Region located?

The People of Bastar

Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh and borders Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra.

  • The central part of Bastar is on a plateau.
  • To the north of this plateau is the Chhattisgarh plain and
  • To its south is the Godavari plain.

The river Indrawati winds across Bastar east to west.

Who were the communities lived in Bastar Region?

A number of different communities live in Bastar such as

  • Maria and Muria Gonds,
  • Dhurwas,
  • Bhatras and
  • Halbas.

How was the relationship among the community people in the Bastar Region?

  • 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.
  • In addition to the Earth, they show respect to the spirits of the river, the forest and the mountain.
  • Since each village knows where its boundaries lie, the local people look after all the natural resources
    within that 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.

The Fears of the People

When the colonial government proposed to reserve two-thirds of the forest in 1905, and stop shifting cultivation, hunting and collection of forest produce, the people of Bastar were very worried.

How was the people in the Bastar Region affected?

What is Forest Villages?

Some villages were allowed to stay on in the reserved forests on the condition that they worked free for the forest department in cutting and transporting trees, and protecting the forest from fires.
Subsequently, these came to be known as forest villages.

People of other villages were displaced without any notice or compensation.

For long, villagers had been suffering from increased land rents and frequent demands for free labour and goods by colonial officials.

In which years famines were affected in the Bastar Region?

Is the Reservations of Forest was succeed or failed?

Then came the terrible famines, in 1899-1900 and again in 1907-1908.

Reservations proved to be the last straw.

People began to gather and discuss these issues in their village councils, in bazaars and at festivals
or wherever the headmen and priests of several villages were assembled.

Where was the forest reservation first introduced?

Who were the Dhurwas?

What was the Dhurwas Rebellion?

Explain the courses of Dhurwas rebellion?

The initiative was taken by the Dhurwas of the Kanger forest, where reservation first took place.

Although there was no single leader, many people speak of Gunda Dhur, from village Nethanar, as an important figure in the movement.

In 1910, mango boughs, a lump of earth, chillies and arrows, began circulating between villages.

These were actually messages inviting villagers to rebel against the British.

Every village contributed something to the rebellion expenses.

Bazaars were looted, the houses of officials and traders, schools and police stations were burnt and robbed, and grain redistributed.

Most of those who were attacked were in some way associated with the colonial state and its
oppressive laws.

William Ward, a missionary who observed the events, wrote:
From all directions came streaming into Jagdalpur, police, merchants, forest peons, schoolmasters and immigrants.

How was the British suppressed the Dhurwas Rebellion?

  • The British sent troops to suppress the rebellion.
  • The adivasi leaders tried to negotiate, but the British surrounded their camps and fired upon them.
  • After that they marched through the villages flogging and punishing those who had taken part in the rebellion.
  • Most villages were deserted as people fled into the jungles.
  • It took three months (February – May) for the British to regain control.
  • However, they never managed to capture Gunda Dhur.

What was the major victory of Dhurwas Rebellion?

In a major victory for the rebels, work on reservation was temporarily suspended, and the area to be reserved was reduced to roughly half of that planned before 1910.

The story of the forests and people of Bastar does not end there.

Is the Rebellion of Dhurwas was ended during the british period?

After Independence, the same practice of keeping people out of the forests and reserving them for industrial use continued.

In the 1970s, the World Bank proposed that 4,600 hectares of natural sal forest should be replaced by tropical pine to provide pulp for the paper industry.

It was only after protests by local environmentalists that the project was stopped.

Let us now go to another part of Asia, Indonesia, and see what was happening there over the same period.

Forest Transformations in Java

Java is now famous as a rice-producing island in Indonesia.

What was the current status and the Old status of Java Region?

Who was colonised Java?

But once upon a time it was covered mostly with forests.

The colonial power in Indonesia were the Dutch, and as we will see, there were many similarities in the laws for forest control in Indonesia and India.

Java in Indonesia is where the Dutch started forest management.

Like the British, they wanted timber from Java to build ships.

In 1600, the population of Java was an estimated 3.4 million.

There were many villages in the fertile plains, but there were also many communities living in the mountains and practising shifting cultivation.

Why was the Dutch needed Timber?

Who were kalangs?

What was Kalang Uprisings?

The Woodcutters of Java

The Kalangs of Java were a community of skilled forest cutters and shifting cultivators.

They were so valuable that in 1755 when the Mataram kingdom of Java split, the 6,000 Kalang families were equally divided between the two kingdoms.

Without their expertise, it would have been difficult to harvest teak and for the kings to build their palaces.

When the Dutch began to gain control over the forests in the eighteenth century, they tried to make the Kalangs work under them.

In 1770, the Kalangs resisted by attacking a Dutch fort at Joana, but the uprising was suppressed.

Is any similarities between the England and Dutch countries to colonised the territories of India and Indonesia?

Is any difference between the England and Dutch scientific forestry?

Dutch Scientific Forestry

In the nineteenth century, when it became important to control territory and not just people, the Dutch enacted forest laws in Java, restricting villagers access to forests.

What were the restrictions imposed by Dutch to villagers in Java during their Colonial Period?

  • Now wood could only be cut for specified purposes like making river boats or constructing houses,
    and only from specific forests under close supervision.
  • Villagers were punished for grazing cattle in young stands,
  • transporting wood without a permit, or
  • travelling on forest roads with horse carts or cattle.

As in India, the need to manage forests for shipbuilding and railways led to the introduction of a forest service.

In 1882, 280,000 sleepers were exported from Java alone.

However, all this required labour to cut the trees, transport the logs and prepare the sleepers.

How was the Dutch solved the problem of labour requirement?

Why the Dutch needed labours?

What is Blandongdiensten System?

The Dutch, first imposed rents on land being cultivated in the forest and then exempted some villages from these rents if they worked collectively to provide free labour and buffaloes for cutting and transporting timber. This was known as the blandongdiensten system.

Later, instead of rent exemption, forest villagers were given small wages, but their right to cultivate forest land was restricted.

What was Samin’s Challenge?

Samin’s Challenge

  • Around 1890, Surontiko Samin of Randublatung village, a teak forest village, began questioning state ownership of the forest.
  • He argued that the state had not created the wind, water, earth and wood, so it could not own it.
  • Soon a widespread movement developed.
  • Amongst those who helped organise it were Saminís sons-in-law.
  • By 1907, 3,000 families were following his ideas.
  • Some of the Saminists protested by lying down on their land when the Dutch came to survey it, while others refused to pay taxes or fines or perform labour.

During the World War I and II, what was happened in Java’s and India’s Forest?

What was “Scorched earth Policy”?

How the Forest disappeared and Agriculture increased during World Wars in Indonesia?

War and Deforestation

The First World War and the Second World War had a major impact on forests.

In India, working plans were abandoned at this time, and the forest department cut trees freely to meet British war needs.

In Java, just before the Japanese occupied the region, the Dutch followed scorched earth policy, destroying sawmills, and burning huge piles of giant teak logs so that they would not fall into Japanese hands.

The Japanese then exploited the forests recklessly for their own war industries, forcing forest villagers to cut down forests.

Many villagers used this opportunity to expand cultivation in the forest.

After the war, it was difficult for the Indonesian forest service to get this land back.

As in India, people need for agricultural land has brought them into conflict with the forest department ís desire to control the land and exclude people from it.

After 1980’s, what was happened to Scientific Forestry?

Is any conservation plans were introduced after known the defects of Scientific Forestry in India?

New Developments in Forestry

Since the 1980s, governments across Asia and Africa have begun to see that scientific forestry and the policy of keeping forest communities away from forests has resulted in many conflicts.

Conservation of forests rather than collecting timber has become a more important goal.

The government has recognised that in order to meet this goal, the people who live near the forests must be involved.

In many cases, across India, from Mizoram to Kerala, dense forests have survived only because villages protected them in sacred groves known as sarnas, devarakudu, kan, rai, etc.

Some villages have been patrolling their own forests, with each household taking it in turns, instead of leaving it to the forest guards.

Local forest communities and environmentalists today are thinking of different forms of forest management

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