Forest Society and Colonialism
The disappearance of forests or destruction of forest by humans for various reasons is referred to as deforestation.
The causes of deforestation by the British in India
1. The British directly encouragedthe production of commercial crops like jute, sugar, andcotton. The demand for these crops increased in nineteenth-century Europe where foodgrains were needed to feed the growing urbanpopulation and raw materials were required for industrialproduction.
2. In the early nineteenth century, the British thought that forests were unproductive. Forests were consideredto be wilderness that had to be brought under cultivation so thatthe land could yield agricultural products and revenue, and enhancethe income of the British.
3. 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.
4. 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, andto lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together.Each mile of railway track required around 2,000 sleepers. 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. As 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.
5. Large areas of natural forests were also cleared to make way fortea, coffee and rubber plantations to meet Europe’s growing needfor these commodities. The colonial government took over theforests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates.
Dietrich Brandis’s advice for commercial forest:
The British invited a German forest expert, Dietrich Brandis, for advice, and made him the first InspectorGeneral of Forests in India.
1. Brandis realized that a proper system had to be introduced to manage the forests and people had to be trained in the science of conservation.
2. Rules about the use of forest resources had to be framed. This system would need legal sanction.
3. Felling of trees and grazing had to berestricted so that forests could be preserved for timber production.Anybody who cut trees without following the system had to be legally punished.
4. Brandis set up the Indian Forest Service in 1864
5. He helped to formulate the Indian Forest Act of 1865.
6. He set up the Imperial Forest Research Institute at Dehradun in 1906.
7. After the Forest Act was enacted in 1865, it was amended twice,once in 1878 and then in 1927. The 1878 Act divided forests intothree categories: reserved, protected and village forests. The bestforests were called reserved forests. Villagers could not take anythingfrom these forests.
In scientific forestry –forests with mixed trees are cleared and one kind of trees are planted at straight rows to cultivate timber for railway and ship building
A system of cuttingtrees controlled by the forest department,in which old trees are cut and new onesplanted in straight lines for British railway and Navy.
1. Foresters wanted forests with a mixture of species to satisfy different needs such as fuel, food, fodder, leaves. The forest departmenton the other hand wanted trees which were suitable for buildingships or railways. So the British did not allow the foresters to collect them.
2. After the Forest Act, all their everyday practices cutting wood for theirhouses, grazing their cattle, collecting fruits and roots, hunting and fishing became illegal. People were now forced to steal woodfrom the forests, and if they were caught, they were severely punished.
3. One of the major impacts of European colonialism was on the practiceof shifting cultivation or 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, and the crop isharvested by October-November. (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.)
4. The new forest laws changed the lives of forest dwellers in yet anotherway. Before the forest laws, many people who lived in or near forestshad survived by hunting deer, partridges and a variety of smallanimals. This customary practice was prohibited by the forest laws.Those who were caught hunting were now punished for poaching.
5. Adivasi communities were trading elephants and other goods like hides, horns, silk cocoons, ivory, bamboo, spices, fibres, grasses, gums and resins etc. With the coming of the British, trade was regulated and the government gave monopoly rights to large European trading firms to trade in the forestproducts.
Location of Bastar and believes of the People of Bastar
1. Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh andborders Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra. The central partof Bastar is on a plateau.
2. A number of differentcommunities live in Bastar such as Maria and MuriaGonds, Dhurwas,Bhatras and Halbas. They speak different languages but sharecommon customs and beliefs.
3. The people of Bastar believe that eachvillage was given its land by the Earth, and in return, they look afterthe earth by making some offerings at each agricultural festival. They show respect to the spirits of the river, the forest and the mountain.
4. Since each village knows where itsboundaries lie, the local people look after all the natural resourceswithin that boundary. If people from a village want to take somewood from the forests of another village, they pay a small fee calleddevsari, dandor man in exchange.
5. Some villages also protect their forestsby engaging watchmen and each household contributes some grainto pay them. Every year there is one big hunt where the headmen ofvillages meet and discuss issues ofconcern, including forests.
Causes for Bastar rebellion
1. When the colonial government proposed to reserve two-thirds ofthe forest in 1905, and stop shifting cultivation, hunting and collectionof forest produce, the people of Bastar were very worried.
2. Somevillages were allowed to stay on in the reserved forests on the conditionthat they worked free for the forest department in cutting andtransporting trees, and protecting the forest from fire. So these came to be known as forest villages.
3. People of other villageswere displaced without any notice or compensation. Villagers had been suffering from increased land rents and frequentdemands for free labour and goods by colonial officials.
4. Then the terrible famines came, in 1899-1900 and again in 1907-1908. Rebellion became inevitable.
How was the Bastar Rebellion organized?
1. People began to gather and discuss these issues in their village councils,in bazaars and at festivals or wherever the headmen and priests ofseveral villages were assembled.
2. The initiative was taken by theDhurwas of the Kanger forest, where reservation first took place. Leader of the rebellion was GundaDhur, from village Nethanar. They prepare weapons like mango boughs, a lump of earth, chillies andarrows, which began circulating between villages.
3. These were actuallymessages inviting villagers to rebel against the British. Every villagecontributed something to the rebellion expenses.
4. Bazaars were looted,the houses of officials and traders, schools and police stations wereburnt and robbed, and grain redistributed. Most of those who wereattacked were in some way associated with the colonial state and itsoppressive laws.
5. It took threemonths (February - May) for the British to regain control. However,they never managed to capture GundaDhur.
Results of the Bastar Rebellion
1. In a major victoryfor the rebels, work on reservation was temporarily suspended.
2. The area to be reserved was reduced to roughly half of thatplanned before 1910.
Causes for forest Rebellion in Java
1. The Dutch wanted timber from Java tobuild ships. They banned the Practice of shifting cultivation.The Dutch enacted forest laws in Java, restricting villagers’ access to forests.
2. Nowwood could only be cut for specified purposeslike making river boats or constructing houses,and only from specific forests under closesupervision.
3. Villagers were punished forgrazing cattle in young stands, transportingwood without a permit, or travelling on forestroads with horse carts or cattle.
4. As in India, the need to manage forests forshipbuilding and railways led to theintroduction of a forest service by the Dutch in Java.
5. The Dutchfirst imposed rents on land being cultivated in the forest and thenexempted some villages from these rents if they worked collectivelyto provide free labour and buffaloes for cutting and transportingtimber. This was known as the blandongdienstensystem.
Forest Rebellion in Java or Saminist Movement in Java
1. In 1890s, SurontikoSamin a teak forestvillager began questioning state ownership of the forest. He argued thatthe state had not created the wind, water, earth and wood, so it could notown it.
2. Soon a widespread movement developed. Amongst those whohelped organise it were Samin.s sons-in-law.
3. By 1907, 3,000 familieswere following his ideas. Some of the Saminists protested by lying downon their land when the Dutch came to survey it, while others refused topay taxes or fines or perform labour.
World Wars and Deforestation
1. The First World War and the Second World War had a major impacton forests. In India, working plans were abandoned at this time, andthe forest department cut trees freely to meet British war needs.
2. InJava, just before the Japanese occupied the region, the Dutch followeda scorched earth policy, destroying sawmills, and burning hugepiles of giant teak logs so that they would not fall into Japanesehands.
3. The Japanese then exploited the forests recklessly for theirown war industries, forcing forest villagers to cut down forests.
4. After the war, it was difficult for the Indonesian forest serviceto get this land back. As in India, people’s need for agricultural landhas brought them into conflict with the forest department’s desireto control the land and exclude people from it.