Forest Society and Colonialism
ADVANTAGES OF FOREST
(i) Play a major role in improving the quality of environment, modify the local climate, controls soil erosion , regulate stream flow, support a variety of industries, provide livelihood for many communities and after opportunities for recreation.
(ii) Forest adds to the floor large quantities of leaves, twigs and branches which after decomposition forms humus.
(iii) Provided industrial wood, limber, fuel wood, fodder and several other minor products of great economic value.
(iv) They also provide natural environment for wild life, play an important role in maintaining the life support system.
The disappearance of forest 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.
(a) Land to be improved:
(i) 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.
(ii) The British directly encouraged production 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.
(iii) 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.
(b) Sleepers on the Tracks:
(i) Due to high demand, oak forests in England were disappearing. This created a problem of timber supply for the Royal Navy which required it for building ships. To get the supply of oak for the ship industry British stared exploring Indian forests on a massive scale.
(ii) The spread of railways from the 1850s created a new demand. To run locomotives, wood was needed as fuel. As railway was expanding, the demand for rule also became very high.
(iii) To lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together. Each mile of railway track required between 1760 and 2000 sleepers. to fulfill the demand of sleepers’ tress were felled on massive scale. Up to 1946, the length of the tracks had increased to over 765000 km. as the railway tracks spread through India, a larger numbers of trees were felled. Forests around the railway tracks 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 at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea or coffee.
THE RISE OF COMMERCIAL FORESTRY
In India colonial rulers needed huge supplies of wood for railways and ship. This led to widespread deforestation. The British government got alarmed. The government invite Dietrich Brand is a German expert on forests, for advice, he was appointed as the First inspector General of Forests in India. Brand is emphasized that rules need be framed about the use of forest wealth. Brand is realized that a proper system had to be introduced to mange the forests and people had to be science of conservation. This system needed legal sanction. It was at his initiatives that;
(i) Indian Forest Service was set up in 1864.
(ii) Indian Forest Act was enacted in 1865
(iii) Imperial Forest Research institute was set up in 1906. The system they taught here was called ‘scientific forestry’.
The 1878 Act divided forests into three categories: reserved, protected and village forests. The best forests were called ‘reserved forestry’. 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.
(a) How were the Lives of People Affected?
The Forest Act meant severs hardship for villagers across the country. After the Act all their everyday practice - cutting wood for their houses, grazing their cattle, collecting fruits and roots, hunting and fishing n- 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 fuel wood were especially worried. It was also common for police constables and forest guards to harass people by demanding free food from them.
(b) How did Forest Rules Affect Cultivation?
One of the major impacts of European colonialism was off the practice of shifting cultivation or swidden agriculture. Shifting cultivation as a system of agriculture has the following features:
(i) Parts of forests are cut and burnt in rotation
(ii) Seeds are sown in the ashes sifter the first monsoon rains.
(iii) Crop is harvested by October-November.
(iv) Such plots are cultivated for a couple of years and then left-fallow for 12 to 18 years for the forest to grow back. Shifting cultivation has been practiced in many parts of Asia, Africa and South America. In India, it is known by different names, such as dhya, panda, bewar, nevad, jhum, podu, khandad and kumri .
The colonial government banned this practice of shifting cultivation. They felt that land which was used for cultivation every few years could not grow trees for railway timber.
Who could Hunt?
• The forest laws forbade the villagers from hunting in the forests but encouraged hunting as a big sport.
• They felt that the wild animals were savage, wild and primitive, just like the Indian society and that it was their duty to civilise them.
New Trades, New Employments and New Services
• Forest communities rebelled against the changes imposed upon them.
The People of Bastar
• Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh.
• The initiative was taken by the Dhurwas of the Kanger forest where reservation first took place.
• The new law of Forest Act introduced by the Colonial government reserved two-thirds of the forest in 1905.
• The British sent troops to suppress the rebellion.
• It took them three months to regain control.
• A victory for the people of Bastar was that the work on reservation was suspended and the area was reduced to half of that planned before 1910.
Changes in Java
• They rose in rebellion against the Dutch in 1770 but their uprising was suppressed.
Scientific Forestry in Java
• Forest laws were enacted in Java.
• The villagers resisted these laws.
• Forest timber was used for ships and railway sleepers.
• The Dutch government used the ‘blandongdiensten’ system for extracting free labour from the villagers.
• Around 1890, Samin of Randublatung village (a teak forest village) questioned the state ownership of forests.
• A widespread movement spread.
• They protested by lying on the ground when the Dutch came to survey it and refusing to pay taxes and perform labour.
World Wars and Deforestation
• The world wars had a major impact on forests.
• The government realised that if forests are to survive, the local community needs to be involved.
• There are many such examples in India where communities are conserving forests in sacred groves. This looking after is done by each member of the village and everyone is involved.