Forest Society and Colonialism

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02 Forest Society and Colonialism

Deforestation began many centuries ago but was carried out more systematically and extensively under the British rule.

Land to be Improved

  • To meet the demands of increasing population increased, forests were cleared to bring more land under cultivation.
  • The colonial government focused on increasing cultivation due to mainly two reasons:
    • Increase in the demand for commercial crops
    • Cultivated area thus rose by 6.7 million hectares between1880 and 1920.

Sleepers on the Tracks

  • With the spread of railways in the 1850s, new demand for timber was created.
  • The contractors cut trees indiscriminately and forests around railway tracks began to vanish.

The Rise of Commercial Forestry

  • The British realised that use of forests by local people and indiscriminate felling of trees by traders would destroy forests.
  • The Indian Forest Service was set up by Dietrich Brandis in 1864.
  • In 1906 the Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up at Dehradun.
  • Under the Forest Act, 1878 forests were divided into reserved, protected and village types.

How were the Lives of People Affected?

  • The Forest Act rendered activities like cutting wood for houses, grazing cattle, collecting fruits and roots, hunting and fishing illegal.

How did Forest Rules affect Cultivation?

  • Shifting cultivation was considered harmful by European foresters as trees for railway timber could not be grown in these lands every few years.

Who could they Hunt?

  • Hunting small game was banned by the forest laws.

New Trades, New Employments and New Services

  • People from many communities shifted from their traditional occupations to trading in forest products.
  • Trade was completely regulated with the advent of the British and only large European trading firms were given rights to trade in forest products of particular areas.

The People of Bastar

  • In 1910, a rebellion took place in the kingdom of Bastar, located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh.

The Fears of the People

  • In 1910, messages inviting villagers to rebel against the British were circulated through mango boughs, a lump of earth, chillies and arrows, between villages.
  • Bazaars were looted, grain was redistributed, houses of officials and traders, schools and police stations were burnt and robbed.
  • In order to supress the rebellion, the British troops surrounded the camps of adivasis and flogged and punished all those who were part of the rebellion.
  • After the rebellion, work on reservation was temporarily suspended and area to be reserved was reduced to half of that planned.

Forest Transformations in Java

  • Java, which is a rice-producing island now, was covered mostly with forests initially.
  • Dutch established colonial rule in Indonesia and started forest management.

The Woodcutters of Java

  • A valuable and highly skilled forest cutters and shifting cultivators belonged to the community of Kalangs of Java.
  • The Dutch tried to make the Kalangs work under them.
  • The Kalangs resisted by attacking a Dutch fort in Joana in 1770, but the uprising was suppressed.

Dutch Scientific Forestry

  • The Dutch enacted forest laws in Java in the 19th century, which restricted villagers’ access to forests.
  • Villagers were punished if they were found grazing cattle in young stands, transporting wood without permit, or travelling on forest roads with horse carts or cattle.

Samin’s Challenge

  • Surontiko Samin of Randublatung started to question ownership of the forest around 1890.
  • The Saminists protested by lying down on their land when the Dutch came for survey and some even refused to pay taxes, fines or perform labour.

War and Deforestation

  • Prior to Japanese invasion, the Dutch in Java destroyed sawmills and burnt huge piles of teak logs so that the Japanese could not access these.
  • After the war, the Indonesian forest service faced difficulties in getting the land back.

New Developments in Forestry

  • In order to meet the goal of conservation of forests, the government required people living near the forests to be involved.
  • In recent times, local forest communities and environmentalists have been considering different forms of forest management.

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