Forest society and colonialism


The British were of the viewpoint that Indian farmers were destroying the forests with their traditional method and wanted to cultivate it for themselves using scientific techniques and so various laws were made to restrict the use of these forests.

Why deforestation?

Deforestation is not a new concept to India it has been in existence for centuries.

Meaning: Deforestation means the decrease in the forest area of the world which is primarily used for agriculture, industries or mining activities.

Land to be improved-

With the rise of the population over the years the demand for basic necessities of life also increased. In the colonial period also the concept of cultivation expanded, the British were in favor of the cultivation of commercial crops for profit. Such crops included jute, cotton, sugar, wheat, etc.

In the early nineteenth century when England was facing a shortage of timber for the Royal Navy the same was exported from India in huge quantities.

The forests of India were continuously exposed at the hands of the British for various reasons.


Europe had a large demand for coffee, tea and rubber during the colonial period and so a large number of natural forests were cleared up for the plantation of these plants particularly.

The rise of commercial forestry:-

A German expert Dietrich Brandis was invited to be the first inspector General of forests in India. He realized that certain rules need to be framed for the Use of forest resources in India.

Consequently Indian Forest Act, 1865 was enacted.

The Indian forest research institute was set up at Dehradun in 1906. The system they taught here was called ‘ scientist forestry'.

In scientific forestry, natural forests with different varieties of trees were cut down and in their place, the same type of trees was planted in a straight line. This was called a plantation.

How were the lives of people affected?

Foresters and villagers had completely different ideas of good forests. They believed that a forest should consist of every type of tree in its natural form to satisfy the different types of needs of people including fuel, fodder, leaves.

The Forest department on the other hand favored the trees which could provide strong and durable wood for ships and railways.

People used forest products for different activities like Bamboo for building umbrellas, baskets and fences. Various medicinal herbs to cure disease. Fruits and tubers are nutritious to eat.

After the enactment of the Forest Act, many of these activities became illegal which added to the hardships of the village people.

How did forest rules affect cultivation?

One major impact of the European colonies was the practice of shifting cultivation also known as swidden agriculture.

This was a traditional practice in many parts of Asia including Africa and South America.

In shifting cultivation particular parts of the forests are cut down and burnt in rotation. Seeds are sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rain and the crop is harvested by October-November.

Who could hunt?

Before the forest laws were passed many people who survived by animal hunting including dear, partridge and many other small animals were now prohibited from doing so according to the new norms passed. The people who were caught hunting were now punished for poaching.

British believed that by killing big animals they would civilize India and so rewards were given for killing tigers, wolves on land as they posed a great threat to the civilization.

Due to a large number of killing of wild animals many species became extinct too. A British administrator George yule, killed approximately 400 tigers alone.

Rebellion in the forest:-

Rebellion against the new forest laws was seen across India and in many parts of the world globally.

The people of Bastar-

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

A number of different communities like Bastar, Maria and Muria Gonda were there who spoke different languages but believed in common customs and beliefs.

The people there were of the belief system that each village was given its land by earth and in return, they looked after that piece of land and make some offerings at each agricultural festival.

In addition to the earth, they showed respect to the spirit of rivers, forests and mountains.

The fears of the people:-

In 1905 the colonial government was determined to stop the shifty cultivation, hunting and collection of the forest produce which had worried the people of Bastar.

Only some people were allowed to stay on the other reserved forest that too on the condition that they would be working free for the forest department which included cutting and transporting trees and protecting the forest from fire.

And this was the reason that they were also known as the forest villages.

Forest transformations in Java:-

Java is a popular rice-producing island in Indonesia, but there was a time when this land was covered with dense forests. The colonial power in Indonesia was the Dutch and so there were many similarities in the forest laws of Java and that of India.

The woodcutter of Java:-

The kalangs of Java were a community of skilled forest cutters

And shifting cultivators. They were valuable to the extent that without their expertise it would be difficult to harvest teak for the Kings to build their palaces.

Dutch scientific forestry:-

It was in the nineteenth century that Dutch had passed forest laws when they realized that it was important not only to have control over the territory and not only the people.

The new forest laws restricted the village people to use forest products and now the woods could only be used for some special purposes which included

· Making of boat

· Construction of houses

The Dutch now began to impose rent on the land being cultivated and also exempted some villages from these rents who provided free labor and buffaloes for cutting for cutting and transporting timber.

This system was known as blandongdiensten' system.

War and deforestation-

The two world wars had majorly impacted the forests. In India, forests were being cut down freely without any restriction to Meet the needs of the British.

New departments in forestry-

It was in the 1980s that the government across Asia and Africa realized that scientific forestry and policy of keeping forest communities away from forests had resulted in many rebellions and conflicts.

Now conservation of forests was given more importance than collecting timber.

The government realized that in many places from Mizoram to Kerala dense forests survived because they were taken care of by the villagers.

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