Forest and Colonialism

New Trades

The new trade was mainly controlled by the British people with some participation of Indian merchants. For the forest dwellers no significant opportunities emerged.

Many people from Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh were forced to work in tea gardens of Assam and West Bengal. But the working condition in the tea gardens was very bad. People were given low wages and there was no permission to come back to their home villages in between. Many nomadic tribes who had earlier been engaged in trade of forest produce continued to do so.




The Story of Bastar

Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh. Many tribal communities, like Maria and Muria Gonds, Dhruwas, Bhatras and Halbas, live in this area. They speak different languages but share common customs and beliefs. These tribal people had always been dependent on forests and had developed the practice of keeping the forest in high reverence.

The Fears of the People

When about two-thirds of the forest was made into reserve forest and shifting cultivation, hunting and collection of forest produce was stopped, it disturbed the people of Bastar. Some villagers were allowed to stay in the reserved forests. But they had to work for free for the forest department. The work included cutting and transporting trees and protecting the forest from fires. Such villages came to be known as ‘forest villages’.

But most of the people were forced to leave their villages. Their problem was further aggravated by the famines of 1899-1900 and 1907-08. People began to group together. The Dhurwas were the people to take initiative. There was no single leader but Gunda Dhur from village Nethanar was an important figure in that rebellion. The rebellion began in 1910 and every village contributed towards the rebellion expenses. The rebels looted the bazaars, houses of officials and traders. They burnt schools and police stations.

The British sent troops to suppress the rebellion. Negotiations by adivasi leaders failed and the British surrounded their camps and fired upon them. Most of the villages became deserted as people took refuge in the jungles. It took three months (February-May) to control the rebellion.

Work on reservation of forest was suspended for the time being. The area to be reserved was reduced to about half of what was earlier planned. This was a major victory for the rebels.






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