Class 9 History
The life of pastoralists changed dramatically under the colonial rule. The colonial rulers wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms. This was necessary to increase land revenue, which was the main source of revenue for the government. Additionally, increasing the cultivated land was necessary for increasing the production of jute, cotton and wheat which were required in England.
Waste Land Rules were enacted in different parts of the country from the mid-nineteenth century. Under these rules, uncultivated lands were taken over and given to select individuals. These individuals were encouraged to settle on these lands and were granted various concessions. Some of them were made headmen of villages in the newly cleared areas.
The expansion of cultivated land resulted in significant reduction in grazing grounds. This created huge problem for the pastoralists.
New Forest Acts were enacted by the mid-nineteenth century. Under these Acts, many forests were declared ‘Reserved’. Pastoralists were not allowed in the reserved forests. Some other forests were classified as ‘Protected’. The pastoralists got some grazing rights in the protected forests but their movements were highly restricted.
These Forest Acts changed the lives of pastoralists. They could not enter many areas and entry to some other areas was restricted. So instead of following the seasonal cycle, they were forced to follow the new Forest Acts, which disturbed their traditional ways of life.
The nomadic people were viewed with suspicion by the colonial rulers. The Criminal Tribes Act was passed in 1871. Many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists were classified as Criminal Tribes under this Act. They were forced to live in notified villages only and the police officials kept a watch on them. You can imagine the ignominy these people were forced to suffer.
The colonial government looked for every possible source of taxation, in order to increase its revenue income. Tax was imposed on land, on canal water, on salt, on trade goods, and even on animals.
Grazing tax was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, in most of the pastoral tracts of India. Tax was calculated on the basis of per head of cattle. The tax rate went up rapidly and the tax collection system was made more efficient.
The right to collect the tax was auctioned to contractors between 1850s and 1880s. These contractors tried to extract as high a tax as possible to recover their investment. By 1880s, the government began to directly collect taxes from the pastoralists.
The availability of pastureland decreased drastically. This resulted in continuous intensive grazing of the remaining pasture. Unlike in the past, the lack of seasonal movement of pastoralists did not allow time for the natural restoration of vegetation growth. This created shortage of forage for animals and the animal stock deteriorated. Most of the cattle died due to shortage of fodder.
Some of the pastoralists reduced the number of cattle in their herds. Some others discovered new pastures. For example, when the Raikas could no longer move into Sindh after the partition of 1947 they began to migrate to Haryana in search of new pastures. Some rich pastoralists began to buy land to settle down and gave up their nomadic life. While some of them became peasants, some others took to more extensive trading. But the poor pastoralists had to borrow from moneylenders in order to survive. Most of them finally lost their cattle and sheep and became labourers. They began to work in fields or in small towns.
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