top of page
The French Revolution - Class 9 History Notes.jpg

CBSE Notes | Class 9 | Social Science | History Chapter 4 - Forest Society and Colonialism

The chapter notes describe the expansion of industry and urban centres, the construction of ships and railways, and the increased need for timber and other forest products. Additionally, we will learn about new forest use restrictions, novel ways of organising the forest, colonial control, and how forest regions were mapped, trees classified, and plantations formed. These notes will provide background information on similar developments in India and Indonesia.

Socio-Economic Development and Forest Management

Amid the social and economic development and the emergence of the modern world, the focus usually shifts towards the industrial, agricultural sectors. Apart from these mainstream blocs there are people living in the forests, running their economies. To modern eyes, the lives of pastoralists and forest dwellers, the shifting cultivators and food gatherers often seem to be stuck in the past.

These communities are very much part of the modern world we live in today. They are not simply survivors from a bygone era.

The chapter talks about the variety of ways the forests were used by communities living within them. Also, the growth of industries and urban centres, ships and railways in the nineteenth century created a new demand on the forests for timber and other forest products. New demands led to new rules of forest use, new ways of organising the forest.

Why did the colonial rule posed to be a threat to the Forest?

The term deforestation is used to refer the disappearance of the forest. Deforestation is a process that began many centuries ago; but under colonial rule it became more systematic and extensive. 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.

The colonial era was the period when the cultivation expanded rapidly for various reasons:

  • Production of Commercial Crops: The Britishers encouraged the production of the commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and cotton. The demand of these crops increased in Europe in the 19th century to feed increasing population

  • Unproductive Forest: The colonial state considered the forest unproductive and to be in the state of wilderness which needs to be cultivated. The aim was to produce larger yields and gain larger revenue, in order to enhance the income of the state.

The expansion of cultivation is considered as the sign of progress but this leads the forest to be cleared. Also, the colonial government took over the forests, and gave vast areas to European planters at cheap rates. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests, and planted with tea or coffee.

Disappearing Oak Forest

The Oak forest in England started disappearing in England by the early 19th century. This created the problem of timber supply to the Royal Navy. This was the matter of concern to the imperial power; the demand of durable timber arose for building the ships. By the 1820s, search parties were sent to explore the forest resources of India. Within a decade, trees were being felled on a massive scale and vast quantities of timber were being exported from India.

How Did The Expansion of Railways Led to Deforestation?

The spread of railways from the 1850s created a new demand. Railways were essential for colonial trade and for the movement of imperial troops. To run locomotives, wood was needed as fuel, and to lay railway lines sleepers were essential to hold the tracks together. Each mile of railway track required between 1,760 and 2,000 sleepers.

The railway network expanded rapidly from 1860s. By 1890, about 25,500 km of track had been laid. In 1946, the length of the tracks had increased to over 765,000 km.

As the railway tracks spread through India, a larger and larger number of trees were felled. As early as the 1850s, in the Madras Presidency alone, 35,000 trees were being cut annually for sleepers.

The government gave out contracts to individuals to supply the required quantities. These contractors began cutting trees indiscriminately. Forests around the railway tracks fast started disappearing.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

The Rise of Commercial Forestry

Who was “Dietrich Brandis”?

  • A German-British botanist and forestry academic and administrator, who worked with the British Imperial Forestry Service in colonial India for nearly 30 years.

  • He was the first Inspector General of Forests in India.

What Circumstance led to the foundation of ‘scientific forestry’ by the German expert Dietrich Brandis?

The British were worried that the use of forests by local people and the reckless felling of trees by traders would destroy forests. On the recommendation of the Dietrich Brandis, a proper forest system was introduced.

The rules about the use of the resources of the forest were framed and different laws were made for the proper regulation of the forests. The Indian Forest Services were introduced in 1864 also the Indian forest Act in 1865.

The Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up at Dehradun in 1906. The system they taught here was called ‘scientific forestry’.

What is Scientific Forestry? Why was this system introduced?

Scientific forestery is referred to the science of the tree plantation management. Here, forests are cut down with diverse plants species and are subsituted with one particular kind uniformly.

As per the historians, it was said that the farmers of India were damaging forests. The Britishers carried out a forestry analysis and made some laws to regulate the forest under the colonial rule. These rules were proposed in order to limit the farmers and to use the forest for their commercial good.

The Forest Acts

The Indian Forest Act of 1865 extended the British control in India. The act empowered the British government to declare any land covered with trees as a government forest and make rules to manage it.

The act was amended twice, once in 1878 & 1927.

The Indian Forest Act of 1878

The 1878 act divided the forest into three categories: Reserved Forest, Protected Forest & Village Forest. It attempted to regulate the collection of forest produce by forest dwellers and some activities declared as offences and imprisonment and fines were imposed in this policy to establish the state control over forests.

The Indian Forest Act of 1927

The act impacted the lives of the forest-dependent communities. The act laid down some procedures and the penalties to extend the state’s control over forests.

The Everyday practices of the villagers: wood cutting, cattle grazing and fruit collection for the survival got banned. The communities who lived in these forest were also barred form hunting. These laws forced people 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.

How did Forest Rules Affect Cultivation?

The practice of shifting cultivation was severely affected by the European Colonialism. This is a traditional agricultural practice in many parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

In shifting cultivation, parts of the forest are cut and burnt in rotation. Seeds are sown in the ashes after the first monsoon rains, and the crop is harvested by October-November.

Such plots are cultivated for a couple of years and then left fallow for 12 to 18 years for the forest to grow back. A mixture of crops is grown on these plots. In central India and Africa it could be millets, in Brazil manioc, and in other parts of Latin America maize and beans.

Forest rules affect cultivation in further ways are:

  • Cutting down of trees

  • Taking of land for infrastructure

  • Developing roads and building

  • Cutting of trees for commercial purposes

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg
Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

European Intervention

The practice of shifting cultivation was considered harmful for the forest by the European Foresters. They felt that land which was used for cultivation every few years could not grow trees for railway timber. When a forest was burnt, there was the added danger of the flames spreading and burning valuable timber.

The cultivation made it harder for the government to calculate the taxes. Later, the government banned the cultivation. This resulted in the displacement of many communities also many of them were forced to change the occupation. Many of them resisted through large and small rebellion.

How the ban on the customary practice of hunting did impact the lives of forest dwellers?

Many communities and the people residing in the forest had survived by hunting deer, partridges and a variety of small animals. This customary practice was prohibited by the forest laws. Those who were caught hunting were now punished for poaching. The Hunting practice is not just an activity but a tradition which is being followed since ages.

In India, hunting of tigers and other animals had been part of the culture of the court and nobility for centuries. This is evident enough in histories of the Mughals and their paintings. The colonial laws prohibited the natives form the practice but on the other hand they saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society.

They thought that by killing these dangerous animals would civilize India. Rewards were given for the killing of tigers, wolves and other large animals on the grounds that they posed a threat to cultivators.

The Maharaja of Sarguja alone shot 1,157 tigers and 2,000 leopards up to 1957. A British administrator, George Yule, killed 400 tigers.

Initially certain areas of forests were reserved for hunting. Later, many of the environmentalists began to argue for the protection of these animals.

A New Socio-Economic Order

In the surge of Forest civilisation many people lost out their land, occupation and lives but there were also some people who were benefited from the new opportunities that opened up in trade.
Many communities left their traditional occupations and started trading in forest products. This happened not only in India but across the world.  

Example: The growing demand of rubber led: the Mundurucu peoples of the Brazilian Amazon who lived in villages on high ground and cultivated manioc, began to collect latex from wild rubber trees for supplying to traders.

In India, the trade in forest products was not new. From the medieval period onwards, we have records of adivasi communities trading elephants and other goods like hides, horns, silk cocoons, ivory, bamboo, spices, fibres, grasses, gums and resins through nomadic communities like the Banjaras.

The trade was completely regulated by the government; the colonial government gave the sole right to some European trading firms to trade in the forest.

Who were Criminal Tribes?

Many pastoralist and nomadic communities like the Korava, Karacha and Yerukula of the Madras Presidency lost their livelihoods.

Some of them began to be called ‘criminal tribes’, and were forced to work instead in factories, mines and plantations, under government supervision.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

Rebellion in the Forest

In many parts of India, and across the world, forest communities rebelled against the changes that were being imposed on them.

In Assam, both men and women from forest communities like Santhals and Oraons from Jharkhand, and Gonds from Chhattisgarh were recruited to work on tea plantations.

  • Their wages were low and conditions of work were very bad.

  • They could not return easily to their home villages from where they had been recruited. 

Siddhu and Kanu in the Santhal Parganas, Birsa Munda of Chhotanagpur or Alluri Sitarama Raju of Andhra Pradesh were active leaders who fed forest rebellions in their respective regions.

The People of Bastar

The 1910 Bastar Rebellion, was an Adivasi rebellion against the British Raj in the princely state of Bastar in central India.

The tribal leader Gunda Dhur, primarily led the rebillion, with diwan & Lal Karendra Singh, king's cousin. The tribals mobilized, which led to the entire state rising in revolt against the British, overwhelming the small 250-strong police force in the state, and were marked by widespread rioting, looting and arson.

Rebellion Against The British

The people of Bastar believe that each village was given its land by the Earth, and in return, they look after the earth by making some offerings at each agricultural festival.

In addition to the Earth, they show respect to the spirits of the river, the forest and the mountain. Some villages were allowed to stay on in the reserved forests on the condition that they worked free for the forest department in cutting and transporting trees, and protecting the forest from fires.

How was the rebellion organised - Example of Dhruwas?

People began to gather and discuss these issues in their village councils, in bazaars and at festivals or wherever the headmen and priests of several villages were assembled.

The initiative was taken by the Dhurwas of the Kanger forest, where reservation first took place.

In 1910, mango boughs, a lump of earth, chillies and arrows, began circulating between villages. These were actually messages inviting villagers to rebel against the British. Every village contributed something to the rebellion expenses. Bazaars were looted, the houses of officials and traders, schools and police stations were burnt and robbed, and grain redistributed.

Most of those who were attacked were in some way associated with the colonial state and its oppressive laws. The British sent troops to suppress the rebellion. The adivasi leaders tried to negotiate, but the British surrounded their camps and fired upon them.

It took three months (February - May) for the British to regain control. However, they never managed to capture Gunda Dhur. In a major victory for the rebels, work on reservation was temporarily suspended, and the area to be reserved was reduced to roughly half of that planned before 1910.

Class 9 French Reolution - A Society of Estates.jpg

Rebellion in Java, Indonesia - The Kalangs

A famous rice producing island in Indonesia totally was covered with forest. This island was under the rule of colonial power “Dutch”. There were many similarities in the laws for forest control in Indonesia and India. Java in Indonesia is where the Dutch started forest management.

In 1600, the population of Java was an estimated 3.4 million. There were many villages in the fertile plains, but there were also many communities living in the mountains and practising shifting cultivation.

Who were Kalangas?

The Kalangs belonged to Java. They were a community of skilled forest cutters and shifting cultivators.They were important because without their expertise it was difficult to harvest teak.

The Kalangs of Java were a community of skilled forest cutters and shifting cultivators.
The 6,000 Kalanga families were equally divided between the two kingdoms, after the split of Mataram Kingdom.

The Kalanga Rebellion

The Dutch began to gain control over the forests in the eighteenth century, they tried to make the Kalangs work under them. In 1770, the Kalangs resisted by attacking a Dutch fort at Joana, but the uprising was suppressed.

What was Dutch’s Scientific Forestry?

Dutch scientific forestry for the first time was introduced in Java by the Dutch to control the access of teak and non-teak forests in larger number.

Villagers were restricted to cultivate on forest lands, with the minimum cutting of woods only for making boats and houses.

  • Forest laws were enacted in Java restricting villagers access to forests.

  • Wood could only be cut for specified purposes like making river boats, or constructing houses from specific forests under close supervision.

  • Villagers were punished for grazing cattle in young stands, transporting wood without permit or travelling on forest roads with horse, carts and cattle.

Who was Surontiko Samin? What was his Challenge?

Surontiko Samin belonged to the Randublatung village in Java. The Randublatung village was a teak forest village. Samin challenged the Dutch saying that they had not created the wind, water, earth and wood. So they could not own it

The Challenge developed into a widespread movement. It was supported by his family members. Soon 3000 families followed his ideology and protested against the forest laws of the Dutch, by lying down on their land when the Dutch came to survey it.

Many other villagers refused to pay taxes or fines. Some of them even refused to work for the Dutch in cutting trees.

War & Deforestation

The First World War and the Second World War had a major impact on forests. In India, working plans were abandoned at this time, and the forest department cut trees freely to meet British war needs.

In Java, just before the Japanese occupied the region, the Dutch followed ‘a scorched earth’ policy, destroying sawmills, and burning huge piles of giant teak logs so that they would not fall into Japanese hands. The Japanese then exploited the forests recklessly for their own war industries, forcing forest villagers to cut down forests.

After the war, it was difficult for the Indonesian forest service to get this land back. As in India, people’s need for agricultural land has brought them into conflict with the forest department’s desire to control the land and exclude people from it.

Recommended Links

bottom of page