Forest Society and Colonialism – Class 9 Geography Notes CBSE

Forest Society and Colonialism Notes Class 10: The notes are completely based on the chapter ‘Forest Society and Colonialism’, The Notes are classified in different headings to make them more appealing, relevant and understandable.

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Utility Value of forests for Us

Forests and trees are an important part of our life. We get so many products from trees that facilitate and enrich our life. How important forests are for us can be gauged by citing some examples as given below.

  • Papers in books you read.
  • Furniture like desks, tables, doors and windows.
  • The colour-dyes, spices for food, the cellophane wrapper of your toffee.
  • Tendu leaves in bidis, gum, honey, coffee, tea and rubber.
  • The oil in chocolates which comes from the sal seeds, the tannin used to convert skins and hides into leather.
  • Herbs and roots for medicinal purposes.
  • Forests also provide bamboo, wood for fuel, grass, charcoal, packaging, fruits and flowers.

Causes & Policies Responsible for Deforestation in Colonial India


  • The disappearance of natural forests is referred to as deforestation. It is not a recent problem.
  • The process began many centuries ago, but under the British colonial rule in India, it became more systematic and extensive.
  • Various causes were responsible for deforestation.

Cultivation for Food

Forests were cleared to increase food production in order to meet the growing demands of the increasing population. Approximately one-sixth of India’s landmass was under cultivation in 1600. With the increase in population over the centuries and the increase in the demand for food grains, peasants cleared forests and extended boundaries for cultivation.

A variety of reasons were responsible for the expansion of cultivation.

  • The demand for commercial crops like jute, sugar, wheat and cotton increased in the 19th century. The British encouraged the cultivation of these crops to fulfil the requirement of food grains for the urban population and raw material for industrial production.
  • In the 19th century, the colonial state considered forests to be unproductive. Hence, they wanted to bring them under cultivation so that land could yield agricultural produce and revenue.

Shipbuilding Increased Demand for Timber

i. By the early 19th century, Europe had exhausted its supply of good-quality timber.

ii. This affects the supply of oak trees to the Royal Navy.

iii. The colonial government overcame this shortage by getting timber from India.

iv. Trees were felled on a massive scale and vast quantities of timber were exported from India.

Expansion of Railway Network

i. In the 1850s, the spread of the railway network created a new demand.

ii. The railways were important for colonial trade and for the movement of the imperial army.

iii. Wood was used as fuel to run locomotives while wooden sleepers were used in the laying of railway tracks. As the railways spread across India, a large number of trees were felled to meet the demand.

iv. The government gave out contracts to individuals to supply the required quantities of wood. These contractors began cutting trees indiscriminately. Forests near the railway tracks disappeared fast.

Plantations by European Planters

i. The colonial government gave vast forest areas to European planters at cheap rates.

ii. These areas were enclosed and cleared of forests and tea, coffee and rubber were planted.

Deforestation and Commercial Forestry in India under the Colonial Rule

Colonial policies to manage the Indian forests?

The Rise of Commercial Forestry – I

The British required timber from forests to build ships and railways. Forest cover began to recede due to the extensive use of forest resources by the British colonial government and the local people. The depletion of forest cover became a matter of concern for even the British and they felt the need to manage forests.

  • The colonial government appointed the German expert Dietrich Brandis as the first Inspector General of Forests in India.
  • Brandis realised that a proper system had to be introduced to manage the forests and people had to be trained in the science of conservation.
  • He felt the need to formulate new forest laws, place restrictions on the felling of trees and on grazing. People who violated these laws had to be punished.

The Rise of Commercial Forestry – II

  • In 1864, Brandis set up the India Forest Service and helped formulate the Indian Forest Act of 1865.
  • In 1906, the Imperial Forest Research Institute was set up in Dehradun. Dietrich Brandis introduced scientific forestry in India.
  • Natural forests that had lots of different types of trees were cut down.
  • They were replaced with plantations that produced a large quantity of crops of one type for industrial and commercial use.
  • Based on growth statistics, systematic surveys were carried out and management plans were drawn.
  • Plans were made to estimate the plantation area to be cut every year.
  • The area that was cut was to be replanted so that it was ready to be cut after some years.

Forest Acts and Scientific Forestry

It was introduced, in which natural forests which had different types of trees were cut down and in their place one type of trees were planted in straight rows. This was called a plantation. A fixed number of trees were cut and replanted so they could be cut after some years.

  • The Forest Act was formulated in 1865. This act was amended twice, once in 1878 and again in 1927.
  • The Indian Forest Act of 1878 divided forest into three categories—reserved forests, protected forests and village forests.
  • The best forests were classified as reserved forests. Villagers were not allowed to take anything from reserved forests.
  • For house building or fuel, the villagers could take wood from protected or village forests.

The idea of Forest

i. The foresters and the villagers had very different ideas of what a good forest should look like.

ii. The forest department wanted trees like teak and sal, which were suitable for building ships or railways.

iii. Forests were a vital source of livelihood for the people living in or near the forests.

iv. Villagers wanted forests with a mixture of species to satisfy their need for fuel, fodder, leaves, etc.

Uses of Forest products

The forest people used forest products like roots, leaves, fruits and tubers for many things.

i. Fruits and tubers were eaten. Herbs were used for medicines.

ii. Wood was used for agricultural implements like yokes and ploughs.

iii.  Bamboo was used for making fences, baskets and umbrellas.

iv.  Leaves were stitched together to make disposable plates and cups.

v.  The siadi creeper was used to make ropes and the thorny bark of the semur tree was used to grate vegetables.

vi.  Food was cooked using the oil extracted from the fruit of the mahua tree.

Effects of Forest Acts

i. The various Forest Acts caused hardships to the forest people.

ii. Under these Acts, the following activities became illegal: 

a. Cutting wood for housing

b. Grazing cattle

c. Collecting fruits and roots

d. Hunting and fishing

iii. The forest people were forced to steal wood from the forests to meet their daily needs.

iv. If caught stealing, they were harassed by the police and the forest guards.

Impact of Colonial Forest Policies on the lives of Indian forest communities?

Many parts of Asia, Africa and South America practiced shifting cultivation or swidden agriculture. European colonialism had a major impact on the practice of shifting cultivation.

Locally, shifting agriculture was known by various names, such as:

  •  Lading in Southeast Asia
  •  Milpa in Central America
  •  Chitemene or tavy in Africa
  •  Chena in Sri Lanka
  • Dhya, penda, bewar, nevad, jhum, podu, khandad kumuri in India

Practice of Shifting Cultivation

i. A small tract of forest land is selected and the natural vegetation is cut and burnt in rotation.

ii. Seeds are sown among the ashes after the first monsoon rains and the crop is harvested by October-November.

iii. The land is cultivated for a couple of years until the soil loses its fertility.

iv. The land is then left fallow for 12–18 years to regain its fertility. The cultivators move to a new area in the forest and begin cultivation.

v. Shifting cultivators grew crops like millets in central India and Africa, manioc in Brazil, and maize and beans in parts of Latin America.

The European Didn’t like Shifting cultivation

i. European foresters regarded the practice of shifting cultivation as an unscientific form of land use.

ii. The land used for shifting cultivation became unsuitable for growing trees for railway timber.

iii. When forests were burnt for cultivation, there was always the fear of valuable timber being burnt down as well.

iv. Shifting cultivation also resulted in large-scale deforestation, loss of wildlife, loss of nutrients in soil and soil erosion.

Hunting under the Colonialists

i. The new forest laws changed the lives of forest dwellers in another way. Before the forest laws were enacted, forest dwellers had access to all kinds of forest products.

ii. Tribal groups hunted animals and collected forest produce.

iii. Under the forest laws, local people were banned from hunting, but wild animals were hunted as a popular sport. Under colonial rule, the scale of hunting increased to such an extent that various species became almost extinct.

Promotion of hunting by The British

British colonialists promoted the hunting of wild animals for various reasons.

  • They saw wild animals as symbols of a primitive and savage society.
  • They believed they could civilize India by killing these dangerous animals
  • Tigers, wolves and other large animals were killed on the pretext of providing protection to the cultivators. Hunters were duly rewarded for this.

ii. It was much later that the environmentalists and conservationists took up the task of protecting various animal species.

Loss of traditional livelihood for Forest dwellers

i. When the forest department took control of the forests, people lost out in many ways.

ii. Many communities left their traditional occupations and began trading in forest products.

iii. However, the British government took complete charge of this trade in India. Large European firms were given exclusive rights to trade in the forest products of a particular area.

iv. Grazing and hunting by local people was restricted. As a result, many pastoralists and nomadic communities like the Korava, Karacha and Yerukula of the Madras Presidency lost their livelihood.

v. Some of them were labelled ‘criminal tribes.

New work Opportunities

i. Forest people had no option but to work in factories, mines and plantations under the supervision of the government.

ii. New opportunities for work did not always mean improved wellbeing for the people.

iii. Both men and women from forest communities like the Santhals and the Oraons from Jharkhand and the Gonds from Chhattisgarh were recruited to work on the tea plantations of Assam to earn their living.

iv. Wages were low and the conditions of work were poor in the factories and plantations. They could not return to their home villages from where they had been recruited.

Bastar Rebellon was an Impact of Commercial Forestry by Colonists

Reaction of Bastar people to British colonial forest policies?

Rebellion in the forest

i. Forest communities in India and across the world rebelled against the changes that were being imposed on them.

ii. They were led by leaders like Siddhu and Kanu in the Santhal Parganas, Birsa Munda of Chhota Nagpur and Alluri Sitarama Raju of Andhra Pradesh.

The Bastar rebellion

i. The Bastar rebellion took place in 1910 in Bastar. It was a struggle of the tribals against the British. 

ii. Bastar is located in the southern-most part of Chhattisgarh and shares its borders with Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra. The central part of Bastar is a plateau.

iii. To the north of this plateau lies the Chhattisgarh plain, and the Godavari plain lies to its south.

iv. Indravati river flows across Bastar from east to west.

v. A number of different communities live in Bastar such as Maria and Muria Gonds, Dhurwas, Bhatras and Halbas. All these communities share common customs and beliefs, but they speak different languages.

Traditional beliefs of people of Bastar

i. The earth had given each village its land. In return, they looked after the earth by making offerings at each agricultural festival.

ii. In addition to earth, they were expected to show respect to rivers, forests and other natural resources.

iii. Natural resources of a particular village were looked after by the people living within that boundary. 

iv. Villagers had to pay a small fee called devsari, dand or man if they took wood from another village.

v. They also appointed guards to protect their forests. Every household gave some grain to the guards for their services.

Fears of the people

Many factors contributed to the Bastar rebellion.

i. By 1905, the colonial government declared two-thirds of the forest as reserved forest. This prevented Bastar people from practising shifting cultivation, hunting and collecting forest produce. The people of Bastar feared loss of livelihood.

ii. Some villages were allowed to stay on in the reserved forests on the condition that they worked free for the forest department.

iii. People of other villages were displaced without any notice or compensation. For long, the villagers had been suffering due to increased rent and frequent demands for free labour and goods by colonial officials.

iv. The terrible famines of 1899–1900 and again of 1907–1908 added to their sufferings and ultimately resulted in a rebellion.

Events of the rebellion

i. People gathered and discussed their problems in village councils, in bazaars and at festivals.

ii. The initiative was taken by Dhurwas of Kanger forest as their forest was the first to be declared as reserved forest by the British. Gunda Dhur from the village Nethanar was an important figure in the movement.

iii. 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.

iv. The rebels looted the bazaars. They burnt and robbed the houses of traders and officials, schools and police stations. The looted grain was redistributed. The rebels attacked only those who were in some way associated with the colonial state and its oppressive laws.

Suppression of the rebellion

i. The rebellion was suppressed by the British using troops.

ii. The adivasi leaders tried to negotiate, but the British surrounded their camps and fired upon them.

iii. British officers inflicted hardships on the locals and the supporters of the rebellion. Participants in the rebellion were flogged and punished. 

iv. The British took three months to regain control of the region. However, they could not capture Gunda Dhur.

v. In a major victory for the rebels, the work on reservation of forests was temporarily suspended. Also, the reserved forest area was reduced to half of the planned area.

Bastar after independence

i. 1947: The Bastar kingdom was merged with the Kanker kingdom and became Bastar District in Madhya Pradesh.

ii. 1998: Bastar was divided again into three districts—Kanker, Bastar and Dantewada.

iii. 2001: Kanker, Bastar and Dantewada districts became part of Chhattisgarh state.

Impact of Colonial Forest Policies in Other Parts of the World

Colonial forest policies adopted and implemented by the Dutch in Java.

Forest Transformation in Java

i. Forest rebellions did not happen only in India. There was unrest in other parts of Asia, such as Indonesia.

ii. Java is an island in Indonesia. The economy of Java depends on rice cultivation.

iii. The colonial powers in Indonesia were the Dutch. Java in Indonesia is where the Dutch started forest management.

iv. Like the British, Dutch wanted timber from Java to build ships, so they started forest management in Java as the British did in India.

The Kalangs of Java

i. The Kalangs were a community of skilled forest cutters and shifting cultivators.

ii. The kings of Java appointed them as woodcutters, carpenters and woodcarvers for building their palaces.

iii. The Kalangs were so valuable that in 1755, when the Mataram kingdom split between two kingdoms, the 6,000 Kalang families were equally divided between the two new states.

iv. In the 18th century, when the Dutch gained control over the forests in Java, they tried to make the Kalangs work under them.

v. In 1770, the Kalangs resisted by attacking the Dutch fort at Joana but were easily suppressed.

Dutch Scientific Forestry

i. In the 19th century, the Dutch enacted forest laws in Java. Under these forest laws, access to forests was restricted. Wood could be cut only for purposes like making boats and building houses.

ii. Wood could be cut only from specific forests under close supervision. Grazing cattle was a punishable offence, and transporting wood without a permit was also prohibited. Travelling on forest roads with horse carts or cattle was also not permitted.

iii. The Dutch exported sleepers for building railways. In 1882, 280,000 sleepers were exported from Java. Cutting the trees, transporting the logs and preparing the sleepers required labour. The Dutch first imposed rents on the land cultivated in the forest.

iv. The villages that agreed to work collectively to provide free labour and buffaloes for cutting and transporting timber were exempted from the payment of the land tax. This was called the blandongdiensten system.

Samin’s Challenge

i. Around 1890, Surontiko Samin, a Javanese peasant of Randublatung village, started questioning state ownership of the forest.

ii. He argued that the state had not created the natural resources, so it did not own those resources.

iii. His sons-in-law helped him in spreading his ideas.

iv. Some of his followers protested by lying down on their land when the Dutch came to survey it. While some refused to pay taxes and fines, to accept wages and to leave communal or rented land after the expiry of lease.

World Wars and Deforestation

i. The First World War and the Second World War had a major impact on the forests in India and Indonesia. 

ii. In India, the forest department cut trees freely to meet British war needs. People’s need for agricultural land brought them in direct conflict with the forest department.

iii. Before the arrival of Japanese troops in Java, the Dutch followed a ‘scorched earth’ policy. As part of this policy, they destroyed sawmills and burned huge piles of giant teak logs so that the Japanese would not benefit from them. The Japanese exploited the forests to meet their war needs and forced forest dwellers to cut down forests.

iv. During the war, forests were no man’s land. Many villagers saw it as an opportunity to expand agriculture in the forests. After the war, the Indonesian forest services could not get back this land from the villagers.

New Developments in Forestry

i. Since the 1980s, governments across Asia and Africa have realised that scientific forestry and the policy of keeping forest communities away from forests resulted in many conflicts between tribals and policy makers.

ii. Conservation of forests rather than collecting timber is the main concern of governments today. They have realised that cooperation of local people is essential for success in the conservation and development of forests.

iii. Dense forests in India have survived because villages have protected them as sacred groves known variously as sarnas, devarakudu, kan, rai etc.

iv. Some villages have taken the responsibility of patrolling forests, with each family taking turns to do so.

A lot of concern is shown today toward forest management. Forest communities and environmentalists today are thinking of different forms of forest management where tribals take the responsibility of protecting the forest.

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