Study Material and Notes of Ch 4 Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age Class 8th History

How Did Tribal Groups Live?

• By the nineteenth century, tribal people in different parts of India were involved in a variety of activities.

Some were jhum cultivators

•  Jhum cultivation is another name of shifting cultivation.

• The cultivators cut the treetops to allow sunlight to reach the ground, and burnt the vegetation on the land to clear it for cultivation.

• They spread the ash from the firing, which contained potash, to fertilise the soil.

• They broadcast the seeds, that is, scattered the seeds on the field instead of ploughing the land
and sowing the seeds.

• After harvesting crop on one field, they moved to another.
→ Cultivated one was left fallow for several years.

• These cultivators were found in the hilly and forested tracts of north-east and central India.

Some were hunters and gatherers

• In many regions tribal groups lived by hunting animals and gathering forest produce.

• The Khonds were such a community living in the forests of Orissa.
→ They ate fruits and roots collected from the forest and cooked food with the oil they extracted from the seeds of the sal and mahua.
→ They used many forest shrubs and herbs for medicinal purposes, and sold forest produce in the local markets.

• Tribal groups often needed to buy and sell in order to be able to get the goods that were not produced within the locality.

• This was done through traders and moneylenders.

• Traders came around with things for sale, and sold the goods at high prices.
→ Moneylenders gave loans to met their cash needs but the interest charged on the loans was usually very high.

• So for the tribals, market and commerce often meant debt and poverty.
→ Therefore came to see the moneylender and traders as evil outsiders and the cause of their misery.

Some herded animals

• Many tribal groups lived by herding and rearing animals.

• The Van Gujjars of the Punjab hills and the Labadis of Andhra Pradesh were cattle herders, the Gaddis of Kulu were shepherds, and the Bakarwals of Kashmir reared goats.

Some took to settled cultivation

• Before the nineteenth century, many from within the tribal groups had begun settling down, and cultivating their fields in one place year after year, instead of moving from place to place.

• They began to use the plough, and gradually got rights over the land they lived on.

• In the Mundas of Chottanagpur, the land belonged to the clan as a whole.

• All of them had rights on the land.
→ But some people within the clan acquired more power than others, some became chiefs and others followers.

• British officials saw settled tribal groups like the Gonds and Santhals as more civilised than hunter-gatherers or shifting cultivators.

How Did Colonial Rule Affect Tribal Lives?

What happened to tribal chiefs?

• Before the arrival of the British, in many areas the tribal chiefs enjoyed a certain amount of economic power and had the right to administer and control their territories.

• Under British rule, the functions and powers of the tribal chiefs changed largely.
→ They were allowed to keep their land titles and rent out lands, but they lost much of their administrative power and were forced to follow laws made by British officials in India.
→ They also had to discipline the tribal groups on behalf of the British.

What happened to the shifting cultivators?

• The British wanted tribal groups to settle down and become peasant cultivators.

• The British also wanted a regular revenue source for the state.

• The British introduced land settlements – that is, they measured the land, defined the rights of each individual to that land, and fixed the revenue demand for the state.

• Some peasants were declared landowners, others tenants.

• The British effort to settle jhum cultivators was not very successful.

• Settled plough cultivation is not easy in areas where water is scarce and the soil is dry.

• Facing widespread protests, the British had to ultimately allow them the right to carry on shifting cultivation in some parts of the forest.

Forest laws and their impact

• Forest laws classified some forests as Reserved Forests for they produced timber which the British wanted.
→ In these forests people were not allowed to move freely, practise  jhum cultivation, collect fruits,
or hunt animals.

• Many shifting cultivators, therefore, forced to move to other areas in search of work and livelihood.
→ This poses problem of laborers for the Britishers to cut trees for railway sleepers and to transport logs.

• Thus, the Britishers decided that they would give jhum cultivators small patches of land in the forests and allow them to cultivate these on the condition that those who lived in the villages would have to provide labour to the Forest Department and look after the forests.

• Many tribal groups rose in open rebellion.
→ Such was the revolt of Songram Sangma in 1906 in Assam, and the forest satyagraha of the 1930s in the Central Provinces.

The problem with trade

• During the nineteenth century, traders and money-lenders started coming to more often in forests wanting to buy forest produce, offering cash loans, and asking tribal groups to work for wages.

• Hazaribagh was an area where the Santhals reared cocoons.
→ The traders dealing in silk sent in their agents who gave loans to the tribal people and collected the cocoons.
→ These cocoons were then exported to Gaya, where they were sold at five times the price.
→ The middlemen who arranged deals between the exporters and silk growers made huge profits.
→ The silk growers earned very little.

The search for work

• The condition of tribals who had to go far away from their homes in search of work was even worse.

• From the late nineteenth century, tea plantations started coming up and mining became an important industry.
→ Tribals were recruited in large numbers to work the tea plantations of Assam and the coal mines of Jharkhand and were paid miserably low wages, and prevented them from returning home.

A Closer Look

• Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tribal groups in different parts of the country rebelled against the changes in laws, the restrictions on their practices, the new taxes they had to pay, and the exploitation by traders and moneylenders.

• The Kols rebelled in 1831-32

• Santhals rose in revolt in 1855

• The Bastar Rebellion in central India broke out in 1910

• The Warli Revolt in Maharashtra in 1940

• The movement of Birsa.

Birsa Munda

• Birsa was born in the mid-1870s

• He was the son of a poor father, grew up around the forests of Bohonda, grazing sheep, playing the flute, and dancing in the local akhara.

• Birsa movement was aimed at reforming tribal society.

• He urged the Mundas to give up drinking liquor, clean their village, and stop believing in witchcraft and sorcery.

• In 1895, Birsa urged his followers to recover their glorious past when Mundas lived a good life, constructed embankments, tapped natural springs, planted trees and orchards, practised cultivation to earn their living.

• The political aim of the Birsa movement was to drive out missionaries, moneylenders, Hindu landlords, and the government and set up a Munda Raj with Birsa at its head.

• As the movement spread the British officials decided to act.
→ They arrested Birsa in 1895, convicted him on charges of rioting and jailed him for two years.

• When Birsa was released in 1897 he began touring the villages to gather support.

• His followers attacked police stations and churches, and raided the property of moneylenders and

• They raised the white flag as a symbol of Birsa Raj.

• In 1900 Birsa died of cholera and the movement faded out.

• The significance of Birsa movement:
→ It forced the colonial government to introduce laws so that the land of the tribals could not be easily taken over by dikus (outsider like moneylenders, traders).
→ It showed once again that the tribal people had the capacity to protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule.

NCERT Solutions of Chapter 4 Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age

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