Colonialism and Tribal Society- History Guide for Class 8

Colonialism and Tribal Society- History Guide for Class 8

Information about Colonialism and Tribal Society


Colonialism and Tribal Society


Class 8


Class 8 History

Topics Covered

  • Colonialism and Tribal Societies
  • Impact on the Tribal Life
  • Tribal Revolts
  • Effects of Colonialism on Crafts and Industries
  • Modern Industries in India

Colonialism and Tribal Societies

The profitable exploitation of peasants made the British greedier. Their next target was the tribals of India who lived in deep forests and led a life of self-sufficiency. Their traditional economy was built around forests. They firmly believed that the forests belonged to them and they belonged to the forests. 

Most tribals like the Khonds of Orissa practised shifting cultivation. Many tribal groups like Van Gujjars of the Himalayas (AK), Gaddis of Kullu (HP), etc., lived by herding and rearing of animals. Amongst the Mundas of Chotanagpur, the land belonged to the clan as a whole and all members had equal rights on the land. 

Impact on the Tribal Life

Almost every tribe had a tribal chief. But under the British rule, the chiefs lost all power and were forced to follow the laws made by the British officers in India. But the Britishers did not want shifting cultivation because it was difficult to control the movement of tribals. But the tribals wanted to continue shifting cultivation. The changes made in the forest laws by the British made the tribal life very difficult. Most of the forests were declared as the state property, especially, the reserved forests which produced timber. Many tribals had to move to other areas in search of livelihood. This created a shortage of labourers to cut trees for the railway sleepers and to transport logs.

During the nineteenth century, when the demand for the forest produce increased, the traders and the moneylenders took advantage of the situation. They went to the tribals and offered them cash loans. They also asked them to work for wages. It led to further misery of tribals.

Let us take the case of the Santhals of Hazaribagh (Jharkhand & West Bengal), who reared silkworms for the production of cocoons. When the demand for Indian silk increased, efforts were made to encourage silk production. The traders, their agents and many middlemen approached the growers. They gave them cash loans and collected cocoons from them. You will be surprised to know that they just paid Rupees 3 for 1000 cocoons and then sold them at five times more. When the tribal groups came to know of the reality, they were shocked and started considering the traders as their enemy. 

Many tribals had to leave their forest homes in search of work. A large number of them were recruited through contractors to work in the tea plantations in far off areas of Assam. They were paid low wages and were not allowed to go back home. The plight of the coal mine workers was no less miserable. Many tribals were also recruited in factories and fields to work under very harsh conditions.

Tribal Revolts

The commercialisation of agriculture and exploitation of forest wealth made many tribals homeless and jobless. The unjust policies of the British resulted in rebellions by tribals in different parts of India. 

Revolt by the Khasis, who lived in the Khasi hills of north-west Assam, took place in 1829. The construction of a road through their land united many Khasi chiefs against the English under the leadership of Bar Manik and Tirut Singh. But the British suppressed their rebellion brutally.
  • The Kukis of hilly regions of Manipur continued attacking the British territories from 1829. But they were forced to surrender in 1850.
  • The Khonds of Khondmals (near Orissa) revolted against the British in 1846 due to the fear of being annexed. But they could not stand before the might of Britishers.
  • The Santhals found themselves quite helpless against the ruthless exploitation and oppression of the traders and the middlemen. They were expecting the British government to safeguard their interests. When nothing was done, they revolted against the Britishers in 1855 to 1856 under the leadership of Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu.
  • Mundas of Chotanagpur, joined by the Kolarian tribe of the same region, revolted in 1831. The struggle was suppressed by the British forces. But the exploitation by the merchants and the moneylenders continued.

In 1895, Birsa Munda, a young boy, emerged as hero of tribals. He urged them to continue to work on their own land to earn their living and not to move away. This would end all their sufferings.
  • As the Birsa movement spread, the popularity of Birsa Munda also increased. He told his people that land policies of the British were destroying their traditional land system. Birsa was jailed for two years but on his release, he instigated the tribals to attack zarnindars. He raised the white flag as a symbol of Birsa Raj. This movement ended in 1900 with the death of Birsa.

Effects of Colonialism on Crafts and Industries

With more and more parts of urban and rural India, coming under the rule of the East India Company, the exploitative character of the British rule was exposed. The Company's monopolisation of trade was getting stronger. Although, agriculture was the main occupation, there was no dearth of handicrafts, calico, muslin, wool and silk products. Metal works of iron, steel, copper, brass, gold and silver were also in great demand. In the seventeenth century, trade with European nations was in favour of India as we exported large quantities of fine cotton, silk fabrics, spices, indigo, drugs, precious stones and handicrafts. Unfortunately, the Company's policy led to the destruction of Indian crafts, cottage industries and artisanship.

To safeguard the British cotton industry, Indian silk and cotton textiles were destroyed with imposition of very heavy duty on Indian goods, promotion of British machine-made articles at cheaper rates, and decrease in the princely patronage. Changes in the British trade policy forced the Indian craftsmen and artisans to give up their traditional livelihood. No doubt, the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830) in Britain and other European countries was also responsible for de-industrialisation of India. All these factors started the process of ruining the traditional handicrafts and the decline in the national income of India.

Modern Industries in India

The impact of our national movement for freedom and international developments opened the gates of modern industries in India. For example, tea became the biggest plantation industry in Assam, Bengal and South India. So much so that Indian tea topped the world market and England became its biggest buyer. The other plantation industries were coffee, cinchona and rubber.

Industries like cotton, jute, iron and steel developed at a fast rate.
For example, with the expansion of railways, the demand for coal, iron and steel increased. It was because of far-sightedness and determination of Jamshedji Tata that world class famous company like Tata Iron and Steel Company came up. With the passage of time, cement, chemical and sugar industries also developed. But we had to import machinery from abroad. It was only after independence that basic or key industries were given priority.

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