How do you think India was when life started here? Do you think there were these sprawling buildings or fancy cars? No! There was not this life that we see today! The people were mostly tribals and the life was much simpler. In this chapter, we will learn about the Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age that shaped our country to its present form.
Life of the People in Ancient India
The tribes had many customs and rituals. These were very different from those of Brahmanas. But how did the tribal groups live? By the 19th century, tribal people in different parts of India undertook a variety of activities. We will now look at some of the most famous activities of the ancient people in India.
Jhum cultivation is basically shifting cultivation. It was done on small patches of land, mostly in forests. The cultivators cut the treetops to allow sunlight to reach the ground. They burnt the vegetation on the land to clear it for cultivation. Once the crop was ready and harvested, they moved to another field and left that field fallow for several years.
Hunting and Gathering
In many regions, tribal groups lived by hunting animals and gathering forest produce. They used many forest shrubs and herbs for medicinal purpose. They sold forest produce in the local markets. The Baigas of Central India refused to work for others. Tribal groups had to indulge in buy and sell activities to get the goods that were not produced within the locality. This made them dependent on traders and moneylenders.
Many tribal groups resorted to herding and rearing animals. They also gathered forest produce. They were pastoralists who moved with their herds of cattle or sheep according to the seasons. The Van Gujjars of Punjab hills and Labadis of Andhra Pradesh were cattle herders. The Gaddis of Kulu were shepherds and the Bakarwals of Kashmir reared goats.
Many tribal groups had begun to settle down instead of moving from one place to another. They began to use the plough and gradually got rights over the land they lived on. British officials saw settled tribal groups like the Gonds and Santhals as more civilized than hunter-gatherers or shifting cultivators.
How Did British Rule Affect These Tribals?
The British rule brought many changes to the life of the Indian tribes. We will look at them in the following section.
Life of the Tribal Chiefs
Before the arrival of the British, tribal chiefs enjoyed the economic power and had the right to administer and control their territories. Under British rule, the functions and powers of the tribal chiefs changed. They could now keep their land titles. However, they were forced to follow laws made by British officials in India.
What Happened to the Shifting Cultivators?
The British were uncomfortable with the shifting cultivators. They wanted to regularise the revenue source for the state and introduced land settlements. Their effort to settle jhum cultivators was not very successful. After facing widespread protests, the British had to allow them the right to carry on shifting cultivation in some parts of the forest.
Forests Laws and Their Impact
The life of tribal groups was dependent on the forest. The British extended their control over all forests and declared them as state property. Reserved forests were for producing timber which the British wanted. The British did not allow the forest people to move freely or practice jhum cultivation in these areas. Thus, many tribal groups reacted against the colonial forest laws and rose in an open rebellion.
The Problem with Trade
During the 19th century, tribal groups found the traders and moneylenders were coming into forests and offering cash loans to the tribal people and asking them to work for wages. Indian silk was in demand in European markets during the 18th century. The Santhals of Hazaribagh reared cocoons. The traders spent in their agents who gave loans to the tribal people and collected the cocoons.
The Search for Work
The plight of the tribals who had to go far away from their homes in search of work was even worse. The tribals were recruited in large numbers to work for tea plantations and coal mines through contractors.
Low wages prevented them from returning home. Therefore, the tribal groups rebelled in different of the country against the changes in laws, restrictions on their practices, the new taxes they had to pay and exploitation by traders and moneylenders.
Question For You
Q. Write a note on the Birsa Munda Revolution.
Ans: Birsa Munda started a revolution or a movement. The British officials were worried as the political aim of the Birsa movement was to drive out missionaries, moneylenders, Hindu landlords and the government. The movement aimed to set up a Munda Raj with Birsa at its head.
In 1895, Birsa Munda was arrested. He was released in 1897 to destroy ‘Ravana’ (dikus and the European) and establish a kingdom under his leadership. He toured the villages to gather support. In 1900 Birsa died of cholera and the movement faded out.