Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age (Class 8 History Chapter 4 Notes)

Bhakkarwals of Jammu and Kashmir
The tribals were spread all over the subcontinent and were engaged in various activities such as jhum cultivation, hunting and gathering, and herding the animals.

Jhum cultivators
  1. Jhum is another name of the shifting cultivation.
  2. It was done on small patches on land and mostly on forest soil.
  3. The tribals cleared the land for agriculture by cutting and burning the forest.
  4. They spread the potash rich ash left from the fire on the land to fertilise the soil.
  5. After harvesting the field for one or two seasons, they left the land to regenerate and meanwhile they grow crops on other land.
  6. These cultivators were mostly found in the hilly and forested areas of the north-east and central India.

Hunters and Gatherers
  1. In several regions, tribals (such as Khonds of Odisha) lived by hunting animals and gathering the forest produce.
  2. They  also used  several shrubs  and  herbs for their medicinal  values, and  sold  the forest  produce  in the  local  markets.
  3. Local weavers and leather workers were dependent on these tribals for collecting dye producing flowers such as kusum and palash.
  4. They also collected the seeds of sal and mahua to produce cooking oil.
  5. In bad seasons, they usually pick odd labour jobs at nearby markets, which led to their exploitation. However, some tribal groups such as Baigas saw this as an act below their dignity.
  6. They often need markets to buy and sell things in order to survive. This was usually done with the help of traders and moneylenders. Often, these traders and moneylenders cheat the tribals by selling the things at higher prices and charging them high interest respectively, leading to debt-trap. Therefore these people were seen as the evil outsider by the tribals.

Animal Herders
  1. Several tribal groups lived by herding and rearing animals. They  were  pastoralists  who  moved  with  their  herds  of cattle or sheep season to the seasons.
  2. The Van Gujjars of the Punjab and the Labadis of Andhra Pradesh were cattle herders, the Gaddis of Kulu were shepherds, and the Bakarwals of Kashmir reared goats.

Permanent Settlers
  1. There were tribal groups such as Gonds and Santhals who settled and begun cultivating at one place. They adopted ploughs and other modern agriculture techniques. However, they retained their tribal values such as community land rights and no rigid social heirarchy.

How Did Colonial Rule Affect Tribal Lives?
Tribal Chiefs
  1. The lives of tribals went through a darastic change under the British rule. Some of the major changes are
  2. Under the British rule, tribal chiefs lost their administrative powers and forced to follow the British orders. They also have tribute to the British administration and discipline their gropus meeting the British standards. However, they were allowed to keep their lands and right to farm or rent.

Jhum Cultivators
  1. The British tried to settle down shifting cultivators as settled peasants were a reliable source of revenue income. Henceforth, they fixed and distributed the land for the cultivation. However, due to several reasons, settled cultivation was not successful in hilly regions. This is why they need to allow jhum cultivation.

Forest Laws
  1. Under the British administration, several foreset were classified as the reserved forests to meet the demands of timber. In these forests, tribals were not allowed to practice cultivation, collect fruits or hunt animals.
  2. Because of such new rules, many tribals were forced to leave these forests. However, this created the problem of labour shortage. In addition, some tribals did not obey these laws and continued to live like old times. This created friction between tribals and British and resulted into several rebellions.
  3. The revolt of Songram Sangma in 1906 in Assam, and the forest satyagraha of the 1930s in the Central Provinces are prime examples of the tribal rebellions.

Trade
  1. It is observed that innocent tribals were often cheated by the traders and monelenders. They bought the produce from the tribals at cheap rates and sold it in the markets at higher margins.
  2. In the case of silk, tribals were paid five times less than their market values.

Work
  1. The labour condition for tribals worsen during the 19th century. They were forced to work in unfavourable conditions in tea plantations and coal mines. They were paid miserably low wages and prevented from returning home.

A Closer Look
  1. Tribals openly rebelled against the changes in laws, restriction on their practices, and exploitation by traders and moneylenders. Some of the major tribal rebellions are Kols rebellion (1831-32), Santhals revolt (1855), the Bastar Rebellion (1910) and the Warli Revolt (1940).

Birsa Munda
  1. Birsa was born in 1875. He was the son of a poor farmer and grew up around the forests of Bohonda. Growing up, he heard the stories of the Munda uprisings and a life free of opression from dikus.
  2. He aimed at reforming tribal society and urged the Mundas to give up drinking liquor, clean their village, and stop believing in witchcraft and sorcery.
  3. In 1895, he urged his followers to remind their glorious past and established the rule of truth. The Birsa movement identified the English missionaries, Hindu landlords and the Government as the cause of their suffering. They are the dikus in their folk tales.
  4. As the movement, the British arrested Birsa and convicted  him  on the charges  of  rioting  and  jailed  him  for  two  years. When released in 1897, he started his campaign again from the point where left. They raided so-called dikus and raised the white flag as the symbol of Birsa Raj.
  5. In 1900, Birsa died of cholera, but his legacy continued. The movement has significant lessons for the British Government. It  forced  them to  reconsider their strategy toward the tribals and respect their rules.