Forest Society and Colonialism

Forests in colonial India were cut down on a large scale. Forest lands were cleared to expand agriculture and plantations. Timber was necessary for development of navy and railways. Following the recommendations of Dietrich Brandis, India’s first Inspector General of Forests, the British introduced Scientific Forestry in India. The Forest Act was also passed in 1864. Colonial forest laws restricted people’s access to forests and usage of forest products. Forest laws also prohibited hunting by tribes, banned shifting cultivation and monopolized forest trade. Many people who lost their livelihood now worked in factories, mines and plantations. Many forest tribals in India rose up in revolt against the British. The people of Bastar region in Chhattisgarh were especially troubled by the colonial forest laws and their impact on their lives. The Bastar people attacked government buildings and homes of government officials. Ultimately however, the British ruthlessly suppressed their rebellion. Conflict between forest people and the government continued even after independence.

Like the British in India, the Dutch also enacted forest laws in the Java island of Indonesia. They also introduced forest laws that restricted villagers’ access to forests. Under the Blandongdiensten system, the Dutch employed free labour for carrying forest timber. But around 1890s, the Javanese, under Surontiko Samin, protested against Dutch forestry laws. During World Wars, the British in India, and the Dutch and Japanese in Java ruthlessly cut down forests to suit their war needs. After 1980s, scientific forestry was abandoned in Asia and Africa in favour of forest conservation.

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