Rebellion in the Forest

  • In many parts of India, and across the world , forest communities rebelled against the changes that were being imposed on them.

  • The leaders of these movements against the British like Siddhu and Kanu in the Santhal Parganas, Birsa Munda of Chhotanagpur, or Alluri Sitarama Raju of Andhra Pradesh are still remembered today in songs and stories.

The people of Bastar

  • Bastar is located in the southernmost part of Chhattisgarh and borders Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and Maharashtra. The central part of Bastar is on a plateau.

  • A number of different communities live in Bastar such as Maria and Muria Gonds, Dhurwas, Bhatras, and Halbas.

  •  They speak different languages but share common customs and beliefs.

  • The people of Bastar believe that each village was given its land by the Earth , and in return, they look after the earth by making some offerings at each agricultural festival.

  • Since each village knows where its boundarie s lie, the local people look after all the natural resources within that boundary.

  • If people from a village want to take some wood from the forests of another village, they pay a small fee called devsari, dand, or man in exchange.

  • Every year there is one big hunt where the headmen of villages in a pargana (cluster of villages) meet and discuss issues of concern, including forests.

The Fears of the People

  • When the colonial government proposed to reserve two-thirds of the forest in 1905 and stop shifting cultivation, hunting, and collection of forest produce , the people of Bastar were very worried.

  • Some villages were allowed to stay in the reserved forests on the condition that they worked free for the forest department in cutting and transporting trees, and protecting the forest from fires. Subsequently, these came to be known as ‘forest villages’

  • People of other villages were displaced without any notice or compensation. Then came the terrible famines, in 1899-1900 and again in 1907-1908.

  • People began to gather and discuss these issues in their village councils, in bazaars, and at festivals or wherever the headmen and priests of several villages were assembled.

  • The initiative was taken by the Dhurwas of the Kanger forest, where reservation first took place.

  • In 1910, mango boughs, a lump of earth, chilies, and arrows, began circulating between villages. These were actuall y messages inviting villagers to rebel against the British.

  • Bazaars were looted , the houses of officials and traders, schools and police stations were burnt and robbed, and grain was redistributed.

  • William Ward, a missionary who observed the events, wrote : ‘From all directions came streaming into Jagdalpur, police, merchants, forest peons, schoolmasters, and immigrants.’

  • The British sent troops to suppress the rebellion.

  • The Adivasis leaders tried to negotiate, but the British surrounded their camps and fired upon them.

  • It took three months (February - May) for the British to regain control.

  • However, they never managed to capture Gunda Dhur.

  • In a major victory for the rebels, work on reservations was temporarily suspended, and the area to be reserved was reduced to roughly half of that planned before 1910.

  • In the 1970s, the World Bank proposed that 4,600 hectares of natural sal forest should be replaced by tropical pine to provide pulp for the paper industry. It was only after protests by local environmentalists that the project was stopped.
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Davneet Singh

Davneet Singh has done his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has been teaching from the past 14 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.