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Colonial Rule and Pastoral Life

  • The life of pastoralists changed dramatically under colonial rule .
  • Their grazing areas were reduced , their movements were restricted , and the tax they had to pay went up . Their skills and crafts suffered , and their agricultural stock deteriorated .
  • How?
  • First, Waste Land Rules
  • The colonial state wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms because land revenue was one of the main sources of its finance and by expanding cultivation it could increase its revenue collection .
  • It could produce more jute , cotton , wheat and other agricultural products that were required in England .
  • For colonial officials all uncultivated land was unproductive because it neither provide revenue nor agricultural produce . They see it as a ‘wasteland’ that needed to be brought under cultivation .
  • So, from the mid-nineteenth century, Waste Land Rules were enacted in various parts of the country. 
  • Uncultivated lands were taken over and distributed to chosen individuals under these Rules . These people were encouraged to colonise these territories and given different concessions . In the recently cleared territories , several of them were appointed village heads .
  • In most areas, the lands taken over were grazing tracts used regularly by pastoralists . So the expansion of cultivation was a problem for pastoralists as it meant the decline of pastures .
  • Second, Forest Acts
  • By the mid-nineteenth century, various Forest Acts were enacted in the different provinces .
  • Through these acts, some forests which produced commercially valuable timber like deodar or sal were declared ‘Reserved’ and other forests were classified as ‘Protected’ .
  • Pastoralists were not allowed access to these forests
  • In protected forests, some customary grazing rights of pastoralists were granted but their movements were severely restricted .
  • The colonial authorities thought that grazing killed the tree saplings and young shoots that sprang from the forest bottom .
  • The animals trampled on the young trees and ate the tender shoots . Thus, preventing new trees from growing .
  • These Forest Acts changed the lives of pastoralists . They were not allowed to enter many forests that had earlier provided valuable forage for their cattle.
  • Even in the areas , they were allowed to enter , their movements were regulated .
  • They needed a permit for entry . Their entry and departure timing was fixed , and the number of days they could spend in the forest was limited .
  • Pastoralists could no longer remain in an area even if forage were available , the grass was succulent and the undergrowth in the forest was ample .
  • They were forced to relocate since their lives were now dictated by the Forest Department permits that had been granted to them .
  • The times they were permitted to be inside a forest were laid out in the permission . If they overstayed they had to pay fines .
  • Third, Criminal Tribes Act
  • British officials were suspicious of nomadic people .
  • They didn’t trust mobile craftsmen and traders who sold their goods in villages and pastoralists who changed their places every season , in search of good pastures for their herds .
  • The colonial government wanted to rule over a settled population .
  • They wanted the rural people to live in villages , in fixed places with fixed fields because such a population was easy to identify and control.
  • Settled people were seen as peaceable and law-abiding and nomadic were considered to be criminals .
  • In 1871 , the colonial government in India passed the Criminal Tribes Act . This act  classified many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists as Criminal Tribes .
  • They were stated to be criminals by nature and birth
  • Once this act came into force, these communities were expected to live only in notified village settlements . They were not allowed to move out without a permit . The village police kept a continuous watch on them.
  • Fourth, Grazing tax
  • To increase its revenue , the colonial authority sought every potential source of taxation .
  • In the mid-nineteenth century, a grazing tax was introduced in most pastoral tracts of India .
  • The tax was imposed on land , canal water , salt , trade goods , and animals .
  • Pastoralists had to pay tax on every animal they grazed on the pastures
  • The tax per head of cattle increased quickly, and the collecting mechanism became more effective .
  • In the decades between the 1850s and 1880s , the right to collect the tax was auctioned out to contractors
  • These contractors tried to extract as high tax as they could to recover the money they had paid to the state and earn as much profit as they could within the year. 
  • The government started levying taxes directly on pastoralists in the 1880s .
  • Each was given a pass .
  • To enter a grazing tract , a cattle herder had to show the pass and pay the tax .
  • The number of cattle heads he had and the amount of tax he paid were entered on the pass.

How did these Changes Affect the Lives of Pastoralists?

  • Due to these actions, there was a severe pasture shortage .
  • The amount of pastureland accessible decreased as grazing pastures were taken over and converted to cultivated crops.
  • In a similar vein, the reservation of woods meant that cattle herders and shepherds were no longer free to pasture their livestock there .
  • As pasturelands disappeared , the existing animal stock had to feed on whatever grazing land remained.
  • This resulted in the pastures being continuously and intensively grazed .
  • Nomadic pastoralists used to graze their animals in one area and moved to another area. 
  • These pastoral movements allowed time for the natural restoration of vegetation growth.  
  • When restrictions were imposed on pastoral movements , grazing lands were used continuously and the quality of pastures declined
  • This in turn created a further shortage of forage for animals and the deterioration of animal stock due to which underfed cattle died in large numbers during scarcities and famines

How Did the Pastoralists Cope with these Changes?

  • Different approaches were used by pastoralists to respond to these developments .
  • Since there wasn't enough pasture to support a large herd , several people restricted the number of cattle in their herds .
  • As it became more challenging to move to the traditional grazing areas , others found other pastures .
  • For instance after 1947 , the camel and sheep herding Raikas , could no longer move to Sindh and graze their camels on the banks of the Indus , as they used to do earlier because of the new political boundaries between India and Pakistan .
  • So they were forced to look for new locations .
  • They have been moving to Haryana in recent years so that sheep can graze in agricultural areas after the harvest is cut .
  • This is the time that the fields need manure that the animals provide .
  • Over the years, richer pastoralists gave up their nomadic life and started buying land and settling down .
  • Some became settled peasants cultivating land , and others took to more extensive trading
  • On the other side, in order to subsist , poor pastoralists borrowed money from moneylenders .
  • At times they lost their cattle and sheep and became labourers , working in fields or small towns
  • Yet, pastoralists not only survive , but their numbers have expanded over recent decades in many regions.
  • When pasturelands in one place were closed to them, they changed the direction of their movement , reduced the size of the herd , combined pastoral activity with other forms of income and adapted to the changes in the modern world
  • Many ecologists believe that in dry regions and the mountains , pastoralism is still ecologically the most viable form of life.
  • Such changes were not only experienced by pastoral communities in India but in many other parts of the world too, new laws and settlement patterns forced pastoral communities to alter their lives .

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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 13 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.