Class 8 History

Tribals, Dikus and Golden Age

Life of Tribals in Colonial India

Jhum Cultivators: Shifting cultivation is also called jhum cultivation. The shifting cultivators were living in the hilly and forested tracts of north-east and central India. Their life depended on free movement within forests as it enabled them to use the land and forests for growing their crops.

Hunters and Gatherers: Many tribal groups depended on hunting the animals and gathering forest produce; for their survival. The Khonds of Orissa are example of such community. They used to go on a collective hunting. They ate fruits and roots collected from the forest. They extracted cooking oil from the seeds of sal and mahua. Forest shrubs and herbs were used for medicinal purposes. They also sold some forest produce in the nearby markets.


Some of the tribals also did odd jobs in villages; like carrying loads and building roads. Some others worked as farm labourers.

Shrinking supplies of forest produce to the tribals. As a result, many tribal people began to wander around in search of work. But many of them were not willing to do work for others because they thought it below their dignity to work for others. The Baigas of central India were such community.

Interaction with traders and moneylenders: Tribal people also needed certain goods which were not produced within the forest. This resulted in their interaction with traders and moneylenders. Traders used to come to sell some items. They also purchased certain forest produce from the tribals. Moneylenders gave loans to the tribals. But the rate of interest was very high. Interaction with merchants and traders usually meant debt and poverty for the tribal. Hence, moneylenders and traders were seen as evil outsiders. They were seen as the cause of the misery of tribal people.

Animal Herders: Many tribal groups were pastoralists. They used to move with their herds of cattle or sheep as per seasonal changes. The Van Gujjars of the Punjab hills and the Labadis of Andhra Pradesh were cattle herders. The Gaddis of Kulu reared sheep, while the Bakarwals of Kashmir reared goats.


Switch Over to Settled Cultivation

Many from the tribal groups had begun to settle down; even before the nineteenth century. They were changing from the shifting cultivation to settled cultivation. In many cases, the land belonged to the clan as a whole, e.g. the Mundas of Chhotanagpur. All members of the clan had rights on the land. However, some people within the clan acquired more power than the others. Some became chiefs and others followers. Powerful chiefs often rented out their land, instead of cultivating it themselves.

The settled tribal groups were seen by the British as more civilized, e.g. the Gonds and Santhals. On the other hand, the hunter gatherers or shifting cultivators were seen as wild and savaged. The British felt that those tribal groups needed to be civilized and settled.

Status of Tribal Chiefs

In most of the tribal areas, the tribal chief was an important person. He enjoyed considerable economic power. He had the right to administer and control his territory. Some tribal chiefs also had their own police. They even decided on local rules of land and forest management.


But the functions and powers of the tribal chiefs changed considerably under the British rule. They lost much of their administrative power. They were forced to follow the laws made by the British. They had to pay tribute to the British. They were expected to discipline their people on behalf of the British government. However, they were allowed to keep their land titles over a cluster of villages and could rent out lands. Thus, the authority of the tribal chiefs significantly reduced under the colonial rule.

Status of Shifting Cultivators

The shifting cultivators were a problem for the British. The colonial rulers wanted tribal groups to settle down and become peasant cultivators. It was easier to control and administer the settled peasants than people who were always on the move. The British wanted a regular source of revenue for the state. In order to do so, the British introduced land settlements.

Some peasants were declared landowners, while others were declared tenants. The landowner had to pay revenue to the state which was to be collected from the tenants in the form of rent.

The British made efforts to settle the jhum cultivators but with little success. It is important to note that jhum cultivation is done in those areas where water is scarce and soil is dry. Hence, it was difficult to get good yield by settled cultivation in those areas. The jhum cultivators in north-east India protested to the British attempts to settle them. Widespread protests forced the British to allow them the right to carry on shifting cultivation.