Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age

The traditions and ceremonies followed by most of the tribal groups are quite diverse from those established by the Brahmins. These communities have not been characterized by the division of caste societies. All those who belonged to the same tribe saw themselves sharing common ties of kinship. However, there was the existence of social and economic differences within the tribes as well. In this Story Tribals Dikus Vision Golden Age, students will learn some of the issues related to Tribals, Dikus, etc. 

Some of the questions covered in this chapter are: What are the issues Birsa had already set out to solve? Who were the strangers referred to as Dikus, and how did they oppress the people of the area? What was going on with the tribal people under British rule? How have their lives changed? Here, we have provided explanations of these topics covered in the Story Tribals Dikus Vision Golden Age, for the easy understanding of students.

How did Tribal Groups Live?

Some were Jhum Cultivators:

  • Jhum cultivation, which is shifting cultivation, was being practised on small stretches of land, often in forests. 

  • The farmers cut the treetops to enable sunlight to touch the ground and torched the vegetation on the land to open it for cultivation. 

  • When the crop was prepared and harvested, they relocated to another area and left the ground to replant itself for several years. 

  • This method of cultivation is termed as a primitive type of cultivation and is considered to be a loss to forest land.

Some were Hunters and Gatherers:

  • In many areas, tribal groups have survived through hunting and harvesting of forest products. 

  • In Khonds, there have been hunters and gatherers residing in the Odisha forests. 

  • Many forest shrubs and herbs have been used for medicinal purposes, and forest products have been sold in the local markets. 

  • Baiga tribes of Central India were all unwilling to work for others. 

  • Tribal communities often required to exchange goods that were not produced in the locality. It has led to their reliability on traders and money-lenders. 

  • Tribal groups depended mainly on the barter system.

Some herded Animals:

  • Many tribes have existed by herding and rearing animals and by collecting forest products. 

  • They have been pastoralists who, as per the seasons, moved their herds of cattle or sheep. 

  • The Van Gujjars of the Punjab Hills and the Labadis of Andhra Pradesh were shepherds of cattle. The Gaddis of Kulu had been shepherds, and the Bakarwals of Kashmir reared goats. 

  • Later, the British laws on forest land grazing came to an end and became the main cause for tribal resentment.

Some took to Settled Cultivation:

  • Many tribes had started to settle rather than relocating from place to place. They started to use the plough and started gaining rights over the land they stayed on. 

  • Few tribes, such as Mundas, perceived the clan rights over land and claimed that the land belonged to the entire clan. 

  • British authorities saw settled tribes like the Gonds and the Santhals as more civilized than hunter-gatherers or shifters. 

  • Recovery of a large amount of taxes was also done from tribal people, and in the case of non-payment of revenue, their land was snatched away, and it became a cause of conflict.

How Did Colonial Rule Affect Tribal Lives?

What happened to Tribal Chiefs?

  • Prior to the arrival of the British, tribal chiefs enjoyed economic power and had the right to manage and govern their territories. 

  • Under British rule, the activities and authority of tribal chiefs altered as they were allowed to maintain their land titles but lost their administrative privileges and were made to accept the laws of the British in India. 

  • The rules laid down by the British had also taken over the privilege and power to manage the forest area.

What happened to the Shifting Cultivators?

  • The British were unhappy with the shifting cultivators as it was difficult to rule an unsettled community. 

  • The British wanted a regular source of revenue for the state and established land settlements. 

  • The British effort to settle down the Jhum cultivators was not very successful in the North-Eastern part of India, as the soil was not adequately fertile. 

  • Having faced widespread protests, the British had to permit them the right to continue to cultivate in some parts of the forest. 

  • In most of the central parts, the Jhum cultivation was forbidden and the land was allocated for cultivation.

Forest Laws and their Impact:

  • The identity of tribal communities was directly linked to the forest. 

  • The British stretched their authority over all forests and claimed them as state property. 

  • Reserved forests were intended for timber production by the British, but the forest village was settled within the forest for cheap labour. 

  • People were not allowed to move freely or practice Jhum cultivation in the reserved forests. 

  • This law had an impact on the very survival of tribals since they depended mainly on forests and their products. Many tribal groups responded to colonial forest laws and surged in open rebellion.

Problem With Trade:

  • In the 19th century, tribal communities found traders and money lenders arriving into the forest, offering loans to tribal people and asking them to work for wages. This led to the trapping of tribal people in the vicious debt trap and intensified the misery of their lives. 

  • Indian silk was in high demand in European markets in the 18th century. 

  • The Hazaribagh Santhals cultivated cocoons. The traders invested in their agents who offered loans to the tribal communities and obtained the cocoons. 

  • Coconuts were shipped to Burdwan or Gaya to be sold at 5 times the price. 

  • Different crops grown by tribal people were taken over by traders at lower prices and sold in the market at higher prices.

Search For Work:

  • The sufferings of the tribal people who had to get away from their homes in search of work were even worse. 

  • Natives have been recruited in great numbers to work for tea plantations and coal mines via low-wage contractors, preventing them from returning home.

A Closer Look

Birsa Munda:

  • A movement started under the governance of Birsa Munda. 

  • The British authorities were concerned that the Birsa movement's political aim was to drive out missionaries, money lenders, Hindu landlords, and the government, and to establish a Munda Raj with Birsa at its top. 

  • Birsa Munda was arrested in 1895. 

  • He was released in 1897 and travelled to many villages to gather support. He encouraged people to destroy 'Ravana', i.e., Dikus and Europeans and to establish a tribe under his leadership. 

  • In 1900, Birsa passed away due to cholera and the movement died away. 

  • The British made the laws stricter so that the moneylenders could not really exploit the tribes by stealing their lands.

Did You Know?

  • ‘Abua raj ster jana, maharani raj tundu jana’ is the slogan by Birsa Munda, which is still famous in Eastern India.

  • ‘Gandhi Se Pehle Gandhi’ is a motion picture released in 2008 based on the life and activities of Birsa Munda.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Briefly explain the Hunter-Gatherer activities practised by the tribals in the chapter.

Ans. Tribal communities in many areas survived by the hunting of animals and the gathering of forest products. The Khonds were a community that survived by collective hunting and divided the food among themselves. The community consumed roots and fruits and used oil of sal and mahua to cook food. For medicinal purposes, shrubs and herbs have been used from forests.

These forest folks exchanged goods with the items they required in return for their valuable forest products. When the forest produced shrunk, tribal communities had to move in search of work as labourers. Tribal groups depended on traders and moneylenders as they often needed money to buy and sell goods that were not manufactured in the locality. But the interest on the loans was quite high.

2. How were the Jhum cultivators treated under British Colonial Rule?

Ans. The British were frustrated with the Jhum cultivators because they're always shifting from place to place in search of farming land. For organizational and financial reasons, the British wanted Jhum cultivators to settle down and become a landowner. The Government believed that it was easier to manipulate and manage peasant farmers than the Jhum cultivators. 

Moreover, changes in forest law have had a significant impact on tribal life. The British widened their authority over all forest areas and declared forests to be government property. People were not permitted to freely move in these forest areas, to cultivate, to gather fruit, or to hunt. Many Jhum cultivators were thus forced to relocate to other regions in search of jobs and livelihoods.

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