Tribes and the Colonial Rule- Tribals Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age
By the 19th century, tribal people in different parts of India were involved in the following activities:
Jhum cultivation was a most done practice among the tribals. It is also known as shifting cultivation.
This was done mainly in the forest, the trees were cut in order to let sunlight reach the ground, and the vegetation was burnt to clear the land for cultivation.
The ash of plants was used as fertilizer for soil, the seeds were then spread on the ground instead of ploughing and sowing.
Once the crop was harvested, they moved to another land for cultivation, living the old land fallow for several years.
Major of the cultivators were found in the hilly and forested areas of north-east and central India.
The lifeof these tribes was dependent on the movement and use of the forest.
Hunting and Food Gathering
In many regions, tribal people were dependent upon the hunting of animals and gathering forest products.
They used to hunt together and share the meat among themselves, they used to collect fruits and roots and cook using the oil extracted from seeds of Sal and Mahua.
They used many herbs and shrubs for medicinal use and sold forest produce to the local market, which was a source of earning to them. E.g Weavers and leather workers used to buy Palash and Kusum flowers from Kond tribe for dying purpose.
Some of the tribes used to go and work outside as labourers on the farms of peasants in nearby villages when the forest supplies shrank, but few of them like Baiga tribe considered this against to their dignity and relied only on the forest.
The tribal groups who used to sell and goods got dependent on the traders and moneylenders, buying their products at low prices and giving them loans at higher interest rates respectively.
The exploitation by the traders and moneylenders made the tribals see them as evil outsiders.
Herders or Settled Cultivators
Many of the tribals were pastoralists who moved with their herds of cattle and sheep according to season and availability of grass.
Van Gujars of Punjab hills and Labadie of AndraPrsdeh were cattle herders, Gaddisof Kulluwere shepherds and Bakarwals Of Kashmir reared goats.
On other hand, many tribal people started settling down as cultivators and started using a plough and got the land rights. E.g Mundas of Chhotanagpur
Britishers saw the settled tribes like Gonds and Santhals more civilised than the others.