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Colonial Rule and Pastoral Life

Under the colonial rule, the pastoralists’ life changed. Their grazing grounds shrank, their movements were regulated, and the revenue was increased. As a result, agricultural stock declined and their trades and crafts were badly affected.

The colonial rulers wanted to transform all grazing lands into cultivated farms. Land revenue was one of the main sources of its finance. They wanted to produce more of jute, cotton, wheat and other agricultural produce that were in great demand in Europe.

In the nineteenth century, Waste Land Rules were enacted in various parts of the country. According to this Act, waste lands were taken over and given to select individuals. These individuals were given various concessions and encouraged to settle in these lands. Some of them were made as headmen of the villages in the newly cleared areas.

In most areas, the lands taken over were actually grazing tracts used regularly by pastoralists. So expansion of cultivation led to the decline of pastures and it became a problem for pastoralists.

Various Forest Acts were enacted. Through these Acts, some forests which produced valuable timber like deodar or sal were declared ‘Reserved’. No pastoralist was allowed access to these forests. Other forests were classified as ‘Protected’. This restricted the movement of the pastoralists.

Some customary grazing rights were given to the pastoralists in some cases but, even then, their movements were severely restricted. The colonial officials believed that grazing destroyed the saplings and young shoots of trees that germinated on the forest floor. The herds trampled the saplings and munched away the shoots. This prevented new trees from growing.

The Forest Acts changed the lives of pastoralists. They were now prevented from entering the forests. Their movements were regulated. They were given permit for entry. The timing of their entry and departure was specified and the number of days they could spend in the forest was limited. If they overstayed in the forest, they were levied with fines.

In 1871, the colonial government in India passed the Criminal Tribes Act. Under this Act, many communities of craftsmen, traders and pastoralists were classified as Criminal Tribes. This Act notified the communities to settle down in villages. They were not allowed to move out without a permit. This Act was introduced because the British officials wanted to rule over a settled population. They wanted the rural people to live in villages, in fixed places with fixed rights on particular fields. This made the British officials to identify and control the population easily.

The colonial government’s intention was to collect the revenue from the people. They looked for every possible source of taxation. So they imposed tax on land, canal water, salt, trade and animals. Hence the pastoralists had to pay tax on every animal they grazed on the pastures. The right to collect tax was auctioned out to contractors. These contractors tried to extract as high a tax as they could to recover the money they had paid to the state and earn as much profit as they could within a year.

Impact of the British Restriction on the Pastoralists

When restrictions were imposed on pastoral movements, grazing lands came to be continuously used and the quality of pastures declined. With the decline of pasture lands, the existing animal stock was fed on with whatever grazing land remained. This led to continuous intensive grazing of the pastures. The pastoral movements usually allowed time for restoration of vegetation growth. The restriction imposed on pastoral movements, grazing lands came to be continuously used and the quality of pastures declined. This also further contributed to the shortage of forage for animals and the animal stock decreased drastically. The under-fed cattle died in large numbers during scarcities and famines.

With the new changes introduced by the British, some pastoralists reduced the number of cattle in their herds, since there was not enough pasture to feed large numbers. Others discovered new pastures when old grazing grounds became difficult.

After independence in 1947, two nations were created—India and Pakistan. The camel and sheep herding Raikas could no longer move into Sindh and graze their camels on the banks of the Indus. The new political boundaries between India and Pakistan stopped their movements. They started to find new places to go. In recent years, they began migrating to Haryana where sheep can graze on agricultural fields after the harvest.

Some richer pastoralists began to settle down by buying lands and gave up nomadic life. Some of them became peasants and cultivated lands and others took up trading. Some became labourers who worked in fields or in small towns.

Pastoralists continue to survive in many regions and their numbers have expanded over recent years. They adapted to the changes in the modern world by combing their pastoral activity with other forms of work. Many ecologists believe that in dry regions and in the mountains, pastoralism is still ecologically the most viable form of life.

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