Under British rule, the functions and powers of the tribal chiefs changed considerably. They were allowed to keep their land titles over a cluster of villages and rent out lands, but they lost much of their administrative power and were forced to follow laws made by British officials in India.
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Impact of British rule on tribal chiefs and Shifting cultivators:
What happened to tribal chiefs?
- Before the arrival of the British, in many areas the tribal chiefs were important people. They enjoyed a certain amount of economic power and had the right to administer and control their territories.
- In some places they had their own police and decided on the local rules of land and forest management.
- They also had to pay tribute to the British, and discipline the tribal groups on behalf of the British. They lost the authority they had earlier enjoyed amongst their people, and were unable to fulfil their traditional functions.
What happened to the shifting cultivators?
- The British were uncomfortable with groups who moved about and did not have a fixed home. They wanted tribal groups to settle down and become peasant cultivators.
- Settled peasants were easier to control and administer than people who were always on the move. The British also wanted a regular revenue source for the state.
- So, they introduced land settlements – that is, they measured the land, defined the rights of each individual to that land, and fixed the revenue demand for the state.
- Some peasants were declared landowners, others tenants. The tenants were to pay rent to the landowner who in turn paid revenue to the state.
- Settled plough cultivation is not easy in areas where water is scarce and the soil is dry. In fact, jhum cultivators who took to plough cultivation often suffered, since their fields did not produce good yields.
- So, the jhum cultivators in north-east India insisted on continuing with their traditional practice. Facing widespread protests, the British had to ultimately allow them the right to carry on shifting cultivation in some parts of the forest.