chapter  7
22 Pages

Plantation collision and appropriation of tribals

The debate on the environmental history in general and the desiccation theory in particular, which claims that forest conservation for environmental protection was shaped in Madras Presidency during the 1830s, has failed to address the issues conterminous with the establishment of coffee plantations in the Shervaroy hills of Salem and Baramahal region of Madras Presidency. While analysing the emergence of the plantation sector and its disastrous consequences on environment in terms of destruction of forests and alienation of common property resources (CPRs), this chapter attempts to explain how the market forces irreversibly changed property rights and the tribal socio-economic administrative system during the 19th century. Prior to the establishment of coffee plantations, the tribal economy remained a subsistence one, with collection of forest produce and traditional cultivation being the dominant activities.2 Being a non-market economy was its most distinctive feature, and the community itself managed it without the intervention of external forces.3 Introduction of the market economy, an inevitable consequence of external intervention – the arrival of the British and other non-tribal coffee planters, drastically altered the customarily managed non-market tribal economy, besides weakening the hill inhabitants’ hereditary rights and unfettered access to CPRs.4 In the Central Provinces, for instance, official policies facilitated the growth of market economy, which penetrated deep into the hill areas, leading to the decline of the tribal economy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.5 In fact, the penetration of market forces was not confined to the economic sphere alone as it permeated the entire socio-economic, cultural and administrative set-up of the tribal community.6 In this chapter, an attempt is made to analyse the impact of the intervention of external market forces on the tribals’ tradition-bound non-market economy, as well as consequences of this intervention on the CPRs, socio-administrative structure, environment and ecosystem during the 19th century.