Saturday, 24 May 2014

Of Foolish Laws and Noble Dissidents


Like all colonisers in search of quick profits , the East India Company held back from large development works in India during its Raj that lasted upto 1857 . The building of roads and  transportation, as also a proper administrative system , were held back deliberately because they were time and fund consuming activities and required constant and humane interaction with the native Indians . This was short sighted and resulted in a near total lack of communication between the rulers and the ruled . While the British sat in their comfortable lodgings and Dak Bungalows sipping sun downers like Congressmen in recent decades,  tensions generated by misgovernance and increased tax burdens increased beyond endurance . Things came to a head whn in summer of 1856, a native sepoy shot dead his superior officer in the cantonment area in Meerut, and the Mutiny began . The speed and spread of this mass movement that in Awadh atleast, soon became a public uprising, took the rulers by surprise. In that they were no different from the Congress today that looks stunned by its decimation in the same area at the hands of Modi's brigade .
The new government slated to take charge on Monday 2014, must learn from the pre and post Ghadar India and not make the same mistakes again . Because often the new administration coming on the heels of another which leaves behind a long history of failures on every front, tries to throw babies out with the bath water . In Uttarakhand one such baby was the local forest administration that had  protected the pristine Himalayan forests by sound ecological concerns masked as divine taboos that all locals obeyed without complaining . 
After 1858 , when the Queen’s government took charge , broadbased Bandobast activities began and soon a Forest protection Act for Kumaun and Gadhwal regions was created . A Chief Conservator of Forests , Major Pearson was posted at Nainital which became the hub of implementation of Forest laws in the area . These laws, the new officials did not realize, were blocking the inhabitants from any kind of participation in preservation activities . This has slowly generate local hostilities towards forests that stopped being divine and became "government properties" controlled by a host of corrupt petty officials at the village level .

This new Bandobast declared  that the forests did not belong to the Gods but the government . No divine sanction was necessary for the new rulers to fell them, but the natives must now obtain government permission even to enter them. Forests were now penetrable only by the officials or groups of fellow white Shikaris that were invited for vacation and sport to the pristine hills by the British officials .  Between 1886 and 1890 all area forests  became ‘protected’ and by 1893 they were declared ‘Reserved”. All public land including springs and lakes and rocks and Nazul and forest land and the wild life that they fostered, were no onger Dev ( divine) properties . The Katyuris , the Khas , the Gurkhas had all respected the divine ownership . But now they were property of the British Queen only Her Majesty’s officials may handle . This painful change at once deprived the locals of precious forest produce and also made them easy prey to wild animals that they could no longer touch . Shikar was now a privilege reserved for the Gora Sahibs and they enjoyed it along with their guests .
Corbett was one of the few British officials who disagreed . He spoke the local dialect, killed many man eaters that terrorized the villagers who were not allowed to defend themselves against wild life, and earned their deep love and respect . Carpet Sahib as he was known , was the first to broach the idea of reserved forests and the inalienable rights of the forest dwellers . The basc reason was that he chose to fraternize with the locals and grew to admire their courage , their honesty and the native wisdom on ecological matters . He listened to the villagers , helped hunt down predators that threatened the locals , but upheld the sanctity of these precious resources . Will the new rule , not exactly known for its tolerance of dissidence, look closely at the life of such noble dissidents everywhere, preserve their wise record of  times past and encourage public participation in environmental matters in a spirit of humility?


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