Tribals Dikus, and the Vision of a Golden Age: Notes Class 8 History Chapter 4

CBSE Class 8 NCERT History Notes based on the Chapter 4 “Tribals, Dikus and the Vision of a Golden Age”: Notes are exhaustive, standard and comprehensive as the notes are classified into headings and key points. Click here for other class 8 History Chapter.

1. How did Tribal Groups Live?

Tribal people in 19th century India were engaged in diverse activities. There were varied practices and ways of living among different tribal groups.

1.1. Some Were Jhum Cultivators

  • Definition: Shifting cultivation method.
  • Location: Mostly in forests on small land patches.
  • Process:
    • Clearing land: Cutting treetops for sunlight, burning vegetation.
    • Soil preparation: Using axes and hoes to scratch soil.
    • Fertilization: Spreading ash from burning (potash content).
    • Seed dispersal: Broadcasting seeds on the field.
    • Harvesting: Moving to another field after crop readiness.
  • Fallowing: Fields left unused for years after cultivation.
  • Regions: Found in hilly and forested areas of north-east and central India.

Lifestyle Dependency

  • Forest Use: Tribal people’s lives intertwined with forests.
  • Land Usage: Vital for practicing shifting cultivation.
  • Mobility: Free movement within forests necessary.
  • Crop Cultivation: Relying on land and forests for sustenance.

1.2. Some Were Hunters and Gatherers

Hunting and Gathering

  • Many tribal groups sustained by hunting and gathering.
  • Forests viewed as crucial for survival.
  • Example: Khonds in Orissa practiced collective hunts.

Food Sources

  • Fruits and Roots: Collected from forests for consumption.
  • Oil Extraction: Used seeds of sal and mahua for cooking oil.
  • Medicinal Use: Utilized forest shrubs and herbs for medicinal purposes.
  • Forest Produce: Sold in local markets.
  • Supply to Artisans: Weavers and leather workers relied on Khonds for flowers.

Resource Exchange

  • Obtaining Rice and Grains: Exchanged goods or earned small amounts for forest produce.
  • Odd Jobs: Some tribal individuals worked as laborers, carrying loads, building roads, or farming.
  • Baigas’ Perspective: Baigas of central India preferred forest living over labour.

Economic Challenges

  • Dependency on Traders: Need for goods not locally produced led to reliance on traders.
  • Moneylenders’ Role: Provided loans for cash needs, contributing to tribal earnings.
  • High Interest: Loans came with high interest rates.
  • Market Impact: Market and commerce led to debt and poverty for tribes.
  • Perception: Moneylenders and traders seen as responsible for misery.

1.3. Pastoralists and Animal Herding

Pastoralism and Animal Herding

  • Many tribal groups adopted pastoralism for livelihood.
  • Rearing and herding animals central to their way of life.

Seasonal Movement

  • Nomadic Lifestyle: Moved with herds according to changing seasons.
  • Grass Availability: Relocated to find fresh grazing lands.
  • Cattle and Sheep: Examples of animals herded.

Tribal Groups and Their Herding Practices

  • Van Gujjars: Cattle herders in the Punjab hills.
  • Labadis: Cattle herders in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Gaddis: Shepherds in Kulu.
  • Bakarwals: Goat rearers in Kashmir.

Regional Specifics

  • Different groups herded different animals based on local conditions.
  • Various tribes specialized in cattle, sheep, or goats.

Future Exploration

  • Reference to further information in upcoming history books.
  • Deeper insights into the mentioned tribal groups and their practices.

1.4. Settled Cultivation among Tribal Groups

Shift to Settlement

  • Some tribal individuals shifted to settled cultivation before the 19th century.
  • Abandoned nomadic lifestyle in favour of permanent fields.

Agricultural Changes

  • Adoption of Plough: Use of plough for cultivation.
  • Land Ownership: Gradually gained rights over the land they cultivated.
  • Clan Ownership: Land often belonged to the entire clan.
  • Mundas of Chottanagpur: Clan members considered descendants of original settlers, held collective land rights.

Social Dynamics

  • Power Dynamics: Emergence of power differences within clans.
  • Chiefs and Followers: Some individuals attained leadership roles, others followed.
  • Land Renting: Powerful members sometimes rented out their land instead of cultivating it.

British Perspective

  • Civilization Perception: British officials viewed settled groups as more civilized.
  • Comparison: Settled cultivators seen as more advanced than hunter-gatherers or shifting cultivators.
  • Forest Dwellers: Those in forests labelled as wild and savage, prompting efforts for settlement and civilization.

2. How did Colonial Rule Affect Tribal Lives?

British colonial rule brought significant changes to tribal groups’ way of life.

1.1 Tribal Chiefs and Their Transformation

  • Pre-British Chiefs: Held economic power and territorial control.
  • Administration and Control: Managed local rules, land, and forests.
  • Police Authority: Some chiefs had their own police forces.
  • British Rule’s Effect: Tribal chiefs’ roles and powers underwent significant changes.

Changes to Tribal Chiefs’ Functions

  • Land Titles and Renting: Allowed to retain land titles over villages and rent out land.
  • Loss of Administrative Power: Diminished administrative authority.
  • British Laws: Compelled to follow laws made by British officials in India.
  • Tribute Payment: Obliged to pay tribute to the British authorities.
  • Discipline Role: Responsible for maintaining discipline among tribal groups on behalf of the British.

Erosion of Authority and Traditional Roles

  • Authority Loss: Tribal chiefs lost authority over their people.
  • Unfulfilled Traditional Roles: Unable to perform traditional functions.
  • Cultural Impact: Disruption of traditional governance and leadership systems.

1.2. Impact of Colonial Rule on Shifting Cultivators

British Policy Towards Shifting Cultivators

  • British authorities were uncomfortable with nomadic groups.
  • Aimed to settle tribal groups and encourage them to become peasant cultivators.
  • Settled peasants were seen as easier to control and tax.

Introduction of Land Settlements

  • British introduced land settlements to define land ownership and revenue collection.
  • Land measured, individual rights defined, revenue fixed for the state.
  • Differentiated between landowners and tenants, creating a rent system.

Challenges Faced by Shifting Cultivators

  • Limited Success: British efforts to convert jhum cultivators to settled agriculture faced challenges.
  • Water and Soil Conditions: Plough cultivation difficult in areas with scarce water and dry soil.
  • Poor Yields: Transition to plough cultivation often resulted in lower yields.

Resistance and Consequences

  • Traditional Continuation: Jhum cultivators in north-east India resisted changing practices.
  • Protests and Resistance: Widespread protests against forced changes.
  • Compromise: British authorities ultimately allowed some jhum cultivators to continue shifting cultivation in certain forest areas.

1.3. Impact of Forest Laws under Colonial Rule

Significance of Forests in Tribal Lives

  • Forests played a vital role in the livelihood of tribal groups.
  • Changes in forest laws directly affected their way of life.

British Control Over Forests

  • British declared forests as state property, extending control.
  • Classification: Some forests classified as Reserved Forests due to valuable timber production.

Restrictions on Tribal Activities

  • Reserved Forests: Restrictions on movement, jhum cultivation, fruit collection, and hunting.
    • Challenges for Jhum Cultivators: Struggles for survival due to limited access to resources.
    • Displacement: Many forced to seek work and livelihood in other areas.

Labor for Timber Industry

  • Labor Requirement: British needed labour for tree cutting and transporting logs.
  • Forest Department Strategy: Provided jhum cultivators small forest patches for cultivation in exchange for labour and forest care.
  • Creation of Forest Villages: Established forest villages to ensure a labour supply for the Forest Department.

Tribal Resistance and Rebellions

  • Defiance of Laws: Many tribal groups resisted and continued illegal practices.
  • Open Rebellions: Instances of revolt, e.g., Songram Sangma’s revolt in 1906 in Assam.
  • Forest Satyagraha: Forest satyagraha during the 1930s in the Central Provinces.


  • Colonial forest laws severely impacted tribal groups’ access to resources and traditional practices.
  • Forest villages emerged as a strategy to address labour needs while maintaining control over forest resources.
  • Efforts to control forests for economic gain led to tribal resistance and open rebellions.
  • The struggle against forest laws became a significant aspect of the larger movement against colonial oppression

1.4. Impact of Trade and Market on Tribal Groups

Increased Trade and Monetary Involvement

  • During the 19th century, traders and moneylenders entered forests, engaging tribal groups.
  • Traders sought forest produce, offered loans, and hired labour for wages.

Tribal Perception and Understanding

  • Tribal groups took time to grasp the consequences of increased trade.

Silk Growers’ Case Study

  • Demand for Indian Silk: European markets demanded Indian silk due to its quality.
  • East India Company’s Role: Encouraged silk production to meet market demands.

Santhals and Silk Cultivation

  • Hazaribagh in Jharkhand: Area where Santhals raised cocoons.
  • Trader Involvement: Traders sent agents who gave loans and collected cocoons.
  • Low Earnings: Santhals received minimal payment (₹3 to ₹4 per thousand cocoons).
  • Middlemen Profit: Middlemen facilitated deals, profited greatly.
  • Exploitative Nature: Silk growers earned little, while middlemen and traders gained substantial profits.

Tribal Perception of Market and Traders

  • Market and traders viewed as main adversaries by tribal groups.
  • Exploitative nature of trade led to resentment and negative perception.


  • Tribal groups faced exploitative trade practices during the 19th century.
  • Disparity between earnings of tribal cultivators and profits of middlemen highlighted exploitation.
  • Negative perceptions of traders and markets emerged due to unequal benefits and exploitation.

1.5. Tribal Migration for Work: Tea Plantations and Mining

Worsening Livelihood Conditions

  • Tribals faced difficulties when forced to seek work far from home.

Emergence of Tea Plantations and Mining

  • Late 19th Century: Tea plantations and mining industry gained importance.
  • Recruitment of Tribals: Large-scale recruitment of tribals for labour.

Recruitment Process and Exploitation

  • Contractor System: Tribals recruited through contractors.
  • Low Wages: Contractors paid very low wages.
  • Prevented Return: Tribals often restricted from returning home.

Tea Plantations of Assam

  • Tea Industry: Plantations established in Assam.
  • Tribal Labor Force: Many tribals recruited for plantation work.

Coal Mines of Jharkhand

  • Mining Industry: Coal mines played a significant role in Jharkhand.
  • Tribal Labor Demand: Tribals often employed in coal mines as laborers.

Exploitative Conditions

  • Tribals faced exploitation due to low wages and restricted movement.
  • Contractual labour and forced migration led to challenging circumstances.


  • Tribal groups endured worsened livelihoods due to forced migration for work.
  • Tea plantations and coal mining emerged as major sources of labour demand.
  • Exploitative practices, low wages, and restrictions on movement intensified their hardships.

3. A Closer Look: Tribal Rebellions & Resistance Against Changes

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, tribal groups resisted various changes and exploitative practices.

Reasons for Rebellion

  • Legal Changes: Opposition to altered laws affecting their traditional practices.
  • Restrictions: Disapproval of imposed restrictions on their way of life.
  • New Taxes: Resistance against new taxes imposed by colonial authorities.
  • Exploitation: Revolt against unfair practices of traders and moneylenders.

Major Tribal Rebellions

  1. Kol Rebellion (1831–32): Kols rebelled against changes and exploitative practices.
  2. Santhal Rebellion (1855): Santhals rose in revolt against oppressive policies.
  3. Bastar Rebellion (1910): Central India witnessed the Bastar Rebellion against colonial rule.
  4. Warli Revolt (1940): Maharashtra experienced the Warli Revolt in opposition to oppressive conditions.

Significance of Birsa Movement

  • Birsa Movement: Led by Birsa Munda, a significant tribal movement.
  • Resistance and Revolt: Fought against oppressive British policies and exploitation.

Common Themes

  • All these movements shared common themes of resistance, asserting rights, and opposing exploitation.
  • Reflect tribal groups’ desire to preserve their traditional way of life and regain autonomy.


  • Tribal rebellions throughout history displayed a collective resistance against changes, exploitation, and oppression.
  • These movements were rooted in the tribes’ desire to protect their cultural heritage and secure a better future for themselves.

3.1. Birsa Munda: Life and Impact

Early Life and Influences

  • Born in the mid-1870s.
  • Grew up in poverty around the forests of Bohonda.
  • Father’s struggles for work led to moving from place to place.
  • Heard stories of Munda uprisings and their leaders advocating revolt.

Influences and Education

  • Attended a local missionary school, listened to missionaries’ sermons.
  • Inspired by ideas of attaining the Kingdom of Heaven and regaining lost rights.
  • Influenced by Vaishnav preacher, valued purity and piety.

Aim of the Movement

  • Aimed at reforming tribal society.
  • Urged Mundas to give up liquor, practice cleanliness, and discard beliefs in witchcraft.
  • Against missionaries and Hindu landlords seen as external forces ruining Munda way of life.

Birsa’s Vision for Mundas

  • Urged followers to recover a past golden age (satyug).
  • Idealized times of honest living, community practices, and sustainable livelihoods.
  • Advocated return to cultivation, settling down on land.

Political Aims and British Reaction

  • Challenges for British Officials: Movement’s political goal to remove external influences and establish a Munda Raj under Birsa.
  • Land policies, moneylenders, Hindu landlords, and missionaries identified as causes of Munda suffering.
  • Birsa arrested in 1895, convicted on rioting charges, and jailed for two years.

Movement Expansion and Decline

  • Released in 1897, Birsa toured villages to garner support.
  • Used traditional symbols and language to unite people against colonial rule.
  • Focused on destroying symbols of European power and establishing Birsa Raj.
  • Birsa died in 1900 due to cholera, and the movement faded.

Movement’s Significance

  • Forced colonial government to enact protective laws for tribal land rights.
  • Demonstrated tribal people’s capacity to protest against injustice and express dissent against colonial rule.
  • Showed a unique way of resistance, with distinct rituals and symbols.


  • Birsa Munda’s movement aimed for Munda empowerment, cultural preservation, and political change.
  • Movement’s influence continued through protective laws and the recognition of tribal capacity for protest.

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