Examine how were the lives of forest dwellers transformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the north, northwestern, northeastern and central parts of India were heavily forested. Forest dwellers were people who resided in these deep forests. They lived by hunting animals and gathering fruits and other forest products. Although forest dwellers were termed jungli in many texts, it does not mean the absence of civilisation among them. The term describes people who earned their livelihood by gathering forest products and by hunting animals. Their lives were transformed during the 16th and the 17th centuries in the following ways:-
- Because elephants were required for the army, forest dwellers were asked to pay elephants as part of regular taxes. This led to the external forces making inroads into the lives of forest dwellers.
- The spread of commercial agriculture also brought several changes to the lives of forest dwellers. The demand of forest products such as gum, lac and honey increased as these became major items of overseas export from India in the 17th century. Thus, external trade with forest dwellers increased. Lohanis in Punjab were engaged in overseas trade.
- Social factors also changed the lives of forest dwellers. Many tribal chiefs became zamindars and some even became kings. They built up the army by recruiting many tribals from their lineage groups. Tribes such as Ahoms became politically very powerful.
- The penetration of Sufi saints and their teachings also impacted the lives of forest dwellers in the 16th and 17th centuries.