A Sociological Study of the Livelihoods of the Baigas in the Baiga-Chak Belt of Dindori, India — What Happened

The text and photographs on this page are copyright by Manish Gangwar and Pradeep Bose. Manish Gangwar is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at Barkatulla University, Bhopal, India. Pradeep Bose is the Director of the Aaspur Rural Development Project, District of Dungarpur, PKP, Raj., India.

What happened to the Baigas in Mandla and Balaghat?

McEldowney (1980) presents a very detailed study of how the district administration of Mandla approached the Bewar issue and how differently the district collectors of Balaghat district reacted to the presence of Bewar practicing Baigas. Meanwhile it is essential to point out that Bewar cultivation in some parts of Kawardha (Kabirdham) and Bilaspur districts is still carried out by the locally inhabiting Baigas and we have seen it being done. It is also relevant to state here that Bewar cultivating Baigas from Mandla or Balaghat district when pressed very hard to abandon Bewar, by the British officers, they felt very intimidated and fled with their families to the princely states of Kawardha, Bilaspur and the small princely state of Ghughri in Madla district. These migrated Baigas started Bewar in these princely states. The Indian kings and princes charged, on average, Rs. 1 per axe per year for allowing the Baigas to undertake Bewar.

It was subsequent to the historical defeat of Indian nationalist forces in the First War of India's Independence against the East India Company in 1857 (the British called it Indian Mutiny) that India became a direct colony of England. The British reorganized a new province and called it Central Province and Berar. Bhabhut Singh, a small Korku tribal king of Bori and Pachmarhi area, and a close associate of Tantiya Tope, Indian general of the 1857 movement, also tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the British intervention. It was in 1868 that the land of Bhabhut (Vibhuti) Singh Mwasi, which was 200 sq. Km of very dense forest, was confiscated by the British forces, after Mwasi was defeated, captured and hanged by the British in Jabalpur jail in 1862. This impounded forest area was reserved for British commercial exploitation and was called "Bori Forest Range (BFR)". D. Baker stated that BFR became the model of commercial forest exploitation in Central India and, replicating the BFR model and following the British made Forest Act of 1864 [7], the British Raj got about 90,000 sq. Km. of forest area under their thumb. However the Baigas proved a cantankerous thorn in the British flesh as they had been practicing shifting cultivation on about 30,000 sq. Km. in Central Gondwana Region, also called Mahakaushal Region, for at least the past 20,000 years. In order to take away that grand forest area of 30,000 sq. Km., which provided sustainable livelihoods to the 30,000 Baiga tribal households, the British reserved a 100 Sq. Km. area in Mandla district and lured about 12,000 Baiga households into it, called Baiga-Chak reserve, in 1890. Since then, based on the varying responses of the British district collector of Mandla (DCM), Baigas in Mandla district reacted. If the DCM banned Bewar more than half of the Baigas living in BCB would relinquish their abodes and migrate to Ghughri, Kawardha or Bilaspur areas, where princely states allowed Bewar in lieu of a nominal compensation. If the DCM allowed Bewar in BCB most of the migrated Baiga families came back. Meanwhile, because the British created Forest Villages to help Baigas, Sahariyas and Hill Korwas by giving forest based wage labor to the indigenous communities, many Baiga families stayed back in BCB, and were persuaded to undertake settled agriculture on a few acres of forest land. In 1947 when India became a free country, almost all Baiga families from Mandla district had practiced some years of settled agriculture. By 1955 all the Mandla inhabited Baiags relinquished Bewar. Though there were some Baigas who practiced Bewar in kawardha and Bilaspur districts of Chhattisgarh state, even after 1955.

Many Baigas from Baihar, Birsa and Paraswara blocks of Balaghat were given bullocks, plows and seeds and were allotted about 5 acres of land to each Baiga household for learning settled agriculture. While two district collectors of Balaghat, viz. Bloomfied and Bryce Thomas used placatory and appeasing policy towards the Baigas, Repton, unlike the aforesaid officers, used the terrorizing tactics by burning Bewar crops of the Baigas. Ultimately, the Baigas of Balaghat district too renounced Bewar and became settled cultivators, by 1960.


[7] Baker D., (1991) "Colonial Beginnings and the Indian Response: The Revolt of 1857-58 in Madhya Pradesh." Modern Asian Studies, 25, 3, July, pp. 511-543.

Photography and text © 2012, Manish Gangwar and Pradeep Bose. All rights reserved.


Gangwar, M., and Bose, P. (2012), "A Sociological Study of the Livelihoods of the Baigas in Baiga-Chak Belt of Dindori, India." The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from The Peoples of the World Foundation.

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