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British Forest Policy in Darjeeling (1865-1947):

Identifying Colonial Roots of Environmental History

in the Eastern Himalayas






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Concept Note: Advances in social theory and historiography have opened up tremendous

possibilities for the (re)reading of the questions pertaining to the studies in Environmental

history. Environmental history is the study of human engagement over time with the physical

environment, where the environment not only is the object or context of human engagement,

but also an agent influencing human history (Arnold and Guha 1995). The discipline’s

historic focus on the dynamics of change render a multidimensional perspective, particularly

appropriate in unraveling complex chains of mutual causation in human-environment

relations. While environmental ethics explores value system as they relate to human conduct

toward the environment, environmental history emphasizes the political and economic

implication of human-environment interaction. Regional environmental histories can well

identify sensitive geographic locations for both human and other living populations and can

well encourage the development of local and regional answers to global environmental

situations in which sensitive politico-economic and cultural issues play an important part.
Darjeeling hills experienced rapid changes in social relations accompanied by equally

sweeping ecological transformations. By imposing the policy of commercialization of forests,

capitalistic formation of tea industry, the British introduced rapid, widespread and

irreversible changes which had both ecological and social ramifications. The new mode of

resource use fundamentally altered diversifications in the natural environment of

Darjeeling.A consideration of ecology, environment and the colonial interventions in natural

and socio-economic landscape, pattern of interaction between indigenous people, immigrated

settlers and Colonial foresters as well as British colonizers invites us to rethink the landscape

of Darjeeling hills not only in the standard evolving narratives of forest history but also on

the ownership of natural resources and resource extraction under the aegis of colonialism. In

suggesting a (re) reading, it has been attempted to make use of available documented sources.

Such evidences would help us to read the pattern of transformation that took place in all

wakes of life, to read the changing landscape of Darjeeling hills at the cost of forest clearance

and forest depletion from eco-historical perspective. The principal purpose of this article is to

understand the material-social, cultural-economic, political and ecological transformation of

forest landscape of colonial Darjeeling assumed to be as a sub-space of scale from the

perspective of South Asian Environmental History.

Short Bio-Note:Dr. Tahiti Sarkar is currently working as Assistant Professor of

History in the University of North Bengal. Her PhD was on the Material
Transformations of Darjeeling Hills during the colonial period. She has earlier
worked as Assistant Professor in Raiganj University and Sikkim Manipal
University. Her areas of interest include the History of Ecology &
Environmental in South Asia, Economic History of Colonial India, Gender&
Social History, History of Colonial Medicine. She has published a number of
research articles in reputed journals and edited volume books.