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Woods, Mines and Minds (Politics of Survival in Jalpaiguri and the Jungle mahals, 1860-1970)

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Item Code: NAS463
Author: Sahara Ahmed
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9789352906932
Pages: 320 (18 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 9.50 X 6.50 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

Woods, Mines and Minds: Politics of Survival in Jalpaiguri and the Jungle Mahals deliberates upon a wide spectrum of events and processes as it endeavours to trace the ecological changes brought about by the evolution of two industries, forestry and mining, and their eventual institutionalization in the Bengal Province. An analysis of the topographical changes in this region is essential to render an understanding of the dialectics of colonial rule. The focus on regional history unravels the myriad ways in which colonial intrusion transformed the production process, as well as investigates its impact on the local social fabric.

The role of the State, the local stakeholders and the power-liaisons in the colonial and postcolonial period, together with the devolution of authority under the independent government are also examined.

The transformation of the two regions, Jalpaiguri and Jungle Mahals into effective official departments, in particular, raises several questions concerning policy implementation and the viability of these institutions as revenue generating bodies ensuring the economic and political intransigent of the colonial state. The vexed issue of development, which had to accommodate the legacy of the erstwhile regime, the proclivities of the rulers, and the resistance offered by the ruled, covert as well as overt, also deserves attention.

About the Author

Sahara Ahmed is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. Her research focuses on the environmental history of Bengal, with particular reference to aspects of forestry and related themes in the colonial and post-colonial eras; the social and political history of health, medicine and environment in pre- and post-independent India; comparative studies in the history of India and Europe; and diasporic communities in Bengal.


Inherent In The Processes OF human history is man’s interaction with the natural environment which transcends time. Graduating from a symbiotic relationship to assume a regulatory role in ‘reordering’ nature involved not only economic and political motives but, also various layers and nuances of mentalities. This book seeks to examine colonial and postcolonial endeavours to dominate the woodlands and mines in two discrete ecological zones, Jalpaiguri (northern Bengal) and the Jungle Mahals (southern Bengal).

To ensure its political intransience, it wielded its sceptre over the land (woods/arable/waste/mines) and its people, not in isolation but in a process of development that was inextricably entangled with the imperatives of creating the sinews of economic sustenance. These interventions precipitated a profound transition in the ecological profile of the region, tantamount to an ecological ‘rupture’.

I argue that the colonial entrepreneurship in creating regimes of permanence had rendered a zone which is ecologically fragile, disaster- prone, and with a populace that was at the mercy of the disciplining strategies. A politico-economic project was envisaged under the garb of ‘scientific forestry’ and ‘scientific mining’ to garner support from the different echelons of authority. The differing views too constitute a baffling episode of prevailing mental attitudes underpinning policies which bred its own contradictions. This study is not merely an endeavour to enlist technical and political interventions but a narrative on various underlying interactions and processes that were at play within the official circles of the colonial regime and amongst the intermediaries (the local magnates, a creation of the regime, and their erstwhile lords along with their lesser recruits, dispossessed by the regime).

The dispossessed and displaced were a hapless lot; a seeming creation of British colonialism. A study in protest movements have been the preoccupation of numerous works which overlook the various layers within the movements including their silent protagonists and unsung heroes: nameless and forgotten. The changing mental attitudes of these people who attribute to a movement, intensely complex in character, is a task the book attempts to unravel in a modest way.

India, in the postcolonial period, strives for persuasive studies on the competing relations between state control and private enterprise in comprehending industrial capitalism. The movements during the erstwhile rule revealed the squalid linkages among a power nexus, growing money economy, and politics of exclusionism. Since the rubric of the postcolonial state was built on the remnants of its predecessor, it accommodated that structure with ‘little reorientation’ inheriting the fallacies in policy formulation and predicting the continuities of the seventies of the twentieth century. The vexing issue of development and its dissidents and adherents, once again constitute a study of multiple mindsets that the book shall attempt to unravel.

Woods, Mines, and the Minds is based largely on my Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the Department of History, University of Calcutta. The idea of a book that develops over a period of time tends to take some unusual turns: intermittent enthusiasm amidst many distracted engagements, a very special inspiration leading to ceaseless efforts for rethinking and reformulation, many failures to reach up to expectations, occasionally achieving a useful articulation in grasping some of the vexing issues with an analytical depth. But the problem lies elsewhere.

The thesis was conceived as a sort of straightforward foray into the politico-economic transitions of a region with the introduction of a set of certain technocratic concepts, viz., ‘scientific forestry’ and ‘scientific mining’ along with the ecological changes they entailed. The book has been conceived as a step forward, purporting to discover the minds that exploited, used, preserved, and sustained woods and mines of the research area; the minds that even protested in movements and expressed everyday resistance, exceeding the precincts of my dissertation.

Digressing from assumptions, derived from previous studies that the affected (people) were at the receiving end only, the book tries to recognize the myriad voices and layers of opinions and platforms at the levels of policymaking and people’s participation and protest movements. It also seeks to test negating stereotypes of larger movements engulfing localized struggles, and accepting one’s merger into the other without any reservation as a natural corollary. The success of this venture is subject to the reader’s discretion.

In the quest for a broader environmental history of nature and people, my foremost debt is to my teacher and supervisor, Professor Arun Bandopadhyay who introduced me to environmental history more than two decades ago and has guided me through this journey with inestimable criticism, patience, affection, inspiration, and appreciation since the period of my initiation into this discipline as an M.Phil. scholar investigating the category of ‘village forests’. My interactions continued with renewed vigour in a wider horizon of enquiry during my Ph.D. research on ‘green woods and rich mines’.

I consider myself fortunate to receive his constant criticism, inspiration, and insightful advice during the couple of years I was engaged in translating the dissertation into a book. With my current endeavour, reaching completion, I believe that involvement has turned full circle as he rekindles my passion into the discipline and goads me to never desist from rethinking the ideas originally conceived. Imbued in his cascade of ideas one evolves with time.

In pursuing his scholarly exactions, I have more often faltered than succeeded in achieving them. But it has instilled an undaunted desire in me to pursue my research which he may not be aware of. In the midst of all this is a warm and kind-hearted lady, a maternal figure in my life, who pampered me with food for thought in this endeavour (both in the literal and free sense of the term, as she ensured that I never sat through the sessions at their place empty stomach and leave it empty headed) and to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude, Professor Uma Chattopadhyay. She is an enlightened lady with distinct commitments. I am indebted to her for the constant encouragement and loving words over the years.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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