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Fishing traps, baskets, cradles, bridges, rainproof hats and umbrellas, mats, musical instruments, water pipes—Indians have always used the bamboo in numerous ways. It is used for house construction, fencing and in the making of bullock carts. Low-cost domestic furniture and a vast range of domestic utility items made of bamboo can be easily seen in any of our bazaars. But we do not easily notice the countless little ways this modest material comes to be used by rural people. One can see it being used in the blacksmith’s bellows, or as bamboo pins in carpentry joints or in the fabrication of toys in village markets. But to the British foresters the multidimensional role that “the forest weed” played in the local Indian environment was of no account, as it did not figure in forest revenues. Bamboo also interfered with the growing of teak, an essential part of their colonial forest policy. It was only in the 1920 s that the British realised that by mincing bamboo into millimetre shreds, cooking it in chemicals, pulping and flattening it, they could produce sheets of paper. This would bring the British increased forest revenue and ‘development’ (as defined by them) to the so-called backward regions of India. However, they chose to ignore the consequences this activity would have on the health of the forest. So while bamboo was sold at high prices to basket weavers, it was heavily subsidised for the paper industry. Even after Independence, supplying bamboo at extremely low prices to Indian paper mills became a ‘patriotic’ duty of the government, and bamboo supplies were assured for decades at unchanged prices. The disaster that this would cause to the forests, and to the crafts person, still remained unforeseen.
Colonialism affected forests all across India and marginalised their inhabitants and the traditional occupations they practised. As late as the 1970s, the World Bank proposed that 4,600 hectares of natural Sal forest should be replaced by tropical pine to provide pulp for the paper industry. It was only after protests by local environmentalists that the project was stopped. Colonialism was therefore not only about repression, it was also a story of displacement, impoverishment and ecological crisis.