Human ecology in India some historical perspectives

Gadgil, Madhav ; Romila, Thapar (1990) Human ecology in India some historical perspectives Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 15 (3). pp. 209-223. ISSN 0308-0188

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Before the spread of extensive settled cultivation, the Indian subcontinent would have been inhabited by territorial hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators with cultural traditions of prudent resource use. The disruption of closed material cycles by export of agricultural produce to centres of non-agricultural population would have weakened these traditions. Indeed, the fire-based sacrificial ritual and extensive agricultural settlements might have catalysed the destruction of forests and wildlife and the suppression of tribal peoples during the agricultural colonization of the Gangetic plains. Buddhism, Jainism and later the Hindu sects may have been responses to the need for a reassertion of ecological prudence once the more fertile lands were brought under cultivation. British rule radically changed the focus of the country's resource use pattern from production of a variety of biological resources for local consumption to the production of a few commodities largely for export. The resulting ecological squeeze was accompanied by disastrous famines and epidemics between the 1860s and the 1920s. The counterflows to tracts of intensive agriculture have reduced such disasters since independence. However, these are quite inadequate to balance the state-subsidized outflows of resources from rural hinterlands. These imbalances have triggered serious environmental degradation and tremendous overcrowding of the niche of agricultural labour and marginal cultivator all over the country.

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