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Amrita Paper Unearths Roots of Colonial Forest Laws

February 25, 2013 - 10:40
Amrita Paper Unearths Roots of Colonial Forest Laws

An Amrita paper titled Unearthing the Roots of Colonial Forest Laws: Iron Smelting and the State in Pre- and Early-Colonial India was published in Economic and Political Weekly during February 2013.

The magazine published in Mumbai by Sameeksha charitable trust includes both scholarly research as well as information about current events. First published in 1949 as Economic Weekly, it has enjoyed a rising subscriber base over the years.

The paper was and co-authored by Dr. Amalendu Jyotishi of the Amrita School of Business and Dr. Sashi Sivramkrishna of the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management, Bengaluru.

The authors offered an alternative narrative of India’s environmental history by focusing on traditional iron melting rather than the usually-discussed agrarian village economy. “Till date iron-smelting was somehow ignored by environmental historians,” shared Dr. Amalendu.

“This article breaks new ground and is really an advance in historical scholarship…,” commented the Economic and Political Weekly reviewer.

“Traditional iron-making in India used about sixteen kilograms of charcoal for a kilogram of iron and to produce a kilogram of charcoal required four to seven kilograms of wet wood. Consequently, to produce a kilogram of refined iron needed about sixty to hundred times its own weight in wet wood,” elaborated Dr. Amalendu Jyotishi.

The wet wood was obtained, of course, by cutting down forests. During the pre- and early-colonial times, the feudal state asserted its rights over mines and forests. Iron was required for making weapons. The colonizers were transforming India’s economy into a war economy.

The advent of the colonial rule brought about a competition for natural resources, resulting in ecological destruction in mineral-rich forest regions, which continues across the world even today. These were the conditions that paved the way for statutory forest laws.

“The colonial state, in pursuing its own commercial and military objectives, considered the traditional smelter as a competitor for resources and even perhaps a militaristic threat. It is through this multilayered perspective of environmental and military history intertwined with the anthropology of iron smelting, that we can unearth one of the roots of statutory forest laws,” explained Dr. Amalendu.

Initial thoughts on this topic were presented at a Conference on Legal Pluralism in the University of Cape Town in September 2011. A more developed version was presented at the International Conference and Workshop on Legal Pluralism in Natural Resource Management that was organized by the Amrita School of Business in March 2012.

“We hope to build on this work by adding more interesting dimensions, especially relating to indigenous communities. Similarly we are also working on charcoal economy from energy economics perspective,” revealed Dr. Amalendu.

February 25, 2013
School of Business, Bengaluru

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