The British robbed us off something more than the Kohinoor -- our forests.
My granny used to narrate tales of how people used to live in jungles 'back in those days'. How, they had lush green grass to walk on, fresh fruits to feed on, beautiful sunset and sunrise to delight about and an ecosystem to depend upon.
I wonder how long back was that. For, every time, I visit the jungles, there is some folklore or the other I come back with. I keep wondering if there is any truth to it, but, one thing is certain for sure. Forests have been an important part of our lives since time immemorial.
For, all of them could not have imagined that India has a forest cover like no other land. That India had a variety of species to boast about and that India was literally a volcano of natural resources.
This octogenarian who stays in a village off the Corbett National Park fondly recalls stories told to him by his grandfather.
India has always revered its forests and natural reserves. Many Hindu rituals revolve around the jungles and trees. In fact, the Agni Purana, dating back to around 5000 years, mentions that planting and protecting trees cause religious as well as material gains. Interestingly, people followed these and more social activities were introduced around forests. Even in Buddhism, it is clearly stated that one should plant a tree every five years.
Our kings such as Chandra Gupta Maurya even had forest officials, for, they realised life is in the jungles and they need to be protected. The famous king Ashoka also called for protecting wildlife and the jungles.
Even with the Muslim invaders, nothing much changed. People grew closer to the forests for these were safer havens during attacks. However, this was the time when co-existence paved way for moving to the forests. However, since Muslim invaders were hunters, they needed the forest covers to go hunting. That was probably the time when man-made gardens were given more importance than the naturally occurring jungles -- home to many species.
The wrong turn was when the British entered India and trees such as Sal, Teak and Sandalwood were exported for furniture. In fact, the British became the authorised users of the forest resources.
Interestingly, during the first world war saw timber being used to build ships. Undoubtedly, world war II was a further drain on the forest resources. Even today, we talk about conservation without protection or conservation without building of forests.
The British did not just take away to Kohinoor, they robbed us of the real Kohinoor -- our forest reserves.