Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/41

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MOVEMENTS OF THE POPULATION. 37 his children, even when his family has grown too numerous to live upon the crops. If the Indian husbandmen will learn to migrate to tracts where spare land abounds, they will do more than the utmost efforts of Government can accomplish to better themselves and to prevent famines. Distribution of the People.— It is not stupidity that makes the Indian peasant cling to his hereditary fields. In old days he could move to other districts or provinces only with great difficulty and danger. Roads for carts or wheeled traffic were few and far between ; and in many parts of India only existed along the chief military routes. During the century of confusion and Native misrule which preceded the establishment of the British Power, travelling even by such roads as did exist was perilous owing to robbers and armed bands. Railways and steamboats, which are the great modern distributors of popula- tion, were altogether unknown in India under Native rule, and have only been introduced into India in our own generation. By the help of roads, railways and river-steamers, it is now possible for the first time for the Indian peasants in overcrowded districts to move to districts where there is still spare land. The Indian cultivators are slowly but surely learning this, and they are moving in large numbers to thinly peopled districts in Eastern and Northern Bengal, Assam, and the Central Provinces. The Nomadic System of Husbandry. — Throughout many of the hill and frontier tracts land is so plentiful that it yields no rent. The hillmen settle for a few years in some fertile spot, which they clear of jungle. They then exhaust the soil by a rapid succession of crops, and leave it to relapse into forest. In such tracts no rent is charged ; but each family of wandering husbandmen pays a poll-tax to the Chief, under whose protec- tion it dwells. As the inhabitants increase, this nomadic system of cultivation gives place to regular tillage. Throughout Burma we see both methods at work side by side ; while on the thickly- peopled plains of India the 'wandering husbandmen' have disappeared, and each peasant family remains rooted to the same plot of ground during many generations. Eise in Bents. — Yet only a hundred years ago there was more land even in Bengal than there were cultivators to till it.