The upper plateau of the Nilgiris, South India, was a grazed, grassy, and open landscape until the mid-nineteenth century when it was subject to colonial rule and commerce. However, even as it initiated and institutionalized capitalism, colonial rule also sought to selectively and legally safeguard from the material consequences of modernity and capitalism the pastoral lifestyles of the Toda graziers and the open and grassy biophysicality of their principal grazing landscape. Anointed the “Wenlock Downs” and reserved as forest in 1900, conservation policies to preserve this landscape for the amenities it afforded the English gentry significantly influenced policies to ameliorate backwardness associated with the pastoral lifestyles of the Toda. As official policy prior to the Second World War the Toda were encouraged to farm the grasslands to which they were given property rights. After the war, pastoralism gained official preference despite ostensible Toda interest in cultivation. English interests in protecting amenities trumped ameliorative interests. An historical racial standpoint, the pejorative labeling of Toda as indolent, also served strategically during the war as a rhetorical device to make a convincing case for pastoralism as an ameliorative panacea. This article is an historical sociology of bureaucratic discourse on Toda labor and landscape during and immediately preceding the Second World War.
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