Scheduled Tribes

By Anonymous

Editor’s NoteNotes on Scheduled Tribes

  • Varied in terms of their socio-economic and political development
  • Change – complete, in transition, resistance to change – uneven process of change and development in India
  • Belong to various linguistic, racial, economic, social and religious categories
  • Nomadic and others – settled ones
  • S. Ghurye ‘the STs are neither called ‘aborigines’ nor the ‘adivasis’, nor are they treated as a category by themselves. By and large they are treated together with the SCs and further envisaged as a group of backward classes.’ – should be treated distinctly keeping in mind their history and culture.
  • Article 342 – ‘the president of India may by public notification specify the tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this constitution be deemed to be STs’.
  • They are classified on the basis of their religious orientation, before the independence they were classified as tribes which were animistic and the ones which had converted to Hinduism.
  • Variations based on geographical areas they live in – aravali hills, vindhyas, satpuras, mahadev hills, chhotanagpur plateau and other areas.
  • Gonds, santhals, bhil, Oraon, kond, munda, baiga, bhuiya, Ho, savara, kol korku, maler and Meena – numerically preponderant tribes in India.
  • Large number has been Hindu-ised, i.e. they believe in caste hierarchy


  • Poverty and exploitation, economic and technological backwardness, socio cultural handicaps – some problems which arise with the question of assimilation of these tribes with the mainstream/plains’ population.
  • Alienated from their own lands, the tribal landlords have been gradually replaced by the landlords or the moneylenders of the plains.
  • S. Ghurye has listed several socio-cultural and economic problems of tribal people based on their distinctions. Some tribes represent aristrocracy, landlords and noblemen; others consist of the Hinduised sections of tribesmen and thirdly, there are tribes and some sections from among them who are still largely isolated from the non tribal population.
  • Ghurye mentions 3 views on solution of the problems of tribals:
  1. No change and revivalism (supported by Elwin)
  2. Isolationism and preservation (supported by Hutton)
  3. Assimilation (supported by S.C. Roy)
  • The dominant thinking today is assimilation of the tribal people into the mainstream without any disruption. This task has however, been made a complex one because of the varied levels of development among tribals and their diverse social, political, economic and ecological levels, which in effect differentiate between the nature of their problems. The tribals are not a homogenous or a monolithic whole. They are hills tribes and plainsmen, forest based workers and settled agriculturalists, and those who have converted to Hinduism and Christianity and those who are still living their original, unadulterated tribal way of life.
  • The U.N. Dhebar Commission recommended that an area be declared ‘tribal’ where more than 50% of people were tribals. The economic criteria has been suggested, such as dependence on the forest for food, primitive agriculture, agriculture and forests both as sources of livelihood and modern occupations, particularly employment in industries.
  • A unique feature of tribal life was the weekly haat/market, where they exchanged goods and transactions. With the taking away of the forests by the British rule, their lifestyles were majorly disrupted. With the forests gone, they now depended on the moneylenders for loans to sustain themselves. The moneylenders controlled the tribals by extending loans on exorbitant interest rates and then by mortgaging their lands, alienating them from the land they cultivated. Indebtedness led to the exploitation and pauperization of the tribal people. Also, on their conversion to Hinduism, they were forced to live a lifestyle of a particular group hitherto alien to them, leading them to occupy very low ranks in Hindu society.
  • At some places tribals have been made to serve as bonded labourers in return for their loans from the moneylenders. The Doms and Koltas in U.P, in Rajasthan this is known as the Sagri system, in Andhra the Vetti system, in Orissa the gothi, in Karnataka the jetha and in M.P the naukarinama.
  • Recently the trade of women and young girls from the tribal communities has increased. These girls are bought and sold to the richer states of Punjab and Haryana, where the practice of Polyandry is rampant. This is done with the view that having only one wife for a set of 3-4 or 5 brothers will not raise a question of division of land rights among the offsprings and the family will remain one and land will not be divided. The women who are used for such purposes however, are not treated with the dignity of a wife or a mother. In most households they are reduced to sex slaves and domestic workers with long and toiling working hours and no reward. Very often as these women age, they are thrown out of the households to fend for themselves. There is no security, either physical or financial, that they are provided with.
  • ‘Jal, Jungle, Zameen’ this phrase can be understood to define the very essence of the tribal way of life. It puts together the three major sources of food, housing and livelihood for the tribals, who have traditionally lived in close proximity with nature.
  • Class differentiation has come into the tribal society and the tribal elite is today exploiting the tribal poor also. Land rights have declined due to three reasons:
  1. Alienation of land due to indebtedness
  2. Increase in tribal population
  3. Takeover of tribal lands by the government for establishing industries.
  • Their dilemma of choosing between isolation and contact, still remains. Isolation keeps them away from forces of change and development and contact raises problems of adjustment, cultural shock and disintegration of tribal social organization and community living. Assimilation also, very often, forces them to become a caste or a pseudo-caste and thereby follow the hierarchy of the plains’ social order, including untouchability and purity-pollution, associated with caste system.

Edited by Hariharan Kumar

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