Friday, 04 July 2014 04:01





The tribals are a special concern of the nation in view of their low technological development, general economic backwardness, and complex problems of socio-cultural adjustment to distinctive cultural identity. Development of tribals and tribal areas is a challenging task for the government, as they are spread over a wide spectrum of diversities of geographical location, socio-economic and politico-cultural conditions.

Despite its popular as well as academic usage, tribe is a contentious concept. In popular imagination, tribe is associated with “primitivism” and “backwardness,” clearly referring to non-Western or indigenous groups inhabiting the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America or to American Indian reservations.

Approximately 8.2 percent of the total Indian population has been designated as “Scheduled Tribes” (STs), according to the Indian census of 2001. The official Web site of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, states that “the Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification.” The Indian government regards retention of “primitive” traits, geographical isolation, possessing distinct culture, shyness of contact with the community at large, and economic backwardness as the essential characteristics of Scheduled Tribes.

Many tribes have come to symbolize the most victimized segments of societies. It is a strange paradox that although they inhabit the most resource-rich regions of the world, many of them are in a state of impoverishment. They are the most severely affected victims of induced development, such as the establishment of mega-hydroelectric projects, conservation through parks, sanctuaries and bioreserves, mining and allied activities, urbanization and industrialization, ecotourism projects, and so on.

The tribal people are concentrated in four regions. They form a majority in the north-eastern states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Naga­land, Manipur, Mizoram, and Meghalaya. However, the majority of the tribals live in the belt of middle India from Gujarat to Bengal. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Odisha the tribals account for more than 20 per cent of the population. In Jhakhand, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the percentage of tribals ranges between 4 to 15 per cent of the total population. However, in the entire middle Indian zone, the tribals are in a majority only in 13 districts. The third zone of tribal concentration is the ‘Himalayan region’ extending from Kashmir to Sikkim. In the far South, we have the fourth area of concentration, but the population is rather small. There are nearly 450 distinctive tribal groups in the country varying in size from around four millions to a bare two dozen. Their styles of living are largely determined by their means of subsistence which includes a wide spectrum of activities such as hunting and food gathering. Artisan groups are engaged in different types of arts and crafts and some are employed as industrial labour. Although the bulk of the tribals are reported to be Hindu in the census, substantial numbers have been converted to Christianity and some to Islam and Buddhism. Some others still follow their traditional faiths.

The history of the tribes has been a history of becoming peasants. It is the policy of the government to minimise the extent of shifting cultivation, promote terrace cultivation and apply the new agricultural strategy to the tribal region and to accelerate the flow of capital for agriculture there in. There has been a diffusion of improved agricultural technology by governmental agencies. Efforts are being made to develop innovative technologies which would yield results in drought-prone areas and highlands. At present much of the settled cultivation is at subsistence level and the majority of the tribal produce is not marketed. They sometimes make distress sales in order to buy some necessities.

In the central zone of tribal concentration agrarian issue stand at the centre of development. In the western zone we find land scarcity and land hunger. This is due to the expulsion of the tribes in those regions by the more vigorous Rajput, Maratha, and other Hindu peasantry. Other contributory factors to land hunger are low productivity  of land, the primitive mode of agriculture and the continued exploitation of tribals by others against whom protective legislation do not afford sufficient safeguards and the non-diversification for tribal economy.

Integration in which attempts will be made to bring the tribals in the mainstream of national life without destroying their distinctive identity. Indian culture is like a mosaic in which its separate elements add to its beauty. Anthropologists regard the integration of the tribes into the mainstream of Indian life as a natural and desirable goal. They only insist on care and caution on planning for the tribes and emphasize restraints in certain areas against innovations of doubtful value. The essential elements of anthropological thinking on the problem have been largely incorporated in national policies. They have emphasi­sed the importance of understanding tribal culture, identifying not only their different problems but the integrative forces in their life bringing out the vital linkages in their cultural fabric. They have pleaded for cautious formulation of development plans with a view to harmonise tribal needs with regional and national interests. They recommend a careful watch on the trends set in motion by these measures with a view to eliminating elements that destroy their social solidarity and kill their zest for living.

The Constitution of India provides specific measures for the protection and promotion of the social and economic interests of the Scheduled Tribes (STs). These include: reservation of seats in the legislature, educational institutions, services and posts, a tribal development program and provisions for autonomy.

The Constitution of India ensures the political representation of Scheduled Tribes in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of the Parliament and in the State Legislative Assemblies through reserved seats.

Reservation in Educational Institutions and Services: Article 15(4) of the Indian Constitution provides for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Tribes in educational institutions. In order to improve the social situation of the tribal people, the government has, in addition to quotas in education, also designed a reservation policy for employment in government services. Depending on the respective positions, posts reserved for members of "Scheduled Tribes" are either in proportion to the tribal population of the state in question, or – in most cases – comprise 7.5% of the total number of government jobs.

Geographical areas designated as Fifth and Sixth Scheduled areas by independent India are identical to those already delineated by the British as Scheduled Areas.

Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996: This act is aimed primarily at promoting village-level democracy through the Panchayat Raj institutions. It includes changes aimed at adapting the generally established system for use in the Scheduled Areas, which have a different socio-economic and politico-administrative setting.

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes: Article 338 of the Constitution provides for the appointment of a Special Officer for Scheduled Tribes and Castes by the President, who is commissioned to investigate and report to the President on all matters relating to the constitutional safeguards on Scheduled Tribes and Castes. A National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was subsequently created to take over these responsibilities.

Promotion of the economic and educational interests of the Scheduled Tribes and their protection from social injustice and exploitation are enshrined as a national goal in article 46 of the Constitution. Realizing that earlier programs under the central government's Five-Year Plans had failed to address the development needs, marginalization and exploitation of tribal communities, the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) was devised as a new strategy in the Fifth Five-Year Plan in 1973. It is still the approach that guides development programs in tribal areas. Its main objectives are to eliminate exploitation, to speed up social and economic development, and to promote and improve the organisational capacity of tribal people.