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Ādivāsīs (Devanagri: आदिवासी, literally: earliest inhabitants) is an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups believed to be the aboriginal population of Indiamarker. They comprise a substantial indigenous minority of the population of Indiamarker.

Adivasi societies are particularly present in the Indian states of Orissamarker, Madhya Pradeshmarker, Chattisgarhmarker, Rajasthanmarker, Gujaratmarker, Maharashtramarker, Andhra Pradeshmarker, Biharmarker, Jharkhandmarker, West Bengalmarker, Mizorammarker and other northeastern states, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islandsmarker. Many smaller tribal groups are quite sensitive to ecological degradation caused by modernization. Both commercial forestry and intensive agriculture have proved destructive to the forests that had endured swidden agriculture for many centuries. Officially recognized by the Indian government as "Scheduled Tribes" in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of India, they are often grouped together with scheduled castes in the category "Scheduled Castes and Tribes", which is eligible for certain affirmative action measures.

Connotations of the word 'Adivasi'

Although terms such as (Sanskrit for forest dwellers), vanvasi or girijan (hill people) are also used for the tribes of India, adivasi carries the specific meaning of being the original and autochthon inhabitants of a given region, and was specifically coined for that purpose in the 1930s. Over a period of time, unlike the terms "aborigines" or "tribes", the word "adivasi" has also developed a connotation of past autonomy which was disrupted during the British colonial period in India and has not been restored. Opposition to usage of the term is varied, and it has been argued that the "original inhabitant" contention is based on dubious claims and that the adivasi - non adivasi divide that is created is artificial.

Scheduled tribes

The Constitution of India, Article 366 (25) defines Scheduled Tribes as"such tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to the scheduled Tribes (STs) for the purposes of this Constitution". In Article 342, the procedure to be followed for specification of a scheduled tribe is prescribed. However, it does not contain the criterion for the specification of any community as scheduled tribe. An often used criterion is based on attributes such as:-
  • Geographical isolation - they live in cloistered, exclusive, remote and inhospitable areas such as hills and forests,
  • Backwardness - their livelihood is based on primitive agriculture, a low-value closed economy with a low level of technology which leads to their poverty. They have low levels of literacy and health.
  • Distinctive culture, language and religion - communities have developed their own distinctive culture, language and religion.
  • Shyness of contact – they have a marginal degree of contact with other cultures and people.

Primitive tribes

The Scheduled Tribe groups who were identified as more backwardcommunities among the tribal population groups have been categorised as'Primitive Tribal Groups' (PTGs) by the Government at the Centre in1975. So far seventy−five tribal communities have been identified as'primitive tribal groups' in different States of India. These hunting,food− gathering, and some agricultural communities, who have beenidentified as more backward communities among the tribal populationgroups need special programmes for their sustainable development. Theprimitive tribes are awakening and demanding their rights for specialreservation quota for them.

Geographical overview

There is a substantial list of Scheduled Tribes in India recognised as tribal under the Constitution of India. Tribal peoples constitute 8.2% of the nation's total population, over 84 million people according to the 2001 census. One concentration lives in a belt along the Himalayasmarker stretching through Jammu and Kashmirmarker, Himachal Pradeshmarker, and Uttarakhandmarker in the west, to Assammarker, Meghalayamarker, Tripuramarker, Arunachal Pradeshmarker, Mizorammarker, Manipurmarker, and Nagalandmarker in the northeast. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradeshmarker, Meghalayamarker, Mizorammarker, and Nagalandmarker, more than 90% of the population is tribal. However, in the remaining northeast states of Assammarker, Manipurmarker, Sikkimmarker, and Tripuramarker, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30% of the population.

Another concentration lives in the hilly areas of central India (Chhattisgarhmarker, Madhya Pradeshmarker, Orissamarker and, to a lesser extent, Andhra Pradeshmarker); in this belt, which is bounded by the Narmada Rivermarker to the north and the Godavari River to the southeast, tribal peoples occupy the slopes of the region's mountains. Other tribals, including the Santals, live in Jharkhandmarker and West Bengalmarker. Central Indian states have the country's largest tribes, and, taken as a whole, roughly 75% of the total tribal population live there, although the tribal population there accounts for only around 10% of the region's total population.

There are smaller numbers of tribal people in Karnatakamarker, Tamil Nadumarker, and Keralamarker in south India; in western India in Gujaratmarker and Rajasthanmarker, and in the union territories of Lakshadweepmarker and the Andaman Islandsmarker and Nicobar Islandsmarker. About one percent of the populations of Keralamarker and Tamil Nadumarker are tribal, whereas about six percent in Andhra Pradeshmarker and Karnatakamarker are members of tribes.

The peopling of India

The concept of 'original inhabitant' is directly related to the initial peopling of India, which, due to the debate on topics such as the Indo-Aryan migration hypothesis, has been a contentious area of research and discourse. Some anthropologists hypothesize that the region was settled by multiple human migrations over tens of millennia, which makes it even harder to select certain groups as being truly aboriginal. One narrative, largely based on genetic research, describes Negritos, similar to the Andamanese adivasis of today, as the first humans to colonize India, likely 30-65 thousand years before present (kybp). 60% of all Indians share the mtDNA haplogroup M, which is universal among Andamanese islander adivasis and might be a genetic legacy of the postulated first Indians. Some anthropologists theorize that these settlers were displaced by invading Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people (who largely shared skin pigmentation and physiognomy with the Negritos, but had straight rather than kinky hair), and adivasi tribes such as the Irulas trace their origins to that displacement. The Oraon adivasi tribe of eastern India and the Korku tribe of western India are considered to be examples of groups of Australoid origin. Subsequent to the Australoids, some anthropologists and geneticists theorize that Caucasoids (including both Dravidian and Indo-Aryans) and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India: the Dravidians possibly from Iranmarker, the Indo-Aryans possibly from the Central Asian steppes and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent. It should be noted that none of these hypotheses is free from debate and disagreement.

Ethnic origins and linguistic affiliations in India match only inexactly, however: while the Oraon adivasis are classified as an Australoid group, their language, called Kurukh, is Dravidian. Khasis and Nicobarese are considered to be Mongoloid groups and the Munda and Santals are Australoid groups, but all four speak Austro-Asiatic languages. The Bhils and Gonds are frequently classified as Australoid groups, yet Bhil languages are Indo-European and the Gondi language is Dravidian. Also, in post-colonial India, tribal languages suffered huge setbacks with the formation of linguistic states after 1956 under the States Reorganisation Act. For example, under state-sponsored educational pressure, Irula children are being taught Tamil and a sense of shame has begun to be associated with speaking the Irula language among some children and educated adults. Similarly, the Santals are "gradually adopting languages of the areas inhabited, like Oriya in Orissa, Hindi in Bihar and Bengali in West Bengal."

Disruptions during Mughal and colonial periods

Although considered uncivilized and primitive, adivasis were usually not held to be intrinsically impure by surrounding (usually, caucasoid - Dravidian or Aryan) caste Hindu populations, unlike Dalits, who were. Thus, the adivasi origins of Maharshi (Sanksrit: Great Sage) Valmiki, who composed the Ramayana Hindu religious epic, were acknowledged, as were the origins of adivasi tribes such as the Grasia and Bhilala, which descended from mixed Rajput and Bhil marriages. Unlike the subjugation of the dalits, the adivasis often enjoyed autonomy and, depending on region, evolved mixed hunter-gatherer and farming economies, controlling their lands as a joint patrimony of the tribe. In some areas, securing adivasi approval and support was considered crucial by local rulers, and larger adivasi groups were able to sustain their own kingdoms in central India. The Gond Rajas of Garha-Mandla and Chanda are examples of an adivasi aristocracy that ruled in this region, and were "not only the hereditary leaders of their Gond subjects, but also held sway over substantial communities of non-tribals who recognized them as their feudal lords."

This relative autonomy and collective ownership of adivasi land by adivasis was severely disrupted by the advent of the Mughals in the early 16th century. Similarly, the British beginning in the 18th century added to the consolidation of feudalism in India, first under the jagirdari system and then under the zamindari system. Beginning with the Permanent Settlement imposed by the British in Bengal and Bihar, which later became the template for a deepening of feudalism throughout India, the older social and economic system in the country began to alter radically. Land, both forest areas belonging to adivasis and settled farmland belonging to non-adivasi peasants, was rapidly made the legal property of British-designated zamindars (landlords), who in turn moved to extract the maximum economic benefit possible from their newfound property and subjects without regard to historical tenure or ownership. Adivasi lands sometimes experienced an influx of non-local settlers, often brought from far away (as in the case of Muslims and Sikhs brought to Kol territory) by the zamindars to better exploit local land, forest and labor. Deprived of the forests and resources they traditionally depended on and sometimes coerced to pay taxes, many adivasis were forced to borrow at usurious rates from moneylenders, often the zamindars themselves. When they were unable to pay, that forced them to become bonded laborers for the zamindars. Often, far from paying off the principal of their debt, they were unable even to offset the compounding interest, and this was made the justification for their children working for the zamindar after the death of the initial borrower. In the case of the Andamanese adivasis, long isolated from the outside world in autonomous societies, mere contact with outsiders was often sufficient to set off deadly epidemics in tribal populations, and it is alleged that some sections of the British government directly attempted to destroy some tribes.

Land dispossession and subjugation by British and zamindar interests resulted in a number of adivasi revolts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, such as the Santal hul (or Santal revolt) of 1855-56. Although these were suppressed ruthlessly by the governing British authority (the East India Company prior to 1858, and the British government after 1858), partial restoration of privileges to adivasi elites (e.g. to Mankis, the leaders of Munda tribes) and some leniency in tax burdens resulted in relative calm, despite continuing and widespread dispossession, from the late nineteenth century onwards. The economic deprivation, in some cases, triggered internal adivasi migrations within India that would continue for another century, including as labor for the emerging tea plantations in Assammarker.

Tribal classification criteria and demands

Population complexities, and the controversies surrounding ethnicity and language in India, sometimes make the official recognition of groups as adivasis (by way of inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes list) political and contentious. However, regardless of their language family affiliations, Australoid and Negrito groups that have survived as distinct forest, mountain or island dwelling tribes in India and are often classified as adivasi. The relatively autonomous Mongoloid tribal groups of Northeastern India (including Khasis, Apatani and Nagas), who are mostly Austro-Asiatic or Tibeto-Burman speakers, are also considered to be adivasis: this area comprises 7.5% of India's land area but 20% of its adivasi population. However, not all autonomous northeastern groups are considered adivasis; for instance, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Meitei of Manipur were once tribal but, having been settled for many centuries, are caste Hindus.

It is also difficult, for a given social grouping, to definitively decide whether it is a 'caste' or a 'tribe'. A combination of internal social organization, relationship with other groups, self-classification and perception by other groups has to be taken into account to make a categorization, which is at best inexact and open to doubt. These categorizations have been diffuse for thousands of years, and even ancient formulators of caste-discriminatory legal codes (which usually only applied to settled populations, and not adivasis) were unable to come up with clean distinctions.

Demands for tribal classification

An additional difficulty in deciding whether a group meets the criteria to be adivasi or not are the aspirational movements created by the federal and state benefits, including job and educational reservations, enjoyed by groups listed as scheduled tribes (STs). In Manipur, Meitei commentators have pointed to the lack of scheduled tribe status as a key economic disadvantage for Meiteis competing for jobs against groups that are classified as scheduled tribes. In Assam, Rajbongshi representatives have demanded scheduled tribe status as well. In Rajasthan, Haryana and other northern states, the Gujjar community has demanded ST status, even blockading the national capital of Delhimarker to press their demand. In several cases, these claims to tribalhood are disputed by tribes who are already listed in the schedule and fear economic losses if more powerful groups are recognized as scheduled tribes; for instance, the Rajbongshi demand faces resistance from the Bodo tribe, and the Meena tribe has vigorously opposed Gujjar aspirations to be recognized as a scheduled tribe.

Endogamy, exogamy and ethnogenesis

Part of the challenge is that the endogamous nature of tribes is also conformed to by the vast majority of Hindu castes. Indeed, many historians and anthropologists believe that caste endogamy reflects the once-tribal origins of the various groups who now constitute the settled Hindu castes. Another defining feature of caste Hindu society, which is often used to contrast them with Muslim and other social groupings, is lineage/clan (or gotra) and village exogamy. However, these in-marriage taboos are also held ubiquitously among tribal groups, and do not serve as reliable differentiating markers between caste and tribe. Again, this could be an ancient import from tribal society into settled Hindu castes. Interestingly, tribes such as the Muslim Gujjars of Kashmir and the Kalash of Pakistanmarker observe these exogamous traditions in common with caste Hindus and non-Kashmiri adivasis, though their surrounding Muslim populations do not.

Some anthropologists, however, draw a distinction between tribes who have continued to be tribal and tribes that have been absorbed into caste society in terms of the breakdown of tribal (and therefore caste) boundaries, and the proliferation of new mixed caste groups. In other words, ethnogenesis (the construction of new ethnic identities) in tribes occurs through a fission process (where groups splinter-off as new tribes, which preserves endogamy), whereas with settled castes it usually occurs through intermixture (in violation of strict endogamy).

Other criteria

Unlike castes, which form part of a complex and interrelated local economic exchange system, tribes tend to form self-sufficient economic units. For most tribal people, land-use rights traditionally derive simply from tribal membership. Tribal society tends to the egalitarian, with its leadership based on ties of kinship and personality rather than on hereditary status. Tribes typically consist of segmentary lineages whose extended families provide the basis for social organization and control. Tribal religion recognizes no authority outside the tribe.

Any of these criteria may not apply in specific instances. Language does not always give an accurate indicator of tribal or caste status. Especially in regions of mixed population, many tribal groups have lost their mother tongues and simply speak local or regional languages. In parts of Assam - an area historically divided between warring tribes and villages - increased contact among villagers began during the colonial period, and has accelerated since independence in 1947. A pidgin Assamese developed while educated tribal members learned Hindi and, in the late twentieth century, English.

Self-identification and group loyalty do not provide unfailing markers of tribal identity either. In the case of stratified tribes, the loyalties of clan, kin, and family may well predominate over those of tribe. In addition, tribes cannot always be viewed as people living apart; the degree of isolation of various tribes has varied tremendously. The Gonds, Santals, and Bhils traditionally have dominated the regions in which they have lived. Moreover, tribal society is not always more egalitarian than the rest of the rural populace; some of the larger tribes, such as the Gonds, are highly stratified.

The apparently wide fluctuation in estimates of South Asia's tribal population through the twentieth century gives a sense of how unclear the distinction between tribal and nontribal can be. India's 1931 census enumerated 22 million tribal people, in 1941 only 10 million were counted, but by 1961 some 30 million and in 1991 nearly 68 million tribal members were included. The differences among the figures reflect changing census criteria and the economic incentives individuals have to maintain or reject classification as a tribal member.

These gyrations of census data serve to underline the complex relationship between caste and tribe. Although, in theory, these terms represent different ways of life and ideal types, in reality they stand for a continuum of social groups. In areas of substantial contact between tribes and castes, social and cultural pressures have often tended to move tribes in the direction of becoming castes over a period of years. Tribal peoples with ambitions for social advancement in Indian society at large have tried to gain the classification of caste for their tribes. On occasion, an entire tribe or part of a tribe joined a Hindu sect and thus entered the caste system en masse. If a specific tribe engaged in practices that Hindus deemed polluting, the tribe's status when it was assimilated into the caste hierarchy would be affected.


The majority of Adivasi practice Hinduism and Christianity. During the last two decades Adivasi's from Orissa, Madhya pradesh, Jharkhand have converted to Christian Protestants groups.Adivasi beliefs vary by tribe, and are usually different from the historical Vedic religion, with its monistic underpinnings, Indo-European deities (who are often cognates of ancient Iranian, Greek and Roman deities, e.g. Mitra/Mithra/Mithras), lack of idol worship and lack of a concept of reincarnation. The "centre of Rig Vedic religion was the Yajna, the sacrificial fire" and there was "no Atma, no Brahma, no Moksha, no idol worship in the Rig Veda." Two specific rituals held great importance and it is known that, "when the Indo-Aryans and the Persians formed a single people, they performed sacrifices (Vedic yajna: Avestan yasna), and that they already had a sacred drink (Vedic soma: Avestan haoma)."

Adivasi roots of modern Hinduism

Most important deities added to the Hindu pantheon after the Vedic period were dark-skinned, such as Vishnu (who has been described as meghavarnam, or dark as a cloud), Rama, Krishna, Shiva and Kali, which may reflect adivasi origins. Today, these deities constitute the main divinities worshiped by most caste Hindus. In a marked departure from the Indo-Aryan religion (although not directly contradicted by it), idol worship has also become firmly established for most Hindus, though exceptions such as the Arya Samaj school do exist. Some historians and anthropologists assert that much of what constitutes popular Hinduism today is actually descended from an amalgamation of adivasi faiths, idol worship practices and deities, rather than the original Indo-Aryan faith. This also includes the sacred status of certain animals and plants, such as monkeys, cows, peacocks, cobras (nagas), elephants, peepul, tulsi (holy basil) and neem, which may once have held totemic importance for certain adivasi tribes.

Adivasi Saints

  • Saint Buddhu Bhagat, led the Kol Insurrection aimed against tax imposed on Mundas by Muslim rulers.
  • Saint Dhira or Kannappa Nayanar[101997], one of 63 Nayanar Shaivite saints, a hunter from whom Lord Shiva gladly accepted food offerings. It is said that he poured water from his mouth on the Shivlingam and offered the Lord swine flesh.[101998]
  • Saint Dhudhalinath, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee (P. 4, The Story of Historic People of India-The Kolis)
  • Saint Ganga Narain, led the Bhumij Revolt aimed against missionaries and British colonialists.
  • Saint Girnari Velnathji, Koli, Gujarati of Junagadh, a 17th or 18th century devotee
  • Saint Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma or Guru Brahma, a Bodo whose founded the Brahma Dharma aimed against missionaries and colonialists. The Brahma Dharma movement sought to unite peoples of all religions to worship God together and survives even today.
  • Saint Jatra Oraon, Oraon, led the Tana Bhagat Movement (1914-1919) aimed against the missionaries and British colonialists
  • Saint Sri Koya Bhagat, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee
  • Saint Tantya Mama (Bhil), a Bhil after whom a movement is named after - the "Jananayak Tantya Bhil"
  • Saint Tirumangai Alvar, Kallar, composed the six Vedangas in beautiful Tamil verse[101999]


  • Bhaktaraj Bhadurdas, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee
  • Bhakta Shabari, a Bhil woman that offered Shri Rama and Shri Laxmana her half-eaten ber fruit, which they gratefully accepted when they were searching for Shri Sita Devi in the forest.
  • Madan Bhagat, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee
  • Sany Kanji Swami, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee
  • Bhaktaraj Valram, Koli, Gujarati, a 17th or 18th century devotee


  • Maharshi Matanga, Matanga Bhil, Guru of Bhakta Shabari. In fact, Chandalas are often addressed as ‘Matanga ’in passages like Varaha Purana 1.139.91
  • Maharshi Valmiki, Kirata Bhil, composed the Ramayana. He is considered to be an avatar in the Balmiki community.


  • Birsa Bhagwan or Birsa Munda, considered an avatar of Khasra Kora. People approached him as Singbonga, the supreme spirit. He converted even Christians to his own sect.[102000] He was against conversions by missionaries. He wanted not only political, but religious freedom as well![102001] He and his clan, the Mundas, were connected with Vaishnavite traditions as they were influenced by Sri Chaitanya.[102002] Birsa was very close to the Panre brothers Vaishnavites.
  • Kirata - the form of Lord Shiva as a hunter. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata. The Karppillikkavu Sree Mahadeva Temple, Kerala adores Lord Shiva in this avatar and is known to be one of the oldest surviving temples in Bharat.
  • Vettakkorumakan, the son of Lord Kirata.
  • Kaladutaka or 'Vaikunthanatha', Kallar (robber), avatar of Lord Vishnu.[102003]

Other Tribals and Hinduism

Some Hindus believe that Indian tribals are close to the romantic ideal of the ancient silvan culture of the Vedic people. Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar said:

At the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneswarmarker (11th century), there are Brahmin and Badu (tribal) priests. The Badus have the most intimate contact with the deity of the temple, and only they can bathe and adorn it.

The Bhil tribe is mentioned in the Mahabharata. The Bhil boy Eklavya's teacher was Drona, and he had the honour to be invited to Yudhisthira's Rajasuya Yajna at Indraprastha. Indian tribals were also part of royal armies in the Ramayana and in the Arthasastra.

Bhakta Shabari was a Bhil woman that offered Shri Rama and Shri Laxmana 'ber' when they were searching for Shri Sita in the forest. Maharishi Matanga, a Bhil became a Brahmana.


Some western authors and Indian sociologists refer to adivasi beliefs as animism and spirit worship, and hold them to be distinct from Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. In Jharkhandmarker, Chattisgarhmarker and Orissamarker states, their religion is sometimes called Sarna. Sarna involves belief in a great spirit called the Sing Bonga. Santhal belief holds the world to be inhabited by numerous spiritual beings of different kinds. Santhals consider themselves as living and doing everything in close association with these spirits. Rituals are performed under groves of Sal trees called Jaher (or sacred grove), where Bonga is believed to appear or express himself. Often, Jaher are found in the forests.

According to the mythology of the Santhal community, the genesis of the ‘Sarna’ religion occurred when the ‘Santhal tribals had gone to the forest for hunting and they started the discussion about their ‘Creator and Savior’ while they were taking rest under a tree. They questioned themselves that who is their God? Whether the Sun, the Wind or the Cloud? Finally, they came to a conclusion that they would leave an arrow in the sky and wherever the arrow would target that will be the God’s house. They left an arrow in the sky; it fell down under a Sal tree. Then, they started worshiping the Sal tree and named their religion as ‘Sarna’ because it is derived from a Sal tree.4 Thus, Sarna religion came into existence. There are priests and an assistant priests called "Naikey" and "Kudam Naike" in every Santhal village.

Tribal system

Tribals are not part of the caste system. This is an egalitarianism society. Christian tribals do not automatically lose their traditional tribal rules.

When in 1891 a missionary asked 150 Munda Christians to "inter-dine" with people of different rank, only 20 Christians did so, and many converts lost their new faith. Father Haghenbeek concluded on this episode that these rules are not "pagan", but a sign of "national sentiment and pride", and wrote:

However, many scholars argue that the claim that tribals are an egalitarian society in contrast to a caste-based society is a part of a larger political agenda by some to maximize any differences from tribal and urban societies. According to scholar Koenraad Elst, caste practices and social taboos among Indian tribals date back to antiquity:

Inter-dining has also been prohibited by many Indian tribal peoples.


Extending the system of primary education into tribal areas and reserving places for tribal children in middle and high schools and higher education institutions are central to government policy, but efforts to improve a tribe's educational status have had mixed results. Recruitment of qualified teachers and determination of the appropriate language of instruction also remain troublesome. Commission after commission on the "language question" has called for instruction, at least at the primary level, in the students' native tongue. In some regions, tribal children entering school must begin by learning the official regional language, often one completely unrelated to their tribal tongue.

Many tribal schools are plagued by high dropout rates. Children attend for the first three to four years of primary school and gain a smattering of knowledge, only to lapse into illiteracy later. Few who enter continue up to the tenth grade; of those who do, few manage to finish high school. Therefore, very few are eligible to attend institutions of higher education, where the high rate of attrition continues. Members of agrarian tribes like the Gonds often are reluctant to send their children to school, needing them, they say, to work in the fields. On the other hand, in those parts of the northeast where tribes have generally been spared the wholesale onslaught of outsiders, schooling has helped tribal people to secure political and economic benefits. The education system there has provided a corps of highly trained tribal members in the professions and high-ranking administrative posts.

An academy for teaching and preserving Adivasi languages and culture was established in 1999 by the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre. The Adivasi Academy is located at Tejgadh in Gujarat.


Most tribes are concentrated in heavily forested areas that combine inaccessibility with limited political or economic significance. Historically, the economy of most tribes was subsistence agriculture or hunting and gathering. Tribal members traded with outsiders for the few necessities they lacked, such as salt and iron. A few local Hindu craftsmen might provide such items as cooking utensils.

In the early 20th century, however, large areas fell into the hands of non-tribals, on account of improved transportation and communications. Around 1900, many regions were opened by the government to settlement through a scheme by which inward migrants received ownership of land free in return for cultivating it. For tribal people, however, land was often viewed as a common resource, free to whoever needed it. By the time tribals accepted the necessity of obtaining formal land titles, they had lost the opportunity to lay claim to lands that might rightfully have been considered theirs. The colonial and post-independence regimes belatedly realized the necessity of protecting tribals from the predations of outsiders and prohibited the sale of tribal lands. Although an important loophole in the form of land leases was left open, tribes made some gains in the mid-twentieth century, and some land was returned to tribal peoples despite obstruction by local police and land officials.

In the 1970s, tribal peoples came again under intense land pressure, especially in central India. Migration into tribal lands increased dramatically, as tribal people lost title to their lands in many ways – lease, forfeiture from debts, or bribery of land registry officials. Other non-tribals simply squatted, or even lobbied governments to classify them as tribal to allow them to compete with the formerly established tribes. In any case, many tribal members became landless labourers in the 1960s and 1970s, and regions that a few years earlier had been the exclusive domain of tribes had an increasingly mixed population of tribals and non-tribals. Government efforts to evict nontribal members from illegal occupation have proceeded slowly; when evictions occur at all, those ejected are usually members of poor, lower castes.

Improved communications, roads with motorized traffic, and more frequent government intervention figured in the increased contact that tribal peoples had with outsiders. Commercial highways and cash crops frequently drew non-tribal people into remote areas. By the 1960s and 1970s, the resident nontribal shopkeeper was a permanent feature of many tribal villages. Since shopkeepers often sell goods on credit (demanding high interest), many tribal members have been drawn deeply into debt or mortgaged their land. Merchants also encourage tribals to grow cash crops (such as cotton or castor-oil plants), which increases tribal dependence on the market for basic necessities. Indebtedness is so extensive that although such transactions are illegal, traders sometimes 'sell' their debtors to other merchants, much like indentured peons.

The final blow for some tribes has come when nontribals, through political jockeying, have managed to gain legal tribal status, that is, to be listed as a Scheduled Tribe.

Tribes in the Himalayan foothills have not been as hard-pressed by the intrusions of non-tribals. Historically, their political status was always distinct from the rest of India. Until the British colonial period, there was little effective control by any of the empires centered in peninsular India; the region was populated by autonomous feuding tribes. The British, in efforts to protect the sensitive northeast frontier, followed a policy dubbed the "Inner Line"; nontribal people were allowed into the areas only with special permission. Postindependence governments have continued the policy, protecting the Himalayan tribes as part of the strategy to secure the border with Chinamarker.

Government policies on forest reserves have affected tribal peoples profoundly. Government efforts to reserve forests have precipitated armed (if futile) resistance on the part of the tribal peoples involved. Intensive exploitation of forests has often meant allowing outsiders to cut large areas of trees (while the original tribal inhabitants were restricted from cutting), and ultimately replacing mixed forests capable of sustaining tribal life with single-product plantations. Nontribals have frequently bribed local officials to secure effective use of reserved forest lands.

The northern tribes have thus been sheltered from the kind of exploitation that those elsewhere in South Asia have suffered. In Arunachal Pradeshmarker (formerly part of the North-East Frontier Agency), for example, tribal members control commerce and most lower-level administrative posts. Government construction projects in the region have provided tribes with a significant source of cash. Some tribes have made rapid progress through the education system (the role of early missionaries was significant in this regard). Instruction was begun in Assamese but was eventually changed to Hindi; by the early 1980s, English was taught at most levels. Northeastern tribal people have thus enjoyed a certain measure of social mobility.

Participation in Indian independence movement

There were tribal reform and rebellion movements during the period of the British Empire, some of which also participated in the Indian freedom struggle or attacked mission posts. There were several Adivasis in the Indian independence movement including Khajya Naik, Bhima Naik, Jantya Bhil and Rehma Vasave.

List of rebellions against British rule

During the period of British rule, India saw the rebellions of several backward-castes, mainly tribals that revolted against British rule. These were:.
  1. Halba rebellion (1774-79)
  2. Chamka rebellion (1776-1787)
  3. Chuar rebellion in Bengal (1795-1800)
  4. Bhopalpatnam Struggle (1795)
  5. Khurda Rebellion in Orissa (1817)
  6. Bhil rebellion (1822-1857)
  7. Paralkot rebellion (1825)
  8. Tarapur rebellion (1842-54)
  9. Maria rebellion (1842-63)
  10. First Freedom Struggle (1856-57)
  11. Bhil rebellion, begun by Tantya Tope in Banswara (1858)
  12. Koi revolt (1859)
  13. Gond rebellion, begun by Ramji Gond in Adilabad (1860)
  14. Muria rebellion (1876)
  15. Rani rebellion (1878-82)
  16. Bhumkal (1910)
  17. The Kuki Uprising (1917-1919)in Manipur

Some notable Scheduled Tribes

See also


  1. Acharya, Deepak and Shrivastava Anshu (2008): Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices, Aavishkar Publishers Distributor, Jaipur- India. ISBN 9788179102527. pp 440.
  2. Elst, Koenraad: (2001)
  3. [1] Labour Bureau, Government of India (from here)
  5. Revathi Rajkumar et al., Phylogeny and antiquity of M macrohaplogroup inferred from complete mt DNA sequence of Indian specific lineages, BMC Evolutionary Biology 2005, 5:26 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-5-26
  6. (P. 4, The Story of Historic People of India-The Kolis)
  7. Thomas Parkhill: The Forest Setting in Hindu Epics.
  8. JAIN, Girilal: The Hindu Phenomenon. UBSPD, Delhi 1994. Eschmann, Kulke and Tripathi, eds.: Cult of Jagannath, p.97. Elst 2001
  9. Mahabharata (I.31-54) (II.37.47; II.44.21) Elst 2001
  10. Kautilya: The Arthashastra 9:2:13-20, Penguin edition, p. 685. Elst 2001
  11. HEUZE, Gérard: Où Va l’Inde Moderne? L’Harmattan, Paris 1993. A. Tirkey: “Evangelization among the Uraons”, Indian Missiological Review, June 1997, esp. p. 30-32. Elst 2001
  12. "Tribal Protests and Rebellions'
  13. Page 63 Tagore Without Illusions by Hitendra Mitra
  14. Sameeksha Trust, P. 1229 Economic and Political Weekly
  15. P. 4 “Freedom Movement in Khurda” Dr. Atul Chandra Pradhan
  16. P. 111 The Freedom Struggle in Hyderabad: A Connected Account By Hyderabad (India : State)
  17. P. 32 Social and Political Awakening Among the Tribals of Rajasthan By Gopi Nath Sharma
  18. P. 420 Who's who of Freedom Struggle in Andhra Pradesh By Sarojini Regani

Further reading

  • The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, by R.V. Russell, 1916 (E book)
  • Elst, Koenraad. Who is a Hindu? (2001) ISBN 8185990743
  • Raj, Aditya & Papia Raj (2004) “Linguistic Deculturation and the Importance of Popular Education among the Gonds in India” Adult Education and Development 62: 55-61
  • Vindicated by Time: The Niyogi Committee Report (edited by S.R. Goel, 1998) (1955)
  • Tribal Heritage of India, by Shyama Charan Dube, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Indian Council of Social Science Research, Anthropological Survey of India. Published by Vikas Pub. House, 1977. ISBN 0706905318.
  • Tribal Movements in India, by Kumar Suresh Singh. Published by Manohar, 1982.
  • Tribal Society in India: An Anthropo-historical Perspective, by Kumar Suresh Singh. Published by Manohar, 1985.

External links

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