Essay on Tribes in India (Researched Essay)

Read this comprehensive essay about the Tribes in India.

The tribes in India form an important part of the total population. It represents an element in Indian society which is integrated with the culture mosaic of our civilisation. The tribal population of India constitutes nearly 8 percent of the total population.


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There are a number of tribes in India, spread over different parts at different levels of socioeconomic development. They live all over the country from the foot hill of the Himalayas to the lands tip of Lakshadweep and from the plains of Gujarat to the hills in the North-East. According to 1991 census, the numerical strength of the scheduled tribes in India stood at 52.03 million. Bihar leads all other States as regards the tribal population. It is followed by Maharashtra and Orissa.

The names of tribes like the Kurumba, the Irula, the Panga in South India; the Asura, the Saora, the Oraon, the Gond, the Santhal, the Bhil in Central India; the Bodo, the Ahom in North-East India; are found in old classical Indian literature.

The term ‘tribe’ is derived from the Latin word ‘tribus’. Earlier Romans used this term to designate the divisions in society. Latter use suggests that it meant poor people. The present popular meaning in English language was acquired during the expansion of colonialism particularly in Asia and Africa.

The present popular meaning of ‘Tribe’ in India refers to a category of people, included in the list of Scheduled Tribes. It has carried different connotations in different countries.

In none of the Indian language there were the term tribes. In India the term ‘tribe’ conveys a meaning of a bewildering and enchanting group of people. It refers to preliterate, localised social group the members of which speak a common dialect. The tribal people have been known by various names such as Adivasi, Vanavasi, Vanyajati, Adimjati, Girijan and Pahari etc. Ghurey has described them as backward Hindus.

The Indian Constitution has made important provisions for the development and welfare of the tribes. A list of tribes was adopted for this purpose. The list has been modified from time to time. In 1971, the list contained names of 527 tribes.

The people who have been listed in the Constitution and mentioned in successive presidential orders are called Scheduled Tribes. This is the administrative concept of tribe.

A tribe has been defined in various ways. The Constitution, however, does not provide a definition of a tribe. The people who have been listed in the Constitution have been termed as Scheduled Tribes.

Academicians have been making their efforts to define tribe. The Dictionary of Sociology defines tribe as a “social group, usually with a definite area, dialect, cultural homogeneity and unifying social organisation.

According to the Imperial Gazetteer,

“A tribe is a collection of families bearing a common name speaking a common dialect, occupying or professing to occupy a common territory and is not usually endogamous though originally it might have been so.”

Following are some of, the leading definitions of tribe:

According to Gillin and Gillin,

“Any collection of preliterate local group which occupies a common general territory, speaks a common language and practises a common culture, is a tribe”. ,

As Ralph Linton says,

“In its simplest form the tribe is a group of bands occupying a continuous territory and having a feeling of unity deriving from numerous similarities in culture and certain community of interests.”

According to Rivers,

“A tribe is a social group of simple kind, the members of which speaks a common dialect and act together in such common purpose as warfare”

Accoding to DN Majumdar,

“A tribe is a collection of families, bearing a common name, members to which occupy the same territory, speak the same language and observe certain taboos regarding marriage profession or occupation and have developed a well assessed system of reciprocity and mutuality of obligation.”

Tribe has been defined as a group of indigenous people having common name, language and territory tied by strong kinship bonds, practising endogamy, having distinct customs, rituals and belief etc. Such definitions are not very helpful because we find lot of variations n life styles of different tribes.

There are a number of tribes in India, spread over different parts at different levels of socioeconomic development. Contrasting pictures regarding £ H e are visualised in India. For example, whereas the tribes like Khas, or the Lush, are economically and educationally advanced to a considerable extent the tribes like Birhor of Bihar or the Kattunayakan of Kerala are backward and maintain their livelihood through hunting fishing and food collecting.

Further, we hardly find out any difference between minas of Rajasthan or the Bhumaj of West Bengal and their neighbours. Therefore, tribes have been considered as a stage in the social and cultural revolution.

For S. C Sinha the tribe is ideally defined in terms of its isolation from the networks of social relations and cultural communications of the centres of civilisation. According to Sinha “in their isolation the tribal societies are sustained by relatively primitive subsistence technology such as ‘shifting cultivation and, hunting and gathering and maintain an egalitarian segmentary social system guided entirely by non-literate ethnic tradition.

The tribes in India are under the impact of ‘mobility and change’. There are numerous examples of tribes transforming themselves into the larger entity of the caste system; others have become Christian or Muslim. They also join the ranks of peasantry and in modern times they become wage-labourers in industries, plantations and mining. Thus, in the concept of tribe, the aspects of mobility and change should not be overlooked.

Submitted by : Professor Charu, Category : Tribes, Tag : Tribes in India