Tribals In India Essay

The primitive societies have passed through several stages of economic development everywhere in the world. Thus one finds the stages of food gathering, hunting and fishing, farming, etc. among the Indian tribes.

The tribes living in the forests and hills usually earn their livelihood by means of food gathering, hunting and fishing. Such is the life of Kadar of Kerala, Birhor and Kharia of Bihar and other tribes. The tribes living in dense forests, full of wild beasts, live on hunting. Such are the tribes of Naga, Kuki, Bhil, Santhal and Gond.

The hunters leave the females to carry out household activities in the morning and return in the evening after hunting. In some tribes there is a usual custom of hunting collectively. The Nagas use spears and arrows and bows. The Bhils are very much specialized in shutting by arrow.

The tribes living near rivers and seas usually earn their livelihood by catching fish. The hilly tribes rear the cattle, an example of which are Goojars and the tribes of Chamba. The Todas of Nilgiri rear buffaloes. Some tribes also carry out cultivation, but they are generally shifting from one place to another.

Among the cultivating tribes are the Santhals and Gonds. Cottage industries, such as weaving cloths, preparing ropes and skins and utensils of different metals are prevalent in many tribes. The Kharia people are very much specialized to cottage industries.

Classification of Economic Organization

The Indian tribes can be divided into the following classes in the economic organization:

1. Hunting and food gathering tribes include Kadar, Chenchu, Kharia and Korawa etc.

2. Cattle rearing tribes such as the Todas and Bhils.

3. Cultivating tribes such as Kumar, Vega and Birhor.

4. Industrial tribes such as Kharia and Nagas.

General characteristics

The tribal economic organization is mainly concerned with producing such things asarenecessary for their daily needs and consuming them. These activities are very much determined by the geographical environment of the tribe. Usually, the tribals have to struggle very hard to meet their economic needs. The following are the important characteristics of Indian tribal economic organization.

1. Production without technological aids

As the tribals are illiterate and cut off from the civilized world, they generally carry out production without adequate technological aids with the result that there is much loss of material with very little production. The tribals are, therefore, generally very poor inspite of working very hard.

2. Mixing economic activities with religion and magic

The tribals live in a natural environment where there is no distinction of economic, religious and magical activities. There is, therefore, a tendency to mix all these. In the economic activities also religious and magical activities are utilized to attain economic ends. Many superstitions in this respect are prevalent among the tribals, for example, among Nagas there is a custom of human sacrifice and sprinkling human blood over land in order to increase its fertility.

3. Production for consumption

In the absence of sufficient technological aids and scientific knowledge regarding agricultural and other production, the tribals generally produce only to consume. Hardly anything is left for exchange or hoarding. In the materials of consumption, food and clothing are generally given first preference, and then there is the place for the home.

4. Absence of currency

The tribal people do not use currency in deciding the price of commodities and in exchange. There are no banks of economic exchanges in their societies. They hardly carry out any exchange of economic goods with outside groups.

5. Absence of regular markets

There are no regular markets found in tribal societies and, therefore, there is no competition, monopoly, business or trade in their economic organization.

6. Absence of profiteering

There is absence of profiteering in tribal economic organization due to two important causes. Firstly, the absence of currency to fix the price of commodities and secondly the connection of unity sentiments with economic activities.

7. Community basis of economic activities

Thus the chief aim of economic activities in a tribal society is to fulfil the community duties. The organization of most of the economic activities is cooperative and communal.

8. Absence of specialists

There are no specialists in different branches of economic organization in tribal societies, with the result that there is no division of labour and specialization.

9. Concept of property

Some conception of personal property is found in almost every tribal society. A person is allowed a right over the things produced by him or his family. There is, however, group ownership over the ponds, the land and the forests, etc.

10. Economic backwardness

The above mentioned characteristics of tribal economic organization account for their economic backwardness. They do not know the new changes and inventions in different fields of production. Their methods and implements of cultivation, hunting and fishing are very primitive. They do not know anything about trade and commerce. The cottage industries are carried on by means of unrefined and primitive tools and methods. Hence the economic status of Indian tribes is very much backward.


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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.

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