Indian Tribals

The Indian Tribal communities are mutually inclusive and interactive, although each manifests its uniqueness and distinctive cultural matrix. Tribes represent a type of society in the scheme of social evolution. As a structural as well as cultural concept, tribe encompasses features of simple societies. Members of each tribe have their ethno-cultural identity, defined and redefined from time to time.


Tribe comes from the ancient Romans, and refers to their social organization of community. It generally refers to a fairly close-knit group that expects loyalty from its members, and often has, or presumes it has, common ancestry. In parts of Albania, for example, loyalty to tribe takes precedence over any other loyalty — to country, religion, political party or anything else. But this meaning is not universal. In Kenya, for example, it refers to speakers of a particular language, such as Luo or Lunyore, and people are open in speaking about that. In South Africa, on the other hand, “tribalism” is deprecated, and speaking of someone’s “tribe” in that sense is almost insulting, though rural people do have tribes or clans in the smaller sense. So tribes and tribal organization tend to disappear in cosmopolitan urban society.

ethnography of the tribes

The Indian Republic is the largest and most populous amongst all the existing nations of South Asia. It became a democratic republic in 1950 and is comprised of twenty-four states and seven union territories. It is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The 1991 census of India lists 844 million inhabitants or 16% of the world’s population. India occupies some 3,166,000 square kilometers. The population of India is composed of an incredibly diverse amalgamation of varied religions, language groups, cultures, and social economic categories. New Delhi is the capital of India.

historical evolution of the tribes in india

The immensely large Indian subcontinent, with its genesis in the Indus Valley Civilization (2600 B.C- 1800 B.C) has assimilated varied diversities showcased in it’s multi-dimensional geographical, historical, economic, political, religious, linguistic and racial verticals. But these diversities are her inherent strength to transcribe unity, despite fissiparous and separative trends. Precisely, Indian social system rests on four cardinal features, such as holism, hierarchy, continuity and transcendence. Indian society is a composite one with structural uniformity and continuity and contains three broad segments in a continuum in her civilization or cultural context.

Folk - Tribal communities

Peasant - Rural Caste communities

Urban - Town/City Dwellers communities


The Indian Tribal communities are mutually inclusive and interactive, although each manifests its uniqueness and distinctive cultural matrix. Tribes represent a type of society in the scheme of social evolution. As a structural as well as cultural concept, tribe encompasses features of simple societies. Members of each tribe have their ethno-cultural identity, defined and redefined from time to time.

Tribe, as an ethno-cultural group is ‘biologically self-perpetuating’ ‘shares fundamental cultural values’, ‘makes up a field of communication and interaction’ and is identified by self and also identified by others. By and large, tribal communities are relatively encysted, deprived, economically backward, marginalized and vulnerable, but their heritage, tradition and culture make their society tenacious to survive amidst upheavals and downfalls. In a nutshell, tribal communities are closed societies with open mind.

With this backdrop, it is apt to conceptualize the tribal development vision, especially during the post-independence period. It requires scientific, interactive and interpretive analysis of ground realities in planned development intervention; juxtapose the national policy issues and options, strategic dynamics in implementation and well- thought out expected outcomes.

Both economic development and social development, as complementary to each other, are to put combined efforts for goal- attainment. As tribals are parts and parcels of our nation-building process, the core issues of their development need humanized attention with empathy, so that they become self-reliant in the foreseeable future. Further, the core values of development are upheld for our tribal brethren and these values are precisely, basic sustenance, promotion of self dignity and freedom from servitude (creating scope for alternative choice).

The framers of the Constitution took note of the fact that certain communities in the country were suffering from extreme social, educational and economic backwardness on account of primitive agricultural practices, lack of infrastructure facilities and geographical isolation, and who need special consideration for safeguarding their interests. These communities were notified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as per provisions contained in Clause 1 of Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution respectively

The Census of India, 2011 has notified 705 scheduled tribes – both tribal groups and subgroups in 30 States / Union Territories in India including 75 designated primitive tribes in India. The total population of the scheduled tribes in India is 10,42,81,034 which forms 8.6 % of the entire population of India. This figure shows the increase in population percentage of the scheduled tribes in 2011 in comparison to the previous decade. It was 8.2 per cent in the 2001 Census. The secluded Gonds and the Bhils are the major tribal groups in India and majority of them are settled in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh with a small population in Odisha too.. Dhurwa tribe is one of the sub-groups of the Gond tribe inhabitating the topography of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Tribal communities are primarily forest dwellers. Their health system and medical knowledge over ages, known as traditional health care system, depend both on the herbal and psychosomatic lines and are forest dependent.

On the parameter of the distribution of the tribal population by respective states, Madhya Pradesh is the Numero Uno state and stands first having 14.7% of the total tribal population of India. Closely following are the other central Indian states having an extremely high concentration of tribal populations like Odisha (9.2%), Jharkhand (8.3%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%) and West Bengal (5.1%). As mentioned earlier, Odisha has the largest number of notified Scheduled Tribes i.e. 62, which is the highest in numbers in India. The other central Indian states also contain a good number of tribal groups. There are 43 tribal groups living in Madhya Pradesh, 42 in Chhattisgarh, 25 in Andhra Pradesh, 33 in Bihar, 32 in Jharkhand and 40 in West Bengal.

Experience from across the world has shown that sustained denial of indigenous peoples rights leads to conflict and instability, which impacts severely on national development. India is no different. Concrete and sincere measures, as well as new approaches, are needed in order to uphold the social, cultural, economic and political integrity of India’s Scheduled Tribes and to prevent their further alientation from the society and state. Such action would also go a long way in terms of ensuring equitable and sustainable development for the nation as a whole, in the long run.

According to lmperial Gazetteers of lndia, “a tribe is 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 originality it might have been so“.

Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary defines, “a tribe is a group of people in a primitive or barbarous state of development acknowledging the authority of a chief and usually regarding them as having a common ancestor”.

Prof. D. N. Majumdar, a noted anthropologist defines tribe as “a tribe is a social group with territorial affiliation, endogamous, with no specialization of functions, ruled by tribal affairs, hereditary or otherwise, united in language or dialect, recognizing social distance with other tribes or castes, without any social obloquy attaching to them, as it does in the caste structure, following tribal traditions, beliefs and customs, illiberal of naturalization of ideas from alien sources, above all conscious of homogeneity of ethnic and territorial integration.”

Tribes, Tribals & Adivasis

The term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ first appeared in the Constitution of India. Article 366 (25) defined scheduled tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution”.

Article 342, which is reproduced below, prescribes procedure to be followed in the matter of specification of scheduled tribes.

 Article 342 of the Indian Constitution specifies – The President may, with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a state, after consultation with the Governor there of by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall, for the purposes of this constitution, is deemed to be scheduled tribes in relation to that state or Union Territory, as the case may be.

lndia has the second largest concentration of tribal population which comes next to the African continent.

In 1871, the British passed the “Criminal Tribes Act.” It notified about 150 tribes around India as criminal, giving the police wide powers to arrest them and monitor their movements. The effect of this law was simple: just being born into one of those 150 tribes made you a criminal. The same was subsequently abolished by the Indian Constitution.

Tribes - It's Socio Cultural Interpretation

The concept, ‘tribe’ as a social category has its root in the Anglo Saxon  literature. Initially the concept, ‘primitive tribes’ was in use in social anthropology for quiet a long time as a unit of study of the ‘colonies’. However, the  concept ‘primitive tribes’ was considered to be the basic unit of social anthropology  and has it’s root in the ontological and epistemological premise of the ‘London  School’. Here, the term is viewed from the basic understanding of the concept of  ‘civilization’. Civilization, here, is defined in terms of the western civilization  and culture. Considered from this point, the small units of community are  considered as ‘others’ who exist ‘out-there’ – outside of the civilization in  reference. Based on this frame, the concept ‘primitive tribe’ is understood as an  evolutionary stage – an evolutionist construct. This concept became important to  describe the society of ‘elsewhere context’ – non-western, Africa, South  America, Oceania, Middle East, Asia and South East Asia.

International intervention with the proclaimed aim of developing the poor countries on the world, and state intervention in order to develop the backward regions within a country so that the fruits of development may reach everyone, have generally been in practice for a long time. The underlying notion of development in such attempts has essentially been teleological in nature, and a unilineal path towards development is assumed throughout. Such efforts have also been sought to be legitimized with the aid of various modernization theories, current among the academic circles.

The programmes of such modernization in many cases have, however, resulted in either extermination or subjugation of the indigenous population. Elsewhere, the transformation of traditional economic bases in the process of incorporation into the dominant mode of production, have resulted in a kind of dependency of the former upon the latter.

Unlike the developed countries, the problem of integration of the isolated indigenous population is many times higher in developing countries like India, due to their belated process of nation building. This process of integration through development and modernization being carried out across the vast Indian sub continent, with some states demarcated by a very sensitive international border is a herculean task.

tribes of india

Meaning of Ethnicity

The textbook definition of 'Ethnic' or ‘Ethnicity’ translates to "a group of people possessing some degree of coherence and solidarity who are, at least latently aware of having common origins and interests”.

Meaning of Indigenous

India is home to the largest population of indigenous peoples of any country in the world.  Roughly a quarter of the world’s indigenous population – around 80 million people – are scattered across India, their numbers a staggering diversity of ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic situations. 

Culture of Indian Tribes

The Indian tribes have a unique social structure and often their activities per se cultural expression has been limited to their own social groups for most of the times.

Lifestyle of Indian Tribes

It may be reiterated that society and culture are static, yet dynamic. They persist and change over time and tribal socio-cultural nexus is no exception. Changes are ubiquitous and inevitable.

Scheduled Tribes of India

The total population of Scheduled Tribes is 10.43 crore as per the Census 2011 which accounts for 8.6% of the total population of the country. The share of the Scheduled Tribe population in urban areas is a meager 2.8%.

State Wise Scheduled Tribes Population

List of State wise population of Scheduled Tribes as per Census '2011.

Indian Tribes & Religion

For tribes, religion is instinctive rather than deliberate - their respect of nature is spontaneous and not borne out of any societal goal. For them worship of a higher entity is more about thankfulness – and not a dependency – for seeking greater material gains or a better life.

Racial Groups in India

The Scheduled Tribes of India inhabit about 15-20% of the geographical land area of the Indian sub-continent in largely contiguous areas.

List of Indian Tribes

As a nation and as a composite society, it is essential that this section of our heritage, heritage of the Indian society must be sustained, but it is even more essential that they are provided with opportunities and infrastructure that is available to the rest of us as they are equal partners in our democracy.

Largest Tribe in India

The Gond comprise the largest tribal group of India with a population exceeding 12 million.

Tribes & their State Wise Location

Some major tribes of India & their state wise location

Our Responsibility for the Tribes

Tribal expressive traditions offer significant contributions towards our understanding of them.

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