UPSC MAINS SOCIOLOGY SYLLABUS
Paper 2 – Section B- Social Structure
(iii) Tribal communities in India:
(a) Definitional problems.
(b) Geographical spread.
(c) Colonial policies and tribes.
(d) Issues of integration and autonomy.
The term “tribe” originated around the time of the Greek city-states and the early formation of the Roman Empire. Though the word ‘tribe’ was derived from the Latin term “tribus”, it has since been transformed to mean “a group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor”. The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1911, defines a tribe as 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”. In India, tribal people are known by many names, such as ‘adivasi’ (original settlers), ‘scheduled tribes’ (anusuchit janajati), ‘tribes’, ‘janajati’ (folk communities), ‘girijan’ (hill dwellers), ‘vanvasi’ (forest dwellers), ‘vanyajati’ (forest caste), adimjati (primitive caste) ‘hill tribe’ (mountain dwellers) and indigenous people.
According to the Census of 2011 the population of scheduled tribes in India was 10,42,81,034 persons, constituting 8.6 per cent of the population of the country. The decadal population growth of the tribals from Census 2001 to 2011 has been 23.66 per cent against the 17.69 per cent population growth of the entire population. The sex ratio for the overall population is 940 females per 1,000 males and that of scheduled tribes is 990 females per 1,000 males.
DEFINITIONS AND DIFFERING CONCEPTS ON TRIBES
The definition of tribe framed by anthropologists and sociologists is rooted in evolutionary framework. Studies of primitive society by evolutionist Lewis H. Morgan and functionalist Emile Durkheim exemplify that society is not static but gradually evolves with time-space equation. To them, the term tribe not only connotes a type of society but a stage of evolution and development. While Morgan viewed that every stage of social evolution is characterised by a specific mode of social organisation, Durkheim used the term “poly-segmental society” instead of the term “tribe”.
E.E. Evans-Pritchard in his work “African Political Systems” (1940) writes on Nuers of Southern Sudan. Nuers have a common name, common language, common culture and they are divided into distinct political units.
According to Marshall Shalins, a tribe is a segmental organisation which is composed of equivalent and unspecialized multi-family group, clan or band. A collection of bands has a chiefdom to coordinate its economic, social and religious activities.
Godelier emphasises on mode of production to define and conceptualise tribe. The mode of production of tribe determines its social organisation since the tribal mode of production in every stage of evolution is different from other modes of production.
Ralph Linton says, “In its simplest form the tribe is a group of people occupying a contiguous territory or territories and having a feeling of unity deriving from numerous similarities in culture, frequent contacts and a certain community of interests”.
CONCEPT OF TRIBES IN INDIA
During the British period, Indian tribes became an object of study of the colonial administrator, missionary and anthropologist. Hutton, Risley, Elwin, and others
studied tribes to understand social structure and culture of Indian society in general and of tribes in particular. F.G Bailey and W.H.R. Rivers too became interested to study tribes in India. From 1930 to 1950 British scholars and administrators undertook studies in order to know the tribal people of India whom they wanted to bring under their control.
After independence, from 1950 to early 1970 many Indian academicians contributed to the field of tribal study in India. Tribes such as Gond, Bhil, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Naga, Khasi, Mizo and Andaman Islanders became well known subjects of tribal study.
In India too, describing tribes has remained controversial among scholars, reformers and administrators. Risely, Lancey, Elwin and Grigson describe tribes as aborigines or aboriginals. Hutton calls them primitive tribes. G.S. Ghurye describes them as backward Hindus. Das S.T designates them ‘submerged humanity’. Some scholars and reformers describe them as adivasis. After 1947, the Government of India assigned them to the Scheduled Tribes category.
D. N. Majumdar conducted a comprehensive study among Khasa and brought out characteristics of tribal-Hindu continuum. He says the tribe looks upon Hindu rituals as foreign and extra-religious even though indulging in them and worshipping gods and goddesses where as among caste individuals these are necessary part of religion.
For Andre Beteille, defining tribe should be based on empirical characteristics of a particular mode of human grouping found in different parts of world, irrespective of condition of time and place. Conceptually a tribe can be defined as an ideal state, a self-contained unit which constitutes a society in itself. A tribe is a society that has a common government and shares a common territory.
Niharranjan Ray says tribals are not a separate category as conceived by anthropologists and sociologists. Hence to him the so-called tribals are to be referred to as janas and the whole concept of scheduled tribe must be seriously viewed from Indian point of view.
The Government of India Act 1935 used the term ‘backward tribe’. Later, the Indian Constitution retained the terminology with slight modification using ‘Scheduled Tribe’ in place of ‘backward’. However, the Constitution does not have a precise definition for the term ‘tribe’.
DE-NOTIFIED, NOMADIC AND SEMI-NOMADIC TRIBAL COMMUNITIES
These are communities that are the most vulnerable and deprived. DNTs are communities that were ‘notified’ as being ‘born criminals’ during the British regime under a series of laws starting with the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 .Nomadic and semi-nomadic communities are defined as those who move from one place to another rather than living in one place all the time.
PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TRIBAL GROUPS (PVTGs)
PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups. In 1973, the Dhebar Commission created Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) as a separate category, who are less developed among the tribal groups. In 2006, the Government of India renamed the PTGs as PVTGs. PVTGs have some basic characteristics – they are mostly homogenous, with a small population, relatively physically isolated, absence of written language, relatively simple technology and a slower rate of change etc. Among the 75 listed PVTG’s the highest number are found in Odisha.
Most social anthropologists and sociologists studying tribes have struggled to adequately define the term tribe. Definition or conceptualisation of tribe becomes difficult not only because of the variety of socio-economic milieu but also because of their continuous assimilation and acculturation with the wider social structure.