Sample Material of Our IAS Mains Sociology Study Kit
Subject: Sociology (Optional)
Topic: Tribal Communities In India
Due to multiplicity of factors and complexity of problems
involved, it is not very easy to classify the Indian tribes into different
groups. However, the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes took
up the task and investigated the possibility of adopting classification
criteria. Keeping this aim in view the state governments were asked to suggest
the characteristics which seemed to them most suitable in distinguishing the
so-called “aboriginal” groups from the rest of the population.
The Assam government suggested descent from Mongoloid stock,
affiliation with TibetoBurman linguistic groups and the existence of social
organization of the village clan type as the major characteristics. The
erstwhile Bombay government considered residence in forest areas as the basic
criterion while for the Madhya Pradesh Government, tribal origin, speaking
tribal languages and residence in forests areas, were important criteria.
Similarly, the governments of Madras, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Mysore, Travancore,
etc., suggested various linguistic, geographical, economic and social factors as
Taking the above-mentioned characteristics
Into consideration the tribes of India may be classified on
the basis of their (a) territorial distribution, (b) linguistic affiliation, (c)
physical and racial characteristics, (d) occupation or economy, (e) cultural
contact and (f) religious beliefs.
CLASSIFICATION OF TRIBES
(a) GEOGRAPHICAL SPREAD: Looking at the physical map
of India, and the distribution of tribal population we find that both geography
as well as tribal demography permit a regional grouping and a zonal
classification. B.S. Guha has classified Indian tribes into three zones:
(i) The north and north-eastern zone
(ii) The central or the middle zone
(iii) The southern zone
(i) The North and the North-Eastern Zones: The
northern and north-eastern zones consist of the sub-Himalayan region and the
mountain valleys of the eastern frontiers of India. The tribal people of Assam,
Manipur and Tripura may be included in the eastern part of this geographical
zone while in the northern part are included the tribals of eastern Kashmir,
eastern Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and northern Uttar Pradesh.
Some of the important tribes living between Assam and Tibet
are Aka, Dafls, Miri, Gurung and the Apanani on the west of the Subansiri river.
The Mishmi tribes live in the high ranges between the Debong and Lohit rivers.
Further east are found the Khamti and the Singpho and beyond them are the
different Naga tribes. South of the Naga hills running through the states of
Manipur, Tripura and the Chittagong hill tracts live the Kuki, the Lushai, the
Khasi and the Garo (now the inhabitants of the newly carved Meghalaya state). In
the sub-Himalayan region of Sikkim and the northern parts of Darjeeling, there
are a number of primitive tribes, Lepcha being the best known of them. The
Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh also contains some important tribes like Tharu,
Bhoksa, Jounsari (Khasa), Bhotia, Raji, etc.
The entire geographical zone, though quite large in area,
does not contain dense population. As a result of geographical similarities most
of the tribes of this zone are engaged in either terrace cultivation or jh um
(shifting) cultivation and are steeped in poverty and economic backwardness.
(ii) The Central or the Middle Zone: This zone
consists of plateaus and mountainous belt between the Indo-Gangetic plain to the
north and roughly the Krishna river to the south and this is separated from the
north-eastern zone by the gap between the Garo hills and the Rajmahal hill. In
this zone we have another massing of tribal peoples in Madhya Pradesh with
extensions in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, southern Rajasthan, northern
Maharashtra, Bihar and Orissa. Northern Rajashan, southern Maharashtra and
Bastar from the peripheral areas of the zone. The important tribes inhabiting
this zone are the Savara, Gadaba and Borido of the Ganjam district, the Juang,
Kharia, Khond Bhumji and the Bhiya of the Orissa hills. In the plateau of
Chhotanagpur live the Munda, the Santhal, the Oraon, the Ho and the Birhor.
Further west along the Vindhya ranges live the Katkari, Kol and the Bhil. The
Good forms the largest groups and occupy what is known as the ‘Gondwana land. On
both sides of the Satpuras and around the Maikal hills are found similar tribes
like the Koraku, the Agaria, the Pardhan and the Baiga. In the hills of Bastar
live some of the most colourful of these tribes like the Muria, the Hill Muriya
of the Abhujmar hills and the Bison-horn Maria of the Indravati valley. Most of
the tribes of this zone practise shifting cultivation as means of their
livelihood but the Oraon, Santhal, Munda and Gond have learnt plough cultivation
as a result of their cultural companies with the neighbouring rural populations.
(iii) The Southern Zone: This zone consists of that
part of the southern India which falls south of the river Krishna stretching
from Wynaad to Cape Camorin. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Coorg, Travancore,
Cochin, Tamil Nadu, etc., are included in this zone. Beginning from the north
east of this zone, the Chenchu occupy the area of the Nallaimallais hills across
the Krishna and into the erstwhile Hyderabad state. Along the Western Chats from
the Loraga of South Kanara, the Yeruva and the Toda live on the lower slopes of
Coorg hills while the Irula, Paniyan and the Kurumaba inhabit Wynaad area. The
most primitive of Indian aboriginals such as Kadar, Kanikkar, Malvadan,
Malakuravan, etc., inhabit the dense forests along the ranges of Cochin and
Travancore. They are also included among some of the most economically backward
communities of the world. Except Toda, Badaga and Kota who live in Nilgiri hills
most of the tribal groups of this zone depend upon hunting and fishing for food
Although Guha has not included the inhabitants of Andaman
Nicobar Islands in any of these zones and has skipped their description, yet
these tribal people may be said to constitute a fourth zone. The main tribes
living in this zone are the Jarwa, Onge, North Sentinelese, Andamanese and
Nicobari. Thus separated from the main body of India’s primitive tribes, they
are ethnically close to the south Indian tribes.
(b) LINGUISTIC CLASSIFICATION: At present people of
India may be divided into four speech families viz., the IndoEuropean (Aryan),
the Dravidian, the Austric (Kolor Munda) and the Tibeto-Chinese (SinoTibetan).
D.N. Majumdar (1955) opines that “so far as the tribal people are concerned the
Aryan speech comes into the picture only as a consequence of cultural contract
since almost all of our tribal people have pre-Aryan or nonAryan racial
affinities and origins”.
Most of the scholars, therefore, are of the view that the
tribal people of India may be classified chiefly into three speech families:
(1) Dravidian, (2) Austric, and (3) Tibeto-Chinese.
The tribal people speaking the languages falling under
Dravidian speech family inhabit the middle and southern India. The most
developed languages of Dravidian family are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and
Malayalam. Gonds occupy the chief place among the tribal speeches derived from
Dravidian family and it is spoken widely by the Gond tribals who are scattered
from Madhya Pradesh to Andhra Pradesh. It has no literature but considering the
numerical strength of its speakers, it has been assigned a very important place
in the realm of tribal languages. Another important language of this group is
Koi which is spoken by the Kandh of Orissa, Oraon of Chhotanagpur and Malto of
Rajmahal hills. The speeches of Toda, Paliya, Chenchu, Irula and Kadar are also
included in the Dravidian family.
The Austric family of speeches is also known as Munda speech
family. Max Muller was the first scholar who distinguished it from Dravidian
speech family and it is he who assigned the term Munda speech family to this
group. Speeches of this family are spoken mainly by the tribals of Chhotanagpur
area but these are also in vogue, to a lesser extent, in some parts of Madhya
Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Madras and Terai region of Himalayas stretching
from Bihar to Shimla hills. The Santhali speech of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa,
Mundari, Ho, Kharia, Bhumij and some other speeches of Bihar are also included
in this family.