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Socio-Economic Standing of the Tribal Communities in India with Special Emphasis on its Standing Under the British Rule in India


The tribes make up a very small part of the total tribal population of the country. They have been marginalized from society in various respects. Several provisions have been made in the Constitution to alleviate their sufferings but this added little succour to their problems. The tribal population is recognized as the aboriginal inhabitants of India. For centuries, they have been leading a simple life tied with nature and have developed their own cultural identity. These identities have been closely weeded with their social and physical environment. References and documentation of such tribal groups can also be traced in the literature on the ancient period, from Mahabharata and Ramayana In the words of L.P Vidyarthi, a tribe is a social group with well-defined contours, common name, common descendant, common superstitions, and taboos and self-sufficiency

There are two hundred million tribal populations across the globe, which roughly means, about four percent of the total global population. They are spread across various regions of the world and the majority of them are poor. According to the Census Report of 2011, Scheduled Tribes constitute 8.6 percent of the total population.

The lives of tribal communities have been marred and tarnished by innumerable sufferings. Since Independence, they have been living under the shadow of underdevelopment and poverty. Implementation of policies in letter and spirit is the need of the hour to salvage their problems.


During the colonial period, Britishers formulated and implemented policies according to the interests and requirements of colonial powers. Tribal communities back then were living more isolated and cut- off life than present times. The formulation of policies by the British Government can be understood in the form of three different approaches- The isolationist approach, the assimilation approach, and the integration approach. The Indian forest act of 1865 was later amended to act of 1878 to check and monitor deforestation and secure monopoly rights of the state over the forest. This significantly affected the rights of the tribals as they had access to the forest only at the mercy of British Rulers. This spurred revolts and tensions in tribal areas as people did not cooperate with the administration of the Forest Department. The then government realized the problems in the implementation of policies of widespread tribal areas of the country. So, to salvage the situation, they adopted the isolation or segregation approach to take over the effective administrative control and protect the tribal communities from the aggregation and exploitation at the hands of advanced communities. To recognize tribals under special administrative control, the then British government adopted some special provisions by formulating the Scheduled district act of 1875. This act excluded tribal areas from common laws that govern the country. The tribal areas were further divided into ” wholly excluded areas and areas of modified exclusions under some provisions of Government of India act 1919.

  1. Lack of employment – The loss of agricultural land directly impacts the employment opportunities for members related to farming activities.
  2. Loss of Market – In the era of liberalization, globalization, and privatization various goods were available. The displacement of people leads to the loss of their potential nearby market areas. This dismantles the economic backbone of tribals rendering them into the vicious cycle of poverty, indebtedness, and loss of lives.
  3. Marginalization – Displaced people suffer tremendously. Example- Budolika tribe of Odisha documented that displaced people lose respect and feel a sense of inferiority among the community. This also affects them psychologically.
  4. Food Insecurity – Adivasis faces the risk of undernourishment and malnutrition due to inadequate settlement and uncertainties.
  1. Violating human Rights – When the voices and grievances of tribals are not heard, they face the worst form of violation.
  2. Educational problems – Education can resolve all the problems. A literate and well-educated mind is always in the position to function effectively. Education is the key to progress and success in the modern world. Despite many efforts, the literacy rate among tribals remains abysmal compared to the national average. There are a number of factors that lead to this sad state of affairs. Poverty, lack of resources, lack of awareness, traditional mindset, etc are some of the major reasons for educational backwardness in tribals. According to the Census 2011, Scheduled Tribes have a literacy rate of only 59 percent.

The tribals were given lower wages by making them work on plantation areas of Tea Cultivation in the North Eastern States. Being closely tied with nature, they too are entitled to share the same rights as human beings like any other citizen. The Scheduled Tribes make up 8.2 percent of India’s total population. According to some official figures and statistical data, close to 15.5 million people were displaced in India and government recognizes that around 11.5 million people need to be rehabilitated. The court and judiciary have also cautioned against the government and big corporate being complicit in gross and blatant human rights violations.

The tribal communities are often blamed for their rich traditional heritage and culture as a hindrance towards development with backward, orthodox, and superstitious attitudes. With this regard, Jawaharlal Nehru introduced his vision for the development of tribals. This came to be known as panchsheel. Under this vision, people should be encouraged to maintain and preserve their traditional heritage and art.


Tribes in India vary based on racial traits and characteristics, language, social groups, cultural patterns, etc. The preponderant racial tribe in India is the proto- Australoid. In the sub- Himalayan belt, the Mongoloid type is dominant. Following social problem prevails in the tribal community-

Illiteracy and gender gap- Poverty, lack of conducing education culture results in un high rates of dropout from school amongst the tribal communities.

Drug Addiction- Consumption of alcohol is considered a ritual in tribal communities. Such a pattern of drinking has negative consequences on their health.


The tribal communities enjoyed good community life before Britishers invaded their lives. They took over the forest land owned by tribal communities. Moneylenders charged exorbitant prices from poor tribal people by granting loans. The tribal economy is a subsistence-based economy. They rely on simple technology, small-scale units of production with little to no investment in capital. The main issue with this type of economy is that if the system becomes non-functional it is of no use to the community. This economy is wholly premised on nature. In this economy, people do not have access to alternatives which renders them helpless. This is not aimed at profit maximization.


The biggest hindrance towards the achievement of sustainable development of tribal communities is the lack of awareness of policies and programmes and ignorance amongst the members of tribal communities themselves. Policies and programmes should be emboldened and that can only happen through the medium of literacy. The literacy rate among the tribals should be enhanced. According to the census data (2011), the literacy rate among the tribals is 59 percent. A large sectio0n of the literates are literate for namesake only. This is nothing but mere tokenism. They dropped out of their schools at a very early stage and are now unaware and uninformed of their rights. The Government policy should be comprehensive. It should not only focus on tribal development but should also incorporate sustainable development of tribes through their rich culture, tradition, distinct language which they have inherited from their ancestors. The tribal community is in dire need of some goal-oriented and specific policies to protect and preserve their culture and identity in the era of fast-paced globalization. The development should not happen at the cost of risking the real identity of scheduled tribes. Corruption should not prevail in the system. More than often, the financial aid and grants are siphoned off by the leaders for their own use. These things create a trust deficit in the transparency and democratic value of institutions. Government, along with the citizens should strive to ensure transparency in the system.

Author’s Name: Navya Dubey (Nirma University, Ahmedabad)

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