Tribal communities recognized by the government: Census figures & changes in the lists of Scheduled Tribes (ST)

Scheduled Tribes in India: As revealed in Census 2011

This report highlights the data and demographics of scheduled tribes (ST) in 30 states and union territories of India, as documented in Census 2011. The report makes comparisons from 1961 by showing population trends as well as decadal growth rate. It also focuses on the livelihoods of people from scheduled castes and tribes (SC/ST) in rural as well as urban India. | To read the full report, click here >>

Presently, 705 ethnic groups are notified as STs in the country. In the decade before Census 2011, there were some changes in the lists of STs in states and union territories, and with the addition or deletion of certain tribes, some areas show either an increase or a decline in the numbers. […]

Source: Scheduled Tribes in India: As revealed in Census 2011 – PARI
URL: https://ruralindiaonline.org/library/resource/scheduled-tribes-in-india-as-revealed-in-census-2011/
Date visited: 15 January 2022

Dr. Ivy Hansdak

“[A] common perception of conversion, prevalent in India, is that all conversions take place only among deprived lower caste or tribal groups, which are considered more susceptible to allurement or coercion. The reality of upper caste conversions is ignored in this climate of cynicism.”– Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak in Pandita Ramabai Saraswati: the convert as ‘heretic’

Earlier figures and estimates | For details, see “India” in Country Studies >>

[…] There are some 573 communities recognized by the government as Scheduled Tribes and therefore eligible to receive special benefits and to compete for reserved seats in legislatures and schools. They range in size from the Gonds (roughly 7.4 million) and the Santals (approximately 4.2 million) to only eighteen Chaimals in the Andaman Islands. Central Indian states have the country’s largest tribes, and, taken as a whole, roughly 75 percent of the total tribal population live there.

Apart from the use of strictly legal criteria, however, the problem of determining which groups and individuals are tribal is both subtle and complex. Because it concerns economic interests and the size and location of voting blocs, the question of who are members of Scheduled Tribes rather than Backward Classes (see Glossary) or Scheduled Castes (see Glossary) is often controversial (see The Fringes of Society, ch. 5). The apparently wide fluctuation in estimates of South Asia’s tribal population through the twentieth century gives a sense of how unclear the distinction between tribal and nontribal can be. India’s 1931 census enumerated 22 million tribal people, in 1941 only 10 million were counted, but by 1961 some 30 million and in 1991 nearly 68 million tribal members were included. The differences among the figures reflect changing census criteria and the economic incentives individuals have to maintain or reject classification as a tribal member.

These gyrations of census data serve to underline the complex relationship between caste and tribe. Although, in theory, these terms represent different ways of life and ideal types, in reality they stand for a continuum of social groups. In areas of substantial contact between tribes and castes, social and cultural pressures have often tended to move tribes in the direction of becoming castes over a period of years. Tribal peoples with ambitions for social advancement in Indian society at large have tried to gain the classification of caste for their tribes; such efforts conform to the ancient Indian traditions of caste mobility (see Caste and Class, ch. 5). Where tribal leaders prospered, they could hire Brahman priests to construct credible pedigrees and thereby join reasonably high-status castes. On occasion, an entire tribe or part of a tribe joined a Hindu sect and thus entered the caste system en masse. If a specific tribe engaged in practices that Hindus deemed polluting, the tribe’s status when it was assimilated into the caste hierarchy would be affected.

Since independence, however, the special benefits available to Scheduled Tribes have convinced many groups, even Hindus and Muslims, that they will enjoy greater advantages if so designated. The schedule gives tribal people incentives to maintain their identity. By the same token, the schedule also includes a number of groups whose “tribal” status, in cultural terms, is dubious at best; in various districts, the list includes Muslims and a congeries of Hindu castes whose main claim seems to be their ability to deliver votes to the party that arranges their listing among the Scheduled Tribes.

A number of traits have customarily been seen as establishing tribal rather than caste identity. These include language, social organization, religious affiliation, economic patterns, geographic location, and self-identification. Recognized tribes typically live in hilly regions somewhat remote from caste settlements; they generally speak a language recognized as tribal.

Unlike castes, which are part of a complex and interrelated local economic exchange system, tribes tend to form self-sufficient economic units. Often they practice swidden farming–clearing a field by slash-and-burn methods, planting it for a number of seasons, and then abandoning it for a lengthy fallow period–rather than the intensive farming typical of most of rural India (see Land Use, ch. 7). For most tribal people, land-use rights traditionally derive simply from tribal membership. Tribal society tends to be egalitarian, its leadership being based on ties of kinship and personality rather than on hereditary status. Tribes typically consist of segmentary lineages whose extended families provide the basis for social organization and control. Unlike caste religion, which recognizes the hegemony of Brahman priests, tribal religion recognizes no authority outside the tribe.

Any of these criteria can be called into question in specific instances. […]

Source: India – Tribes, “Source: U.S. Library of Congress”
Address : http://countrystudies.us/india/70.htm
Date Visited: Thu Jul 07 2011 09:19:12 GMT+0200 (CEST)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“Cover Your Country” by PARI: Rural people speak about their lives through photos, narratives, film, and audio materials >>

Video | “I saw women working 90 per cent of the time. They did backbreaking jobs for which you need an erect spine,” says P. Sainath in Visible Work, Invisible Women: Bricks, coal and stone | RuralIndiaOnline.org >>

In Marginalised but not Defeated, Tarun Kanti Bose (a seasoned public interest journalist) asserts that “the mainstream development paradigm is being questioned and new rainbows of collective, community reassertions are happening across the tribal belt in India. More so, in most cases, led by brave, empowered and resilient women.” | Learn more: https://countercurrents.org/2023/05/book-review-marginalised-but-not-defeated >>

“In less than 200 years, photography has gone from an expensive, complex process to an ordinary part of everyday life. From selfies to satellites, most of the technology we use and spaces we inhabit rely on cameras. […] While photographic documentation can aid in shaping history, it can also be a window into the horrors of the past.” – Read more or listen to Butterfly Effect 9 – The Camera on CBC Radio Spark 26 May 2023 >>

Topics and issues
All topics and issues referred to are listed on the
“Categories” Sitemap for this website >>
(please be patient as the list is being rebuilt each time)

Sitemap – Names of tribal communities
All tribal communities referred to are listed on the
“Tags” Sitemap for this website >>
(please be patient as the list is being rebuilt each time)

The 100 most frequently mentioned tribal communities on this website