Tip | How many ‘Scheduled Tribes’ are there in India? And what distinguishes them from other communities? (‘tribal’ or otherwise) – Information provided by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

There are over 700 tribes (with overlapping communities in more than one State) which have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution of India, spread over different States and Union Territories of the country. The largest number of main tribal communities (62) has been specified in relation to the State of Orissa. The Scheduled Tribes have been specified in relation to all the States and Union Territories except Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Pondicherry.

The Constitution of India seeks to secure for all its citizens, among other things, social and economic justice, equality of status and opportunity and assures the dignity of the individual. All Rights available to the Citizens of India, enshrined in the Constitution or any law of the land or any order of the Government are equally available to the Scheduled Tribes also.

Scheduled Tribes being backward and isolated from the rest of the population are not able to exercise their rights. In order to empower them to be able to exercise their rights special provisions have been made in the Constitution. Framers of the Constitution took note of this fact and incorporated enabling provisions in the Constitution in the form of reservation and measures to be taken to empower them to be able to avail the opportunities. Some people call these provisions as privileges for the Scheduled Tribes but these are only the enabling provisions so that Scheduled Tribes can avail the opportunities and exercise their rights and safeguards. […]

Who are Scheduled Tribes?
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 the primitive agricultural practices, lack of infrastructure facilities and geographical isolation. The Constitution of India in Article 366 (25) prescribe that the Scheduled Tribes means such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 of the Constitution to be Scheduled Tribes. […]

Source: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS | National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
Address: https://www.ncst.nic.in/
Date Visited: 15 September 2021

Kolkata: Several Scheduled tribe (ST) organisations are planning to embark on renewed phase of agitations on September 20 concerning their long-pending demand for recognition of the Sarna religion. The organisations demand that it be assigned as a separate religious code in the Census 2021.

The agitations will also highlight other grievances that await redressal despite provisions legislated or administratively okayed. Before firming up plans for the upcoming round of agitations, one ST empowerment outfit wrote to President Droupadi Murmu, a person of tribal origin, urging her to use her good offices to meet their demands and redress their grievances.

A significant point that emerges is that the President is constitutionally empowered to take steps, through state governors, for the protection and welfare of STs. But, powers-that-be seldom utilise these provisions.

The demand for a separate religious code and recognition for Sarna got political support on November 11, 2020, when the Jharkhand Assembly passed a resolution backing the demand and asking the Centre to take appropriate steps. […]

Explaining what the Sarna religion is, the sources NewsClick spoke to pointed out that people believing in ‘Jal, Jangal and Zameen‘ and having faith in nature worship are followers of this religion. They worship trees and hills and go all out to protect forests. […]

Tigga [Bandhan Tigga, revered as a Sarna ‘dharamguru’] highlighted that their rites related to birth, marriage and death differ from those observed by the Hindus. For example, he says, “We regard birth as arrival upon the earth and offer our thanks by holding a special bhumi puja. For marriage, guardians from the boy’s side visit the girl’s place for negotiations, and there is no practice of dowry and ’tilak’.” […]

KSS [Kendriya Sarna Samiti] activist Hindu Bhagat who has a base in Gumla, which has the highest concentration of tribals in Jharkhand, said the organisation’s task is cut out.

Prevent efforts to dilute our distinctive identity and culture by vested interests, who regularly seek opportunities to lure them to their side with inducements and brainwashing”. […]

As for christening the religious code as Sarna, a contrarian view was expressed by Kripasindhu Mahata of Totemic Kudumi/Kurumi Mahata Samaj. Based at Baripada in the Mayurbhanj district, Mahata argued in favour of a generic nomenclature that is easily remembered, referred to and recalled, and all-inclusive.

“The religious code should ideally be ‘adivasi‘, and it would refer to the entire tribal population in the country and even those who have migrated and settled elsewhere,” Mahata told NewsClick. Some sections of tribals call their religion Sari, not Sarna. […]

Meanwhile, with the Union cabinet approving a Constitution amendment on September 14 for the inclusion of 15 groups of tribals in Himachal, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh in the ST category, the total number of tribes to be notified under Article 342 of the Constitution will increase, when the amendment is through, to 720 from 705 as of now.

Source: “Tribal Outfits Gearing up to Restart Stir on Sarna Religious Code Issue” by Rabindra Nath Sinha, Newsclick.in, 15 September 2022
URL: https://www.newsclick.in/tribal-outfits-gearing-restart-sarna-religious-code-issue
Date Visited: 16 September 2022

Article 342 in the Constitution of India

  • Provides for specification of tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which are deemed to be for the purposes of the Constitution the Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union Territory.
  • In pursuance of these provisions, the list of Scheduled Tribes are notified for each State or Union Territory and are valid only within the jurisdiction of that State or Union Territory and not outside.
  • Scheduled Tribes are notified in 30 States/UTs
  • Number of individual ethnic groups, etc. notified as Scheduled Tribes is 705
  • There has been some changes in the List of Scheduled Tribes in States/ UTs during the last decade

Source: “Article 342 Constitution of India”
URL: https://www.indianconstitution.in/2016/07/article-342-constitution-of-india.html
Date visited: 13 January 2022

While the Constitution is silent about the criteria for specification of a community as a Scheduled Tribe. The words and the phrase ‘tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities” in Article 342 have to be understood in terms of their historical background of backwardness. Primitiveness, geographical isolation, shyness and social, educational & economic backwardness due to these reasons are the traits that distinguish Scheduled Tribe communities of our country from other communities. It takes into account the definitions of tribal Communities adopted in the 1931 Census. These facts are the basis for the provision in Article 342(1) which mandates to specify the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities as Scheduled Tribe in relation to that State or Union Territory as the case may be. Thus the list of Scheduled Tribes is State/UT specific and a community declared as a Scheduled Tribe in a State need not be so in another State. The Presidential notifications under Clause 1 of Article 342 of the Constitution are issued as the Constitution Orders. Two Constitution Orders were initially issued in relation to two distinct categories of States as existed at the time of adoption of the Constitution of India. […]

Source: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS | National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
Address: https://www.ncst.nic.in/content/frequently-asked-questions
Date Visited: 15 September 2021

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