Admirable demographic regime of India’s tribes thanks to living in tune with the natural resources of their environment

By Arup Maharatna, Mainstream

[…] Thus, the relatively low infant and child mortality (vis-à-vis adults) in the tribal population, if true, could provide a clue simultaneously to their relatively high CWR on the one hand and a stability of their relative population size vis-à-vis a secular decline for the Hindus over the first half of the twentieth century on the other. In fact our own demographic estimates (based on an ‘indirect demographic technique’) show lower levels of both mortality and fertility among aggregate tribal people than those of the Hindus in the early last century India, reinforcing further doubts on Davis’ hypothesis of highest tribal fertility.3 A brief overall portrayal of an admirable demographic regime (that is, relatively low fertility and mortality) among India’s tribes sounds pretty vivid in the following remarks made as late as 1985 by C. von Fürer-Haimendorf, a celebrated authority on Indian tribes over the large part of the last century:

….only one or two generations ago many tribal communities enjoyed the advantages of a well-balanced ecology fully in tune with the natural resources of their environment and boast an overall quality of life superior in many ways to that of large sections of the Indian rural population. Adequate food-supplies, non-exploitative social structure, freedom from indebtedness and other forms of dependence on non-tribal outsiders, equality of the sexes and a remarkable tolerance in all interpersonal relations were outstanding characteristics of such tribal societies. Moreover there seems to be no reason to assume that their way of life could not have continued for the foreseeable future without requiring any aid from outside sources, particularly as in most tribal areas there was no excessive population growth threatening the ecological balance.4 […]

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4. Fürer-Haimendorf, C. (1985), Tribal Population and Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden-Koln: E.J. Brill).

The author is a Professor, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.

Source: ‘Who Is Civilised?’: In Praise of Tribal Traditions, Society, and Culture in India – Mainstream Weekly , Vol XLVIII, No 40, September 25, 2010
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