the present Indian Constitution classifies 'tribals' under 'scheduled
tribes', in real sense they are the communities dwelling nearby a mountain
range and forests. History of tribals dates back to where history of India
starts. However, till the British rose to power, no governance or empire
disturbed the various tribals, residing in forests. It was a granted status
that they will exist peacefully in the mofussil jungle-lorne areas.
During the British rule, a need emerged to utilize more of coal and wood.
Mainly for the railways and also for the building of British Empire in
India and in U.K. This was the time when traditional land rights of the
tribals were challenged. Their habitat- the forests were regarded as a
resource owned by the government. It was no longer the community ownership
This British policy gave rise to natural resistance from tribals and as
a result many fierce battles were fought against the British by tribals
throughout India-thus giving their contribution to the freedom movement
of India. It was difficult even for the British rule to bring the
tribals on record, gazettes and give them an identity. Before 1931, all
the census reports by the British used the terms 'animists' for the tribals
The word tribal religion was first used in the 1921 census report. All
these attempts also had an ulterior motive- to segregate the tribals and
to avoid their assimilation in the mainstream of the society. During independence,
Dr. Warrier Elvin a British anthropologists studied the life of tribals
Go to Top of the Page
advocated strongly against assimilation of tribals into mainstream, either
Christianity or Hinduism and felt that their separate identity should
be preserved. Still due to the encouragement from British government and
a fearless approach, missionaries entered in life of tribals- converting
thousand of tribals into Christianity. Anthropological survey of India.
1992 states that "in near past 383 tribes have embraced Hinduism, 267
are following Christianity, with 112 tribes following Muslim religion
and 63 Sikh religion".
In peculiar 15 tribes the 'conversions' to Christianity seem more important.
The danger with conversion in strict sense is the original culture and
tradition of Indian tribals, their dialects languages are abolished in
many cases. According to 1991 census, tribals amounted to 6.78 billions
in number. This means they have a share of 8.08 % in the total Indian
The state of Madhya Pradesh inhabits maximum number of tribals, i.e. 23.22%
of their total population. Then follow the state of Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra,
Rajasthan, Andhrapradesh and West Bengal.Literacy rates amongst tribals
are low but are improving.
By 1981 a percentage of 24.52 of tribal males and 8.04% women were literate.
Mainly they survive on the forest-related products for their livelihood
along with certain other activities like daring, fishing, poultry-keeping,
bee keeping and art and craft.
They do avail the benefit of various welfare schemes by the government
of India and NGOs. 91% of tribals are radio listeners with a television
viewership of 27.02%. Their contribution to science although is low but
their knowledge of traditional herbal medicine can open new avenues of