tribal people of India are called "Scheduled Tribes" in the Indian
Constitution. The designation, invented by the British,
covers somewhat arbitrarily 255 ethnic communities which are economically
and socially least advanced and are the earliest inhabitants of
India. The English called them aborigines.
Indians consider the tribal communities, which live in isolated
and self-contained communities as wholly distinct from them
culturally and ethnically. They are right and wrong at the
same time: culturally, Scheduled Tribes and Castes are distinct
from the plainspeople; ethnically, they are not. Mostly,
these aboriginal tribes and castes are less Aryan or totally non-Aryan,
for they are predominantly Munda and Dravidian.
of the total one billion Indians, the tribal population accounts
for nearly 6% of the population. The tribal people are a
vast majority in the Northeastern States and some Union Territories:
88% of Nagaland, 80% of Meghalaya, 70% of Arunachal Pradesh population
is tribal. Half of the country's tribal population is found
in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa.
The numerically dominant tribes are the Dravidian Gonds of Central
India, the Munda Bhils of Western India, and the Munda Santals
of Eastern India.
Kerala there are still 37 Scheduled Tribes out of 48 tribal communities;
their number is only 1.26% of the state's population. What
this figure indicates is that the rate of the assimilation of
the aboriginals of Kerala has been extremely rapid. In the
past few years 11 tribal communities have been declassified on
account of the social and cultural porgress they have made.
the Scheduled Tribes of Kerala the numerically dominant ones are
the Pulayans, Paniyans, Maratis, Malayarayar, Kurumans, Kurichiyans,
and Irulas. The numerical strength of each remaining tribes
is more or less 1,000. I am happy to record that my anthropological,
linguistic and folklonstic research has been primarily among the
Kadar, Cholanayikkar, Mudugar, Irular, Pulayar, and Kurumbar.
I have also worked among the Santals of West Bengal.
of these tribes are forest-dwellers and food-gatherers.
Increasingly, they are found living on the fringes of the forests
near the highways and the villages of the plainspeople, yet apart
from them. This frontier existence of the tribals is highly
symbolic. They are caught between two worlds. Their
forest home cannot support them any longer, for food in forests
is getting scarce because of the state policy against deforestation.
There are fewer and fewer wild animals to hunt; there is also
a legal ban on hunting. For rice and clothes they have to
depend on the plainspeople who continue to exploit the helplessness
of the tribals. The few tribesmen who go to towns looking
for jobs soon find it difficult to cope with the demands of civilization
and return home to jungles to live on the edge of culture and