Tribal People in India

Tribal People in India

When we talk about Tribal people in India, we use to focus on Northeast and north Indian people who belong to Tribal. But it is not true. In a wider sense, there are many tribal in another part of the country. Mostly tribal people in India suffer due to oppressions and exploitation done by other high-class people in their own territory.

Knowing their situation in the social, political and economic condition is necessary for doing their theology. So, this blog’s post is going to study the real situation of tribal people in India’s situation in terms of social, economic and political life.

Tribal people in India

The population of Tribal constitutes 7.78% in India’s population. There are three major groups of tribal in India:

Santal Languages family

Those who are of the Munda language family- the Santhal, the Mundas, the Saoras, etc.

Monkhamer language belong to the Monkhamer language family – the Bodos, the Nagas, the Garos etc.

Those who belong to the Dravidian language family- the Gonds, the Kui, the Oraons, etc.

A basic difference between the tribal of North East India and the rest of India is that a majority of the tribes in other parts of India are more or fewer Hindus. But in North East India, about 88% of the population belong to Christianity.

Another difference is that the tribal in North East India have their own lands. This area most of the tribal/Adivasi in mainland India does not have their own land to cultivate, working in the field under the high-class people.

The Constitution of India simply says that they (tribal) must be a homogenous community who belong to the Hindu or the Muslim (Christianity does not mention) communities and they must be economically poor and the socially marginalized. The higher cast of Indian societies oppressed, suppressed, brokenness and exploited them. And officially who recognized as “tribal”; they are also do not receive their benefits and opportunities from Government.

Three type of tribal people in India

In India, there are three big tribal/indigenous groups classified by the Constitution of India as the Scheduled Tribes:

a) Tribal people of North–Central India are called the Austroloids,

b) the Dravidian Language Group-those tribal who live in Central and South India and,

c) the Mongoloid race–the tribal people living in North–East India.

Social Life of the Tribal People in India

Tribal societies are basically a patriarchal and patrilineal society. Thier social life also influenced with patriarchal ideology in many ways. They have male dominated social life. The every important decisions of thier family can made only male. So, male was the head of the family. And the property inherited to the male only. There was no role for female.

According to the tribal customary law, the youngest son inherits the property and the legitimate son has priority over the son of a second wife if any.

But this custom was not applied to the Chief and he was succeeded by his eldest son since the eldest son was expected to be more mature than the youngest in the administration and experienced.

I. Tribal women in society

In the tribal society, women are laborious, arduous, wearisome, painstaking and burdensome. It was full of untold sorrow and suffering. While men, young men and children were still in bed in the morning, women did all the family chores like; fetching water, cooking, etc. And those are not even counted as real work.

Tribal women in society

They went out to the field for the whole day to work with men. On the way home, women carried vegetables and many other things with full of the basket. And started cooking for the dinner, as soon as it was dark women continued household chores like cooking the food for the pigs. And they spinning and winding cloth for the whole family. A girl who does not know how to waving were counted as unworthy to find a good husband.

All those work was not considered as real work. Therefore, the tribal society gives very less concern for the women and did not give them much priority in society.

II. Tribal people’s hunting

The practice of hunting is another area. Hunting of heads is a men’s game. A good hunter is honoured and respected by society. It involves many risks, proper planning and supervision in relation to the village administration.

III. The Tribal people in India exploited by the others

The tribal people are neglected by the common people and even the legislators also. Instead of giving love, generosity and trust, the tribal people are marginalized by the non-tribal people. Sometimes the fighters for the tribal rights were killed by the dominant people. In Kerala, there was an organisation which fought for the rights of the workers in the fields. It was Valli agitation.

They demanded their wages be paid according to the standard of measure. The struggle was successful but the leader Varghese was killed by the Indian state. The tribal people are not cared, loved and respected rather sometimes their rights are being violated by the non-tribal people. The right moralities of people have now deteriorated.

The Economic Life of Tribal People in India

Though the tribal were living in the villages and have less development in economic condition. But the tribal people have a strong idea or concept that could not be easy to change or to imply another idea instead. Because the tribal people said that the land is their mother. They cannot leave her. This mother earth provides those crops and food for them as well.


So, they won’t give her up easily. They grow betel leaves. Then grow vegetables like cabbages, potatoes, brinjal, etc; and harvest the crops till the monsoon. They also grew mangoes, coconuts and other fruits; and this is sufficient for the sustenance of their life.

I. Occupation of Tribal people in India

The occupation of the tribal people may be classified as agriculturists or cultivators. There were no shopkeepers or traders in society. There was a blacksmith but no craftsmen.

Therefore, the Chief, blacksmith and the priest only received rice (Fathang) in order to exchange the service rendered by them. The tribal did not have any factories or industries to earn their living. Commonly the tribal have domestic animals like; pig, goat, poultry and dogs. Pigs and dogs were mainly kept in the villages for scavenging purposes but their meat was also eaten by the tribal.

Cultivatior of Tribal People

Shifting cultivation was the traditional agricultural practice for food production from time immemorial. It is the sole activity for survival and the fulcrum of the people’s lives. Each village had a community land and the chief was the guardian of that land.

They were cultivating the rice, maize and many other crops in that field. In this system, the same plot of the land was not cultivated for a long time (at least seven years must be waited before cultivating that same plot), so the farmers move from one place to another.

II. Tribal people’s land

The tribal people have been facing many problems in their own land due to Economic and Industrial development, after the introduction of New Economic Policy in India in 1991. They are not the benefitted group but they are the victims.

They are alienated from their own land in the name of development.
Due to this low economic condition and traditional practices for earning their livelihood, they have lesser income in comparing with the general people, so the plain people looked down them, treated them as uncivilized people and unworthy to regard them as their level in living condition as well.

Political Life of the Tribal People in India

The “Inner Line” is the protection policy efforts for the northeast frontier which prompted by the British. The non-tribal people can allow to the area only for special permission.

This region has tribespeople with a significant source of cash; which provides through the Government construction projects

Besides, Government policies on forest reserves have deeply affected the tribal peoples.

Therefore, due to those injustice act of the Central government, many tribes have reacted to their exploitation. Some of them peacefully and others violently. The Nagaland sovereignty demand began before 1947; where Naga demanded their right with the Northeast violent. According to Mahatma Gandhi, the sympathetic demand is self-rule but other national leaders did not understand the aspirations of Northeast India. So, a day before Indian independence, on 14th August 1947, the Naga people’s leaders declared Nagaland independence.

But the violence of nationalists still continues to this day. An agreement reached in 1963 to create the State of Nagaland and recognize their customary law. Not much has happened after it.

Tribal People in India in the present context

In today’s context the people especially the tribal do not get their political rights. One of the nearest examples we can see is the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), 1958 amended in 1972. This act passed due to the existence of several insurgent groups and imposed by the Central Government.

There are two contradictory views on this act. While one group feels that it is necessary to empower the armed forces with special power in order to combat insurgency movements; the other asserts the extreme power given in the act is being misused by the armed forces and has caused too much harm to the civilians. But it seems that the misusing of this act is greater than the combat of insurgent groups.

The social activist known as Iron Lady, Irom Sharmila has often arrested by the authority claiming that she attempts to commit suicide.


In the above discussion, the reality of the tribal people in India seen through which tribal theology formulate as knowing their main concern. It is very important for doing theology. In this, both the perspective of religion and tribal would be a tool for making tribal theology that could be done through Social analysis.

So, this blog’s post will be helpful in making tribal theology since it is the study of the reality of tribal people in India.