Scheduled Tribes Identity: Constitutional and Cultural Aspects

Along with the independence of India, the makers of the constitution were concerned about saving this tribal identity in the development of modern India. Because at that time in many parts of India, this society was living in small groups with this identity. The danger of its ending in a larger political system was felt.

The Narrative World    25-May-2023   
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Scheduled Tribes, the name came with the creation of the constitution as a category in India. But in India these castes have existed since ancient times in the form of small groups. We have been seeing them with the eternal tradition of India.

The framers of the constitution gave a new identity to all these castes as a special category, which we know today as the tribes of India. After all, which were those castes which were considered as tribes? What was their specialty? What was the identity that the framers of the constitution felt it necessary to preserve?

With the development of modern India which they felt threatened to disappear and the traditional laws of the tribes were recognized along with the modern laws. It is necessary to consider all these things.

Whenever we think of the tribes of India, a specific type of culture appears in front of our vision, which is related to the beliefs of some gods and goddesses.

In the expanded form of these beliefs and worship methods, there is a flourishing artistic expression, which is visible to us externally. Then be it painting, dance, playing music or singing or costumes, it is expressed in many such forms.

But in the center of it always the faith towards their own deity developed on that basis, social structure, systems, life values which we can see in the form of rites from birth to death. Then it may be Karma Puja, Sarhul Puja or the Sarna Sthal of the village.

Be it Matanuvan in Bhil society, be it a traditionally sung song, all are related to the faith of their own Gods and Goddesses. Therefore, we can understand that in tribal society, beliefs and culture are not only integral, but culture appears as an extension of beliefs, they cannot be separated.

If someone says that I behave according to tribal culture but I do not have faith in tribal deities, can it be considered as tribal? Certainly not.

Along with the independence of India, the makers of the constitution were concerned about saving this tribal identity in the development of modern India. Because at that time in many parts of India, this society was living in small groups with this identity. The danger of its ending in a larger political system was felt.

Till the coming of the British, we can see tribal kingdoms in the form of kings over a large part of India. Be it the Nag dynasty king, be it the various kingdoms of the Gonds or be it the Bhil kingdom of western India.

Since ancient times, tribal kings have been ruling in India, especially in the forest areas, who had complete control over the forest areas and other Indian kings also recognized their states and did not even try to interfere in those areas.

This situation remained the same even till the Mughal period and the tribal society not only had full rights over the forest areas and the natural resources there, but the forest remained as a part of their life. Nature and man lived there inseparably. Forest was the basis of their livelihood as well as the center of their entire existence and faith.

When the Britishers first started governmentizing the forests to use them in their own interests, from there the crisis of livelihood and existence arose in front of the tribal society.

With the expansion of the British state, the rights of the tribals from the forests were abolished. From there they were forcibly displaced and indiscriminate exploitation of the natural resources of the forest areas started. Till date the one who was the owner of the forests, now he seems to be an illegal occupier.

Destruction of forests in the name of development has not only caused serious damage to the livelihood of this society, but also to their beliefs. Realizing the suffering of the tribal society, the framers of the constitution made various protective measures in the Indian constitution to safeguard their identity.


Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes separate lists were made in the Constitution for reservation. The social discrimination faced by Scheduled Castes due to untouchability was included in the category of Scheduled Castes.

Reservation was given to the Scheduled Tribes for the protection of their traditional faith and cultural tradition. Because the discrimination with them was based on 'neglect', due to which they lagged far behind to other societies in education, health and other facilities.

Therefore, in order to give proper representation on various posts of administration, so that their cooperation in making policies and their implementation can be ensured, reservation provisions were made.

Apart from reservation, other protective provisions were also made to the Scheduled Tribes. There is an excess of natural resources in the areas of their residence, the exploitation of which does not adversely affect their livelihood and identity, therefore special provisions were made in the Scheduled Areas through the 5th and 6th Schedules.

In order to protect the traditions, their customary laws were also recognized. In later years, the PESA Act 1996 and the Forest Rights Act 2006 were added to the Constitution through necessary constitutional amendments from time to time.

5th and 6th schedule

The policy of the British was to exploit India's natural resources excessively. And the naturally rich areas, which were the tribal areas of India, were divided into two such categories as completely outlying areas and partially outlying areas.

No British laws were applicable in these areas. An agent was appointed in these agency areas. Necessary laws could be implemented on his wish. In such a situation, when there was resistance from the tribal society against the loot of resources, it was crushed by inhuman methods, because no laws were enforced there.

Evidence of crushing all the tribal rebels in history by inhuman methods is available even today. But to give special protection to these areas in the Constitution of India, a provision was made in the 5th and 6th schedule. Through which provisions were made to protect the rights of the tribal communities living there and to appoint them to various democratic posts along with the exploitation of natural resources there.

PESA Act 1996: - Provision of Panchayat Raj Extension (in Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 was made in the constitution for how to implement Panchayat Raj Act 1993 in scheduled areas. So that it reaches the right to the last person in the tribal areas and he himself can take decisions related to the resources there.

Forest Rights Act 2006: - Through this law, it has been said to correct the historical mistake of the British period and provisions have been made to give back to the traditional forest dwellers the rights of their traditional forests which were taken away from them by the British.

Through all these efforts, efforts were made by the framers of the constitution to strengthen the tribal society, so that they could protect their traditional beliefs. On the basis of which their specific culture, customs, traditions take shape.

But the question arises whether people who have adopted other gods and goddesses and changed their beliefs, can they be expected to save this identity?

It is natural that those who themselves have abandoned these deities, how will they be able to save them and the culture associated with it?

They cannot save, so should they get the reservation and facilities that are given to the tribal society? So the answer will come in no.

But due to the fear of losing their facilities, these people try to spread various illusions. This is the same illusion that the British spread in the tribal society under their declared policy of divide and rule.

The British first propagated in India that Aryans came from outside India and gave a new theory, on the basis of which they tried to explain that some people in India are native and the rest came from outside India.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar refuted this thing in a very effective and scientific way and failed this attempt of the British to divide. For the purpose of establishing this principle, the British rule tried to write the tribal society of India separately even in the census.

Sometimes they (British Christians) tried to separate the tribes from the rest of the Indian society by portraying them as nature worshippers, sometimes as spiritualists and sometimes as aborigines. But when said to be a nature worshipper, doesn't the rest of the Indian society worship nature? So the whole Hindu society worships nature and idol worship is also an extended form of nature worship.

They could not separate the tribes from the spiritualist also. As far as an attempt is made to say aboriginal, it means Sanatan, which the entire Indian society considers itself and calls itself Sanatani.

In the 1931 census, the British first started writing the tribal society as Adivasi, but the attempt to separate in each census was thwarted by their own census commissioners with their comments. And it has been shown that tribal society is a part of the entire Indian society.

Various Census Commissioners wrote in their comments -

"…Every stratum of Indian society is more or less saturated with Animistic conceptions…" - JA Bains, 1881 Census Commissioner

"Animism more or less transformed by philosophy', and 'no sharp line of demarcation can be drawn between Hinduism and Animism" - Herbert [Ristey, 1991 Cenms Commissioner.

"I have no hesitation in saying that nature worshipers cannot be written in a separate religion so in the next census all nature worshipers should be written as Hindus." - P C Talents, Census Commissioner 1921

"Hinduism and Tribal Religions cannot be seen separately, they are one." - JH Hutton, Census Commissioner 1931

The Constituent Assembly of India, while answering the discussion on this issue, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar made it clear that there are all tribals in India, it would not be appropriate to name any one class as tribal. Therefore, this class was recognized in the Constitution as a Scheduled Tribe class.

Confusion is still being created on the identity of the tribal society by those people who have adopted other faiths except the tribal gods and goddesses. But these people want to remain in the tribal list for reservation and other constitutional benefits.

Therefore, it is the duty of the tribal society and other benevolent societies to try to delete such elements from the tribal list.