solid black line
dotted black line
  About MAR
dotted black line
  MAR Data
dotted black line
  AMAR Project
dotted black line
solid black line
Contact Us     


Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Scheduled Tribes in India

View Group Chronology

India Facts
Area:    3,287,590 sq. km.
Capital:    New Delhi
Total Population:    984,004,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There are three factors that promote the continuation of future rebellion by India's Scheduled Tribes: ongoing rebellion; territorial concentration of tribes in certain regions; and repressive actions by the government. Factors that could inhibit future rebellion include India's history as a stable democracy and its efforts to negotiate agreements with disgruntled minority groups. During 2000, of the three new states created in India, both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, contain significant tribal populations. In addition during 2007, the World Bank allocated money to states in India with majority Scheduled Tribe populations in an effort to reduce poverty and increase economic stability. An active effort by the federal and state governments' to promote economic development in tribal areas could also help assuage key concerns about poverty and the general backwardness of tribal regions in relation to the rest of the country. The government of India has also allocated seats in government and government jobs specifically for Scheduled Tribe members.


Analytic Summary

The Scheduled Tribes, also referred to as adivasis (original inhabitants), are spread across the central, northeast and southern regions of India. The various tribes resided in India long before the Aryans arrived around 1500 BC. The tribals were socially and geographically isolated following the entry of the Aryans and then subsequently the Muslims and the British. Scheduled Tribes live throughout the countries, with concentrations in the west-central states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and in the east-central states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa (GROUPCON = 1). Scheduled Tribes are the plurality group in the states of Lakshadweep, Meghalaya, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Arunachal Pradesh.

The more than 50 tribes that constitute the Scheduled Tribes speak a multitude of languages (LANG = 1). They are also religiously diverse, with some following animism, while others have adopted Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. The majority of the Scheduled Tribe population, however, follows Hinduism. (BELIEF = 0). However, the social customs of most tribals distinguish them from the country's majority Hindu population (CUSTOM = 1).

The category of Scheduled Tribes was established in 1950, three years after India's independence. It sought to encompass the country's diverse tribal groups under a common banner in an effort to help address the disadvantages the tribes encountered and to integrate them into the mainstream of Indian society. Along with being geographically and socially isolated, the tribals have historically been politically underrepresented and their regions of residence economically underdeveloped. Scheduled tribe status under the Indian constitution means that seats are reserved for tribals in political forums such as the parliament, along with job reservations in the civil service and educational institutions (POLDIS06 = 1; ECDIS06 = 1).

Despite official policies aimed at improving the status of the tribals, significant disparities remain. The Scheduled Tribes face significant demographic stresses due to deteriorating public health conditions in relation to other groups in the country. For instance, sanitation facilities and access to clean drinking water are severely limited in both urban and rural tribal areas. Further, the Scheduled Tribes have lost their lands as the country has adopted large-scale projects such as the Narmada dam project. The construction of numerous dams across Gujurat and Madhya Pradesh states has resulted in thousands of tribals losing their lands and in a number of cases they have not been provided with alternative property as compensation. A significant number of adivasis have also been displaced due to intracommunal and intercommunal conflict in recent years. For example, in October 2005, approximately 75,000 tribals were displaced by conflict between Karbi and Dimasa (DISPLACE04-06 = 1).

There are a number of common grievances among the Scheduled Tribes. The protection of their culture and life ways is a key issue along with desires for self-government through the granting of broad autonomy (POLGR04-06 = 3). Encroachment on tribal lands by other groups and commercial interests has gained international attention in recent years due to government-sponsored mega-projects such as the Narmada dam system. Limited economic opportunities in tribal areas have also meant that the Scheduled Tribes are among the poorest in Indian society and they have been left out of the country's economic liberalization campaign launched in the early 1990s. Many of the economic grievances of the tribals are linked to land rights, in particular central and state-level recognition of customary land holdings of adivasis. These grievances are aggravated in situations where the central or state-level government has granted land rights for mining, forestry, etc., resulting in the displacement of adivasis. Grievances concerning land rights have cultural as well as economic meaning, as access to land is central to adivasis' ability to preserve their cultures (ECGR04-06 = 2; CULGR04-06 = 1). Most protest in recent years has revolved around issues of land rights and use (PROT04 = 2; PROT05= 3; PROT06 = 4).

The interests of the Scheduled Tribes are primarily represented by broad-based conventional organizations but there have been enduring militant organizations that draw some significant group support (GOJPA04-06 = 3). The largest adivasi organization is the National Advocacy Council for Development of Indigenous People (NAC-DIP), an organization that links 225 non-governmental organizations representing 192 adivasi communities from 18 states. Another national adivasi organization is the National Adivasi Alliance. There are also numerous state-level or tribe-specific organizations.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Maoist Peoples' War Group (PWG), also referred to as Naxalites, launched an armed struggle to press for land reforms (REBEL65X = 4). The Naxalite movement first arose in West Bengal state and was an uprising by largely landless tribal cultivators in Naxalbari in 1967. Currently, more than 40 Naxalite organizations are active in India. The two largest, the Maoist Peoples' War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre of India, merged in 2004 to form the Communist Party of India-Maoist. While its leadership and membership is not exclusively tribal, it is primarily tribal and most active in the tribal belt stretching across the middle of the country. Several individual tribal communities, including Kukis, Khasis, Zomis, Hmars and Karbis, also have militant organizations. These militant organizations have engaged primarily in low-level attacks in recent years (REB04-06 = 1). Most organizational violence has been directed towards rival organizations or civilians rather than government forces.

Scheduled Tribes have been subject to high levels of intracommunal conflict in recent years. Antagonists include Naxalite and anti-Naxalite tribals and organizations from rival tribal groups (INTRACON04-06 = 1). Conflict between tribals and non-tribals has also been present (INTERCON05-06 = 1). Scheduled Tribes have also been subject to repression by state authorities (REPGENCIV04=4; REPGENCIV05 = 5; REPNVIOL04 = 4; REPNVIOL05 = 5; REPNVIOL06 = 4; REPVIOL04-06 = 5).

Transnational support for the Scheduled Tribes has largely been in the form of development aid in recent years. Funders have included the World Bank, UNICEF, and government agencies of the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan (STAMATSUP04-06 = 1).



Asian Centre for Human Rights. Various reports. 2004-2007.

Census of India. 2001. "Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Population and Their Percentages to Total Population by Sex, Residence and States/Union Territories in Census 2001.", accessed 1/30/2009.

IDMC. 5/3/2007. "India: large numbers of IDPS are unassisted and in need of protection."$file/india_overview_mayl07.pdf, accessed 11/8/2008.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2004.

National Advocacy Council for Development of Indigenous People. Various reports.

Plant, Roger. 1994. Land Rights and Minorities. London: Minority Rights Group International.

Singh, K.S. 1994. "The Scheduled Tribes." People of India National Series, Vol. 3. London and New Delhi: Anthropological Survey of India and Oxford University Press.

South Asia Terrorism Portal. n.d. "India-Terrorist, insurgent and extremist groups.", accessed 4/1/2009.


© 2004 - 2018 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006