Tribal Areas and their Problems in India – UPSC

In this article, You will read Tribal Areas and their Problems in India – for UPSC (Cultural Setting – Geography Optional).

Tribal Areas (Tribal belt)

  • India’s tribal belt refers to contiguous areas of settlement of Tribal people of India, that is, groups or tribes that remained genetically homogenous as opposed to other population groups that mixed widely within the Indian subcontinent.
  • The tribal population in India, though a numerically small minority, represents an enormous diversity of groups.
  • They vary among themselves in respect of language and linguistic traits, ecological settings in which they live, physical features, size of the population, the extent of acculturation, dominant modes of making a livelihood, level of development and social stratification.
  • While tribes have a distinct culture and history, they also share commonalities with other marginalised sections of Indian society, such as the lack of adequate political representation, economic deprivation and cultural discrimination.
  • However, tribal society must be appreciated and it must be recognised that non-tribal people have much to learn from the richness of tribal cultures and systems of knowledge.
  • The category of ‘tribe’ entails a social and cultural dimension but the Scheduled Tribe category has politico-administrative implications.
  • A majority of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in the eastern, central and western belt covering the Nine States of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
  • About 12 per cent inhabit the North-eastern region, about five per cent in the Southern region and about three per cent in the Northern States.
Tribal Areas
Tribal Population 2011

Distribution of Tribes

  • The Scheduled Tribes are notified in 30 States/UTs and the number of individual ethnic groups, etc. notified as Scheduled Tribes is 705.
  • The tribal population of the country, as per the 2011 census, is 10.43 crore, constituting 8.6% of the total population. 89.97% of them live in rural areas and 10.03% in urban areas. The decadal population growth of the tribal’s from Census 2001 to 2011 has been 23.66% against the 17.69% of the entire population.
  • The sex ratio for the overall population is 940 females per 1000 males and that of Scheduled Tribes 990 females per thousand males.
  • Broadly the STs inhabit two distinct geographical areas – Central India and the North- Eastern Area. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in Central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh (14.69%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Jharkhand (8.29%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), Maharashtra (10.08%), Orissa (9.2%), Gujarat (8.55%) and Rajasthan (8.86%).
  • The other distinct area is the North East (Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh).
  • More than two-thirds of the ST population is concentrated only in the seven states of the country, viz. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.
  • There is no ST population in 3 States (Delhi NCR, Punjab, and Haryana) and 2 UTs (Puducherry and Chandigarh), as no Scheduled Tribe is notified.

Scheduled Areas (Fifth Schedule)

  • Scheduled Areas (under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution) is “such areas as the President may by order declare to be Scheduled Areas”.
  • At present, 10 States namely Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana have Fifth Schedule Areas.

Sixth Schedule

  • It protects tribal populations and provides autonomy to the communities through the creation of autonomous development councils that can frame laws on land, public health, agriculture, and others.
  • 6th Schedule applies to certain tribal areas of the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
  • The Sixth Schedule provides for the creation of Autonomous District and Regional Councils and accords a host of legislative, executive, and judicial powers to these autonomous bodies.
  • As of now, 10 autonomous councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
  • This special provision is provided under Article 244(2) and Article 275(1) of the Constitution.

Problems of tribal People

Tribes are generally backward, economically as well as educationally. The situation is not uniform in all parts of India. In the northeast, the situation has been disturbed for several years, whereas in the mainland (central India) problems related to poverty, unemployment, indebtedness, backwardness, and ignorance are acute.

The tribes of the northeast have a high level of politicization, literacy, and a high standard of living compared to their counterparts in other parts. The tribes were alienated from their own lands. The landlords and moneylenders of the plains gradually replaced the tribal landowners.

The survey done by B. K. Roy Burman (1972) shows that the tribals are the most backward because of their low literacy and primitive economy.

Since tribal people are at different social, political, economic, and ecological levels, their problems also differ in degree from each other. These differences can be seen in terms of hill tribes and plainsmen; between those who are engaged in forest-based economic pursuits and the ones who are employed as settled agriculturists; or between those who are Hinduised or converted to Christianity; and those who are adhering to an unadulterated tribal way of life.

Despite these distinctions, some common problems of the tribal people are:

  1. Poverty and exploitation.
  2. Economic and technological backwardness.
  3. Socio-cultural handicaps.
  4. Problems of assimilation with the non-tribal population.

S.M. Dube’s five-fold classification of the Indian tribes provides a clear picture of the problem of tribes in India. Dube (1982) mentions –

  1. aboriginals living in seclusion;
  2. tribal groups having an association with the neighboring non-tribal society and also maintaining their distinctiveness;
  3. tribals living in the village along with caste groups, sects, and religious groups and maintaining their identity;
  4. tribals who have been degraded to the status of untouchables;
  5. tribals who enjoy high social, economic, and political status.

Such a classification is based on the nature of cultural contacts of tribals with non-tribals.

Social Problems

High Incidence of Illiteracy (Lack of Education) & Gender Gap

  • According to the 1991 Census, nearly 70 percent of the tribals are illiterates. Although it cannot be denied that education can act as the instrument for betterment of the tribals ensuring greater participation for them in the development process, still there are certain factors which inhibit the tribals from taking to education.
  • These factors include tribal superstitions and prejudices, extreme poverty, nomadic lifestyle of certain tribes, lack of interest in alien subjects taught through an alien language and a lack of suitable teachers and other facilities in the tribal areas.
  • The progress over the years on the literacy front may be seen from the following :
Total literate population24 %29.4 %36.2 %52.2 %64.84%73.00 %
Scheduled Tribes (STs) population8.5 %11.3 %16.3 %29.6 %47.10%59.00%
Total female population12.9 %18.6 %29.8 %39.3 %53.67%64.60%
Total Scheduled Tribes (STs) female population3.2 %4.8 %8.0 %18.2 %34.76%49.40 %

Mortality rates

  • The community also has registered the highest child mortality and infant mortality rates compared to other social groups.

Gender Issues

  • The degradation of the natural environment, particularly through the destruction of forests and a rapidly shrinking resource base, has had an impact on the status of women. The opening of the tribal belts to mining, industries, and commercialization has exposed tribal men and women to the ruthless operations of the market economy, giving rise to consumerism and to the commoditization of women.

Problems of Assimilation with the Non-tribal Population

  • The tribals have largely come under the impact of the dominant cultural streams of India. New divisions have been created among the tribals due to cultural change in their ranks. Stratification in tribal society in India has its roots in British policy, unevenness due to the impact of economic development, and varied cultural contact with the wider society. Modernization and industrialization has apparently reduced the gap between the tribals and the non-tribals, but it has also created new problems.
  • The tribals, who have been uprooted from their lands, have not been absorbed in the new system. Hence, they are facing a new form of pauperization without a traditional support base.

Erosion of Identity

  • Increasingly, the traditional institutions and laws of tribals are coming into conflict with modern institutions which create apprehensions among the tribals about preserving their identity. Extinction of tribal dialects and languages is another cause of concern as it indicates an erosion of tribal identity in certain areas.

Drug Addiction

  • Consumption of alcohol is a part of social rituals among the tribal communities. At the national level, it is noted that about half of Scheduled tribe men (51%) consume some form of alcohol.
  • The prevalence of alcohol consumption was found to be much lower among nonScheduled Tribe men (30%). Therefore, such a pattern of drinking alcohol among Scheduled Tribe men has a negative effect on their health. The estimated prevalence among Scheduled Tribes is found to be higher in the eastern states like Assam (70%), West Bengal (70%), Orissa (69%), and Jharkhand (67%). In a few exceptional cases like Sikkim, Manipur, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Goa, a higher proportion of urban Scheduled Tribe men drink alcohol as compared to their rural counterparts.
Economic Problems

Loss of Control over Natural Resources

  • Before the coming of the British, the tribals enjoyed unhindered rights of ownership and management over natural resources like land, forests, wildlife, water, soil, fish, etc. With the advent of industrialization in India and the discovery of minerals and other resources in tribal inhabited areas, these pockets were thrown open to outsiders, and state control replaced tribal control.
  • Thus began the story of unending miseries for the tribals. With the impetus to the development process after independence, pressure on land and forests increased.
  • This resulted in the loss of ownership rights over land, owing to chronic indebtedness, unscrupulous landlords, money­lenders, contractors, and officials. With the concepts of protected forests and national forests gaining currency, the tribals felt themselves uprooted from their cultural moorings and with no secure means of livelihood.

Poverty and Exploitation

  • Poverty refers to the condition of not having the means to afford basic human needs such as clean water, nutrition, health care, clothing, and shelter. This is also referred to as absolute poverty. Relative poverty is the condition of having fewer resources or less income than others within a society or country or compared to worldwide averages.
  • Generally, poverty is measured below Poverty Line (BPL) indices in rural areas. Below Poverty Line is an economic benchmark and poverty threshold used by the government of India to indicate economic disadvantage and to identify individuals and households in need of government assistance and aid. It is determined using various parameters which vary from state to state and within states.
  • In the tenth five-year plan (2002-2007) survey, BPL for rural areas was based on the degree of deprivation in respect of 13 parameters, with scores from 0-4: landholding, type of house, clothing, food security, sanitation, consumer durables, literacy status, labour force, means of livelihood, the status of children, type of indebtedness, reasons for migrations, etc.

Land Alienation

Displacement and Rehabilitation

  • After independence, the focus of the development process was on heavy industries and the core sector. As a result, huge steel plants, power projects, and large dams came up—most of them in the tribal inhabited areas. The mining activities were also accelerated in these areas. Acquisition of tribal land by the government for these projects led to large-scale displacement of the tribal population. The tribal pockets of the Chhotanagpur region, Orissa, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh suffered the most.
  • The cash compensation provided by the government was frittered away on wasteful expenditure. No settlements were provided for the displaced tribals within the industrial areas, who were forced to live in peripheries in slums or to migrate to adjoining states to work as unskilled workers in conditions of poverty. The migration of these tribals to the urban areas causes psychological problems for them as they are not able to adjust well to the urban lifestyle and values.

Lack of Awareness about Government Schemes

  • In the Indian context, scheduled tribes have the special provisions, constitutional rights for their social, economic and educational promotion. Recent tribal welfare schemes are:
    • a) Pre-metric and post-metric scholarship for scheduled tribes students,
    • b) Boy’s and Girl’s hostel for the tribal students in the tribal-dominated areas.
    • c) Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship Scheme for tribal students in higher studies,
    • d) Establishment of Ashram school in tribal subplan area,
    • e) Vocational training in tribal areas,
    • f) Adivasi Mahila Sashaktikaran Yojana
    • g) Tribal forest Dwellers Empowerment Scheme,
    • h) National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC) self-employment scheme,
    • i) Eklavya Model Residential School for tribal students,
    • j) Sikshasshree for tribal day scholars,
    • k) Old age pension scheme for tribal people from BPL families with age of 60 years or above
    • l) Development of particularly primitive vulnerable tribal groups etc.
    • Besides, there are other general social and economic developmental schemes.
  • In the field survey, it is found that most of the tribal people are very much poor, but they could not manage BPL ration card, job cards for 100 day works etc. Most of them hardly know the name of BPL ration card. As a consequence, they remain deprived from such benefits. Due to illiteracy and lack of awareness many families remain in dark about the assistance laid down for them by the Government. Government officers and supporting staff misbehave with them. More than 70% tribal households have no any banking facilities simply having no bank account.

Subsistence Economy

  • Tribal economy is characterized as subsistence-oriented. The popular forms of subsistence economy are that of collecting, hunting, and fishing or a combination of hunting and collecting with shifting cultivation. Even the so-called plough using agricultural tribes do often, wherever scope is available, supplement their economy with hunting and collecting. A subsistence economy is characterized by simple technology, simple division of labour, small-scale units of production, and no investment of capital.
  • The main problem of a subsistence economy is that if the system fails, and it can no longer meet the needs of those who exist within the economy, then it is difficult to obtain resources from elsewhere. A subsistence economy is wholly reliant on nature to provide for their needs, if a crop fails, or their resources be damaged in some way, then they do not have access to alternatives. A subsistence way of earning cannot afford a good livelihood as profit or earning is limited.


Health and Nutrition

  • The public health and nutrition of the tribal people were not satisfactory during the colonial rule. It was in the year 1912 the Dooars labour act was passed but it was concerned with government inspection only in the matters of sanitation and public health. The enactment was promoted by the high incidence of sickness resulting in absenteeism and heavy death toll among the workers due to various diseases, particularly malaria and blackwater fever. Even after the independence, the laborers had not been provided modern facilities of treatment.
  • In most of the diseases were concerned, they had to depend on the local process of treatment by Ojha or kabiraj, apart from this they had to depend on charlatan or quack, as because there was no qualified doctor, as a result, the patients had to expire for the wrong treatment.
Environmental Problems

Man-Animal conflicts

  • Wild animals were very common to wander through the thick jungles. But after thinning of jungles, In recent years the man-animal conflict has gone up steeply owing to the increase in human population; land use transformations, developmental activities; species habitat degradation and fragmentation; growth of ecotourism and also increasing wildlife population as a result of conservation strategies.
  • The human population and its growing demands for land and biological resources affected this landscape to great extent. Fragmentation of habitat has primarily occurred as a result of infrastructure development, widening of the road, conversion of the railway line to broad gauge including heavy traffic, river training works through large scale construction of embankments, deposition of dolomite in rivers in the foothills bordering Bhutan, and particle-containing dolomite in the flowing river coming from Bhutan hills.
  • Tea plantations have taken a heavy toll on adjoining grasslands and also the industry has produced a huge amount of unplanned human settlements. A decrease in appreciation and an increase in a negative attitude towards wildlife has serious detrimental potential to impact the natural system of coexistence. All these factors led to an increased level of human-animal conflict.

Physical Constraints

  • Traditionally, tribal people are interested to live in remote places of jungles and mountains.
  • Transportation and way of communication are very hard in a civilized society.
  • Climate is not healthy mainly during the rainy season in many tea garden areas.


The tribals (of Dooars) are carrying so many problems from the colonial period to the present era. Many discontents and grievances have grown up in the minds of neglected and depressed people. They have been feeling cries of losing their lands, ethnicity, cultural heritage, and freedom of identity for centuries.

Economic oppression, subjugation, and deprivation threaten the people every time. A considerable amount of tribal people step into the western provinces of the country to earn more money. Several times, the tribes are cheated by the middle man, civilized people. The tradition is going on and there is no positive sign of development. Different political leaders in different regimes use them as vote banks, even the tribal political leaders are there for their ethnic origin and identity, but not known among the tea garden workers. The tea garden workers expend their time in very pathetic conditions when the tea garden remains closed for several months to several years. No single article is sufficient to discuss their miserable conditions.

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