(BEING CONTINUED FROM 10/08/14)
THE ORIGIN OF RACES IN INDIA
The species known as Ramapithecus was found in the Siwalik foothills of the northwestern Himalayas. This species believed to be the first in the line of hominids lived some 14 million years ago. Researches have found that a species resembling the Australopithecus lived in India some 2 million years ago. Scientists have so far not been able to account for an evolutionary gap of as much as 12 million years since the appearance of Ramapithecus.
The people of India belong to different anthropological stocks. According to Dr. B. S. Guha, the population of India is derived from six main ethnic groups:
(1) Negritos: The Negritos or the brachycephalic (broad headed) from Africa were the earliest people to inhabit India. They are survived in their original habitat in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Jarewas, Onges, Sentelenese and Great Andamanis tribes are the examples. Studies have indicated that the Onges tribes have been living in the Andamans for the last 60,000 years. Some hill tribes like Irulas, Kodars, Paniyansand Kurumbas are found only in patches among the hills of south India on the mainland.
(2) Pro-Australoids or Austrics: This group was the next to come to India after the Negritos. They represent a race of people, with wavy hair plentifully distributed over their brown bodies, long heads with low foreheads and prominent eye ridges, noses with low and broad roots, thick jaws, large palates and teeth and small chins. Austrics tribes, which are spread over the whole of India, Myanmar and the islands of South East Asia, are said to “form the bedrock of the people”. The Austrics were the main builders of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They cultivated rice and vegetables and made sugar from sugarcane. Their language has survived in the Kol or Munda (Mundari) in Eastern and Central India.
(3) Mongoloids: These people have features that are common to those of the people of Mongolia, China and Tibet. These tribal groups are located in the Northeastern part of India in states like Assam, Nagaland and Meghalya and also in Ladakh and Sikkim. Generally, they are people of yellow complexion, oblique eyes, high cheekbones, sparse hair and medium height.
(4) Mediterranean or Dravidian: This group came to India from the Southwest Asia and appear to be people of the same stock as the peoples of Asia Minor and Crete and the pre-Hellenic Aegeans of Greece. They are reputed to have built up the city civilization of the Indus Valley, whose remains have been found at Mohenjodaro and Harappa and other Indus cities. The Dravidians must have spread to the whole of India, supplanting Austrics and Negritos alike. Dravidians comprise all the three sub-types, Paleo-Mediterranean, the true Mediterranean and Oriental Mediterranean. This group constitutes the bulk of the scheduled castes in the North India. This group has a sub-type called Oriental group.
(5) Western Brachycephals: These include the Alpinoids, Dinaries and Armenois. The Coorgis and Parsis fall into this category.
(6) Nordics: Nordics or Indo-Aryans are the last immigrants into India. Nordic Aryans were a branch of Indo-Iranians, who had originally left their homes in Central Asia, some 5000 years ago, and had settled in Mesopotamia for some centuries. The Aryans must have come into India between 2000 and 1500 B.C. Their first home in India was western and northern Punjab, from where they spread to the Valley of the Ganga and beyond. These tribes are now mainly found in the Northwest and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Many of these tribes belong to the “upper castes”.
India has habitually upheld its tradition and has sufficed as a home to umpteen cultures and people. `Unity in diversity` is one of the most spectacular features amongst the population of India. Among the diversified population, a significant portion comprises the tribal people, the aboriginal inhabitants of the primeval land. Tribal culture of India, their traditions and practices interpenetrate almost all the aspects of Indian culture and civilisation.
The different tribes in India if ever counted can move up to a mind boggling number, with all their ethnicities and impressions. In India almost a new dialect can be witnessed each new day; culture and diversification amongst the tribals can also be admired from any land direction. The tribal population is also pretty much varied and diversified. Quite manifestly, Indian tribal culture should assimilate and mirror a definitive section of the society. The current tribal population of India is approximately 20 million altogether. Each of the tribes is a distinctive community, either migrated from a different place or the original denizens of the land. These various tribes still inhabit the different parts, especially the seven states of the North-eastern region and almost each and every nook of the country. The speciality of the Indian tribes lies in their customs, cultures, beliefs and, in particular, the harmony in which they survive in unanimity with nature. Tribal living perfectly portrays a well-balanced environment, a procedure that in no way upsets the ecological balance.
In order to entirely comprehend tribal culture in India, to understand the uniqueness of their culture, a detailed study is very much required by travelling within the society. Affectionate hospitality, undemanding ways of living and earnest judgement of the opinions are some of the characteristic traits that earmark tribal cultures of India. Their customs mirror their confidence in simplicity. Most of the tribes in India possess their own gods and goddesses, reflecting the dependence of tribal people on nature and animism. Except for the few, most of the tribes in India are affable, hospitable and fun-loving, coupled with potent community bonding. Some of the tribes share patriarchal cultural ties and some of the tribal societies are inclined towards women-oriented issues. They thus have their own festivals and celebrations.
Tribal people generally firmly cling to their identity, despite external influences that had threatened tribal culture, especially after the post-independence chaotic period. However it is observed that Christianity has brought about a change that can be termed as a `total transformation` in tribal lifestyle and outlook, particularly in the North-eastern states of India.
Indian Scheduled Tribes are the group of tribal communities and was given the name `Scheduled Tribes` during the post- Independence period, under the rule of Indian Constitution. The primary criteria adopted for delimiting Indian backward communities as “Scheduled Tribes” include, traditional occupation of a definitive geographical area, characteristic culture that includes a whole range of tribal modes of life, i.e., language, customs, traditions, religious beliefs, arts and crafts, etc., archaic traits portraying occupational pattern, economy, etc., and lack of educational and economic development. The first prerequisite of Indian Scheduled Tribes in relation to a particular State or Union Territory is through a notified order of the President, after consultation with the concerned State Government. These orders can be modified consequently only through an Act of Parliament.
According to Article 342 of the Constitution of India, the President, after consulting with the State Governments concerned, has promulgated nine orders so far. This promulgation has clearly specified the Scheduled Tribes in relation to the concerned State and Union Territories. India can proudly be called the largest “tribal” population in the world. The scheduled tribes in India constituted 8.2 percent of India`s population according to 2001 census. This interprets into eighty two million people. In all, six hundred and ninety eight scheduled tribes exist at present in India. The word “scheduled tribe” is an administrative coinage, used for purposes of giving out constitutional privileges, security and benefits in independent India. Indian tribal imprint is noticeably visible in the Hindu tradition. Much of Hindu civilisation possesses tribal forerunners. The tribal element aided in delimiting the Sanskritic inheritance, as the Arthashastra, the Mahabharata and Ramayana suggest. And yet due to reasons of geography, colonial history and a number of shortcomings in post-independence era, the scheduled tribes are yet to become sophisticated and see the light of day.
The Indian scheduled tribes collectively owned property in keeping with their tradition. The colonial authorities had introduced a land administration where others infringed into traditional tribal lands on the grounds that such lands were “terra nullius”, i.e. no man`s land. This led to a series of tribal revolts against British colonial rule. And these tribal revolts have been legendary in Indian history, referring to the Malpahariya uprising in 1772, the turbulence in Kutch in 1815 and 1832, the Bhil revolt of 1818, the uprising of the Mers in Rajputana in 1820, the rebellion of the Hos in Chota Nagpur in 1831, the uprising of the Khonds in Orissa in 1846 and the Santhal rebellion in Bihar in 1855. Heroes like Birsa Munda, Kanhu Santhal and Tantya Bhil stand out valiantly in the chronicles of Indian nationalism. Indian scheduled tribes account for 55 percent of the total displaced population in India.
The Fifth and Sixth Schedules under Article 244 of Indian Constitution in 1950 provided for self-governance in particular tribal majority areas. The then governmental administration issued a draft National Policy on Tribals in 1999 to meet the developmental needs of tribal populations, including the scheduled tribes. Prominence was laid on education, forestry, health care, land rights, language policy and resettlement. Efforts were also made to differentiate tribal languages such as Bodo language, Gond language and Santhali language. The then Government had established a Ministry of Tribal Affairs. It designated out the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in acknowledgment of tribal sentiment. The subsequent governmental administration drafted the `controversial` Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill in 2005 to deal with their needs.
The Scheduled Tribes in India, also referred to as adivasis (original inhabitants), are spread across the central, northeast, and southern regions of India. These various tribes resided in India long before the Aryans had arrived roughly in 1500 B.C. The tribals were however socially and geographically isolated, following the entry of the Aryans and then consequently the Muslims and the British. More than six hundred and fifty tribes that make up the Scheduled Tribes speak a multitude of languages. They are also religiously diverse, with some following animism, while others have adopted Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity. The social traditions of most tribals make them stand out from the country`s mainstream Hindu population.
Along with being geographically and socially isolated, the tribal groups have historically been politically under-represented. Their regions of residence also have been economically underdeveloped. Scheduled tribe status under the Indian Constitution has designated reserved seats for tribals in political forums, such as the parliament, along with job reservations in the civil service and educational institutions. Some of the noted scheduled tribes in India comprise: Andamanese, Bodo, Bhils, Chakma, Dhodia Tribes of Gujarat, Gonds, Khasis, aboriginal people of Lakshadweep, Kurichiya, Kurumbar, Tripuris, Mizos, Mundaris, Nagas, Nicobarese, Oraon, Santals, Todas, Maldharis of Gujarat, Cholanaikkan, Warli, Kisan Tribe, Dongria Kondh, Bonda, Kutia Kondh, and Bishapus A`Mishapus.
Composition and Location – India tribal Population
Indian tribes constitute roughly 8 percent of the nation’s total population, nearly 68 million people according to the 1991 census. One concentration lives in a belt along the Himalayas stretching through Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh in the west, to Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland in the northeast (see fig. 1). Another concentration lives in the hilly areas of central India (Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and, to a lesser extent, Andhra Pradesh); in this belt, which is bounded by the Narmada River to the north and the Godavari River to the southeast, tribal peoples occupy the slopes of the region’s mountains. Other tribals, the Santals, live in Bihar and West Bengal. There are smaller numbers of tribal people in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, in western India in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The extent to which a state’s population is tribal varies considerably. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, upward of 90 percent of the population is tribal. However, in the remaining northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Tripura, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30 percent of the population. The largest tribes are found in central India, although the tribal population there accounts for only around 10 percent of the region’s total population. Major concentrations of tribal people live in Maharashtra, Orissa, and West Bengal. In the south, about 1 percent of the populations of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are tribal, whereas about 6 percent in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are members of tribes.
There are some 573 communities recognized by the government as Scheduled Tribes and therefore eligible to receive special benefits and to compete for reserved seats in legislatures and schools. They range in size from the Gonds (roughly 7.4 million) and the Santals (approximately 4.2 million) to only eighteen Chaimals in the Andaman Islands. Central Indian states have the country’s largest tribes, and, taken as a whole, roughly 75 percent of the total tribal population live there.
Apart from the use of strictly legal criteria, however, the problem of determining which groups and individuals are tribal is both subtle and complex. Because it concerns economic interests and the size and location of voting blocs, the question of who are members of Scheduled Tribes rather than Backward Classes (see Glossary) or Scheduled Castes (see Glossary) is often controversial. The apparently wide fluctuation in estimates of South Asia’s tribal population through the twentieth century gives a sense of how unclear the distinction between tribal and nontribal can be. India’s 1931 census enumerated 22 million tribal people, in 1941 only 10 million were counted, but by 1961 some 30 million and in 1991 nearly 68 million tribal members were included. The differences among the figures reflect changing census criteria and the economic incentives individuals have to maintain or reject classification as a tribal member.
These gyrations of census data serve to underline the complex relationship between caste and tribe. Although, in theory, these terms represent different ways of life and ideal types, in reality they stand for a continuum of social groups. In areas of substantial contact between tribes and castes, social and cultural pressures have often tended to move tribes in the direction of becoming castes over a period of years. Tribal peoples with ambitions for social advancement in Indian society at large have tried to gain the classification of caste for their tribes; such efforts conform to the ancient Indian traditions of caste mobility (see Caste and Class, ch. 5). Where tribal leaders prospered, they could hire Brahman priests to construct credible pedigrees and thereby join reasonably high-status castes. On occasion, an entire tribe or part of a tribe joined a Hindu sect and thus entered the caste system en masse. If a specific tribe engaged in practices that Hindus deemed polluting, the tribe’s status when it was assimilated into the caste hierarchy would be affected.
Since independence, however, the special benefits available to Scheduled Tribes have convinced many groups, even Hindus and Muslims, that they will enjoy greater advantages if so designated. The schedule gives tribal people incentives to maintain their identity. By the same token, the schedule also includes a number of groups whose “tribal” status, in cultural terms, is dubious at best; in various districts, the list includes Muslims and a congeries of Hindu castes whose main claim seems to be their ability to deliver votes to the party that arranges their listing among the Scheduled Tribes.
A number of traits have customarily been seen as establishing tribal rather than caste identity. These include language, social organization, religious affiliation, economic patterns, geographic location, and self-identification. Recognized tribes typically live in hilly regions somewhat remote from caste settlements; they generally speak a language recognized as tribal.
Unlike castes, which are part of a complex and interrelated local economic exchange system, tribes tend to form self-sufficient economic units. Often they practice swidden farming–clearing a field by slash-and-burn methods, planting it for a number of seasons, and then abandoning it for a lengthy fallow period–rather than the intensive farming typical of most of rural India. For most tribal people, land-use rights traditionally derive simply from tribal membership. Tribal society tends to be egalitarian, its leadership being based on ties of kinship and personality rather than on hereditary status. Tribes typically consist of segmentary lineages whose extended families provide the basis for social organization and control. Unlike caste religion, which recognizes the hegemony of Brahman priests, tribal religion recognizes no authority outside the tribe.
Any of these criteria can be called into question in specific instances. Language is not always an accurate indicator of tribal or caste status. Especially in regions of mixed population, many tribal groups have lost their mother tongues and simply speak local or regional languages. Linguistic assimilation is an ongoing process of considerable complexity. In the highlands of Orissa, for example, the Bondos–a Munda-language-speaking tribe–use their own tongue among themselves. Oriya, however, serves as a lingua franca in dealings with Hindu neighbors. Oriya as a prestige language (in the Bondo view), however, has also supplanted the native tongue as the language of ritual. In parts of Assam, historically divided into warring tribes and villages, increased contact among villagers began during the colonial period and has accelerated since independence. A pidgin Assamese developed while educated tribal members learned Hindi and, in the late twentieth century, English.
Self-identification and group loyalty are not unfailing markers of tribal identity either. In the case of stratified tribes, the loyalties of clan, kin, and family may well predominate over those of tribe. In addition, tribes cannot always be viewed as people living apart; the degree of isolation of various tribes has varied tremendously. The Gonds, Santals, and Bhils traditionally have dominated the regions in which they have lived. Moreover, tribal society is not always more egalitarian than the rest of the rural populace; some of the larger tribes, such as the Gonds, are highly stratified.