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Tribal communities in India: Their Culture and significance

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    24th Jun, 2022


“India is a melting-pot of cultures and the Tribal communities are part of India’s diverse cultural treasury.

Article 342 of the Constitution says that-‘The Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification’. Among the tribal groups, several have adapted to modern life but there are tribal groups who are more vulnerable. The Dhebar Commission (1973) created a separate category “Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs)”. Their vulnerability is not because of their primitive existence and non-inclusion in modern practises of societies, but due to their significant culture and diverse livelihood practises. They are important for India’s diversity which is our strength and world know us for our ‘Unity in Diversity’.

Scheduled Tribes in India

  • According to the 2011 Census, the Scheduled Tribes account for 104 million representing 6% of the country’s population.
  • These Scheduled Tribes are spread throughout the country largely in forest and hilly regions.
  • The essential characteristics of these communities are:-
    • Primitive Traits
    • Geographical isolation
    • Distinct culture
    • Shy of contact with community at large
    • Economically backwards
  • As in the case of the Supreme Court, the Plan objective of empowering the tribals is being achieved through a three-pronged strategy of social empowerment, economic empowerment and social justice.

State-wise Schedule Tribe distribution

  • There are more than 705 tribes of Indiathat have had their presence in the country for a long time.
  • Each community has its own individuality that separates it from the other tribes.
  • All of these communities share one thing in common and that’s the disconnection from the outside world.
  • They are unaware of the technology and developments going around the globe and somehow they are happy with this decision. 

Andhra Pradesh

Andh And Sadhu Andh, Bhil, Bhaghata, Dhulia,rona, Kolam, Gond, Thoti, Goundu, Kammara, Savaras, Dabba Yerukula, Sugalis, Nakkala, Pardhan, Gadabas, Chenchus A.k.a Chenchawar, Kattunayakan, Jatapus, Manna Dhora

Arunachal Pradesh

Singpho, Monpa, Abor, Sherdukpen, Galo, Apatanis


Khasis, Chakma, Dimasa, Gangte, Garos, Hajong, Chutiya


Gond, Birjia, Asur, Savar, Parhaiya, Chero, Birhor, Santhals, Baiga


Nagasia, Biar, Khond, Agariya, Bhattra, Mawasi, Bhaina,


Varli, Dubia, Siddi, Dhodia, Naikda


Patelia, Bhil, Dhodia, Bamcha, Barda, Paradhi, Charan, Gamta

Himachal Pradesh

Swangal, Gujjars, Lahaulas, Khas, Pangwala, Lamba, Gaddis

Jammu and Kashmir

Balti, Garra, Sippi, Bakarwal, Mon, Gaddi, Purigpa, Beda


Gonds, Birhors, Savar, Mundas, Santhals, Khaira, Bhumji


Gond, Patelia, Barda, Yerava, Bhil, Koraga, Adiyan, Iruliga,


Malai, Aarayan, Arandan, Uralis, Kurumbas, Arandan, Eranvallan

Madhya Pradesh

Kharia, Bhils, Murias, Birhors, Baigas, Katkari, Kol, Bharia, Khond, Gonds,


Warlis, Khond, Bhaina, Katkari, Bhunjia, Rathawa, Dhodia.


Thadou, Aimol, Maram, Paite, Chiru, Purum, Kuki, Monsang, Angami


Pawai, Chakma, Raba, Hajong, Lakher, Garos, Jaintias Khasis


Dimasa, Raba, Chakma, Lakher, Khasi, Synteng, Kuki, Pawai.


Nagas, Angami, Sema, Garo, Kuki, Kachari, Mikir


Gadaba, Ghara, Kharia, Khond, Matya, Oraons, Rajuar, Santhals.


Bhils, Damaria, Dhanka, Meenas(Minas), Patelia, Sahariya.


Bhutia, Khas, Lepchas.

Tamil Nadu

Adiyan, Aranadan, Eravallan, Irular, Kadar, Kanikar, Kotas, Todas.




Bhil, Bhutia, Chaimal, Chakma, Halam, Khasia, Lushai, Mizel, Namte.


Bhotias, Buksa, Jannsari, Khas, Raji, Tharu.

Uttar Pradesh

Bhotia, Buksa, Jaunsari, Kol, Raji, Tharu.

West Bengal

Asur, Khond, Hajong, Ho, Parhaiya, Rabha, Santhals, Savar.

Andaman and Nicobar

Oraons, Onges, Sentinelese, Shompens.

Little Andaman



Abhors, Chang, Galaong, Mishimi, Singpho, Wancho.

Who are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)?

PVTGs (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) are more vulnerable among the tribal groups. Due to this factor, more developed and assertive tribal groups take a major chunk of the tribal development funds, because of which PVTGs need more funds directed for their development.

  • In 1975, the Indian Government declared 52 tribal groups as PVTGs
  • In 1993, 23 groups were added to the list.
  • Hence, there are 75 PVTGs out of 705 Scheduled Tribes.
  • Odisha has the highest number of PVTGs. In 2020, the Odisha government further identified 888 villages/hamlets inhabited by PVTGs
  • The PVTGs are spread over 18 states and one Union Territory (UT), in the country (2011 census).

Characteristics of PVTGs:

  • Population – stagnant/declining
  • Technology – pre-agricultural
  • Literacy Level – extremely low
  • Economy – Subsistence level

Significant Tribal Cultures

Amongst the huge number of tribes existing across the country, we have profiled the 30 most interesting and comparatively popular indigenous tribes in India and their culture. The culture and way of living of tribal communities depends upon the geographic region of India. Hence, we will discuss them according to the region they belong to.

Tribes from East India

  • Munda: The Munda Tribe has its main habitat in Jharkhand but their presence can be seen in other nearby states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh.
    • This tribal community is known to be one of the oldest to have lived in South Asian countries.
  • Pahari Korwa: These people majorly live on the Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand border but can also be found in the Mirzapur district of UP. 
    • Their people mostly practice a different form of agriculture which is also known as Jhoonga Kheti.
    • The people of this tribe worship Satbahini Devi and live in mud houses.
    • They have their own language which is also known as the Korwa language.  
  • Baiga: Traditionally, Baiga people preferred living a semi-nomadic life and practiced “slash-and-burn” cultivation.
    • These people use bamboo to build their houses and other household items such as baskets.
    • These people have a sweet spot for fresh honey and they use traditional techniques to collect it. 
    • Baiga tribe is also proficient in developing folk medicines by using their in-depth knowledge about medicinal plants and shrubs.
    • These people have a tattoo tradition where everyone has to get their body part tattooed at a certain age and occasion.
  • Santhal: Santhal Tribe is densely populated in Bihar. 
    • They love music and dancing. Be it a fair at any festival or occasion; Santhals always find a way to connect with music and dance.
    • There are instruments including Tirio that adds to their fun of music and dance.
  • Great Andamanese Tribes: The Great Andamanese Tribes are from the Andaman Islands and are a part of the Negrito tribal family. 
    • The staple food of this tribe includes rice, wheat, dal, and chapati.
    • The languages spoken in the community are Jeru, Khora, Andamani Hindi.

Tribes from West India

  • Warli: They are spread across Nashik, Thane, and Dhule in Maharashtra, Valsad in Gujarat, some places of Karnataka, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Goa, and Daman & Diu.
    • They are small-scale cultivators of vegetables, pulses, and rice.
    • People of the Warli Tribe don’t worship any god other than nature.
    • Warli art is based on their belief system that was established by their ancestors centuries ago and the same is being followed ever since.
  • Madia: Madia tribe or Madia Gonds or Maria are other endogamous tribes that live in the Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts of Maharashtra. 
    • The people of this tribe are skilled craftsmen and hunters who use Madia as their communication language.
    • They worship the forces of nature and their local deities.

Tribes from South India

  • Gond: Gonds are probably one of the largest tribes living in South Asian countries.
    • With over strength of 9 million people, they are probably one of the largest tribes in their world.
    • The staple food of this tribe is Kodo and kutki that are two types of millets. Consuming rice for them is a luxury and that’s done majorly during festivals and other occasions. 
    • They pray to earth, air, and water.
  • Chenchu Tribes: Chenchu tribes are prominently found in the central hilly areas of Andhra Pradesh.
    • They are hunters but some of the groups of this community collect forest products such as beedi leaves, roots, tubers, fruits, honey, gum, tamarind, mahua flower, and other items.
    • These people worship Hanuman, Lord Shiva, and Goddess of Fire. 
  • Irula Tribe: Irula lives on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. 
    • These people play a vital role in the development of anti-venoms because they are known for catching snakes not just in India, but across the world.

North-East India

  • Bodo Tribe: The majority groups of the Bodo tribe live near the Brahmaputra Valley and they are known to be the first settlers of Assam.
    • Bodo Tribe is also the first cultivator of rice and rear silkworms.
    • Bodo people love dancing and singing at festivals and other occasions.
  • Nyishi Tribe: Nyishi is one of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh that is also known as Dafla and BangnI.
    • They are mostly found in Eastern Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. They are proficient in speaking the Tibeto-Burman language.
    • They practice a slash-and-burn form of agriculture.
    • The members of this tribe follow the clan-based system of relation. 
  • Bhutia Tribes: Their main occupation of this tribe is agriculture.
    • They belong to parts of West-Bengal and Sikkim.
  • Garo Tribes: This tribe migrated from the Garo Hills to the other states of the seven sisters.
    • Wangala Festival is one of the main festivals of the Garo Tribe and they celebrate this festival with a lot of zeal.
    • It is a very colorful festival that is celebrated when the first crop is harvested.

Tribes of Central India

  • Bhil: This group can be found in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh.
    • The people of Bhil have been hunters for centuries and their expertise in using bow and arrow contributes to their name.
    • These people have now become farmers and have staple food including maize, fruits, and rice.
    • This group was also known to be an expert in guerrilla warfare.
  • Abhuj Maria: Abhuj Maria is one of those tribes of Chhattisgarh that have been living in hiding.
    • This group is not a nomad but they mainly practice “slash-and-burn” cultivation. 
    • The main festival celebrated by this group is named Kaksar that falls in June.

Tribes of North India

  • Gaddis Tribe:
    • Distribution: Himachal Pradesh
    • They mainly dwell around the Dhauladhar mountain range, Chamba, Bharmaur, and the areas near to Dharamshala
    • The main occupation is pastoralism and they make their livelihood by rearing and selling sheep, goats, mules, and horses.
    • Most of them are Hindus and a few Muslims.
    • They speak the Gaddi Language but for writing, they use Takri and Hindi.
    • Festivals: Shivarathri, Jatra.
  • Gujjars:
    • Distribution: Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir
    • The Gurjars/Gujjars were no doubt a remarkable people spread from Kashmir to Gujarat and Maharashtra, who gave an identity to Gujarat, established kingdoms, entered the Rajput groups as the dominant lineage of Badgujar, and survive today as a pastoral and a tribal group with both Hindu and Muslim segments.
    • They mainly practise pastoral and dairy farming.
    • Practice transhumance.

Tribal and their Dance forms

Indian tribal dances are simple, and they are performed to get pleasure from them. Dancing is a part of daily life and religious rituals. Traditional dancing is organised on every time, i.e. the births of children, festivals, marriage opportunities and the arrival of seasons. Indian folk and tribal dances are dance with minimal steps or movements. These folk dances of India are full of vibrancy, enthusiasm and energy.

  • Bardo Chham: This is a religious folk dance in Arunachal Pradesh and this dance is specially performed by a small community in West Kameng District.
    • They believe that every month of a year has some kind of evil power, and the community members wear some animal masks and dance with the beating of drums.
  • Dumhal: This is a classical folk dance, which is performed by the men only and this is originated by the Wattal tribe in Kashmir region.
    • They wear some colorful dress with tall caps made with some beads and shells during this dance performance and they carry some banner with some dance movements.
    • It is performed by men.
  • Chang Lo: Chang Lo is also known as Sua Luaand it is a dance form performed by Chang tribe in
  • Poanglem is one of the biggest annual festival of Chang tribe and people of this tribal community use to perform Chang Lo during these three days festivals.
  • Cheraw dance: Tribal communities in Mizoram perform this dance during their festive sessions.
  • Parvi Nach: This is a beautiful tribal dance form performed by Kokna tribal community in Maharashtra.
  • Dalkhai: Dusserahis one of the biggest Indian festivals to see this Dalkhai dance in Odisha during this festival.
    • Girls perform the dance and many types of musical instruments.
    • Some music instruments associated with dance forms are Dhol, Nisan, Mahuri and Tamki and 
  • Chhau Dance: It is dance form with martial arts and drama used in this technique.
    • This belongs to the state of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odhisa.
    • This dance is performed by wearing colourful masks.
  • Bamboo dance: Bamboo dance is performed mainly by Mizo people.
  • Both men and women can participate in this dance.
    • Most of the warrior groups of tribal in Nagaland and Mizoram perform this dance form.

Challenges faced by Indian Tribes

  • Loss of Control over Natural Resources:

With the advent of industrialisation in India and the discovery of mineral and other resources in tribal inhabited areas, the tribal pockets were thrown open to outsiders and state control replaced tribal control.

  • Lack of Education:

As per Census 2011, literacy rate of Scheduled Tribes (STs) was 59%

  • Problems of Health and Nutrition:

Because of economic backwardness and insecure livelihood, the tribals face health problems, such as prevalence of disease, like malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and jaundice, problems associated with malnutrition like iron deficiency and anaemia, high infant mortality rates, low levels of life expectancy, etc.

Measures taken towards Tribal Development

  • Constitutional Provisions and Safeguards:
    • Article 342 lays down that the President may by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within tribes or tribal communities or parts which shall for the purpose of this Constitution deemed to be Scheduled Tribes
    • Article 164 provides for a Ministry of Tribal Welfare in each of the State of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa which have large concentration of Scheduled Tribes population
    • Article 244 provides for the inclusion of a Fifth Schedule in the Constitution for incorporating provisions for the administration of Scheduled Areas and Tribes of the States which have sizeable tribal population (other than those of Assam)
    • Article 275 provides for the grant of special funds by the Union Government to State Government for promoting the welfare of Scheduled Tribes and providing them with a better administration.
  • Government Schemes:
    • Pre Matric Scholarship Scheme for ST students
    • Post Matric Scholarship Scheme for ST students
    • National Overseas Scholarship for ST students for studying abroad.
    • National Fellowship and Scholarship for Higher Education of ST students
    • Grants-in-aid to Voluntary Organisations Working for welfare of STs
    • Strengthening Education among ST Girls in Low Literacy Districts
    • Development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)
    • Special Central Assistance(SCA) to Tribal Sub-Scheme(TSS)
    • Grants-in-aid to Tribal Research Institutes
    • Panchayati Raj Inclusion in Tribal Districts:
    • Under Article 330 and 332 of the Indian Constitution, seats have been reserved for Scheduled Tribes in Lok Sabha and state Vidhan Sabhas.
    • Following the introduction of Panchayati Raj, Suitable safeguards have been provided for proper representation of the members of the Scheduled Tribes by reserving seats for them in the Gram Panchayats, Block Panchayats, District Panchayats etc.


The tribes in India are under the impact of ‘mobility and change’. There are numerous examples of tribes transforming themselves into the larger entity of the caste system; others have become Christian or Muslim. They also join the ranks of peasantry and in modern times they become wage-labourers in industries, plantations and mining. Thus, in the concept of tribe, the aspects of mobility and change should not be overlooked to conserve their culture.

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