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.
Historically, 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 that is no man`s land. This practise has more less continued even in independent India leading to disturbances in the tribal areas and to the rise of left-wing Maoist gropus.
Indian scheduled tribes account for 55 percent of the total displaced population in India.
Some of the noted scheduled tribes in India comprise: Andamanese, Bodo, Garo, Bhil, Chakma, Dhodia Tribes of Gujarat, Gonds, Khasis, aboriginal people of Lakshadweep, Kurichiya, Kurumbar, Toda, Tripuris, Mizos, Kharia, Mundaris, Ulladan, Naga Tribe, Nicobarese, Oraon, Santhal, Todas, Dhanwar, Pao, Maldharis of Gujarat, Cholanaikkan, Warli, Kisan Tribe, Dongria Kondh, Lepcha, Bhutia, Birhor, Subba, Bonda, Kutia Kondh, and Bishapus A`Mishapus, Jatapus, Konda Kapus, Kotia, Abor, Phake, Baiga, Velip, Chamar.
Besides being a classification of a suppressed and underdeveloped group of people, the word 'Scheduled Tribe' is also an administrative coinage, used for purposes of giving out constitutional privileges, security and benefits in independent India.
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.
The scheduled tribes in India constituted 8.2 percent of India`s population, according to 2001 census. In all, six hundred and ninety eight scheduled tribes exist at present 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.
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.