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The Neglected Tribes of Jharkhand

Jharkhand state is well known for two things - its abundant mineral wealth and its variegated tribal population. Having only recently acquired its own separate identity, this state is a heaven for all types of people - entrepreneurs, academicians, politicians, social scientists, botanists, zoologists, geologists, geographers, social workers, miners, businessmen, archaeologists - the list is endless. It is also known as an example of how a simple, illiterate, poor, unorganized, voiceless people can be, and mercilessly have been, exploited by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats wielding unbridled power that only a democracy can bestow.

Jharkhand is a land of hills and forests, rivers and plains, ravines and passes, wild animals and domesticated cattle. Its landmass - the famed Gondwana land - is one of the oldest on the earth. Its flora and fauna are a delight to the biologists, its people even more so to the anthropologists and other social scientists.

Thirty types of tribes inhabit Jharkhand - ranging from the hunter-gatherer Birhor through the swiddeners Maler to the settled agriculturist Munda and Oraon. Population-wise, from less than a thousand Banjara to more than two million Santhal occupy the forests and plains of Jharkhand. But, as they say, not all people are born equal; certainly some are born more equal than the others. As we shall see same is true of the tribes in Jharkhand as well.

The thirty tribes of Jharkhand were categorised by Vidyarthi (1958) in the following manner:-

  1. Hunter-gatherers - Birhor, Korwa, Parhaiya etc.
  2. Shifting Cultivators - Sauria Paharia, Mal Paharia, Birjia, Asur etc.
  3. Simple Artisans - Mahli, Chik Baraik, Lohra, Karmali etc.
  4. Settled Agriculturists - Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Kharia, Kharwar, etc.

With the passage of time, and with growing awareness of the developmental issue, the scene has changed somewhat. The special provisions for scheduled tribes, including reservation in jobs and representation in assemblies and parliament, were put into effect. A number of development schemes and programmes were conceived and implemented in various aspects of their life. These have altered the social structure of tribal Jharkhand to some extent. In 1975 the concept of PTG (Primitive Tribal Groups) emerged in which the tribes pursuing hunting-gathering, and swiddening (shifting cultivation) were included, and special developmental programmes for them were initiated. In Jharkhand nine tribes have been classified as PTG- Asur, Birhor, Savar, Hill Kharia, Korwa, Birjia, Sauria Paharia, Mal Paharia, and Parhaiya. Since Hill Kharia in this group is a section of Kharia which is a part of settled agriculturist group, some confusion is being created as to the number of PTG in Jharkhand. Here we shall treat it also in the PTG, although the total number of tribes will remain thirty.

In this paper I propose a new four-fold classification of Jharkhand tribes taking into account the changing scene, and politico-administrative perspective in conceiving and implementing various tribal development schemes and programmes. This classification is a variation of the earlier one proposed by Vidyarthi.

  1. Settled Agriculturists
  2. Simple Artisans
  3. Primitive Tribal Group
  4. Neglected Tribes

We shall see a thumbnail sketch of each group.


The Settled Agriculturists

The settled agriculturists are the most populous and constitute nearly 87 percent of the total tribal population. They are the dominant tribes of Jharkhand and hold economic and political power. Their numerical preponderance ensures their political superiority, and bigger land holding their economic strength. They allow other minor tribal groups to work in their fields and thus hold considerable influence over others. They are the most developed group and hog most of the benefits earmarked for the tribals, including reservation in jobs and elections. Being the most educated, they are most aware of the opportunities available and are able to take maximum advantage. They have been studied the most by the scholars, administrators, academicians, social scientists etc. since the British times and hundreds of books and articles have been published on them. The settled agriculturists are in a position to influence the Government's tribal policy. Their social, political, religious, and economic lives, as well as their art and crafts, folk tradition, their problems, their dance, drama, music etc. are best known.

Settled Agriculturists of Jharkhand
Name of TribePopulation (1991)Literacy (1981)
Total PopulationPercent of Total
Tribal Population
PercentPercent of Total
Tribal Literacy
Bhumij1559612.35%16.452.26
Gond1043771.57%20.001.96
Ho6315489.54%17.719.62
Kharia1403622.12%24.863.57
Kharwar2425583.66%17.223.89
Munda92014713.9%22.1618.98
Oraon121470818.35%23.2824.71
Santhal234949235.5%12.5526.19
Total57,59,15386.99% 91.18
Average per tribe7,19,89410.87%

The average population per tribe in this group is 7,19,894 and average percentage of population per tribe is 10.87. These major settled agriculturists tribes have about 91 percent of total tribal literates in the state. Even Santhal who have the lowest literacy rate in the major tribal group have the highest number of literates because of their maximum population. They are able to wrest the leadership. The Munda, Santhal and Oraon in this group are well known all over the world.


The Simple Artisans

The simple artisan tribes, all the four of them, are scattered throughout Jharkhand. They live in villages dominated by one or more of the settled agriculturists. None of the artisan tribes have an exclusive village of their own. They are the service tribes of Jharkhand and their social and economic position is akin to the Other Backward Castes of the non-tribal areas of Jharkhand and Bihar. They provide the agriculturists their basic material needs like utensils, implements, clothes, tools, and weapons. In any given village only a few families of these artisan tribes reside, and eke out their livelihood through Jajmani relationship with others. They also have been studied in detail.

Artisan Tribes of Jharkhand
Name of TribePopulation (1991)Literacy (1981)
Total PopulationPercent of Total
Tribal Population
PercentPercent of Total
Tribal Literacy
Chik Baraik465630.70%20.170.82
Karmali525760.76%13.300.52
Lohra1808062.73%12.712.18
MahliI076411.62%12.741.18
Total2,79,9455.81%4.7
Average per tribe69,986.251.45%

The artisan tribes constitute 5.81 percent of the total tribal population and have 4.7 percent of total literates. The average population of artisan tribes is 69,986 and average percent population is 1.45 percent of total tribal population.


The Primitive Tribal Group

The PTG, on the other hand, are the administratively most cared-for tribes. They comprise of the hunter-gatherer and shifting cultivator groups. They are the objects of study by the academicians, targets of development programmes by the development policy planners, people of special treatment by the administrators. This group is fully in the limelight, though constituting only a fraction of the total tribal population of Jharkhand. Any number of developmental programmes is running for their benefit. Academicians, social scientists, and NGOs find a study of this group highly rewarding and lucrative.

The Primitive Tribal Groups in Jharkhand
Name of TribePopulation (1991)Literacy (1981)
Total PopulationPercent of Total
Tribal Population
PercentPercent of Total
Tribal Literacy
Asur96230.14%10.37%0.08
Binjhia130900.19%14.52%0.15
Birhor81590.12%5.74%0.03
Birjia51910.07%10.50%0.04
Korwa237480.35%6.14%0.14
Mal Paharia867901.31%7.38%0.61
Parhaiya304210.45%15.30%0.37
Sauria Paharia487610.73%6.87%0.28
Savar42640.06%9.55%0.03
Total2,30,0473.42%86.37%1.73
Average per tribe25,5610.38%

These primitive tribal groups in Jharkhand constitute 3.42 percent of total tribal population in the state. This works out to about 25,561 persons per tribe or 0.38 percent of total tribal population per tribe. They have only 1.73 percent of total tribal literates in the state. These tribes are genuinely primitive, dependent as they are on hunting, food collecting, fishing, shifting cultivation, collection of minor forest produce etc. For ages they have been living in, rather living on, the forests. With the introduction of various forest protection laws their existence has become very precarious as these laws have hit them hard. Various studies show that, especially in the Reserved Forest areas and sanctuaries such as Betala in Palamau, and National Park in Hazaribagh, their life is cheaper than that of the animals. Dwindling forests have made their traditional occupation totally unproductive. They are unable to adjust to the newer occupations because their culture still is a product of the older traditions; and to the various development and welfare programmes instituted by the govt., because their ethos cannot accept these. They are truly a wretched lot, and it is apparent to all concerned.


The Neglected Tribes

The rest of the tribes, nine of them, are what I propose to call the Neglected Tribes of Jharkhand. These tribes are Baiga, Banjara, Bathudi, Bedia, Chero, Gorait, Khond, Kisan, and Kora.

The Neglected Tribes of Jharkhand
Name of TribePopulation (1991)Literacy (1981)
Total PopulationPercent of Total
Tribal Population
PercentPercent of Total
Tribal Literacy
Baiga39300.05%4.220.02
Banjara847Neg.12.380.01
Bathudi27060.04%16.930.02
Bedia721131.08%10.820.66
Chero674471.01%17.300.92
Gorait59260.08%16.610.09
Khond55190.08%15.990.03
Kisan307660.46%13.410.32
Kora399030.60%9.280.32
Total2,29,1573.35%2.39
Average per tribe25,461.890.37%

They are numerically insignificant, economically weak, politically ineffective, and educationally scrawny. They have neither sufficient land nor assured means of livelihood. These tribes depend upon their more affluent brethren in the settled tribal groups for jobs in the fields of the latter as agriculture labourers and wage earners. They supplement their meagre income by collecting the Minor Forest Produce and working as contract labourers, rickshaw pullers, coolies, etc. These tribes have been totally neglected by academicians, administrators, social scientists, politicians, development scheme planners etc. Hardly a few articles are available on them. One cannot find a single full-length monograph on these tribes.

The average population of Neglected Tribes of Jharkhand is 25,461 and average percent population is 0.37 percent. They constitute 3.45 percent of total tribal population, slightly less than the P T G. Their share of literates is only 2.39 percent of total tribal literates in the state, marginally higher than the P T G. Though not pursuing hunting and shifting cultivation, their method of farming is quite primitive, and their economic security is equally precarious. The following table summarises the different groups.

Tribal GroupNumber of TribesTotal PopulationPercent of Total Tribal PopulationPercent of Total Tribal Literacy
Settled Agriculturists8575915387.1991.18
Simple Artisans42799455.814.70
Primitive Tribal Group92300473.551.73
Neglected Tribes92291573.452.39

The above table makes it abundantly clear that there is little difference between the P T G and the Neglected Tribal groups, yet the latter have no special programmes of development earmarked for them. No welfare projects run for them. Since they are neither as exotic as the Hunter-gatherers, nor as numerous as other major tribes, there is none to hear their grievances. They are neither able to attract the monograph authors, nor able to influence the political leaders. Moreover, there is little, if any, chance of their ever getting the benefit of reservation in assembly and parliament elections, as no party will select a candidate belonging to a numerically insignificant group, electoral politics being what it is in India today. Their plight remains unseen and unheard. Theirs is the classic case of silent babies not getting the milk. Yet they are as much a part of tribal scene in Jharkhand as any other tribe.


Academic Neglect

It is ironic, and perhaps symptomatic of the plight of the neglected tribes, that no full-scale monograph has ever been attempted on any of these neglected tribes. It is also regrettable and a matter of great concern that the only serious account of these tribes is more than one century old - the Tribes and Castes of Bengal by Risley (1891). This book, too, is based on census and does not provide a detailed description of the tribes and castes, only a sketchy account. We shall take the example of Bedia, on whom a major research project was recently completed by the author. Only thirteen publications have some reference to Bedia. starting from 1872, 130 years ago. Ten of these are Census publications, or are based on census reports. Again, seven were published before independence. Two were published by British administrators 130 and 125 years ago, both referring to Bedia tribe among other communities.

Two of the publications are in the form of directories, one on the tribes of erstwhile Bihar 41 years ago, The Land and People of Tribal Bihar (1961) by N. Prasad, and the other, The Scheduled Tribes, by K.S. Singh (1994). The latter covers the Scheduled Tribes of entire country and is a part of People of India Project. Both of these describe various tribes in the respective areas in a few pages and the descriptions are quite sketchy. These are so general in scope as to be entirely useless for any purpose at all. Their ethnographic data is scanty and superficial.

Only two of the total publications, a small article by William Ekka, of Anthropological Survey of India, and a small booklet by C. K Shukla are devoted exclusively to Bedia. Ekka's nine page article is an outline sketch of Bedia tribe. Shukla, a Professor of Sanskrit (!), wrote the booklet in 1997 as part of Monograph Series conducted by Tribal Welfare and Research Institute, Ranchi, and covers, albeit sketchily, almost every aspect of the Bedia tribe. Both these publications are in Hindi.

Thus eleven out of thirteen publications refer to Bedia only because it is a scheduled tribe and they referred to scheduled tribes in general, not Bedia exclusively. All these references are from a few paragraphs to a few pages long. What is most galling is that the two publications after independence, that by Prasad and Singh, have not relied on fresh data that could easily have been collected, (in fact they were supposed to be collected), but both quote profusely the information given by Risley 110 years ago! This shows the way anthropological researches are being conducted by bodies set up exclusively for these researches.


Conclusion

It is obvious that Scheduled tribe is not a monolithic group. Everywhere in the country the tribes show a great variation in economic, social, political, educational, and health spheres even within the tribal group. They are also subject to differential treatment from the government and social scientists. As a consequence they have different opportunities of development which affects their probability of survival in the present circumstances - the probabilities and circumstances that are not natural but man-made. This is true not only in Jharkhand, but entire country. In every state one can find many tribes in similar state of neglect and facing similar predicament.

It is essential, therefore, to reclassify the tribal population in the country in the light of the conditions prevailing now, and re-orient the developmental programmes and perspective so that all sections of tribes get full benefit. As things stand today, there is a marked emphasis in favour of already developed sections, the settled agriculturist tribes, at the cost of least developed ones.



References

Ekka, William1982Bedia Janjati Ki Ek Sankshipta Ruprekha
Hunter, W.W.1877A Statistical Account of Bengal: Districts Hazaribagh and Lohardaga
Prasad, N.1961Land and People of Tribal Bihar, Bihar Tribal Welfare Research Institute, Ranchi
Risley, H.H.1891The Tribes and Castes of Bengal, Vol I
Shukla, C.K.1997Bihar Ke Bedia, Bihar Tribal Welfare Research Institute, Ranchi
Singh, K.S.1994The Scheduled Tribes, Oxford University Press
Vidyarthi, L.P.1976Tribal Culture of India, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi