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Scheduled Tribes and the Census: A Sociological Inquiry

The Constitution has offi cially designated all the tribal societies as scheduled tribes. While the census information has been benefi cial for administrative and developmental purposes, it suffers from several limitations, one of them being the use of fl awed defi nitions. Moreover, the offi cial term ST does not take into account the fact that the tribal societies are distinct and different from each other in many respects. The census, by applying the umbrella term ST for the purpose of enumeration, fails to capture the realities of the social worlds inhabited by these societies, and hence cannot provide correct information on the actual status of the STs.

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Scheduled Tribes and the Census: A Sociological Inquiry

A K Nongkynrih

In the first part, the article examines the term tribe and scheduled tribe. The second part discusses the social relevance of the census and ST, followed by the conclusion. The subject matter is viewed and described from the lens of a s ociological enquiry.

According to the 2001 Census, northeast India had a total population of 3,83,17,242 persons. Of this, the population of STs was 1,03,54,221 (27%). Out of the seven north-eastern states, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland had the highest concentration of STs – more than 80%, Arunachal Pradesh had more than 60%, and in the other three states the population of STs was below 35% (Table 1).

With regard to the social aspect of the region, there are more than 200 tribal societies. It is a complex chemistry of customs and traditions, resembling an a nthropological aquarium (see Table 2, p 44, which illustrates the variety of tribal societies). The characteristics of each tribal society are very unique and distinct from each other. Xaxa (2001: 203) rightly specifi es that

tribes in India are not a homogeneous category. They differ widely among themselves in respect of the regions they live in, languages they speak, physical features they display, geographical terrain they inhabit, modes in which they make their living, levels of development at which they are placed and size of community they represent.

1 Tribe and Scheduled Tribe

It is important to clarify that the introduction and use of the term “scheduled tribe” in India should be understood as a result of historical and political processes embedded in the constitutional framework of India. Scheduled tribes are found in many parts of the country, and according to the

The Constitution has offi cially designated all the tribal societies as scheduled tribes. While the census information has been beneficial for administrative and developmental purposes, it suffers from several limitations, one of them being the use of fl awed definitions. Moreover, the offi cial term ST does not take into account the fact that the tribal societies are distinct and different from each other in many respects. The census, by applying the umbrella term ST for the purpose of enumeration, fails to capture the realities of the social worlds inhabited by these societies, and hence cannot provide correct information on the actual status of the STs.

I am grateful to Rangbah Phrang Roy for sharing his views. I also wish to thank Sanjoy Barbora, V Xaxa and Nikhlesh Kumar for comments and suggestions.

A K Nongkynrih (aknongkynrih@nehu.ac.in) teaches sociology at the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong.

T
he Indian welfare state has administratively categorised the population into four broad groups: the scheduled castes (SCs), the scheduled tribes (STs), minorities and general. From among these four groups, the focus of this article will be on the STs. According to the 2001 Census, the population of STs in the country was 8,43,26,240 (i e, 8% plus) and they belong “to more than 400 groups” (Xaxa 1999: 1519). It has been pointed out that the STs “are varied in terms of socio-economic and political development” (Sharma 2007: 198). The term ST is a politico-administrative designation but socially they are not a homogeneous category and have their own ways of life and world views. For example, the Jarava and the Khasi are STs by the constitutional definition but they do not follow or practise similar customary beliefs, and both have different levels of socio-economic development. In India, however, the term ST is used and applied by the State for various purposes such as census data collection and formulating policies for tribal development, by the registrar general and commissioner of census, and by various departments or ministries of the union and state governments.

The purpose of this article is to look at the relevance of the term “scheduled tribe” in the census, and to critically examine the framework adopted by the census with respect to the STs in providing disaggregated data at various levels.

Table 1: Distribution of Tribal Population

The discussion is State STs % Others % Total

based on secondary Arunachal Pradesh 7,05,158 64.22 3,92,810 35.77 10,97,968

material and the Assam 33,08,570 12.41 2,33,46,958 87.58 2,66,55,528

quantitative data is Manipur* 7,41,141 34.20 14,25,647 65.79 21,66,788 Meghalaya 19,92,862 85.94 3,25,960 14.05 23,18,822

taken from the 2001

Mizoram 8,39,038 94.42 46,535 5.57 8,88,573

Census. The article

Nagaland 17,74,026 89.13 2,16,334 10.86 19,90,360

e xamines these ob-

Tripura 9,93,426 31.05 22,05,777 68.94 31,99,203

jectives in the context

North-east India 1,03,54,221 27.03 2,79,60,021 72.96 3,83,17,242

of the tribal societies

(1)* Excludes Mao Maram, Paomata and Purul subdivisions of Senapati district of Manipur. in north-east India. (2) The population of STs and others has been calculated out of the total population of each state.

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Table 2: Distribution of Tribes in North-East India According to the annual report of the

State Tribes

Arunachal Pradesh Aka, Apatani, Deori, Khamti, Khamba, Memba, Mishing, Miri, Khowa, Mishmi, Lisu, Miji, Monpa, Sherdukpen, Sulung, Singpho, Tangsa, Nokte, and others.

Assam Boro, Kachari, Rabha, Dimasa, Karbi, Mising, Koch, Rajbonshi, Tiwa, Garo, Gangte, Hmar, Hajong, Khasi-pnars, Santhal, Oraon, Munda and others.

Manipur Aimol, Anal, Angami, Chisu, Chota, Gangte, Hmar, Kabui, Kacha Naga, Khoirao, Kom, Lamjong, Lushai, Monsang, Maram, Marim, Mao, Mayon, Paite, Pusum, Ralte, Sema, Simte, Sukte, Thangkul, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zou, Zeliangrong, etc.

Ministry of Tribal Affairs (2007),

for a community to be identified as scheduled tribe, it should fulfil the following criteria: primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness of contact with the public at large, geographical isolation, and backwardness – social and economic.

Meghalaya Khasi-Jaintia, Garo, Karbi, Lalung, Hajong, Biate, Koch, etc.

The term ST as an administrative category

Mizoram Lushai, Hmar, Pawi, Paite, Chawte, Riang, etc.

carries two meanings: a specifi c o ffi cial

Nagaland Ao, Sema, Konyak, Lotha, Angami, Chang, Rengma, Phom, Pochuri, Sangtham, Chakesang, Yimchunger, Zeliang, Kuki, etc. identity, and the identity providing spe-

Tripura Chakma, Tripuri, Reang, Jamatia, Lushai, Kuki, Oraon, Santhal, Munda, etc. cial constitutional rights. The point that

Constitution (Bakshi 2006: 192-96) such parts are known as “scheduled areas” and “tribal areas”. The Fifth Schedule under Article 244(1) deals with tribes living in scheduled areas; and the Sixth Schedule under Articles 244(2) and 275(1) deals with tribes living in tribal areas (i e, the state of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram). There are also tribal societies which are not under any one of the schedules and have been included under other provisions of the Constitution.

Article 366(25) of the Constitution defines scheduled tribes as

such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be scheduled tribes for the purposes of this constitution.

According to Article 342,

the president may, with respect to any state or union territory, and where it is a state, after consultation with the governor there of, by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this constitution, be deemed to be scheduled tribes in relation to that state or union territory, as the case may be (2006: 140).

should be noted here is that the power to determine some section of the Indian population as STs is vested with the State. In another sense, ST is a defi nition constructed by the modern state for the purpose of administration, policymaking and developmental initiatives. However, to the social sciences in general and to the discipline of anthropology in particular, in I ndia the term “tribe” is used and conceptualised differently from that of the administrative category. This aspect has been summarised by Xaxa (1999: 1524) as follows:

Tribes are first of all invariably seen as s ociety. It is a society like all other societies.

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That is, it is made up of people; it has boundaries (people who either belong or do not). People belong to a society by virtue of the rules under which they stand, rules which impose on them regular, determinate ways of acting towards and in regard to one another. The characteristic of a tribe as a society is related through its boundaries. At the same time, boundaries have been defi ned linguistically, cultu rally and politically by anthropologists. Boundaries set certain limit of interaction in the legal, political, economic and social relations of its members. Second, a tribe is also seen as a distinctive type of society. Godelier (1977: 30), for example, sees tribal societies as being characterised by certain positive and negative features, the negatives being the absence of literacy, civilisation, industrialisation, specialisation, etc. The positive features are those absent in modern societies: social relations based on kinship bonds, all-pervasive religion, frequency of cooperation for common goals, etc. Third, tribes are seen as representing a socio-political formation which with the passage of time will move on to a new stage such as nation, nationality or nationhood.

It is interesting to understand the operational aspects of the term “tribe” and “scheduled tribe” in the Indian society by the modern democratic polity. Societies can be designated as STs if they are found to have the requisites defined by the C onstitution and can enjoy the rights of reservation in educational institutions and employment opportunities in public sector units or central government

o ffi ces. However, STs do not enjoy all privileges. For example, the STs of north-east India are exempted from paying income tax if they work and reside in scheduled areas, but if they reside and work in “general areas” they have to pay the tax. A Khasi ST of Meghalaya will not enjoy similar privileges if he/she applies for a job in a government department of any other state in the region. The adivasis of Assam are not categorised as STs, and thus do not enjoy the privileges available to the STs from the state.

The STs do enjoy constitutional rights and restricted privileges in their capacity as an administrative category. On the

o ther hand, the social anthropologists’ definition of a tribe seems to have no legal limitations or restrictions of claiming or stating oneself or as a group, as belonging to tribal societies and whether this is a ccepted or not is a matter of intellectual debate. In other words, the academic or intellectual conceptualisation of tribe has no connection either with the administrative designation or with tribal development.

2 Scheduled Tribe and Census

The office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner has disaggregated the national data on STs. This is the only organisation that provides disaggregated data on STs at the level of the country, state, district and village. The social scientists or sociologists of the country may not accept or may not use census data in their research work. However, where else can one get comprehensive disaggregated data on STs if not from the census? Academic or research institutions provide in-depth s cienti fi c information on varied issues but the coverage of such scientific studies are limited to certain regions, l ocalities or villages.

Box 1: Census Definition of Scheduled Tribes in India
Census and Year Definition
1951 Scheduled tribes included the tribes or tribal communities or parts of, or groups within tribes or tribal communities specified in the “Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order 1950” and the Constitution (scheduled tribes) (Part C States) Order 1951. Scheduled tribes belong to all religions.
1961 As specified in the president’s order.
1971 As specified in the president’s order; and if the person merely claimed to be a scheduled tribe but said that he did not belong to any of the notified communities applicable to the area, he was not regarded as scheduled tribe; and scheduled tribes may belong to any religion.
1981 Article 342; and if the person merely claimed to be a scheduled tribe but said that he did not belong to any of the notified communities applicable to the area, he was not regarded as scheduled tribe; and scheduled tribes may belong to any religion.
1991 Article 342; and if the person merely claimed to be a scheduled tribe but said that he did not belong to any of the notified communities applicable to area, he was not regarded as scheduled tribe; and scheduled tribes may belong to any religion.
2001 Article 342 provides for specification of tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which are deemed to be for the purposes of the Constitution the scheduled tribes in relation to that state or union territory. In pursuance of these provisions, the list of scheduled castes and/or scheduled tribes are notified for each state and union territory and are valid only within the jurisdiction of that state or union territory and not outside; and on religion the scheduled tribes were more or less the same as in the past censuses.
Source: Census of India 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001.

For the purpose of census and disaggregated data on STs, the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner follows the constitutional defi nition of scheduled tribes which has been in use since 1950 with some modifi cations over the decades (Box 1). The inclusion of STs in the census is because such groups have a special constitutional status, and the Constitution has outlined special provisions related to their socio-economic d evelopment. Decadal information on STs collected by the census provides to the government the status of their socioeconomic development from time to time. The disaggregated data is not merely an exercise of providing information but such information has serious implications on the national developmental framework of the country related to tribal development.

The census data on STs provides information for social scientists or sociologists who are interested in tribal studies or in understanding the socio-economic situation and the levels of development of STs in the country. It is useful for policymakers and other state agencies in developmental planning. Second, census data on STs is available at the level of the country, state, district and village, and such information can be compared at different levels depending on the intention and purpose – academic, administrative or public. Such comparison can be carried out by selecting one census variable or all the census variables on STs. One can compare the socioeconomic status of STs of different states of the country or of different districts in a state or between districts of different states of the country; and likewise the comparison can be done even at the level of the village. Another way of measuring and understanding the status of STs in the country is by comparing STs and SCs or STs and the general population. For example, the Eleventh Five-Year Plan used the census data for comparing the percentage of working and non-working population between STs and “All”. On the b asis of the census data, the plan document stated that the STs are essentially dependent on agriculture (Planning Commission 2007). Another example is the North Eastern Region Vision

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2020, which uses the census data in describing and comparing the demographic profi le of the eight states of the region and also the disaggregated information on STs (North Eastern Council and Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region 2008).

Limitations of Census Data

Census has its own limitations, and these are primarily in the 2001 Census d efi nitions. At the level of the country’s population, the census has disaggregated data on STs but the census definitions used are common for all. This is problematic because some of the definitions used and applied do not fi t in or capture the reality of the social worlds of the STs. Take the example of this census definition which stated that for the purpose of census enumeration “the list of scheduled castes and/or scheduled tribes are notified for each state and union territory and are valid only within the jurisdiction of that state or union territory and not outside”. Once a person has been offi cially designa ted as a ST, it does not necessarily mean that she also has to live only in the offi cially designated areas. It is true that STs may not enjoy ST privileges in all the states of the country. But census information is not about privileges. Therefore, the issue of not being accounted for by the census b ecause of living outside the offi cially designated areas is unjustified because nowhere does the Constitution of India state that STs cannot live in any part of the country. Second, because of the fl awed defi nition, there is a chance that STs residing outside the notified areas are not enumerated according to the offi cial designation and are listed as non-STs.

Another limitation is the definition of a household in relation to STs, which states that “a household having at least one scheduled tribe member is treated as a scheduled tribe household”. This statement is baffling because what happens if an ST person resides and lives in a household whose members are non-STs? Does it mean that such households and its non-ST members should be counted under the category of ST? If the census enumeration for such cases had been done according to the definition the probability of including non-ST persons in the demography data is very likely and the data on population of STs of the country or states of the country may be inaccurate. The more complex problem that emerges out of this defi nition is the status of those non-ST members of such households. In the census record such members could be under ST households and on the other they are not offi cially designated as STs.

On the issue of working population and occupation, and under the census variable of agricultural labourers one can identify the problem in the defi nition itself. A ccording to the census

a person who works on another person’s land for wages in money or kind or share is regarded as an agricultural labourer. She or he has no risk in the cultivation, but merely works on another person’s land for wages. An agricultural labourer has no right of lease or contract on land on which she/he works.

The definition assumes that the land tenure systems or land tenure practices of a country are uniform everywhere and so also in the case of STs in the country. It does not take into consideration that the STs of the country, in general and STs of the north-east India in particular have d ifferent land tenure practices. Tribal s ocieties of the region have both types of land, that is, private and communal land.

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Even in the case of private land, landless persons can lease or contract by entering into an agreement with the landowner. In the case of communal land, residents of villages have equal access to the land by seeking permission from the village political authority that has been endowed with this social responsibility by customary beliefs and practices. By applying the uniform definition, the particular data on this aspect is rather misleading, and does not reflect accurately the land practices of tribal societies.

The data on religion is another issue. The census takes into account only those religions which it conceives as the major ones such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. Those who do not belong to either of these are clubbed together as “others”. The word “others” is used as if to imply that such religious beliefs and practices are insignificant. The percentage of population referred to as “others” is comparatively very small and in most states of the country this was below 2% (Census 2001). However, in states such as Arunachal Pradesh, M anipur, Meghalaya and Jharkhand the percentage was between 10% and 30%. In these states the population of STs was also significant. It is a fact that in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya there are STs who uphold and practise their own indigenous religions such as Donyi Polo, Ka Niam Khasi or Ka Niam Tre, and so is the case with STs in other states of the country. The religious beliefs and practices of those STs who do not come under any of the religions specified in the census are equally important; the number of followers cannot be the yardstick to negate them or to make them insignificant under a vague word “others”. This also leads to the question of interpreting the Con stitution with regard to religion, as to whether only major religions be given the privilege of special treatment in the census or it is a matter of equal right for all types of religious beliefs and practices to be given equal treatment and rights in the census.

Another major problem is the overemphasis of the term ST. In doing so, the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner has assumed as if tribal s ocieties of India, in general and of the north-east in particular which have been offi cially designated as STs are one and the same. This is not the case because there are more than 400 tribal societies and each one of them is unique and distinct. By clubbing them together as a single unit and measuring them under such a unit, the exact socio-economic status of each one of them cannot be known. One cannot even compare the socio-economic status among tribal societies in a state or district or village. Under such a census framework, the information available is about ST and not about tribal societies d esignated as STs.

Any serious and meaningful action related to the disaggregation of census data for tribal societies officially designated as ST requires a different census framework. The framework has to take into consideration various aspects such as those highlighted in the discussion. Added to this is the dimension of land, and land in tribal societies includes everything on it and the subterranean. It must be noted that land in tribal societies is an intrinsic part of their livelihood and social worlds. To them land is their social identity and their lives are centred around it. The disaggregated data in the census should include land of the tribal societies. Without the inclusion of land as one of the important census variables the disaggregated information on STs is incomplete and without substance. Second, census data on land should broadly imply gathering information from households on landownership and size of land, dispossession, displacement, alienation, leasing and user rights.

Broadly, at one level, census has its own relevance in India, and at another level it is also affected by problems of conceptual clarity and problems of enumeration of some variables. While recognising the problem of reliability of information provided by the census, the article also a cknowledges that census is the only source which provides information on STs at the country, state and the village levels.

Conclusions

The constitutional scheduling of tribal s ocieties and the substantive investment made for them by the government over the years have brought about many positive changes. The disaggregation of census and collection of information on STs in I ndia have been beneficial for administrative and developmental purposes. However, some of the census definitions or concepts do not capture the social reality of tribal societies. Second, the fundamental issue is the use and application of the offi cial designation “ST” as the umbrella that covers and includes all tribal societies under it. ST is a constitutional term and it does not take into consideration the fact that tribal s ocieties may or may not have common problems of social and economic backwardness or that they are distinct and different from each other in many respects, including in levels of development. Due to overgeneralisation of the term ST and its use for the purpose of census enumeration and tribal developmental planning in India, tribal societies do not exist as real and distinct people, but exist as STs. As a r esult, no census information on any particular tribal society of the country is available, and tribal development focuses on the official designation only and not on tribal societies.

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