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An Empirical Study of the Socio-economic Status of Baiga Tribe of Central India

The category of primitive tribal group was created to include those groups that were considered the poorest of the poor. The particularly vulnerable tribal groups, earlier known as PTGs, are characterised by forest-based livelihoods, pre-agriculture level of existence, stagnant or declining population, extremely low literacy, and a subsistence economy. This article investigates different aspects of the socio-economic life of the Baiga tribe, a PVTG of central India.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “a tribe is a group of people in a primitive or barbarous stage of development acknowledging the aut­hority of a chief and usually regarding themselves as having a common ancestor.” India has the world’s second largest concentration of tribal population next to Africa. According to the 2011 Census, the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population in India is 104.3 million (8.6%). This accounted for about one-fourth of the total tribal population of the world. The STs comprise 11.3% of the Indian rural population and 2.8% of the Indian urban population. In 2001, the proportion of STs to the total population was 8.2%, while the proportion was 10.4% in rural areas and 2.4% in urban areas. The total male ST population, according to the 2011 Census, is 5,24,09,823 of which 4,71,26,341 are residing in rural areas and 52,83,482 are in urban areas. The total female ST population is 5,18,71,211 with 4,66,92,821 in rural areas and 51,78,390 in urban areas. The sex ratio among STs is 991 females to every 1,000 males in rural areas and 980 females to every 1,000 males in urban areas, the average being 990. Madhya Pradesh (MP) is home to the largest number of tribes in the country.

Baiga: A Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group

The signifier “tribal” is merely a product of the community’s engagement with the state and external society. In 1976 and thereafter in 1993, a distinction was made within the tribal community. The category of primitive tribal group (PTG) was created to incl­ude those groups that were considered the poorest of the poor. The particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs), earlier known as PTG, are characterised by (i) forest-based livelihoods; (ii) pre-agriculture level of existence; (iii) stagnant or declining population; (iv) extremely low literacy; and (v) a subsistence economy. The 28th Stan­ding Committee on Labour Welfare, which focused on the development of the PVTGs, concluded that there has not been much progress on this front. In spite of special provisions for PVTGs since the Fifth Five Year Plan, no state government has proposed the deletion of any group from the list.

As per the 2001 Census, the population of PVTGs in India was 27,68,322. The National Advisory Council, in its recommendations for 2013 on development challenges to the PVTGs, has pointed out the lack of authentic data on the population and the current habitat of these groups. There are 75 PVTGs that live across 17 states and one union territory in India.

Review of Literature

Socio-economic condition is the combined total measure of a person’s ­social and economic work experience and of an individual’s or family’s econo­mic and social position based on income, education, and occupation in relation to others (Bhattacharya 2014).

Detailed documentation of sociolo­gical, anthropological and economic sph­­eres of Baigas’ lives has been depicted by the legendary British scholar Verrier Elwin (1939). Besides the work of Russell and Hiralal (1975), Philip McEldowney’s (1980) PhD thesis on Baigas and books by Madhav Gadgil and Ramchandra Guha, and R K Gautam (2009) have made substantial contributions to building a corpus of knowledge related to the Baiga tribe. Elwin (1939), in his book The Baiga, made an intrinsically Indian ethnic expression about the livelihood of the Baigas. He wrote that Baigas were like the bare holy cows of India who were timid, inno­cuous, and did not have any foresight to plan for their livelihood. They were dependent on the then unlimited resources of the forests, wherever they lived.


The research focuses on the following objectives: First, to study the social struc­tures, rituals, social problems, health and nutrition issues, and other aspects of the Baiga tribe and analyse changes that are taking place in their culture and lifestyle. Second, to study the changing livelihood patterns, business senses, banking behaviours, farm and non-farm production and marketing, participation in government-sponsored programmes like the Mah­atma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and other economic aspects of the Baiga tribe. Third, to study the impact of different government programmes in the development and welfare of the Baiga community. Fourth, to study the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the welfare and development of the Baiga community.

The research studies the social, cultural, and economic life of the Baiga tribe. It simultaneously analyses and ­records the elements and features that have withstood the test of time and continue to be practised by the Baiga community.


The study was conducted in the Sidhi, Anuppur, and Shahdol districts of MP in central India. The following tools and techniques have been used to collect the primary and secondary data for the study: 50 respondents belonging to the Baiga tribe were randomly selected for interview and collection of data. A pretested schedule was applied on res­pon­dents to get the relevant information. The schedule contained information reg­ard­ing personal details, social structure, socio-economic problems, health and nutrition issues, livelihood patterns, farm and non-farm production, and welfare and development measures taken by government, panchayat, and NGOs.

Effort was made to collect information on different members of the households through the heads of the families. Due to the non-availability or fragmentation of family or illness of the head of the family, a second elder man was selected as a
respondent. Schools, anganwadi ken­dra (Integrated Child Development Services [ICDS]), community health centres, and panchayats were visited to take stock of the functioning of the centre. The focus group discussions (FGDs) and interactions were also held with the people of the Baiga tribe. This helped in gathering more information and better understanding of their thought processes. Schedule was filled by researchers and the representatives of voluntary organisations based in Sidhi, Shahdol, and Anuppur districts.

Results are analysed and conclusions drawn on the basis of the information collected through the schedule, observations, and FGDs.


Building rapport with tribes: Building a warm rapport is the most imp­ortant part of fieldwork for ant­hropological or tribal studies. Therefore, commensurate time was spent in meeting with people’s elected representatives, mukhiyas (village elder men), representatives of voluntary organisations, and youths and women of the selected villa­ges. Although villagers were not clear about the purpose and reason for undertaking the research, but with the persuasion from the sarpanch (village head) and representatives of voluntary organisations, they started talking about their culture, lifestyle, economy, social structure, livelihood, and their problems in the present context. This indeed was significant and helped in understanding the issues and moving forward with interviewing respondents. As part of the study and out of sheer interest, different tribal habitats were visited to understand the situation and living conditions and recognise the problems faced by the tribal communities. There was ­active participation in different cultural activities and meetings to establish a good rapport with the villagers.


Observations: While collecting data through the above methods, both participatory and non-participatory observation methods were used to get more insights and to stren­gthen the research. It was helpful during the field visit to understand the real ­socio-economic conditions and problems of the area.


Individual interview: A survey of 128 households was condu­cted. Respondents were interviewed thr­ough a schedule about their family statuses, economic possessions and statuses, their educational and cultural patterns and life problems, etc.


Focus group discussion: Data were also collected from the community with the help of FGDs. It was aimed at coll­ecting information from 15 to 20 people sitting together and sharing their opinion about the socio-economic condition and problems of the villages.

FGDs were organised to collect information and seek opinion of communities on different aspects. With the help of a local volunteer and representatives of NGOs, discussions were initiated, facilitated, and recorded. This helped in gathering reliable and authentic data thr­ough a group filtration process.

Since the study is based on a sample survey, the majority of the data was coll­ected from the villagers through an int­er­view with the help of the schedule. The age group of the people interviewed was 18 years and above.


Sampling: Through random sampling, 150 persons were selected as respondents from six villages of three districts, that is, two villages from each district, that is, Karkati and Bemhouri from Shahdol district; Gattatola and Mouhari villages from Anu­ppur district; and Lurghuti and Dubari Kala from Sidhi district to represent the universe. In the above-mentioned villages, there are 284 households in total. Out of 284 households, 128 households have been taken for the study. The sample comes to 45.07% of the households under study.


Data from secondary sources: Secondary sources included published literature, census data, maps, statistical data, published and unpublished reports, annual reports, progress reports, research papers, articles, and books on tribes. These sources were used frequently in order to generate relevant additional inf­orma­tion for the study. Data available in various government documents were consulted while observing the field situations. Data were collected from block development offices, Baiga Development Authority, the zilla panchayat, and NGOs.

Findings and Analysis

Fifty-six per cent of the respondents said that there has always been insecurity of livelihood for them. Agriculture is the prime source of livelihood for 68% of the res­pondents with eno­ugh land. Twenty-nine per cent res­pon­dents are daily labo­urer in agriculture, employees or working on contractual employment since they have no agri­cultural land. Three per cent of the respondents with less than two acres of land work as labourer in the MGNREGA or seasonal empl­oyment. Hun­ting and fishing is the third most popular livelihood that is adopted by 23% of the households. Forest produce gathering follo­wed by animal grazing are the fifth and sixth ranked livelihoods. During FGDs, it was found that few Baiga community members are involved in country liquor distillation and vending.

Ninety-eight per cent of the respondents practice Hindu religion, while 2% did not disclose their religion.

Fourty-seven per cent of the respondents do not have any skill except to work in agricultural farms or to work as unski­lled and seasonal labour.

Fifty-three per cent of the respondents are uneducated, while 76% of the respon­­dent’s children are educated. This can be the result of free education and mid-day meals (MDMs) offered to students under Sarva Shiksh Abhiyan. The level of education among respondents of Karkati was very high. Eighty-one per cent of the respondents were educated. The higher level of education is due to proximity to Burhar town. Another reason for the higher levels of education is due to employment opportunities available in coal mines and other organisations.

It was found that there is one person with special ability in the home of 4% of the respondents. Sixty-five per cent of the res­pondents are unaware about the provisions and facilities for the welfare of these persons.

The Baiga tribe had good health due to their day-to-day life and proximity with nature. Fourty-seven per cent of the respondents said that there has not been any severe health disorder in their family.

The whole country suffers from the gro­wing number of court cases and pendency. Former Chief Justice of India, M N Venkatachaliah, had expressed his anxiety over it. But only 4% of respondents said that there is a court case in the name of a family member. Lurghuti vill­age has only three cases filed in different courts.

The highest annual income of the res­pondents was from Karkati village. While the lowest average income was from Lurghuti village. The average annual income of the respondents was `25,400 per annum.

The impact of globalisation is clearly visible in tribal communities. Seventy per cent of the res­pondents said that they are now living as a small unit family. Only 23% of the res­pondents said they believe in a joint family system and would like to do so in future.

In most of the project villages, Baigas live with other communities but with a difference. Baiga and Gonds both are STs in MP, but 56% of the respondents said that Gonds are the dominant community. During the FGDs, the same version appeared.

Thirty-five per cent of the respondents said that addiction is common in all households, even among youths. Twenty per cent admi­tted that country liquor made from ­mahua was available in their homes at that moment. Fifty-four per cent of the respondents said that they know the art of making country liqour.

Seventy per cent of the respondents said that they do not differentiate bet­ween a male and female child. However, 22% admitted that there is gender discrimination in tribal community.

On household expenditure, average expenditure on food was the highest with `12,500 annually, clothing came second with `5,400, festive and entertainment was third with `4,300 per annum, travel and transport on fourth with `4,100, and health came fifth with an expenditure of `2,300 annually.

Eighty-five per cent of the respondents said that there is a good impact of health faci­lities provided by the government like Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY). Fifteen per cent of the res­pondents said that they have not used any government facility related to health since primary and community health centres were located far away and doctors were not always available.

Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents said that they have an interest in learning, while 43% said that they forget the practice of learning.

On the question of election in panch­ayats and panchayat leadership, 78% were satisfied with the present system of leadership, while 22% felt that the system needs revisiting.

Eighty-two per cent of the respondents said that they use indigenous me­dicines for the treatment of patients. Eighteen per cent of the res­pondents said that they visit doctors on being severely ill.

Eighty-seven per cent of the respondents said that the delivery of infants takes place in hospitals. The government provisions ensure health upkeep of both the mother and infant, reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in tribal areas.

Sixty-four per cent of the respondents said that they are aware of the benefits of the MGNREGA, JSY, anganwadi, and MDM schemes and are unaware of the provision of these sche­mes. Thirty-six per cent of the respondents said that they did not know much about the government schemes.

Sixty-nine per cent of the respondents said that wells are the single source of drinking water. Twenty-four per cent said that they use hand pumps for drinking water. Seven per cent of the respondents said that they use water from ponds, seasonal null­ahs (streams), and rivers for drinking water.

Through the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, all villages of the country are being supported for sanitation and cleanliness. Sixty-three per cent of the respondents disclosed that there was no toilet in their homes and they were bound to go to the fields for open defecation. Twenty-seven per cent of the respondents have sanitation facilities in their houses. They acknowledged the support provided by the government through village panchayats.

On the question of animal raising, 47% of the respondents said that animals were kept outside their homes, 36% said that they live with animals in the winter seasons, while 17% said that their animals were free to graze.

The government has been generating awareness on washing hands after using toilets through electronic and print ­media and wall writings. The research reveals that 27% of respondents said that they do not wash hands and 43% said that they wash with ash and soil. While 30% said that they wash their hands with washing powder or soap.

Seventy-eight per cent of the respondents said that they were aware of population control measures in the form of condoms and operations. While 22% said that they were unaware of contraceptive methods. The impact of vaccination dri­ves is visible in remote and tribal villages. Eighty-four per cent of the respondents said that children in their home are fully vaccinated. Seven per cent said that the accredited social health activists (ASHAs) would have vaccinated their children. Only 9% said that their children are not fully vaccinated.

On the question of visits by the auxiliary nursing midwifery (ANM) and ASHAs, 75% of the respondents said that ASHA regularly visits their homes and takes care of patients and pregnant women. Twenty-five per cent said that they have not been known to ANM and ASHA.

The impact of the National Rural Health Mission is visible in remote areas. Eighty-nine per cent of the respondents said that pregnant women and newly born children are being provided with medicines and vitamin supplements by ASHA regularly.

On the one hand, modernisation is taking place in remote places. On the other, 67% of the respondents said that they go to Ojha (exorcists) for their goodness and wellness.

The Baiga tribe is non-vegetarian in nature. Sixty-three per cent of the respondents said that they had been eating meat since childhood. Twenty-seven per cent said that they follow a vegetarian diet due to religious restrictions. Ten per cent of them said that they do not restrict their diet to vegetarian or non-vegetarian food.

Seventy-three per cent of the respondents said that their children get proper nutrition in ICDS anganwadi centres. While 27% of them said that children do not get nutrition as per the menu or entitlement. During the visit to the anganwadi centres, two centres of the research area were found functioning with the presence of 67% and 79% of registered children at each centre.

The government has implemented many acts for the rights and entitlements of the people. Fifty-four per cent of the respon­dents said that they do not know about the provisions of the National Food Sec­urity Act, 2013, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and the Right to Information Act, 2005. Fourty-six per cent of the res­pondents said they are interested in getting benefits under these schemes.

Fifty-six per cent of the respondents said that education has an important role to play in income generation. Seventy-three per cent of them agreed that they do not bargain due to the lack of education.

Fourty-three per cent of the respondents said that teaching in the schools was sati­sfactory, while 34% said that they did not monitor the functioning of schools. However, 23% said that children were getting good education along with uniforms, MDMs, and other facilities provided by the government.

Fourty-seven per cent of the respondents said that they were unaware of the special schemes meant for tribals, while 38% said that they were getting subsidised ration, assistance in housing, etc, on being a tribe. Whereas 15 per cent of the respondents said that the government was doing all the necessary work for the betterment of the tribal community.

On the question of irregular attendance in schools, 37% of the respondents said that due to the lack of quality teaching, children do not go to schools. Twenty-three per cent said that children feel uneasy in schools. While 27% said that children did not go to schools because of their eng­agement in household work and assis­tance in taking care of their younger siblings. Seven per cent said that children were more inclined towards playing, while 6% said that they do not go to schools because of the long distance. On the question of the source of knowledge on schemes, 64% of the respondents gave credit to sarpanchs and panchayats of the villages, 21% were getting information from neigh­bours, while 15% said that they get new information from radio and television.

While 87% of the respondents said that they visit local markets (haat) as buyers, 13% said that they occasionally visit markets as sellers of their own produce apart from being buyers.

On the question of utilisation of animals in their everyday lives, 63% of the res­pondents said that animals were used for milk and meat, 43% used them for meat, 39% used them for milk, and 18% used them in agriculture. However, none of the respondents used animals for transportation. This was also evident in the field visits.

It was found in the study that, on an average, there were three animals per household. Animals like cows, oxes, buffaloes, goats, pigs, and hens were included.

Organic agriculture is still in practice in remote tribal areas. All the respondents said that they use organic manure in their fields and do not use chemical fertilisers. Even crops like paddy and wheat were being cultivated without the application of chemical fertilisers.

On the question of seed protection and conservation, all the respondents said that they keep seeds in structures made of temperature resistant soil.

During the FGDs, it was found that the members restricted their marriages to their own castes and a tradition of social boycott was prominent if marriages happened beyond their castes.

All the respondents said that they celebrate all Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali. This finding is contrary to the findings of certain organisations which claim that tribes follow other religions.

Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents said that there exists a barter system in the village. There was an occupational relationship with carpenters, barbers, and others. However, 33% of the respondents felt that this system was fast declining.

During the FGDs, it was found that Birahi song and Birahi Nana dance were prominent among the Baiga tribe of Anuppur and Shahdol districts. On the contrary, Karma, Shaila, and Sua are the prominent songs and dances among the Baiga tribe of Sidhi district. Saila dance was performed by the villagers of Lurghuti village of Sidhi district in the evening and lasted till midnight. These songs and dances exhi­bited the strong traditional and social relationship and the cultural heritage among the tribes.

Though, modernisation is rapidly taking place in tribal communities, 89% of the res­pondents said that they believe in superstitions. However, 11% of the re­spon­dents said that they do not believe in ­superstitions.

Bidari is the weather forecast among the Baiga tribe. A Baiga man, with exp­ertise in performing Bidari, predicts the rainy season by putting water on soil. The study reveals that the Baiga tribe practices Bidari to forecast rainfall. During the FGDs, it was found that a Bidari rainfall forecast by an experienced master has 99% accuracy.

During the field visits and FGDs, it was observed that members of the Baiga tribe in remote areas still depended on vaidya (local medicine men) for their treatment. The vaidyas present in FGDs said that satawari, giloy, ashwagandh, amla, harra, bahera, har jod, marich, aloevera, dahiman, chirchiri, palash, hathil, kaunhari, tulsi, mamri, patharneem, chirul, neem, and fruits, leaves, roots and stems of other plants were widely used for the treatment of patients as per their symptoms.

The Baiga tribe living near the forest was frequently bitten by poisonous ins­ects and snakes. During the FGDs, it was found that most of the members of the Baiga community gave first choice to a local vaidya after being bitten by a poisonous insect.

During the FGDs, all members expre­ssed the desire that their children should grow like their counterparts and live a healthy life, keeping their cultural heritage intact. The members of the Baiga community said that the impact of reservation and scholarship in education is limited to the areas nearer to the city or markets.

Researchers like Elwin, Hiralal, and Russel found Baigani as a language spoken by the members of the Baiga community. In this study, it was observed that the members of the Baiga community spoke in Baghelkhandi language, which is the local tongue of a common resident. Hence, the study reveals that there was no particular language being spoken by the Baiga tribe of the research area.

Results Based on Observations

Apart from the information gathered through the application of schedule and FGDs, the socio-­economic life of the Baiga community was closely observed.

Role of NGOs: The NGOs have been undertaking welfare and development me­asures for the members of the Baiga community. Gram Sudhar Samiti (an NGO) is working in the 10 vill­ages of Kusmi block (a tribal block) of Sidhi district. It is ­undertaking a project on the Baiga community with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program­me. Lurghuti and Dubari Kalan villages of Sidhi district were selected to observe the acti­vities of the samiti. The Baiga community members were working to revive the traditional indigenous crops like kodo, kutki, and samwa. Gram Sudhar Samiti motivates farmers to use traditional varieties of paddy, wheat, maize, etc. The Baiga farmers are given free seeds and provided with technical know-how to cultivate indigenous varieties.

Food: Food habits of the Baiga tribe are entirely dependent on nature, and they gather food from the nearest forests. Thus, they are called food-gatherers. Most of the Baiga tribe engaages in primary work occupations like hunting, gathering, and coll­ecting of foods and woods. Most people live in a natural environment, their buildings made of natural materials, and they take all the food from nature itself. They drink intoxicating liquor made from dried flowers of mahua. Tobacco rolled into a leaf is generally used for smoking.

Connectivity and transport: Connectivity is very poor in tribal vill­ages. Four villages out of a sample of six had kaccha roads with nullahs in between. During the rainy season, they get cut off from the main marketplaces and big cities. As far as the distance from the town area is concerned, Lurghuti is a remote village 65 kilometres away from Sidhi, while Karkati is the nearest to Burhar town.

Drinking water: Safe drinking water is the most essential for a healthy human life. As the climate in the project villages range from moderate to chilly cold, there is scarcity of drinking water during the summer season.

There were 17 open dug wells of which 76% were operational. Hand pumps were the next most popular source of water followed by stream water and tube wells. The operational status showed that 65% of the tube wells and 84% handpumps were functional. The percentage of open dug wells was the highest because they are privately owned by the community. There are functional ponds in all the study villages. The ponds are used mostly for taking baths and cattle drinking.

During summers, poor households without their own tube wells and wells have to depend on the jharnas (waterfalls), nullahs, and rivers for drinking purposes.

Almost all the poor households of the Baiga tribe were involved in non-timber forest produce (NTFP) collection. The pro­mi­nent NTFPs being collected were tendu leaves, mahua flowers and mahul patta, mahua seeds, tendu fruits, chironjee, harra, baheda, amla, gond, honey, imli, sal, etc.

Migration: A meagre 6% of households migrated to other places and cities. This is because they like to consume the forest produce and therefore rarely migrate to other places for livelihood. The Baiga people do not want to leave their community. They always prefer to be united with jal (water), jungle (forest), and jameen (land) in their own areas.


The following suggestions may be helpful in overcoming the problems of the Baiga tribe. The government should take exce­ptional steps to do away with the frequent floods and sedimentation during the agricultural periods as it hampers the crop production.

Proper sanitation strategy should be developed with the help of government and non-governmental agencies to add­r­ess the improper sanitation in the villages.

Though the government has a provision of providing subsidised housing in rural areas, housing conditions for the Baiga tribe should be enhanced so that people improve their quality of life.

The community and primary health centres in the villages should be improved so that tribes can make use of the available medical facilities. They need doctors and medical staff in the community health centres.

The government has been making all the efforts to increase enrolment rates and decrease drop-out rates in schools. To improve the literacy rate, necessary measures should be taken with proper implementation of the Right of Child­ren to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Agriculture development is on the agenda of the MP government. Adequate credit facilities should be provided to the poor tribal farmers to raise their agricultural productivity and farm income.

Irrigation systems need to be developed well to help the farmers in producing more crops and doubling their incomes as envisaged by the central government.

Self-help groups should be formed and str­engthened to perk up the socio-­economic condition of the tribal com­mu­nities. There is a need to improve literacy, health facilities, institutions, and assets.

Despite the various development programmes, the economic standards of the tribals are still poor. Therefore, there is a need for joint efforts and ­better coordination from all the stakeholders, working directly or indirectly, for the deve­lopment of this PVTG community.


Bhattacharya, D (2014): “Status and Socio-economic Problems of Nunakunri Villagers: A Case Study of Nunakunri Village, Purba Medinipur District,” Radix International Jou­rnal of Research in Social Science, Vol 3, No 7, pp 1–14.

Elizabeth, A M and K N Saraswathy (2004): Thoti Tribes of Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi: Abhijeet Publication.

Elvin, V (1939): The Baiga, New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

— (1950): “Tribal Religion and Magic in Middle India,” ­Geographical Magazine, Vol 22.

Gautam, R K (2009): Baigas of Central India, New Delhi: Readworthy Publications.

Maharatna, Arup (2010): “ ‘Who Is Civilised?’: In Praise of Tribal Traditions, Society, and Culture in India,” Mainstream, 28 September.

Ministry of Tribal Affairs (2015): “Annual Report 2015–16,” Government of India.

Russel, R V and Rai Bahadur Hiralal (1975): The Tribe and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, London: Macmillan Co.

Tribal Heritage of India (in IV volumes), New ­Delhi: Vikash Publishing House Private, Ltd.


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Updated On : 1st Aug, 2022
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