Skip to main content

India : legal resources: Tribes & castes

Cultural heritage

Land & natural resources

The tribes of India

      "India's population includes nearly one hundred million tribal people. These numbers are matched only by the remarkable diversity of India's tribes. The two main regions of tribal settlement are the country's northeastern states bordering China and Burma, and the highlands and plains of its central and southern regions. The latter is home to more than 80 per cent of the tribes, which differ from the northeastern tribes in ethnicity...There are also differences in the extent to which the tribes interact with non-tribal communities. While the northeastern tribes are usually isolated communities, the tribes in peninsular India may at times coexist with non tribal people."
Kurup, A. (2008/9) 'Tribal law in India: how decentralized administration is extinguishing tribal rights and why autonomous tribal governments are better' Indigenous Law Journal at the University of Toronto v.7:no.1(pp.87-88) (online) Available here [Accessed 07/03/11]

 India has a long history of local government. The term 'Panchayat', is now used to describe the democratic bodies which govern local areas, officially made part of the Indian Constitution in the 1990s in an effort to include small tribal communities in the democratic process of government. However, the word literally translates as 'council of five persons' (Mathew, 2003) and used to mean the small groups of elders that governed small towns and villages according to the ancient caste system, which still holds a lot of influence in parts of India. The new system of local government was designed to ease poverty in more remote regions and improve access to education and healthcare. Unfortunately, the clash of cultures has caused tension in tribal regions, particularly in those communities that have more contact with 'modernized' urban India.

The key legislation from the 1990s is called 'The Provisions of the Panchayats' Acts.

Mathew, G. (2003) 'Panchayati Raj Institutions and Human Rights in India' Economic & Political Weekly v.38:no.2(pp.155-162) (online) Available here [Accessed 07/03/11]

Related Law Bod guides which may help research in this area:

Castes

Official list of Scheduled Castes of India

Dalits -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- India

Dalits -- India -- Social conditions
Dalits -- India -- Economic conditions
Dalits -- Violence against -- India

Marginality, Social    India
Social isolation -- India