- Tribal communities in India inhabit all parts of the country except the States of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, and the Union Territories of Chandigarh and Puducherry. They constitute 8.6 per cent of India’s total population and are classified into about seven hundred communities which includes both ‘major tribes’ and ‘sub-tribes’.
- Around 12 per cent of the total tribal population in India lives in the North Eastern Region (NER). But unlike central Indian States, where the tribal population is a minority, tribal communities constitute more than eighty per cent of the State population in Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Ecology and Inhabitants
- It is widely known that being disturbed by scuffled history and geo-politics, NER has remained a backward and less-developed region of the Indian subcontinent though it covers 7.9 per cent geographical area of the country.
- Remarkably, it shares as much as 4200 km of international boundary with four nations— Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. At the same time, it is joined with the rest of India by means of a narrow route popularly known as the Siliguri corridor or the ‘Chicken’s Neck’.
- Agriculture being the main occupation and source of livelihood for the farmers, had been and used to be, induced for mono-cropping due to the colonial policy of plunders through encouragement of only plantation crops, the natural factor of high intensity of the rainfall and the socio-economic structures of tribal kinship. The intensive cultivation of crops and wide range of crop diversification in agriculture has not been the history in the region.
- Two distinct types of agricultural practice in NER may be observed (i) settled agriculture in the plains, valleys and gentler slopes and (ii) slash and burn cultivation (called jhum cultivation) elsewhere.
- Nowadays, agriculture in the form of plantation has been developed instead of jhum cultivation in certain States.
Culture and Tradition
- NER is often described as the Cultural Mosaic of India with diverse tribal communities, linguistic, and ethnic identities.
- The tribal communities of the North East have their own traditional system of governance. Among these, chieftainship is prevalent, while others prefer to be ruled by the village council.
- Each society has its own cultural tradition, social system, set of values, custom and different modes of festivities which are mostly related to agriculture.
- In the socio-political life of tribal communities, monarchy and democracy co-exist in principle. The members of the tribes are united by kinship and marriage, thus it becomes difficult to differentiate between the political and domestic matters. Lineage segmentation is the chief principle of the political structure of the tribal communities.
- However, the socio-cultural elements of the tribal communities are changing for various reasons. They are being exposed to a changing environment of varied nature.
- Globalisation has serious implications on the culture of the tribal communities. It imposes a homogeneous consumerist culture and value system on each society. The law of dynamics is universally applied to every society and tribal society is no exception.
- Thus, the tribal communities’ exposure to the forces of change, both indigenous and exogenous, has serious implications on the lifestyle and culture of the tribal communities consequently.
- Though agriculture, shifting cultivation in particular, continues to be a prominent means of livelihood for many, their means of livelihood tends to change from subsistence agricultural income towards diversified modern market-oriented employment and economy.
- Sources of income have been diversified in terms of different occupations that happen to be made available as a result of various development initiatives.
- Modern education plays a vital role in changing the means of livelihood. This change is associated with an increase of per capita income and educational level systematically.
Improving Socio-Economic Conditions
- There is a significant improvements in socio-economic indicators like sex ratio, education, infant mortality rate and sanitation in the NER. As per 2011 Census, sex ratio is highest in Manipur (992), followed by Meghalaya (989) and Mizoram (976), and lowest in Sikkim (890). Figures for sanitation facilities in their dwellings also reflect better position than the overall country indicators.
- NITI Aayog has been publishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) India Index annually since 2018. The third edition of the NITI Aayog SDG India Index (2020-21) computes goal-wise scores on the 16 SDGs for each State and UT, and a qualitative assessment on Goal 17, covering 17 parameters.
- States/UTs being categorised as Aspirant (score 0-49), Performer (score 50-64), Front Runner (65-99), and Achiever (score 100) based on their score. Two States from the North Eastern Region, namely Mizoram and Tripura secured their position in the Front Runner category in 2020-21.
- Special attention is being paid to achievement of SDGs in the North East, with a North Eastern Region District SDG Index 2021-22 developed by NITI Aayog. The Index is constructed from 84 indicators and covers 15 global goals, 50 SDG targets, and 103 districts in the eight States of NER.
- The index will facilitate in identifying crucial gaps and inform interventions to fasttrack progress towards achieving the SDGs in the region. There are 64 districts in the Front Runner category and 39 districts in the Performer category. All districts of Sikkim and Tripura fall in the Front Runner category.
- In contemporary India, the tribal communities continue to outshine in various fields such as education, sports, various art forms (dance, music, painting, etc.), and add to the cultural presence of India. It is imperative that the policymakers continue to safeguard the tribal rights so as to ensure inclusive development of the society.