Tribal Of India -A Cultural Group Research Paper Example
Indian population is composed of multiple ethnic and cultural groups. Common ancestry is the basis of an ethnic group while a cultural group may comprise people of different ethnic origins sharing a common language, locality, caste, customs, and beliefs. Indian people’s ethnic and cultural origins are shared by the peoples of other countries of the sub-continent like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The physical characteristics of Indians include brown skins of many shades, black hair, and brown eyes with a few exceptions. People belonging to different regions and cultural groups have different skin shades and height.
There are around 300 groups, also called tribes and that are people in India who has been officially identified as tribal by the government. The tribal people are commonly referred as Adivasis meaning original inhabitants that constitute about 8% of the Indian population amounting to over 65 million in 1991. Members of various hill tribes of India are considered to be indigenous and ethnically distinct. They marry within their groups and live in adjacent areas that have been preserved by legal enactments, and the government has restricted the sale of their land to only the tribe members. The Gond and the Bhil are the most prominent tribes; each having millions of members and are composed of several sub-tribes. All tribes invariably live in rural areas, hilly, and less fertile regions of the country. Eighty-seven percent tribal population claim to be the Hindus while 7% identify themselves with Christianity. A majority of the tribal groups reside in a belt of communities stretching throughout the central India. Right from the eastern part of Gujarat, the westernmost state, they inhabit the area eastward on the Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra border, Chhattisgarh, and northern Andhra Pradesh. It also extends most parts of the interior Orissa, Jharkhand, and West Bengal, the easternmost state. Some other places of tribal population concentration include the states of Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh (Ethnic and Cultural Groups). They all share some common political, social, and economic attributes that bind them as a cultural group. The common characteristics of these tribes include their habitat in hilly areas or forests. The enjoy better treatment to womenfolk than non-tribal, rich traditions of dance and music, worship of village Gods and Spirits, and other social practices (Guha).
Tribal of India are considered primitive and uncivilized, and descendants of Aryan or Dravidians like the Hindus, and not intrinsically impure like Dalits-the downtrodden. Thus, Adivasis, the umbrella term for the tribal population of not only India but also of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and other Southeast Asian countries. One can trace their origins to Valmiki, the famous sage and poet who composed the Ramayana. The Adivasi tribes Bhilala and Grasia are the descendants of Rajput and Bhil marriages. They enjoyed autonomy and ruled some areas, too. Many tribal rulers had their kingdoms in the central India. The Gond Rajas of Chanda and Garha-Mandla represent the tribal ascendancy and aristocracy. Even, non-tribal rulers had to get the support of the tribal leaders of the region. Their autonomy over land was seriously affected with the advent of the Mughal period in the early sixteenth century which witnessed Bhil Rebellion in 1632 and the Bhil-Gond Upsurge in 1643. However, these were effectively suppressed by the Mughal rulers (Adivasi).
During the British rule, tribal systems were severely encroached upon. Their lands were grabbed under Jagirdari system and then Zamindari system. They lost control over the forest resources that were their mainstay. Taxes and other benefits were extracted from the Jagirdars and Zamindars. The term Jagirdar is used for a person who has control over the huge area of land and populace living within this land. On the other hand, Zamindars are the persons who hold big area of land for agriculture. Non-tribal settled on their lands that were made the property of the British rulers. They borrowed from local Zamindars who charged compound interest. It was a period of land dispossession and subjugation giving rise to many rebellions and protests. Like Santhal rebellion of 1855-56, Muria Rebellion 1876, Koi Revolt 1859 to name just a few, but all were ruthlessly suppressed. They actively participated in the Indian independence movement. Many Adivasis like Laxman Naik, Jantya Bhil, Bangaru Devi, Rehma Vasave, Dharindhar Bhyuan, and Birsa Munda, fought against the British rule (Adivasi).
There are around 85 million Indians officially categorized as “Scheduled Tribes” by the Government of India, post-independence. Numerous steps have been implemented to protect the dwindling population of certain tribes, and preserve their distinct identity and culture. Steps have also been initiated to uplift them economically such as by making their land unsalable to non-tribal (Guha).
Intersectionality among Adivasis
Almost all tribes of India are endogamous, and their number may cross even 500. These all are under the broad category of "Scheduled Tribes" or Adivasis due to their common political, economic and social attributes. When we call someone as Munda, or Santhal, or Bhil, we mean the Adivasis, who share several common characteristics (Guha). In the context of the three tribes, the Santhal, Munda, and Bhil, it is interesting to note what are common among them to be included in the broad group of Adivasi or tribal of India.
Santhal tribe with a population of around 50000 constitutes the third largest tribe of India and inhabits the area of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam. Belonging to the pre-Aryan period, Santhals are great warriors like Munda and Bhil tribes. They had in their ranks such warriors as Sidhu and Kanu, and Baba Tilka Manjhi, who took up arms for freedom against the British rule in India. They also enjoy dance and music, and celebrate festivals like Sarhul and Karma. The musical instruments include Tamak, Tumdak, Junko, and Singa to name just a few. Santhals are followers of Sarna religion with Gods like Jaheraera, Maragburu, and Manjhi. They respect ghosts and spirits and believe in animal sacrifices. There basic needs are fulfilled by plants and trees of forests. The engage in fishing, hunting, and cultivation, too. They speak Santhali. (Tribes in India).
Santhalis like other tribes including Munda and Bhil marry within their group. The conditions of women are pitiable. The sex relations are well regulated, but cases of extra-marital relations are not scared. Such cases are resolved in village Panchayats (parallel court system- a group of senior people of the area who decide disputed matters) where custody of children vests with the father and divorce is allowed. The divorcee and the divorced both are allowed to re-marry. Girls are not considered a burden and are welcome in the family. Hence, there is no gender discrimination. They depend on forests to a large extent for their livelihood, but farming is also an occupation. Those with a larger number of family members or holding more land are considered economically well off, and thus, the status of a family is determined. There is no problem of race and ethnicity as they all are considered the descendants of the same source. (Gond Adivasi).
On the other hand, Munda inhabits the mainly in Jharkhand state of India. They are also found in West Bengal, Odisha, Chhtishgarh, and Bihar like the Santhals. The word Munda commonly signifies the headman of the village. With a population of around two million, Munda as a tribe is highly respected. Birsa Munda is the most famous personality of the tribe as he fought the British rule, and laid down his life at an age of 22 years. A majority of the tribe people is Hindus, but there are some followers of Christianity, too. They are mainly woodcutters but are now pursuing agriculture as their occupation. Among the tribes, Mundas are economically well off as they have the political power. However, the economic condition of all Munda members is not good. They usually live on earthworms, rats, snakes, snails and so forth. As in the case of Santhal, Munda also does not discriminate between a boy and a girl. However, the condition of women is the same as that of Santhali women. They are endogamous, but polygamy is allowed. Sex is permissive (Tribes in India).
The word Bhil is a derivative of Bil or Vil meaning bow. Hence, the Bhil tribe is the warrior tribe who constitute 39% of the population of Rajasthan. However, they are also settled in the mountain ranges of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. The Bhil as a tribe has found mention in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The occupation of Bhil besides warfare is animal husbandry and agriculture. They have traditionally served Rajas and Maharajas as warriors. They practice polygamy, and the status of women is not good in the society. A Buil women is free to marry a man of her choice even after her marriage. They all belong to the one and same ethnic group having the same race. The Bhils are also good businessmen who sell their products in the weekly “Hat". There economic life revolves around agriculture and fighting. There are occasional fairs where, Bhils could sell their produce (Tribes in India). Thus, on a broader perspective, all these three tribes have several commonalities.
Communication in Tribal Culture of Adivasis
The communication within a tribe and among tribes takes many forms. Tribal folk tales, folklores, and folk songs are effective means of communication. The tribal way of life is reflected in the state of verbal communication. Folklore encompasses their ecological and cultural settings. Mythical tales make them understand the origin of the world, stars, moon, sun, water, thunder, and lightning. Tribal myths are the carriers of information. Stories relating to natural phenomena explain the human existence, its cause, and processes. Melas and Haats serve as great places of information. Heroic deeds of ancestors are related through songs. This information are shared with other tribal communities as well (Vidyarthi and Rai).
However, communicating through drums and conches are now things of the past. Newspapers, magazines, books and now radio are the means of communication among the tribal of India. In many well-off families television has become the means of entertainment and communication (Vidyarthi and Rai).
Digital Media and Adivasis
Digital media refers to encoded media that can be created, distributed, viewed, modified, and preserved. Computer programs and software, digital video, digital imagery, websites and web pages, ebooks and so forth are examples of digital media. The different Indian tribes living in hilly and forest areas have no access to these digital media. A majority of the tribal population is still not connected with digital media. Hence, they do not possess digital tools such as mp3s and digital audio devices. They enjoy and entertain themselves with dances and music, celebrations of festivals and rituals, and religious rites and social practices. (Digital Media).
However, with their development and integration to the mainstream of the society, several tribe members have access to digital media and possess digital tools. With the spread of education in the post-independence era, tribal people have progressed well economically. They are enjoying the latest in the digital world (Ministry of Tribal Affairs).
Indian is a vast country having multiple ethnic and cultural groups as well as tribes that are considered primitive and uncivilized. There are about 300 tribes that are commonly called as Adivasis. Santhals, Munda and Bhil tribes are the most prominent tribes having a similar culture and each having millions of members and are composed of several sub-tribes. These tribes used to live in rural areas, hilly, and less fertile regions. Hence, they depend on forests, animal husbandry, and farming to a large extent for their livelihood.
They share some common political, social, and economic attributes that make them one cultural group. They used to enjoy dance and music, and celebrate festivals and respect ghosts and spirits as well as believe in sacrifices. Warrior nature is the most common cultural similarities. Folktales, folklores, and folk songs that encompass their ecological and cultural are effective means of communication. The most of the tribes living in hilly and forests have no access to digital media but due to development modern technologies several tribe members have access to digital media and possess digital gadgets. The conditions of women are miserable but the sex relations are well regulated. In addition, polygamy is permitted, and sex is permissive. Interestingly, women are free to marry a person of their choice even after their marriage.
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Vidyarthi, L.P., and Binary Kumar Rai. The Tribal Culture of India. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1985. Print.
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