Social discrimination and disabilities of scheduled tribes
Outside the Hindu Caste System
In the foregoing pages we have stated that there was a difficulty in distinguishing the jana and the tribes in ancient times. However, not many would accept equating them on equal parlance. The social organization of the janas was based on “egalitarian” principle while the jati’s social organization was based on the system of “jati”. The term jati even today implies caste hierarchy which is absent in the tribal society. The tribal society therefore falls outside the pale of caste system and does not suffer from caste discrimination or untouchabilty. However, serious social disabilities are created in the name of tribals who are described as poor, illiterate, backward and uncivilized. Further, many tribes are still living in the hills and forests who are still isolated from the main stream of society. According to the 2001 Census the tribals were reckoned 8.2 per cent of the total Indian population which is a minority group. They do not come into the main stream society though a big chunk has integrated into it due to increased interaction with the main stream culture.
The main occupation of the tribals is agriculture and some of them still depend on hunting and gathering and some on nomadic zoom agriculture which is also known as “slash and burn” cultivation. Their agriculture is very much primitive and traditional depending mainly on monsoon. In kharif season about 47% land are under irrigation and only 2% in the rabi season (1991 Census). Nearly 90 per cent of the tribals live in villages, some in forests and hills. In 2004-2005 there were 47 per cent tribals below poverty line in the rural area and 33 per cent in the urban area compared to 16 per cent for others in both the areas (Planning Commission). One can see the vast difference in poverty between the two social groups. Recently the migration of tribals due to displacement has increased by leaps and bounds.
The literacy rate of tribals at the national level was 47.10 per cent as per 2001 Census, of which 59 per cent was male and 37 per cent was female. The literacy rate for the general population was 65 per cent. The literacy rate among the tribals comparatively is very low. We have discussed earlier that due to poverty the tribals cannot take to education and much less to the higher level particularly, among the rural tribal population. There is little awareness about the value of education among the tribals and to add to it there are no sufficient number of schools in the remote villages. The present status of the literacy rate goes higher much due to the pioneering efforts of the Christian missionaries who opened schools even in the remotest areas to impart education to tribals and backwards classes. Now there are various projects, like National Literacy Mission programmes, Non-formal Education, Adult Literacy, sarva shiksha abhiyan and private schools that have boosted up the literacy rate.
Both the factors given above, namely, poverty and illiteracy sum up to give the rationale for the relative backwardness of the tribals in general. The habitat of the tribals is also partly responsible for their isolation, and minimum interaction with the rest of the society.