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Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development Ch. 6: India The Scheduled Tribes


This is not a formal publication of the World Bank. It is circulated to encourage thought and discussion. The use and citation of this paper should take this into account. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the World Bank.

1.Introduction Tribal groups in India are considered to be the earliest inhabitants of a country that experienced diverse waves of invaders and other settlers over thousands of years, making it difficult to identify the precise origin of today‘s tribal peoples from a ―purist‖ perspective. The state and discourse in India reject the term ―indigenous peoples‖ and prefer instead to use the Constitutional term ―Scheduled Tribes‖ (see Annex 1). The selfpreferred term Adivasi is commonly translated as ‗original inhabitants‘, and literally means ‗Adi or earliest time‘, ‗vasi = resident of‘. The Constitution Order 1950 declared 212 tribes located in 14 states as ―Scheduled Tribes‖ (STs).1 The Government of India today identifies 533 tribes with 62 of them located in the state of Orissa.2 Social stratification in India is determined by the four-fold varna system commonly called the caste system.3 Scheduled Tribes do not strictly fall within the caste hierarchy, since they have distinct (often considered non-Hindu) cultural and religious practices and social mores. Although ‗Scheduled Castes‘ (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes‘ is sometimes said in the same breath, they are distinct social categories. While Scheduled Tribes do not face ritual exclusion in the form of untouchability, as do the Scheduled Castes or ‗Dalits‘, when exclusion is defined more broadly in terms of being ―prevent(ed) … from entering or participating‖ or ―being considered or accepted‖4 , Scheduled Tribes fit squarely within the conception of excluded people. The major difference in the development status of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is that while the former lived among but were segregated socially from the mainstream and from upper caste groups, the latter were isolated physically, and hence socially (Béteille, 1991), although the degree of ―isolation‖ remains in question.5 Over time, geographic isolation of Scheduled Tribes has manifested in relative and oftentimes absolute deprivation, which has periodically surfaced in the starkest manner, and reported widely in the press. Kalahandi district in Orissa has long been a metaphor for starvation due to reports dating back to the 1980s. The Melghat area in Maharashtra has similarly surfaced in the press, especially during the monsoon when migrant STs return for transplanting rice on their subsistence plots of land, household food stocks are depleted and cash to purchase food is scarce. 1 For purposes of this chapter, we use the term ST for tribal groups in India, as this is the category officially used while collecting data in the country. In India though, the terms Adivasis or tribals are used interchangeably with STs. 2 http://www.tribal.nic.in/index1.html 3 The caste or varna system comprises Brahmins or the priestly class at the top, followed by Kshatriyas or the martial caste, Vaishyas or traders and finally the Shudras – the large category of manual workers who often engage in ritually ―polluting‖ work. Of these, many are erstwhile untouchables. Untouchability is illegal but Scheduled Castes (or the erstwhile untouchables) continue to suffer varying degrees of subordination and segregation in Indian society, depending on the region of the country. 4 Encarta Online Edition 5 Anthropological literature suggests that tribals are in more ways integrated into the ―mainstream‖ than is recognized. There is considerable evidence on tribes emulating traditions of the caste system and influencing them (Sinha 1958). 3 There is a wealth of ethnographic data on deprivation of the Scheduled Tribes. National research and activist organizations have also conducted micro-level surveys of households facing chronic food shortage and brought them before public gaze. For example, a 2005 survey of ST areas in two Indian states found that 99 percent of the sample ST households faced chronic hunger, one-quarter faced semi-starvation during the previous week, and not a single household had more than 4 of 10 assets from a list that included such basic items as ‗a blanket‘, ‗a pair of shoes‘ or ‗a radio‘ (Center for Environment and Food Security, 2005). The discourse on ST deprivation is rich and inter-disciplinary, but most often is based on small area studies such as the above. This evidence, while compelling, has had limited statistical validity and has generated results that are limited to one tribe, village or state. The purpose of this chapter is to present a comprehensive and nationally representative picture of the nature of poverty and the evolution of socio-economic indicators among India‘s Scheduled Tribe population as compared to national trends for the two intervening decades between 1983 to 2004-05 –a period of rapid growth of the national economy. Our analysis leads us to three important conclusions. First, it suggests that the pace of poverty reduction in the aforementioned time period has been considerably slower for the Scheduled Tribes than it has been for other social categories, the Scheduled Castes included. We also find considerable heterogeneity in poverty outcomes by state and within Scheduled Tribes. States where STs comprise more than 10 percent of the total population register headcount poverty rates that are higher than the national average. Similarly, within Scheduled Tribes, those in lower deciles of the expenditure distribution do worse, registering lower growth in expenditure than those in the upper deciles. Second, our analysis indicates that while the Scheduled Tribes saw significant gains in indicators of health, some of which improved at rates faster than the population average, such gains were not sufficient to bridge the gap between the STs and the rest. Under-five mortality of children remains a stark marker of deprivation of STs in India, with nearly 96 ST children dying for every 1000 births, compared to an under-five mortality of 74 per 1000 births for non-ST children. Interestingly, no differences were found in neo-natal mortality outcomes among ST children and the rest, suggesting that the former were more at risk as they grew up. This finding is supported by alarming figures on malnutrition for ST children – nearly 53 percent were reported to be stunted (had lower height-for-age) and 29 were reported to be severely stunted in 2005. Third, despite improvement in educational attainment, literacy levels among STs remained at an abysmally low level of 47 percent of ST population compared to 67 percent for others – an indication of the former‘s considerably lower -starting point. There were of course differences by region and by gender. Scheduled Tribes in rural areas were usually worse off, as were women, especially on educational attainment. There are six sections in this chapter. The next section sums up India‘s track record on growth and poverty in recent decades and policies that have been put in place by the Indian state to safeguard and promote the welfare of STs. Section III describes the data sources and methodology used for analysis. Section IV presents overall trends in poverty 4 and employment, health and education indicators for the period 1983 to 2005 – a time when India as a whole registered dramatic progress – disaggregated by Scheduled Tribes and other social groups. Section V discusses briefly the underlying processes that explain deprivation of STs. These include poor physical access to services; increasing alienation from traditional land; low voice and participation in political spaces; and poor implementation of public assistance/poverty reduction programs which affects the Scheduled Tribes disproportionately because they dominate the ranks of the poor and the disadvantaged. Section VI concludes and summarizes the discussion. II. India’s rapid growth and policies related to Scheduled Tribes India achieved rapid economic growth in the decade of the nineties so much so that it is now considered a ‗star performer‘ among other economies in the world – developed and developing – next to China. Growth rates of GDP for the twenty year period between 1980 and 1999 averaged about 5.8 percent per annum, accelerating further at the turn of the century to 8.5 percent in 2003-04, driven by continued growth in the service sector and improved performance of industry (World Bank 2006, Virmani 2005). While there has been considerable debate about poverty estimates during this period6 , it is clear that growth facilitated reduction in poverty. Using official poverty lines and consumption data from the National Sample Survey, the World Bank‘s latest Poverty Assessment for India estimates that poverty headcount levels declined from 45.6 percent in 1983 to 27.5 percent in 2004-05 (World Bank 2009). What is not clear is whether the pace of poverty reduction increased as growth accelerated. There have also been concerns about the extent to which the fruits of growth were shared equally. The gap between rural and urban areas reportedly widened in the nineties as did the wedge between rich and poor people, particularly in urban centers (World Bank 2009). More worryingly perhaps, structural inequalities defined by caste and tribe remained salient (World Bank 2009). While there appear to be some cracks in caste-based occupational hierarchies, glass walls and ceilings were still difficult to break through (Das and Dutta 2007). Health and education indicators too improved but not enough to bridge the gap between SCs and STs on one hand and the rest of the population on the other. The Scheduled Tribes fared the worst, locked out geographically from most development. The Indian state‘s response to the vulnerability among STs has been proactive and has strong constitutional backing. Schedule V of the Indian Constitution identifies special privileges for those areas where the majority of the population belongs to Scheduled Tribes. Schedule VI is different in that it applies special privileges to tribals who reside in the northeastern states of India. Here, tribal groups are the majority in states that have been founded on tribal status. Many of the residents converted to Christianity and obtained Western education and jobs. While these tribes in the Northeast states represent less than 20 percent of the total Scheduled Tribe population in the country, the entire 6 For a summary of issues, see Deaton and Kozel (2005) 5 Northeast has been isolated from the development process due mainly to the geographical and cultural isolation of these areas. On the other hand, in areas where Scheduled Tribes are a minority or the Schedule V areas located within other states, tribal peoples are among the most impoverished and marginalized. Both Schedule V and VI underscore the area-based approach the state has followed while addressing tribal issues. Several well-known state-sponsored commissions have recommended greater voice of Scheduled Tribes in their own development, and underscore the importance of land and forests in this process. Of late, the state has legislated to acknowledge the ―rights‖ of Scheduled Tribe areas by taking them further towards self-rule. In 1996, the Indian Parliament also passed the Panchayats Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act (PESA), 1996. The Act covers nine Schedule V states of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan and instead of individuals, recognizes and stresses on traditional community rights over natural resources. PESA gives power over matters like sale of non-timber forest produce, acquisition of land etc to the tribal Gram Sabhas i.e. village assemblies instead. Similarly, in the context of mining, PESA gives a large role to gram sabhas that need to be consulted for environmental clearance. The recent Forest Rights Act and the Tribal Rights Act go further in adopting a rights based perspective and acknowledging the preeminent rights of Scheduled Tribes to natural resources. In parallel to the above, there are earmarked development funds both from the central government and the states that flow to tribal areas through a special budgetary instrument called the ―tribal sub-plan‖ (TSP). Scheduled Tribes also have quotas in public employment, with 7.5 percent seats in all government and quasi-government jobs (which form the major part of all regular salaried jobs), reserved for them. They have similar quotas in public educational institutions and according to the 73rd amendment to the Indian constitution have reserved seats in local governments as well. However, enforcement of these far-reaching laws and policies has been weak due to a variety of reasons as discussed later in section V.

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINDPEOPLE/Resources/407801-1271860301656/Chapter_6_India.pdf


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