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On the notion of 'tribes' from a demographic perspective: the Indian case

Arup Maharatna, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

While there has been remarkable accumulation of ethnographic literature on India’s tribes since the nineteenth century, the notion of tribes appears no less obscure than before. Despite being glorified over thousands of printed pages of anthropological discourse, they remain to be the most marginalized and vulnerable. Our proposed paper attempts to construct a demographic perspective on India’s aggregate tribes. Examining the core (common) tribal demographic features and their sociocultural underpinnings (on which there is no dearth of ethnographic evidence) – also their long-term trends - the paper attempts at a more cohesive, consistent and consolidated statement on the notion of tribe from a demographic standpoint. The deterioration in relative position of tribes in terms of ‘human development’ over recent decades is glaring enough, but it is paradoxical in the light of their relatively ‘superior’ demographic regime in the historical past. The paper demonstrates – relatively systematically – the tribals’ adverse ‘deal’ in the process of contemporary economic development and integration. It affirms the need for – instead of forceful merger and ‘mindless’ assimilation - mutual voluntary interaction and healthy reciprocity between tribal peoples and the ‘mainstream’ society.

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Presented in Poster Session 3: Poster Session 3