The Social Change and Official Tribal Policy – Essay

Historically, the Government of India has not been able to resolve the ethnic relations between the tribal society and caste Hindu society. The framers of our Constitution have not entered into this contro­versy.

They have, in a straightforward way, administratively defined Scheduled Tribes for the purpose of governance. If we dig a little deeper into the controversy between the relationship of caste and tribe, we find that it goes back to the Vedic period. Yogendra Singh writes:

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“Ethnographers and historians are undecided on the extent to which a relationship existed between the pre-historic Indus valley culture and the traditional Vedic culture in India.

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Even if we analyze the tribe-caste relations during the British pe­riod, we find an uncertain situation. For instance, Hutton maintains that “caste system and many cultural traditions of Hinduism have or­ganic links with the tribal cultures”. Ghurye also holds similar views.

However, O’ Malley and Elwin believe that the tribal and the Hindu traditions are separate. The controversy holds true even today and the government has wriggled out of it by creating a special category called Scheduled Tribes.

Official Policy:


The attitude of the government towards tribal problems and social change emerges from the Constitution, tribal development pro­grammes, five year plans and developmental policies enunciated from time to time. The government wants that the tribals should be given benefits of development and protective safeguards.

These are neces­sary because they have suffered enough from exploitation, discrimination and oppression by the rest of society. They remained backward, poor, illiterate and weak because of all this.

Yet another approach to the tribal policy can be seen in the state­ments made by Pandit Jawahar Lai Nehru in his Foreword to Verrier Elwin’s book, A Philosophy for NEFA:

I had no sensation of superiority over them (tribals). My ideas were not clear at all. But I felt that we should avoid two extreme courses: one was to treat them as anthropological specimens for study and the other was to allow them to be engulfed by the masses of Indian hu­manity.


When Pandit Nehru wrote the Foreword to the second edition of Elwin’s book, he laid down five fundamental principles also known as Panchsheel. These are as under:

(1) People should develop along the lines of their own genius and we should avoid imposing anything on them. We should try to en­courage in every way their own traditional arts and culture.

(2) Tribal rights in land and forests should be respected.

(3) We should try to train and build up a team of their own people to do the work of administration and development. Some technical personnel from outside will, no doubt, be needed, especially in the beginning. But we should avoid introducing too many outsid­ers into tribal territory.

(4) We should not overadminister these areas or overwhelm them with a multiplicity of schemes; we should rather work through, and not in rivalry to, their own social and cultural institutions.

(5) We should judge results not by statistics or the amount of money spent, but the quality of human character that is evolved.

The Panchsheel or five principles of tribal development were given in 1958. How far these principles have been followed in government programmes, is a matter of analysis. But it is clear that we do not want to impose a non-tribal way of life on the tribals. They should develop in accordance with their own traditions.

However, when we talk about the integration of tribals, that is, the change of tribals from their primordial way of life to a secular way of life, we have to draw the tribal people into the mainstream of national life.


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