In India there are a number of socially and economically deprived ethnic groups which are now recognised as Scheduled Tribes.
They belong to different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups and have some unique social and economic characteristics. These tribal communities mostly live in hilly and forested areas which are generally not suitable for settled agriculture. Their mode of life is very much linked with environmental conditions of these areas.
According to Census enumeration, there are approximately 365 tribes in India.
The 1961 Census recorded a population of little over 30 million persons as belonging to the category of Scheduled Tribes. They accounted for 6.87 per cent of the country’s total population. The numerical strength of the scheduled tribes rose to 51.6 million persons accounting for 7.76 per cent of the total population of the country in 1981. In 2001 Census it reached 84.33 million persons constituting 8.20 per cent of the total population of India. Above description shows that the population of scheduled tribes has almost tripled during the last 40 years.
It is mainly due to the fact that the growth rate of Scheduled Tribes population has been faster (2.45 per cent/annum) than the general population of the country (1.95 per cent). This is also supported by the improvement in their percentage share (from 6.87 percent in 1961 to 8.20 per cent in 2001) with respect of the total population of the country. It was also due to additions made to the list of Scheduled Tribes time and again.
Tribal community in India is immensely varied. There are 365 tribes in the country. These are mainly divided into three major groups: (a) Dravidian tribe, (b) Mongoloid tribe, and (c) Turko-Iranian tribe. The Dravidian tribes include the Mundas and the Santals of Chota Nagpur, and the Khod Mais of Orissa. These tribes are generally divided according] to totems bearing the names of the plants or animals common in the locality.
These totems are considered to be the origin of that group. The Mongoloid tribes are found in the north-eastern part of the country. These include Nagas and Kukis in the eastern hills and Chakmas of the eastern Himalaya. They believe in exogamy and practice totemism. The Turko-Iranian tribes are divided into two groups; (i) Afghan groups, and (ii) Baloch-Brahui group. The Afghan group known as Pathana constitute of kindred group of agnates. The second group of Baloch-Brahui includes Brahuis, Balochs, Khetrans, Jats, Kurds and Jagdals. There are tribal groups which account for more than 80 per cent of the total tribal population of the country.