Anthropologists have tried to classify tribes in our country into three main groups according to their racial characteristics:
(i) The proto-Australoids comprising tribal communities such as Mundas, Hoes, Oraons, Khonds, etc., who are characterised by the development of lower forehead and sunken nose.
(ii) The Mongoloids with light skin, straight hair, flat nose and medium stature, distributed all over the sub-Himalayan region and the Eastern Frontiers of India.
(iii) The Negro strain indicated mostly by frizzly hair marked among the Andamanese and the Kadars of the South West. These may be considered to be the oldest of all, as the proto-Australoids came later on. These tribes can also be divided into several categories according to their linguistic affinities, though on account of process of assimilation, acculturation and integiaiion that is rapidly going on, the dialects may fail to reveal their distinctiveness in the course of the next 10 or 20 years, except in the most inferior parts.
The Tribal Welfare Committee constituted by the Indian Conference of Social Work was of the view that the tribes in India can be divided into four main divisions for planning the welfare programmes:
(i) Tribals who confine themselves to original habitats and are still distinctive in their pattern of life. These maybe termed as ‘tribal communities’.
(ii) Tribals who have more or less settled down in rural areas taking to agriculture and other allied occupations. This category of people may be recognised as ‘semi-tribal’ communities.
(iii) Tribals who have migrated to urban or semi-urban areas and are engaged in ‘civilised’ occupations in industries and other vocations and who have discriminatingly adopted the traits and culture of the rest of the population. These may be classed as “acculturated” tribals.
(iv) Totally assimilated tribals.
The British Administration concerned itself more with the preservation of law and order in tribal areas and not the development of tribals. Some rising of the tribals brought about by the socio-economic causes were put down with a strong hand especially in Bihar and Orissa.
In Assam the policy of exclusion was adopted so that no outsiders except missionaries of known antecedents were allowed to work among the tribals. The questions of the tribals of Assam and the border tracts were always approached from a strategic point of view. Their contacts with people of the plains were discouraged.
It is a matter of history that on account of a series of foreign invasions of India the tribal people yere driven to the forests and the mountains where they found an asylum. Gradually those who had the capacity to acclimatize themselves to civilised life returned to the plains and became agriculturists by deforesting certain areas and developing waste lands. Hundreds of instances can, however, be quoted to show how later on such lands were taken away from them by zamindars, money-lenders and others.