Categories Anthropology II

II. 3.2.8 Tribe – caste continuum (TCC)


  • Rooted in Folk-urban continuum given by Robert Redfield
  • The TCC was given by Surjit Sinha in Indian context.
  • G Bailley formed the TCC concept.

Meaning of Tribe

  • No clear definition
  • The tribe evolved on the basis of community feeling of communities inhabiting a definite geographical area.
  • According to Ghurye tribal people are backward Hindus differing only in degrees from the other segments of Hindu society.Elwin argued for the recognition of separate social and cultural identity of tribal people. Government of India gives tacit recognition to this identity of keeping alive under constitution sanction their lists of Scheduled Tribe.
  • Tribe is a group of people living in relatively geographically isolated areas sharing similar customs, traditions and taboos.
  • They have no script, no concept of money, primitive technologies, kinship based political organisation, subsistence economy, belief in spirits, ghost, Bhut-pret etc.

Meaning of Caste

  • In the ancient society caste originated on the basis of division of labor.
  • Hierarchial order based on purity and pollution, jajmani obligation, social economic interdependence, ascribed status, inhuman treatment to lower caste and women

Concept of Tribe-caste continuum

  • Not as completely distinct entities but a continuum
  • Two ends of a continuous entity and inbetween these two various communities can be arranged in the form of a graded series.
  • Tribe-caste continuum means transformation of a tribal group into a caste group.
  • Constant interaction and contact between caste and tribe led to adaptation of sociocultural features from each other hence it is not possible to demarcate clear line of distinction between tribe and caste which is known as TCC.
  • Surjeet Sinha based on the field work among the tribes of Baster,”many of the lower caste in India seem to share with the tribals in terms of equality in social behaviorwithin own ethnic group”
  • Considerble freedom of cultural participation of women, supernaturism are seen in lower caste as well as tribal society
  • Difficult to mark the characteristics of caste and tribe based on cultural skills and social traits
  • Several differences between tribe and caste are known but there is trend in a gradual change from tribe to caste. A tribe can enter the Hindu society by adopting the clan and name of a caste.

Process of Tribe-caste continuum

  • The tribes in India have been influenced by certain traditions of the communities around them. Major neighboring community in all the areas has always been Hindus. As a result from the very period there have been several points of contact between the Hindus of the area and tribal communities living within it. The nature and extent of contact the pattern of mutual participation and characteristics of revitalization movements have been different in different parts of India.
  • The ethnographic records establish that the contacts varied from semi-isolation to complete assimilation. The numerous castes among Hindus have emerged out of the tribal stratums. The recent studies of tribes of Himalayan western and middle India have left no doubt that some of the tribes are Hinduized to the extent that they have been assimilated with the different castes at different levels in the caste system.
  • Diffusion of cultural traits and constant interaction established the TCC.

the process of tcc

Caste studies

In the Toda tribe in Nilgiri Hills there is a certain amount of specialization of functions as in the caste system. Some tribes manage to settle down at the peripheries of villages accept menial jobs from caste Hindus and eventually get into the Hindu fold. Members of the tribal groups may adopt the surname or gotra of a caste and also marry into the caste. Some rich tribal people mange to enroll themselves in high caste with the help of caste priests. Tribes when enter the caste fold lose their identity.

The study of two major Central Himalayan tribes Tharu and Khasa reveal that though they have a tribal matrix and continue to practice certain distinctive tribal customs they have been accepted as Kshatriya.Their culture have been modeled on the ways of living of the Rajputs and Brahmins of the neighbor plain areas. With their fast adoption of the Hindu names and establishment of social connections with the Rajputs and Brahmins of the plains. They declare themselves as Rajputs and with Brahmins constitute the apex of the social order. With the long and continuous contacts with the regional Hindu castes the tribals of Kharwars has long been assimilated as Rajput castes. There are numerous other tribes which have undergone selective acculturation and have added selected traits or features of the regional Hindus to their respective traditional cultures. In this practice of acculturation most of them failed to occupy any rank in the castes hierarchy while few of them were integrated into the lower strata of the Hindu social system.

NK Bose in the study of Juangas of Orissa find out the ways in which two different caste appeared from Juangas who are  the hill dwellers of Keonjhar district. Their economy was completely based on forest and shifting cultivation. Due to British economic policies and population pressure and section of Juangas came out of forest and settled at Pallahar and Dhankanal. Palaahar took to wheat cultivation and tribal rituals and adopted caste practices. Over a period of time they started to enter into matrimonial alliances with cultivating caste and emerged as a Jati. Dhankanal also became jati through the same process but in contact  with oil men Teli . therefore two jati  is emerged from same tribe. N K Bose called this method as Hindu method of absorption or Hindu mode of Incorporation.

Hill Reddys of Andhra-  the hill Reddys of Andhra Pradesh studied by Haimendorf. Among them all social life is centred around village. Village chief Muktadar was responsible for collecting land revenue and paying it to the British government. They came in contact with outside culture. Some of the Muktadar families changed their lifestyle and became plogh cultivators. Over a period of time they started observing caste practices and started receiving ritual services from lingayat priest. It elevated their status as Kshatriya and dissolved their tribal identity.

These studies shows that tribe may become part of caste system gradually by imitating the lifestyles of the caste people. Surjeet Sinha opines that changing socio economic reality affects tribe caste Continuum as it involve same amount of socioeconomic adjustment.

  1. Tribe must adopt value of Hierarchy
  2. It must be associated with particular occupation
  3. Changes in habit and Lifestyle should be accepted.
  4. It must adopt inequalities and system of economic interdependence
  5. Religion and cosmology, the worship of Hindu God and goddess and belief in Hindu worldview
  6. Tribe must discard other social oddaties likes sacrifices and other tribal practices

Views of various Anthropologist

  1. Risley – TCC is nothing but a political conquest of Hindu king.
  2. M N Srinivas – force for change was never applied.
  3. Mandlebum – TCC is a gradual and undramatic process

N K Bose Hindu mode of absorption – Hinduism has its few features and structural basis

  1. Hinduism is quite tolerant therefore tribes are able to enter into the caste world
  2. Hinduism is pluralistic, no single God and goddess and no single religious text therefore diversity is well recoganised
  3. Hinduism has capacity to adopt to new situation that it has synthesizing potential.

Causes of Tribe – caste continuum

  1. Ecological and Demographic factors- According to Mendlebaum, it is a leading factor within a particular ecological niche. Given ecological niche  has a definite carrying capacity. Once it exceeds optimum level of carrying capacity,  migration in neighboring villages occurs. In due course caste like features emerge.
  2. Economic factors – tribes have mechanical solidarity hence the system is not very viable. They have been in always attracted by the caste system which provided some economic security. Ecological factor is a push factor while economic factor is a pull factor.
  3. Changes in tribal organization- if the internal organization of tribe becomes differentiated and hierarchical and adopts caste system.

To move tribes have to go through following steps

  • Acceptance of an occupation and acquiring monopoly over it.
  • Hinduization or sanskritization


  • to reduce confrontation
  • to establish social solidarity


  • TCC is an natural process which have emerged because of contact between tribe and caste this situation reflects the process of socio cultural change which was formed in the past as well as present
  • Due to the long process of cultural exchange, tribe and caste have similar traits and characters. The socio-cultural process of Sanskritization and Westernization are responsible for tribe-like caste and caste-like tribe.


Difference between Tribe and caste

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