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II. 6.1.3 Tribal population and its distribution

The Census of 2011 enumerates the total population of Scheduled Tribes at 10,42,81,034 persons, constituting 8.6 per cent of the population of the country, the tribal communities in India are enormously diverse and heterogeneous. There are wide ranging diversities among them in respect of languages spoken, size of population and mode of livelihood. The number of communities that find their place in the list of the Schedule of the Indian constitution is reflective of this diversity. The Government of India, in its Draft National Tribal Policy, 2006 records 698 Scheduled Tribes in India. As per the Census of India 2011, the number of individual groups notified as Scheduled Tribes is 705. While it is not possible to provide detailed descriptions of the demographic features and socio-economic status of each of these tribal groups, this section attempts to map out the broad contours of the Scheduled Tribes of the country in terms of their demography and geography.

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There are various ways in which the demography of Scheduled Tribes may be understood. Here, we have primarily presented data on tribal population and its geographical distribution across states and the different individual tribes, areas of concentration and populations. Further, we include available quantitative and qualitative data on the tribal population in relation to languages and livelihoods, density of forest cover and existence of mineral resources, and on-going conflicts.

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The territories inhabited by tribes cross States and Union Territories in the country and several tribes are found residing across five to six states. There are also tribal groups whose populations are distributed across international boundaries such as tribes in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram which have fellow tribes people in China (including Tibet), Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Nagas, for instance, are divided among the states of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh as well as in the neighbouring country of Myanmar.

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Scheduled Tribes communities live in about 15% of the country’s area, in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains and forests to hills. A large proportion of Scheduled Tribes are collectors of forest produce, hunter-gatherers, shifting cultivators, pastoralists and nomadic herders, and artisans. Traditional occupations of tribal groups may range from honey-collection to hunting small animals to engaging in metal-work and rope-making.

Number of Scheduled Tribes

Odisha has the largest number of notified STs (62) followed by Karnataka (50), Maharashtra (45), Madhya Pradesh (43) and Chhattisgarh (42). Sikkim has the least with four tribes followed by Nagaland, Daman and Diu and Uttarakhand with five each. Among the South Indian States (without any Scheduled Areas), Karnataka has the largest number of Scheduled Tribes (50) followed by Tamil Nadu (36) and Kerala (36).

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The tribes can be distinguished into five broad regional groupings based on ecological, social, economic, administrative, and ethnic factors (although there are many overlaps):

  1. Himalayan Region: It has three sub-regions: (a) Northeastern Himalayan region, (b) Central Himalayan region, and (c) North-Western Himalayan region.
  2. Middle Region: It is constituted by the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh (including Chhattisgarh), where more than 55 per cent tribal people of India live.
  3. Western Region: It includes the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
  4. Southern region: It is comprised of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
  5. Island Region: The Islands of Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal and Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea.

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The tribes can also be differentiated on the basis of population size since communities like Gonds, Bhils, Santhals, Oraons, Minas, Mundas and so on have a population that ranges from one million to a little over seven million people. As against this, there are communities like the Andamanese Islanders and tribal groups such as the Birjia and Asur in Bihar and the Birhor of Madhya Pradesh who have a population of less than 200 persons.

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