Scheduled Tribes in India
The term “Scheduled Tribes” refers to multiple tribes in India who the Indian government and the country’s constitution recognizes. Currently, 705 Scheduled Tribes exist in India. Among these 705 recognized tribes, 75 of them have the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) designation. These groups have a pre-agriculture level of technology, stagnant or declining populations, extremely low literacy and subsistence-level economies.

Scheduled Tribes

Scheduled Tribes of India are usually called Adivasi after the original inhabitants of India. Many of these Scheduled Tribes have their own languages, religious customs, forms of self-governance and traditions of their own.

During India’s industrialization era, from 1750 to 1947, many Scheduled Tribes experienced displacement from their homes and homelands. Mining activities, commercial farming, timber industries and war were the main causes of Adivasi displacement during this time period. Due to their displacement, Adivasis had to migrate to different parts of India. The majority of these Adivasi had problems integrating into the mainstream Indian society since many of them were illiterate and malnourished. This contributed to the Indian perception that the Adivasi were poor, ignorant and backward.

According to the 2011 census of India’s population, Scheduled Tribes made up approximately 8 percent of India’s population. Scheduled Tribes also accounted for 25 percent of the poorest populations in India. In 2018, India’s National Data found that Scheduled Tribes in India were the poorest populace. According to The National Family Health Survey 2015-2016, 45.9 percent of Scheduled Tribe members lived in the lowest wealth bracket. This finding was even more shocking since more people of Scheduled Tribes lived in the lowest wealth bracket than the people of Scheduled Castes, who people previously knew as the untouchable castes.


A 2018 study in the Journal of Social Inclusion Studies delves deeper into the above statistics. The study points to the lack of access to productive income-earning assets, non-utilization of available resources, lack of education and equal opportunities, all serving as the main causes of poverty among Scheduled Tribes in India. What further complicates the matter is that traditional methods of addressing tribal poverty are not viable.

While economic development usually associates with poverty alleviation, economic development and industrialization are the cause of Scheduled Tribes’ poverty in India. The recent economic development has eliminated many of the traditional occupations that tribal inhabitants of India had. The same study presented a table of data about the incidence of poverty between tribals and non-tribals in India. The researchers noted that India’s economic development did not occur equally for the many Scheduled Tribes. The data from 1993 to 2012 shows that tribal poverty is always higher than non-tribal poverty. The study found that tribal poverty was still more than two times higher than non-tribal poverty, even though India’s overall incidence of poverty has been in decline since 1993.

The Indian Government

The Indian government is working to reduce poverty among Scheduled Tribes. In 2019, for example, India’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that India is allocating 85,000 crore ($74,710.96) of its 2020 budget to furthering the development and welfare of scheduled tribes. The Indian Ministry of Tribal Affairs is also responsible for promoting and implementing the programs that will benefit Scheduled Tribes in India.

On February 14, 2020, the Minister of Tribal Affairs conducted a workshop with the Tribal Cooperation Marketing Federation of India (TRIFED). During the workshop, the minister recognized and congratulated TRIFED in its mission of expanding and promoting products that tribal craftsmen and craftswomen made. In the same workshop, multiple shareholders, mainly leading national institutions, social sector and industry leaders, met up to discuss their further cooperation with the TRIFED’s mission.

Scheduled Tribes in India still find themselves in a difficult economic reality. The historic and economic marginalization which displaced the Scheduled Tribes still seems to still loom over India. More shockingly, the cause of Scheduled Tribe poverty seems to have its roots in India’s improving economic conditions since 1750. The Indian government does, however, recognize the importance of economically supporting and developing its Scheduled Tribes. With the help of the Indian government, many hope that a better financial future waits for the Scheduled Tribes in India.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr