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“Is tribe part of

Answer :

During the 1960s, many scholars argued that whether or not Tribe is a part of the caste continuum (Hindu based society) or totally a different type of community. There were two different types of views which came to some arguing in favour and some opposition to it, which were as follows:

• Those who believed that tribe is a part of caste continuum justified by saying that it is not totally different from caste-peasant society but had more community-based resource ownership with fewer levels of hierarchy. It doesn’t have a concept of resource ownership. Those who were against this view justifies by mentioning that like Hindu based society, the tribe doesn’t have the belief system based on purity and pollution which is an important part of their caste system.

• The differences were made on the basis of the cultural differences which the Hindu castes have, i.e,- belief system based on purity and pollution, levels of hierarchy and which the ‘animist’ tribals possess such as social organisation which is classless and based on kinship.

• The definition made with regard to ‘tribes’ appeared to be false and justified by arguing that tribe and peasants based caste system doesn’t have any common factor like size, isolation, religion and means of livelihood. Indian tribes like Santhal, Gonds and Bhils are the large groups expanded over a vast territory. Munda, Hos and other tribes existed since the turning of livelihood into agriculture. Birhors of Bihar which is a hunting-gathering tribe employ households to make a basket, press oil, etc. This, in turn, showed that ‘castes’ in the absence of an alternative approach have started hunting and gathering.

The literature showed the caste-tribe differences which prove that tribes were taken into the Hindu society, like through Sanskritisation. This could also be seen when tribal groups absorbed into the Hindu society when their homes were colonised and forests were cut down. This could be natural or exploitative that all groups were incorporated in the Hinduism as sects. Different schools of anthropologists focused on different aspects, some on the cultural aspects of the tribal absorption into the mainstream Hindu society and some studied about the exploitative and political aspect of this incorporation.

Scholars were of the opinion that tribe should not be treated as ‘pristine’ – original or pure which means that it still not contaminated by civilisation. They suggested that one should look into the tribes arising due to the exploitative and colonialist contact between pre-existing states and non-state groups like tribals. It is because of this that the concept of tribalism came –where tribals consider themselves to be a tribe in order to differentiate between newly formed other groups.

• It was considered that tribes are similar to hunting and gathering societies that have not been changed is an untrue phenomenon. Unlike today, Adivasis were not always an oppressed social group. For example – Gond kingdoms in Central India like Garha Mandla or Chanda. It is because of the stratification among the Adivasi community that led to the emergence of Rajput kingdoms in central and western India; they also exercised their power to raid the people and also through local services. They also had control of trade niche, trading of the forest produce, salt and elephants. But a long time ago, the capitalist economy exploiting forest resources, minerals and employing tribal people which led to the development of their connection with the mainstream society.

Note - Sanskritisation is a process used to describe how the castes and tribes to come at the top of the hierarchy tries to change or adopt customs, practices and ritual ideology.

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