Christian and Muslim tribals remain one of the fastest growing demographic groups according to figures released by the Census department this week.
The number of tribals who adhere to the Christian faith has grown by 63 per cent from 63.90 lakh in 2001 to 1.03 crore in 2011. The number of tribals who proclaim themselves to be Muslims has also grown by 51.6 % from 12.25 lakh to 18.58 lakh.
The total number of tribals in the country stands at 10.4 crore which is an increase of 23.36 per cent over its population of 8.43 crore in 2001.
The total number of tribals who profess the Hindu faith has also grown by 39 % from 6.04 crore to 8.41 crore.
The pinch has however been felt by those who do not belong to these three dominant faiths and are animists. Their numbers have declined from 1.64 crore in 2001 to 0.78 crore in 2011.
Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are indications of primitive traits; distinctive culture; shyness of contact with the community at large; geographical isolation; and backwardness.
There are a total of 645 distinctive tribes India. However a tribe listed as ST in a state need not be so in another State.
The two tribes of Bhil and Gond together constitute nearly 22 per cent of the total ST population.
Nearly 90 per cent of these tribes stay in rural areas. However growth of the Indian economy is driving a lot of these individuals to the cities. In the last one decade the percentage of Urban tribals has increased by 49.7 % to 10.97 lakh.
There have been allegations by right wing groups that due to the economic status and backwardness of these groups, they are susceptible to conversion.
Others have however pointed out that there has been a rising assertiveness amongst people about their own identity and many who earlier hide their identity are now more vocal about saying who they actually are.
“There is an increasing awareness amongst a section of the population of the benefits that a ST status endows. Earlier, particularly amongst Muslims those who were afraid to acknowledge that they were tribals because the name calling associated with certain communities are now coming out and acknowledging their origins. This could be one of the reasons for the increase in these numbers,” Razia Patel, head of the Minority Cell, Indian Institute of Education who had done a report on the Muslim tribes of Maharashtra said.
The highest number of Christian STs is in Meghalaya is (21.57 lakh) followed by Nagaland (16.80 lakh).
The highest number of Muslim STs are in Jammu and Kashmir (1.32 lakh) followed by Maharashtra (1.12 lakh).