Social Scientist. v 12, no. 135 (Aug 1984) p. 55.


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Tribal Development with Special Reference to North-East India

DESPITE THE GROWING importance attached by social scientists to the study of tribal development and the consequent prolific growth of literature on the subject, one has reasons to feel dissatisfied with the status of tribal research in India, which is marked, by and large, by a low level of sophistication.1 No serious attempts have been made even to conceptualize the term 'tribe', and social scientists have willy-nilly accepted a legalistic definition. For them tribes -are those which are included in the Scheduled Tribes list in the Consitution of India. The 414 tribes listed following the 1956 Presidential Notification differ greatly in their habitats, modes of production, degree of isolation? decree of acculturation, level of development, social customs, beliefs -and so on. The anthropologist's conception of a tribe as a small, culturally distinct and economically self-sufficient community with a language of its own and an autonomous political organization is utterly inappropriate to the so-called tribal groups in India.2 Some go to the extent of stating that the concept of a tribe is an anachronism in the present-day world, since there is no criterion to divide humanity into two branches, tribes and non-tribes. In the presen-day world, smaller, isolated, technologically backward communities have either become extinct or have become part of one or the other greater civilizations of the world.3 It is unfortunate that, following classical colonial anthropology, Indian anthropologists have depicted tribes as small, self-contained, * self-sufficient and autonomous communities practising subsistence economy with the lack of or limited external trade, in which exploitation and social conflict have no place. They have attempted to demonstrate the non-existence of any differentiation among the tribal population and, thus strengthened and propagated the same myth of homogeneity held and propagated by political leaders and populists.4 Failure to take cognizance of the uneven distribution of assets among tribal households, expansion of trade, political centralization and emergence of an exploiting group based on antagonistic production



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