Vulnerable tribes: lost in a classification trap

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By – Shiv Sahay Singh


The article has been republished from The Hindu, April 8, 2017.


A recent Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) publication has brought to the fore startling revelations about the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) in the country inc- luding the fact that no base line surveys have been conducted among more than half of such groups.

“Our findings revealed shocking facts, of the 75 PVTGs, base line surveys exists for about 40 groups, even after declaring them as PVTGs,” states the publication:The Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups of India — Privileges and Predicaments.

Base line surveys are done to precisely identify the PVTG families, their habitat and socio-economic status, so that development initiatives are implemented for these communities, based on the facts and figures. The publication emphasises State governments must urgently conduct such surveys to arrive at accurate demographic and socio-economic figures of the PVTGs.

Among the 75 listed PVTG’s the highest number are found in Odisha (13), followed by Andhra Pradesh (12), Bihar including Jharkhand (9) Madhya Pradesh including Chhattisgarh (7) Tamil Nadu (6) Kerala and Gujarat having five groups each. The remaining PVTGs live in West Bengal (3) Maharashtra (3), two each in Karnataka and Uttarakhand and one each in Rajasthan, Tripura and Manipur. All the four tribal groups in Andamans, and one in Nicobar Islands, are recognised as PVTGs.

“The publication provides one of the most detailed descriptions of PVTGs with each of the tribes being discussed in separate chapters. This is result of hard work by nearly a dozen of anthropologists over a period of several years,” Jayanta Sengupta, Director-in-charge Anthropological Survey of India told The Hindu.

Updates crucial

The book points out that the PVTG list requires revising and refinement to avoid overlapping and repetition. For instance, the list contains synonyms of the same group such as the Mankidia and the Birhor in Odisha, both of which refer to the same group.

Some of the PVTGs are distributed in more than one State. The Birhor are recognised as a PVTG in four States, while 10 other group are PVTG in two States, namely the Sahariya, Kurumba, Koraga, Korwa, JenuKuruba, Kattunayakan, Katkari/Kathodi, Kharia, Kolam, and Lodha.

Thus, the number of the PVTGs at the national level would be 63, the book states.

“There is an urgent need to come up with the exact number of PVTGs. This would do away with overlapping names and go a long way in having a clear idea about the tribes and implementing welfare schemes directed at the communities,” Dr. Suresh Patil, former Deputy Director AnSI, and one of the prominent authors of the publication, said.

Regional and State-specific variations in welfare schemes for PVTGs has also been highlighted. While Odisha has established exclusive micro-projects for the PVTGs, there are none such in for the five PVTGs in Gujarat.

In Tamil Nadu, development schemes are being monitored through the Tribal Research Centre, Ooty, and implemented by the State government. However, in Karnataka, all affairs of two the PVTGs are handled by the Social Welfare Department, which extends some schemes as per their knowledge, barely receiving any professional advice. Only recently, the Karnataka Tribal Research Centre was been established at Mysore while many States did so decades ago.

Unequal treatment

In some cases, a PVTG receives benefits only in a few blocks in a district, while the same group is deprived in adjacent blocks. The reason is that micro-projects extend benefits only within their jurisdiction. For example, the LanjiaSaora are recognized as a PVTG across Odisha but the micro-projects are established only in two blocks, and the benefits are catered to by micro-projects in these blocks only, while the rest of the LanjiaSaora are treated among the Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Huge variation in Population

There is a huge variation in the number of PVTGs ranging from a few individuals as in case of Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese and about a little more than a thousand people as in the case of Toda of Nilgiris. Although PVTGs are slowly witnessing decadal increase in their population, quite a few still face stagnation such as the Birhor in central India. Some are declining like the Onge and Andamanese.

Smallest population size among the PVTGs are the Senteneles (as per the last contact effort on March 9, 2005, groups of 32 and 13 persons were sighted at different places). They still shy away from others. The Great Andamanese (57 persons) and the Onge (107 persons in 2012 as per Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti) are the dwindling populations. In main land, the Toto of West Bengal (314 families with 1,387 persons as per 2011 census) and the Toda of Tamil Nadu (1,608, inclusive of 238 Christian Todas as per TRC, Udagamandalam [Ooty], 2011)) have population less than 2000 persons. The Saharia people of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are the largest among the PVTGs with population more than 4 lakhs.

Literacy rate

Literacy rate among the PVTGs has gone up significantly over the past. From a single digit literacy rate, the figures have increased to 30 to 40 % in many of the PVTGs. However, as is the case with entire India, female literacy rate is still considerably lower compared to male counterpart.

The authors have pointed out at a considerable increase in the age of marriage among PVTGs. The incidence of girl child being married while still being a minor, among these tribes has been decreasing.

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