Structural Transformations in Tribal Societies ’99-’11

Structural Transformations in Tribal Societies, 1999-2011: Evidence from ‘least developed’ states – Archana Prasad

Of the five states described as ‘least developed’ by the  Report of the Raghuram Rajan Committee on
Evolving a Composite Developmental Index four have a considerably large
scheduled tribe population. It is also significant that all these states boast
a robust annual growth rate and have pursued aggressive policies which have
resulted in the changing class differentiation within tribal people. This
differentiation is also a result of the forms of adverse integration of tribal
workers into rural and urban labour markets. The increasing labour mobility
amongst the scheduled tribe population is reflected in the growing trends of
urbanisation and changing intensity of dispossession amongst tribal people. 
root cause of these changing patterns of mobility and rising inequities within
tribal communities is the continuing structural changes in the agrarian
economy, both interms of the consolidation of land holdings and the penetration
of big capital into export led commercial agriculture. This is particularly
true of states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh where contract and
corporate farming in tribal lands has been a result of sustained policy
initiatives that are consistently linking tribal farmers and rural farmers to
national and global markets. Third party industry agreements in joint forest
management projects (in states like Andhra) and the promotion of export and
industry oriented agricultural produce like safed musli (for example in Bastar,
Chhattigarh), soya bean (through the ITC in Madhya Pradesh) and floriculture in
large parts of Chhattisgarh has fundamentally changed the agrarian relations
within the tribal regions. This article shows that it has also led to growing
inequities within the tribal society as revealed in the available sources of
data for the scheduled tribes. 


Ownership and control of land, particularly cultivated land is one of
the basic characteristics of the growing inequities within tribal societies.
The decadal changes in the land ownership patterns of four least developed
states with tribal population reveal a growing landlessness amongst tribal
people in these states in three different periods between 1999-2000 and 2010-11
(a decade that is temporally comparable with the census data enumeration in
2001 and 2011)

Table:1 Percentage Changes Access
to Cultivated Land by Scheduled Tribes, 1999-2010 

This table shows that the decedal increase in landlessness amongst the
scheduled tribes
 has been the highest in Madhya Pradesh in the period between
2000-2011. While the increase in landlessness is lower than the all India
average in all states except Jharkhand percentage of marginal holdings below 1
hectare has registered a significant rise in all the four states. This clearly
indicates that medium size land holdings are getting fragmented but the loss of
land amongst the adivasis may not be absolute in its character. This means that
those with larger land holdings are loosing a significant part of their land
but not all their land so as to be classed as ‘landless’. 

Chhattisgarh is
especially significant in this regard since there seems to be an unusual
increase in medium adivasi land holders, a phenomena that has possibly arisen
out of the Chhattisgarh governments contract farming initiative where adivasi
peasants are directly linked to corporate houses. This rise in marginal and
medium land holdings at the same time indicates a fundamental change within the
class structure of the Chhattisgarh adivasis and can explain the spurt in urban
growth rates of adivasis in the state. The secular rise in marginal land
holdings has to be seen as a part of the larger proletarianisation of the tribal
people. It is even more interesting to note that the rate of decline of large
and medium land holdings within scheduled tribes is considerably less than that
of small and marginal holdings. At an all India level, the picture emerges in a
more complex form. The rate of decline of large land holdings is much slower
than marginal and sub-marginal holdings. This indicates that the tribal people
with larger land holdings are able to retain their ownership where as the marginal
farmers were becoming dispossessed, increasing the inequities between the
landholders and the landless tribal workers.

The importance of the enactment and implementation of the forest rights
act has to be considered in this context and perspective. At the time of its
enactment the advocates of tribal rights anticipated that this Act could be an
antidote to both displacement and dispossession. But its implementation, when
compared with the diversion of forest lands for other projects, serves as a
grim reminder of the reality. According to the CAG Report on the Implementation
of the Compensatory Afforestation scheme in India, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand,
Madhya Pradesh and Odisha account for about 51 per cent of the diversion of
forest lands for corporate projects. If Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and
Rajasthan are added to this list than these seven states account for about 70
per cent of the land diverted for non-forestry purposes. However this fact is
also accompanied by the lack or recognition of land rights under the Forest
Rights Act. The scenario for the ‘least developed states’ is the following:

Diversion of Forest
Lands (2010-13) and Implementation of Forest Rights Act,2013


Of the four least developed states, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya
Pradesh have a poor record in the settlement of claims under the Forest Rights
Act. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh also have the highest rate of diversion of
forest lands for non-forestry purposes. Most of this diversion is for the
purposes of private mining projects which have a big impact in the displacement
of tribal livelihoods. This is clearly seen in the decedal changes in land
ownership as shown previously. 

In fact, in Madhya Pradesh landlessness has
increased by 23.1 percent in the decade of 2000-2011, and in Chhattisgarh by
8.2 percent between 2005 and 2011. This clearly indicates that the class
position of the adivasi as a rural worker rather than as a peasant has been
further reinforced ever since the post-economic reform period. But today, most
adivasis are unable to find gainful employment opportunities in agriculture. Such
a conclusion is only reinforced by the Census data of 2011.

Transforming Occupational Structures Amongst

The long term impact of the forms and patterns of dispossession are
reflected in the Census of India, 2011. The following picture emerges when
compared with the Census of India, 2001:

Table 3: Decedal Changes in Scheduled
Tribe Work Participation Rates, 2001-2011

Data Computed from  Census of India, 2001 ST01 and ST02; Census of
India, 2011, ST Tables Online data.

The table above shows a secular decline in the number of main workers or
workers getting more than 180 day of regular work in one year, even though
there is only a marginal decline or increase in the total work participation
rates. What is more interesting to note is the fact that this decline is more
drastic in the rural regions of all regions except Madhya Pradesh whose decline
in the main rural workforce is lower than that of the all India workforce. This
figure becomes especially significant when we consider the fact that the main
work participation rate of women has increased in the state. This is in stark
contrast to the decline in the work participation rates of the marginal female
workforce in the state in the same period. But overall the secular increase in
marginal tribal rural workforce (that people working for less than six months a
year) is reflective of the larger rural crisis that has fundamentally impacted
tribal livelihoods. In contrast there is a generalised increase in the main
female urban workforce in all cases except for Chhattisgarh, and the decline in
the urban male workforce in the same period highlights the gendered nature of
the changes in the occupational structure. Further even though there is a
general all India increase in the total work participation rate for scheduled
tribes it is largely a result of the increasing rates of marginal rural and
urban work. But even here, the rate of increase in total and rural female
marginal work is higher than that of males. 

Significantly the decline in female
marginal workers in the urban areas is replaced by a corresponding increase in
the main female urban workers. Once again this indicates that schedule tribe
women are shouldering greater responsibility to meet the daily needs of urban

In this context a further probe into the nature of occupational changes
reveals a rather interesting scenario of working class formation and
consolidation amongst the scheduled tribes. The decedal changes in the
industrial classification of main workers reflect the land dispossession that
is taking place amongst the tribals.

 Table 4:Decadal Changes in Industrial Classification of Main Tribal
Workers, 2001-2011

Given the figures for increasing landlessness amongst the tribal people,
it is not surprising that the number of tribal cultivators or peasants have
declined by more than 10 percent in all least developed states except for
Odisha where the rate of decline is less than the all India average of 10.31
percent. As expected most of this decline is amongst the tribal farmers of
rural areas, but this decrease is also gendered in its character. The rate of decline
in female cultivators is higher than that of male cultivators in the rural
regions indicating that female farmers and female headed households face a
greater degree of vulnerability. An interesting aspect of changes in work
patterns relate to the category of ‘other workers’. Here to the rate of increase in female work
participation rate is higher than that of males. 

Significantly that though
there is a secular decline in the category of “other workers” in urban areas,
the female urban work participation rates in this period seem to be increasing
at an all India level and at least in two of the four least developed states.
In states like Odisha the rate of its decline is small and much lower than the
rate of decline of male work participation. This leads us to the conclusion that more
women are being forced into the non-agricultural workforce as far as regular
work is concerned.

This picture contrasts with the decedal changes in the character of
marginal work. The data shows that though the number of tribal marginal other
workers have gone up in both urban and rural areas (Table 3) the increase is
much higher in the case of male worker participation rates (7.33 percent) as
compared with female marginal work participation rates (0.69 percent). The
pattern of this trend is more evident in the rural areas where work
participation rates of marginal work have increased by 4.02 percent overall and
for male workers they have risen by 8.2 percent in rural and 1.97 percent in
urban areas. In the four states under consideration the rural marginal work for
male workers has risen by almost 20 percent in Jharkhand and more than 10
percent in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh it has risen close to 10
percent, a figure higher than the all India average. Almost all this increase
is in category of ‘other workers’ in the case of Odisha and Jharkhand and
agricultural labour in the case of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

The facts presented above reveals the different methods of the
integration of the ‘tribal worker’ into labour markets and the economy at large.
In the case of states like Odisha and Jharkhand the sharp rise in the male and
female rural ‘other workers’ is more a result of private mining and
construction works in legally demarcated rural areas. But the changing economic
geography of these regions indicates the development of a peri-urban workforce
especially with the setting up of industrial townships with the help of private
corporate capital. In case of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh the consolidation
of land holdings under the control of relatively large farmers is inspired by a
governmental push towards contract farming and export led agriculture through
corporate support. Further the data also supports the argument that the rate of
increase of the entry of female tribal workers into the regular labour market
is higher than that of the tribal male workers in most cases. This clearly
shows that the work patterns within the scheduled tribes are emerging largely in
contrast to the general decline in the female workforce participation within
the Indian labour market. 

In all cases however, it is clear that the status of
the scheduled tribe is getting consolidated as a rural and urban worker and not
as a farmer. In this situation the slow implementation of the Unorganised
Sector Workers Social Security Act, 2008 and Forest Rights Act, 2006 will only
further hurt the interests of the scheduled tribes in contemporary India.

Archana Prasad is Professor at Centre for Informal Sector and Labour
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi