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Tribal-Caste Continuum

Anthropologists have differed on the question relating to tribe and caste. According to Ghurye tribal people are backward Hindus differing only in degrees from the other segments of Hindu society.Elwin argued for the recognition of separate social and cultural identity of tribal people. Government of India gives tacit recognition to this identity of keeping alive under constitution sanction their lists of Scheduled Tribe.

According to Andre Beteille there are certain commonly observed differences between tribes and castes. The tribes are relatively isolated as to the castes .They are world within itself having few externalities. Tribes speak a variety of dialects which separates them from non tribes. They follow their own religion and practices which are not common in Hinduism. Language is a criterion of difference as tribes speak their local dialect for example Mundas and Oraons of Chota Nagpur speak different dialects but Bhumij have lost their tribal dialect and speak dominant language of the area.

According to N.K Bose there are many similarities in customs between tribes and castes and they are interdependent. Marriage within the clan is forbidden both in the tribe as well as in the caste. Both generally don't encourage marriage outside the group.

According to Herbert Risley the convention of endogamy is not rigidly enforced in the tribe where as such is the case in a tribe. But this view is not acceptable since the law of endogamy is enforced with extreme rigidity in some tribes.

Max Weber writes in Social Structure that when an Indian tribe loses its territorial significance it assumes the form of an Indian caste. In this way the tribe is a local group whereas caste is a social group.

According to D.N Majumdar the tribe looks upon Hindu ritualism as foreign and extra -religious even though indulging in it and the in the worship of God and Goddess where as in the caste these are necessary part of the religion.

In caste individuals generally pursue their own definite occupations because functions are divided under the caste system. In the tribe individuals can indulge in whatever profession they prefer as there is no fixed relation between them and occupation.

According to Bailey tribe and caste should be viewed as continuum. He seeks to make distinction not in terms of totality of behavior but in more limited way in relation to the political economic system. Briefly Bailey's argument is that a caste society is hierarchical while a tribal society is segmentary and egalitarian. But in contemporary India both caste and tribe are being merged into a different system which is neither one nor the other.

The tribes in India have been influenced by certain traditions of the communities around them. Major neighboring community in all the areas has always been Hindus. As a result from the very period there have been several points of contact between the Hindus of the area and tribal communities living within it. The nature and extent of contact the pattern of mutual participation and characteristics of revitalization movements have been different in different parts of India.

The ethnographic records establish that the contacts varied from semi-isolation to complete assimilation. The numerous castes among Hindus have emerged out of the tribal stratums. The recent studies of tribes of Himalayan western and middle India have left no doubt that some of the tribes are Hinduized to the extent that they have been assimilated with the different castes at different levels in the caste system.

The study of two major Central Himalayan tribes Tharu and Khasa reveal that though they have a tribal matrix and continue to practice certain distinctive tribal customs they have been accepted as Kshatriya.Their culture have been modeled on the ways of living of the Rajputs and Brahmins of the neighbor plain areas. With their fast adoption of the Hindu names and establishment of social connections with the Rajputs and Brahmins of the plains.

They declare themselves as Rajputs and with Brahmins constitute the apex of the social order. With the long and continuous contacts with the regional Hindu castes the tribals of Kharwars has long been assimilated as Rajput castes. There are numerous other tribes which have undergone selective acculturation and have added selected traits or features of the regional Hindus to their respective traditional cultures. In this practice of acculturation most of them failed to occupy any rank in the castes hierarchy while few of them were integrated into the lower strata of the Hindu social system.