Th Constitution of India recognises a number of castes and tribal groups. These castes and tribes are called Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) respectively.
They are the major constituents of the population of India. According to the census of India 2001 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes constitute 16% and 8.2% respectively. Their distribution is very uneven throughout the country.
Numerically they have the largest concentration in Uttar Pradesh followed by West Bengal and Bihar. Mizoram has the least SC population i.e. 272 person (in terms of percentage it is almost negligible). The state of Nagaland and Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands do not have any notified SC Population.
In terms of the proportion of the total population of a state they are most numerous in Punjab where they account for more than 28.85% percent of its total population followed by Himachal Pradesh (24.7%) and West Bengal (23.3%).
The Scheduled Castes are by and large landless agricultural labourers, cultivators with small land holdings and small commodity producers or artisans. Due to the association with agricultural activities, their main concentrations are found in the alluvial and coastal plains of the country. That is why, the major concentrations are found in the states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar.
On the other hand the hilly and forested tracts and the tribal belt of the central and north east India have only a small population of the Scheduled Castes.
The analysis at districts level pattern leads to the identification of the following three zones.
(i) Areas of High Concentration
There are two major areas with high concentration of Scheduled Castes. They are Indo-Ganga plain and the eastern coastal plain. Both these plains are endowed with fertile soil, adequate water supply and climate suited to the cultivation of a large variety of crops. These opportunities help to develop intensive agriculture which supports a large population.
(ii) Areas of Medium Concentration
The Scheduled Castes are moderately concentrated in the districts adjoining the zone of high concentration.
(iii) Areas of Low Concentration
Low concentration of Scheduled Castes is found in the central Vindhyas, Chhotanagpur region, the western dry region of Rajasthan, the hilly tracts of the North-East and the coastal parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The tribal people have a number of distinct characteristics which set them apart from the rest of the people. Generally, they live in isolation in the forested and hilly regions and they profess very old religious beliefs. Most of these groups are illiterate and do not have script of their languages. Most of them belief in supernatural powers and supernatural beings.
The Scheduled Tribes are not uniformly distributed all over the country. There are three main regions in which most of their population lives. These regions are:
The tribal population of India is more concentrated in a few specific regions. Most of the tribal people live in the forested and hilly regions and areas of lower agricultural productivity. Most of these areas suffer from natural difficulties like rough terrain and climatic difficulties and the level of economic development in all these regions is very low. The natural resources have not been developed much and there is little development of means of transport and communication and this factor is also responsible for the low levels of development.
Some times it is thought that the levels of economic development in areas of tribal population is low because these areas are inhibited by the tribal people. This, however, is not true. These areas suffer from lower levels of development party due to in hospitable life in these regions is difficult and therefore these areas are occupied by the tribal people.
In fact the tribal people originally did not settle in these areas of harsh environmental conditions by their own choice. They were rather pushed by the expanding modern civilization into these areas. Under the pressure of the successive invaders and the migrants, the earlier settlers of the country who could not fight with new powerful comers had to migrate into remote areas to save their cultural identify.
District Level Pattern
Like Scheduled Castes, district level analysis of Scheduled Tribes reveals that there are different levels of concentration. These levels can be grouped into three categories. They are (i) areas of high concentration; (ii) areas of medium concentration and (iii) areas of low concentration.
(i) Areas of High Concentration
There are 40 districts in the country where Scheduled Tribes hold a dominant position. In these 40 districts the share of Scheduled Tribes population to total population ranges from 75.01% to 98.09%. Among them, eight districts are in Mizoram, seven each in Nagaland and Meghalaya, six in Arunachal Pradesh and five in Manipur and the rest seven districts are spread over four states i.e. Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Serchhip district of Mizoram have highest concentration of tribal population in the country i.e. 98.09% followed by West Khasi hills of Meghalaya having 98.02% of tribal population.
(ii) Areas of Moderate Concentration
In these regions the share of tribal population varies between 25.01% to 75.00% of total population. This include 85 districts belonging to 17 states and Union Territories of the country.
Spatially, the major occupancy is constituted by the districts from the states of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa (14 each), Chhatisgarh (10), Jharkhand (8) and Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat (7 each).
(iii) Areas of Low Concentration
In this region the proportion of tribal population varies from 5.00-25.00 percent. This holds the highest number of 140 districts in the country. These districts are distributed among 18 States or Union Territories. The spatial pattern of districts in this region may be seen in Madhya Pradesh (18), Maharashtra and Rajasthan (17 each), Karnataka (14), Assam (13), Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa (10 each), Jharkhand (8), Jammu and Kashmir (6) and Chhatisgarh (5). Remainng are scattered in Gujarat and Sikkim (3 each) Uttarakhand (2), and Manipur, Kerala, Daman and Diu, and Bihar (One each).
Apart from this there are as many as 143 districts spread over 18 States and Union Territories where tribal population are found whose range varies between 0.5% to 5.00%.