Indigenous peoples in India

In India, 461 ethnic groups are recognized as Scheduled Tribes. These are considered to be India’s indigenous peoples.

In mainland India, the Scheduled Tribes are usually referred to as Adivasis, which litterally means indigenous peoples. With an estimated population of 84.3 million, they comprise 8.2% of the total population.

There are, however, many more ethnic groups that would qualify for Scheduled Tribe status but which are not officially recognized. Estimates of the total number of tribal groups are as high as 635.

The largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven states of north-east India, and the so-called “central tribal belt” stretching from Rajasthan to West Bengal.

India has a long history of indigenous peoples’ movements aimed at asserting their rights

Legislation Concerning Indigenous Peoples

India has several laws and constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth Schedule for mainland India and the Sixth Schedule for certain areas of north-east India, which recognize indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-governance.

The laws aimed at protecting indigenous peoples have, however, numerous shortcomings and their implementation is far from satisfactory.

The Indian government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the UN General Assembly in 2007.

However, it does not consider the concept of “indigenous peoples”, and thus the UNDRIP, applicable to India.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in India to learn about major developments and events during 2015.

 Link to article on the term "Adivasi" (Indigenous)

Adivasi: A Contentious Term to denote Tribes as Indigenous Peoples of India