Home » Cover Story » Scheduled Tribes Are India’s Poorest People

Scheduled Tribes Are India’s Poorest People

Swagata Yadavar,
Share with your friends




Mumbai: Scheduled tribes are India’s poorest people, with five of 10 falling in the lowest wealth bracket, according to latest national data.


The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) shows the following: 45.9% of scheduled tribe members were in the lowest wealth bracket compared to 26.6% of scheduled castes, 18.3% of other backward caste, 9.7% of other castes and 25.3% of those whose caste is unknown.


There has been a 4 percentage point drop in the percentage of scheduled tribes in the lowest bracket as compared to a decade ago, from 49.9% in 2005-06 to 45.9% in 2015-16. But there has been a rise of 13.5 percentage points in the population of those who “don’t know” their caste in the lowest bracket–from 12.1% in 2005-06 to 25.6% in 2015-16.


Further, 70.7% of scheduled tribe, 50.8% of scheduled caste and 47.3% of those who “don’t know” fall in the lowest two wealth brackets compared to 37.6% of other backward castes and 24.8% of other castes.


Source: National Family Health Surveys 2005-06 and 2015-16


Wealth brackets in NFHS-4 are calculated on the basis of the numbers and kinds of consumer goods owned, ranging from a television to a bicycle or car, housing and markers such as the source of drinking water used, toilet facilities, and flooring material used in homes.


Scheduled tribes comprise 8% of India’s population–104 million as per the 2011 Census–yet, they account for one-fourth of its population living in the poorest wealth quintile, according to a World Bank brief, India’s Adivasis. Despite a decline of one-third in their poverty rate between 1983 and 2011, poverty rates remain high because of their low starting point, the brief further noted.


Among scheduled caste/tribe boys under five years of age, 32-33% are underweight, compared to 21% in the general population, IndiaSpend reported in October 2017.


Further, social exclusion prevents scheduled castes and scheduled tribes from accessing government health services and programmes and this worsens their health and nutritional status, according to this August 2015 study.


(Yadavar is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)


We welcome feedback. Please write to respond@indiaspend.org. We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.



“Liked this story? Indiaspend.org is a non-profit, and we depend on readers like you to drive our public-interest journalism efforts. Donate Rs 500; Rs 1,000, Rs 2,000.”


  1. Suhas Kolhekar Reply

    February 28, 2018 at 10:07 am

    This is very alarming data.Are we taking this seriously.Pushing schdeuled tribes in low income brackets is pushing them to become Malnurished and victims of TB and many more Infectious diseases.So the Policy makers need to be booked Under Tribal Atrocities Act unless Immediate POLICY changes are brought into effective Implementation.

  2. K SHESHU BABU Reply

    March 2, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    The study illustrates how marginalised communities are neglected. Scheduled Tribes, mostly live in rural and forest areas, are denied basic facilities of food, clothing and shelter. They need social and economic empowerment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *