People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 06, 2013






Structural Changes in Adivasi Societies:

Evidence from some ‘Least Developed States’


Archana Prasad


LAST week the Report of the Committee on Evolving a Composite Developmental Index categorised states into three: least developed, less developed and relatively developed states. It is no coincidence that of the top five least developed states four (namely Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh) house a majority of the nation’s adivasi population outside the north eastern states. It is also significant that all these states boast a robust annual growth rate and have pursued an aggressive policy of corporate industrialisation. But these very policies have brought about structural changes within the adivasi societies and facilitated their adverse integration into the non-agricultural labour market.




A recent report which did a preview of the rural Socio-Economic Caste Census, 2011 showed that the number of adivasis living in the rural areas has decreased by one per cent since the time enumeration was done under the general census of 2011. The difference between the two trends may be seen as a discrepancy by data analysts, but it can also be indicative of the fast changing reality of adivasi life. The Census of India, 2011 showed that though the decadal growth rate of adivasi population was only 2.4 per cent per year between 2001-2011, the rate of growth of adivasi population in urban centres was 49.7 or close to 5 per cent per year. By contrast the decadal growth rate of adivasis living in the rural areas was 21.3 or about 2.1 per cent per year. This huge difference between urban and rural areas in the decadal growth rates by residence is evident in absolute numbers. Between 1991-2001 the urban adivasi population increased by 2 million whereas in the decade of 2001-2011 it increased by 3.5 million. Further the rate of this increase only refers to those adivasis who report their permanent residence to be a non-rural area. This means that about 3.5 lakh adivasis have been becoming long term permanent urban residents every year. This number however excludes the short term circulatory migrants who spend large parts of their time in non-agricultural casual labour in rural and non-rural regions.


The national average is bolstered by the north eastern states four of which report a decadal change of over 90 per cent growth in adivasi populations in urban areas. This trend may be linked to the high educational levels of north eastern states and their lack of adequate job opportunities. It may not necessarily be linked to rural displacement and the penetration of corporate capitalism in these regions that has achieved limited attention. Further in many of the states like Nagaland and Sikkim, the absolute numbers of urban populations are much smaller. Therefore the national average can be misleading as it does not reflect the true situation of the states with high adivasi populations. Hence in order to do this, it is essential to analyse the trend in the central and eastern Indian states which report a different trend in urbanisation. In the four states, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, which form part of the top five list of ‘least developed states’ the following picture emerges:


Adivasi Population Growth Rates by Residence in Four ‘Least Developed States’, 2001-2011



Growth Rate

Rural Decadal Growth Rate

Urban Decadal Growth Rate













Madhya Pradesh








Source: Census of India, 2011, Primary Census Abstract, Data Highlights, Chapter 2, Statement 15, p.36. 


Though the table above indicates a varied and interesting picture some common observations may be made to explain the secular trend of urbanisation of adivasi populations. First, the decadal growth of population in three out of four states, excluding Madhya Pradesh, is significantly lower than the all India trend. Second, the decadal growth of rural adivasi population is also lower than the all India growth rate and the gap between rural and urban decadal growth rates is very high. Even in a state like Madhya Pradesh rural adivasi population growth rates are higher than the national average, the gap between rural and urban growth rates is 7 per cent. This shows a secular trend towards urbanisation amongst adivasi populations.




The root causes of such a change in adivasi societies can be linked to the agrarian distress and the forms of dispossession in rural India over the past decade and a half. The displacement of livelihoods amongst rural populations is a result of the twin processes of diversion of forest lands and the tardy implementation of the Forest Rights Act in most of these states. 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. 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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


Forest Land Diverted (ha)

Claims received under  FRA 30 June 2013

Percentage of Claims accepted

Percentage Rejected











Madhya Pradesh










All India





Diversion Figures are taken from CAG Report No 21, 2013, pp.20-21

FRA Percentages Calculated from Progress Report of Implementation of FRA as of 30.6.2013, Ministry of Tribal Affairs


Both Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have a poor record in the settlement of claims under the Forest Rights Act. They 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 adivasi livelihoods. This displacement results in the loss of land and marginalisation of land holdings on the one hand, and the fall in agricultural employment on the other hand. In the last six years alone landlessness amongst the adivasis has increased by 3.6 per cent and the number of sub-marginal holdings increased by 2.1 per cent. The situation in four ‘least developed states’ is to be considered in this light:


Percentage Changes in Access to Cultivated Land by Scheduled Tribes, 2004-2010


Class and Size of Holdings (Hectare)












Above 4















Madhya Pradesh














All India







Calculated from NSSO Report 516, 2004-05,  p.70 and NSSO Report 543, 2010-2011,  p.74.


While the increase in landlessness is lower than the all India average in all states except Jharkhand, the 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 and the loss of land amongst the adivasis may not be absolute in its character. This means that those with larger land holdings are losing 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 government’s 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 proletarisation of the adivasi people. While it is true that land has been a prized possession of the adivasis, the marginal adivasi peasant has always been forced to work on the lands of larger land owners in order to fulfill their subsistence requirements. In this situation some part of adivasi livelihood has always depended on agricultural and migrant casual labour for meeting a significant part of their subsistence. In this sense the class position of the adivasi as a rural worker rather than as a peasant has been further  reinforced ever since the post-green revolution period. But today, most adivasis are unable to find gainful employment opportunities in agriculture. This is also accompanied by the falling rates of scheduled tribe employment in MNREGS. The labour force participation of rural adivasis has declined by almost 8 per cent in the last decade. By contrast the urban labour force participation rate of adivasis has increased by 0.5 per cent in the same period. Paid work in urban areas has increased significantly for adivasi women. It has increased by 8.4 per cent in the period between 2007-2010 alone. This clearly shows that non-agricultural labour amongst the adivasis is on the rise.


The adivasis are thus becoming a part of a large reserve army of mobile labour which is sustaining the current corporate capitalist system. Such a system brings about adverse inclusion of the adivasi people into the labour market which in turn is structured by the regional integration of the ‘least developed states’ into the larger political economy. Such a phenomena is epitomised by the policies of the regional ruling classes who think that neo-liberalism is the best answer to their problems. In return they hope to perpetuate themselves and get a share of the corporate profits. They also support the weakening of social protection and welfare spending by the State. In this situation the adivasi worker’s consciousness needs to be built around complex demands for access to productive forces and social protection which promote class unity amongst all workers and petty producers.