Tribal” refers to groups of people who define themselves by a kinship to an ancient lineage before they identify with the nation. Anthropologists define a tribe as consisting of a singular cultural unit, having shared traits such as language and the absence of a hierarchical political structure.
Tribal identity is inherited through stories and myth, developing early in the social environment and outside the conscious awareness of the individual. It is essential for the well being of the tribe infusing members with positive self-image.
Modernization has increased choice for individuals but while modern identities based on profession do not define our values or purpose of existence, traditional tribal people have a more well defined personal identity that defines and locates an individual within itself, the larger context of the world, nature and the supernatural providing a sense of security and well-being.
Tribal heritage includes myths, rituals, beliefs, customs, symbols, artistic creations and wisdom. Although there are no written texts, knowledge is preserved and perpetuated through oral tradition, music and visual art forms.
Tribal culture implies closeness to nature. A tribal regards elements of nature as alive and conscious, revering them as deities to turn to in crisis and to communicate with through rituals and incantations, through song and dance, and through narratives and myths.
Tribal affiliation can also been seen in the context of the European colonial era, as used by European administrators to conveniently classify the indigenous populations based on similarities of language and culture. By dividing peoples into “tribes,” it became easier to distinguish and control them. They often used “primitiveness” as a justification for colonization. Tribal identity also tended to weaken the sense of national identity. It has been used by tribal people themselves to unify themselves against the European colonials and to gain benefits and political influence.
There is no definition for tribal in the Constitution of India, it simply says that the President of India can "specify the tribes or tribal communities... to be Scheduled Tribes". The classification continues to provide for diverse communities, who are outside the Hindu caste structure,
indicating the marginal existence of a group of people outside the mainstream placed alongside the "outcasts" of the traditional Hindu caste system. This tribal identity was imposed on a proud, innovative and freedom loving people.
A misconception is that all tribal people live in isolation, without modern technology. However, so-called tribal people survive in a variety of situations, urban and rural. As the tribals see themselves as sovereign, they resist being absorbed into the Hindu mainstream and entering the caste system at a low level.
The tribal voice has not been heard. Indigenous people will need to trust their own tribal thinking, research, and teaching rather than allowing bureaucrats to do it.