The tribal population in India according to 1991 census, was 67.76 million. They formed 8.08% of the country’s total population. At present, India has the second largest tribal population in the world, next only to Africa. The tribes in India are spread over the length and breadth of the country. They vary in strength in different states from a few hundreds to several lakhs. The highest number of tribals according to 1991 are found in Madhya Pradesh (15.4 million), followed by Maharashtra (7.3 million), Orissa (7 million), Bihar (6.6 million) and Gujarat (6.1.million).
The most numerically high are the Gonds (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh} about 4 million, and Santhals (Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal)—more than 3 million. The smallest tribal community is the Andamese with the strength of only 19. The tribals are at different stages of social economic and educational development After independence provisions were made in the Constitution to safeguard tribal interests and promote their development and welfare activities. The impact of modernization, that is the values, institutions and technology on tribal society has been varied.
For ages tribals were considered a primitive segment of Indian society. They lived in forests and hills without having more than a casual contact with the so-called civilized and advanced neighbors. There being no population pressures, there was no attempt to penetrate their areas and impose alien values and beliefs on the tribals. However, complete isolation of tribals was a myth which was exploded by various scholars. There have been instances of interaction between neighboring tribal groups, economic exchange etc. Yet each group maintained its cultural distinctiveness. The tribal settlements close to Hindu caste villages entered into Jajmani relationship with them and in the process incorporated some Hindu elements in their fold.
The strategies adopted by the British administrators towards the tribals included acquiring tribal land and forest and declaring certain tribal areas as excluded or partially excluded. On the other hand the British Government established a number of schools and hospitals in the tribal areas with the help of Christian missionaries who converted many tribals to Christianity.
The Westernization process amongst the tribals began. However, some tribals still remain untouched by modernization till independence. Christianity, the main factor of modernization amongst tribals, was spread through Missionaries mainly active in Chhotanagpur and North-Eastern India. The traditional life-styles of the tribals were to be preserved as museum specimen. This promoted classical ethnographic studies. These studies provided administrators an understanding of the cultural background of the people they would rule.