People of India
An Eye-Opening Study
BJP notion of the Indian nation, of Indian society, culture and tradition
has been most effectively challenged by the data published by the Anthropological
Survey of India in a series of publications titled collectively as the
'People of India'. This data is the result of a detailed and complex
survey carried out, analysed and reported upon by a specialised team
of 500 trained scholars of whom 284 belonged to the ASI and 216 belonged
to various universities, research organisations spread over the country.
It was headed and coordinated by KS Singh the then Director of the organisation,
and a scholar of great repute.
survey was conducted mostly by anthropologists, particularly social
anthropologists, although there were also some scholars from the allied
fields of linguistics, psychology,, ecology, bio-chemistry within ASI
and a smaller number of historians, sociologists and political scientists
as well who adopted the methodology derived through study and discussion.
They were all scholars with grassroots knowledge of the communities
studied by them.
project covered a period of almost a decade, from 1985 to the publication
of the first introductory volume in 1992. The methodology adopted for
the study was such as to minimise arbitrariness. Its complexity and
thoroughness is apparent from the fact that 91 cultural zones were identified.
As many as 4258 communities have been covered in a single culture zone
over the states, 331 communities have been studied in two culture zones
and 45 communities have been covered in more than two culture zones.
The data have been collected from 421 districts. Of them 3972 communities
have been studied in one district, 512 have been covered in two districts
and 151 in more than two districts. Sometimes as many as 1807 communities
have been covered in a single village, 783 have been studied in two
villages and 475 communities in more than two villages. Similarly, 1794
communities have been investigated in one city/town, whereas, 393 and
182 communities have been studied in two or more than two cities/towns
respectively. The settlements and the communities are evenly distributed
across the country. The total number of communities identified, after
rigorous criteria of categorisation, located and studied, was 4635.
The definition and identification accounted for how the communities
perceived themselves, how they were perceived of by others in various
ways, their present and changing profile in both cases.. Not only are
the changes covered, but the linkages between different communities
have also been mentioned and dealt with.
project has given real teeth to the political truth of unity in diversity
that we talk so much about. And in the precise manner in which it has
defined and given content to this truth it has also challenged every
dogma that the Sangh Parivar has been propagating for so long.
We give below some of the conclusions of this valuable study:
- As a
people we do not constitute a single homogenous community. We are
one of the most diverse people in the world. There are 4635 identifiable
communities in this country, diverse in biological traits, dress language,
forms of worship, occupation, food habits and kinship patterns. It
is all these communities who in their essential ways of life, express
our national popular life.
body who has inhabited this land for a long time is an Indian. Nobody
is a ‘foreigner’ in this country and there is no pure Aryan. Most
Indian communities have a mixed ancestry, and it is today impossible
to separate our roots. Indian roots derive from a mixed ancestry that
includes the Proto- australoid, Paleo- mediterranean, Caucasian, Negroid,
Mongoloid.. The racial components that have gone into making the indian
peoples are the Aryan, Greek, Hun, Arab, Turk, African, Mongol, European.
These have got so intertwined that none of them can be found in their
pure form in India today.
and morphological traits within some communities vary more than those
between communities. Homogeneity is along the lines of region, not
caste or religion. It has been scientifically disproved that upper
and lower castes have a different racial ancestry. For example, Tamil
Brahmans have little similarity of Racial traits with Brahmins in
the North- say, a Kashmiri Pandit. The Brahmans and people of the
lowest caste in most regions show remarkable homogeneity in this respect.
Many segments of the Muslim population do not show any component that
can be called migratory. They have descended mainly from the local
are few communities in India which do not consider themselves as migrants
or "outsiders". Every community recalls its migration in
its folklore, history and collective memory. All accepted the regional
ethos of the area that they settled in, and contributed to its local
traditions. Even invaders became migrants eventually.
culture has gained many of its elements from migrations.
settlers professing Islam actually settled here earlier than those
today professing Hinduism.
is an important source of diversity and unity. There are as many as
325 languages and 25 scripts in use, deriving from various linguistic
families- the Indo-aryan, Tibeto-Burman, Dravidian, Austro- Asiatic,
Andamanese, Semitic, Indo- Iranian, Sino- Tibetan, Indo- European.,
apart from thousands of dialects At least 65% of the communities are
bi-lingual, most tribal communities are tri- lingual. The numerous
mother tongues are important instruments of cultural expression and
preservation of diversity. Language contact through bi- ligualism
is a major vehicle for social and cultural inter- action.
of the Indian communities are rooted in their resources. The lives
and livelihood, the occupations, dress patterns, the songs and hut
settlements of the different communities cannot be really seperated
from their landscape, climate and occupations deriving from their
resources. Experts say, "rootedness in the eco- cultural zone
is an outstanding characteristic of our communities, no matter what
religious label attaches to them". Even the migrants seek to
identify themselves with their local environment except in the matter
of languages they speak at home or in marriages.
3% of the communities derive their names from religious sects, while
71.77% live within a single regional or linguistic boundary and are
rooted in its ethos. Those in Kerala and Lakshwadeep share a great
number of traits, those in Kerala and Punjab do not.
of the communities derive their names from the traditional occupations
they pursue. Say, Bhuiyar (peasant), Alvan (salt maker), Churihar
(bangle-maker), Lohar (blacksmith), Bunkar (weaver), Chitrakar (scroll-painter),
and also gaddis, gujjars, julahas, dhobis, sapera, nai, etc. etc.
14% have their names associated with their environment i.e. montains,
plains rivers etc. 14% from their places of origin, such as Gond,
Alhuwalia, Kanpuria, Chamoli, Arandan, Shimong.
categories are also based on occupations, and cut across religion.
Many surnames derive from occupations pursued, offices traditionally
held, and original villages, cutting across community boundaries and
region. Singh, Acharya, Patel, Naik, Prasad, Gupta, Sharma, Khan are
cultural expression cuts across religion. 775 traits have been identified
by experts- relating to ecology, settlement, identity, food habits,
marriage patterns, social customs, social organisation, economy, and
occupation, linkages, and impact of change and development, which
reveal a sharing of traits across religious categories. Hindus share
96.77% traits with Muslims, 91.19% with Buddhists, 88.99% with Sikhs,
77.46% with Jains. Muslims share 91.18% traits with Buddhists, 89.95%
with Sikhs. Jains share 81.34% traits with Buddhists. The Scheduled
Tribes share 96.61% traits with OBCs, 95.82% with Muslims, 91.69%
with Buddhists, 91.29% with Scheduled Castes, 88.20% with Sikhs.
of identification by different communites are mainly non religious.
In dispensing their dead, 3059 communities cremate them. As many as
2386 bury them. Many communities follow both practices. So is the
case with many marriage symbols, food habits, dress, dance and musical
forms. Clans bearing names of animals, plants or inanimate objects
cut across religions, language, region etc.
communities in India have not remained isolated. They have interacted
with their physical and social environment and with each other, in
conflict and a give and take through centuries of shared life and
struggles. This has given form and content to our diversity and unity,
and is the best guarantee of our unity in diversity.
People of India: An Introduction
by KS Singh is the introductory volume to the monumental series produced
by the Anthroplogical Survey of India. The introductory volume has
been published on behalf of ASI by Seagull Books, 26 Circus Avenue,
Calcutta 700 017