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Globilisation and plight of tribals
Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.

Meaning of Globalization

Globalisation means different things to different people. In business world, it refers mainly to specific strategies in companies designed to overcome the constraints of national boundaries through the mechanism of globalised production and marketing networks. In the field of economics it is considered synonymous to economic inter-dependence between countries covering increased trade, technology, labour and international capital flows. In the political debate, globalisation refers to the integrative forces drawing national societies into a global community covering the spread of ideas, norms and values. Last but not the least, in the social field, the tidal wave of global culture is sweeping the indigenous cultures all over the world.
[i] [1]

Globalisation is defined as free movements of goods, services, capital (FDI), people and information technology across national boundaries. It creates and, in turn, is driven by an integrated global economy, which influences both, economic as well as social relations within and across countries. The opening up of an economy increases competition internally as well as externally, leads to structural changes in the economy, alters consumer preferences, lifestyles and demands of citizens. The process of global economic integration gained momentum only in the 1970s with the development of capital markets. [ii] [2] While mainstream economists suggest that globalisation process is a strong force for equalizing per capita income between nations, others say that the developing countries are exposed to threats of further aggravation and marginalization in the process. [iii] [3]


Fears of Globalization

Globalization has raised fears all over the world that the market could rend the social fabric of societies. Antiglobalizationists proclaim, "The world is not for sale." Globalization, these days, is not being warmly welcomed particularly in the developing countries. Quotations from centuries past would show that fears about globalization have long been prevalent. Back in the time of the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder was already complaining about "India, China and Arabia robbing our Empire one hundred million sentences every year." [iv] [4]

As Robert J. Samuelson [v] [5] puts it "… Globalisation is a double-edged sword. It’s a controversial process that assaults national sovereignty, erodes local culture and tradition and threatens economic and social stability." It brings instability and unwelcome change…exposes workers to competition from imports…undermines governments…" [vi] [6]. As Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State has said, "globalisation inevitably challenges prevailing social and cultural patterns…A sense of political unease is inevitable-especially in the developing world-a feeling of being at the mercy of forces neither the individual nor the government can influence any longer." [vii] [7]

The driving forces in the process of globalisation are incentives and integration. The most visible outcomes in the process are the development of transnational corporations and international banks having principal control over growing world trade in goods and services rather than governments (the world's 37,000 parent transnational corporations and their 200,000 affiliates control 75% of the world trade).

Views about globalisation differ widely, influenced by the particular vantagepoint of an individual or a country. In South Asia, for example, during the period of globalisation the absolute number of people in poverty has increased, despite the fact that India, the largest country in the region has been experiencing a growth rate of over 6.5 per cent during this period of increased integration with the global economy. Although the other indices of human development in South Asia have improved during the last three decades, they are still among the worst in the world. [viii] [8] According to Paul Streeten, [ix] [9] globalisation has its gainers and losers (see box below)


Gainers and Losers of Globalisation

Gainers Losers
Rich countries: Japan, Europe, USA Many developing countries
Output Employment
Rich people Poor people
Profits Wages
People with high skills People with low skills
Educated Uneducated
Professional, managerial and technical people Workers
Capital Labour
Creditors Debtors
Those independent of public services Those dependent of public services
Large firms Small firms
The strong The weak
Risk takers Human security
Global markets Local communities
Sellers of technically sophisticated products Sellers of primary and standard manufactured products
Global culture Local cultures
Global elite Global poor
Firms with market access and branding Firms without market access and no branding
Source: Streeten 1998



Globalization in India

India, characterized by pervasive poverty (300 million below the poverty line) has been implementing several poverty alleviation programmes over the passed decades. These programmes have been in the form of "Garibi Hatao" (eradicate poverty), self-employment creation (SEC), Food for Work (FFW), asset building programmes and wage employment creation (WEC) programmes. These programmes were mainly targeted towards the poor or very poor families on the basis of income threshold. However, a feature of most programmes is that they are financed by the state and, as such, periodic funding inadequacies often lead to either abandonment or reduced effectiveness of the schemes. However, with the onset of globalisation the resource allocations to these programmes in real terms are badly hit. [x] [10]

There is now substantial evidence that India's success at reducing the incidence of poverty during the 1970s and 1980s was halted, if not reversed, during the globalisation era of 1990s. Estimates made at the World Bank show that the incidence of poverty, which between 1972-73 and 1989-90 fell from 55.5 per cent to 34.3 per cent in rural India and from 54.3 to 34.1 per cent nationally, has in subsequent National Sample Survey (NSS) rounds, up to 1997 (when the incidence was 34.2 per cent national and 35.8 per cent rural) never gone below the 1989-90 level and has in fact risen to much higher levels in individual years. Other estimates (e.g., Gupta 1999) suggest an even greater increase in rural poverty during 1990s. All the estimates indicate that the gap between rural and urban areas, which had decreased during the 1980s and the 1970s, increased considerably during the 1990s. [xi] [11]

In addition to the decline in the purchasing power of the incomes of the rural poor, the rate of growth of per capita rural income in real terms has sharply decelerated. This fall in rural income is, however, not just because the share of agricultural income in national income has fallen. The share in non-agricultural incomes in total rural incomes, which rose sharply between 1977-78 and 1990-91, has stagnated since then. The reason behind all this is the inefficiency and corrupts practices inherent in the governance system of the Indian Government, which does not enhance productivity, competitiveness and development.

Given that India accounts for about a third of the world's absolute poor, the nature of her integration with the international economy has critical implications for liberalization and globalisation reducing world poverty. India can be described as a relatively large, closed or protected economy, in the throes of industrialisation, with trade and foreign investment plating a limited role, low per capita income, and a significant agrarian sector, marked by sharp inequality.

The issue of poverty and inequality is far more important for India both because of the alarming and overwhelming proportion of the population living below the poverty line (however measured) and also because inequality halting growth usually leads to the self-perpetuation of a low-level equilibrium. In regard to the distributive effect in particular, economists are worried over a noticeable empirical phenomenon that suggests a considerable decline in the income of unskilled labour and/or a decline in their employment relative to the more skilled segment of the work force. [xii] [12]

Globalisation takes society from a national to an international perspective, which is typified as being consumer driven. 21st century consumers have informed value politics and a global culture. Their choices reflect the lifestyle consumerism and materialistic trend in society, where self-esteem is centered on one's consumption. "You are what you wear and eat". Globalisation is not really global. As Streeten points out, it increases the gap between different strata of people and countries. Globalisation is good for rich countries like USA, Japan and Europe. It is bad for developing countries like India. Globalisation is good for rich people with assets and skills. But it is bad for the poor people like Tribals and Dalits.

The rise of globalism is intimately linked to the growth of class conflict and the squeeze of profits during the limited globalisation period associated with the 'welfare state'. The crisis of declining profits associated with rising popular power is the source of the demise of 'national development', [xiii] [13] which will largely affect the rural sector, the poor and the marginalised.


Impact of Globalisation on tribals

The tribal population of India (67.6 million) around 7 percent of the total population is larger than that of any other country in the world. The rural and urban male population is 3,17,55,930 and 26,07,341 respectively. The rural female population is 3,09,95,096 while the urban female population is 24,00,013. The tribal population of India is more than the total population of France and Britain and four times that of Australia. If all the tribals of India had lived in one state, it would have been the fifth most populous state after Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Madhya Pradesh is not only the largest state in India but also has the largest tribal population of the country.

The word 'tribe' is generally used for a "socially cohesive unit, associated with a territory, the members of which regard them as politically autonomous" (Mitchell, 1979: 232). Often a tribe possesses a distinct dialect and distinct cultural traits. The term 'primitive tribes' was often used by western anthropologist to denote "a primary aggregate of peoples living in a primitive or barbarous condition under a headman or chief" (Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, Vol. 15). Various anthropologists define tribe as a people at earlier stage of evolution of society. [xiv] [14]

The forest occupies a central position in tribal culture and economy. The tribal way of life is very much dictated by the forest right from birth to death. It is ironical that the poorest people of India are living in the areas of richest natural resources. Historically, tribals have been pushed to corners owing to economic interests of various dominant groups. In contemporary India, the need for land for development is still forcing them, albeit this time to integrate with mainstream.

In spite of the protection given to the tribal population by the Constitution of India (1950), tribals still remain the most backward ethnic group in India. They rate very low on the three most important indicators of development: health, education and income. The tribals are most backward not only compared with the general population, but also compared to the Scheduled Caste (Dalits), the other backward social group with constitutional protection. While examining the effects of planned developmental intervention on the tribals from 1961 to 1981, it was observed that twenty years of intervention has not made any significant impact in improving the conditions of the tribals.

The basic features of our Constitution indicate direction of change or modernisation, if one wants to say so, of our society. Ours is supposed to be a casteless, secular, democratic and socialist polity and society. We have shaped our policies and programmes to realise this type of change. [xv] [15] Our Constitution considers every citizen as equal. Legal and administrative framework, institutional network and policies of development in general are also considered suitable for tribals. The tribals are a part of the Indian society and general problems of consciously changing or modernising Indian society are also applicable to them. But the tribals form a special case in this wider framework and the problem is the nature and type of this special category.

Tribal development policies and programmes in India assumed that all the tribals will develop and will integrate themselves with the so-called mainstream. This has happened only in a symbolic way. As a result of the planned tribal development, stratification on secular lines has taken place among tribals and only a small section has been able to take advantage of the development programmes. The reason being that the development programmes were not implemented due to inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy. [xvi] [16]


Displacement of Tribals

It is estimated that owing to construction of over 1500 major irrigation development projects since independence, over 16 million people were displaced from their villages, of which about 40 per cent belong to tribal population. The government and the planners are aware of (a) the eroding resource base and socio-cultural heritage of tribal population through a combination of development interventions, commercial interest, and lack of effective legal protection to tribal and (b) the disruption of life and environment of tribal population owing to unimaginative, insensitive package of relief (Planning Commission, 1990). Still the development process continued unmindful of displacement. [xvii] [17]

A common feature shared by most of the tribal people is their remoteness and marginal quality of territorial resources. In the past, exploitation of such poor regions was found both difficult and uneconomic. But, the recent rapid technological advancement and unrivalled economic and political strength of world capitalism, and the rising power of neo-colonialism through the G-8 directly and the IMF, WB, IBRD, etc., as agencies, have created favourable conditions for the evasion and extraction of natural resources from the ecologically fragile territories of tribal people. Thus, forced evictions of tribals to make way for mammoth capital-intensive development projects have become a distressing routine and ever-increasing phenomenon. [xviii] [18]

There is a heavy concentration of industrial and mining activities in the central belt. All the massive steel plants, BALCO, NALCO, heavy engineering concerns etc. are based here. Most river basin development schemes and hydropower projects, a chain of forest-based and ancillary industries and an increasing number of highly polluting industries are located in this region. Despite intense industrial activity in the central Indian tribal belt, the tribal employment in modern enterprises is negligible. Apart from the provisions of Apprenticeship Act, there is no stipulation for private or joint sector enterprises to recruit certain percentage of dispossessed tribal workforce. The tribals are forced to live in juxtaposition with alien capitalist relations and cultures, with traumatic results. They are forced onto the ever-expanding low paid, insecure, transient and destitute labour market. About 40 per cent of the tribals of central India supplement their income by participating in this distorted and over exploitative capitalist sector. Many more are slowly crushed into oblivion in their homeland or in urban slums. This is nothing short of ethnocide. Their economic and cultural survival is at stake. [xix] [19]

India happens to be the second most dammed country in the world. It has invested over Rs.300 billion on dams and hydropower projects by 2000. The World Bank has directly funded as many as 87 large-scale dam projects in India as against only 58 for the whole of the African continent and 59 for Latin America. Between 1981 and 1990, the World Bank provided $7 billion for such projects in India, i.e., one-fifth of its total funding for 85 countries world over. Almost all major dam projects in India are intrinsically linked to world capitalism and its obsequious national stooges. Nearly 60 per cent of these large dams are located in central and western India where about 80 per cent of the tribals live.
[xx] [20]

There is no reliable and complete information on the number of tribals displaced in the country since independence. The estimates range between 5 and 7 million - mostly by the dams, followed by mines and industries - or approximately one in every ten tribals has been displaced by different developments projects. It is not only the magnitude of involuntary tribal displacement that should attract the special concern but also the sacrifice of collective identity, historical and cultural heritage, and of course the survival support. Poverty, malnutrition, mortality, morbidity, illiteracy, unemployment, debt bondage, and serfdom among the tribals is markedly higher. [xxi] [21]


Privatization of PSUs

One of the ways of globalisation in India is disinvestment or privatisation. Many Public Sector Entreprises are being sold off to private sectors with the objective of raising revenues to meet the fiscal deficits and to improve efficiency. Profit making entreprises like BALCO, which are in the tribal belt, have been privatised. NALCO is to soon travel the disinvestment route. PSEs in the tribal belt were beneficial to tribal people giving them employment and livelihood. Privatisation of these entreprises will adversely affect the tribal people and disturb the regional balance in terms of industrialisation.

Gains and Losses of Globalization

A number of studies suggest that during the 90s, when policies of liberalisation-globalisation-privatisation (LGP) were implemented in various degrees, income distribution, has worsened, and as a result is having a dampening impact on long-term economic growth and on the prospects for poverty reduction, necessary to meet the UN Millennium Declaration Goal of halving the number of people living in extreme income poverty. Extreme income poverty has affected some 150 million people in India. Tribals make up about one third of the income poor. An assessment of progress has been less than anticipated. The trade aspects of globalisation also alter the context of many issues and areas affecting tribals, in some cases intensifying problems and in other cases affecting the policy actions required to address the problems. [xxii] [22]

Globalisation affects tribals differently. Urban and educated tribals may benefit from the increased opportunities for work that come with the influx of foreign companies and investments. These employment avenues are complemented by greater opportunities to receive education and skills training of a higher quality. The new technologies that define this era, in particular the computer and Internet, may be accessible to this group of tribals. In general, the liberalisation of trade and financial markets also promise benefits for this group, including a greater variety of goods at cheaper prices due to increased competition and much more attractive interest rates to undertake business ventures.

Conversely, poor, uneducated, credit-constrained, informal and agricultural sector tribals will benefit in a much less direct manner. Tribals in general benefit from long-term economic growth brought about by correcting price distortions in factor and product markets. By making markets competitive, higher agricultural growth is expected and this in turn is expected to increase rural income. It is also expected that the expansion of the industrial sector would increase employment in the urban as well as in the rural areas. The proponents of globalisation argue that the process may entail some short-term difficulties in terms of reduced income and consumption; unemployment might also increase. But eventually the reform process would lead to greater gains all around. But we cannot close our eyes to serious undercut in domestic production of goods and services and risks to the health status particularly of the poor, tribals, women and children.

The gains of globalisation have so far accrued to those who already have education and skill advantage, easier market access and possession of assets for use as collateral to access credit. For the tribals, globalisation is associated with rising prices, loss of job security, lack of health care and tribal development programmes. Globalisation may also weaken the Constitutional protections, in terms of education and job reservations, given to tribals.


Globalization with a Human Face

Markets are not very friendly to the poor, to the weak or to the vulnerable, either nationally or internationally. Nor are markets free. They are often the handmaidens of powerful interest groups, and they are greatly influenced by the prevailing distribution of income. In a capitalist economy, all are not in a position to compete in the market. Some like Tribals and Dalits who do not have enough education, health and nutrition to compete will fall outside the market place. That is why much better distribution of income and assets, of credit, of power structures and certainly of knowledge and skills are vital to making markets work more efficiently. Markets cannot become more neutral or competitive unless the playing field is even and playable.

If globalisation were superimposed on a poorly educated and poorly-trained tribal people, particularly in states like Bihar and Jharkhand with poor systems of governance and infrastructure, it would not lead to growth nor reduce poverty. Globalisation may no longer be an option, but a fact. However, it must be implemented with a human face.

The efforts to become competitive often hurt the social sectors first. It is most often these sectors that face budgetary reductions when liberalisation policies are implemented. Conservative monetary and fiscal policies are often undertaken and these too, independent of reductions in the size and scope of social sectors, can indirectly reduce allocations to social services and basic provisions. Such cuts in social spending are likely to hit the tribals the hardest who already have limited access to education and health facilities. [xxiii] [23]

The tribals are part of the Indian society, at the same time they are different. Special policy and programmes are required to address and redress these differences especially in the context of globalisation. When we plan for tribal development, we have to regard these differences, take a special note of their situations and capabilities and provide them facilities to develop on the line they want to take. Outsiders cannot develop tribals; they can become only facilitators if they want to do so. If they have to unfold from within, they must have participation in any development decision. Their felt needs should be transformed in development programmes. The tribals can participate in their development programmes only if they are considered to be equals. [xxiv] [24] and if unique identities are respected.


The author is professor of Economics and vice principal, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata


Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, Human Development in South Asia 2001 (OUP), pp. 10-11


Ibid, pp. 11


Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics, p. 69


Ibid, p. 70


Samuelson, Robert J. International Herald Tribune, January 2000)


World Bank, WDR 1999


Henry Kissinger, 1999


Human Development in South Asia 2001 (OUP), pp. 15

[ix] [9]

Streeten Paul, "Globalisation: Threat or Opportunity", Copenhagen Business School Press, 2001.


Ibid, pp.56


Ibid, p.73


Rajat Acharya and Sugata Marji, "Globalisation and Inequality":, EPW, 23 September 2000, p. 3503


Petras James and Chronis Polychroniou "Critical Reflections on Globalisation", EPW, 6 September 1997, p.2249


Joshi Vidyut (ed.): "Tribal Situation in India", Rawat Publication, 1998, pp.15


Ibid, p.13


Ibid, p. 14


Sah, D.C., "Displacement and Rehabilitation" in "Tribal Situation in India", (ed. Vidyut Joshi)


Pathy, Janganath, "Impact of Development Projects on Tribals" in "Tribal Situation in India",. Vidyut Joshi (ed.)


Ibid, p. 279


Ibid, pp. 279-280


Ibid, p. 280


Human Development in South Asia 2001 (OUP), p.50


Ibid, p.53


Joshi Vidyut, pp.25


Tribal population in India: Demographic characteristics

State/Union Territory



to GP
% ST
to STP
to STP
  Rural Urban Rural Urban        
India* 31755930 2607341 30995096 2400013 8.08 100.00 92.60 73,87
Andhra Pradesh 1976150 166667 190404 152560 6.31 6.20 92.40 73.11
Arunachal Pradesh 258595 16802 259627 15327 63.66 0.81 94.16 87.20
Assam 1409364 52196 1367944 44937 24.66 4.24 96.62 88.90
Bihar 3115824 241739 3037835 221516 7.66 9.77 92.99 86.86
Goa 48 151 41 136 0.03 0.00 23.67 58.99
Gujarat 2872954 258993 2790224 239604 14.92 9.09 91.91 65.51
Himachal Pradesh 107162 3078 105778 2331 4.22 0.32 97.52 91.31
Karnataka 829129 147615 800367 138580 4.26 2.83 85.06 69.08
Kerala 154979 5833 154785 5370 1.10 0.47 96.50 73.61
Madhya Pradesh 7365693 392481 7287037 353823 23.77 22.73 95.15 76.82
Maharashtra 3241782 476001 3164032 436466 9.27 10.80 87.53 61.31
Manipur 295691 27029 283239 26214 34.41 0.93 91.58 72.48
Meghalaya 659859 100375 652234 105459 85.53 2.24 86.44 81.40
Mizoram 182212 147607 175901 147845 94.75 0.96 54.79 53.90
Nagaland 478579 66577 454566 61100 87.70 1.57 87.96 82.79
Orissa 3325442 187449 3345064 174259 22.21 10.38 94.86 86.62
Rajasthan 2696437 140577 2524112 113755 12.44 8.08 95.35 77.12
Sikkim 43477 4027 40009 3388 22.36 0.13 91.84 90.90
Tamil Nadu 257853 35159 247355 33827 1.03 0.85 87.98 65.85
Tripura 426741 7484 412523 6597 30.95 1.26 98.35 84.70
Uttar Pradeh 141149 9271 128879 7602 0.21 0.42 94.13 80.16
West Bengal 183559 103396 1776889 92916 5.59 5.62 94.85 72.52
Andaman & Nicobar Island 13436 314 12832 188 9.54 0.04 98.12 73.39
Dadar & Nagar Haveli 52304 1798 53560 1718 78.99 0.16 96.79 91.53
Daman & Diu 4783 1290 4409 1242 11.54 0.02 78.40 53.20
Lakshadweep 10728 13432 10750 13253 93.15 0.07 44.59 43.69

The States of Harayana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi and Pondicherry do not have tribal population: *Excludes Jammu and Kashmir. Source: Census of India 1991. 1991 Census is more reliable than 2001Census as many tribals seem to have been left out or included as Hindus.

Share of ST population to total population and General population, 1991

State/UT %of ST population to Total ST Population % of ST Population to General Population
States with 25% and more tribal population  
Meghalaya 2.24 85.53
Nagaland 1.57 87.70
Tripura 1,26 30.95
Mizoram 0.96 94.75
Manipur 0.93 34.41
Arunachal Pradesh 0.81 63.66
Dadra & Nagar Haveli 0.16 78.99
Lakshadeep 0.07 93.15
States with 5-25% tribal population  
Madhya Pradesh 22.73 23.77
Maharashtra 10.80 9.27
Orissa 10.38 22.21
Bihar 9.77 7.66
Guharat 9.09 14,92
Rajasthan 8.0 12.44
Andhra Pradesh 6.20 6.31
West Bengal 5.62 5.59
Assam 4.24 24.66
Sikkim 0.13 22.36
Andaman & Nicobar Islands 0.04 9.54
Daman & Diu 0.02 11.54
States with less than 5% tribal population  
Karnataka 2.83 4.26
Tamilnadu 0.85 1.03
Kerala 0.47 1.10
Uttar Pradesh 0.42 0.21
Himachal Pradesh 0.32 4.22
Goa 0.00 0.03




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