The tribal communities in India have developed their identity in close vicinity
to the natural resources around which they have developed their cultural
traditions, economy, social life, religious myths and techniques of production.
With the passage of time they have developed a symbiotic relation with their
local environment. For them land is not merely a source of livelihood rather a
representation of their cultural identity and existence.
Tribal people have suffered a lot, even in post-colonial India they have not
only been alienated from the development processes, but even from their own
dwellings. As the main developmental processes went on to create social spaces
of inequality, tribal communities have faced marginalisation virtually in every
sphere of social life. Most of them are malnourished, two thirds continue to be
illiterate and live below the poverty line. With the introduction of
globalisation the role of media has been redefined. Because of this, their
long-standing social position, which is ‘self-representation’ has become a
question mark. This has actually made them kind of disappear from mainstream
society. In turn, this has brought a question on their indigenous identity.
With the above background, I have tried to explore “how the media represents
tribal communities in India” and “how tribal people want themselves to be
represented” in this article.
Whenever we think about tribal people the first thing that comes to our mind is
the picture of half - naked men and women with some kind of weapon like arrows
and spears in their hand and speaking in a cryptic language. When the majority
of the community of the world kept pace with progress of the world there were
communities still living in peace with nature with their traditional values,
customs and beliefs. In India, tribal people are mostly referred as Adivasis
They have been the most vulnerable community in India. Tribals are backward and
poor and are mostly devoid of the common facilities like health, education etc.
Since tribal communities in India have been materially backward and economically
poor, some attempts have been made by the Government to develop them. Media also
plays an important role in representing tribal communities. Since its inception
it has played a central role because it is the single system through which
public opinion could be stimulated. It also has a greater discourse that affects
the policy-making process in a democracy. Despite that, tribal communities are
still incredibly underrepresented in the media.
The Changing Role Of Media
In the era of globalisation, the use of social media has drawn a significant
role. Some people live with a highly tech media life, while some still live with
a traditional media life. However, it is believed that media life has affected
irrespective of social groups in every part of the world, though the divide
between the information rich and the information poor has grown exponentially.
There are two forms of media in India, namely, traditional media and
contemporary media (i.e. mainstream media). Former includes folk dance, song,
storytelling, poetry, plays and puppet shows, etc. They are mainly found in
rural and suburban sectors and are performed for communication and
entertainment; many a times, they are used to convey messages relating to
contemporary socio-political issues. Along with the traditional media,
contemporary media like print media, audio-visual media (film, radio and TV
shows, and voice-based platforms), and internet-based social media have also
emerged in the mediascape of India.
Whenever we talk about tribal communities and media we certainly refer to actual
issues encountered by tribal communities in modern day context that needs to be
focused in the media. However, with the passage of time the changes and
transitions of various components of media are also to be kept in mind. With
globalization, there has been a drastic change in the character of traditional
media too i.e. from being a ‘service to the society’ industry to a
Recently, a drastic shift of the advertisement
industry from print to electronic and digital media made it difficult for the
print media to survive. This is immensely impacting the representation of the
genuine issues not only of tribal communities but people’s issues as a whole
that needs to be addressed.
Truth Of Tribal Representation In India
In a democracy, the media works on social reach which is nothing but the social
and cultural resources acquired by the upper caste over the years. They provide
jobs and also give awards and scholarships to the people from their own caste,
and sometimes there even exist a pattern of generational journalists working in
the same area. On the other hand, tribal communities do not have enough social
resources in the field of media. As a result, their struggle to secure a desired
space for representation of their own issues becomes more difficult. They,
therefore, are absent in news media, particularly in leadership roles which
determine who gets to occupy such spaces.
The main problem with the reportage of news that comes from journalists from
tribal communities is that they never get to become a part of mainstream media.
Their work is very less known. They do not get a platform or a desired space for
the exposure of their ground reporting. There are mainly two types of
journalists: the one who wants to deal with tribal affairs and their problems
which should be brought before the general public and the other who is
disinterested and feels the editors and management will not encourage this,
hence, risk factors stop them to do any coverage on tribals.
According to the Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP),
Government of India, in 2011, two newspapers were published in Tribal languages
in the central indigenous belt. Those were Johar Sahiya (now discontinued), a
monthly newspaper in the Nagpuri language and Disom Khobor, a fortnightly
newspaper in the Santali language with circulation figures of 5317 and 6669
copies respectively. Both of them focus on contemporary Tribal issues and
primarily create awareness and solidarity for bringing about economic, political
and social justice.
Despite their sincere efforts, many Tribal publications, funded by local Tribal
groups, are facing various difficulties such as poor distribution network, poor
marketing infrastructures, and limited financial resources. As a result,
publication of many Tribal newspapers, such as Bij Biinko and Dhumkuria,
published in the Kurukh language, have been stopped.
Media has become a corporate entity that works under profit making business. In
the race to make profit, it has forgotten to report the stories of vulnerable
sections (like tribal communities), their difficulties, and maltreatment by the
majority, the government and corporate intrusions leading to gross infringement
of human rights and so forth. Media should be socially responsible to do checks
and balances on power mainly on the abuse of power.
Not Focusing On The Real Issues Of Tribal Communities
It is often argued that there is a gap between the way the issues of tribal
communities have been focused in the media, and the way people at the grassroots
want their issues to be focused. Media being a vital part of democracy needs to
be examined, specially, in the context of reflection of social realities. The
literature by various researchers state that tribals are being secluded and live
in the interior parts or on hilly areas, it is very inconvenient to report any
news about them. Being indigenous, tribal people feel insecure about other
civilians getting on to their private areas. However, this is not the case every
It is considered that the tribal people are very good hosts and they
include outsiders if they trust the person concerned.
If we talk about issues of a tribal society, we must consider that the media at
large have failed to reflect the real issues of life and livelihood of common
people regardless of tribes and communities. Even if certain issues are being
highlighted, it fails to create an awareness or impact policy making.
to Assam Human Development Report (ASHDR) in four districts of Bodoland
Territorial Area District area only 11.2 percent houses are Pucca, 46.27 are
kutcha, and 42.75 are semi pucca. In two hills districts only 6.3 houses are
pucca, 81 per cent houses are Kutcha and only 12.4 per cent are semi-pucca.
corresponding statistics for the entire state is 22.7, 43.7 and 33.6 per cent.
After having a look at the sanitation facilities we get to see that 76.8 percent
houses do not have toilets at home. In two hills districts 88 per cent houses do
not have toilet facilities at home. Only 69.9 per cent houses in Assam have
toilet facilities. The report also reveals that Assam’s poverty ratio is the
highest among the scheduled tribes which is 40.5% for all the tribes and in two
hills districts it is 44.7%. 
These above discussed statistics and the realities behind such situations rarely
find space in the mainstream media When the media dedicates a lot of its space
to focus on tribal festivals or ethnic delicacies, it often ignores such hard
realities as revealed by ASHDR data. It is the tribal way of life, in which they
have been able to preserve unique cultural features in the face of massive
aggression of a market driven economy.
Problems Faced By Tribal Media
Despite having some distinctive features, tribal media is constantly facing
various issues that pose considerable challenges to its existence and
operations. Poor marketing and distribution networks and deficient financial
resources are some of them. For instance, as most of the newspaper publications
are funded by individuals or small groups, lack of adequate funding is one of
the issues most of the tribal print media are currently facing. Because of the
limited funding and limited infrastructure, the distribution and circulation of
many of the tribal print media get affected; some of them (such as Johar Sahiya)
have stopped their publication permanently.
As tribal peoples are some of the most economically backward communities of
India, they have to face two key barriers to access or to participate in new
media spaces. Affordability is one of them, owing to poor purchase power, their
access to audio, audiovisual, and computer-enabled media is limited.
because of lack of availability of communicative and technological resources,
such as poor or no access to electricity or broadband facilities, many of the
tribal people are unable to access various media platforms. From an educational
and computer-literacy point of view, these people are one of the most
underprivileged communities in India. As a result, only a handful of them can
communicate in mainstream languages and run computer programs. Hence, most of
them have remained information-poor in this era of digital divide.
Collectively, the tribal people are facing two more barriers; namely, semantic
and policy barriers. As of now, none of the tribal languages are used in the
government offices for administrative or judicial purposes in the central
indigenous belt, and many of them have not been recognized as scripts. Although
some of the tribal print media are constantly fighting for the issue of language
recognition, it has never got serious attention in the mainstream because of the
inability of non-tribal people to read tribal scripts such as the ol-chiki
Also, owing to existing government policies and related barriers, the
reach and promotion of tribal media are affected. For example, according to the
current regulations, community radios are to be operated within the limited
transmission power and lower range; such restrictions limit the reach of those
radios. As a result, a large number of tribal people never get the chance to
listen to or participate in the community radio programs.
Tribal Community : Working Their Way Through
Regardless of the changes and transitions of a modern world, various features of
a traditional society are still visible in the tribal communities. Surprisingly,
these tribal communities have been able to keep unique features of their culture
such as language, songs and dances, festivals, religion, dress-habits etc.
almost intact in the face of a global market driven economy that pushed them
into a crisis situation to a very great extent.
Unemployment, land grabbing and
lack of education have forced them to migrate to different places of the country
in search of greener pastures. Series of cultural clashes between different
traditional communities have uprooted them from their original villages. Despite
these threats and crisis, basic features of these tribal communities have
remained almost intact.
Currently, in India there is no dedicated radio or television channel for Tribal
people at the national or regional level. In some of the regions, a few
non-prime TV and Radio time-slot(s) were provided for broadcasting Tribal
cultural programs and performances such as folk dance and songs. Apart from
that, some indigenous and exogenous organizations and individuals broadcast
Tribal matters/programs via electronic media like community radios, voice- based
platforms, and documentary films.
Most of the tribals of India are found in rural areas and are semi-literate; as
a result, they are going through with the issue of digital divide. Research
suggests that urban tribal youth have more access to the internet and social
media resources as compared to the other age group. Moreover, tribal communities
and organizations have their own Facebook, Twitter pages, websites, and YouTube
channels; these resources are used for sharing news and thoughts on tribal lives
and contemporary issues.
Tribal media is expressively meaningful and relevant in the underserved contexts
because of its unique strengths.
Firstly, it is produced locally, and its
contents are oftentimes decided and controlled by the tribal people. While doing
so, it actively chooses relevant local issues and formats, which ensures that
the mediated outputs are culturally apt.
Secondly, contemporary media platforms
allow tribal people to produce and share media products in their local languages
and local dialects (e.g., films, audio-visual and text messages). It opens up a
meaningful path for them to overcome semantic and literacy barriers,
particularly for those communities whose languages are lesser known and/or do
not have formal scripts.
Thirdly, tribal media is credible and powerful since
the community insiders create and share them; in other words, these mediated
contents are basically emerging from within the community.
Finally, tribal media
is now embracing newer media options in creating interactive spaces in socially
mediated platforms. Such mediated activities yield many opportunities to
discuss, analyze, critique and promote contemporary tribal issues with a wider
In the era of globalization and the digital divide, it is vital for tribal
population as well as the non-tribal population of India to bridge the
representation gap in order to ensure appropriate legitimation of tribal voices,
identities, culture, collective human rights and contextual issues. As India is
ambitious to become a developed country, it needs to rethink and redefine its
definition of development to incorporate the discourse of inclusive development.
This undoubtedly includes the welfare of marginalised tribal society as well.
Tribal resentment is widening the trust deficit between the tribal communities
and the government.
It should also be taken into consideration that the gap in the representation of
a tribal society in the mainstream media and lack of sensitivity have come
largely out of the ignorance of a journalist. A journalist is required to have
adequate education on tribal societies, their values and norms to report the
real tribal issues. Hence, it is crucial to include tribal people in the
mainstream media so that their real issues could be known widely.
- Annual Report (2011-2012) http://www.davp.nic.in/. 
- A Study Of Human Development In Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD),
Assam (Apr, 04, 2020) https://sita.assam.gov.in/portlets/assam-human-development-report-0.