In India the livelihood of almost half of the population depends on agriculture in one way or another. Seventy-four percent of Dalit households live in rural areas. In this context, land rights are all-important. Because of patrilineal descent rules, women rarely hold land in their own names. Before 1947 most agricultural land was controlled by large land owners and worked by sharecroppers (tenant farmers).
“Land reform” has been a high priority ever since Indian independence, and legislation has evolved continually since then, with many twists, turns, and tricks along the way. In 1972 a national law was passed limiting the amount of land that any farmer could own. 2 Lands beyond these limits were declared as “surplus,” and could be confiscated by state governments for redistribution to rural landless households.
The scheduled tribes constitute about 8.2% of the total population in India. Although there is a large volume of anthropological literature describing the characteristics of and differences among the various tribes in India, little interdisciplinary research has been done to uncover the status of women among the tribal population in India. This paper will analyze the status of women among the scheduled tribes in India. Frequent comparisons will be made to the social and cultural practices of the scheduled tribes, mainstream Hindus, as well as the scheduled caste population. Through this analysis, we will show the distinctiveness of the tribal cultures and the fact that many women from the scheduled tribes face less discrimination than Hindu women and those from scheduled castes.