Statistically Smuggling Caste into North Eastern Tribes

The latest survey conducted by India Human Development Surveys (IHDS) II in 2011 to 2012 which is a continuation of their last survey IHDS I held in 2004 to 2005 shows a staggering claim on inter-caste marriages. The survey is a collaboration between National Council of Applied Economic Research and University of Maryland funded by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Ford Foundation, and it is headed by sociologists and economists[i]. The analysis of the survey as reported by IndiaSpend[ii] presents data on inter-caste marriages in India. The findings tell that 95 per cent of marriages took place among same caste, and the remaining 5 per cent practiced inter-caste marriages. Break-up of this data places Mizoram as the state with highest incidence of inter-caste marriages at 55 per cent of its population, and Madhya Pradesh at the opposite end with same caste marriages at 99 per cent of its population. The data portrays the whole population of India under Hindu society by overlooking various communities who fall outside ‘caste system’ especially tribal communities. This raises a serious doubt over the questionnaire and methodology it employs. One glance at the questionnaire they used for this survey informs us that Scheduled Tribes (ST) is counted under categories of ‘caste system’. It also includes ‘tribal’ as a category under religion in the questionnaire[iii]. Inferring tribal societies to be practicing caste system is writing off their existence and the culture that allows them inter-marriage with varying degree.

The incidence of inter-caste marriages evokes a question as to when did ‘caste system’ pervade tribal societies from northeast region of India. This takes back to the larger discourse on the resurgence of cultural dominance taking place in northeast region of India, for instance the interface between Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rani Gaidinliu’s legacy. The intention of the survey may very well be outside the purview of this resurgence, but the step taken by the survey put them altogether on the same side in assimilating culture, tradition and way of life of indigenous community. Tribal identity has so far remained outside the caste system as argued by Xaxa in differentiating between tribe and caste[iv]. Moreover, Mizoram is a Christian dominated state, and it is also the state with highest proportion of tribal population in India[v]. It is quite belittling of the survey to place caste system into an indigenous community where their marriage system is closely linked to their cultures, customs and traditions.  The pattern among tribals is more of inter-marriage (ethnicity) or ‘exogamy’ for that matter in states like Mizoram, Meghalaya, and other states from northeast region of India. To count them under 95 per cent and 5 per cent for inter-caste marriage and same caste marriage respectively is certainly an attempt to assimilate their identity and history into the fold of a dominant culture. An attempt of this kind can isolate and marginalise tribal communities further. Mizoram and Meghalaya being heralded as the state with the highest inter-caste marriage is skewed and has misinterpreted the realities of the tribal culture and practices. Interpreting inter-marriages in tribal societies along the lines of ethnicity, tribes, religion and reducing marriages between tribes and non-tribes to inter-caste marriage erases all the realities of tribal identity and their culture. However, inter-marriage within indigenous community and beyond happens at varying degree, and there are instances of bride prices in inter marriage among an indigenous community.

If the terminology- ‘inter-caste marriage’ has anything to do with inter-marriage encompassing various dimensions it needs reframing to accommodate diverse cultures, identities and its milieus. Which is not so, as per the questionnaire used, and analysis presented from the survey. Report of this survey on marriages is already spreading in mainstream media and its likelihood to seep into academia and at policy level can blur the distinction between caste and tribe.

To substantiate further of the claims made by IndiaSpends from IHDS II survey, an examination of data collected from the survey has been made by accessing SPSS file from its repository[vi]. A cross tabulation analysis using SPSS file for “eligible women section” of IHDS II shows inter-caste marriage in every state of India. In the IHDS I survey conducted in 2004 to 2005, no northeastern states were included in the inter-caste marriage analysis except Assam. This time the IHDS II survey includes states from northeastern region for inter-caste marriage analysis[vii]. Sample size totals to 39311 as seen in the table 1. If we look into Mizoram which IndiaSpends projected as the state with highest incidence of inter-caste marriage, it has a sample size of 22. On the other hand Madhya Pradesh has 2841 samples. This vast difference, and very low sample size does not hold much significance. Even if it is in relation to number of population in their respective states, the sample size of 22 does not hold anything to represent Mizoram. As per IndiaSpends, they projected Mizoram to have inter-caste marriage at 55 per cent. But in the analysis presented above using SPSS file, Mizoram has 1 per cent of inter-caste marriage and 99 per cent same caste marriages. By that yardstick, Mizoram has one of the highest incidences of same caste marriages. This indicates that tribal society has caste system but a sample size of 11 to represent the whole of Mizoram is dubious and erroneous in itself. The case of caste in Mizoram has already been discussed in separating tribal identity and caste system. One wonders how they arrived at that figure when the analysis above for the same says otherwise with 1 per cent at inter caste marriage. Perhaps they counted the 11 missing data and clubbed it with 1 response for inter-caste marriage making it 22 and translated the outcome to 55 per cent for inter caste marriages. It is ethically wrong to manipulate and make inferences in assuming all missing data to manufacture an outcome.

Table 1: Crosstabulation for Inter-Caste Marriage in India

States and Union Territories

Inter-caste Marriage: Is your husband’s family same caste as your natal family? 


Jammu & Kashmir228 (34.4%)435 (65.6%)663
Himachal Pradesh28 (1.9%)1410 (98.1%)1438
Punjab44 (2.6%)1628 (97.4%)1672
Chandigarh1 (1.6%)61 (98.4%)62
Uttarakhand25 (5.8%)409 (94.2%)434
Haryana121 (6.8%)1649 (93.2%)1770
Delhi33 (4.3%)732 (95.7%)765
Rajasthan113 (4.4%)2431 (95.6%)2544
Uttar Pradesh92 (2.5%)3596 (97.5%)3688
Bihar146 (9.7%)1354 (90.3%)1500
Sikkim39 (37.9%)64 (62.1%)103
Arunachal Pradesh6 (4.3%)132 (95.7%)138
Nagaland5 (10.4%)43 (89.6%)48
Manipur5 (6.2%)76 (93.8%)81
Mizoram1 (9.1%)10 (90.9%)11
Tripura26 (12.2%)187 (87.8%)213
Meghalaya21 (36.8%)36 (63.2%)57
Assam51 (5.7%)841 (94.3%)892
West Bengal145 (6.1%)2238 (93.9%)2383
Jharkhand74 (9.5%)705 (90.5%)779
Orissa83 (4.1%)1959 (95.9%)2042
Chhattisgarh24 (2.0%)1183 (98.0%)1207
Madhya Pradesh25 (0.9%)2816 (99.1%)2841
Gujarat217 (12.5%)1515 (87.5%)1732
Daman & Diu6 (12.5%)42 (87.5%)48
Dadra+Nagar Haveli1 (1.7%)57 (98.3%)58
Maharashtra103 (3.1%)3205 (96.9%)3308
Andhra Pradesh70 (3.7%)1835 (96.3%)1905
Karnataka72 (2.0%)3466 (98.0%)3538
Goa1 (0.6%)157 (99.4%)158
Kerala88 (6.2%)1341 (93.8%)1429
Tamil Nadu77 (4.5%)1629 (95.5%)1706
Pondicherry5 (5.1%)93 (94.9%)98
Total1976 (5.0%)37335 (95.0%)39311


Table 2: Sample sizes of respondents from northeast region of India for “eligible women” section of IHDS II Survey

States from Northeast region of IndiaSample Size
Arunachal Pradesh139


Interpretation of data in this manner can have repercussions. For instance, in a region where there is a recurrence of ethnic tension, inter marriage is perceived as an indicator for inclusivity among various communities. Labelling inter-caste marriage to marriages happening in tribal societies can take away the efforts of inclusivity arising out of inter-marriage. Additionally, the finding that Mizoram and other northeastern states are frontrunners in inter-caste marriage can have its influence on the Centre’s intervention as it promotes inter-caste marriage. So far the government provides incentives to couples in an inter-caste marriage in almost all states of India excepting few states from northeast region of India on the basis of the share of Scheduled Caste population[viii].

Counting this reality of an indigenous community as inter-caste marriage is self defeating to the purpose of the survey which is intended to bring out realities of Indian society. Firstly it erases tribal identity, and then it puts tribal societies within a ‘caste system’ which reeks of promotion of caste system. On the other hand, the reality of caste is grim in India with cases of atrocities, sexual crimes and discrimination in the name of caste happening regularly. Inclusion of high incidences of inter-marriage of tribal societies into the data for inter-caste marriages certainly alters the outcome of the analysis for inter-caste marriages in India. Alteration as such even if its impact is minimal to high incidences of same caste marriages does damages to the reality of caste system. As the coalescence of tribal realities into the caste system brings down the percentage of marriages within the same caste, this can have its repercussion upto policy level. Failure to take into account of the dimensions of tribal identities and cultures in a well intentioned survey can do more damages to the existing one.



[i] Database for Indian Human Development Survey II, available at, accessed on 13 May 2016.

[ii] A report on Inter-caste marriages and same caste marriages, available at, accessed on 13 May 2016

[iii] Questionnaire on ‘income and social capital’ for IHDS II, available at, accessed on 14 May 2016

[iv] Xaxa discusses about tribe and its identity in the context of merging tribe into ‘caste system’, available at, accessed on 14 May 2016

[v] Mizoram has a proportion of tribal population at 94.43 per cent, available at, accessed on 14 May 2016.

[vi] Datasets of IHDS II survey in various sections and file format, available at, accessed on 21 May 2016

[vii] Tabulation for state-wise inter-caste marriage in the first edition of IHDS I survey, available at , accessed on 18 May 2016

[viii] Incentive for inter-caste marriages in various states in India, available at, accessed on 22 May 2016


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Richard Kamei Written by:

Richard Kamei, PhD Candidate, School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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