Traditional and Indigenous Law


As per the 2011 census, India is home to 705 individual ethnic groups notified as Scheduled Tribes (STs) accounting to 8.6% of the country’s population. 11.3% of the rural population and 2.8% of the urban population belong to the STs.

Several studies have been conducted to contextualise the marginalisation of Scheduled Tribes in India’s growth story in the last two decades as they remain geographically locked out from the country’s development. The literacy rate for ST’s is around 15% less as compared to the literacy rate of the entire population. In recent years, India has made steady progress in poverty reduction with poverty rates falling to 21.2% in 2019-21 from 36.6% in 2015-16 in rural areas as per the UN. Meanwhile, as per NFHS 4, 5 out of every 10 persons belonging to STs are in the lowest wealth bracket in the country. The indicators on health as well display a significant gap persisting amongst the STs and the rest of the population; the IMR for STs is 40 per 1000 live births as compared to the national average of 28. Child malnutrition is at a staggering 48.3% for STs in India and 61.9% women are anaemic as compared to 53.1% nationally.

The unemployment rate among STs is 9.4% as compared to 6.6% in the entire nation. This points to the exclusion of STs from human development and economic progress of the nation.

It is not just with respect to the demographic statistics, there are significant cultural and value-based differences amongst tribal groups and the mainstream society. Most tribes follow customary norms and institutions for life and societal processes including the institution of marriage, inheritance and property rights, traditional way of entering the contract and transaction, dispute settlement, institution and its composition (process of elections). Currently, mainstream India has a deficient understanding of the social processes and customary norms followed by the tribal society. At times, that places the mainstream development in crossroads with the indigenous approach of life thoughts. This is accentuated by an absence of awareness and probing literature.

The gap has further widened by parallel developments in the contemporary world, and digital divide in the society. An opportunity to reconcile will involve neutralisation, ensuring the inclusion of all and bringing incremental efficiency in the existing decision making and institutional processes. The school aims to develop synergy between customary life processes (including institutions) and development of the country keeping in mind the constitutional mandate of socio, economic and political justice.

The School of Indigenous Studies would focus on research to reconcile the developmental gap between tradition and society in the changing times. The special emphasis on community engagement, last mile stakeholder participation would help the school to comprehensively understand the challenges, customs and practices of the traditional society and build knowledge base to achieve socio, economic and political justice. Some major activities the school would engage in are as follows:

  • Developing Policy Support: The strategic leadership in policy research, analysis, and development are the key attributes the school intends to promote to facilitate in the governance mechanism of the state machinery. The school is ideally placed within the traditional society where knowledge generation on the same is a natural outcome.
  • Support to Institutions and Institution Building: Key to any development is its institution and institutional process. Increasing complexity in the society bring challenges continuously to the same. Calibrating either institutional processes and institutions in traditional or in modern society is a continuous effort to deliver justice and the school aims to create ecosystem towards knowledge creation for the same.
  • Support in Legislative drafting: Legislative process in India is often a transplantation of external ideas about the subject. The laws relating to indigenous society never got exempted from this hangover. Now the time is to develop indigenous process of law drafting akin to realities and the traditional institutions. The school intends to focus as one of its major areas of work.
  • Support in Judicial Process as per the mandate of 6th Schedule: The 6th Schedule provides for the functioning of Autonomous District Councils, local courts, and the matters for which they are responsible. The judges, officers and lawyers of all courts should ideally be trained to be neutralised and sensitised towards indigenous customs and practices. The school aims for capacity building programs towards that.
  • Curriculum Development: The school will work on development of comprehensive curriculum and content on different aspects of indigenous studies such as history, culture, social customs, and laws which can be offered as micro degree courses, short courses as well as training programs.
  • Documentation of Indigenous Knowledge: The documentation, preservation and promotion of indigenous knowledge will be in the school’s neuron over the time to serve the quest of researchers and future generations.
  • Legal archiving: Significant changes and developments have occurred over the last few decades in the laws, customs, and traditions of traditional societies in the country. Legal archiving will be the forebearer in the traditional institutions and institutional processes in the coming years.


Dr. Basil D. Diengdoh
Assistant Professor, National Law University Meghalaya

Dr. Umeshwari Dkhar
Assistant Professor

Trishna Devi
P.A. Sangma Fellow, Government of Meghalaya

P.A. Sangma Fellow, Government of Meghalaya