A significant number of people in the subcontinent for centuries lived in socio cultural and economic worlds different from other social formations based on caste or other principles of hierarchy. The word tribe, an import from the European language and knowledge systems, was used to describe these people. The relationship between the two formations varied from context to context. Colonialism created spaces and conditions for non-tribal outsiders to move in large numbers into the habitat of the tribal people.
The colonial rule brought about other fundamental changes in the life of tribals Living in relative isolation, the tribal population had, over the centuries, evolved social, cultural and political patterns differently. The colonial state facilitated penetration of revenue farmers, forest contractors and Christian L missionaries in a large number into the tribal habitat. The British with little knowledge of the communities living in forests and hilly terrain like Chota Nagpur and Santhal Parganas acknowledged the outsiders who had established themselves in the area as the ruling potentates over the tribal lands too. They entered into revenue arrangements with them. The latter in turn transformed their customary gifts and tributary relationship with the tribals into a compulsory revenue relationship.