SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Revisiting The Philosophy of Dr Verrier Elwin: A Symposium

Elwin's Photo
Daniel Rycroft, Mark Elliott, Felix Padel, Malvika Gupta, Rashmi Varma, Tara Douglas

Date: 25 January 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 25 January 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 116, 1st Floor

Type of Event: Symposium

About the seminar:

This seminar is the forum to discuss Verrier Elwin’s philosophy for tribal development, his representations and interpretations of tribal cultures and to compare them to the transformations that are experienced by tribal communities in India today. How can tribal people represent themselves for the post-colonial context and make their local indigenous knowledge relevant to the current global environmental concerns?

About Dr Verrier Elwin:

Dr Verrier Elwin’s life work was in the field of anthropology and the study of the tribes of India. His legacy includes 26 books, numerous articles, over 10,000 black and white photographs and reels of 16mm film documenting the tribal cultures and ways of life that he encountered first in Central India, and then in the North East region. The Scheduled Tribes are recognised by the Constitution of India, Article 342, and today the population of tribes is 8.2 percent of the population of India (Census 2011). However, the very terms ‘tribal’ and ‘indigenous’ continues to be a contested topic of debate in India that has come to the forefront in the current political context of Hindu nationalism.

Dr Verrier Elwin’s life (1902-1964) was exceptional and eventful. Born in England of humble origins, he attended Oxford University. A religious calling brought him to India in 1927 where he sought first to make personal reparation for colonial domination, which he perceived as unjust. It was his contact and close association with Mahatma Gandhi, which diverted him from the path of evangelism, a decision that led to his departure from the church, to the world of anthropology and the tribes of India.

Unlike most professional anthropologists of the time, Elwin was engaged in activism that was motivated towards the empowerment of the tribal communities he that he lived with and studied for most of his life. The conditions that he wanted to protect them against have only amplified since that time leading up to Indian Independence – the tribal peoples remain the 2 most marginalized and silenced groups in India, and their homelands attract attention from national and multinational corporations who are drawn to invest in and extract the natural resources of these areas.

Speaker Biographies

Chaired by Dr. Edward Simpson, Director, SOAS South Asia Institute

1.    Daniel Rycroft

Senior Lecturer in the Arts and Cultures of Asia at the University of East Anglia.

Verrier Elwin as 'world' anthropologist

Dr. Rycroft’s recent research focuses on Adivasi history and heritage. He is the author of Representing Rebellion (2006), editor of World Art and the Legacies of Colonial Violence (2013), co-editor of The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi (2011). He also co-founded the journal World Art and is an editorial member of Art History and the Journal of Adivasi and Indigenous Studies. He has worked extensively and collaboratively on anthropology in India, as is evident in the documentary film he produced entitled 'Hul Sengel' (The Spirit of the Santal Revolution) in 2005, and his convening of the FAAKIR network in 2011-12 (Future of Anthropological Archival Knowledge: an International Reassessment). He is currently chair of UEA's India Dialogue.

2.    Mark Elliott

Senior Curator (Anthropology), Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge

Navigating Verrier Elwin’s networks

Dr. Elliott has carried out ethnographic research in India. His research interests cover South and Southeast Asia. He teaches on museum history, exhibition theory and practice, and material anthropology and is co-editor, with Dr. Liana Chua, of Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell. Dr. Elliott is the curator of the current exhibition Another India: Exploration and Expressions of Indigenous South Asia (8 March 2017 – 22 April 2018).

3.    Felix Padel and Malvika Gupta

Associate of the Institute of Social & Cultural Anthropology, Oxford University

Verrier Elwin & India's Tribal Policy.

Dr. Padel is an anthropologist trained at Oxford and the Delhi school of economics and he is the author of three books on tribal and environmental issues in India. He has held various appointments in India, including Professor, Rural Management at the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur.

Malvika did her M Phil on Indian tribal education policy at Delhi University and is currently doing her doctorate at Oxford University in the School of International Development. She has worked extensively at Eklavya and other organisations promoting alternative approaches in this field.

4.    Rashmi Varma

Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick.

The Adivasi Photograph

Dr. Varma teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. She is the author of The Postcolonial City and its Subjects (2011) and of the forthcoming Modern Tribal: Representing Indigeneity in Postcolonial India. She has published numerous essays on postcolonial and feminist theory, activism, and literature. She is an editorial collective member of the journal Feminist Dissent.

5.    Tara Douglas

Secretary, Adivasi Arts Trust

Verrier Elwin as the Storyteller of the Tales of the Tribes

Dr. Douglas has a background in animation film-making, and she studied the use of animation as a tool for indigenous representation at Bournemouth University.  She has coordinated the production of a pilot series of short animated tribal stories from India the Tales of the Tribes (2017), and she currently proposes, organises and carries out projects for the UK based Adivasi Arts Trust.

A selection of Verrier Elwin’s photographs are on display at From Tribal Forest to Urban Jungle: Exhibition of Photographs from Central India held at the Brunei Gallery from 12 January – 24 March 2018. These unique historical photographs depict the tribal cultures as they existed in the 1930s to the 1950s, through the eyes of the photographer who was himself a scholar inspired by Christian idealism and romantic poetry.

More information about this exhibition.

Further information

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute In Association With Adivasi Arts UK

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