Anthropological archives and ‘chiasmic’ time in modern India

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The Government of India Act was formalized in 1935 as a means of transferring administrative power from the British Raj to the Indian National Congress. It introduced a new framework for the governance of ‘Scheduled Areas,’ i.e. those regions inhabited predominantly by Adivasis (literally ‘original inhabitants’), or India’s Indigenous and ‘tribal’ peoples, such as ‘the Mundas’. Codifying the histories of these areas according to their occupation by Adivasi societies, the Act prompted contemporary anthropological research that questioned colonial categories of racial difference. Contingent and regionally nuanced concepts emerged, such as ‘racial’ minorities, Adivasi rights, and social solidarity that refocused public and administrative attention on Adivasi history and heritage. These concepts are easily forgotten in polarized debates on the workings of assimilationist vs. protectionist ideologies in respect of Adivasi peoples and lands. Yet such shifts prompted a revision of wider temporal and cultural relations between majority (mainstream) and minority (tribal) communities. The paper aims to explore such interfaces through the metaphor of the archive and the prospect of ‘holism’, and with close reference to the medium of portraiture. In particular, images of Birsa Munda – an Adivasi freedom-fighter from the Ranchi district of Jharkhand – are foregrounded as a means to interpret the emergent relationship of Indian anthropology to ‘the Mundas’ and to ‘the nation’. Signified in different ways by Birsa Munda, his followers, and those interested in making the posthumous prophet-rebel visible again within the political and cultural parameters of modern India, these relations became acquired dynamism through their temporal complexity and embodiment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-68
Number of pages23
JournalIrish Journal of Anthropology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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