Locating Adivasi Politics: Aspects of ‘Indian’ Anthropology after Birsa Munda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article assesses the ways in which an historic Adivasi figure, Birsa Munda, entered into the national imaginary in India before Independence. The pivotal role of early anthropologists, notably Sarat Chandra Roy, and the formation of ‘Indian’ anthropology (as a field of intellectual and cultural politics) are emphasised. The analysis focuses on the ways in which the posthumous presence of Birsa Munda becomes significant in two phases, following his untimely death in Ranchi prison in 1900. First, the period immediately after the suppression of the Birsaite Ulgulan (insurgency) of 1898-1900 is addressed in terms of the convergence of administrative and anthropological priorities. The second phase (c. 1912 to mid-1930s) raises the question of how the nationalisation of anthropology and culture in India was premised in part on the ‘integration’ of Munda pasts. I argue that in the wake of the Government of India Act (1935) and in advance of the annual assembly of the Indian National Congress (1940) opportunities arose for Birsa Munda to become a vehicle of what Radhakamal Mukerjee had earlier termed ‘intermediation’, i.e. the synthesis of national and sub-national, or tribal, entities. The visual aspects of integration and the cultural politics of intermediation are debated with specific reference to time and evolution, and in advance of conclusions concerning real and metaphorical archives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-146
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Indigenous pasts
  • national heritage
  • historical framework
  • temporal dynamic

Cite this