Tip | Search articles on tribal history, politics and literature on Ramachandra Guha’s website

We met adivasis who had been persecuted by the Naxalites, and other adivasis who had been tormented by the Salwa Judum vigilantes [i.e. “a strange, not to say bizarre, example of bipartisan co-operation“]. The situation of the community was poignantly captured by one tribal, who said […] “placed between the Maoists and the vigilantes, we adivasis are being squeezed from both sides“. – Read the full commentary by Ramachandra Guha here >>

Source: “The continuing tragedy of the adivasis”, The Hindu, 28 May 2013
URL: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-continuing-tragedy-of-the-adivasis/article4756954.ece
Date Visited: 30 October 2021

Tip: enter “adivasi” on Ramachandra Guha’s website | More about the author’s recent publications:
https://ramachandraguha.in/about-the-author >>

At a recent event in New Delhi’s Sunder Nursery, organised by A Suitable Agency, historian and author Ramachandra Guha spoke to sociologist Nandini Sundar about his work and the itineraries of a historian. They talked about Guha’s most recent book, Rebels Against the Raj, but also his previous work, his journey as a historian and what drew him to certain subjects, and more. […]

“In a country like India you can’t only be only in the university, you can’t only be writing for your peers.” […]

My book is about seven foreigners, but it begins with two epigraphs – one from Mahatma Gandhi and one from Rabindranath Tagore, which tells us a little bit about why those foreigners could make their home here and contribute so richly and creatively to our country. So, a lot depends on what Indians are like; our encounters with the rest of the world whether it be economic, political, cultural, intellectual, spiritual and what kind of reciprocal mutual benefits we could get. It depends on us. I think Gandhi and Tagore were special kinds of people. Of course, these seven individuals are remarkable in their own right, it’s their own journey but there was this open-minded capaciousness that ironically, when we were ruled by the British, we were able to display. […]

So, I think, all of me went into that Elwin book and I say in the preface to a revised edition that was published some years ago that books that, ‘Parents are not supposed to have favourites among their own children’ but as an author it is probably my favourite book. Obviously, it is not the book which sold the most, it is not the book that has the most impact or created the most controversy, but it means something special to me because Elwin changed my life. His own journey was so incredible, interesting and complicated. A missionary from Oxford who comes to India, leaves the church, joins Gandhi, leaves Gandhi, works with Adivasis, marries an Adivasi woman, writes incredibly rich ethnographies which the great scholars of the department you now belong to, the Department of Sociology in Delhi University, did not consider it to be proper anthropology and that made it more appealing to me. While I was writing that book on Elwin, I always wanted to write a sequel but I wasn’t sure how many people I would include. It could be ten, fifteen or twenty, a larger history of extraordinary foreigners who made their home in India, in the late 19th and early 20th century.

My Elwin book came out in 1999 and the next year I was invited to give a series of lectures named for Elwin at the North-eastern Hill University in Shillong, which is a town in which Elwin himself spent the last decade of his life. […]

It’s this curiosity that has driven me all my life. Mahatma Gandhi, I have lived with so long that I had to write about him. So, I will say my work on cricket and my work on Gandhi came from my own orientations and interests. But ecology and Elwin I was just lucky that people pointed me in that direction. […]

However, having said all of that, there is so much Gandhi available, there are 97 volumes of Gandhi’s collected works and his life was all in the public domain and the editors of his writings put it all out there. So, there is so much to read, digest, criticise, argue with, cherry-pick, if you wish to demonise him. The last thing I would say about Gandhi is that he is a universal figure. This an insight I owe to my friend Gopalkrishna Gandhi from whom I have learnt so much about Indian history. He said like the Buddha, Gandhi was born in the subcontinent and like the Buddha, the subcontinent may expel him, extinguish him but he will be born again somewhere else. So, I think Gandhi is a universal figure. He is affirmed and avowed in many parts of the world while Indians might of course forget him or scorn him or defile him as they are doing now. […]

Another critical challenge that our republic faces today is of course the challenge of the degradation of the natural environment. There again, I think, of all the great modern Indians, Gandhi teaches us the most, he anticipates the environmental crisis of modern industrial civilisation more acutely, more presciently and more pointedly than anyone else. This is so far as I will preach the virtues of Gandhi, the more important thing is that as a scholar he endlessly fascinates me and I hope one day, to write about his complicated and contentious afterlife. […]

Source: “‘Choose Half a Dozen Intellectual Mentors, Rather Than One’: A Conversation With Ramachandra Guha”, The Wire, 21 March 2022
URL: https://thewire.in/history/ramachandra-guha-history-gandhi-mentors
Date Visited: 21 July 2022

Learn more about Verrier Elwin: Author and educator known for his work with the tribes of India >>

Quotes from Ramachandra Guha’s website

Earlier this year, I was invited to be part of a jury to select the ‘Greatest Indian Since Gandhi’. The organizers did me the favour of showing me a list of hundred names beforehand. Many of the names were unexceptionable, but some strongly reflected the perceptions (and prejudices) of the present. For example, Kiran Bedi was in this list, but Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay wasn’t, a reflection only of the fact that the latter did not live in an age of television. There was also a regional bias: compiled in Delhi, the preliminary list did not include such extraordinary modern Indians as Shivarama Karanth, C. Rajagopalachari, and E. V. Ramaswami ‘Periyar’. There was also a marked urban bias: not one Indian who came from a farming background was represented, not even the former Prime Minister Charan Singh or the former Agriculture Minister (and Green Revolution architect) C. Subramaniam. Nor was a single adivasi on the list, not even the Jharkhand leader Jaipal Singh.

Source: Indians Great Greater Greatest?, The Hindu « ::Welcome to Ramachandra Guha.in::
Address : https://ramachandraguha.in/archives/indians-great-greater-greatest-the-hindu.html
Date Visited: Sun May 19 2013 13:03:18 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Learn more about Jaipal Singh: A gifted speaker from Chotanagpur >>

At about the time of the Battle of Britain, an Englishman of combatant age made a new home with his new wife in a then very remote, and very forested, princely state named Bastar. The man was Verrier Elwin, a brilliant Oxford scholar who had joined the Church and then left it, apprenticed himself to Gandhi and then left him, finally settling on the wandering life of a freelance anthropologist. His wife was a Raj Gond named Kosi; much younger than Elwin and without his academic distinction, she yet matched him in strength and independence of character.

Between 1932 and 1940 Elwin was based in the Mandla district of the Central Provinces. In those years he wrote fine books on the Baigas, the Agarias, and the Gonds, as well as two novels with tribal themes and characters. He moved to Bastar in the autumn of 1940 in search of new tribes to write about. Kosi and he built themselves a home overlooking the spectacular Chitrakot Falls on the Indravati river. Over the next three years, they spent the winter months roaming around Bastar, talking to Gonds, Murias, Marias, Koyas, Kalhars and other communities of the State. In the hot weather and monsoon, they mostly stayed at home, where Elwin wrote on a desk that faced the Chitrakot falls themselves.

Recently, while in the British Library in London, I came across a copy of Elwin’s ‘Journal of a Tour in Southern Maria Country, November 1941 to March 1942.’ Several entries speak of the beauty of the countryside, with villages ‘surrounded by hills with yellow fields of sirson [mustard] in the foreground and forest everywhere’. The anthropologist found the humans no less enchanting. In a village named Kaklur he attended a tribal dance held in a ‘most romantic spot’. The boys were attractively dressed, with ‘tassels of red woollen cowries’ on their topis, while the girls were ‘especially beautiful and graceful in their movements’. Afterwards, the Elwins and their hosts drank leaf cups of landa, ‘one of the most potent drinks known to mankind’, which tasted ‘like liquid dynamite’, yet filled one ‘with a spirit of universal benevolence’.

Elwin found the tribals of Bastar ‘gentle, friendly, with no desire for property or power’. They were, he wrote to his mother in London, in striking contrast to the warring Europeans. The life led by the Bastar adivasis was ‘a great lesson to the world at this time. So long as men cling to the desire of empire and wealth such catastrophes as the present one [i.e., World War Two] are certain to occur’.

This past May, I visited Bastar sixty-five years after Elwin had been there. The old princely state has now been divided into three districts—Bastar, Dantewara, and Kanker. It was in the Dantewara region that Elwin made his tour of 1941-2. I passed through some of the same villages as he had–such as Gidam, Kotru, Bijapur and Bhairamgarh. The countryside was still exquisitely beautiful, the fields interspersed with trees of sal and jackfruit and wild mango, and densely forested hills in the background. Even in mid-summer, the Indravati is a very beautiful river. And the bird life was very rich indeed–the Brain Fever Bird calling overhead, orioles in the trees, larks and warblers on the ground.

What had changed was the fate and state of the tribals. In fifty years of being part of the Union of India, the Bastar adivasi had seen the new sarkar mostly in the role of an exploiter—as forest officials who denied them entry to the forest, police officials who demanded bribes, and state-supported contractors who paid less than the minimum wage. Nor had the ‘fruits of development’ reached them–like other tribal districts, these too had far less than their fair share of functioning schools and properly staffed hospitals. […]

Source: BASTAR THEN AND NOW, The Hindu « ::Welcome to Ramachandra Guha.in::
Address : https://ramachandraguha.in/archives/bastar-then-and-now.html
Date Visited: Sun May 19 2013 13:20:07 GMT+0200 (CEST)

While Mahatma Gandhi was alive, not many intellectuals would willingly identify themselves as ‘Gandhian’. Writers and thinkers treated him, at best, with a kindly indulgence; and, at worst, with unremitting hostility. The first group admired the Mahatma’s asceticism and personal integrity and, were they Indian, his ability to move the masses and draw them into the anti-colonial struggle. […]

The other intellectual contemporary of the Mahatma who was not shy of the label ‘Gandhian’ was the anthropologist Nirmal Kumar Bose. Born in 1901 (nine years after Kumarappa) Bose studied and taught at Calcutta University, his academic career interspersed with spells of service in the nationalist cause. He was arrested in 1931 during the Salt Satyagraha; and spent a year in prison. […]

Bose’s contributions to anthropological literature were scarcely less significant. He wrote profusely in English as well as Bangla, on themes as varied as the temple architecture of Orissa, the structure of Hindu society, and the condition of adivasis. He was a gifted lecturer too; forty years after he had heard Bose speak on Gandhi to his class at Lucknow University, the anthropologist T. N. Madan recalled his talk to me, topic by topic if not quite word for word. As his biographer Surajit Sinha has written, he played a formative role in the ‘building [of] an Indian Tradition in Anthropology’. For many years he edited the journal Man in India. Bose also served a three-year term as Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The reports he wrote then still repay reading, as models of empathetic and socially engaged anthropology. […]

Source: THE FIRST ‘GANDHIAN’ INTELLECTUALS, The Hindu « ::Welcome to Ramachandra Guha.in::

Address : https://ramachandraguha.in/archives/the-first-%e2%80%98gandhian%e2%80%99-intellectuals.html
Date Visited: Sun May 19 2013 13:31:45 GMT+0200 (CEST)

In the first week of February 2002, I got a call from the writer Mahasweta Devi. I had met Mahasweta only once—in a boarding house in Delhi where we both happened to be staying—but knew, of course, a great deal about her. I had not read her novels—I don’t read much fiction—but had been profoundly moved by her field reports on the condition of that most disadvantaged section of Indian society, the adivasis. I had read these reports in the 1980s, as they appeared in those remarkable little journals, Frontier of Calcutta and the Economic and Political Weekly of Bombay. (They have now been collected in book form in Dust on the Road: The Activist Writings of Mahasweta Devi.) These essays detailed, with great sensitivity but also with a sometimes barely suppressed anger, the exploitation of adivasi labour, the stealing of their land, the plundering of their forests. […]

Two years later I met Mahasweta for the second time—in, as it happens, Gujarat. She had come to inaugurate an Academy of Tribal Learning, whose moving spirit is the scholar and activist Ganesh (G. N.) Devy. Read more >>

Source: AN ADIVASI CHAMPION, The Hindu « ::Welcome to Ramachandra Guha.in::
Address : https://ramachandraguha.in/archives/an-adivasi-champion-the-hindu.html
Date Visited: Sun May 19 2013 13:39:16 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Learn more about reporting in India:
Reporters Without Borders https://rsf.org/en/india, by searching
Indian periodicals, and by viewing posts on media portrayal >>

Originally a product of the anti-colonial movement, the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s […] Indian journalists who are too critical of the government are subjected to all-out harassment and attack campaigns by Modi devotees known as bhakts. […]

Indian law is protective in theory but charges of defamation, sedition, contempt of court and endangering national security are increasingly used against journalists critical of the government, who are branded as “anti-national.” […]

With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media. Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. […]

“India Index” (2021 & 2022) by Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
URL: https://rsf.org/en/country/india

Six years ago, the then editor of the Hindustan Times invited me to write a fortnightly column. I agreed, on condition that there would be no censorship. While occasionally some changes to my text were made without my consent, there was no attempt to get me to rewrite my column or change its arguments. Until this week, when the Hindustan Times declined to print the column I had sent, which was scheduled to appear on Sunday, April 19. I am grateful to The Wire for carrying this column in its entirety. […]

Postscript: While spiking this particular article, the Hindustan Times left open the possibility of my continuing to write on other (and presumably from the paper’s point of view safer) subjects. I have however chosen to discontinue my column in the newspaper.

Source: “What HT Wouldn’t Publish: The Folly and Vanity of the Project to Redesign Delhi” (The Wire “Government”, 19 April 2020)
URL: https://thewire.in/government/central-vista-project-delhi-covid-19
Date visited: 20 April 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“The tribal world and the tribal way is complete in itself.” – Mahasweta Devi quoted by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in “Swearing by Mahasweta” (The Hindu, 6 August 2016)

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