The Anthropological Survey of India
by George Weber
There is no other organization world-wide quite like the Anthropological Survey of India is in the social sciences. Anthropological research that in other countries would be carried out by a wide variety of private and public institutions, foundations and universities, in India is the task of a large government-funded research organization. The country that it has to survey is one of staggering cultural, racial, religious and linguistic diversity. Apart from the many mainstream groups that dominate Indian life and politics, there are enormous numbers of lesser groups, often small in number, hidden in remote areas, technologically primitive and all too often threatened in their existence by their more powerful neighbors or just generally by the advance of "progress."
http://education.nic.in/cd50years/12/8i/6T/8I6T0G01.htm SI structure in 2005:
The Anthropological Survey's brief is to research and advise executive government bodies on around 7000 so-called "tribals" and "scheduled castes." Many government bodies are anxious to receive and follow the Survey's advice since the problems of India's less-developed tribes and castes can be complex indeed. However, while governments at any level are legally required to ask for the Survey's advice, they are not bound by this advice. The situation of the Jarawa tribe today is a case in point: the disregard of the Survey's advice by the Andaman and Nicobar Island Administration had catastrophic consequences for the Jarawa - and did not make the Andaman administration smell of roses, either.
The Survey in 1998 employed more than 500, including a very high proportion of scientific staff, with an expenditure in 1993/94 of almost 400 million rupees which grew in 1997/98 to more than 600 million rupees. Clearly, no small-time operation - but justified by the enormity of its task.
As any reader of Rudyard Kipling's novel "Kim" knows, during the colonial days of the British Raj and its "Great Game," anthropological research and intelligence gathering went hand in hand. Much of the vast amount of high-quality anthropological data gathered during these early days was collected, evaluated, organized, published and stored under the auspices of the Indian Museum. In 1916 under the influence of the Museum's director Nelson Annandale, the Zoological Survey was formed from the zoological and anthropological sections of the Indian Museum. Annandale was not happy with having anthropology and zoology in the same organization and advocated the establishment of two separate Surveys. Even though the government finally agreed in the late 1920s, nothing was done in the 1930s because of the economic depression and World War II.
In 1944 the Indian anthropologist Biraja Sankar Guha (1894-1961), who had joined the anthropological section of the Zoological Survey in 1927, submitted a new proposal for a separate Anthropological Survey and was supported by Annandale and his successor Sewell. This time it worked. In September 1945 it was decided to move zoology under the Department of Agriculture and to set up a separate Anthropological Survey under the Department of Education. The new Survey came into official being on 1st December 1945 with B.S. Guha in charge, first as "Officer on Special Duty" and after August 1946 as Director.
The present head of the Survey's Port Blair office in the Andaman and Nicobar islands is none other than the previously much abused Dr. Anstice Justin, a Nicobari anthropologist.
Directors of the Zoological Survey of British India
N. Annandale 1916-1924
R.B. Seymour Sewell 1924-1932
Directors of the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI)
B.S. Guha 1945-1954
N.K. Dutta Mazumdar 1954-1958
N.K. Bose 1959-1964
D.K. Sen 1964-1970
S.C. Sinha 1972-1975
K.S. Singh 1976-1977
H.K. Rakshit 1978-1982
(K.S. Singh, director-general1984-1993)
A.K. Danda 1984-1990
R.S. Mann 1991-1992
T.N. Pandit 1992
R.K. Bhattacharya 1993-2003
V.R. Rao since 2004
The ASI has been subject to several reorganizations and was placed under a succession of ministries. It is today under the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
The ASI's aim is to be the specialized agency for advanced scientific research in anthropology. It it is charged with
(1) the study of Indian tribes and other communities from the physical and cultural anthropological points of view
(2) the study and preservation of skeletal human remains, both recent and ancient
(3) the collection of samples of arts and crafts
(4) the provision of training for administrators and scientists
(5) the publication of its results and findings.
Along with the twists and turns of Indian politics, the ASI did not escape several "re-orientations," particularly in 1970 and still more in 1984 when it had a number of new duties passed to it, namely to boost growth, equality, social justice, self-reliance, efficiency, productivity and welfare of women along with alleviation of poverty and malnutrition - tall order for a research organization.
A significant positive development was the setting up of a School of Anthropology in 1977 under the Survey's auspices. For a while, however, politics took on rather too much importance within the organization, especially during the years to the early 1990s when India "tilted" towards the Soviet Union. In 1984 a former "ordinary" director of the Survey could be persuaded to return to the Survey only by being given the new title of director-general. With the Soviet superpower gone the way of the British Empire, the Survey took a while to get is bearings again. However, it did manage to re-orient itself in 2004 along scientific rather than political lines. The ASI has today restored its scientific integrity under a new director - himself a scientist.
Address of the Anthropological Survey of India and its Andaman Office:
Anthropological Survey of India
Indian Museum Campus
27, Jawaharlal Nehru Road (Chowringhee)
Calcutta 700 016, India
Anthropological Survey of India
Andaman & Nicobar Regional Center
Port Blair 744101, India
Last changed 10 September 2005