In India the study of Man and his society was started from the period of Manu in one way or the other. The Manusmriti gives an exhaustive social and structural account of the people of  India. The main principal of social structure presented by Manu are many, but important ones are:

  1. Origin of the universe.
  2. Principle of Varna.
  3. Principle of Ashram.
  4. Division of Labour.
  5. Religious duty and responsibility and
  6. Inheritance of property.

The systematic study of Indian society is recent in origin. During 18th century A.D. the British Government felt the necessity to have an ethnographic account on different tribes and castes of India with a view to rule them easily. Thus, fieldwork and researches of anthropological interest were started in India in 18th century A.D. by colonial administration, missionaries and some orientalists, who wanted to know the cultural history of India. Their accounts were published not only as books, but also as papers in journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784). The Asiatic Society of  Bengal was formed in 1774 with Sir Willam Jones as its Chairman. Some British anthropologist like W.H.R Rivers and Radcliffe  Brown came to India to record the customs and tradition of Indian tribes. Rivers came in India in 1904 and studied the Toda tribe of South India, which was published in 1906. Another British anthropologist, Radcliffe Brown came to India to study ‘Onge’ tribe of Andaman Island in 1906 to 1908. Monograph on ‘Onge’ was published in 1922 under the title, Andaman Islands from London.

Among Indian scholars S.C Roy is regarded as ‘The Father of Indian Ethnography’. He is also regarded as the first Indian anthropologist. Roy was a lawyer by profession. When he settled at Ranchi to establish his practice as a pleader, he came in contact with the tribal people of Chota Nagpur. He gradually developed interest in life and culture of Chota Nagpur. He moved in different tribal villages to record their traditions. Besides, as he was a lawyer of Chota Nagpur tribals, he got opportunities to take group and individual interviews of tribal informants, who used to come to him in connection with cases. As result, he published his book on ‘Munda’ (1912), Oraon (1951,1928), Birhor(1952), Kharia (1937). He also conducted field work among Bhuiyas of Orisaa and published his book in (1935). In the field of prehistoric archaeology, his important contribution is digging up of Asura sites. According to him, from material obtained during excavations, Asura were the pre-Munda inhabitants of Chota Nagpur.

In 1920, the teaching of Anthropology was started in Calcutta University by Asutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. The teaching of sociology was started in Bombay University in 1919. Now, Indian anthropologist and sociologists were produced and trained in the art of field expeditions. To publish the research work of anthropologist, S.C Roy started an anthropological journal, Man-In-India in 1921. D.N. Majumdar conducted fieldwork among Ho tribe of Kolhan Bihar (Singbhum), which appeared as book in 1937. M.N. Srinivas conducted filedwork in Coorg for one year (1940-41) and gathered data on marriage and family, which was published in 1942.

Before independence, Indian anthropologist were influenced by British anthropologist and attempted to conduct fieldwork among tribes in different parts of India with a view to record their culture and social organization. After independence, Indian anthropologist came in contact with American anthropologist and field work on villages and castes of Indian began. Now field data were not only collected and described, but they were also analysed to develop certain theories. Some American anthropologist like Moris Opler of Cornell University, Oscar Lewis of the University of Illinois, David Mandelbaum of University of California, and many their students in a team came to India and created an atmosphere of village study with certain hypotheses and methodological frame work and to assist the community development programmes in the Indian villages.  Under the collaboration of Cornell-Lucknow university on village study in U.P , D.N. Majumadar studied a village Mohna near Lucknow in between the end of 1953 to the end of 1953. The findings of the research were published as book entitled Castes and Communication in an  Indian Village (1958). His another book, “Chor Ka Ek Gaon” in Hindi (1960) is based on fieldwork carried out in village Chittora in Mirazpur district in 1955.

An objective study of primitive religion in India was initiated by Majumdar based on his fieldwork done among the Go tribe of Singhbum of Bihar state his concept of Bongasim developed in its final form in his books, ‘Affairs of a tribe’ (1950). The study on religion in the context of Indian villages, was initiated by M.N Srinivas in his book ‘Religion and Society among Coorgs of South India’ (1952). He developed the concept of Sanskritization to explain the Brahmicical process of change in Hindu villages. A full-length study of the Sacred City of Gaya is attempted by Vidyarthi in his book, ‘Sacred Complex in Hindu Gaya’, (1961). The study focuses the city of Gaya as a dimensions of Indian civilization in the framework of Red-field and Milton Singer’s theories of civilization.

Indian anthropologist, under the influence of Chicago University, started studying traditional and modern cities of India to understand them as dimensions of Indian civilizations, and also to analyze the folk-Urban continuum and interactions. Process of urbanization and industrialization have also been taken up by social scientists because such researches were financed by the National Planning Commission. The study of Calcutta by Bose (1958), Kanpur by Majumdar (1961), Lucknow by Mukherjee and Singh (1961) and Gaya and Ranchi by Vidyarthi (1961,1969) bear sufficient testimony in his regard.

Apart from all these things, one may think, how we put our anthropological knowledge to reconstruct better world? The answer is simple “just by apply it”. The concept of Action Anthropology formulated by Sol Tax, for the first time, partially replaced the principles of Applied Anthropology developed during British Colonial administration. Now a days greater significance is being attached by the anthropologist on problem oriented researches. The problem related to urbanization, industrialization, women, children, deprived ecological settings, bonded labour, health, education etc. are being explore, and impact of development schemes are being assessed and evaluated. Some useful, suggestion are also leading made to solve the problems and to make the programs successful. And when we do that another domain arise: “Anthropology of Advocacy”.

Picture Courtesy : Debashis Bhattacharjee