To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive. Extant South Asian histories of race, and more specifically biometrics, focus almost exclusively upon the colonial era and especially the nineteenth century.
Yet an increasing number of ethnographic accounts observe that Indian scientists have enthusiastically embraced the resurgent raciology engendered by genomic research into human variation. What is sorely lacking is a historical account of how raciology fared in the late colonial and early postcolonial periods, roughly the period between the decline of craniometry and the rise of genomics. It is this history that I explore in this article.
I argue that anthropometry, far from being a purely colonial science, was adopted by Indian nationalists quite early on. Various distinctive shades of biometric nationalism publicly competed from the s onward. What is more, many of the most enthusiastic exponents of the new raciology are based outside the Minority World. Countries like Mexico, South Africa, and India are major players in genomic studies that operationalize new genomic forms of race. Raciology made a comeback while we were happy in the belief that it had disappeared, but did it ever really go away? Was the reemergence of raciology in the postcolony inevitable?
Must human difference be imagined as one or the other form of somatic difference? The time has come to ask these and related questions. Historians of colonialism in general and the British Empire in South Asia in particular have produced many fascinating accounts of imperial raciology.
This is what I undertake in the present article. My intentions here are threefold. First, I describe the long afterlives of Risleyan raciology in late colonial and postcolonial Bengal.
Ramprasad Bharatchandra Rachanasamagra. Extant South Asian histories of race, and more specifically biometrics, focus almost exclusively upon the colonial era and especially the nineteenth century. Robert McDermott. In a article explaining the basis of the genetic work, he acknowledged Risley as the earliest exponent of anthropometry in South Asia. At that time, especially among the students from Eastern Bengal, there was an excessive love for truth. Narayani expresses her fear to Narayana that if he visited Calcutta he might lose his caste identity by consuming breads and biscuits. Race became something to be derived from cultural artifacts and not bodily similarities.
In so doing, I highlight the direct institutional and intellectual genealogies that connect Risley, his early Indian inheritors, and the present generation of genomicists. Second, I map the diverse interests, agendas, and nationalisms that these post-Risleyan raciologies have served.
Finally, I detail an alternative approach for thinking about group-based human difference that did not somaticize it. Craftology, as this other imagination of group-based human difference came to be called, drew upon a diverse set of influences, the most important being a Bengali tradition of Egyptology. Egyptology left an enormous cultural footprint upon the modern world. Its history is linked to the emergence of several key modern academic disciplines ranging from evolutionary biology to archaeology, and it also featured prominently in art, literature, and the cinema.
Yet, thus far its impact has been explored almost exclusively in relation to modern Egypt and the imperial West, and its influences upon other areas of the world, such as South Asia, have been utterly neglected.
As I will show in what follows, Egyptology was a significant presence in Bengal, where it played a prominent role in shaping ideas about race and history. The key figure through whom Bengali Egyptology intersects with mid-twentieth-century Bengali raciology is the enigmatic Bengali Pharaoh.
This figure of an exiled Egyptian pharaoh who had settled in Bengal with his followers, though dismissed by Egyptologists and archaeologists, was nurtured by artists and folklorists seeking an alternative to the pervasive Aryanism that shaped the historical self-identity of Bengali upper castes. Despite the seemingly flimsy ground upon which the Bengali Pharaoh stands, he embodies an important alternate imaginary, one that interrupts the teleology connecting imperial raciology to modern genomic raciology via mid-twentieth-century upper-caste Aryanism.
The writings and controversies surrounding the Bengali Pharaoh draw our attention to an attempt to conceptualize group-based human difference in non-somatic ways. As I briefly describe in the conclusion, in Bengal such alternative imaginaries remain current outside the formal academy, despite the disdain of mainstream scholars.
Overturning the historiographic importance granted to Risley's raciology, C. Fuller has recently pointed out that in fact it had little impact upon British colonial policies. This distinction is immensely useful for thinking about the history of anthropometry in Bengal. Anthropometry's public life in Bengal commenced soon after the publication of Risley's Census Report. A young schoolmaster at the famous Hindu School in Calcutta, Ramprasad Chandra, was piqued by Risley's description of Bengalis as being of Mongolo-Dravidian origin, and he decided to refute Risley by collecting and analyzing his own data.
Over the next few years, Chanda, while continuing his day job as a schoolmaster, gathered data and published anthropometric studies in a Bombay-based journal called East and West. In he was transferred to the Rajshahi Collegiate School, and he played an important part in the second annual conference of the Bengal Literary Conference Bangiya Sahitya Parishad held at Rajshahi in At the meeting Chanda read a paper on the origins of the Bengali people based on his own anthropometric research.
The paper struck a chord and the conference passed a resolution to support Chanda to undertake further study and publish a book on the subject. The following year, the Varendra Research Society was established in Rajshahi to further historical research in northern Bengal, and it undertook to support Chanda's work. In the book Chanda deftly compared his own data with that collected by a number of other, mostly British anthropometry researchers, including Risley.
They were aided in this work by a number of well-placed Bengali friends and acquaintances such as Surya Kumar Guha, the deputy superintendent of police in Rajshahi, and Hem Chanda Ganguly, a professor at the Rajshahi College. In , Director of Public Instruction Mr. With the exception of the three-month relief from teaching and the loan of a few instruments relatively late in the project, governmental involvement in this anthropometric venture was minimal. The project was driven forward by Bengali intellectuals and aristocrats using their own contacts and capital—Chanda's anthropometric work was clearly a form of public anthropometry.
Around the same time as Chanda was undertaking his measurements, the eminent Bengali intellectual Sir Brajendranath Seal was invited to the Universal Races Congress in London. Two of the most prominent young Bengalis to take up anthropometry in the following decade, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and Biraja Shankar Guha, were both inspired by Seal.
Mahalanobis, doyen of Indian statistics, was close to Seal through their common membership in a reformist faction of the Brahmo Samaj. Originally a physics student at Cambridge though he left without taking a degree , Mahalanobis taught himself the then-new science of statistics on the ship home when World War I broke out. A chance meeting later with the zoologist Nelson Annandale led Mahalanobis in to apply his statistical methods to Annandale's study of the anthropometry of Calcutta's mixed-race population.
Mahalanobis rose rapidly in the field and in he was invited to preside over the Anthropology Section of the Indian Science Congress. Resurrecting Risley for the Presidential Address, he argued that modern statistical analysis of Risley's data demonstrated its fundamental accuracy and usability. Using advanced statistical tools, Mahalanobis argued that these errors had only crept in later, during tabulation, and were therefore superficial—Risley's basic data was singularly free of faults and therefore entirely accurate. Mahalanobis' defense of Risley in the name of accuracy is reminiscent of more recent attempts by some anthropologists to redeem Samuel Morton's racialized craniometry after Stephen Jay Gould had held it up as a classic example of nineteenth-century race science.
Such defenses, by making the issue one of precision, hide the overtly racialized assumptions behind the measurements. Mahalanobis' defense of Risley's work influenced a number of others, including D.
Majumdar, to use Risley's data as well as to undertake new anthropometric surveys to produce data sets comparable with Risley's. Majumdar's Bengal Anthropometric Survey of , undertaken even as the country and the province were in the midst of severe political turmoil, was instigated and enabled by Mahalanobis' personal interest in the matter. Mahalanobis acknowledged his debt to Seal in taking up anthropometry, 20 and Seal's influence on B. Guha was no less significant. Unlike Mahalanobis, who had no formal training in anthropometry or anthropology, Guha became the first South Asian to earn a Ph.
Guha wrote his Ph. In , he presided over the anthropology sections of both the Indian Science Congress and the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Calcutta. Finally, just before the end of colonial rule in , he convinced the government to create a separate Anthropological Survey of India along the lines of older governmental surveys such as the Trigonometric Survey, the Archaeological Survey, and the Zoological Survey.
Mahalanobis, on the other hand, had gradually established a very different institutional base. Initially, while a teacher at the Presidency College in Calcutta, he set up a Statistical Laboratory within the College to pursue small, ad hoc projects that the government occasionally gave him. Later, in the early s, along with two colleagues from the College, he established the Indian Statistical Institute.
Though officially registered in , the Institute remained physically based at the Presidency College until , when it acquired its own campus. It is one of those delicious historical ironies that while the British imperial state of Risley's era had been reluctant to give a stable departmental home to Risleyan anthropometry, the almost-postcolonial state of the s seemed far more sympathetic to Risleyan raciology.
In a article explaining the basis of the genetic work, he acknowledged Risley as the earliest exponent of anthropometry in South Asia. While Majumder argued that, after the s, the earlier typological agenda of anthropometry had given way to greater emphasis on the quantification of variation, he himself continued to use measurements that recalled Risleyan anthropometry, including the hallowed nasal index.
Majumder's comments echo a public perception that scientific raciology had disappeared after World War II, but historians have increasingly disproved this. There were some crucial changes to raciology, but the continuities remained strong. Preeminently, a highly somaticized idea of inheritable group-based human difference survived, though it now serves distinctly neoliberal political and economic rationales.
A growing number of scholars have pointed out that, despite some important changes, throughout the world the new, postwar raciology retained significant continuities with the prewar forms.