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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Debating Tribe and Nation: Hutton, Thakkar, Ambedkar and Elwin (1920-1964)’, 9th June, 2015.

‘Debating Tribe and Nation: Hutton, Thakkar, Ambedkar and Elwin (1920-1964)’

Mr. Saagar Tewari,
Independent Researcher,
New Delhi.


For too long now, the intellectual history of the late colonial discourse on tribal populations has been trapped within the binary limits of the ‘Protection’ versus ‘Assimilation’ debate. In contrast, this paper charts an alternative history of this discourse by showing that its tone and tenor were set not by Verrier Elwin and G.S. Ghurye, as has often been claimed, but by frontier administrators such as J.H. Hutton. These debates were linked to the discussion around the provisions for ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas under the Government of India Act, 1935, but were also influenced by prevailing trends in British Anthropology which first emerged around the time of the First World War. By charting these discussions prior to and following Indian independence, the speaker emphasizes that the oft-quoted ‘Ghurye-Elwin’ debate is a serious historical misnomer. Instead, the debates featured many key figures and without analyzing them, it is almost impossible to theorize the ‘bridge’ which connects the late colonial to the post-colonial period as far as the discourse on the Indian tribal population is concerned.


Mr. Saagar Tewari studied history at Hindu College, University of Delhi and did an integrated M.PhiI/Ph.D. programme at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He submitted his doctoral thesis titled ‘Tribe and Development: Nation-Making in Bastar, Central India (1930s-1980s)’ last year.

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