Skip to main content
×
×
Home

The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal

  • Projit Bihari Mukharji (a1)
Abstract

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 1920s onward. To counter any sense that biometric nationalism was teleologically inevitable, I contrast it with a radical alternative called “craftology” that emerged on the margins of formal academia amongst scholars practicing what I call “vernacular anthropology.” Craftology and biometric nationalism continued to compete, contrast, and selectively entangle with each other until almost the end of the twentieth century.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      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. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Corresponding author
p.b.mukharji@gmail.com
References
Hide All

1 El-Haj, Nadia Abu, “The Genetic Reinscription of Race,Annual Review of Anthropology 36 (2007): 283300 ; Sankar, Pamela, “MEDLINE Definitions of Race and Ethnicity and their Applications to Genetic Research,Nature Genetics 34, 2 (2002): 119 ; Rose, Nikolas, “Race, Risk and Medicine in the Age of ‘Your Own Personal Genome,’BioSocieties 3 (2003): 423–39; Montoya, Michael, “Bioethnic Conscription: Genes, Race and Mexicana/o Ethnicity in Diabetes Research,Current Anthropology 22, 1 (2007): 94128 ; Morning, Ann, The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Roberts, Dorothy E., Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century (New York: New Press, 2011).

2 Benjamin, Ruha, “A Lab of Their Own: Genomic Sovereignty as Postcolonial Science Policy,Policy and Society 28 (2009): 341–55.

3 Metcalf, Thomas R., Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Dirks, Nicholas, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Bates, Crispin, Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: The Early Origins of Indian Anthropometry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Papers in South Asian Studies, 1995); Trautmann, Thomas, Aryans and British India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

4 Robb, Peter, ed., The Concept of Race in South Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997); Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘Manly Englishman’ and the ‘Effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).

5 For an exception, see Mukharji, Projit Bihari, “From Serosocial to Sanguinary Identities: Caste, Transnational Race Science and the Shifting Metonymies of Blood Broup B, India c. 1918–1960,Indian Economic and Social History Review 51, 2 (2014): 143–76.

6 Arnold, David, “‘An Ancient Race Outworn’: Malaria and Race in Colonial India, 1860–1930,” in Ernst, Waltraud and Harris, Bernard, eds., Race, Science and Medicine (London: Routledge, 1999), 123–43, 123.

7 Fuller, C. J., “Anthropologists and Viceroys: Colonial Knowledge and Policy Making, 1870–1911,Modern Asian Studies 50, 1 (2016): 142 .

8 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

9 Chanda, Ramprasad, The Indo-Aryan Races (Rajshahi: Varendra Research Society, 1916), ixx .

10 The Varendra Research Society was an enormously influential and productive scholarly association that conducted several archaeological surveys and excavations, besides publishing critical editions of old Sanskrit texts and a number of academic monographs and articles. It also established a museum of local antiquities. See Saifuddin Chowdhury, “Varendra Research Society,” Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh: http://en.banglapedia.org/index.php?title=Varendra_Research_Society (accessed 21 Jan. 2016).

11 Chanda, Indo-Aryan Races, ix–x.

12 “Universal Races Congress” (no author): http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/makingbritain/content/universal-races-congress (accessed 21 Jan. 2016).

13 Seal, Brajendranath, “Meaning of Race, Tribe, Nation,” in Spiller, G., ed., Papers on Inter-Racial Problems (London: P. S. King & Sons, 1911), 13.

14 Mukharji, Projit Bihari, “Profiling the Profiloscope: Facialization of Race Technologies and the Rise of Biometric Nationalism in Inter-War British India,History and Technology 31, 4 (2015): 376–96; Mahalanobis, P. C., “Anthropological Observations of the Anglo-Indians of Calcutta: Part I—Analysis of Male Stature,Records of the Indian Museum 23 (1922): 196 .

15 Mahalanobis, P. C., “Analysis of Race-Mixture in Bengal,Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 23 (1927): 301–33.

16 Mahalanobis, P. C., “A Revision of Risley's Anthropometric Data Relating to Tribes and Castes of Bengal,Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics 1, 1 (1933): 76105 ; Mahalanobis, P. C., “A Revision of Risley's Anthropometric Data Relating to the Chittagong Hill Tribes,Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics 1, 2/3 (1934): 267–76; Mahalanobis, P. C. and Bose, Chameli, “Correlation between Anthropometric Characters in some Bengal Castes and Tribes,Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics 5, 3 (1941): 249–60.

17 On the Morton-Gould controversy and its problems, see Weisberg, Michael, “Remeasuring Man,Development and Evolution 16, 3 (2014): 166–78.

18 Majumdar, D. N., “Bengal Anthropometric Survey, 1945: A Statistical Study,Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics 19, 3/4 (1958): 201408 .

19 Majumder, Partha P., “People of India: Biological Diversity and Affinities,” in Balasubramanian, D. and Rao, N. Appaji, eds., The Indian Human Heritage (Hyderabad: United Press, 1998), 4559 .

20 Mahalanobis, “Analysis of Race-Mixture,” 324.

21 Sinha, D. P. and Coon, Carleton S., “Biraja Sankar Guha, 1894–1961,American Anthropologist 65, 2 (1963): 382–87.

22 B. S. Guha, “Application for Admission to Candidacy in a Degree,” Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University Archives, UAV 161.201.10, box 42.

23 Sinha and Coon, “Biraja Sankar Guha.”

24 Rao, C. Radhakrishna, “Mahalanobis Era in Statistics,Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics, Series B (1961–2002) 35 (1973): 1226 .

25 Indian Genome Variation Database Portal: www.igvdb.res.in (accessed 12 July 2016).

26 Majumder, “People of India.”

27 El-Haj, “Genetic Reinscription.”

28 Lipphardt, Veronika, “Geographical Distribution Patterns of Various Genes: Genetic Studies of Human Variation after 1945,Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47 (2001): 5061 .

29 Reardon, Jenny, Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 65.

30 For blood groups in India, see Mukharji, Projit Bihari, “From Serosocial to Sanguinary Identities: Caste, Transnational Race Science and the Shifting Metonymies of Blood Group B, India c. 1918–1960,Indian Economic and Social History Review 51, 2 (2014): 146–73. For a more global account of blood groups, see Bangham, Jenny, “Blood Groups and Human Groups: Collecting and Calibrating Genetic Data after World War Two,Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47 (2014): 7486 .

31 Anderson, Warwick, “Teaching ‘Race’ at Medical School: Social Scientists on the Margin,Social Studies of Science 38, 5 (2008): 785800 .

32 See Kowal, Emma, “Orphan DNA: Indigenous Samples, Ethical Biovalue and Postcolonial Science,Social Studies of Science 43, 4 (2013): 577–97; Gissis, Snait B, “When Is ‘Race’ a Race? 1946–2003,Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39, 4 (2008): 437–50; de Chadarevian, Soraya, “Chromosome Surveys of Human Populations: Between Epidemiology and Anthropology,Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47 (2014): 8796 .

33 Projit Bihari Mukharji, “Profiling the Profiloscope.”

34 Atul Sur, Bangla O Bangalir Bibartan (Calcutta: Sahityalok, n.d.), “Lekhak Parichiti.”

35 Sur, Atul, Bangalir Nritattwik Parichay (Calcutta: Jignasa, 1977), 10.

36 Ibid., 38.

37 Chanda, Indo-Aryan Races, 73.

38 Ibid., 44.

39 Ibid., 180.

40 Biraja Sankar Guha, “The Racial Basis of the Caste System of India,” PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1924, 45.

41 Ibid., 121.

42 Ibid., 121.

43 Ibid., 103.

44 Ibid., 234.

45 Ibid., 85, 103.

46 Sur, Bangalir Nritattwik Parichay, 10.

47 Mahalanobis, “Revision of Risley's Anthropometric Data,” 104.

48 Ballantyne, Tony, Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan, 2002), 169.

49 Mahalanobis, “Analysis of Race Mixture,” 311.

50 Mitra, Asok, “Preface,” in Dutt, Gurusaday, The Folk Dances of Bengal (Calcutta: Birendrasaday Dutt, 1941), vivii .

51 For a recent history of the Bratachari Movement, see Adhikary, Sayantani, “The Bratachari Movement and the Invention of a ‘Folk Tradition,’South Asia 38, 4 (2015): 656–70.

52 Dutt, Gurusaday, Banglar Lokshilpa O Loknritya (Calcutta: Chhatim Books, 2000).

53 Ibid., 8–9.

54 Ballantyne, Orientalism and Race, 169–87.

55 Trautmann, Thomas R., Languages and Nations: Conversations in Colonial South India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 186211 .

56 Dutt, Banglar Lokshilpa, 3.

57 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “Romantic Archive: Literature and the Politics of Identity in Bengal,Critical Inquiry 30, 3 (2004): 654–82.

58 Sen, Dineshchandra, Brihat Banga: Suprachin Kal Haite Palashir Juddha (Calcutta: Calcutta University, 1935), ii.vi.

59 Ibid., xiii.

60 Ibid., ii.viii.

61 Tagore, Abanindranath, Banglar Brata (Calcutta: Biswabharati, 1995 [1943]), 89 .

62 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, “Foreword,” in Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Africanism: The African Personality (Calcutta: Bengali Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1960), v.

63 Chatterji, Suniti Kumar, Africanism: The African Personality (Calcutta: Bengali Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1960), viii.

64 Ibid., 3.

65 Adi, Hakim and Sherwood, Marika, Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (London: Routledge, 2003): 4043 .

66 Datta, Angsu, Utthita Africa (Calcutta: Anandadhara Prakashan, 1967), 127–42.

67 James, Leslie, George Padmore and Decolonization from Below: Pan-Africanism, the Cold War, and the End of Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 55, 84, 90, 98, 109.

68 Datta, Utthita Africa, Bhumika [Preface].

69 Mitter, Partha, The Triumph of Modernism in India: India's Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1922–1947 (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 33.

70 Ludden, David, “Orientalist Empiricism: Transformations of Colonial Knowledge,” in Breckenridge, Carol Appadurai, ed., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 250–78.

71 Mantena, Karuna, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 155.

72 For the history of gazetteers, see Mukharji, Projit Bihari, “In-Disciplining Jwarasur: The Folk/Classical Divide and the Transmateriality of Fevers in Colonial Bengal,Indian Economic and Social History Review 50, 3 (2013): 261–88.

73 Naithani, Sadhana, The Story-Time of the British Empire: Colonial and Postcolonial Folkloristics (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010); Bhadra, Gautam, Nyara Bot-tolaye Jaye Ko Bar? (Calcutta: Chhatim, 2011).

74 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000); Klaus, Peter J. and Korom, Frank J., Folkloristics and Indian Folklore (Udupi: Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College, 1991), 6063 .

75 Sarkar, Sumit, Writing Social History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999).

76 Sengoopta, Chandak, The Rays before Satyajit: Creativity and Modernity in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016), 220, 245.

77 Srinivas, MN, Collected Essays (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002).

78 There is some discrepancy in the literature regarding who was the first professor of anthropology in Calcutta. Srinivas for instance, suggests that it was K. P. Chattopadhyay. Srinivas, MN and Panini, MN, “The Development of Sociology and Social Anthropology in India”, Sociological Bulletin 22, 2 (1973): 179215 . I have followed Sankar Sen Gupta in accepting S. C. Mitra as the first. Sen Gupta does, however, say that, owing to persistent ill health, Mitra's impact on the department was small. Gupta, Sankar Sen, Folklorists of Bengal: Life Sketches and Biographical Notes (Calcutta: Indian Publications, 1965), 54, and see 53–88.

79 Dasgupta, Sangeeta, “Recasting the Oraons and the ‘Tribe’: Saratchandra Roy's Anthropology,” in Uberoi, Patricia, Sundar, Nandini, and Deshpande, Satish, eds., Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology (Calcutta: Seagull, 2007), 132–71.

80 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 37.

81 Bose, Neilesh, Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014); Klaus and Korom, Folkloristics, 12.

82 Ibid., 49.

83 Ibid., 66–68.

84 Crook, David Paul, Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture: A Biographical Perspective (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2012), 79.

85 Blackburn, Stuart H., Print, Folklore, and Nationalism in Colonial South India (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2006), 186.

86 Kuklick, Henrika, The Savage Within: A Social History of British Anthropology, 1885–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 124.

87 See for instance, Roy, Sarat Chandra, “A Note on the Kolarian Beliefs about Neolithic Celts,Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay 14, 6 (1907): 783–90.

88 Crook, Grafton Elliot Smith, 28, 30–31, 59.

89 Colla, Elliott, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 21.

90 Gange, David, Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822–1922 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Colla, Conflicted Antiquities; Ambridge, Lindsay J., “Imperialism and Racial Geography in James Henry Breasted's Ancient Times, a History of the Early World,Journal of Egyptian History 5 (2012): 1233 ; Meskell, Lynn, Object Worlds in Ancient Egypt: Material Biographies Past and Present (Oxford: Berg, 2004).

91 Princep, James, ed., Prachin Itihas Samuchchaya: An Epitome of Ancient History (Calcutta: Calcutta School Book Society's Press, 1830).

92 Manning, J. G., The Last Pharaohs: Egypt under the Ptolemies, 305–330 BC (Princeton: Princeton University of Press, 2010), 41; King, Richard, Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory and the ‘Mystic East’ (London: Routledge, 1999), 119.

93 Trautmann, Aryans, 15.

94 Robinson's Grammar of History (no author provided) (Calcutta: Indigenous Literary Club, 1832); Blumhardt, J. F., Catalogue of Bengali Printed Books in the Library of the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1886), 54.

95 Long, James, Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Works (Calcutta: Sanders, Cones & Co., 1855), 25.

96 Colla, Conflicted Antiquities, 27.

97 Mitra, Shyamlal, Mishor Jatri Bangali (Calcutta: Adityakumar Chattopadhyay, 1884), i.

98 Ray, Dinendrakumar, Pishach Purohit (Meherpur: Dinendrakumar Ray, 1910), 50.

99 Ibid., 99.

100 Gershoni, Israel and Jankowski, James P, Egypt, Islam and the Arabs: The Search for Egyptian Nationhood, 1900–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 164.

101 Ibid., 165.

102 “The Story of Kantara,” Amrita Bazar Patrika, 19 Feb. 1915: 4.

103 U. K. Mitter, “Minerva Theatre,” Amrita Bazar Patrika, 23 Dec. 1919: 9.

104 U. K. Mitter, “Minerva Theatre,” Amrita Bazar Patrika, 16 Aug. 1919: 3. The last advertisement for Mishar Kumari that I have been able to trace appeared in Amrita Bazar Patrika, 2 Dec. 1922: 3.

105 “Remarkable Egyptian Discovery: Last Tomb of Pharaoh,” Leader, 25 Dec. 1922: 4.

106 Tagore, Rabindranath, Creative Unity (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 6061 .

107 Ratnam, Malladi Venkata, Rama, The Greatest Pharaoh of Egypt (Rajahmundry: n.p., 1934).

108 Roy, Hemendrakumar, Morar Mrityu (Calcutta: Eastern Law House, 1939).

109 Roy, Hemendrakumar, “ Pepir Dakshin Pad,” in Dutta, Gita, ed., Hemendrakumar Roy, vol. 26 (Asia Publishing Company, Calcutta, 2013), 125–30.

110 Mitra, A., ed., Tribes and Castes of West Bengal (Calcutta: West Bengal Government Press, 1953).

111 K. P. Chattopadhyay, “The Racial Composition of the Bengalees”; and Sengupta, Sailendra Nath, “The Racial Composition of the Bengalees—A Further Note,” both in Mitra, A., ed., Tribes and Castes of West Bengal (Calcutta: West Bengal Government Press, 1953), 365–74, and 375–89, respectively.

112 Mitra, Tribes and Castes, 390–405.

113 Ray, Sudhansu Kumar, “The Artisan Castes of West Bengal and Their Crafts,” in Mitra, A., ed., Tribes and Castes of West Bengal (Calcutta: West Bengal Government Press, 1953), 293350 .

114 A. Mitra, “Note”: n.p.

115 Ray, “Artisan Castes,” 301.

116 Ibid., 306.

117 Ray, Sudhansu Kumar, Prehistoric India and Ancient Egypt: Artistic, Linguistic and Political Relations, Revealed by the Bengali Traditional Documents (New Delhi: Cambridge Book and Stationery Store (1956), 12.

118 Ibid., 3.

119 Ibid.

120 Ibid., Foreword.

121 Mitra, Amalendu, Rarher Samskriti O Dharmathakur (Calcutta: Firma KL Mukhopadhyay, 1972), 51, 94.

122 Ray, Prehistoric India, 7, 8.

123 McNamara, Robert, Britain, Nasser and the Balance of Power in the Middle East, 1952–1977 (London: Taylor & Francis, 2003), 42.

124 Zachariah, Benjamin, Nehru (London: Routledge, 2004), 222.

125 Cooney, John D., “Sudhansu Kumar Ray,Artibus Asiae 20, 2/3 (1957), 229.

126 Ray, Sudhansu Kumar, The Ritual Art of the Bratas of Bengal (Calcutta: Firma KL Mukhopadhyay, 1961).

127 Mitra, Rarher Samskriti.

128 Ibid., 51, 94.

129 Das, Rahul Peter, “Some Remarks on the Bengali Deity Dharma: Its Cult and Study,Anthropos 78, 5/6 (1983): 661700 , 665.

130 Mallick, Sriharsa, Prasanga Lokchitrakala (Calcutta: Pustak Bipani, 1985).

131 Kayal, Akshaykumar, Rupramer Dharmamangal (Calcutta: Bharbi, 1986): ou.

132 Bhowmick, Suhridkumar, Arya Rahasya (Mecheda: Maramburu Press, 1990), 5860 .

133 Santra, Tarapada, Pashchimbanger Lokshilpa O Shilpasamaj (Calcutta: Sarkar Enterprise, 2000).

134 Haldar, Narottam, Gangaridi: Alochona O Porjalochona (Calcutta: Dey Book Store, 1988), 85 (my italics).

135 Trautmann, Languages and Nations, 1–41.

136 Indian Genome Variation Database Portal; Jenkins, Laura Dudley, “Another ‘People of India’ Project: Colonial and National Anthropology,Journal of Asian Studies 62, 4 (2003): 1143–70.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 161
Total number of PDF views: 204 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 454 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 18th April 2017 - 22nd May 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.