ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Elwin's Tribals

Savaging the Civilised: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals, and India by Ramachandra Guha; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, pp x+398, Rs 595.

Savaging the Civilised is about the lifeand works of Verrier Elwin, a priest,a social worker, an anthropologist and anadministrator. It is clear from the accountsof most who came in contact with him thathe was not an ordinary person. The bookis a biography of Elwin and a reverberationof his extraordinary personality. It bringsout vividly the ways in which Elwin cameto terms with the moral and social dilemmathat confronted him at different points intime; between loyalties to ideals/vocation/mission on the one hand and to family,tradition and organisations on the other.

It begins with Elwin’s conflict betweenlove and loyalty to his mother, the evangelicaltradition and attraction to AngloCatholicism Later the conflict shifts toloyalties between priestly career in theAnglican Church and service to Christ asa member of the Christ Sewa Sangh (CSS)in India. The CSS emphasised dialogueof faiths and moulding of the church tosuit Indian tradition and ethos both inappearance and ideology. Not so long afterjoining the CSS, Elwin was confronted bya crisis of loyalty. He was torn betweenloyalties to the CSS and Winslow on onehand and the Congress and Gandhi on theother. The others to follow were the choicesbetween a contemplative and reflectivelife and active life in the service of the poor;and between political life dedicated to theCongress and a life away from the politicsfor the Congress. The book describesElwin’s conflict with himself over thechoices he made in life. However, on readingthe book, it seems that Elwin invariablydecided in favour of change andnovelty all through his life. In doing sohe even did an about turn from his earlierpositions at some points. His making peacewith the colonial administration, servingin the office of honorary magistrate andholding an official position in governmentsare cases in point. Elwin of coursedefended such twists and turns in his lifein the name of the service of the poor.

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