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

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The Empire, Its Law and the Bankruptcy of Anthropologists

Anthropologists in India are ill-equipped to engage in a fruitful dialogue with the government as regards the acquisition of land effected under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, even after 70 years of independence. With land being one of the most vital life support systems of the poor populations, anthropologists should generate a solid database on the biocultural impacts of land acquisition. Ironically, the Anthropological Survey of India has not yet been able to produce scientific data on the biocultural impact of land takeover, particularly on food insecurity and its consequent impact on health and nutrition.

I am indebted to the villagers who, despite all the adverse situations they faced, helped me and my PhD student Arup Majumder to continue our fieldwork over the years.

India is a land of diversity in terms of geology, geography, flora, fauna and her people. The anthropologists of the British Empire, particularly the census officials in India, meticulously recorded the biological and cultural diversities of the Indian populations. British Census Commissioner of India H H Risley (1851–1911), for example, not only counted the people, but also took anthropometric measurements of the populations and made the first racial classification (Risley 1915).

British lawmakers in colonial India, on the other hand, enacted a uniform and common law, the Land Acquisition Act in 1894, based on the principle of eminent domain by which the government could acquire any private land for public purpose in lieu of monetary compensation calculated on the basis of the past market price of the land in an area (MoLJ 1986). Despite all kinds of humane criticisms (including anthropological), this law remained almost intact for more than 65 years after the independence of India in 1947.

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Updated On : 27th Feb, 2018
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