Verrier Elwin

British anthropologist

1902   -   1964

country of citizenship: India, British Raj
language of expression: English
educated at: Merton College
occupation: anthropologist, autobiographer
award received: Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Bhushan in science & engineering

Verrier Elwin (29 August 1902, Dover, – 22 February 1964, Delhi) was a British-born anthropologist, ethnologist and tribal activist, who began his career in India as a Christian missionary. He first abandoned the clergy, to work with Mohandas Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, then converted to Hinduism in 1935 after staying in a Gandhian ashram, and split with the nationalists over what he felt was an overhasty process of transformation and assimilation for the tribals. Verrier Elwin is best known for his early work with the Baigas and Gonds of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh in central India, and he married a member of one of the communities he studied. He later also worked on the tribals of several North East Indian states especially North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and settled in Shillong, the hill capital of Meghalaya.In time he became an authority on Indian tribal lifestyle and culture, particularly on the Gondi people. He served as the Deputy Director of the Anthropological Survey of India upon its formation in 1945. Post-independence,he took up Indian citizenship. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appointed him as an adviser on tribal affairs for north-eastern India, and later he was Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh. The Government of India awarded him the third highest civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan in 1961. His autobiography, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin won him the 1965 Sahitya Akademi Award in English Language, given by the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.
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