Guest post by Dr. S. Gregory
The year 2012-13 marked a milestone in the History of Anthropology in Kerala for multiple reasons. Among many things, it marked the 25 years of PG teaching in Anthropology in Kerala and the Department of Anthropology had the unique privilege of organizing the Indian Anthropological Congress, the 10th Congress of the Indian National Confederation and Academy of Anthropologists (INCAA). The INCAA Congress, which was held as a full Congress once in three years and inter-Congresses in between, would henceforth be holding its full Congress every year under the name ‘Indian Anthropological Congress’, for which Kannur sets its beginning. The 2013 Congress held between 14 and 16 February 2013 aimed at taking a fresh look at the anthropological identities and approaches in the context of the emerging challenges and examines its potentiality for the future of the humankind. Hence, the focal Theme of the IAC 2013 was ‘Anthropology and the Future of Humankind. The theme of the Congress was chosen in the context of the dilemma Anthropology confronts between its professional commitment and the tendency to compromise its autonomy in order to erase out its anti-establishment stance, and hence of the urgency to examine the role of Anthropology vis-à-vis the future of humankind. The Congress attracted senior and young Anthropologists, from all over India, from the North, North East, East, West and South, with a total of about 250 participants, more than two third of them being from outside Kerala.
The inaugural function was presided over by the National President of INCAA, Prof. R.K. Mutatkar. Prof. A.P. Kuttikrishnan, the then Pro-Vice Chancellor of Kannur University inaugurated the Congress. Prof Gregory welcomed the gathering and provided a glimpse of the decade evolution of the Congress. Prof. PRG Mathur, the senior-most Anthropologist in Kerala, and Prof. B. Ananda Bhanu, the former Head of the Department of Anthropology were felicitated on the occasion by the President of INCAA, Prof. Mutatkar. This was followed by Prof. B.M. Das Memorial Oration by Prof D.K. Bhattacharya, from Delhi University, and was presided by Prof I.J.S. Bansal. The INCAA publications were released on the occasion. The academic exercise of the Congress started with the Round Table, which was moderated by Prof A.K. Danda, the Member-Secretary of INCAA. Fourteen eminent Anthropologists from all over India made deliberations on the conference theme: Anthropology and the Future of Humankind. It brought out a few significant concerns related to the academic and social situation which demands some methodological and analytical changes within anthropology as a discipline.
The second day of the Congress started with the Plenary Session. There were two speakers in the plenary session. Prof B.V. Sharma from Hyderabad Central University deliberated on ‘Culture and Development’ while Dr. Kannan P. Nambiar from George Washington University, Washington DC talked on the ‘Feminization of Migration and Human Rights’. This was followed by the S.C. Dube memorial lecture by Prof. Parasuram, Director of TISS, Mumbai and was presided by Prof Yogesh Atal. Prof Parasuram also released the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of the Department on the occasion, which provides a comprehensive picture about the Department and its overall profile.
The Scientific Sessions, which followed the SC Dube Memorial Lecture, involved six symposiums on varied themes, ranging from Ethnic Identity to sustainable Development, Health and Disease, Human Genetics, Growth and Developoment, Multiculturalism and Anthropological Identities and Approaches, and were held parallel in six different venues, each with three Technical Sessions. More than 80 papers had been deliberated in these sessions, followed by academic discussions. The Poster Session of the Congress had papers across all the themes of the Symposium. The cultural banquet offered by professional artists and by our own students, giving a few glimpses of Kerala Culture, enthralled the participants to its peak.
The third day started with a Special Interactive Session on Tribal Development, with the participation of the tribal activist, from Kerala Ms. C.K. Janu and moderated by Dr J.J. Pallath. The interaction was made lively and truly enriching and enlightening with the participation of Dr Jakka Parthasarathy, the former Director of the Tribal Research Center, Dr Francis Kulirani, the former Deputy Director of the Anthropological Survey of India and Shri Mohankumar, the former Director of KIRTADS. This was followed by the valedictory function which was presided over by the senior anthropologist, Dr. PRG Mathur. The Valedictory address was delivered by Prof Hussain Khan of Karnataka University. The winners of the Quiz program, conducted for the higher Secondary Anthropology students, which was one of the pre-Congress exercise, were honored with cash awards and memento.
The participants expressed a deep sense of appreciation for an excellent organization and arrangement as well as academic deliberations during the Congress. The Congress, organized under the aegis of INCAA, was made possible with the financial support from IGRMS, ICSSR, KIRTADS, Praxis India and from the University. The INCAA Kerala Chapter and the Faculty and students from the department had been the backbone in making the Congress a grand success. The extensive coverage given by the Press was unprecedented and provided the necessary boost to take Anthropology in Kerala to new heights. It had also provided an opportunity for the young anthropologists to get exposed to the wider canvas of Indian Anthropology.
Though the roots of anthropology in India could be traced back to the early phase of the colonial era, Anthropology as an Academic discipline had its beginning in India, only in 1920, with the starting of the Department of Anthropology at Calcutta University, with L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer from Kerala as one of the founding fathers of the Department. The 22nd Indian Science Congress held at Calcutta in 1935, under the Presidency of Dr J.H. Hutton, with the theme Anthropology and India, and the establishment of Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) in 1945, carving it out from the Zoological Survey of India are worth mentioning here.
In Kerala, the ethnological tradition of L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer was continued by his son L.A. Krishna Iyer, and carried forward further by his grandson L.K Balaratnam, the living continuity of this trio. Yet another doyen of Anthropology was Prof. A. Aiyappan, former Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University. The line of Anthropological stalwarts in Kerala would be incomplete without the name of Prof. PRG Mathur. The Tribal Research and Training Institute (TR&TI) established in 1970 with Professor A. Aiyappan as its Founding Special Officer, later became a separate Department of the Government of Kerala and renamed as Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS) in 1979, under the Directorship of Professor PRG Mathur, to conduct research on socioeconomic status of tribes, and impart training to officials posted in tribal areas about the tribal culture. KIRTADS became a center for Anthropological doctoral Research as well at a time when there was no Anthropology Department in any of the Universities in Kerala. Prof. Mathur had also been instrumental in the establishment of the Ananthakrishna Iyer International Centre for Anthropological Studies (AICAS) in 1979, at Palakkad, with the main objective of promoting anthropological research in South India.
The Department of Anthropology, which was established under the University of Calicut in its Thalassery Centre, as late as in 1986, with the starting of the PG program in 1988, and was transferred to Kannur University in 1996, has completed 25 years of its establishment in 2011 and of its PG teaching in Kerala in 2013. In commemoration of this occasion, the Department of Anthropology had undertaken various activities during the period between 2010 and 2013. The Department had organized a Two-day National Workshop on Anthropological Research, Teaching and Training in Kerala: Retrospect and Prospects, on 20 and 21 December, 2010 and a One-day Anthropological Film-Fest on 22 December 2010, both under the Aegis of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) Southern Center, as part of its initiative of a series of Workshop in South Indian States, marking its Golden Jubilee Celebration. The ten-day Exhibition on Human Origins, Genome and People of India conducted at the Science Park, Kannur between 13 and 23 December 2010 under the aegis of AnSI and in collaboration with KIRTADS was another major event worth mentioning. The Workshop was attended by many Anthropological stalwarts from within and outside Kerala and almost all the Heads of the Departments of Anthropology from the South Indian Universities. In the following year, a two day National Seminar on ‘Anthropology in the Service of Human Society and Culture’ was organized with the financial support of AnSI and KIRTADS and of the University, in February 2012, to mark the 150th Birth Centenary of one of the founding fathers of Indian Anthropology LKA Iyer, and also to inaugurate the Silver Jubilee of the PG Teaching of Anthropology in Kerala. During the valedictory function, a Department Website www.anthroposku.org was launched, and a Gallery, displaying the portraits of 25 Anthropological luminaries was opened up, giving a new face-lift to the Department. Later, a profile of each of the luminaries had been added and there are efforts to add more luminaries to the list. The Congress participants who visited the Department were highly impressed by the ambiance of the Department. The Anthropological Congress in 2013 provided the grand finale to the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Department.
The Department of Anthropology was awarded the UGC’s Special Assistance Program for the first phase of Departmental Research Support (SAP-DRS I) for five years since April 2007. During the period, the department could improve its infrastructure in the Department. Research work and ethnographic documentation of some of the tribes of Kerala have also been carried out under the program. There have also been Week-long Special Lecture Programmes every year as part of the SAP, by eminent scholars in Anthropology from different Universities who included Prof V.K. Srivastav (2008), Pof. P.C. Joshi (2010), and Prof Subhadra Mitra Chenna (2011) all from the Department of Anthropology, Delhi University; Prof. Venkata Rao (2009) from Hyderabad Central University and Prof Shalina Mehta (2012) from Punjab University, Chandigarh. Furthermore, there had been three annual National Seminars under this Program, on different themes namely, Development and Change, Indigeneity, Ecological Stress, Resource Conflicts and Adaptation and Women’s empowerment, Gender-Justice and Inclusive Development: Issues and Perspectives on Tribal India, all providing unique opportunities to the students to get them exposed to anthropology scholars across Universities.
Four of the total six seminars organized under the University Seminar Series, initiated in 2010, were organized by the Department of Anthropology, which included the following: 1) Prof P.C. Joshi, on ‘Traditional Healing Practices: Status and Future’, (2010); 2) Dr Kannan Nambiar, Washington University, on ‘Cultural Relativism and Universalism in Movement Towards Human Rights: Anthropological Perspective’ (2010); 3) Prof Subhatra Mitra Chenna, on ‘Climate Change: Global Issues and Local Change’ (2010); 4) Dr Kaley Mason, Dep. of Music, University of Chicago, U.S.A. ‘Musicians and Mobility: A Tale of Globalised Cities’ (2011).
In the last few years, several anthropologists from other Universities and Research Institutes from within and outside India had delivered talks in the Research Forum of the Department. They included Dr. Praveena Kodoth, Associate Professor, Center for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, (2010); Prof. M.A. Kalam, the then Head, Department of Anthropology, Madras University (2010); Prof. Mallika Das, Dept. of Business and Tourism, Mount Saint University, Halifax, Canada and Ms. Nitya Deepa Das, Research Scholar, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, USA (2011) and Prof Mutatkar, President of INCAA (2012); Dr Kannan Nambiar, George Washington University, Washington D.C. had been a regular visitor to the Department since 2010. An Interactive Session was held with a Graduate Scholar Mr Bennie Katti from American University in 2010. A seminar on Biodiversity was organized on the occasion of the International Year of Biodiversity in collaboration with Shashtra Sahitya Parishat and Social Forestry again in 2010.
The department had also taken initiatives, under the guidance of Prof Rajendran, Archaeologist and UGC Research Scientist (Kerala Univeristy), in the identification of certain archaeological finds in the region. Notable among these include the following: 1) Visited the site at Karaaltheruvu at Kodiyeri near Thalassery and identified the archaeological finds such as pots, skeletal remains and iron pieces from the laterite dome at the site as belonging to the megalithic culture and added to the collection of the Department Museum (2011); 2) Visited the site at Cheruparamba near Panoor and identified a Megalithic Urn Burial which also contained small bowels, skeletal remains and iron pieces, and were later transferred to the Department Museum. The Megalithic urn burial was dug out by a team of M.A. Anthropology students and Transferred from the Site to the Department Museum (2011); 3) Identification of a laterite Dome at Melathiyadam of Cheruthayam Panchayath, Kannur District as belonging to Megalithic culture during the field tour undertaken in the Department in April 2013; 4) Identification of a megalithic lateriet dome at Antholimala near Kodiyeri, in Thalasseri Municipality during a field trip undertaken in June 2013. Archaeological field trip, visit to the tribal settlements and Institutions as part of the Study Tour Program in the department have become a regular activity in the Department since 2010, allowing the students to get exposed to different ethnic communities, archaeological sites, anthropologically-oriented research Institutes, Museums.
The Department of Anthropology provides a well-knit infrastructure to facilitate a student-friendly ambiance for learning. It has a well-equipped Laboratory to carry out the basic practicals of both biological anthropology and Archaeological Anthropology. The School of Health Sciences in the Campus extends its lab facilities for greater exposure to original anatomical specimens and Blood Testing. The Department of Anthropology has a small and well-maintained Museum with a good number of collections of artifacts and specimens, as well as of material and cultural objects associated with different economic and social niches. The contribution of N.K. Ramesan, former student of the Department, to the collection of archaeological tools and artifacts to the Museum needs special mention. The renovated Museum was inaugurated by the Hon. Vice Chancellor in June 2013 during his first visit to the Campus. The Department envisages for a truly large Anthropological and Heritage Museum that would capture the cultural contours of the ethnic and indigenous communities of the Malabar region and of the entire state of Kerala. The Department has made use of the opportunity offered by IGRMS to participate in the annual National Workshop on Anthropology and Museums since 2010, by regularly deputing the students and teachers/Research assistants from the Department. The department has a rich library containing nearly 3000 books and monographs on wide-range of anthropological topics. The University Central Library is also equipped with a good number of anthropology books. The students also have access to INFLIBNET facilities through which they can access world-class journals in Anthropology.
Over the years, the Faculty of the department have undertaken Projects and carried out extensive research in the field of Tribal Studies, Local Self Government, Decentralization, Education and Medical aspects involving National/ International projects. The Faculty members have earned prestigious fellowships including Commonwealth Fellowship, C.R Parekh Fellowship, Sir Ratan Tata Fellowship, and Fulbright-Nehru Visiting Lecturer Fellowship. The Faculty members also have extensive publications to their credit, in their specialized areas of research.
As part of the efforts to popularize Anthropology, a department brochure highlighting the features of Anthropology, Program details and placement prospects was printed and distributed to different colleges and institutions. Press statements, Department Website, etc., were made use of to disseminate information about the subject to the public. Information Boards have been installed prominently in the Department, for displaying the latest Anthropology-related News and Events, Updates, Placement News etc. The Department has also initiated to put the available department-owned equipments and materials to their maximum use (reflecting the spirit of the UGC guidelines) by making them have easy accessibility by other Teaching Departments and Department Students Union and other recognised bodies at the time of their requirements.
There have been several changes brought out in the courses and program in the last 12 years and particularly in the last three years. The teaching of M.A. course was switched over from annual pattern to the semester pattern in 2003. The practical was introduced for Biological and Archaeological papers. In 2005, the Credit Semester System was introduced, with 20 percent internal marks, through continuous assessment. Since 2010, the Choice-based Credit Semester System (CCSS) has been adopted with 40 percent internal marks, through continuous assessment. The strength of the student-intake had been increased from 12 to 15 from the 2010 admission, and from 15 to 20 since 2011 admission. The Syllabus and Curriculum was restructured under CCSS and the distribution of the credits and course contents were rationalized with 10 modules for each course. In the restructured curriculum pattern, the teachers are given maximum freedom in the framing of the syllabus. Two new Elective courses namely, Anthropology of Folklore and Economic Anthropology are offered to the students. In 2010, the Scheme of question, which was purely of essay type alone since the starting of the PG Course in Anthropology in the Department in 1988, was changed for the first time to a mixed pattern of scheme involving multiple choice questions, short answer questions, short essay questions, and essay questions, with a maximum of 100 marks which is converted to a weightage of 60.
The M.Phil. program, under Semester pattern was introduced in 2000 with the intake of four students but the second batch of four students joined only in 2007, of whom only one could complete the course. In 2010, the strength of the intake of the students for M.Phil. had been increased to 5 and the regular admission is being done since then. The Credit Semester System was introduced for the M.Phil. Programme in 2010, and a rationalisation of the syllabus and scheme was carried out, similar to the M.A. programme. A new Regulation was adopted in 2011 and the common M.Phil. Regulation at the University level had been adopted from 2012 admission onwards.
As field work is the foundation of Anthropological Training, the Department had undertaken ethnographic field work since 1989, as part of the M.A. program, among the Scheduled Tribes which include Mullukurumbas of Kappala (1988-1990), Adiyans of Thirunelli (1989-91), Karavazhi Pulayan of Idukki district (1991-93), Kurichiyas of Kannavam (1993-95) as well as of Wayanad (2008-10), Kattunayakkans of Pasukkadavu (1996-98), Paniyans of Pala (1997-99), Thachanadan Mooppans of Wayanad (2006-08), Malavettuvans of Kasargod (2007-09), Mala Panikkar of Nilambur (2009-11), Urali Kurumans of Wayanad, (2010-12) and Muthuvans of Nilambur (2011-13), among the Scheduled Caste communities that include Parayan (2003-05), and Chakkiliya (2004-06), pastoral community of Yadava (1992-94), fishing communities of Arayan (1995-97) and Kollakkar (2001-03), temple servicing community of Ptarar (2010-12), weaving community of Chaliya (2010-12), trading communities of Keyi (1998-00), and Gowda Saraswath Brahmins (2000-02) and in villages which include Dharmadam (1990-92), Andalur (2002-04) and Muzhappilangad (2005-07).
Considering the unique identity of Anthropology being a subject of social sciences, Natural sciences and Humanities, and giving thought to its growth potential and academic expansion, the submission made in 2004 at the Board of Studies to start a School of Anthropological Sciences, recommended by BOS, ratified by the Faculty of Social Sciences in 2006 and approved by the Academic Council in 2010, is still awaiting for its realization.
The first batch of the students passed out from the Department in 1990 and so far, 24 batches of students numbering 256, have passed out from the Department, and obtained their post-graduate degree in Anthropology since 1990. There are forty students currently undergoing PG program in Anthropology. Of the past students from the Department, nearly thirty have qualified UGC NET – Lectureship including three Junior Research Fellowships (JRF), till date. The department has produced so far nine doctorates, four of them awarded in the last three years and two of the scholars have already submitted their doctoral thesis. There are twelve other scholars who are pursuing their doctoral research. Eight students have obtained their M.Phil degrees and another eight have been in the process of submitting or already submitted their dissertation. Two are pursuing their M.Phil research in the Department presently and another two are awaiting to join the programme. A few of our students have done or are currently pursuing their Ph.D and/or M.Phil research in other Departments of Anthropology and prestigious Institutes including the Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, Hyderabad Central University, Pondicherry Central University, and MG University Kottayam.
The Alumni of the Department have been occupying prominent positions in different walks of life. Our students have secured positions and working in several prestigious institutions including IGNOUndira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, TISSATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, Central University Hyderabad, Madras University, AnSIthropological Survey of India, Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies for the SCs and STs (KIRTADS), National Innovative Foundation, and the Botanical Survey of India. A majority of the Faculty in our own Department are also those who have passed out from the same Department. There are several others who have been employed as Higher Secondary teachers, and in various positions in the government Departments, Local self-government and planning, and in the Non-Government Organizations. Anthropology has been one of the highly opted subjects in the Civil Service Examinations. Moreover, in Kerala, there are increasing opportunities for anthropology professionals with the prospects of opening Off-campus centers of the National Tribal University, establishing of Tribal study centers under different Universities and the increasing efforts in the development of weaker sections and of the marginalized people. There is also an increasing realization and emerging demand for anthropologically-trained personnel in several human and culture-related fields and in the decentralized local governance as Officers, Investigators and Researchers.
The initiative to form the Alumni Association as early as in 2000 and the formation of the INCAA Kerala Chapter in 2007, the formal inauguration of which was held on 5 June 2011, by Prof Hussain Khan of Karnataka University are other notable developments worth mentioning. The Chapter has a strength of 80 members as on July 2013.
A significant development in the history of Anthropology in Kerala is the introduction of Anthropology in the Higher Secondary School Curriculum in 2000, which was not incidental but due to the timely initiative of a committed Faculty and concerted efforts of the Alumni, formed for the purpose in 1999. Today Anthropology is taught in about 12 schools, not a small achievement, though a long way to go to spread its wings throughout the state. The introduction of Anthropology at the Higher Secondary level had facilitated in taking the knowledge of Anthropology to a wider academic circle and to the general public, and also opened up a new avenue of job opportunity for some of the students, passed out from the Department. More importantly, it had inspired many other states to take similar initiative in this direction. In the recently held 17th World Anthropological Congress at Manchester, Anthropology at the school level was a topic discussion at the Panel level, and efforts are on to form a Commission for this purpose, where, Kerala could contribute substantially in this regard.
Anthropology is a popular subject taught at the intermediate, under graduate and graduate levels in countries like the U.S. Unfortunately, however, to introduce Anthropology at the degree level in Kerala have not yielded any results in spite of concerted efforts and repeated attempts since 2000. Nevertheless, the Kerala State Higher Education Council has supported the preparation of the Scheme and Syllabus for Anthropology at the degree level and has made a strong recommendation to the government for starting degree course in Anthropology, though it is yet to become a reality. Following this, a submission was made to the University in 2010, to start the degree program in Anthropology at the School of Distance Education, it had been started from the 2011 Academic year onwards, another milestone in the history of Anthropology in Kerala. The effort to start degree program in Anthropology in regular mode in different colleges is continuing, particularly in the context of the recent Kerala government’s initiative to start colleges in 22 Assembly constituencies where there is neither a Government nor an Aided College at present.
However, the series of National Seminars, Workshops, Exhibitions and distribution of brochures, by the Department and the organization of pre-Congress public lectures by the INCAA Kerala Chapter, culminating in the organization of the Indian Anthropological Congress seem to be still wanting for Anthropology to become truly a people’s science. It only points out to the need for greater efforts to address the issue of popularizing Anthropology. This requires a serious introspection by the practicing Anthropologists at all levels. Have we made Anthropology as our way of life? Do we adopt an anthropological approach in our dealings and doings? As anthropologists do we respond to people’s issues?
Today, the discipline of anthropology is moving into new horizons with vigour. Anthropological knowledge and field data have wider applications in various fields of human action and encourage humanitarian considerations in policy decisions and implementation. Anthropology opens up a meaningful future for the young generation to pursue further studies in future specializations in the extending horizons within Anthropology, more so, in its applied dimensions. The attempt to understand human behavior from all dimensions including biological and cultural and to look at human beings in a holistic perspective, has been a hall mark of Anthropology since its emergence as a scientific discipline. As a humanistic science, its four-fold approach in understanding human existence has brought revolutionary insights for further progress and development of humanity. As a co-coordinating science, it helps in obtaining a broader vision of human life. The integrated approach that Anthropology adopts to understand the human beings is very much essential especially when the long cherished and traditional human values, cultural ethos and ethics are fast eroding.
Professor S. Gregory is the chair of the anthropology department at Kannur University, the only university in Kerala state with an anthropology department. He has published a book, Development, Livelihood and Empowerment, and other writings. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Chicago in spring 2012.