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Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals, and India
by Ramachandra Guha
University of Chicago Press, 1999
Cloth: 978-0-226-31047-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-31048-0
Library of Congress Classification GN21.E48G84 1999
Dewey Decimal Classification 301.092

ABOUT THIS BOOK | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Verrier Elwin (1902-1964) was unquestionably the most colorful and influential non-official Englishman to live and work in twentieth-century India. A prolific writer, Elwin's ethnographic studies and popular works on India's tribal customs, art, myth and folklore continue to generate controversy.

Described by his contemporaries as a cross between Albert Schweitzer and Paul Gauguin, Elwin was a man of contradictions, at times taking on the role of evangelist, social worker, political activist, poet, government worker, and more. He rubbed elbows with the elite of both Britain and India, yet found himself equally at home among the impoverished and destitute. Intensely political, the Oxford-trained scholar tirelessly defended the rights of the indigenous and, despite the deep religious influences of St. Francis and Mahatma Gandhi on his early career, staunchly opposed Hindu and Christian puritans in the debate over the future of India's tribals. Although he was ordained as an Anglican priest, Elwin was married twice to tribal women and enthusiastically (and publicly) extolled the tribals' practice of free sex. Later, as prime minister Nehru's friend and advisor in independent India, his compelling defense of tribal hedonism made him at once hugely influential, extremely controversial, and the polemical focal point of heated discussions on tribal policy and economic development.

Savaging the Civilized is both biography and history, an exploration through Elwin's life of some of the great debates of the twentieth century: the future of development, cultural assimilation versus cultural difference, the political practice of postcolonial as opposed to colonial governments, and the moral practice of writers and intellectuals.


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