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Xth ICAES, New Delhi, December 1978

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Arbind Sinha Advisor MICA, Ahmedabad Email:

India’s hosting of the Xth Congress of Anthropology in 1978 was not a coincidence. From the mid-1900s, world anthropology not only witnessed accelerated proliferation and diversification in the development of sub-fields and topics, but also the recognition of the value of anthropological studies in the non-western world by the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES). They agreed to hold their quinquennial (5 years) International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (ICAES) in other parts of the world that had never hosted any such Congress since inception in 1934. History was created during the ninth ICAES, held in Chicago (USA) when in the banquet hall of the Conrad Hilton Hotel of Chicago on September 09, 1973, the IUAES made a declaration that the next Congress would be held in India. This was the beginning of a new era in the domain of the discipline – symbolic of the wind of change. It was not only a celebration of the autonomy of Indian academics but also a moment of pride for other third-world countries.

Prof. L P Vidyatrhi of Ranchi University, the leader of the Indian delegation comprising of Head of the Departments of Anthropology in Universities across the country as well as an equally strong team of anthropologists working with other non-teaching departments and organizations, was appointed the President of IUAES (1973-78). As per the tradition, the President of the Union was also to be the President of the Congress. Professor I P Singh of Delhi University and Professor DP Sinha, from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta were nominated as Secretaries of the IUAES. The Indian delegation was given the responsibility of organizing the next ICAES in their home country.

Back home, the Government of India formed a 25 member National Committee with Prof. S C Dube as Chairman and Dr. K S Singh as Executive Secretary to advise and assist in organising the Congress. This committee remained mostly on paper and the Indian delegation expanded the team and formed a National Organising Committee (OC), chaired by Professor A Aiyappan of Madras. Professor I P Singh of Delhi University was made the Secretary-General of the Committee.

The selection of the main themes of the Congress was of special debate. The theme of the 10th Congress was chosen as “Anthropology and the Challenges of Development”, keeping the problem of so-called “third world countries” in focus, while striking a balance between man and environment. Anthropology’s role in planning intervention strategies for the development of marginalized sections of society was duly recognised. Deliberations were planned to debate these challenges.

The organizing committee decided to hold the main Congress in New Delhi from December 10-16, 1978, and organize 18 Post-Congresses at 12 locations from December 19 to 21, 1978. The venues involved almost every important anthropological centre located in different parts of the country. Calcutta, Delhi, Mysore, and Pune held more than one Post-Congress. A limited number of Pre-Congresses were also organized from December 10 to 14, 1978. All 11 active Commissions under the IUAES as well as different anthropology and related bodies in India held their annual conferences at these post-congress venues to facilitate the participation of their respective members.

Before the general announcement about the Xth Congress was circulated across the world, the National Organising Committee appointed their official carrier and their official travel agent and this information was part of the announcement along with some details of the programme and the application form for the Congress.

Realising the responsibilities involved in organizing an international event of that magnitude, Professor Vidyarthi and other key members of the National Organising Committee visited Ahmedabad and requested the Indian Space Research Organisation for help in organizing the Congress. Singular credit goes to Professor Yash Pal, then Director of the Space Applications Centre (SAC-ISRO), who approved the idea and deputed a team of half a dozen anthropologists associated with ISRO and secretarial staff to camp in Delhi for more than a year on ISRO cost. Dr. Binod C. Agrawal, a senior anthropologist of SAC-ISRO was officially appointed as the Executive Secretary of the Congress with financial powers and Arbind Sinha was the Assistant Secretary of the Congress.

With support from the Department of Culture, Government of India, the office of the congress was established in New Delhi – the main venue of the congress. The SAC-ISRO team started operating the Congress Secretariat from there and two senior officers from the Anthropological Survey of India joined the team by August 1978. Some faculty members from the Department of Anthropology, Delhi University, and senior anthropologists from the Planning Commission, All India Radio, Doordarshan, IIT Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication also got involved in the organizing the Congress. Some young research scholars from the Department of Anthropology Delhi University came with their youthfull vigour to make the Xth Congress a grand event! A couple of young anthropology scholars Delhi University also contributed their best. The Congress was inaugurated by the then Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Morarji Desai. It was such a grand event that it is remembered by the international community even today for its excellence in management, quality of academic deliberations, warm hospitality, and cultural kaleidoscope.

The academic deliberations of the Congress were organized under four major traditional anthropological categories; Physical Anthropology with 15 sessions, Social and Cultural Anthropology with 12 sessions, Pre-History with 8 sessions, and Anthropological Linguistics with 5 sessions. More sessions were added in the form of symposia. The Social and Cultural Anthropology organized 11 symposia, followed by four symposia organized in Anthropological Linguistics, and two each in Physical Anthropology and Pre-History.

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