Professor Vinay Kumar Srivastava
(3rd December 1952 - 23rd December 2020)
Prof. Vinay Kumar Srivastava (VKS) was the Director of Anthropological Survey of India, the largest Government funded body of anthropologist in the world, when he passed away on 23rd of December 2020. In his own words, his academic journey was summarised as follows:
"I taught Sociology at Hindu College, University of Delhi, from 15th September 1976 to 21st January 1985 (forenoon). During that period, I worked as the Teacher-In-Charge of the Department of Sociology, Hindu College, on many occasions. I joined the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, as Lecturer in Social Anthropology on 21st January 1985, and once I was the Secretary of the Staff Council of the Department. I became a Reader in Social Anthropology on 15th September 1986, and Professor on 14th January 1997. I was on lien from the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, where I am employed as Professor of Social Anthropology, and joined as Principal, Hindu College, University of Delhi, from 10th March 2010. My lien expired on 7th March 2011 and I have returned to my department as professor of social anthropology."
(cf. Faculty Details proforma of DU website)
VKS was a very brilliant social anthropologist, standing first class first throughout his graduation and post-graduation in Anthropology and Sociology. He did his doctorate from Kings College, London under the supervision of Prof. Caroline Humphrey on a Commonwealth scholarship. He started his teaching career immediately after completing masters in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. His first assignment, in 1976, was as Lecturer of Sociology in the prestigious Hindu College of Delhi University. His love for Anthropology brought him back to the Department of Anthropology as a lecturer in 1985 and subsequently he became a reader in 1986 and finally a professor in 1997.
Blessed genius, he received college awards throughout his B.Sc. (Honours) and M.Sc. in Anthropology. Later, when he joined Department of Sociology, he maintained the distinction of holding the first rank, winning merit awards and the university medals. He was awarded the University Medal in 1972, for being the best candidate in B.Sc. (Honours) Anthropology. He received All India Post Graduate Scholarship for two years from 1972-74. He was awarded University Medal for being the best candidate in M.Sc. Anthropology. Medals and scholarships came easily to him. He received National Scholarship from 1974 to 1976, while doing M.A. in Sociology and was awarded Smt. Kunda Datar Gold Medal for being the best candidate in M.A. Sociology. He also received R.D. Sanwal Memorial Prize for getting the highest marks in M.A. examination in Sociology. After joining as Lecturer in Sociology, he received three-year fellowship under Faculty Improvement Programme in 1979, which he did not avail. In 1980, he was selected for a prestigious scholarship to study abroad which again he declined. In 1998, Jamia Milia Islamia University selected him for the post of Professor in Sociology, but he declined. His academic excellence made him a much-wanted Professor in Sociology and in 2002, Delhi School of Economics selected him for the post, but he refrained from joining because of his passion for Anthropology.
In 2006, he was selected for Post-Graduate Research Award of the University Grants Commission, which he did not avail. Out of innumerable opportunities that he applied for and got selected for, because of his erudite scholarship and brilliance, VKS accepted only five among them–lectureship in Sociology in Hindu College, lectureship in social anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, Commonwealth Scholarship, Principalship of Hindu College and Directorship of the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI). I often wondered, why he applied for all these positions, when his heart was in Anthropology and the only answer that comes is that like all great scholars, he was constantly competing with his own self, proving his worth, and then moved on to do what he loved most. Even when he was preparing to retire from AnSI, the position of editorship of the journal Social Change in the Council for Social Development, New Delhi was awaiting him, which unfortunately he could not avail owing to his untimely demise, as he lost his battle to Covid-19 pandemic.
VKS was a passionate researcher, who not only believed in writing papers, but also encouraged others with their publications. He started with the art of editing under the tutelage of Prof. Surinder Nath of Delhi University, who was editor of the journal Spectra of Anthropological Progress. After that, he joined the editorial board of the Society for Indian Medical Anthropology Bulletin. His editorial skills and journey flourished as he continued being associated with one or the other journal in the discipline. When he assumed the position of Editor of the Ethnographic and Folk culture society’s journal The Eastern Anthropologist, which was started by the doyen of Indian Anthropology D. N. Majumdar in the year 1947, the scholarly standing of the journal improved immensely. He also shared editorial responsibilities of the journal Social Change and helped it to get under the fold of the Sage Publishers. After joining the Anthropological Survey of India, VKS played a very important role in placing not only the survey itself but also its journal on a much wider public platform. The rights of publication and quality maintenance of its flagship Journal, The Journal of The Anthropological Survey of India was brought under the aegis of the Sage Publishers.
Vinay Kumar Srivastava’s research work can be broadly divided into two parts – based on his dissertations and solicited research publications. Based on his M.Phil dissertation, he published a paper titled “Rethinking charisma” in Indian Anthropologist. This was followed by two subsequent articles titled “Mao cult, charisma and social science” and “Mao, Hua and charisma building” in the journal China Report. His publications in China report made him a close confidant of the prominent Chinese scholar Manoranjan Mohanty. From his doctoral dissertation he published a book and many articles on the Raika pastorals. Among solicited papers, a paper was published by him for the Sociological Bulletin in 1985, volume 34 (1 & 2), titled “Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization”, which was based on a very special seminar organized by Prof. Gopala Sarana of Lucknow University, Lucknow. This paper was later published in the 1993 issue of Dialectical Anthropology as “Malinowski and a reading of his Freedom and Civilization”. VKS was highly impressed by the special seminar organized by Gopala Sarana on Malinowski where the paper presenters were given more than two hours each, to make their presentation which was then followed by lengthy and intensive discussions. Such a style of organizing seminars in India was quite uncommon.
One of his paper which was jointly written with me was titled “Afforestation, development and religion: a case study from the Himalayas” and was published in the annual issue of the journal Mainstream. This was based on my field experience as a member of the NGO ‘Friends of Trees’. I was involved in the ecosystem restoration work in a village in Garhwal, Uttarakhand. I would often discuss with him about its activities, and it was he who was able to see great merit in the proactive ecological restoration work at the grassroots by this NGO. He motivated me to systematically record sequence of events. I became conscious of the activities on his advice and used my anthropological training to systematically record their accomplishments. Subsequently, a very important paper emerged out of this which was later reprinted in edited books. VKS has extensively contributed to the anthropology of environment by bringing in ideas from ecological movements from Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and also from Mahatma Gandhi. His publications based on his study of modern witchcraft in England are also noteworthy. He has immensely contributed to research methods in Anthropology by writing on variety of topics like Genealogy, Participatory Research, Interview Schedule, Payment to Respondents, Qualitative Research, Ethnography and Fieldwork. His edited book for the Oxford University Press titled Methodology and Fieldwork (2004) and especially its Introduction penned by him should be made mandatory for teaching any course on Research methods. It is already a compulsory reading for the master’s students of Anthropology in Delhi University.
As a teacher VKS possessed some very special qualities. He was greatly influenced by the teaching style of J.D. Mehra and Abhimanyu Sharma of Department of Anthropology, Delhi University, two most distinguished master craftsmen in the art of teaching. While J.D Mehra had infinite capacity to lecture in English, possibly because he also had a master’s in English Literature, Sharma was more meticulous and methodical in his lectures. VKS combined both the styles in his lectures. He once told me that when he went to teach in Hindu College, he was quite young (24 years) and there was not much difference between his and the student’s age. He soon realised that students were not taking him seriously and would quite often talk among themselves. He evolved his style of teaching by effectively using the black board and while lecturing started writing the lecture point by point on the black board. Many of his students still recall having these notes as their literary treasure trove. Some of them continue to use these as reference points for drafting their lectures.
He was a teacher, constantly innovating to make his classes extraordinarily popular. He is remembered as one of the best teachers, Department of Anthropology ever had till date. Moreover, he is also reminisced for being a great friend, philosopher, guide to his colleagues as also to his students. Not many would know that he was not only a serious researcher but also wrote Urdu poetry under the pseudonym of Khurshid. He was an excellent singer and connoisseur of Sufi poetry. He would often regale his audience-mostly comprising his students and colleagues spontaneously, singing Urdu Gazals during social gatherings of the department. Fraternity of anthropologists as also academics and students from several other department shall always remember his eloquent and vibrant lectures.
Prof. P.C. Joshi
PVC and Acting Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University
Professor of Social Anthropology, Former Head, Department of Anthropology, Delhi University, Delhi
Born in a traditional Kayastha family of Old Delhi, the erstwhile Shahjahanabad, on 3rd December 1952 to B.B. Srivastava and Shanti Devi, Vinay Srivastava imbibed the values of hard work, dedication, respect for customs and the striving for knowledge, the love for Urdu language and passion for music. Kayasthas had been scribes so was Vinay, though initially, his father a government servant wished him to study for the civil services or take up science subjects to pursue a career in medicine, but destiny had wished otherwise! He was schooled at the Anglo Sanskrit Victoria Jubilee school, Daryaganj, Delhi. He was a shy, thin, unassuming boy who would often joke that he had learnt English through the Hindi medium. He was a wizard at Mathematics, and this was what helped him get a decent second division in the higher secondary examinations of 1969. He joined pre-medical classes at Deshbandhu college but a fall from a bus left him incapable of attending his classes for almost a month. Disheartened and left with no other option, he saw an advertisement indicating availability of few seats in B.Sc. (hons) in Anthropology, at Delhi University. He always believed that destiny had brought him there. However, he did not give up on his father's dream, making two attempts at the Civil Services. He found that his passion lay in teaching, reading and writing. His brother became a doctor and his two sisters pursued law from Delhi University. Vinay's daughter, Sonal and son, Tushar did not follow the teaching profession but joined the corporate world. Rohan is pursuing his graduation from St. Stephens College, DU. Armed with a dictionary Vinay learnt English. His painstaking efforts and phenomenal memory made him an eloquent speaker and versatile writer. His archaic English, his choice of words surprised his PhD supervisor Caroline Humphrey, at Cambridge. His thesis did not have a single grammatical error.
Above inputs came from Prof. Kumkum Srivastava, Vinay Srivastava’s life partner and a distinguished academic in her own right. They were married in a civil ceremony on 2nd May 1980 and later in a traditional ceremony on 5th July 1980. Their alliance traversed many conventions, they came from different linguistic and caste communities, she is a year senior to him in age, and his traditional family took time to accept it. She reminisced calling him always unconventional in his teaching style, writing and personal life. Liberal to the core, he lived what he taught and believed in!
Kumkum Srivastava received her initial education from 1962-65 in Karachi and then went to Presentation Convent in Delhi, to complete her schooling. She did her graduation and postgraduation in history from Indraprastha College of Delhi University. In her words “‘spurred and inspired’ by Vinay, pursued my M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the department of Anthropology, Delhi University”. Her thesis titled Wandering Sufis is published by IGRMS (Bhopal) and Aryan publication. She taught history for the last forty-five years in several colleges in Delhi and retired as Associate professor of history from Janki Devi Memorial college (JDMC) in 2019. They complimented each other immensely as they shared love for Sufi Poetry, classical music and provided intellectual stimulus, often publishing together as co-authors, and also critiquing each other’s work.
Vinay Srivastava was a prolific scholar and would often say in his lectures that unless he writes two pages every morning, he finds it difficult to start his day. He would enduringly coax his students, friends and colleagues to put their thoughts on paper. He published, co-edited approximately 21 books and wrote more than 200 original articles. He wrote with equal ease in both English and Hindi. Few of his frequently cited publications are:
1990 Essays in social anthropology. Calcutta: Institute of Social Research and Applied Anthropology.
1997 Religious renunciation of a pastoral people. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
2004 Edited the Volume titled Methodology and Fieldwork, under the series Oxford in India Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology. Wrote its Introduction and Sectional Introductions.
2014. Edited Contributions to Sociological Theory. Wrote its Introduction (pp. XVII-LVIII) and included Malinowski paper (Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization) (pp. 169-198). Sage Publications.
Research papers published in Refereed/Peer Reviewed Journals:
1982 On ethnography and the sacred cow controversy. Current Anthropology, 23 (2): 222-4 (with S.L. Malik).
1985 Malinowski on freedom and civilization. Sociological Bulletin, 34 (1 & 2): 148-82 (Abstracted in Sociological Abstracts 34 , December 1986).
1997 Religious renunciation of a pastoral people. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
1985 Mao cult, charisma and social science. China Report, XXI (4): 359-70.
1988 Modern witchcraft and occultism in Cambridge. Cambridge Anthropology, 13 (1): 50-71.
1989 Understanding national integration from anthropology. Mainstream, XXVII (15): 15-7, 20-2; and XXVII (16): 15-9.
1989 Afforestation, development and religion: a case from the Himalayas. Mainstream (Annual Number), pp. 109, 111-2, 151-2 (with P.C. Joshi). Reprinted in S.C. Singh (ed.) Himalaya: environment, economy and people. New Delhi: R.K. Publications (1990-1; pp. 453-69).
1989 Economy, ecology and Chipko. Third Concept 3 (33): 37-40 (with Kumkum Srivastava).
1990 "Practice of" and "practice in" anthropology. The Eastern Anthropologist, 43 (4): 301-23.
1991 Caste in modern India: a response to Parekh. BASS Bulletin, The Newsletter of the British Association for South Asian Studies, 16: 1-4.
1992 Centrality and unreturnable gifts: some reflections on Gloria Goodwin Raheja's The Poison in the Gift. Cambridge Anthropology, 16 (1): 69-94.
1995 An auto-ethnography of the Tangkhul Nagas. The Eastern Anthropologist, 48 (2): 185-93.
1997 On anthropology of death. Economic and Political Weekly, XXXII (16), 19 April 1997: 827-32 (with Kumkum Srivastava).
1999 Renunciation from below. In Ramachandra Guha and Jonathan P. Parry (eds.) Institutions and inequalities, essays in honour of Professor Andre Beteille. Oxford University Press, Delhi (pp. 170-208).
2003 Some responses of communities to social tensions in India. Anthropos, 98: 157-65.
2004 India Mental Health Country Profile. International Review of Psychiatry (February/May 2004), 16(1-2): 126-141 (co-author).
2005 On the Concept of Nature. In Nadia Tazi (ed.), Keynotes: Nature. New Delhi: Sage Publications and New York: Other Press (pp. 141-85).
2006 Writing up Qualitative Research. Social Science Probings, 18 (2), December 2006 (pp. 121-139).
2007 Some Thoughts on Anthropology in India. The Eastern Anthropologist, 60 (3-4): 291-305.
2008 Concept of ‘Tribe’ in the Draft National Tribal Policy. Economic and Political Weekly, XLIII (50): 29- 35 [December 13-19, 2008].
2009 The Impact of Anthropology. South Asian Anthropologist, 9 (2): 177-92.
2013 Remembered city, lived-in city: Delhi as I experienced, Delhi of my consciousness. Anthropos, 108: 577-88.
2014 On sanitation: a memory ethnography. Social Change, 44 (2): 275-90.
2015 Reminiscing fieldwork and writing up culture: An account of producing the doctoral dissertation. In Kumar Ravi Priya and Ajit Kumar Dalal (eds.), Qualitative Research on Illness, Wellbeing and Self-Growth, Contemporary Indian Perspectives. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group (pp. 74-101).
2015 On classification: A method. In Ishwar Modi (ed.), Gender, Identity and Multiple Marginalities.
www.du.ac.in Page 11Essays in Honour of Professor Yogendra Singh. Rawat Publishers (pp. 141-54).
2016. Religion and development: Understanding their relationship with reference to Hinduism: A study marking the centenary of Weber’s Religions of India. Social Change, 46 (3): 337-54.
2016. Religion and mysticism: A note in honour of Professor Jai Dayal Mehra. Man in India, 96 (9): 3399- 3411.
2017. "On the Concepts of Exclusion and Inclusion", The Journal of the Anthropological Survey.of India, vol. 66, 1-2: pp. 297-310.
2020 "Draft of the Policies for Great Andamanese and Sentinelese” by Vinay Kumar Srivastava, Umesh Kumar, Mundayat Sasikumar, Venugopal N. Pulamaghatta, Shiv Kumar Patel, Priyanka Airi Goyal, The Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India, vol. 69, 1: pp. 165-176. , First Published July 2,
2020 "On the Concept of Community: A Tribute to Professor Shyama Charan Dube (25 July 1922–February 1996)" Vinay Kumar Srivastava, The Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India, vol. 69, 1: pp. 145-164.
Select publications shortlisted by the UIAF editorial and technical teams.
UIAF editorial and technical team acknowledges and expresses their gratitude to Prof. Kumkum Srivastava for sharing the personal details of Prof. Vinay Kumar Srivastava’s life.