Kumar Suresh Singh

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Kumar Suresh Singh (1935–2006) was an Indian Administrative Service officer, who served as a Commissioner of Chotanagpur (1978–80) and Director-General of the Anthropological Survey of India. He is known principally for his oversight and editorship of the People of India survey and for his studies of tribal history.


Kumar Suresh Singh came from a privileged background, growing up in Munger, Bihar. He studied history, gaining a first-class BA from Patna University. He subsequently obtained a master's degree, and finally a PhD on the subject of the revolutionary, Birsa Munda.[1]

He joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1958. He worked among the Santhals[1] and then spent the period 1965–1968 as Deputy Commissioner at Palamu, in the Chhotanagpur area. This posting coincided with the Bihar famine, for which he helped to organise relief and which introduced some innovative approaches that have subsequently been adopted elsewhere.[2]

His posts in the government of Bihar included being Secretary in various departments: Industries (1973–1974), Rural Development (1974–1975, and 1980–1981), and Forest and Environment (1982–1984). A. K. Sinha has noted that "Because of his honesty, integrity and adherence to the norms of administration, he was not allowed to complete his term in any department in Bihar."[2]

In between these various government posts, Singh returned to Chhotanagpur as Commissioner for the period 1978–1980. In 1984 he was appointed Director-General of the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) and also Director of the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (National Museum of Mankind) in Bhopal.[2]

Although Singh retired from the ASI in 1993, he remained General Editor of the People of India series until his death on 20 May 2006. He completed the final volume just before dying, having previously suffering partial paralysis from a stroke. He was a National Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research at the time of his death.[1][2] Muchkund Dubey subsequently commented that

Kumar Suresh was a kind of a rare person among Indian civil servants. He was of a scholarly bent of mind right from his university days. He had a deep knowledge of a number of disciplines. His monumental contribution People of India will remain as a kind of tribute to his multifaceted talents. His empathy for and commitment to the weaker sections of society will always be remembered. He was among one of the three intellectual fathers in the creation of Jharkhand.[1]

Tribal studies[edit]

Singh wrote a PhD thesis on Birsa Munda, the leader of an insurgency campaign against British rule. To do this he had to rely significantly on folk-lore and other forms of oral history practised by the tribal inhabitants of the Jharkhand area of Bihar, where in total he spent 15 years conducting fieldwork. Although Singh considered Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi to be the first mainstream subaltern historian, Sinha notes that Singh himself may have been. He went on to produce other works on tribal history.[2]

People of India[edit]

Singh had responsibility for the organisation, compilation and oversight of the People of India survey, which was intended to be an anthropological study of the differences and linkages between all of the communities in India.The survey involved 470 scholars and identified 4694 communities during its period of fieldwork between October 1985 and 1994. Sinha notes a total of 3000 scholars, which figure appears to include those involved at various seminars and workshops. The full results of the survey fill 43 published volumes, of which 12 had been produced at the time of Singh's death.[1][2]

The purpose and methodology of the survey has received criticism. Laura Dudley Jenkins, for example, has said that

According to its initial circular, "[t]his will be a project on the People of India by the people of India," a phrase ringing with nationalism, yet the goal of this national project is to generate a profile of each community in India, largely defined in terms of caste. Purportedly a work of apolitical anthropology, this endeavor is nevertheless sponsored by the state and uses the administrative categories of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Due to India's reservation policies, which reserve quotas of government jobs, parliamentary seats, and university admissions for these disadvantaged groups, controversy rages over their boundaries, numbers, and social conditions. Although castes are a major unit of analysis ... the latest project superimposes the new theme of national unity, a politically useful focus for an ethnography sponsored by the central government of India.[3]

Another opinion favourably contrasts the project with colonial ethnography, with Sinha saying that

The colonial studies were fragmentary and micro-level; many scholars studied castes, tribes, and village communities within an atomistic framework and followed a quantitative and uncritical methodology. Unlike them, this project was supposed to prepare brief, descriptive anthropological profiles of all communities in India, with special attention to the impact of change and development on them, highlighting the linkages that bring them together.[2]

The books use colonial ethnographies extensively and note, for example, that

... in spite of the investigators' best efforts to incorporate firsthand information from the field, by direct investigation, it was not possible to do so with the limited personnel resources made available for such a voluminous project. Nevertheless adequate care has been taken to update the ethnographic details of most of the communities, where published material existed. It was also not possible to incorporate all of the unpublished data ... available with various Anthropology/Sociology departments in the country (despite express instructions to do so under the project, only a few were incorporated)[4]


Aside from his writing, as author and as editor, in volumes related to the People of India survey, Singh also wrote and edited other works, a selection of which are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Rajalakshmi, T. K. (30 June 2006). "Scholar of society". Frontline. 23 (12). Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sinha, A. K. (January 2007). "Obituary: Kumar Suresh Singh (1935–2006)". Indian Historical Review. 34 (1): 365–368. Retrieved 9 November 2011. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Jenkins, Laura Dudley (November 2003). "Another "People of India" Project: Colonial and National Anthropology". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 62 (4): 1144. doi:10.2307/3591762. (subscription required)
  4. ^ Bhanu, B. V.; Kulkarni, V. S. (2004). Singh, Kumar Suresh, ed. People of India: Maharashtra, Part One. XXX. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, for Anthropological Survey of India. p. lxviii. ISBN 81-7991-100-4. OCLC 58037479. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

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