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Lamp Fire 
- by John Inniss
- using Paint Shop Pro

Shamrao Hivale

-- by Thomas R. Carter


On September 3, 1984, Shri Shamrao Hivale passed away in Jabalpur at the age of 81.  With his passing ended an era in Indian anthropology, tribal development and literature.    Although best known as an associate of the late Dr. Verrier Elwin, Hivale’s work stands by itself as an important contribution to anthropology and to the pattern of tribal development.  Well known to serious scholars in India and abroad, he was also a legend to the tribal people of Chhatisgarh.

Hivale was born on January 22, 1903, and was orphaned at the age of six months when both his parents died of plague.  He was the youngest of five sisters and two brothers, the elder of whom Dr Bhaskerao Hivale raised the family.  Dr. Hivale later achieved a reputation as an educator and founded the Ahmednagar College in Maharashtra, the first such institution in that region.

Shamrao Hivale attended the Wilson High School in Bombay and Rajaram College in Kolhapur as well as the Wilson College in Bombay.  After graduating, he taught school in Kolhapur before accepting a job teaching Marathi to American missionaries in Mahableshwar.  It was at this time that he became acquainted with Charles F. Andrews and, in 1927, with a young priest, Father Verrier Elwin.  The language teacher -- student relationship soon warmed into friendship that was to last 34 years.

Early in the 1930s Hivale left India for England to study theology at Mirfield.  By coincidence he traveled on the same ship as Mahatma Gandhi who was on his way to London for the Second Round Table Conference.  Gandhi took a liking to this unassuming and intelligent young man and advised him to return to India to serve the down-trodden.  His efforts to persuade Hivale continued in England and he succeeded when Hivale decided to return to India with Gandhi.  Dr. Edmond Privat, a Swiss journalist who traveled to India at Gandhi’s invitation, wrote in his book, Sea Voyage, of how young Shamrao Hivale tended to the Mahatma’s needs and joined the group in prayer.

On his return to India, Hivale teamed with his friend Elwin and, at Gandhi’s request, carried out a secret assignment to observe and record the atrocities committed by the British Raj in the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province.  Disguised as a Pathan servant of Elwin, and at great personal risk, Hivale gathered detailed information from local people under the nose of the agents and spies of the Government.  Finally the police, suspecting the bonafides of Elwin and Hivale, searched the room where they were staying.  The report the two had so carefully prepared was hidden in a packet of oatmeal that was so prominently displayed on the table that it escaped notice.  The report was subsequently published in London newspapers and brought the name of Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, to the notice of the European and American public for the first time.

To read the captions for the illustrations below, please do the following.

In 1932, with Gandhi’s blessings, Hivale and Elwin decided to go to Mandla District in the Central Provinces to serve the tribals, a population long neglected and exploited.  Shamrao Hivale, mid 1930's
- (c) Verrier Elwin/British Library 
- from 'Savaging the Civilized' by R.Guha
- University of Chicago Press, 1999Setting up a small ashram in Karanjia, Hivale and Elwin began a lifetime of service to the tribals of Chhatisgarh region of what is now Madhya Pradesh, service that was distinguished by a respect for the richness and integrity of the tribal cultures.  Hivale and Elwin studied the tribal world, its forms, values, traditions and structures, not only with a view of chronicling these elements of the culture, but to ensure that the introduction of change was consistent with the cultural and social fabric of tribal life, harmonizing with the themes of tribal society, rather than causing disintegration of traditional structures and values.  Hivale and Elwin’s work was most probably the first, and certainly one of the most successful examples of applied anthropology.

The work carried on in Chhatisgarh had several elements.  One of the first and foremost was the study of tribal culture through observation of practice and through meticulous study and documentation of the literature of the tribes.  As Elwin could achieve but a limited conversancy with the languages of Chhatisgarh, Hivale played a major role in winning the confidence and eliciting the songs, poetry and mythological stories that were central to the lives of each of the tribal groups.  These have been recorded and interpreted in a number of landmark monographs and books including:

  • Folk Songs of the Maikal Hills
  • The Pradhans
  • Scholar Gypsy

For Hivale and Elwin, and more especially for Hivale, the study of the tribal world was a means, not an end.  He rapidly recognized that the tribal population remained in the grip of Mahajans and other traders who monopolized the sale of basic commodities and used this monopoly to lure tribals into debt from which they could not escape save at the cost of their land, their forest wealth and even their bondage.  Hivale established a store which, for the first time, brought food, kerosene, cloth and other basic necessities to the tribal areas without exborbitant prices and manipulation of credit accounts and usurious interest.  He brought the practices of traders and money lenders to the attention of the public and the authorities and fought tirelessly to correct injustices done to the unsuspecting and trusting population of Chhatisgarh.  This advocacy had its own cost in threats and attacks by the traders whose pernicious practices were threatened.

Hivale also recognized that endemic and epidemic disease was a threat to the very survival of Chhatisgarh’s tribals.  He set up a dispensary and over the 30 years he remained active in the region, he treated thousands upon thousands of patients, providing them with medical advice, treatment and medicines.  He took a special and lifelong interest in leprosy and established a treatment and rehabilitation center, first in Sarwa Chapar and then in Patangarh, where those affected by this disease were both treated and helped to learn to support themselves.  As a result of Hivale’s work, and that of others who became concerned as a result of his efforts, the incidence of leprosy declined and with it the population of the center.  Later he personally shifted the remaining few inmates to Bilaspur to government institutions.

Hivale and Elwin both recognized the need for introduction of education if the tribals were to adapt to the modern world on their own terms, not as victims, but as active participants in the process of change.  They opened schools in the region which brought tribal children -- and adults -- into contact with the outside world through literacy and numeracy.  Many of the children who attended these schools continued their education in Jabalpur and other towns, returning to teach and to take up government jobs, trades and professions.  The Hivale home in Jabalpur became a hostel for the tribals of Chhatisgarh who came to that city to study in high school and the university.

Hivale’s contributiona to Chhatisgarh cannot be measured only in terms of schools, dispensaries, students and graduates, people treated and cured.  While others elsewhere and since have provided services and built institutions, few have become - as Hivale and Elwin have become - legends among  a people dispersed over many hundreds of square miles.  The names "Chhote Bhaiya" and "Burre Bhaiya" are known throughout Chhatisgarh to this day, even among the younger generation who know them only through the fond memories of their parents and grandparents.  The Hivale home in Jabalpur remains a place of pilgrimage where people from Chhatisgarh region come to pay their respects, for advice, to resolve problems, and to settle disputes.  These people have given their respect and love to Shamrao Hivale because he lived and worked with them not as a benefactor or patron, but as a brother who loved them, respected them and became as one with them.

Verrier Elwin, Calcutta, 1949
- (c) Sunil Janah, 1949-2005 Hivale had three great loves in his life:  the tribals of Chhatisgarh, his family and Verrier Elwin.  He and Elwin met as youths and worked together as brothers for more than twenty years.  Hivale was devoted to Elwin and worked with him selflessly, seeking neither fame nor fortune.  He applied himself tirelessly to the research of tribal customs and literature, the work that contributed to Elwin’s reputation, seeking nothing in return.  As Elwin wrote in his autobiography, without Shamrao nothing would have been possible.  In 1953 Elwin’s fame led to his appointment as Advisor to Government on Tribal Affairs, a post situated in Shillong.  He asked Hivale to join him there, which he did for a short time, plagued all the while by the feeling that he could not abandon his life’s work in Chhatisgarh.  So he returned with the faith that Elwin would ensure that the small funding necessary to keep the Patangarh program going would be sustained.

It was not to be.  As Elwin became engaged in the tribal world of the Northeast, his interest in Chhatisgarh waned as did the financial support for Hivale’s work.  Then, and after Elwin’s death when the money came to an absolute end, Hivale scrimped and saved, sold his few valued possessions and sacrificed his health to keep the effort alive.  He would travel by country bus over dusty and muddy tracks, in fair weather and foul, to keep his faith with the people of Chhatisgarh, continuing until the late 1960s when his health and his resources made it impossible to go on.  Neglected by his trusted friend, his hope was virtually extinguished when Elwin suddenly died in 1964.  The Tribal Welfare and Research Unit which had been created and sustained through Hivale’s work became a trust with a different and less laudable purpose, ultimately ending all support to Hivale’s work in Chhatisgarh.

Although he no longer went to Chhatisgarh himself, Hivale remained active through his wife, Kusum Hivale, who continues to regularly visit Patangarh, bringing medicines and offering help and guidance to the people there.  And although Shamrao Hivale is no more, he lives in the hearts of the people of Chhatisgarh.  The stories, songs and poetry which he so faithfully recorded for twenty years, do not include those which sing of Chhote Bhaiya, a man who opened the door to a future of dignity, of hope, and well-being.

-- Thomas R. Carter
© Thomas R. Carter xxxx - 2005.  Reproduced by permission of Ramola Hivale, 2005.

Shamrao and Kusum Hivale with Bondo women, 1946.


Illustrations:
  1. Shamrao Hivale, mid 1930's.
    - © Verrier Elwin / British Museum.  Reproduced in Savaging the Civilized, by R. Guha, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999.
  2. Verrier Elwin, Calcutta, 1949.
    - © Sunil Janah, 1949-2005.  Reproduced in ibid and in the
    review, by S. Janah, in The (London) Times Higher Education Supplement, 1999.
  3. Shamrao and Kusum Hivale with Bondo women, 1946.
    - Reproduced in The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin, by V. Elwin, Oxford Univ. Press, 1964.
 

Sunil Janah's
Home Page
Related
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Verrier
Elwin
Tribals -
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(See Land & People - Tribals)