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The Bengali Pharaoh: Upper-Caste Aryanism, Pan-Egyptianism, and the Contested History of Biometric Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Bengal

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Document pages: 31 pages

Abstract: Extant South Asian histories of race, and more specifically biometrics, focus almost exclusively upon the colonial era and especially the nineteenth century. Yet an increasing number of ethnographic accounts observe that Indian scientists have enthusiastically embraced the resurgent raciology engendered by genomic research into human variation. What is sorely lacking is a historical account of how raciology fared in the late colonial and early postcolonial periods, roughly the period between the decline of craniometry and the rise of genomics. It is this history that I explore in this article. I argue that anthropometry, far from being a purely colonial science, was adopted by Indian nationalists quite early on. Various distinctive shades of biometric nationalism publicly competed from the 1920s onward. To counter any sense that biometric nationalism was teleologically inevitable, I contrast it with a radical alternative called “craftology” that emerged on the margins of formal academia amongst scholars practicing what I call “vernacular anthropology.” Craftology and biometric nationalism continued to compete, contrast, and selectively entangle with each other until almost the end of the twentieth century.

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