Robert Vane Russell

Robert Vane Russell (1873-1915) was a British civil servant, known for his role as Superintendent of Ethnography for what was then the Central Provinces of British India, coordinating the production of publications detailing the peoples of the region. Russell served as Superintendent of Census Operations for the 1901 Census of India.[1]

Together with an amateur archaeologist, Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Russell compiled The Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces, published in 1916.[2] This work was a product of the Ethnographic Survey of India that had been established in 1901, although it differed somewhat from earlier publications of similar origin because it relied more on Vedic literature than on the anthropometric methods and theories of Herbert Hope Risley and his sympathisers as a mechanism for investigation of the racial origins of caste.[3] According to Crispin Bates, this "highly anecdotal book" was influenced by Émile Senart's Les Castes dans L'Inde and

From this source Russell and Hira Lal reasoned that the tribals could probably be identified as the Rakshasas (or devils) described in the Mahabharata, and were therefore an entirely distinct community, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were Aryan invaders, and the Sudras were the original inhabitants of South Asia, reduced by them to a subordinate role. Thus although occupational descriptions were used, particularly in distinguishing the different ranks of Aryans, the hierarchy remained extreme (and definitively racial) in a form that was still probably unrecognisable to most participants in the social system itself at this time. In this way, although Risley's anthropometry had become unfashionable his views persisted.[3]

Russell died when the SS Persia was torpedoed and sank off the coast of Crete on 30 December 1915.[4]


Kunbi people throwing stilts into the water at the Pola festival as depicted in Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India


  1. Henry Scholberg (1970). The district gazetteers of British India: A bibliography. [Poststr. 4,] Inter Documentation. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  2. Hartland, E. Sidney (30 September 1916). "The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India by R. V. Russell, Rai Bahadur Hira Lāl". Folklore. 27 (3): 317–322. JSTOR 1255146.
  3. 1 2 Bates, Crispin (1995). "Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: the early origins of Indian anthropometry". In Robb, Peter. The Concept of Race in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 240–242. ISBN 978-0-19-563767-0. Retrieved 2011-12-09.
  4. "The Ethnography of Central India". Nature (97): 363. 29 June 1916. doi:10.1038/097363a0.
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