Vardesh Chander Channa (1946-2013)


Dr. Vardesh Chander Channa an anthropologist with ever new ideas and indomitable spirit, a great teacher and a very fine, sensitive and refined human being. While many have been his students at the post-graduate level, there have been few at the research level which provides an opportunity to interact with and learn closely from the teacher.

Dr. Channa belonged to an affluent family of Delhi, completed schooling from Mayo College, Ajmer and graduation from St Stephens College, University of Delhi. He joined the Department of Anthropology as post-graduate student-specialized in social anthropology and registered for Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor P.C. Biswas (the founder of this Department). He did not venture out of the discipline and the Department there after. Despite an exceptionally long and arduous struggle of eight years which entailed a few disappointments and situations of humiliation he secured a permanent teaching position in the Department.

Expectedly, he began working on a book-length manuscript, 'How to Change People‘. His insights came both from his rich anthropological reading and his own brush with life which was rather rough for a long period of time. Channa, however, did not give up ever and made the most of his tryst with life. That was essentially him! Anyway, the manuscript on how to change people never went to press for reasons that was not known but what I sense is that he was far to passionate about the theme and kept revising and adding on to it off and on. It remained an unfinished agenda.

Channa is better known,among others, for his three seminal writings- The first is the book: Caste: Identity and Continuity published by B R Publishing Corporation in 1979. This was a revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation titled, 'Caste Identity and Distinctiveness in a Metropolis with special reference to Marriage and Dowry: The Case of Aggarwals in the walled city of Delhi‘. He carried out intensive fieldwork in old Delhi between April 1971 and 1973 in the course of which he interviewed 100 individuals, collected life histories and narratives with an urge to understand how Aggrawals construe their collective identity and how individuals negotiate their personal identities in the wide fabric of the community on the one hand and society at large on the other.

The second seminar writing is the book, Hinduism: A Cultural Profile of the Gods, Goddesses, Rituals, Romance and fables in today‘s Hinduism published in 1984 by National Publishing House. The third seminar writing is paper titled, 'Law, Custom, and Crime against Women: The Problem of Dowry Death in India‘. This paper was born out of a collaborative study between V. C. Channa and John Van Willigen- Professor of Anthropology and Behavioural Science, Kentucky University who visited the Department as a Fulbright fellow in 1987. In fact, he re-visited his data on the Aggarwals from the perspective of Psychological Anthropology. The result was a paper titled, 'Conflict and Emotions: The case of a Trading Caste of Delhi‘ published in the Indian Anthropologist in 1999 in its volume 29.

He wrote another paper again for the Indian Anthropologist which was published 1998, volume 28 titled, 'Twenty years of change in Ideal Individual: The Case of Hindi speaking Aggarwals of Delhi‘. He published another paper with roots in Psychological Anthropology titled, 'Contexts of a Myth: A Comparison of Structural and psychoanalytic Analysis‘ jointly with Yun-Hee Choi in the Indian Anthropologist, volume 36 in 2006. This paper analyzed a Shiva myth from the east Godavari region by relating certain worldviews, emic categories of thought, and symbols of worship with the working of the unconscious mind.

Excerpts from:
Mathur, Nita. 2013. 'In memory of Dr. V.C.Channa (1946-2013).Indian Anthropologist 43(2): 105-108.