About Herbert Hope Risley
Sir Herbert Hope Risley KCIE CSI (4 January 1851 – 30 September 1911) was a British ethnographer and colonial administrator, a member of the Indian Civil Service who conducted extensive studies on the tribes and castes of Bengal. He is notable for the formal application of the caste system to the entire Hindu population of India in the 1901 census, of which he was in charge. Risley was influential in the 20th century revival of the hierarchical varna system as a structure for social order in India. According to political scientist Lloyd Rudolph, Risley believed that varna, however ancient, could be applied to all the modern castes found in India, and "[he] meant to identify and place several hundred million Indians within it."
Risley was born in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1851 and attended New College, Oxford University prior to joining the Indian Civil Service (ICS). He was posted initially to Bengal where his professional duties engaged him in statistical and ethnographic research, and soon developed an interest in anthropology. His decision to indulge these interests curtailed his initial rapid advancement through the ranks of the Service, although he was later appointed Census Commissioner and, shortly before his death in 1911, became Permanent Secretary at the India Office in London. In the intervening years he compiled various studies of Indian communities that were based on ideas that are now considered to constitute scientific racism. He emphasised the value of fieldwork and anthropometrical studies, in contrast to the reliance on old texts and folklore that had historically been the methodology of Indologists and which was still a significant approach in his lifetime.
Aside from being honoured by his country, and ultimately being awarded a knighthood, Risley also became President of the Royal Anthropological Institute.