Reminiscences of D N Dhanagare
Teacher, sociologist, institution builder Professor D N Dhanagare leaves behind a rich legacy of research, learning and inspiration.
Professor Dattatreya Narayan Dhanagare, a towering figure of Indian sociology, passed away at the age of 81 on 7 March following a brief illness due to cardiac problems. Born in 1936, he graduated from the Nagpur University and later obtained his Masters degree from the University of Massachusetts US and PhD from the University of Sussex, UK. He began his teaching career at the Institute of Social Sciences, Agra University and then joined the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and subsequently shifted to the University of Pune (Savitribai Phule Pune University), where he worked for more than two decades.
With his passing away, an era of scholarship in the history of the agrarian and development studies in India has come to an end. At a time when Indian sociology’s boundary was confined mainly to caste, family and kinship studies following ethnographic-cultural and structural-functional traditions, a few sociologists like him broadened the horizon of sociology emphasising class analysis and drawing attention to issues of social movements, inequality, state, civil society and the like which were central to the understanding of India’s development experience and its contours of major contradictions. Dhanagare’s pioneering work, Peasant Movements in India was an eye opener where he challenged the western theorisation of peasant movements and gave a new twist to the global discourse. His most recent book Populism and Power is a brilliant critique of the rise and fall of farmers’ movements particularly, the Shetkari Sanghatan movement in Maharashtra in the context of neoliberal reforms based on structural Marxist approach, particularly Gramsci’s framework on class hegemony. He was one of those rare Indian sociologists who constantly engage with historians, economists and political theorists. A scholar of his calibre is rare indeed. His death has caused a big vacuum in social sciences in general and sociology in particular.
Dhanagare was greatly concerned with the devastating social consequences of the ongoing ruthless global capitalist transition and its impact especially on rural and agrarian society. With great disenchantment he observed how neoliberalism divided the popular movements and demobilised the forces of resistance. On many occasions he lamented how present day social scientists particularly the sociologists and anthropologists were shying away from issues afflicting the rural- agrarian society.
Preference for Criticism
He was a dedicated scholar. After his last book was published in 2016, I half- seriously told him, “Professor Dhanagare, you should take rest now”. He immediately replied, “The urge to publish is endless. I have already started working on a new project”. On 28 November last year, his book launch (Populism and Power) was organised at the French Institute of Pondicherry where Audrey Richard-Ferroudji and I presented the review of the book reflecting critical appreciation of the work. At the end of this book launch he told me, “Mohanty, I liked your criticisms”. When I asked, “what about my appreciations”, he promptly responded “the criticism was for me and appreciation for others”. On the following day we were part of a dinner group in Pondicherry and it was the most pleasant time that I ever spent with him in our two and half decades of association. He talked endlessly and was in a happy and jubilant mood sharing professional and personal experiences, ups and downs, pleasant and unpleasant moments in his life with humour and laughter.
Unfortunately, he had a massive heart attack the same night and his journey to the other world started from thence. But as a demonstration of his integrity and professionalism for which he is well known, the following morning he went to the concluding session of a week-long research methodology course in which he was lecturing at the French Institute. He ignored the pain and discomfort. It was only after the group photograph at noon that he admitted to needing rest. In hospital soon after, we were all shocked to know that he had suffered a massive heart attack just 12 hours before. How he managed to walk, talk and lecture after the attack without medication is something that baffled many including the doctors. While remaining in hospital in a critical condition he told me to publish his book review and take up the issues we had raised at the time of the book launch for further research.
Just four days before he died, he spoke to me on the phone to inform me about his slow improvement and expressed hope and desire to complete his unfinished projects. His quest for scholarship and critical thinking was unbelievable.
Dhanagare was a great institution builder. As the vice-chancellor of Shivaji University, Kolhapur, member secretary of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and president of the Indian Sociological Society, he has left an incredible mark on these institutions. Despite political vendetta in Kolhapur, he did not succumb to pressure and foul play and retained the autonomy of the university, though it cost him heavily on the family front. To him, institution building was equally important and challenging as research and teaching.
As a reputed and inspiring teacher Dhanagare is well known throughout the country. His students greatly admired his passion for teaching. For the last couple of years had visited the Department of Sociology of Pondicherry University for about a week every year. Students and faculty across the disciplines would attend after cancelling classes in their parent departments to listen to his meticulously prepared lectures. After every lecture he would be surrounded by a flood of students outside the class room and many of them followed him to the guest house where he was put up for detailed discussions. Dhanagare used to interact with them tirelessly. He remembered most of the students by name and when we met elsewhere he anxiously enquired about them. He was so deeply attached to faculty and students here that often he told me that Pondicherry was his second home.
Known for his simplicity, high integrity and professional rigour, Dhanagare was a role model for many of us. He had an uncommon grasp of Marathi, English and Sanskrit literature; he would regularly read a great number of books covering the expanse of literature, philosophy and even art, music and sports. Dhanagare led a disciplined life. He was often ready to stand alone to establish his position and was always honest in his convictions. I remember he refunded some unspent amount (a few thousands of rupees) of a research project to ICSSR while working at the Pune University. As refund of project money was a rare occurrence, the ICSSR officials suggested that he adjust the unspent money on some heads and send only the utilisation certificate because settlement of refunds was a lengthy process especially when that particular financial year was already over. But Dhanagare refused and refunded the money which was settled after a long time when he himself took over as the member secretary of ICSSR.
His academic presence both in person and through his publications was vibrant till his very last days. The void created by his demise will be felt and he will be dearly missed by his friends, students and colleagues all over the world. But his work will continue to inform and guide generations of scholars to come.
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