ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ramkrishna Mukherjee

In Memoriam

A tribute to Ramkrishna Mukherjee, the eminent sociologist, who made a significant contribution to making sociology a field of research in India in the second half of the 20th century.

I am obliged to Partha N Mukherji and Rila Mukherjee for certain biographical details.

The death of Ramkrishna Mukherjee on 15 December 2015 in Kolkata marks the close of what one may call the second chapter of the history of academic sociology in India. If we go by the substantive scope, methodological sophistication, and volume of his published work, Mukherjee made a significant contribution to the making of sociology as a field of research in the second half of the 20th century. If one brings in the criterion of influence on others, a negative judgment is inescapable: he stood outside the mainstream. The reasons for this mixed assessment are personal, institutional, and professional. I can barely do more here than provide a few intimations about how to understand the paradox.

Ramkrishna Mukherjee (henceforth RM) was born in 1919 in an affluent, zamindar, Brahmin family of Uttar Para (West Bengal). He gave early indications of scholarly inclinations and brilliance while still in school. He wanted to choose natural sciences or engineering for higher studies, he once told me, but by the time he was of age to go to college, poor eyesight had already emerged as a handicap and he had to opt for a less demanding and non-experimental subject. He chose anthropology, which he studied at the University Science College, University of Calcutta and earned an MSc with distinction in 1941. Among his teachers there, he used to recall the influence of K P Chattopadhyay (1887–1963), with whom he actually started his research career. It was on his advice and under the guidance of the leading Communist Party of India intellectual, P C Joshi, that RM undertook the study of social and economic life in rural East Bengal through a survey. Actually, RM had been in contact with the party since 1939. Later, he took part in a study of the socio-economic impact of the Bengal Famine of 1943 under the supervision of the distinguished statistician P C Mahalanobis (1893–1972). RM’s first publications were jointly authored with him (1946, 1947). Meanwhile, the first results of his village surveys were also ready for publication. Two papers were published in 1948 and 1949 in the American Sociological Review.

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