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

A+| A| A-

D L Sheth (1932–2021)

Activist and Intellectual

Dhirubhai Sheth’s intellectual quest was to reinvent social and political theory based on innovations coming from India. The test for a theory of Indian politics was a sustained dialogue between academics and activists—evidenced in his co-founding of Lokayan and Lokniti. Democracy was at the centre of all he thought and wrote about. All pretenders to it were his enemies.

 

They say that Dhirubhai Sheth did not write much and that is why his ideas and insights have not had the big influence that they should have had in the social sciences in India. This is partly true and partly false. True, because he could have written more. True, because social sciences would have profited by an engagement with his insights. True, because social science practitioners have remained trapped in explanatory frameworks that are suboptimal. By studying Dhirubhais works they would have, to some extent, been freed of conceptual domination by epistemologies of the global North. He had a theory of epistemic validity when he advocated a perpetual conversation between activists and academics. If scholars in India had examined closely his writings on democracy, law, caste, grassroots movements, non-party political formations, and even the politics of Hindutva, social sciences in India would be so much richer.

But the claim is also partly false. Dhirubhai wrote enough. This is a qualitative, not a quantitative statement. His hundred-plus articles are scattered across many edited books, journals, magazines and reports. His ideas can be sourced from his interviews in print and from those on electronic platforms. Take, for example, his video interview with Boaventura de Sousa Santos.1 It focuses on four key aspects of Indian society: (1) re-inventing a new social theory based on social and political innovations coming from India; (2) Indian democracy marked by primarily economic, and social and cultural divides; (3) Religion and caste characterising a redefinition of the idea of nation-state; and (4) the increasing need for sustenance of, and a wider role in policy making of, alternative economies featuring predominantly the role of agricultural farmers and adivasis in India. The conversation is freely available online. But it has not been heard or discussed even by the narrower Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) community who work in allied areas and who would benefit from an engagement with it. The problem of neglect is therefore much deeper. It is about the colonisation and decolonisation of knowledge practices in the Indian academy. Dhirubhai was not glamourous. But he was real, sharp, grounded, and honest. And he was brilliant in his understanding of India. He had few equals. This I discovered when I set about editing his articles for a planned collection.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Or

To gain instant access to this article (download).


Pay
INR 59

(Readers in India)


Pay
$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.