top of page

REMEMBERING MY MENTOR Professor Shyama Charan Dube (S.C. Dube)

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Contributed By:

Prof. R. K. Mutatkar

Former Founder Head, Deptt. of Anthropology

Director, Inter-disciplinary School of Health Sciences

Savitribai Phule Pune University

Maharashtra


(25th July 1922- 4th February 1996)

My tryst with Anthropology started in the year 1957. One may say, it was a ‘call of destiny’ that instead of doing post-graduation in Economics from Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University; I landed at Sagar University to be mentored by the legendary social anthropologist/ Sociologist Prof. S.C. Dube. While I was completing graduation from Victoria College, Gwalior, my economics teacher Prof. A, K. Majumdar recommended my candidature for a post-graduation Programme in Economics to then Director of Delhi School of Economics, eminent Prof. B. N. Ganguly. As a young student, I was elated because post-graduation in Economics was available at Gwalior, but my economics teacher wanted me to go to the most prestigious centre for learning the discipline. I came to Delhi with the letter of recommendation but was not able to get admission because of delay in declaration of my graduation result by the Agra University. By the time result came, admission process for D. School was closed. I was crestfallen!


Providence had another plan and destination for me! I was staying with my paternal aunt Dr. Sumati Mutatkar, who was then Director of Music, All India Radio. Her sister Leela Dube was a Social Anthropologist and her husband Prof. S.C. Dube had recently joined as Professor and Chair of Department of Anthropology at Sagar University, (now Dr. Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalay, Sagar). She casually mentioned to me that if I wanted, I could go to Sagar and join the post-graduation programme in Anthropology. I enquired from Prof. Ganguly, who was personally taking keen interest in my future and career. He endorsed the idea, adding that Prof. Dube was well known and respected scholar of Anthropology.


Thus, encouraged, I left for Sagar, and went straight from Delhi to Sagar, carving my future journey. My anxiousness to reach Sagar at the earliest, deterred me from even disembarking at my home station of Gwalior to meet my family. I went to Prof. Leela Dube’s residence. Dube’s lived in the cantonment area. I met Prof. S.C. Dube for the first time and was completely bowled over by his humility as also by the aura of his persona. He asked me to accompany him in his Morris Minor car to the university. My admission process was completed in a short span. Accommodation was also allocated in the Hostel. This was the beginning of a phenomenal journey in the company of some of the most distinguished names in the discipline. Anthropological stalwarts namely, Yogesh Atal, Samarendra Saraf, Gaikwad, C. S. Singrol and some others became my co-passengers in pursuing adventures that the discipline of anthropology offers to every inquisitive disciple.


We were fortunate not to be subjected to a dingy classroom looking at a horrendous blackboard, being called out a roll number in a vague corner of a cold room, along with forty other students. Our small batch had discussion lessons on Theory of Culture, Research Methods, and Applied Anthropology, sitting around Prof. Dube’s office table in his room. These sessions extended to evening discussions in the courtyard of his house once he shifted residence to the University campus.


The University campus was secluded from the small town of Sagar, situated on a hillock. This made Prof. Dube often remark that ‘there were no metropolitan distractions for the students at Sagar’. His personal library was open to us, while he went on academic tours or official meetings. He took personal interest in our master’s level dissertations. Yogesh Atal and I were fortunate, as he even penned the research protocol, for our summer of 1958 field work. Focus of our field dissertation was Changing Dimensions of Caste in a Village Community. I did fieldwork for my masters’ dissertation in a village in the Gwalior region and Yogesh Atal worked in a village in Rajasthan, because he hailed from Udaipur in Rajasthan. This was a Gurukul experience for the first batch of masters’ students at Sagar. I regret that in contemporary smart classrooms, students are unable to experience personal bondage with their mentors and more importantly dialogical and critical learning.


I must admit that we were very fortunate as within three days of completion of our master’s examination, opportunities for building a career in the discipline opened. On 1st May 1959, Yogesh Atal and I were appointed as Research Assistants in a project, on Communication, Leadership and Decision Making, in villages in the Sagar region. The project was supervised by Prof. Dube. For the first visit to the prime field village called Chandpur, he personally came to introduce the project to the villagers and waited patiently till the barber completed shaving the Sarpanch, Dayaram Dube. I stayed in the village on several occasions to commence qualitative studies of the Panchayat activities, including Minister’s visit to the village. This was the degree of personal connect and individualized supervision that a visionary teacher-leader like S.C. Dube imbibed in us.


In a characteristic organisational style that was typical to many legendary administrators of the era, S.C. Dube appointed Yogesh Atal and me as temporary faculty, when some members of the regular faculty moved out to other universities or went to foreign Universities for higher studies. This happened within three months of our having completed our master’s programme. Exercising his exceptional administrative skills and immediately bridging the gap that parting faculty created, he went to the house of then Vice-chancellor of Sagar University, Sri Dwarka Prashad and got the necessary sanctions for our appointments. He called us on Saturday night and asked us to start teaching from Monday morning. Even to me, it reads like a dream run. Students these days often wait from five to ten years before being considered for a teaching assignment.

Moving from Sagar to Pune University in 1960 appears equally surreal to me today. In 1959 at the Sociological conference held at ISI, Calcutta (Kolkata), I was introduced to the doyen of Indian anthropology-Prof Irawati Karve by Leela Dube. A year later in 1960, at the Sociological Conference, held in Lucknow, I presented a research paper in the presence of Prof. D. G. Karve, the General President of the Conference and the Vice-Chancellor of Poona University then (now Savitribai Phule Pune University). It was on the recommendations of Prof. S.C. Dube and Prof. Irawati Karve, (who was away to Berkely but ensured that a recommendation for my appointment was sent to the Vie-Chancellor), that I started my long association with the Poona University. Their handwritten recommendation letters, served as a passport, to help me get a tenured position, as a lecturer in Social/Cultural Anthropology at Pune University (Deccan College) on 22 July 1960. I did go through the regular selection process, as approved by the UGC.


I owe more than fifty years of my tryst with Anthropology as blessings that I received from my mentors S. C. Dube, Leela Dube and Irawati Karve. They always remained supportive to whatever academic initiatives, I ventured into. My mentors played the role of being Parent-teachers. I was, I am and shall always remain a student of Late Prof. S. C. Dube. My achievements and contributions to the domain of Medical Anthropology are direct outcome of applied anthropology taught by him.


II

Shyama Charan Dube was born on 25th July 1922 at Narsinghpur in Madhya Pradesh. He had his schooling at a Public School at Raipur, followed by university education at Nagpur, in Political Science. He earned Ph.D. on his anthropological monograph on Kamar a backward tribe/community in Chhattisgarh. Before moving into distinguished and widely acknowledged academic career in anthropology and sociology, he served briefly in the capacity of Superintendent anthropologist at Anthropological Survey of India’s Nagpur regional office.


His association with the department of Anthropology, Lucknow University under the tutelage of dynamic leadership of D. N. Majumdar was pivotal in defining his future vision and contributions to community development projects. It was here that he had the occasion to work on a Cornell-Lucknow Project that was directed at Community Development Programme in the villages of Rankhandi-Jhabiran area of Uttar Pradesh. Consultants to this project comprised of most renowned anthropologists of the era, namely Majumdar, Morris Opler, David Mandelbaum, and George Foster. The project also has historic relevance and demonstrates anthropology’s constructive contribution to Policy formulation.


Planned intervention or Extension approach for community development as it was then called started on 2nd October 1952. This was the beginning of democratic decentralization through Panchayati Raj institutions. These interventions were consequent of Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of Gram Swaraj, which was his model of Ram Rajya (ideal republic) for independent India. The Lucknow-Cornell project at Lucknow, aimed at empirical analysis of this planned intervention approach. Dube’s seminal contribution to this policy agenda was his book on India’s Changing Villages: Human Factors in Community Development (1958). The work was written at Cornell but completed after he joined as Professor and Head at the newly founded department of anthropology at Sagar.


Passion for evaluating community development programmes continued with several follow up projects. One of these was the project on Communication, Leadership and Decision Making. It proposed to document the functioning of democratic decentralization, using the method of focused ethnography. The study required in-depth understanding of various levels of local hierarchies. Logistics of a formal visit by a Minister to Chandpur village presented a fascinating field situation. Researchers were asked to observe closely, communication between the Block development officer and the Sarpanch. We followed method of non-participant observation for objective observations of the functioning of the Gram Panchayat. There were many challenges that the research team had prior to the impending visit of the Minister. They ranged from organizing tea and snacks and flowers, but more importantly, identifying the host given the responsibility of garlanding the Minister, without offending local caste and class hierarchies. Toughest was preparing a memorandum for the meeting and drafting the text for commemoration of the Minister, to be framed and given to him as a welcome tribute.


Considerable dynamics was apparent about the demands of various caste groups, and of the factions within the dominant caste of Brahmins. Social dynamics tested the leadership qualities of the Sarpanch, who had to transcend caste and class barriers to govern. As a researcher, I had to map and document these differences. Lessons learnt in these projects were pertinent for future research. It proved the methodological strength of the anthropological case study method in empirically documenting an event. It also facilitated rapport building and comprehending the functioning of Panchayati Raj, in a ‘backward’ cultural region of Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh. My success in documenting this project was primarily because of training, received under the guidance of S.C. Dube. What stayed with me for all these decades is S.C. Dube’s informal style of imparting research skills and knowledge. I imbibed it and have used it to the best of my ability in my academic and research dispensation.

III

After teaching for a brief period at Lucknow University, Dube moved as Reader in Sociology to Osmania University. The department in this University was established at the insistence of Professor Christoph von-Furer Haimendorf, who was also the advisor to the Nizam of Hyderabad on tribal issues. It was here that Indian Village(1955), the first anthropological village monograph in India, based on a study of village Shamirpet, (located at a short distance from Secunderabad) was written by Prof. Dube. This was followed by a flurry of village monographs, representing different cultural regions in India written by anthropologists from India and abroad, following the conceptual model of ‘primitive society as an isolate’


This was the era in which structural-functional approach emanating from the British school of Anthropology was gaining prominence in caste and Village Studies in India. Dube in his lucid style used it deftly in analysing the social structure of an Indian village. He was quintessentially a believer in the concept of Social Change, viewing it as an integral process of any social system. He acknowledged and appreciated semi-autonomous character of the Indian village. He challenged common perception of the Indian village being a “static, timeless and changeless” entity. Contrary to these conceptions, he regarded each village as having a distinct social construction, thus making it difficult to assign any rural entity as symbolic of entire rural India. He asserted the necessity to study economic, social, ritual and kinship relations in each study village as he did in his classic study of Shamirpet, presenting a model for comprehending cultural complexities of India’s rural profile.


Many years later, appreciation of his understanding of India’s village system and his study of Shamirpet is acknowledged by intellectuals from different disciplines. Nawab Ali Yawar Jung, famous historian, who was the Vice-Chancellor of Osmania University, when Dube published his study continued to pay rich tributes to it. In the year 1971, he was appointed Governor of Maharashtra and ipso-facto became the Chancellor of Poona University. In a meeting with the Faculty at Poona University, he spoke at length about Dube’s work and acknowledged its relevance even today. He prompted young researchers to follow his passion for research and excellence in interpretation of the data.


When S.C. Dube moved in 1957 to Sagar University, he nurtured a progressive programme. He pioneered several innovations and made the discipline inclusive for science, social Science, and humanities students alike. Like several other Universities, Sagar University also admitted students from both science and social science specialization to anthropology programme. Even the degrees awarded to the students were in accordance with the stream they came from. Students coming from the Science stream were given master’s in science (M.Sc.) and those coming from humanities and social sciences were awarded a degree in Master of Arts (M.A.). What was unique in the programme was the same curriculum provided for the course, thereby synthesizing cross learning to students coming from different streams. Some universities still follow the same model that includes Poona University.


With Dube’s research edicts, anthropology in India made a paradigm shift from tribe-caste village monographs to studying the dynamics of directed change. This decade was dominated by peasant studies pioneered by Robert Redfield and the concepts of ‘Little Community’, ‘Great and Little Traditions’, ‘Cultural Role of Cities: Pre and post-industrial societies. Our generation of young researchers from 1957-59 opted to pursue these theoretical models in our research. We were moving away from the classic research traditions of British and American anthropology spearheaded by stalwarts like Robert Lowie, Alfred Kroeber, Franz Boas, and Herskovits. From this quagmire, Dube broke path and went on to do constructive policy research. Yogesh Atal, one of Dube’s closest disciple reflecting on his research journey said,


His four-years sojourn at the Institute (NICD)helped in mobilizing several young scholars from various social science disciplines to do research on the processes of directed culture change in Village India…Back in Sagar, he drastically revised the courses, and introduced new ones on communication, political sociology, and modernization. He renamed the Department as that of Anthropology and Sociology (INCAA: 2012:6).


I regard Dube as the pioneer in what came to be known as Development Anthropology in India. He had a vision about social change and articulated it deftly in his writings. He had no allurement about theory, except the basic concepts linked with theory of culture. He had foresight to assess the ground realities. He was always aware of the plural and multicultural characteristics of India and realised the need for multipronged strategies required for its future vision. Being a connoisseur of Hindi literature, he could appreciate the influence of Indian traditions on the lives of common people.


His remarkable career went beyond the frontiers of anthropology. His erudite scholarship invited friends and fellow intellectuals from diverse disciplines. His close association and mutual admiration for M. N. Srinivas was often subject of common chatter in academic social circles. Relationship between anthropology and sociology as formal degree courses are often subject of cold war. Holistic tradition of anthropology espoused every undergraduate course in the department to have four core papers comprising of physical anthropology, social anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. Affinity between social anthropology and sociology is undeniable, other than the fact of research methodology of anthropology being far more grounded in the tradition of fieldwork. Classic difference of the yore that spoke about focus of sociology being urban studies and that of anthropology being largely tribal/Adivasi studies as also peasant studies has diluted considerably. But due to limited avenues for employment, competition between these two disciplines is far more intense. S. C. Dube belonged to the school that believed in the integrated teaching of sociology and social anthropology. He was responsible for merging the two disciplines and renamed the department of Anthropology at Sagar University as department of Sociology and Social anthropology as stated by Yogesh Atal. Many of his contemporaries viewed it with trepidation and felt that integrated independent identity of anthropology was compromised.

IV


Dube’s contributions are not restricted to academics alone. His dynamic leadership saw him assume many important positions. He became Director of the Indian institute of Advanced Study at Shimla in 1972 and served it for five years till 1977. He then moved as the Vice-Chancellor of the Jammu University for two years from 1978-1980. After relinquishing this position, he became the founder Director of G.B. Pant Institute of Social Research at Allahabad in 1980. The institute is sponsored by the ICSSR and is now flourishing as an affiliate of Allahabad University. He remained ICSSR national Fellow from 1980-1993. Founder member Secretary of ICSSR J. P. Naik, valued Dube’s intellectual acumen. It was at Dube’s initiative that a Restudy of Tribal Communities programme was launched to document social transformations among these communities. It was also to take cognizance of any historical myths that may have been deliberately purported about them. This was of particular significance because major tribal monographs were written during colonial period, and mostly by the foreign scholars. Several questions were raised over some of these monographs. Problematic was that several of these Ethnographies misconstrued cultural milieu of India’s ethnic diversity.


ICSSR’s Standing Review Committee on Anthropology in 1973, under the Chairmanship of Malcolm Adisheshiah, at the behest of Dube, recommended studies on poverty. The primary focus of this major study was mapping of poverty among the tribal communities. It was recommended as a priority research area by the ICSSR. Under this programme, liberal funding was provided to young researchers. This committee also recommended studies in social biology and analysis of social relations in small towns. Dube was a proactive member of various ICSSR committees, and his contributions were recognised by T.B. Naik in the Trend Report on Applied Anthropology titled Survey of Research in Sociology and Social Anthropology (1973). The report makes specific mention of Dube’s recommendation imploring anthropologist to identify the problems of the tribal communities and suggest interventions, which would not lead to major disruption in their cultural fabric.


From 1978-1982, Dube interacted with the United Nations, as a Consultant on Socio-Cultural Development Alternatives in a Changing World (SCA) and was also affiliated with the Asia-Pacific Development Centre (APDC) in Malaysia. Some of his most cited writings came in this period. He wrote three books during this period-Modernization and Development: The Search for Alternative Paradigms (McGraw Hills, New York,1974); Explanation and Management of Change (Zed books, London, 1988), and Development Perspectives for the 1980s. His last formal assignment was as Chairman, Madhya Pradesh Higher Education Commission at Bhopal. He also wrote a textbook on Anthropology in Hindi, for the graduate level students.


Dube’s passion for comprehending veracity of social processes of social and cultural change persisted through his numerous academic engagements. His son Saurabh Dube, a noted historian summarised his father’s academic journey most aptly:

Initiated into the academy through the tribal anthropology of the 1940s, Dube was a major player in the village studies boom of the 1950s, straddling scholarship and administration over the 1960s, primarily occupying higher positions in academic bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s, and dedicating himself to political-cultural writing in Hindi after the mid 1980s.


POST-SCRIPT

I recall with regret that after moving to Poona University, my personal interactions with my mentor were occasional and mostly formal. I met him, when he visited Poona University for Selection Committees, mostly in Sociology. I also met him in Seminars, Symposia and conferences and he always made it a point to introduce me as his first batch student from Sagar. These interactions were longer when he came as examiner, mostly for the evaluation of Ph.D. students working under my supervision. He was very considerate while examining research students. He ensured that students were at ease while appearing in the Viva-voce examination. He was polite and communicated in a very amicable style. He was particularly concerned about students spending personal funds for getting their thesis typed. There were no computers and software tools that are available to contemporary researchers. Research fellowships were infrequent and difficult to get.


One of the most memorable anecdotes of my interactions with him was a viva-voce examination that was conducted by his wife Prof. Leela Dube and not by him. As circumstances ordained none of the examiners that included Arthur Kleinman, Professor of Medical psychiatry at Harvard and me were not able to go to Pune University to conduct the examination. I was on deputation at Birla Institute of Medical Research at Gwalior and not able to go to Poona. There was no concept of virtual Viva in 1981 as the technology was not available. Keeping the interest of the candidate, Pune University authorities granted us permission to conduct the Viva at Prof. Leela Dube’s residence at Delhi. S.C. Dube was also present in the house at the time of the Viva but excused himself before the Viva begin. When the questioning of the candidate by Leela Jee continued for a long time, Prof. Dube emerged from his room and in sympathy with nervous student, and in a lighter vein remarked, “Viva must come to a conclusion with a cup of tea”. This was a teacher, always caring while maintaining highest standards of ethics and excellence.


He was a brilliant teacher of the Gurukul tradition. It was largely due to his training that both Yogesh Atal and I were the only two Ph.D. students from Sagar University, selected in the first batch of UGC-JRF programme among twenty-five across the country. The selection process was tough in those days and required personal interviews at Delhi by a committee, chaired by Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer. In Yogesh Atal’s words,


Dube was a teacher in the true Indian tradition. A great intellectual, an inspiring teacher, a generous human being, and a secular Indian. Dube was distinctly different (INCAA: 2012:7).


I owe methodological rigour in my research spanning over fifty years to his training. I also learnt from him the importance of informal conversations, sharing of individual experiences as critical to epistemology and pedagogy. Prof. Dube spent several years at the Central Institute for Research and Training in Community Development at Mussorie. I distinctly recollect how he would share his experiences with us after every visit to the institute. He later joined this Institute, which was shifted to Hyderabad, as National Institute of Community Development (NICD), now called as ‘National Institute of Rural Development.’


In 2012, Yogesh Atal, C.S. Singrol and I requested Ajit Danda, Founder-General Secretary, Indian National Confederation and Academy of Anthropologists (INCAA) to institute S. C. Dube Memorial Oration to be delivered every year at the annual INCAA Congress. A Trust fund was created for this purpose, primarily because of generous contribution by Prof. Singrol, and humble contributions by Yogesh Atal and me. Three of us were his first batch students from Sagar but Singrol went on to specialize in physical anthropology and served as Head of the Department, Ravishankar University, Raipur, while Yogesh and I followed Prof. Dube’s legacy and remained rooted in the tradition of social anthropology. This oration is our tribute, with a sense of gratitude, to our mentor. Yogesh Atal was always in close contact with our teacher, and it was a befitting homage that the first Dube oration was delivered by him, on the platform of INCAA at Lucknow, in 2012. It is a matter of Pride that every year on 22nd February, Dube Oration is delivered by eminent social anthropologists. My salutations to the Guru, I revere and cherish moments spent with his.


REFERENCES:

Atal, Yogesh: Anthropology Today and Tomorrow (INCAA: 2012: Jhargram)


Mutatkar,R.K.: Anthropological Paradigm for Policy and Practice (Concept Publishing Co., New Delhi :2020)




SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTIONS BY S.C. DUBE

1. The Kamar; Indian Village (1955)

2. India’s Changing Villages (1958)

3. Institution Building for Community Development (1968)

4. Contemporary India and Its Modernization (1974).

5. Antiquity to modernity in Tribal India.

6. Understanding Change : Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives.

7. Public Services and Social Responsibility.

8. Field Songs of Chattisgarh.

9. Tradition and Development

10. On crisis and Commitment in Social Sciences.

11. Secularization in Multi- religious Societies

1,635 views8 comments
bottom of page