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A social scientist who has always been on a field trip

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Author – Salil Misra
| New Delhi

Published : 14. May 2020 7:00:56

https://indianexpress.com/wp-content/plugins/lazy-load/images/1x1.trans.gif Yogendra Singh. (express photo)

Yogendra Singh is missing. After serving in the Indian social sciences for more than five decades, he left it all behind. How would he comment on her death? His USP was his great ability to sociologize everything. He further stated that almost anything can be socialized. Can we try Yogendra Singh’s sociology? This would be almost impossible for a huge generation of his followers or for those under his spell. For them, this news must be a great personal loss, not being able to see him, running to him to ask questions or ask for advice. But it is still necessary to understand the nature and profile of the lost scientist.

Yogendra Singh has written on a wide range of subjects – the modernisation of India, India’s social stratification, social and cultural change, globalization, the profile of Indian sociology in particular and Indian social sciences in general. He also wrote theoretical stories, such as The Image of Man. But his book Modernisation de la tradition indienne (published in 1973) remains a classic and indispensable reading for anyone interested in the specific characteristics of Indian confrontations with the forces of our time. He has written more than 10 monographs and numerous articles. He has also published many books.

Why Yogendra Singh is called a sociologist is not entirely clear. His scientific contribution is not exclusively sociological. He used more history in his work than many historians. He had a Master’s degree in Economics and all his basic formulations were always formulated with economics as background. One of the possible reasons why he received the title of sociologist could be that he joined the Centre for the Study of Social Systems (CSSS, euphemism for sociology) at YANU in 1971. And he’s taught many students with university degrees in sociology. Moreover, there was nothing exclusively sociological in his research and teaching. He was a sociologist in the true sense of the word. He also introduced many philosophical elements into his social sciences. Now that he’s gone, we have to give him the right signal: He was a sociologist and a philosopher. We lost one of our best sociologists.

However, he belonged to a community of sociologists. In India, academic communities are generally built around specific disciplines. According to this criterion, Jogendra Singh was certainly a sociologist, but with a difference. In general, it is not uncommon for sociologists to discover for whom a village is peace and for whom peace is a village. The first type is too narrow and refuses to look outside the village, the caste or the community. Yogendra Singh coined the word sociologist for these scientists. The second type does not get entangled in the threads of the local and prefers the ivory towers of conceptual cosmopolitanism. Yogendra Singh was able to combine the strengths of both approaches and overcome the limitations of each. He focuses on the village, but refuses to turn it into his world. Interregional categories were used. But the categories were very rich internally and included all the nuances and diversity. His sociology was conceptually very rich. And his concepts were empirically rich.

Another characteristic of his scientific work is that he has always been involved in research in various fields. A historian like me is used to places like a library, an archive, a personal library to collect ideas and information. Yogendra Singh may have visited these institutions in his youth, but later he did all this as a source of knowledge. When guests from the villages came to see him (he kept his roots in the villages until the end), he listened to them with great patience and interest and asked them many questions. Later, he sat alone, sifted and sorted, and incorporated much of this encounter into his ideological world. People of all kinds were an excellent source of knowledge and information for him. He has continuously formed his ideas from many formal and informal sources. He was on tour the whole time.

Acquiring and passing on knowledge was both a passion and a vocation for him. He did this in class, in his books and articles, at official seminars and at breakfast. His students will remember that many informal conversations with him led to great ideas. Those who were in his company were the beneficiaries of warmth, affection and generosity, but also extremely useful and important to Indian politics and society. In fact, these two elements – love and understanding – were brought together into one whole, which was a great resource for those who were happy to be near him. It was almost a habit for him to throw his love and insight into a kind of continuum. It is only for this reason that the meeting with Yogendra Singh has always been an unforgettable event. It was like going out on the ocean to fill your own boat with knowledge and ideas. The ocean has always been generous and benevolent. The other image in my head is that I’m in a dark room, desperate for light. Yogendra Singh enters and starts to open all the windows in a row. And suddenly there was a light. I’ve been there many times with his company. Maybe we can rephrase what was once said about Newton: The secrets of India’s modernization were hidden in the night / Then God said: Let Yogendra be Singh, and everything was easy. The light’s gone.

The writer is a historian and is fortunate enough to have known Yogendra Singh for over four decades.

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