Ajith Cherian & Akanksha Verma
(For Dalit Camera)
On Monday, November 10, M S S Pandian passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was admitted on Sunday following a cardiac arrest. He was 57.
Professor Pandian taught modern history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The pioneering historian is an authority on the Dravidian movement, Nationalism and Tamil cinema. Prof. Pandian obtained a Ph.D from the University of Madras in 1987 and was a Commonwealth Post-Doctoral Fellow at The School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 1991-92.
“He was an ironic radical.” says Satyaki Roy, his student, who also co-authored a paper with him. He recalls a conversation with Pandian in which he commented, “Politics is an unending journey… (where) you should keep rewriting and contaminating hegemonic, purist ideas.”
His 1992 book, The Image Trap: M G Ramachandran in Films and Politics, about MGR’s cinematic and political persona and Tamil popular culture garnered praise and attention of the academia worldwide. Another seminal work of his, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present, 2007, on the political, social and intellectual history of Southern India is one of the most important books published in caste studies. In his writings he introduces us to a range of anti-caste scholars like Ambedkar, Periyar, Lohiya, Maraimalai Adigal and Iyothee Thoss who have been neglected in mainstream epistemology. “Pandian’s contribution to Dalit Studies is remarkable. He was an honest intellectual,” says Punithapandian of Dalit Murasu.
Being the astute scholar that he is, he introduced a fresh perspective to history and a new direction in academia. “He had a double commitment to scholarship and social cause. He put political force to theoretical formation,” says Prof. Gopal Guru. He adds that, “M S S Pandian’s scholarship in history was against the grain inasmuch as it questions the established reference point.”
Pandian has also authored several incisive academic articles on various issues, such as caste, secularism, identity, nationalism, Kashmir, masculinity, politics, popular culture and cinema. Sources say that Pandian was working on a series of papers on the recent Hindutva resurgence. His article which was published in Economic and Political Weekly, ‘Decisionism’ and the Cult of Narendra Modi – A Note’, was part of this series. He was also a vocal supporter of the Tamil Eelam.
Prof. Pandian’s death is a great loss to the academia. He will be remembered for his contribution to subaltern studies and his unshakable commitment towards Dalit rights movements.
Picture courtesy: Outlook India.