A sociologist with institutional abilities

I was busy with my project on reviewing Indian sociology and then all of a sudden the unfortunate scroll down took me to shocking news of Professor Yogendra Singh’s death. Instantly, I recollected his inquisitive and cherubic face when I had privilege to meet him on the side-lines of an event, treasuring every second of that prized moment, he guided and cajoled me in reading sociology in times of ‘change’. Born in Uttar Pradesh Siddharthnagar district and educated at Lucknow University in 1950s, Singh is one of the most significant sociologists of post colonial India. He acquired Masters and a Ph.D. degree from Lucknow University. He taught at Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur and New Delhi between 1960s and 1990s and groomed three generations of Indian sociologists. Prof.  Singh was the towering figure in intellectual and academic circles for having done pioneering work in Indian sociology while glancing through his well-received works and his impact on the concepts such as social stratification, social change/continuity, Indian sociology, modernization, cultural changes etc.  His writings have enormous diversity of themes and perspectives as he navigated through one theme to another with equal interest and tactfulness.

Contributions  and Changing Character of Sociology

Professor Yogendra had firm convictions in the medium of encouraging dissent and using the open dialogue as method of sociological discourse. Even during the current pandemic, his focus was on reinventing sociological paradigms to deconstruct the crisis scenario of post-industrial societies. Being Professor Emeritus at JNU, he spearheaded the pioneering front on the study and dissecting of modernity and tradition in Indian society. In the same breath of having a dawning contribution in this essential and immediate theme, his remarkable and celebrated magnum opus Modernization of Indian Tradition (Thompson Press, 1973) opened the new horizons in the subject matter of Indian Sociology. He also has to his credit 10 monographs and books on theoretical treatise The Image of Man (Chanakya Publications,1983) Ideology and Theory in Indian Sociology (Rawat Publications, 2004) and also the editing a series Social Sciences: Communication, Anthropology, and Sociology (Pearson Education India, 2010) where he dwelled on the significance of signs and communication with the interface of informational theory and sociology. Beholding the humble nature and intellectual honesty, he was never over-ambitious when it came to stepping up the top echelons of academic hierarchy, as he refused the offers of Vice-Chancellorship of Kurukshetra and Banaras Hindu University .Singh was realist of core and believed in the empirical basis of theories that’s why he often has been called ‘Social Scientist’ soaring above the regimentation of parochial classifications. In one of his articles in Sociological Bulletin he emphasised the importance of sociology of knowledge in objectivity and realism while calling for the delinking of international ‘reference model’  and  he also gave his acute and precise cataloguing of emerging challenges sociology is abreast with and wrote in defence of it .

He had the unique position of being the guiding light for both the students and researchers as he designed and carved out a different set of approaching Sociology in the former and later phases of understating and studying the subject. He was a firm believer in the democratisation of knowledge and sciences sans conditioning the theorizing to particular spatial contexts, in this wake Sociologist Dipankar Gupta writes about Singh’s visionary blend of universality and historicity while analysing any sociological phenomenon in Indian perspective. T.K.Omen eminent Sociologist said while describing the trailblazing endeavours of Professor Singh in laying the foundation of modern sociology in India, Indian sociology was for quite some time under the shadow of British social anthropology. He extricated it from that orientation and made it what we call modern sociology in the Indian context”

In one of his interviews he terms the rise of right-wing nationalism in consonance with the rise of middle class anxieties and suggests educational progress as antidote to this ‘accentuating threat’ in this form of hyper-nationalistic pursuits.

Diversification of Sociology and ‘Village Studies’

Yogendra Singh’s has a dominating influence on the current state of sociology in India by  explaining  how Indian sociology revolved  its own discourse thematically around ‘village studies’ and  struggles with the indigenization of its concepts from 1950 to 1980. In the mainstream American functionalism was still anchored and rise of a dialectical-materialist understanding was typical for these years and for Professor Singh these developments are essential in understanding the shaping up of Indian sociology. Singh is convinced of inherent capacity and resistance of Indian sociology for further adaptation and change. It will be a contestation between defining and reworking the universal discourses of global sociology and the essential indigenization of conceptions in sync with Indian historicity, its cultural specificity and its goals of social and economic development. Finally, his views have enlightened us how beyond importing the concepts of western sociology, Indian sociology has delineated its own distinctive discourse.

Intellectual Honesty

Besides teaching and designing the schema of courses of sociology at various institutions of India, he equipped many of his students and researchers with the values of reasoned and radical pathways of understating the society. Prof. Singh is considered the prominent face of Sociology in India with his enigmatic character both in his persona and because of  his prolific output (books, papers and other publications). As an academician and researcher, he was more impressive and gave more thrust on field studies by having he existential and historical objectivities of the ‘social space’ recorded and documented .He is the principal architect and one  of the founders  of the Centre for Study of Social Systems at School of Social Sciences at JNU. His concerns were less political than academic which is reflected in his writings he has laboured throughout this academic career. During his old age, he seamlessly carried out his research and pedagogical activities with full vigour and vibrancy

Prof. Singh’s way of thinking and his writings have had a lasting effect on contemporary sociology and Indian society. He was articulate in his approach and did not believed in the vague lines of thought He believed in  studying actual social facts and social lives that determine individual actions and attitudes while wishing to see a constructively transformed society in his own lifetime.He did an incisive and thorough study on quintessential themes that are affecting Indian society.

Achievements and Recognitions

During his lifetime, he was part of a number of prestigious organizations and institutions. He was the member of the research advisory committee of the Planning Commission and the ICSSR and also convener of the UGC national panel of sociology. He has also been the President of Indian Sociological Society. He is the recipient of several awards for his contributions to sociology and social anthropology. Because of scholarly and academic merits he won several top honours accorded to any intellectual in India. Prof. Singh participated in various international and national conferences/seminars. He went to Stanford University, USA in 1967–68 on a Fulbright Fellowship. He has received the ‘Indian Sociological Society Life Time Achievement Award’ in 2007, apart from Best Social Scientist Award of the government of Madhya Pradesh

With his death, India has lost a visionary Sociologist whose contributions and endeavours for re-orienting and modernising the Indian sociology would never be overlooked and his lasting legacy has left deep imprints in the hearts and minds of students in developing the spirit for research and inquisitive analytical studies of themes confronting society. We will remember him always as the Sociologist, teacher, philosopher and man with impeccable intellectual integrity.

Mir Suheel is senior researcher at dept. of sociology, university of Kashmir