New Delhi: Noted historian and emeritus professor at Calcutta University, Hari Vasudevan, passed away on Saturday night. According to reports, the eminent scholar had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been put on a ventilator a day before his death. He was 68 and is survived by his wife historian Tapati Guha Thakurta and daughter, Mrinalini, his brother, a cinema studies scholar, Ravi Vasudevan. He was also the brother-in-law of senior journalist, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
Vasudevan, a doctorate from Cambridge University, was an expert on European and Russian history and politics, and was also associated with Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia and King’s College in London, Kiev University in Ukraine among others.
In one of his latest articles published in Newsclick, Vasudevan has stressed the importance and necessity of food and its accessibility to the poorest of the poor in India amid the ongoing lockdown induced crisis in India, especially in the context of migrant hunger.
Drawing parallels in cinema of the State, which has foodgrain in abundance, abdicating its responsibility in providing “simple nourishment” to the vast majority of its poor, and turning a deaf ear to their cries, he had written:
“The problem of the migrant’s hunger may, correctly, easily be put down to an errant state allowing want against a background of abundance, a situation so brilliantly depicted in Satyajit Ray's Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder (1973)), or to the misadventure of ignorant informal labour that is a victim of political machinations. But, let us make no mistake about both. In today's India, they are the outcome of something that reveals a terrifying truth: a social innocence about genuine starvation and want that limits public capacity to make demands of the state; insensitivity to the message in the Malayalam language hit film Ustad Hotel (2012) that relish for food is empty if it ignores the plight of those unable to savour it. This is an appalling comment on where India’s Republic has arrived, when much of its original project was to deal with these very problems.”
Vasudevan’s comments come from living experience of having been involved in several government committees on history and education, including as chairman of the textbook development committee for the social sciences of NCERT from 2005, says a report in The Wire.
In 2012, the eminent historian had also been critical of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for axing satirical cartoons by well-known cartoonist Shankar from one of the history text books,
“Such cartoons were - and have been - part of India's public culture. Children see them every day. Teaching them how to handle cartoons is part of a good education. It is true that no process is perfect, nor is any individual. People draw attention to contradictions and problems in textbooks repeatedly. Full revision and change must attend any textbook for all outlive their time,” he had written in The Hindustan Times.
In June 2018, Vasudevan was also critical of the Narndra Modi government, In an an opinion piece in The Indian Express, he had raised concerns over the “unnecessary” changes made in content in textbooks.
Vasudevan was also Visiting Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and President, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, and was regular columnist for a number of newspapers. Among the books written by him are Footsteps of Afanasii Nikitin: Travels through Eurasia and India in the early 21st century (2015), Shadows of Substance: Indo-Russian Trade and Military Technical Cooperation (2010) on India’s relations with Eurasia, as well as a whole body of work published in well-known academic journals in India and abroad.
Expressing his condolences, West Bengal, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Sunday said in a statement that: “A multifaceted person, he made his mark while being involved in a formal consultative capacity with projects/institutions of the Ministry of Culture, MHRD, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India and was Chairman of the Textbook Development Committee for the Social Sciences of the NCERT from 2005. His contributions to society will be ever recalled. May his soul rest in peace.”