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A cooperative man

Donald W. Attwood
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B.S. Baviskar
B.S. Baviskar

The eminent sociologist, B.S. (Baburao) Baviskar, who died in Delhi last month, was one of the pioneers of the study of cooperatives in India. At a time when many of his peers were still focused on village studies, Baviskar was prescient in recognising the importance of new institutions like cooperatives in State politics, particularly in his native Maharashtra.

A former professor of sociology at the University of Delhi, Baviskar had been president of the Indian Sociological Society and held visiting appointments in the U.K., the Netherlands, Egypt and Canada. In 2000 he became a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences (New Delhi), where he continued to work till his death, bearing with enormous dignity and fortitude a decade long struggle with cancer.

Born in 1929, the son of a small farmer in Maharashtra, Baburao did well in primary school, and won a scholarship to attend high school in Chalisgaon, the nearest market town. As independence approached, he became politically active and was noticed for his skill in public speaking. The headmaster nominated him to participate in the prestigious Lakshmibai Ranade Elocution Competition, held in Pune. Baburao was the first student from a country school to win. The prize money enabled him to attend Fergusson College in Pune.

Thanks to ability and hard work, he moved from a small farm to a professorship in Delhi. The credit also goes to dedicated teachers and to the remarkable spread of new educational institutions all over western Maharashtra — schools and colleges established by voluntary civic associations and by inspiring leaders from every corner of society. Baburao benefitted from an education movement (scarcely noticed by historians) that reached out to women, widows, Dalits and others, in both urban and rural areas. His achievement marked the rise of a new civil society, investing in its own future in the twilight of the British Raj.

Spotlight on Maharashtra

At Delhi, Baburao studied under M.N. Srinivas and M.S.A. Rao who were both giants in the field. For his PhD, he chose the dynamic new cooperative sugar factories in Maharashtra, and selected the Kopargaon factory, not far from his home district, as his research site. He was fascinated by the intense political competition among the leaders, their business savvy, and their easy command over State officials. Two generations earlier, these villagers had been like those in his home village: mostly illiterate, subsistence farmers. By 1963, leaders in the Kopargaon area were among those taking charge of district and State politics. His PhD research was eventually published as The Politics of Development: Sugar Cooperatives in Rural Maharashtra (1980).

We met in 1969 when Baburao was writing his thesis and I was starting fieldwork. He drew us into team research projects resulting in Who Shares? Cooperatives and Rural Development (1988), followed by Finding the Middle Path: The Political Economy of Cooperation in Rural India (1995). Our final project together tells of Baburao’s life and work: Inside-Outside: Two Views of Social Change in Rural India (in press).

Baburao also collaborated with others. For example, along with his colleagues at the Delhi School, A.M. Shah and E.A. Ramaswamy, he edited a five-volume collection of papers in honour of M.N. Srinivas: Social Structure and Change (1996-1998). With George Mathew, the Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, Baburao organised a research project on the impact of the 73rd amendment, which was published as Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: Field Studies from Rural India (2009).

Baburao was a decent, kind, good-humoured, sensible person. He paid close attention to his students and their interests. He was a good story teller and a good listener; his company was welcome wherever he went.

Baviskar is survived by his wife Kusum, and three children who have followed in their father’s scholarly footsteps.

(Donald W. Attwood is an anthropologist and Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Montreal.)

B.S. Baviskar was prescient in recognising the importance of farming collectives in Maharashtra’s politics


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