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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 34, August 10, 2013

Historian Barun De Passes Away

Monday 12 August 2013



by Panchanan Chattopadhyay

Eminent historian Barun De passed away in Kolkata on July 16 at the age of 81. I never saw him write or refer to himself as ‘Dr’ Barun De. He was known as a historian and professor. He was a good speaker, a good writer and a good teacher. He had profound erudition, a creative mind and a heart full of sympathy for his students. He was a gentleman to the core— courteous and polite. He was an elite but never thought so of himself.

When the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences was started in the house of the late Acharya Jadunath Sarkar in Kolkata in 1973, Barun De became its founder-Director. I was a student there for two years when the programme for research and training was introduced at the Centre. It was then that I came in personal contact with him. Under him the Centre earned its countrywide recognition and fame as an institution for research in social sciences in India. Prof Barun De acquitted himself success-fully whenever he took upon himself a particular job. He was also the Chairman of the State Heritage Commission. He along with Romila Thapar and Bipan Chandra introduced a new trend in writing Indian history. He was one of those who freed Indian historiography from colonial and communal influence and laid the basis of objective writing of Indian history. He along with Romila Thapar and Bipan Chandra co-authored Freedom Struggle. Written in simple and lucid English, it presented in a short compass the unique history of India’s freedom movement. It became immensely popular and was later translated into Bengali.

He was a source of inspiration in the Indian History Congress and Paschim Banga Itihas Samsad. He delivered a scholarly lecture at the Barddhaman University session of the Paschim Banga Rashtrabijnan Samity in 2005 on the ’Danger of Communalism in the Indian Sub-continent.’ He had secured for himself a place of special honour and prestige in the world of scholars. Throughout his life he was associated with the Left and progressive intellectual movement. He possessed a stout body and a large heart and mind, full of the milk of human kindness.

He was a close friend of the late historian and former Union Education Minister, Nurul Hassan. He was also an intimate friend of the former West Bengal Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Later on he developed good relations with Chief Ministers Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also. He kept touch with those journals of West Bengal that encouraged questful thinking. He always encouraged his students in their research work. A researcher himself, it was his passion to produce more research workers who would break new grounds. Undoubtedly, he was successful in his task. Today many of his students occupy high positions as researchers at home and abroad. They will always cherish the memory of their dear professor, Barun De.

(Translated from the original Bengali article in Saptaha, dated July 26, 2013)

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