An anthropologist of the LK Mahapatra people (October 29, 1929 – June 1, 2020) | Odisha News | Latest Odisha News
By Dr Manoranjan Mohanty
Retired Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi
LK Mahapatra was a world-renowned scholar with his feet on the ground. All anthropologists base their research on fieldwork, especially in tribal areas, and describe their conditions in great detail. They also sympathize deeply with their subject of study. LK Mahapatra did not stop there. He discerned the power and logic of the institutions, practices and belief systems of the people he studied and made them the basis of his analysis and proposals for intervention. A people’s anthropologist, LK Mahapatra never subscribed to the “civilizing mission” of the colonialists or the enthusiastic modernizers.
His pioneering study of the people of the Bonda Hills uncovered the Bondas’ ability to face new challenges while maintaining their unique cultural and productive practices. His concept of “self-managed development” for the Bondas represented a key perspective on sustainable tribal development that has eluded policymakers until today.
He was among the first to place Odisha’s folk studies in the world academic realm. This living folklore represented a worldview, and a rational cultural practice that should be taken seriously was its persuasive argument.
When I started to study caste and class in Odisha, LK Mahapatra was the main reference. Until he examines the data on caste scholars and social workers, they generally refrain from discussing the issue of upper caste dominance in the state. I have many personal memories of our fascinating conversations on academic matters which have greatly informed my thinking.
As an institution builder – as vice-chancellor of Utkal and Sambalpur universities and director of NCDS, especially as head of the anthropology department, he captured future trends in the social sciences and built structures and platforms to launch innovative programs. Introduction of Southeast Asian Studies at Utkal University, promoting development anthropology as a new subject to place the discipline at the center of development practice. Displacement and rehabilitation programs were among its early initiatives. Due to his leadership, the Department of Anthropology at Utkal University has become one of the leading centers of academic excellence in India.
I cannot forget our last meeting in 2017 at Lohia Academy, Bhubaneswar where, when I took out my book, Uddipta Odisha Ebe Bi Daridra Kahinki, he lamented that Odisha’s rulers barely understood my thesis on why Odisha continued to be poor. The reason, he said, was that they benefited a lot from the extractive economy.
The hospitality that Bidyut and I received at his home from him and his wife, Hiranaprabha Mahapatra, was always generous each time with a surprise item on the menu. It took me a while to convince him that his son Sujit, who had chosen to embark on a rare adventure of promoting books and art for young people instead of becoming an English teacher, was bound to go there. make its mark. In his later years, he was indeed proud of the work accomplished by the Bakul Foundation.
Hiranprabha Debi passed away in October 2019. LK Mahapatra passed away on June 1, 2020. A year after his death, I worry about the poor and the destitute, who have lost a staunch and persuasive thinker and influencer in the person of the professor Mahapatra.