People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 08, 2010



MORE than a thousand of late Professor Suraj Bhan’s colleagues, students, admirers and co-workers of an eventful life-time gathered at a condolence meeting in the park in front of his modest 80 sq yard house in Rohtak on July 25, 2010 morning to pay their emotion-charged tributes to the departed scholar-activist.


Prof Suraj Bhan, former professor of Ancient History and Archaeology at Kurukshetra University, had passed away at his Rohtak residence on July 14, 2010 evening after a brief illness.


Man Mohan, president, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti, moved the main condolence resolution.  After doing his post-graduation from MS University, Baroda, Suraj Bhan served in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) where he took part in several important archaeological excavations.  He left ASI to join the department of Ancient History and Archaeology at Punjab University, Chandigarh.  In 1966-67, he shifted to Kurukshetra University where he became professor and dean.  He retired from Kurukshetra University in 1991.  While at Kurukshetra, he spent two years as fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla.  For some years, he was on the central advisory board of ASI and twice a member of the governing body of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).  Throughout, he was associated with the Indian History Congress and for one term was president of its Ancient History & Archaeology section.  Man Mohan said that a mere academician would have been quite content to rest on these professional laurels and with justification too, but not Prof Suraj Bhan.  His uniqueness lay in that he demonstrated through personal example that a true intellectual is one who confronts the burning issues of his time and society.  The socially most productive part of his life began after his retirement from active service.  With the upsurge of religious fundamentalism, attempts were being made to rewrite ancient Indian history by giving a distorted communal interpretation to archaeological findings. Ironically, all this was going on from the platform of ASI which had been usurped by the fundamentalists and opportunists.  Prof Suraj Bhan, alongwith Prof R S Sharma, D N Jha, Athar Ali and others, fought tooth and nail against these nefarious attempts and upheld the banner of objectivity and scientific interpretation of archaeological evidence.  In 1992, after the demolition of Babri Masjid by fascist goons, when attempts were being made to establish that the mosque had been constructed over a razed Ram temple site, Dr Suraj Bhan spent weeks to make a scientific study of the archaeological objects found there and proved through irrefutable research-supported arguments that the objects found belonged to medieval settlements and not to any imaginary Ram temple.  He thus took the wind out of the sails of the fundamentalist propaganda.  That was not all.  Prof Suraj Bhan appeared as an expert witness before the Lucknow bench of High Court in the ongoing case on Babri Masjid dispute and gave a detailed testimony challenging the fundamentalist claims.  All this was an act of great physical and moral courage, given the aggressive mood and grave threats of the fascist communalists at the time.  While in Kurukshetra University, Prof Suraj Bhan came in close contact with late Prof Om Prakash Grewal, renowned Marxist intellectual of Haryana.  Thus began his transformation from being a staunch Arya Samajist into a less rigid and more modern, more rational and scientific thinker.


BGVS Haryana secretary, Pramod Gouri, who was conducting the proceedings of the meeting, then read out a letter of condolence written to the bereaved family by             Ch Bhupender Singh Hooda, chief minister of Haryana.  Hooda wrote that “such personalities are rare in today’s world.”


Another condolence letter, written by the director general, ICHR, recalled that                  Prof  Suraj Bhan had “fought valiantly against attempts to rewrite Indian history along communal lines.  He was a crusader in social reform movement in Haryana.” 


Prof U B Singh, Dr Suraj Bhan’s colleague and friend for 53 years right from his ASI days in the late 1950s, who had come from Lucknow, said that as Dr Bhan grew in experience, he became more and more committed to social causes.


Prof K L Tuteja, former professor of Modern History at Kurukshetra University and presently fellow at Nehru Memorial Library, said Prof Suraj Bhan did not treat history and archaeology as separate disciplines.  Rather, he saw them as a means of understanding society.  History for him was not gloating over past glory but an attempt to understand the contemporary world with a view to change it.  He did not believe that history was only for learned historians.  Hence, although he was a prolific writer of scholarly research papers and books, he also wrote small booklets for neo-literates in a language they could understand and appreciate.


Surender Malik, general secretary, Haryana CITU, said that age did not come in the way of the work emanating from his social commitment.  Rather, he made the most of the respect that age enjoys in our society to propagate his views.  The CITU leader recalled how Prof Suraj Bhan had taken initiative to get Rohtak markets closed as a mark of respect to anonymous labourers who had been killed in an accidental blast in a cracker factory.


Jagmati Sangwan, director, Women’s Studies Centre, M D University, Rohtak, and JMS leader, said that Prof Suraj Bhan’s simplicity and humility was a rare example of what the life of a teacher in the Third World countries ought to be like.  In his passing away, JMS had lost a great supporter in its struggles against social evils like female foeticide and ‘honour crimes’.


Dr Sukhbir Singh Malik, IAS (retd), from Faridabad, said that it was Prof Suraj Bhan’s motivation that had inspired him to found Rashtriya Jan Chetana Shakti Sansthan that was active in the fields of education, health care and employment generation.


Poet, social activist and teacher, Shubha said that Prof Suraj Bhan had the heart of a poet and no social change is possible without a poetic sensibility.  She felt that he was absolutely and totally committed to the values of social renaissance.  His intellectual generosity enabled him to engage even a totally-opposed person into a dialogue.


BS Malik, IAS, commissioner, Hissar division, felt that Prof Suraj Bhan’s objective and rational thinking was badly needed in Haryana today.  It particularly needed to be inculcated among the youth who are being misled by fundamentalist forces, thus obstructing social advance of the state.


Prof DR Chaudhary, former chairperson, HPSC, said that Prof Suraj Bhan was a relentless fighter for the creation of an inclusive society.


Inderjit Singh, secretary, CPI(M), Haryana, said Dr Suraj Bhan had the enviable ability to open multi-dimensional channels of communication with all age groups.  He used to say that a world view and capacity to intervene even in local issues with that world view were greatly needed to change society.


Prof Amar Singh, department of History, M D University, revealed that it was because of   Dr Suraj Bhan’s intervention that the History department had changed its policy of not giving admission to girls to MA Archaeology because of logistic problems.  After doors were opened to them, girls had been regularly doing better than boys.


The state president of All India Layers’ Union R S Hooda said Suraj Bhan felt that commitment to scientific thinking alone could pave way to a cleaner politics in Haryana.  Caste was the greatest obstacle in the advance of all healthy thinking in Haryana as it offered an easy route to success in politics which had become more of a business than social service.  Hooda urged the educated middle classes to take the path laid down by Prof Suraj Bhan to cleanse the Haryanvi society of obscurantist thinking.


Prof  Zahoor Siddiqui, former president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association, said that Dr Suraj Bhan, like the sun, was a source of inspiration to those who came in contact with him.  It was a privilege just to sit with him and listen to him.


Preeti, Dr Suraj Bhan’s young grand-daughter, said that he was more of a friend than a grand-parent.  He taught that to be truly free, one must have the courage to say “no” if one did not agree with some one howsoever powerful or respected.


Prof Suraj Bhan’s close relative, Sher Singh Sangwan, a retired NABARD officer, said that it was because of the influence of Doctor Saheb’s teachings that all his three children made inter-caste, inter-state marriages.


Prof Baldev Singh, a life-long friend, said Suraj Bhan had an unflinching commitment to social betterment but he was not a dogmatist.


Among others who paid their respects were Phool Singh Sheokand, president, AIKS Haryana, Satya Pal Siwach, SKS leader, Prem Singh Dahiya, president Senior Citizens’ Council of Haryana, principal (retd) B S Rathee, Vaidya Raj Singh Gill,                      Dr Brahma Dutt and captain Satish Dhanda, son-in-law.


A large number of letters of condolence were received from associations, organisations and individuals including a very moving one from Dr Subba Rao, a people’s science movement activist now settled in Hyderabad.


The meeting passed a unanimous resolution urging the Haryana chief minister to provide a suitable plot of land and resources to create a research institute and library as a befitting memorial to Prof Suraj Bhan whom the chief minister himself had described as a “rare” personality.