People's Democracy

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


No. 35

August 28, 2011


Prof R S Sharma


On August 21, the Indian History Congress, Aligarh Historians Society and the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) issued the following statement, condoling the demise of noted historian Professor R S Sharma.


RAM SHARAN SHARMA (b September 1, 1920) passed away at Patna on August 19, 2011, and with his death, the entire community of Indian historians has lost perhaps its most eminent figure. Sharma’s contributions to ancient and early medieval history covered an entire range of aspects, in the study of many of which he was an undoubted pioneer.


RS, as he was known to his friends, began his historical studies in the late 1940s, producing a book on World history in Hindi in two volumes (1951, 1952). This is particularly to be noted since he, always in his mind if not always explicitly, related developments in India to those in other parts of the world. As a Marxist, he especially looked at the economic and social structures, but was conscious of the full requirements of scientific rigour while proceeding to generalisations.


Quite naturally, given his basic ideas, he turned to the issues of caste, his first book in English being Some Economic Aspects of the Caste System in Ancient India, 1952. His researches in the field led to the larger work, Sudras in Ancient India, 1958, a revised version of his thesis at the London School of Oriental and African Studies.


From caste, Sharma’s sights extended to the links between ideas and economic change, and this endeavour produced, first, his Aspects of Political Ideas in Ancient India (1959) and then his Indian Feudalism, 300-1200 (1965), which many would regard his magnum opus. Many other works, including papers, followed in which his theses were refined and defended. Ultimately, based on an extensive study of archaeological evidence, he wrote a work of fundamental importance, Urban Decay in Medieval India (circa 300 to 1000), 1987. A notable addition soon followed: Origin of the State in India (1989).


‘RS’ was deeply committed to the scientific and secular spirit. He could, therefore, write for the general reader, and this is shown by his text book, Ancient India, for NCERT (1977), which has now been republished as India’s Ancient Past (2005). He was unshaken by the attack from the communal lobby, and continued with his critique of chauvinist views, notably, in his Advent of the Aryans in India (1999).


Among the historians ‘RS’ was, perhaps, the earliest and most forceful critic of the Ayodhya movement, leading to the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992. Under his influence, the Indian History Congress began passing almost annual resolutions from 1986, calling upon the government of India to protect the monument. He himself wrote Communal History and Rama’s Ayodhya (1990) and penned with three other historians, A Report to the Nation in 1991.


‘RS’ always treated the proper pursuit of History as a special cause. His encouragement of younger researchers was a by-word. Simple and cheerful, he won hearts by his consideration for others in all matters. At the same time, he did his best to secure facilities for proper research, both when he successively headed the History Department at Patna and then at the Delhi University. As the first chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), 1972-77, he shaped the policy of that organisation, directing its funds to support research in all parts of the country.


To the Indian History Congress as well as to Aligarh Historians Society and SAHMAT, Professor Sharma’s assistance and guidance were always made readily available; and our organisations join in mourning his passing away and condoling members of his family.