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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 6 New Delhi January 30, 2016

In Memory of Dr B.D. Sharma

Saturday 30 January 2016

COMMUNICATION

Dr B.D. Sharma, who passed away on December 6 at Gwalior, will be remembered for his many-sided talents, scholarship and activism, but his most lasting contribution will be for his efforts for ensuring justice to tribals in India.

Dr Sharma, an IAS officer, worked in very senior positions in the Home Ministry and then as the Vice-Chancellor of the North-East Hill University. His work as the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes was distinguished by activist-like promotion of the welfare of tribals. The reports he brought out are often cited as the official-level confirmation of the many-sided injustice suffered by the tribal communities.

After his retirement from government service his activist role could flower more fully and he became closely involved with several social movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan to form a broad-based group of many social movements. Dr Sharma was unanimously elected to be the chairperson of this Bharat Jan Andolan. This further involved him in more and more struggles. The rights of tribal commu-nities supported by more autonomy for them became an issue of growing importance for him, culminating in efforts (including a prolonged fast in Delhi) which led finally to the enactment of the PESA law (Extension of Panchayat Raj to Scheduled Areas Act) which provided more autonomy and say in decision-making to the tribal communities. This is also a milestone for strengthening the gram sabhas.

Dr Sharma was a prolific writer and his handwritten newsletter, brought out for several years, is a media landmark of its own kind. He wrote dozens of books, including popular pam-phlets, on tribal issues, which had a wide distri-bution. For this purpose he started the Sahyog Pustak Kutir, a publication and distribution effort. His English book, The Web of Poverty, has been widely circulated. He was also an accomplished mathematician.

He was further involved with the farmers’ movements and wrote several books on injustice faced by farmers.

Despite being such a senior person also in official reckoning, he was publicly humiliated in Bastar by the anti-tribal groups for his deep commitments to tribal interests.

While his intentions were always noble, during his days as a senior official some of his decisions were implemented in somewhat distorted ways.

On the whole, he’ll be remembered for his many-sided contributions for the welfare of weaker sections, particularly tribals.

Bharat Dogra
C-27, Raksha Kunj,
Paschim Vihar,
New Delhi-110063
Ph.: 25255303