CHENNAI: Well known social scientist and political commentator Mathias Samuel Soundra Pandian, popularly known as MSS Pandian, died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi on Monday. He was 57. Pandian was a professor in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi since 2009, teaching courses on ‘Region, Language and the Politics of Nation Making’ and ‘Caste, Culture and Communication: An Alternative Intellectual History of Modern India’.
Earlier he worked at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in Chennai from 1989 to 2001, after obtaining his PhD from the University of Madras in 1987 and was a visiting professor in many universities abroad.
Hailing from Nagercoil, where he did his BA (Economics) at the Scott Christian College, Pandian came to Chennai to do his post graduation at the Madras Christian College. He shot to fame in academic circles with his book, The Image Trap: M G Ramachandran in Films and Politics (Sage Publications - 1992). “It was one of the pioneering works in film studies. It made such an influence among the intellectuals in America and Europe that many Western universities included the book as part of film studies syllabus,” said S Theodore Baskaran, film historian.
His columns appeared in most of the national English newspapers and his articles in the Economic and Political Weekly had created a stir among academicians. His book, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present, published by Permanent Black in 2007, was a seminal work in caste studies, for which he was known worldwide.
Condoling his untimely death, Dilip Menon, Director, Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, University of Witwatersrand, said, “Pandian was a clear headed and objective historian, who while speaking of the real political achievements of the non-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu was also very clear about its inherent limitations.”
Sundar Kalaippan, assistant professor of Tamil, Gandhigram Rural Institute, said Pandian was a leading intellectual who spearheaded the cause of social justice for subaltern people in the country. “It was only because of him that Periyar’s thoughts reached the national and international audience,” he said, adding that even in personal life, Pandian was friendly and mingled freely.
Pandian is survived by his wife, Anandhi, who is also an academic associated with MIDS, daughter Preethi and mother Mrs Wilson Mathias.