Dr. Saubhagya Shah – also sometimes incorrectly known as Saubhagya Jung Shah– (1961-2009) was a popular anthropologist, social scientist and an academic scholar in Nepal.
Shah worked as an Associate Professor at Tribhuvan University and also founded and coordinated TU’s Master’s Degree program in Conflict, Peace and Development Studies (CPDS).
Early Life & Education
Saubhagya Shah was born in 1961 in the Mugu district of far-western Nepal. He was born into a middle class family and since his father worked as a member of National Panchayet, his family enjoyed significant social respect.
Shah completed his MA in Sociology in 1991 from Tribhuvan University with a gold medal and received the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to complete a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University in 2004. After completing his studies in the USA, he returned back to Nepal and got extensively engaged in the academia.
Academic & Research Genre
Saubhagya Shah is remembered for his prolific research and writing skills. During his long academic career, he produced only a handful research works, but very popular ones. Before joining Harvard for his PhD, he worked as a journalist and as an op-ed columnist in Nepal’s popular national dailies such as The Kathmandu Post and The Rising Nepal.
Shah wrote his MA thesis titled Changes and Continuity in an Uprooted Community: A Study of the Rarals from Mugu District in 1991. The study was focused on sex workers in western Nepal. His PhD dissertation at Harvard was titled A Project of Memoreality: Transnational Development and Local Activism among Rural Women in Nepal. At the time of death, he was in the process of developing his PhD dissertation into a book, which remained incomplete.
According to Dr. Mahendra Lawoti, Saubhagya Shah’s close friend and now a Professor at Western Michigan University, Saubhagya’s research interests were focused and limited and he often pointed out the flaws in agents of change. This made him popular amongst royalists and conservatives, while so called progressive forces remained critical of his approach. About his working habits, Dr Lawoti wrote in an obituary:
“Saubhagya worked painstakingly and meticulously on his projects, a devotion to detail that was both a strength and perhaps a limitation. It was a strength because he produced well researched and well argued scholarly essays even when the themes he was dealing with were challenging. The flipside was that he only produced a limited number of them.”
Apart from research and consultancy, Dr Shah was also involved in teaching and curriculum development. He founded the Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies at Tribhuvan University and worked as its coordinator. he had also developed the course “Power and Politics“for M. A. Sociology/Anthropology students of Tribhuvan University. Reportedly, Dr Shah was a very popular teacher among his students.
One of his colleagues at The Rising Nepal, Binod Bhattarai, once said that Shah was “the one Nepali intellectual who dared to say unpopular things because he believed in them”.
Personal Life & Death
Dr Saubhagya Shah’s close friends and relatives have often written about his very private nature. He barely revealed his personal details and choices to other people and privacy remained an important aspect of his life. There have been rumors that his marriage life had been troublesome and some even say that he was never married. His family hasn’t publicly said anything about his marital life.
On 16 December 2009, Dr Shah passed away in Alka Hospital Kathmandu after a massive heart-attack. Though this was his third heart-attack, only a very few people were aware of his deteriorating health condition, since he was very private about his personal affairs.