Thursday, September 28, 2006

Shankar Guha Niyogi - A revolution cut short

Today is Shankar Guha Niyogi's 15th death anniversary, Shahadat Divas. My friends who are not from Chhattisgarh will ask Niyogi who? To classify Niyogi as just a 'trade union leader' would be an understatement of his achievements in the short life that he led. But that is where we can begin. Shankar Guha Niyogi was a labour leader from Bhilai, who not only added a whole new dimension to trade union movement, but brought back the basics back into activism. Niyogi, who founded and headed Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangathan (CMSS) and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) till his death, represents an almost extinct breed of left mass leaders in India using the conventional weapons of truth and mass-mobilization.

CMSS had its activities not just limited to increasing wages and regularisation of jobs, though that was a prominent demand. It also implemented Gandhiji's idea social constructive work, that goes parallelly along with the struggle. People who gasp at the idea of 'development' as it happenned in Bhilai and Dalli Rajhara because of the steel plant and mines respectively, usually overlook the oppression of labourers that goes on in these places. Bhilai has more number of unofficial crorepatis than we can imagine. And Bhilai has more number of unofficial deaths of labourers than we can imagine. Niyogi tried to change that.

It will be a futile exercise to summarize Niyogi's life and activities in one small chapter. Let me try. Born on 14th Feb. 1943, Niyogi's life spanned less than 5 decades. He was educated in Bhilai, and first started as a worker in Bhilai Steel Plant. There he tried to organise the contract labourers, demanded increase in wages, and normal work hours. His activities angered the BSP management, and he was dismissed from service. After roaming around the country for several years, he finally settled in Bhilai and founded CMSS. He started by "organizing the contract labourers in over a hundred metal mines in and around Bhilai". CMSS picketed liqour shops, encouraged prohibition, opened a 15-bed hospital in Dalli rajhara, fought against social evils, opened libraries for labourers. Niyogi founded Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) in the form of a wider movement spanning all sections of the society. Niyogi was also an environmentalist, through CMM and CMSS, took up environmental issues. Angered by the mass mobilization of his organization, his hold over a million workers, his actions against liqour, Niyogi was murdered by a hired killer in the midnight of 28th September 1991. That started anotehr sad chapter of our democracy. His murderers after being initially convicted by the sessions court, by a grand travesty of justice were finally acquitted by the supreme court. The supreme court failed to see the heavy evidence against the accussed, who were leading industrialists of Bhilai, and by a stroke gave a major thumbs down to any kind of activism across the country.

Here, I reproduce a wonderful poem by Dr. Ishtiaq, who wrote it a month after the brutal murder.

Fir ek baar
Mehnat aur Mehnatkasho ko nakara gaya,
Jo ban gaya tha bebas ki awaaz
Use sare aam maara gaya,
Qatilon,
Koi fark nahi padta
Niyogi ke mar jane se,
Hawa me unki awaaz baaki hai,
Jin taaro ko chheda hai
Uski ungliyo ne, Woh saaz baaki hai
Haan,
Ek zakhm ho gaya
Hamare seene me
Jise waqt jaroor see dega,
Der se hi sahi,
Niyogi ka ye balidaan,
Hame fir ek Niyogi dega.

Where is the Niyogi of today? In the liberalized and globalized world of today, don't we all feel the loss of Niyogi. Shubhranshu believes that by killing Niyogi, by letting the guilty go scot-free, and by not giving space to genuine disenchantment among the suffering masses, we are actually boosting the naxals (Niyogi ya naxal). We desperately need a Niyogi amongst us today.

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At 3:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm looks like you never met Niyogi in person and know squat about the guy's misdeeds. I was a graduate engineer trainee in 1987 at the Dalli Rajhrah mines and from first hand experience, I can tell you that he was a vile evil rascal. Good riddance if someone got him, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Those who play with fire, sooner or later get burnt. No tears from my side for this evil goon. You sir should check your facts before writing such canard.

 
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