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Shaheed Shankar Guha Niyogi Anniversary : Some thoughts

Posted by sebydesiolim on Thu 28 of Sep, 2006 22:51 IST

September 28 2006

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the martyrdom of Shankar Guha Niyogi. I am no expert to comment on his life and the movement he led. I have never been to Chattisgarh nor did I ever met met him. In fact I was just getting my entry into democratic movements in Goa in 1991 when he was gunned in his sleep in the wee hours of September 28. Yet I consider it as my duty to invoke his memory more so because it has some hidden insights to unravel for the contemporary Chattisgarh in particular and democratic movements elsewhere in the country in general.

There is already lot written about various aspect and some of which is available online. There is write up in his memory with vivid descriptions by Cheryl Kanekar. There is detail piece on his work and thinking by Rajni Bakshi. There is another one on his arrest in 1981documented by PUCL.. There is also brief PUCL summery on the trial of his murders. There is another one on his murder trial by Rakesh Shukla. There is another piece on miscarriage of justice after Niyogi murder by Ashok Mitra. There is video documentary Lal Hara Lehrake by Amar Kanwar: on Shankar Guha Niyogi's last testament, 1990, Hindi, no subtitles, 37 minutes. Gargi Sen made another film on called Niyogi Zinda Hai in 1992. V.T. Ommen have published biographical note on Shankar Guha Neogi's life describing him as working class hero. C.N. Subramaniam wrote in the middle of his trial a piece called booking of bourgeoisie:The Niyogi murder trial. There is also article linking Shankar Guha Niyogi's contribution leading towards formation of Chattisgarh State. There is also. N.D. Sharma's take tittled ' Was Niyogi Killed Without a motive?'.

There is also audio cassette Tumhari Yaad Main — Hindi songs paying tribute to Shankar Guha Niyogi by Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha. This abstract focuses on what happens after Niyogi's murder to the movement and it's radical image. There is also interesting book review titled 'Experiments with Revolutionary Trade Unionism: The experience of CMSS and Shankar Guha Niyogi.' The review is of hindi book edited by Anil Sadgopal and Shyam Bahadur 'Namr' containing speeches of Shankar Guah Niyogi is published by Raj Kamal Prakashan New Delhi.

There are the factbites on Shankar Guha Niyogi's life.

Largely the discourse centers around the life and movement prior to the killing of Niyogi in Billary. There are some references to the continuation of the movement after his murder in the same spirit. And there is even more literature focusing on the legal trial that took twists leading towards miscarriage of justice particularly at the high court level when the accused were freed. The contribution of the movement that he started leading towards creation of Chattisgarh State is also adequately highlighted. His views and innovative practices in trade unionism and environmentalism are recognised.

However there is very scarce reflections as to what is the contemporary relevance of Niyogi's ideas both philosophically and historically. The movement of Niyogi largely centred around his personality and his ability to give in terms of welfare measures such as schools and hospitals, creation of forest, defence of Adivasi and women's rights, active organising of mining workers in iron ore mines etc. His most threatening moments came about when he launched campaign against alcoholism and gambling among workers, and promoting workers literacy. This brought about downfall of powerful liqour industry. He audaciously challenged industrial mafia and became high profile unionist in India. He became one of the first persons in India to get into organising of contract workers.

His murder however opened up several lacunae. The main one being there was no replacement to his stature of leadership. The group fragmented into nearly three factions. NGOs filled up the existing vacuum. This is mainly because Niyogi himself ideologically wavered into three different ideologies. He was inspired by Gandhi, began his activism as Naxalite, and had tactical alliance with CPI-ML. His ideological wavering came to the forefront after his killing. The group was divided and further expansion became impossible. The movement however became famous yet remained localised progressive democratic force. Justice Krishna Aiyar asserts that Niyogi's ideas constitutes the ideology by itself called Niyogism.

It is not co-incident that fundamentalist forces began to make inroad into Chatisgarh's Kanker, Dantewada and Bastar districts only after Guha's murder. The former CPI hold was systematically taken over by repressive forces. Today the repression has reached monstrous levels in these three districts. It is virtually a militarisation of rural adivasi India that is taking place there with large number of deaths already in the name of Salwa Judum - a Gondi word meaning Collective Peace Hunting. There is need to take fresh breath here and engage in deeper introspection.

Niyogi's position that industrialization should be resisted because of environmental reason is highly problematic in contemporary Chattisgarh. The rich mineral belt is the centre of attention of World's corporate mining interest. The nearly 50% of total of about 500 highly polluting sponge iron plants are to come up in Chattisgarh. I wonder what position one has to take from Niyogi's perspective particularly since he also wants to stand in defence of singing birds and free frowing rivers? How does one to take his idea to set up Environmental Station on the lines of police stations in every village to create empolyment through out India? His perspectives on monoculture however are praiseworthy. Similarly his critiqe of forest department and need to empower Adivasis as defenders of forest is something that needs to be carried forward.

While we take inspiration from his selfless single minded and honest dedication to the cause, we also take few critical insights from his theory and practice. Perhaps that would be fitting tribute to Shaheed Shankar Guha Niyogi on his fifteenth martyrdom anniversary.

Reflected with Umesh Nazir (CPI) and Rajaram (CPI - ML) in Ranchi both of whom have worked with late Niyogi.

Sebastian Rodrigues

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