- Shankar Guha Niyogi was founder of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, a labor union run in the town of Dalli Rajhara Mines in Chhattisgarh. Shankar Guha Niyogi succeeded in sustaining the Mine Worker movement for 14 years from 1977 till his death in 1991.
- Died: September 28, 1991
Shankar Guha Niyogi and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha Documents Archive
The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) founded by Comrade Shankar Guha Niyogi has been an inspiration for workers and political struggles in India. Working in the Bhilai-Durg region of Chhattisgarh, CMM, in conjunction with the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS), the union of workers of the Dalli-Rajhara mines, and Chhattisgarh Gramin Shramik Sangh (CGSS), the union of agricultural labourers, organized industrial and mine workers, agricultural workers and adivasis of the region both for waging struggles for their economic demands and on the basis of a transformative politics. On one hand, by leading a series of mass actions, CMM was able to secure better wages and working conditions for the workers. On the other, it set up worker-led institutions such as the Shaheed Hospital and led campaigns on social issues such as the anti-liquor campaign. The successes of the CMM inspired the working class and activists on one hand, on the other it raised the ire of the capitalists and the State which finally led to the murder of Com. Guha Niyogi on 28th September, 1991 by assassins hired by local industrialists. This PUDR note gives more background on Com. Guha Niyogi and the Chhattisgarh People’s Movement.
To make this historic movement better accessible to people, we are building an archive of documents related to CMM and its struggles. This archive, which will contain some writings of Shankar Guha Niyogi, literature produced by the CMM, books and booklets on the movement, and newspaper clippings which follow the various events connected to the movement, is based on material collected by Dr. Punyabrata Gun, who worked in the Shaheed Hospital from 1986-94, and later came back to West Bengal to establish the Shramjibi Swasthya Udyog. Dr. Gun’s attempt to document the movement was both a personal and an organizational effort, which has led to the collection of a large amount of archival material, currently kept at the Shramik Krishak Maitri Swasthya Kendra, Chengail, Howrah. Today, 28th September, 2013, on the anniversary of the martyrdom day of Com. Guha Niyogi, we are beginning the process of hosting a digitized archive of this material on the Sanhati website.
The archive has been digitized by Samantha Agarwal. It includes:
# Paper clippings in Hindi, Bengali and English.
# CMM documents–posters, leaflets, reports,publications etc.
# Books and booklets on the movements.
# Some personal belongings of Com.Shankar Guha Niyogi.
# Few photographs.
# Some videos, etc.
[Please note that the scanned PDF documents may take a few moments to display/download]
Archive Entry: 2014-08-03:
In this article Dr. Goon illustrates how peoples’ health movement of Dalli-Rajahara was a true practice of Comrade Shankar Guha Niyogi’s theory of “Sangharsh aur Nirman” (Resistance and Creation)”. He starts with the shooting and killing by the newly elected Janata government of the mine workers of CMSS between 2nd and 3rd June 1977. On third June (which is now known as the Martyr’s Day) in 1983, Shaheed (martyr) Hospital was inaugurated. Apart from a few trained doctors and nurses, the hospital was run by youths from the community after having received special training.
Shaheed Hospital also played a significant part in building up a health movement and raising the health consciousness of the locals. The hospital started off as a 15 bed, single-story establishment. By 2004, it had turned into a full-fledged big hospital with modern amenities. This happened entirely by collection of funds from the mine workers.
The practice of medicine in the hospital was based on a scientific method, relying less on expensive medication and more on home remedies whenever possible; rejecting brand names, and following the WHO recommended list of medicines. Eventually the hospital also expanded into surgery units, pathological laboratories, and blood bank unit.
Unfortunately, after Niyogi’s murder, the leadership moved away from his ideals, compromising the democratic work environment. The dream is still alive even today, through those who are working with the people drawing inspiration from the model of Shaheed Hospital.
A True Human Being by Dr. Punyabrata Goon
[PDF, Bengali] »
This article by Dr. Goon is a eulogy for Shankar Guha Niyogi on the occasion of his martyrdom day. Dr. Goon reminiscences about Niyogi’s simple living, lack of any personal ambition, dedication and work with the mine workers and how it continued to shape and transform many others, years after his murder.
Dr. Goon starts by retelling Shankar Guha Niyogi’s early life, his exposure to the living and working condition of the coal miners of the Saktoria in Asansol, during his student years and his immersion in the Bengal food movement of 1959. The article then continues to retell the various political movements that Niyogi was a part of. From the early onset of his political activities he had spearheaded several movements very successfully. In one such movement, under his leadership, for the first time the sanitation workers could get their demands met. This was followed by several movements where he played a crucial role. It was Niyogi who first espoused the idea that workers union are not limited within the working hours. It is for the twenty four hours around a workers life. Bhilai workers movement that was started in the 1990 was the last movement under Niyogi’s leadership. The movement was finally crushed violently by the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi.
“Chhattisgarh and the National Question” by Shankar Guha Niyogi
[PDF, Bengali] »
In 1981, Shankar Guha Niyogi wrote an essay called “Chhattisgarh and the National Question” for a seminar. It was later published in English in the form of a booklet.
Later, in 1984, he came to a new version of his essay, after further thought and discussion with several political friends. The essay presented here was based on these new ideas and written in 1984. In it, he embarks on a scientific study of the national question in Chhattisgarh and presents the view of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha.
“Shankar Guha Niyogi: A Tribute” by Bharat Dogra
[PDF, English] »
In the days following Comrade Niyogi’s martyrdom, this article appeared in the Indian Express as a tribute the life and achievements of Chhattisgarh Mukti Moorcha’s fallen leader. Its author, Bharat Dogra, argues that Shankar Guha Niyogi is most widely identified as a trade unionist. However, this identity covers only a part of the work and thoughts of the activist. In actuality, he was first and foremost a social reformer, dedicated entirely to alleviating the suffering of working and farmer class persons. Trade unionism was indeed the vehicle that he used to implement the social experiments he envisioned, which included the anti-liquor campaign, the health programme, or the cultural regeneration. At the same time Comrade Niyogi recognized that these reforms would be meaningless if they were confined only to small pockets of mine or factory workers, hence his effort to take the “voice of the emerging movement” to the villages. It is in this manner that he sought to overcome many of the divisive or myopic trends among the leftest groups of the time, and implement a creative vision for social change.
Democracy dies another death!
[PDF, English] »
This editorial was published July-September 1991 in the Bulletin- Occupational Health and Safety editorial, as an ode to Guha Niyogi following his murder on the night of September 27th, 1991 at his residence in Bhilai, Madhya Pradesh. The message expresses disgust at the brutality of the murder. It highlighted the continuing struggle of the contract workers of Bhilai-Urla- Tedesara Industrial belt, demanding the implementation of the Contract Labor (Regulation and Abolition) Act, the struggle led by Com. Niyogi.
“Martyrdom of Shankar Guha Niyogi” by Bharat Dogra
[PDF, English] »
Bhart Dogra wrote a touching dedication for Guha Niyogi after his assasination. He reminisces about his long years of association with Niyogi and his role he as a popular leader and social activist. He says that social scientists and writers amassed most of their knowledge of the people’s movements from leaders like Niyogi as only they, and Niyogi in particular, felt the pulse of the people, the workers, the contractors, the bonded laborers and the peasants they united in the fight for basic democratic rights. Niyogi’s long-term interaction with the miners of Dalli-Rajhara was what led to the beginning of the struggle. The sudden loss of such a revolutionary mass leader not only thwarted the movement’s progress, but also the led to the loss of much knowledge of how to build on the struggle so that it reached an even bigger platform and united more people to fight against repression, in solidarity.
Archive Entry: 2014-07-15:
This is a song written in the memory of the life of Guha Niyogi as it commemorates his struggles for and with the people that led to the unison of workers under him. He begins by expressing solidarity with Niyogi and says that his blood and sacrifice has further cemented the workers together in their struggle, under the red flag. He praises his initiatives towards fighting for the worker’s right of 8 hours of work and distribution of bonus to the workers as well as the managers. The challenges Niyogi undertook and united the workers against the politicians and the industrialists.
This report was prepared by Rakesh Diwan to delineate the events leading up to the police–led open firing on public and workers of the CMM in Bhilai, on July 1st, 1992, during the Bhilai movement. The workers had blocked the Howrah- Bombay railway line, under the supervision of CMM leaders, holding a peaceful demonstration. However, no government agency or official paid any heed to their request for holding a joint meeting with the industrialists or management to reach a mutual agreement. Instead, the demonstrators were surrounded by the police force, with a large number of armed police officers in the presence of the police superintendent of Durg, by the afternoon. Failed attempts to disseminate the demonstration were made using tear gas and violent attacks on the workers, including women, with rocks and ‘lathi-charge’. Using the excuse of increasing anger of the surrounding crowd (witnessing the violent attacks on the workers) towards the force, the police started firing indiscriminately and without a warning. CMM members and many other bystanders were grievously injured in the incident, with the death toll reported to be about 15-30. In the report Diwan cites examples from the past where worker demonstrations have been met with similar police atrocity, citing the events prior to the assassination of Com. Niyogi as well. He cites the half-hearted attempts and false promises propagated by the government that underhandedly sides with the industrialists by virtue of inaction. No real attempts are made to provide workers with basic rights, legal minimum wage or being hired in permanent positions instead of as daily laborers, while, demonstrations are curbed violently.
The “Other” Peasant Rally
[PDF, English] »
This article taken from Misereor’s publication, The Great Concern, Volume 2, 1990, originally appeared in The Economic and Political Weekly, December 2nd, 1989.
The author juxtaposes two major agrarian mobilisations of 2nd October 1980—one is a popular mobilization of rich peasants and capitalist farmers of Uttar Pradesh led by Mahendra Singh Tikait and Sharad Josy while the other, is a lesser known movement of and by the agrarian laborers and industrial workers of Chhattisgarh region of the then Madhya Pradesh state. While the former poses itself as a “victim of unequal exchange” yet goes onto promote revisionist policy changes, the latter, the Chhattisgarh Mukti Moorcha, radically questions “self-seeking power politics” and the destructive development model of the state. The CMM’s 15 point charter of demands as reproduced here illustrates the agrarian-industrial labor concern characteristic of the union and their two pronged line of struggle and constructive works.
(The original bengali article by Dr. Gun, first translated into Hindi by Satya Sagar published in Sehat Aur Samaj vol. 1, June-August 2011, was later translated to English by Rakesh Ranjan for Sanhati)
Shaheed Hospital at Dalli Rajhara, which was in headlines following the murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991, caught the attention of the media once again in 2010 when doctor and human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was convicted for life. The author, Punyabrata Gun, narrates the genesis of this hospital in this article. The author traces the construction of this hospital as a part of the movement on the issue of public health which was core to the policy of “struggle and creation” adopted by Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). The author identifies and explains the major achievements of this health awareness movement as well as its limitations. One aspect worth noting is that besides providing medical support, this movement was able to build awareness regarding efficacies of many simple home-remedies as well as need for clean surrounding. Even after the martyrdom of Shankar Guha Niyogi, the author could notice that this movement has influenced the initiation of several movements in different parts of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, etc.
This issue covered Health and the 1991 Census.
[PDF, English] »
Archive Entry: 2014-04-20:
This pamphlet commemorates Shahid Divas, 2nd June 1977, when police firing killed 11 workers from the Dalli-Rajhara mines in Chhattisgarh. It recounts the event itself and it places the killing in the context of the formation of the CMSS, and the wider context of a ruling class that does not hesitate to shed workers’ and peasants’ blood. It recounts other such incidents in the country’s history.
Today’s Generation and the Heritage of Veer Narayan Singh
[PDF, Hindi] »
Com. Shankar Guha Niyogi wrote this essay on occasion of the Veer Narayan Singh Divas, 1979. Veer Nayaran Singh, a zamindar from Sonakhan, in Chhattisgarh waged a struggle against the British as well as their local Indian representatives, grain traders who had hoarded grain during the famine of 1856. A zamindar of 49 villages Narayan Singh is still remembered in the area as a just and simple man who fought and died for his people. When Niyogi and Sahdev Sahu from CMSS visited his village, his descendants were living there in poverty, while the descendants of those Mishra traders against whom Narayan Singh fought, live in big buildings and are Congress leaders.
Written in beautiful, evocative, prose, the essay is part travelogue that recounts Niyogi’s visit in search of Veer Narayan Singh’s legacy and part meditation on the area, its history, and its capacity for struggle against exploitation. Niyogi notes that despite the betrayal of historians and attempts by the Congress regime to stamp out his legacy, the history of Veer Narayan’s Singh battle against the British has been preserved by people. The essay also demonstrates Niyogi’s comprehensive approach to politics: rooted in an area, its history, its geography, and its environment.
This publication is the transcribed speech given by Guha Niyogi, addressing a gathering (camp) of Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha members/workers, dated October 2nd 1990, in Bhilai, M.P. It was released in the printed form by Lok Sahitya Parishad on December 19th, 1992, on the occasion of Veer Narayan Diwas. In the speech Guha Niyogi calls for clarity of purpose in the revolution, in its demands for equal rights and opportunities and freedom from government oppression for the adivasis and laborers of Chattisgarh, Rajnandgaon, Dalli- Rajhara and other regions. He proclaims the role of fear and terror in subjugating people’s movements, used as the most effective weapons by the rulers, be it the British, Congress, Janata Dal or Bharatiya Janata Party. He emphasizes that to realize the dream of a fair world, to bring peace to the people, they must not let fear and terror of the rulers’ might stop them from taking the path towards revolution. This is the same path taken by martyrs to first free India from the British rule, but the final goal of freedom and peace is yet to be attained. To do so, even the activists and social workers need to understand that the impact of what is happening in the region or the country will affect their own household and village and vice versa, finally how individuals and laborers are treated will affect the nation, just as the nation suffers from how its people are affected. The economic progress and industrialization of the nation can only benefit the nation if it benefits the people.
Indian Democracy in the Mirror of the Bhilai Movement
[PDF, Hindi] »
This essay uses real life examples, contemporary in the years 1990-1992, to highlight the inefficacy of law and the Indian constitution of looking after the rights of laborers and workers. Using specific arguments the author demonstrates the severe limitations of the constitutional rights to only those who can afford it. Be it the right to work: even after decades of working in the same factory workers remain daily wage earners under illegal contractors, whose main purpose remains oppressing any demands of lawful wages by the workers. Freedom of speech and the right to assemble peacefully and form unions is also discredited as most newspapers are owned by industrialists and express only their view points. Many workers’ unions, comprising thousands of workers, are not recognized by the industrialists. This type of coercion is supported, not opposed, by government officials meant to be looking out for workers’ rights. Justice for all is another right that only caters to the rich as poor laborers are robbed off their earnings, dignity and sometimes their life should revolt against the oppression. The owners have the police as well as their own band of goons that act of freely to suppress any activists, like Com. Guha Niyogi, and hold them in jail or even devise their assassination. The essay underscores the irrelevance of most rights and laws in the lives of the adivasis of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as they fall prey to industrialization of their land and sponging off of their natural resources by the government in cahoots with the industrialist.
In this essay Bharat Dogra explains the need for balance between environment conservation and development and the need to share the expense of progress between the rich and poor. The world is polarized into the rich and powerful and the poor and dependent nations. As a result, several third world nations are being used for cheap labor and raw materials, at the steep cost of environmental and human-rights destruction in these countries, to maintain the lifestyle of people in the developed countries. The government of countries like India should oppose such outright unfair practices because they can only bring about short term benefits and leave long lasting environmental devastation. Similarly, a very small fraction of the population in India has a decadent lifestyle for which the poor are paying a very high price as they are most susceptible to ill effects of pollution. Not only that, deprived of good avenues for earning a living, the poor are forced to use methods like illegal tree cutting to make ends meet. However, it is not right to blame the people in slums in the cities for the pollution they cause, but the circumstances that led to the building of the slums. He states that only when progress and industrialization takes place so as to benefit everyone and there is conscious reigning in of western influenced consumerism, can practical actions for conservation of natural resources and reduction in pollution be brought about.
With Feet on the Ground He Touched the Sky:
[PDF, Hindi] »
This article is an abridged Hindi version of a longer article in Bengali written by Purnendu Basu, the editor of the commemorative volume, Sangharsh aur Nirman, published in February 1992. It was published in Hindi by Lok Sahitya Parishad with the aim of acquainting the public with Niyogi’s life, struggle, and thoughts.
The article begins with a brief account of Niyogi’s radicalization in his youth, the influence of the Indian freedom struggle, the Naval mutiny, the Telangana and Tebhaga struggles, and finally the Naxalite movement. It focuses in greater detail on his initial experience as a skilled worker in the coke oven division at the Bhilai steel plant. It is here that Niyogi started organizing workers and forged his key ideas on mass organization and struggle. The article emphasizes Niyogi’s understanding that that attempts to build socialism in India have not paid attention to traditions and specialties of the country and its society. Niyogi was fired from his Bhilai job for organizing workers (he was a trade union leader among skilled workers for several years). After this, he traveled extensively in Chhattisgarh and attempted to build a mass organization among the adivasis as well as peasants in generals, for which he undertook the task of building a Chhattisgarhi identity.
The article also discusses Niyogi’s thinking behind organizing the informal mine workers, rather then the formal skilled worker in the steel plant. The latter were more economistic, consumerist and less rooted in Chhattisgarh, while the former showed themselves to be much more ready for struggle. In the 1970s Niyogi himself started working in the mines at Dalli-Rajahara and started organizing the mine workers. After Emergency, mine-workers from INTUC and AITUC left these unions and started a new one under Niyogi’ s leadership. The CMSS was formed with around 10,000 contract mine workers.
2nd June, 1977 is a crucial day in Niyogi’s life as well the workers’ struggle in Chhattisgarh (see pamphlet on 2nd June below). After Niyogi was arrested to break a strike, police fired on workers at the behest of the Bhilai Steel Plant management and 11 workers were killed. But the workers did not back down, and won several demands. Out of this experience, Niyogi reflected and came to the conclusion that “a trade union is not part of the workers life for just the 8 hours on the job, but for the whole 24 hrs.”
The article also discusses in some detail, Niyogi’s thinking behind the role of workers’ unions in organizing peasants and in preventing economic progress from orienting workers towards consumerism and away from society. This can be done by inspiring them to undertake constructive work. This can also counter economism, reformism, opportunism, revisionism. The author recounts how the CMSS grew bigger and slowly addressed many areas of life. It consisted of a Trade Union wing, Peasant Wing, Education Wing, Savings wing, health wing, sports and recreation wing, anti-liquor wing, cultural wing, neighborhood renewal wing, women’s wing, canteen, law, library, pamphlets, volunteer wing, etc. The range of these activities underlines Niyogi’s vision of a union as something not limited to struggle (sangharsh) but a tool to create a new society (nirman).
Three campaigns, in particular, that demonstrate Niyogi’s creative thinking were the anti-liquor campaign, the anti-mechanization campaign, and the Shaheed Hosptial. When a mechanization of the mines was being proposed Niyogi argued that India being a society where labor was plentiful, a labor intensive, small-scale industrialization with indigenous technology should be the way forward. His “semi-mechanization” proposal was implemented at the mines.
The article successfully brings out Niyogi’s multifaceted, and creative personality: democratic, patriotic, humanist, scientific socialist, his interest and commitment in indigenous thought and traditions, and his non-mechanistic thinking.
Archive Entry: 2013-11-29:
This is a collection of several write-ups and pamphlets on anti-liquor movement as witnessed in Haryana and Chhattisgarh in the late eighties and the early nineties.The article begins with the author’s personal experiences in traveling to villages and talking to the women who have been in the forefront of these movements. The impact of alcoholism on the health and well-being of the concerned person as well as the family and how it spawns other vices affecting the social fabric of the village, is discussed in detail. Increase in criminal activities and loss of life and property and reduction in chances of prosperity of the community are also empirically linked to habitual alcohol consumption. Most of the anti-liquor movements thus grow out of the concern to redeem the normal village life. The author then talks about Haryana where the green revolution brought in easy money only to be pilfered by booze-moguls. It so happens that whenever a strong anti-liquor movement develops in a particular village or region, the focus of anger is usually the local liquor-bar which is considered to be the epicenter of all evil. The author gives examples of Nahari (Sonepat Zilla), Dharampur and other villages in Kurukshetra or Gurgaon where local movements have received support from the reformist section of Indian Arya Samaj, led by Swami Agnivesh to leftist organizations like SUCI. The author sees this anti-liquor movement as an important instrument to awaken progressive forces within rural communities and facilitate social transformation. He commends the role of women to stand in determination against vested interests and details their arrival to the fore of these movements. Several anecdotal stories about the impact of alcoholism on women are also presented. The author however notes the limited success of these movements and seeks help from progressive forces to join hands. The article is followed up by a pamphlet on anti-liquor march in Haryana between November 25 and December 25, 1992 involving about 200 villages that boosted the local movements to a great extent. The next article talks in a similar vein about anti-liquor movements in Chhatisgarh. The situation of Dalli Rajhara, being a iron-ore mining community, is quite different from agri-based rural Punjab. Yet, the story is essentially the same. The rise in wages, obtained through a long struggle under the banner of Chhatisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh led by Shankar Guha Niyogi, was quickly followed by an increase of alcohol consumption. However, the organization being vigilant about this was quick to take action and build social resistance against alcoholism. Its success was not through imposition of a strong regimen or fines for drinking but instilling a sense of loyalty towards the organization and its ideals. The successful resistance brought the organization in loggerheads with the local liquor mafiosi who were deeply connected with the established political parties of the region. Just like in Haryana, here also the women took a very important leadership role. This article is then followed by two poems, one is a criticism of the national liquor policy and the role of mainstream political parties in this regard; the other is on the anti-liquor movement itself.
Chhattisgarh and the National Question By Shankar Guha Niyogi
[PDF, English] »
In this essay Guha Niyogi explains the urgency of providing a national identity to the people of Chattisgarh, as a separate state that recognizes the needs to the native chattisgarhis. He criticizes the blatant failure of the state government of Madhya Pradesh in responding to the social infrastructure that promotes the devastating economic conditions of most of the population of Chattisgarh. Using detailed demographics of Chattisgarh residents socioeconomic, geographical and historical perspectives he makes a sound case for the emergent need and the likely success of a separate state of Chattisgarh.
History of Chattisgarh
In the essay Guha Niyogi first explains the historical constitution and geography of Chattisgarh . Seven districts come within the boundaries of Chattisgarh, namely: Raipur, Durg, Bilaspur, Bastar, Sarguja, Raigarh and Rajnandgaon. The name Chattisgarh was coined by a folk poet in 1487 A.D. Encompassing both plains and hills, Chattisgarh has large areas suitable for rice cultivation and enormous mineral deposits of iron ore, coal, limestone, dolomite, copper, uranium, bauxite, manganese etc. The forests are rich in timber trees like Teak, Sal, Mahua etc.
In his description of the historical or traditional practices of the inhabitants of Chattisgarh, Guha Niyogi identifies the wood carvers, the smelters of iron (Agherias), the people who make cloth ( Kostas), the people who make alcohol from Mahua ( Kalars). He mentions the role of the entire community in seeing to the welfare of the whole regions, including in agricultural practices and hunting and gathering.
He laments the disassembly of what was once a culturally rich society, with its own music , several dance forms which managed to prevail under the rule of Kalchuri Rajbans, the Marathas and the English. Until 1947, he says, the area was governed by small feudal lords ruling kingdoms like Bastar and Rajnandangaon and even so, there existed elected ‘baigas‘. It is only after independence, using foreign capital, that large steel and aluminum and power plants were established in this area.
The people of Chattisgarh
Guha Niyogi states that despite the presence of large natural resources, most of the people of Chattisgarh are very poor, facing malnutrition, ill health and lack of education. He describes the structure of the society when categorized using socioeconomic conditions and uses that to explain the reasons of such poverty.
Owing to the urbanization brought along by industries, a large number of people now live in areas surrounding these industries and the rich people live in the areas with modern amenities, while the poor are delegated to the slums. He says that about 90% of the people residing in these industrial complexes have migrated from other states of India, especially in cities like Jamul, Akaltara and Raipur (the erstwhile cultural capital). The laborers comprise Chattisgarhis and emigrants from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Some Chattisgarhis are scattered in the jungles and mountains that have low fertility and are mainly adivasis. He says that of those, only 3% are rich. 75% are small peasants, 10% are landless. The settlements in the plains also have adivasis, harijans, kurmis and kalars and again 30% are landless, 20- 40% are mid to small peasants. Only 12% of the cultivated area is irrigated, despite this land being much more fertile than the mountains.The rich class of businessman are mainly from outside Chattisgarh, and in the villages the Marwaris own the money lending businesses. The employment opportunities provided by mines has also rapidly reduced owing to mechanization.
The demand for new Chattisgarh state
Niyogi states that the political boundaries of Madhya Pradesh were laid arbitrarily and are unfair to all the regional nationalities including Malvi, Bundeli, Bagheli and Chattisgarhi present in the region. Judicious and fair distribution of agricultural produce, labor, development in education, health and all round development have failed conspicuously owing to the presence of these varied factions and the continuing attempt of the government to rule them as one state, Niyogi says. He categorically states that in the absence of natural political processes by which different nationalities can choose their own governing body that understands their problems and the problems of the region, only draconian laws can be enforced on the people for their cooperation or their obedience. Which is what he says was happening at the time. His says that to suit administrative needs and perhaps for the ease of governance, the center created unnecessary political boundaries in Haryana, Manipur, Arunachal and Meghalaya but rejects demands for Telangana, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.
Niyogi states pragmatically that he does not believe that the creation of a new state would immediately resolve all issues, but he strongly believes that is the first step in the direction of making progress and to facilitate the planned and appropriate utilization of natural resources. He says that once a group of people wish to have a separate state, based on the present of a distinct identity enabling them to participate in their own betterment, allowing the formation of a smaller state becomes the only democratic solution.
At this point in the essay Niyogi underscores the fact that India indeed is a country containing various nationalities. He says that if the government continues to ignore the demands of unique and distinct entities in the country, Churchill’s claim that should the British leave India, the air would be filled with the screams and noise of murders and other disturbances would get corroboration. Indeed, he says that it would be hard to find the idealistic unity that our leaders of the time claimed all Indians shared. He says that we should not try to deny the findings of the British Simon Commission that stated that India comprised of a large number of heterogeneous peoples and seemed to be swayed by the demands of a small percentage of the population. We should accept that India has several distinct nationalities within itself not try to force an artificial show of national integrity to the world. Instead focus on fighting feudalism and colonialism in all its forms as one nation.
Niyogi says that while, the reasons for unequal development of different regions in India are myriad, it is definite that the Harijans and the adivasis are the most backward classes. As these two classes comprise 60-65% of Chattisgarh’s population, the whole region is drastically backward.
Towards the end of the essay Niyogi says that the time is ripe for a people’s struggle for Chattisgarh. The peasantry already realizes that their livelihood and land distribution is linked solidly to the formation of a smaller state and therefore will participate with all their might. He says that no one would like to see militant chauvinism in the attempt to form a new state and therefore everyone class or nation within Chattisgarh should cooperate with each other and fight a common enemy (the central power). He says that the revolution would have a systematic approach incorporating revolutionary trade unions, the peasant and land questions, the pricing of forest produce, question of educational and health services and support struggles against all kinds of oppression.
Our Environment by Shankar Guha Niyogi
[PDF, English] »
In this publication, published a year after the assassination of Shankar Guha Niyogi on September 28th, 1991 in the CMSS office in Bhilai, the Jan Vikas Andolan calls for a ‘Niyogi week’, marked from Sept 22nd to Sept 28th, to commemorate his martyrdom and reinvigorate the ideas he lived and fought for.
As an apt inauguration of the week, this booklet describes the life of Niyogi before and after he joined the Chattisgarh movement. It aimed to give an overall picture of the variety of tasks undertaken by the movement, in favor of the people of Chattisgarh and its role in promoting environmental awareness and sustainable growth. To that end, the booklet contains an original article by Niyogi (translated to English) called ‘ Our Environment’: his last piece of writing.
Niyogi had moved from Bengal to work at the Bhilai Steel Plant, where he became increasingly politically active, associating with the Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries (precursor to CPI-M) and eventually losing his job for that reason. However, he developed his genre of social activism, where he sought practical and non-divisive ways to implement socio-economic change starting in the 1960s- early 1970s- he was on his own. Several publications by the People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) shed light on his movements during the early periods of his struggles for the rights of adivasis and agricultural laborers. His close work with local struggles would provide the experience needed to organize mass movements.
In 1975, after being released from his first period of imprisonment, he founded the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). The CMSS brought about increase in wages, anti- alcohol campaigns and empowerment of women. It built a hospital, schools and called for basic sanitation for the miner’s slums or bastis. The Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), the Chattisgarh Gramin Shramik Sangh (CGSS) and the CMSS have worked together for the betterment of the whole region.
Shifting his focus to directly tackle issues at the forefront, taking on wealthy and most powerful industrialists in Bhilai, Niyogi anticipated the possibility of being murdered as a way to cull the movement.
The citizen’s committee that conducted a detailed inquiry into the circumstances of Niyogi’s murder consisted of many dignitaries including Vijay Tendulkar, playwright and theatre personality, Senior journalist and diplomat – Kuldip Nayar. Their findings put his murder into the context of post-colonial industrialization of the backward regions of India, where traditional occupations are lost to provide labor for industries. They state in their report that the murder reflects the attrition of democratic space for the workers, where they can fight for or even voice their basic rights, needed for a dignified survival.
In his final writing, on the impact of mines and industrialization on the environment, Niyogi describes the native people’s concern for the degrading environment and the blatant disregard for it by the government and the industrialists. CMSS was always involved in diverse ways to improve the life of the workers, not limited to increase in wages, like most other trade unions of the time.
The environmental initiative of CMSS began when the rights of the adivasis or forest dwelling people to utilize the natural resources were questioned and called ‘damaging’ to the environment. The oversight to the main cause of environmental degradation- the saw mills and industrialization and the rampant corruption in the forest officials, while the law and forest policies oppressed the forest dwellers, was seen as a very important issue, for the well-being of the environment and of the adivasis. Reducing air, water and noise pollution and wastage of human and financial resources by the government officials under the guise of ‘environment-protection’ were also issues that the CMSS proposed to tackle.
In the essay Niyogi says that CMSS believed scientific developments should go hand in hand with conserving nature, as that in itself is patriotism and the basis of national consciousness. The union held detailed discussions on the negative effects of monoculture plantation, and shared its observations with the Forest department. They were strictly in the favor of prohibiting the cutting of Mahua, Char and Tendu trees that provide the livelihood of the local people and would help sustain the economic balance. The union was able to bring about several notable successful changes, including the building of small dams that promote forest growth, redirection of water out flow from iron ore mines.
To encourage such close association to nature, the first step would be for the natives to feel a close allegiance, an ‘ownership’ of the jungles, which would then lead to watchfulness and protection of the forests. This would lead to prevention of poaching and illegal logging. To this end, a ‘Know Your Jungle’ campaign was initiated that involved planting trees of domestic value, like Bamboo, Mahua, Mango, Jamun and planted commercially useful trees in plantations. The plan was to involve government authorities and the local people to plant a variety of trees that could revive the forests and educate children about their surrounding forest trees. Among other successes resulting from constant struggles, Niyogi notes the digging of tube wells for safe drinking water for the adivasis and the slight changes in attitude of taking responsibility for miners’ health by the Bhilai Steel Plant. While supporting environment protection, the union did not approve of anti-industrialization ideas as it believed in maintaining a balance in nature and in science.
First Shankar Guha Niyogi lecture by Justice Krishna Iyer
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The Guha Niyogi Memorial lecture was delivered by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer on Sept 28, 1992 in New Delhi. It was organized by Bandhua Mukti Morcha.
In the lecture Justice Iyer emphasizes the impact of Shankar Guha Niyogi’s activism for the rights of tribals and its persistence even after his assassination. He says that the Niyogi was a Marxist who believed in constructive development and understood the real needs of tribals, to preserve their history and cultural ethnicity that is ignored or misrepresented as movements, such as that in Jharkhand, progress.
He cites excerpts from Niyogi’s essay “Chattisgarh and the National Question” and criticizes the Jharkhand movement as having metamorphosed from a movement for tribal self-determination, to one that promises ‘development’ under false pretenses. He condemns the majority rule over tribal people that is bound to rob them of their distinct culture, values and independence as ‘development’ for all the people of Jharkhand is sought. He says that this guise of ‘development’ is merely another way of repression.
Behind the Industrial Smokescreen – A Citizens Committee Report
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In the wake of Comrade Niyogi’s martyrdom, a spontaneous unrest shook the nation. While in Bhilai the industrial workers rallied en masse and sat for hunger strikes, in New Delhi 75 organisations and trade unions, students groups, researchers, writers, artists, journalists, social, women’s and human rights activists gathered underneath the banner, Solidarity for Chhattisgarh Movement. With the intention to provide support to the struggling Bhilai workers movement the group met regularly. After noting the disinterest and ineptitude of the then Madhya Pradesh Government in bringing Niyogis assassins to justice, a fact finding team was formed with the following TOR:
1. To find out the circumstances that led to the assassination of Shankar Guha Niyogi.
2. To study the nature and content of the movement led by the Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha and its affiliated trade unions in the Bhilai industrial belt before and after the assassination of Niyogi.
3. To study the role of the State Government machinery (especially that of the Labor and Police Departments) in relation to the Chhattisgarh industrial workers movement.
4. To suggest ways and means to establish industrial peace and safeguard civil liberties and democratic rights in the region.
The fact finding team comprised of the following persons:
1. Shri DS Tewatia, ex-Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court and later of Calcutta High Court
2. Kuldip Nayar, senior journalist and ex-High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom
3. Vijay Tendulkar, the well known playwright and theatre personality
4. Dr. Anil Sadgopal, noted educationist and social activist; and
5. Rakesh Shukla, Advocate, Supreme Court (Convener and Member-Secretary).
Behind the Industrial Smokescreen, published in March 1992, is a collective work of this Committee’s scrupulous and timely documentation, and was distributed widely throughout the Chhattisgarh region and the nation at large.
Excerpt from – India: Despair and Hope By Bharat Dogra
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This is a excerpt from the book, India, Despair and Hope (1991), written by the eminent social activist, journalist and researcher, Bharath Dogra. In a section titled “Workers’ Struggle in Chhattisgarh: Efforts to Crush a Symbol of Hope for Weaker Sections” Dogra provides a brief summary of the issues which have attracted workers of the Bhilai, Rajnandgaon, Raipur belt from various industries to the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) Union, including security of employment, workers safety, and higher wages.
He goes on to praise the diverse composition of CMM, which comprises of ex- bonded laborers, farmers, miners, and other workers and also laments that the cooperation among the different sections of the Union, for instance miners of Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS) sending food grains to other struggling workers, has brought on sustained repression by the industrialist class.
Dogra denounces the recent attempts by both industrialists and administration to repress the workers’ mobilization through denial of wages, attacks, intimidation by police, arrests, and later on, at the time of the publication of this book, the martyrdom of Comrade Niyogi.
Archive Entry: 2013-09-28
Bharat ke Trade Union Andolan ki Samsyaen (Challenges facing the Trade Union Movement in India) – Shankar Guha Niyogi
The above article is based on a speech delivered by Shankar Guha Niyogi in Dalli-Rajhara at the Akhil Bhartiya Ispat Samanvaya Samiti, in October 1982. It was published in article form in CMM’s magazine Lok Sahitya Parishad, in August 1990 after being discovered among his papers in the aftermath of his assassination. The manuscript was titled Ispat Trade Union: Nayi Disha ki Talash (Steel Trade Unions: Search for a New Direction). Even though the speech was delivered in the context of trade unions of the steel industry, it is relevant for all trade unions. Com Guha Niyogi was on a mission to rescue the trade union movement from the narrow tap of economism and place it on the frontlines of the campaign for radical social change. This speech is an example. To quote him from the article: The whole country is intoxicated with alcohol, women are being oppressed and the trade unions have only one program: ‘give us our bonuses.’ In addition, in the speech, he also reflects on the problems raised by the fact that the steel industry largely employs an immigrant workforce that is cut-off form the local populace and critiques the practices of Indian trade-unions since the colonial period.
[This article was republished by sangharshsamvad.org on September 28th, 2012. In the introduction to the article the editor mentions that Niyogi’s death took place 20 years ago, while the martyrdom was actually 21 years prior to the said publication – Ed.]
Mechanization And Women – Ilina Sen (an error had previously attributed this article to Shankar Guha Niyogi – Ed.)
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In this article Com. Ilina Sen talks about the advent of modernization in the Chhattisgarh industrial scene and how this, combined with lack of education, puts the women in a particularly disadvantageous position. This retrenchment of women from the labour force has serious social implications. This article was excerpted from Sangharsh-O-Nirman, an anthology of Guha Niyogi’s writings. The translation from Bengali was done by Maitreyi Chatterjee.
Press Release Issued by Hiraman Singh Thakur (22/2/1991)
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This is a press release issued by Hiraman Singh Thakur, the vice president of CMM on 22nd February, 1991 from the party head office at Dalli-Rajhara and circulated to 40 different places. It details a chronology of events in the Chhattisgarh workers movement scene from fourth February, 1991 (shortly before the arrest of Shankar Guha Niyogi) to the date of issue. It describes the tone and tenor of the movement and the exposes the ugly face of state repression on the workers. The release ends with a list of main events that unfolded within a span of 18 days.
Patwa Government Arrests Niyogi to Curb Labor Struggle – Dr. Punyabrata Gun
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These articles give the background and state of the workers’ movement in Bhilai in April of 1991, when the Durg district administration arrested Shankar Guha Niyogi. They chart the plight of workers in the industries of Bhilai and the attempts of the industrialists to crush the movement in collusion with the administration.
Pamphlet released by the CMM on the one-year anniversary of Shankar Guha Niyogi’s martyrdom.
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