“Rajneeti bayan bajo se nahin… zaameni muddo se hoti hai” (Politics is not about catchy slogans, it’s about grassroots issues)
Disbanded by mainstream politics, some people look for alternatives in grass-root movements seeking justice for humanity. Looking back 20 years down the lane, remem-bering one of the greatest martyrs of Chhattisgarh, no one would ever believe that a man of so much prudence and courage has ever walked the soil of Dakshin Kosala. Born in Jalpaigudi (Bengal) in 1943, Shankar Guha Niyogi migrated to Bhilai in early 60’s to work at the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP). Later he established himself as a labour organiser. He had a degree in BSc and AMIE.
Niyogiji was the first who dared to stage the first ever strike in one of the largest steel plants of SAIL having thousands of employees. His abilities and compassionate attitude diverted him into revolutionary politics. Subsequently, 14 years of his life was focused contending for the rights of tribal people. His foundations – the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS), Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) and the Chhattisgarh Gramin Shramik Sangh (CGSS) – brought about increased wages, anti-alcohol campaigns, women empowerment and organised adivasis into a united response against the exploitative. It built a hospital, schools and called for basic sanitation for slums. He sought to prepare the people to realise his ambition to free Chhattisgarh from starvation and exploitation.
His audacious and venturesome act earned many enemies across the country. His remarkable struggle for the labour class brought in hesitant cloud of hope. His movement fostered pace but was brutally suppressed by the leading companies. The movement thus came into direct, sharp and sustained conflict with the wealthiest and most powerful industrialists of the area. Eventually he had to spend most of his life in jail although he was never convicted by any court for any offence, being re-arrested twice in Indira Gandhi’s emergency regime. By now, he had anticipated his own murder, and he quoted “This world is beautiful and I certainly love this beautiful world, but my work and my duty are important to me. I’ve to fulfil the responsibility that I’ve taken up. These people will kill me, but I know that by killing me none can finish our movement.”
On September 28, 1991, while he was sleeping in his hut, a young man rode up to the house, looked in through the bedroom’s well-lit window and pumped six bullets in. His body was then taken to Dalli Rajhara where fourteen years ago, Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh had taken birth. Draping his body in the red-green flag of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, his comrades and followers marched in a resolute procession to the cremation site. Across the Chhattisgarh region, over two lakh workers struck work that day bringing 150 industrial units to a standstill.
About one and a half lakh men, women and children followed the funeral procession and then stood in homage as crematory flames consumed the earthly body of a legend, leaving behind a legacy of united Adivasi trade unionism and an orphaned movement that is etched on our hearts and minds.
His struggle, his way of living and every drop of his blood set a precedent and will continue to inspire the future generations to fight against the odds. He is worshipped in the town of Dalli- Rajhara, where he is inscribed on the hearts of every town-man for-ever and for-ever they say, is beyond death.
Niyogiji was survived by his wife Asha and three children. Kranti, Jeet and Mukti. As his visions were, you revolt, you win and you attain moksha. Jeet Guha Niyogi heads the Jan Mukhti Morcha and Mukti Guha Niyogi is the mayor in the town of Dalli-Rajhara, shoving themselves to bring-forth even in the society. Therefore, this valentines’ on the occasion of his 71st birthday, make sure you get time to pay homage to Chhattisgarh’s one of the greatest martyrs. And as it seems to me, after the coal mines, naxalites and rice policies in Chhattisgarh, it is he who has left a remark in the nation, considering all of the aforementioned CBSE is planning to include the stories of his life struggle in the all new curriculum.
So, next time, if someone out there to say we had Nelson Mandela, we had Che Guevara, we have batman, end the conversation by saying… We had him!
*Shikhar Shrivastav is student of law from HNLU, Raipur, Chhattisgarh
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