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Labour Dalit Bahujan Adivasi

Shankar Guha Niyogi: Gone, but not forgotten

On Niyogi’s thirtieth death anniversary, SabrangIndia looks back at the long legacy left behind by the trade union leader

Sabrangindia 28 Sep 2021

Death anniversary Image Courtesy:thewire.in

Farmers on September 28, 2021 celebrate the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. However, the day also marks another noteworthy incident – the killing of Indian labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991.

Niyogi was the Founder of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS) that is now known as the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). He was a respected trailblazer for mine workers in the state. As a person influenced by Marxist ideology, Niyogi started the labour union run in Dalli Rajhara Mines in Bhilai to fight for the rights of miners in the area. The community included tribal communities and other marginalised sections of society.

Married to a tribal woman Asha, Niyogi considered himself a part of the local group and worked towards solving many issues, especially relating to health and environment.

Contribution for Adivasi community

Particularly in the field of healthcare, Niyogi and his union built a hospital to help the pregnant women and ailing people in society. He also started a campaign called “Let’s Struggle for Health” that called for clean streets, orderly waste management and personal hygiene. In tandem with this, he encouraged people to give up on liquor citing economic and health and even cultural costs, such as domestic violence.

Working on other aspects of the local culture, Niyogi propagated the name of Gond Adivasi freedom fighter Veer Narayan Singh. Similarly, understanding the tribe’s connection with nature he called on a campaign to save the environment, not merely by planting trees or saving forests, but by criticising the Bhilai Steel Plant for destroying traditional livelihood.

Eventually, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh evolved into the CMM that looked at rural issues of other peasant communities like farmers. Their efforts were endorsed by a Supreme Court order that supported the call for the rehabilitation of bonded workers in many villages.

Growth of the CMSS

The CMSS was formed to fight for locals’ cultural identity and upliftment of workers and peasants. Its two mottos ‘Sangharsh aur Nirmaan’ (Struggle and Construction) and ‘Virodh Nahi Vikalp’ (Not resistance, but alternative), reflect this sentiment.

So much so, that its work impressed workers across the state all the way to Maharashtra. In response, Niyogi reached out and helped workers in other areas but struggled to maintain the struggle’s momentum in Dalli Rajhara. Corporates introduced large-scale mechanisation proposals in the mines that would have led to downsizing. Still he managed to save jobs by asking sympathetic engineers to prepare an alternative semi-mechanisation proposal that increased production.

However, Niyogi made enemies as he reached his twenty-fifth birthday. Unlike the CMSS’s headquarters, other regions in the state faced much more aggressive oppression from the corporates. He was threatened multiple times and several of his colleagues were attacked. Finally, on September 28, the beloved leader was shot in his sleep.

Nowadays the CMM that has become a political front, continues other peasant struggles such as that against genetically modified seeds.

Acquittal of those accused in Niyogi’s death

Even after his death, workers remained united to bring Niyogi’s murderers to justice. The trial of his alleged killers and ensuing punishment to the guilty became another form of defiance against the oppression by the corporate class.

In time, a trial court found Simplex industries owner Moolchand Shah, Oswal Iron and Steel Private Limited owner Chandrakant Shah, Gyan Prakash Mishra, Abhay Singh and Awadesh Rai guilty of murder June 1997. It sentenced them to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs.10 lakhs each for the two industrialists. The hired assassin Paltan Mallah, who was accused of committing other crimes in the region, was sentenced to death.

However, a year later, the Madhya Pradesh High Court reversed this judgment and acquitted all accused. In retaliation, both the CBI and the CMM appealed to the Supreme Court. The former even produced Niyogi’s diary and an audio cassette where he had talked about dangers from some of the accused.

Still the apex court only sentenced Mallah to imprisonment for life by relying on his confession to prosecution witness and relative Satyaprakash Nishad. Interestingly, his confession to the same witness about the co-accused giving him money for the crime was deemed insignificant in the absence of any “substantive” evidence.

For the workers community in Bhilai, this case has remained a sore point in their struggle for their rights.

Related:

MP: 40 Adivasi families illegally evicted amidst a pandemic!
MP: Rain God ritual, a deeper issue than meets the eye
Pathalgadi: Assertion of Adivasi rights over land

 

Shankar Guha Niyogi: Gone, but not forgotten

On Niyogi’s thirtieth death anniversary, SabrangIndia looks back at the long legacy left behind by the trade union leader

Death anniversary Image Courtesy:thewire.in

Farmers on September 28, 2021 celebrate the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. However, the day also marks another noteworthy incident – the killing of Indian labour leader Shankar Guha Niyogi in 1991.

Niyogi was the Founder of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS) that is now known as the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). He was a respected trailblazer for mine workers in the state. As a person influenced by Marxist ideology, Niyogi started the labour union run in Dalli Rajhara Mines in Bhilai to fight for the rights of miners in the area. The community included tribal communities and other marginalised sections of society.

Married to a tribal woman Asha, Niyogi considered himself a part of the local group and worked towards solving many issues, especially relating to health and environment.

Contribution for Adivasi community

Particularly in the field of healthcare, Niyogi and his union built a hospital to help the pregnant women and ailing people in society. He also started a campaign called “Let’s Struggle for Health” that called for clean streets, orderly waste management and personal hygiene. In tandem with this, he encouraged people to give up on liquor citing economic and health and even cultural costs, such as domestic violence.

Working on other aspects of the local culture, Niyogi propagated the name of Gond Adivasi freedom fighter Veer Narayan Singh. Similarly, understanding the tribe’s connection with nature he called on a campaign to save the environment, not merely by planting trees or saving forests, but by criticising the Bhilai Steel Plant for destroying traditional livelihood.

Eventually, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh evolved into the CMM that looked at rural issues of other peasant communities like farmers. Their efforts were endorsed by a Supreme Court order that supported the call for the rehabilitation of bonded workers in many villages.

Growth of the CMSS

The CMSS was formed to fight for locals’ cultural identity and upliftment of workers and peasants. Its two mottos ‘Sangharsh aur Nirmaan’ (Struggle and Construction) and ‘Virodh Nahi Vikalp’ (Not resistance, but alternative), reflect this sentiment.

So much so, that its work impressed workers across the state all the way to Maharashtra. In response, Niyogi reached out and helped workers in other areas but struggled to maintain the struggle’s momentum in Dalli Rajhara. Corporates introduced large-scale mechanisation proposals in the mines that would have led to downsizing. Still he managed to save jobs by asking sympathetic engineers to prepare an alternative semi-mechanisation proposal that increased production.

However, Niyogi made enemies as he reached his twenty-fifth birthday. Unlike the CMSS’s headquarters, other regions in the state faced much more aggressive oppression from the corporates. He was threatened multiple times and several of his colleagues were attacked. Finally, on September 28, the beloved leader was shot in his sleep.

Nowadays the CMM that has become a political front, continues other peasant struggles such as that against genetically modified seeds.

Acquittal of those accused in Niyogi’s death

Even after his death, workers remained united to bring Niyogi’s murderers to justice. The trial of his alleged killers and ensuing punishment to the guilty became another form of defiance against the oppression by the corporate class.

In time, a trial court found Simplex industries owner Moolchand Shah, Oswal Iron and Steel Private Limited owner Chandrakant Shah, Gyan Prakash Mishra, Abhay Singh and Awadesh Rai guilty of murder June 1997. It sentenced them to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs.10 lakhs each for the two industrialists. The hired assassin Paltan Mallah, who was accused of committing other crimes in the region, was sentenced to death.

However, a year later, the Madhya Pradesh High Court reversed this judgment and acquitted all accused. In retaliation, both the CBI and the CMM appealed to the Supreme Court. The former even produced Niyogi’s diary and an audio cassette where he had talked about dangers from some of the accused.

Still the apex court only sentenced Mallah to imprisonment for life by relying on his confession to prosecution witness and relative Satyaprakash Nishad. Interestingly, his confession to the same witness about the co-accused giving him money for the crime was deemed insignificant in the absence of any “substantive” evidence.

For the workers community in Bhilai, this case has remained a sore point in their struggle for their rights.

Related:

MP: 40 Adivasi families illegally evicted amidst a pandemic!
MP: Rain God ritual, a deeper issue than meets the eye
Pathalgadi: Assertion of Adivasi rights over land

 

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