By Martin Macwan*
We, his friends and colleagues, lovingly called him Indubhai. He is no more. The vacuum created by his departure into a shrinking space for social activism will be difficult to fill. In his 77 year age, he spent 41 long years, serving the most marginalized through multiple activities, especially through his writings.
Towards the end of his life he sounded hopeless. The dominant exploitative structures were increasingly getting powerful, in his opinion, leaving little hope for the poor to get any justice. It was difficult to sit with him and confront his hopelessness.
Indeed, it becomes unbearable for people who have major part of their life worrying for the poor to take a great deal of personal risk and social isolation to witness the deteriorating judicial-moral standards in society.
I met Indubhai in 1981. There was a common mentor for all of us, a primary school teacher and journalist, Bhanubhai Adhvaryu. Bhanubhai wrote a column in Gujarati “Jansatta”, when Digantbhai Oza was its editor — ‘Duniya jaisi hamne dekhi’. His articles of what he witnessed as the struggle of the most marginalized to survive appeared in this weekly column.
Organising a four day gathering, Bhanubhai did the pioneering work of bringing all social organizations, small and big, and individual activists, journalists, academics and concerned bureaucrats, on one platform to share their experiences and plan a common action. Joseph Macwan documented the discussions during these four days. This historical document was titled, ‘Ughdyo ughad, avi varap’.
This platform later culminated into formation of Janpath with Prof Harshad Desai becoming its first president, followed by me at a very young age. Indubhai was one of the most active organizer of this process.
Apart from writing in various newspapers, Indubhai’s passion was “Naya Marg”, which he edited like his own child. He wrote, he corrected the proofs manually in the old printing technology, ran to the Chandrika Printing Press in Mirzapur to ensure that it was printed fortnightly and posted the fortnightly before time. We did not have computers then. Even I wrote my articles with hand and personally delivered them to Indubhai.
Chandubhai Maheriya was always a great help to Indubhai.
With Bhanubhai no more, unfortunately, Janpath lost both its traction and direction. However, that did not deter Indubhai.
Indubhai resigned from his job in the bank as a powerful face of the trade union. He was noticed by Zinabhai Darji and motivated to join the struggle of the poor and the exploited. He played a great role in shaping the Khet Vikas Parishad. Later, he played a crucial role in strengthening the union of the agriculture workers, the Gujarat Agricultural Labourers Union, along with Madhusudan Mistry.
Indubhai was accessible to all and his office was always full with visitors ranging from leaders of political partiies to smallest of activists working in far off villages. Indubhai traveled to every single programme organized by activists, whether it was a programme to protest an incident of caste violence, a rally of the forest produce gatherers, a salt pan workers’ protest, a sit-in-programme of the forest land dwellers, an opening of the school for the children of salt workers, a women’s rights programme or a literary programme to launch the book on the woes of the masses.
Indubhai wrote extensively, and his writings, if put together, will become historical resourceful encyclopaedia of social movements, especially of Gujarat. He edited a volume of reservations.
Post-Babri demolition and the bloody riots that followed, the worst being in Surat in 1992, I traveled with him along with Madhusudan Mistry and Vadibhai Kamdar, the ex-mayor of Ahmedabad. We had great difficulty in disembarking from the train at Surat as thousands thronged to run away from Surat.
We walked the empty streets of Surat witnessing the burning property of the minorities and meeting the wounded in the relief camps, including young babies with severe and multiple injuries. Indubhai could not control his tears.
He was an emotional man. He often ignored domestic family problems as his passion drove him to the suffering masses. Post brutal beating by the police of a Dalit, Muljibhai Mundhva in Dhandhuka, leading to his death, Indubhai accompanied me to the residence of CD Patel, the Gujarat home minister then, to ensure that the responsible police officers be prosecuted.
I had no clue that there was personal threat to my life while working in Dholka from the associates of the elected president of the Dholka municipality, unfortunately a man from the religious minority. It was Zinabhai who kept an eye and got the information. Next morning, Indubhai and Prafullbhai Dave took me to the house of the person in question to send a message to the man.
His emotional side often put him in personal trouble and caused him lots of heart burns. People he helped in crisis cheated him. He was targeted and accused of malpractices in the context of the relief camps for the cattle in Rafadeshwar by political vested interests.
He was deeply hurt often by people who did not share his passion and commitment and they created emotional turmoil in the institutions he served for his life. Hence, in spite of several people volunteering to run “Naya Marg” during the later days of his life, he decided not to continue with it.
His aide has been a common person. He helped Indubhai in everything. Ayub alias Bhailalbhai has been in his company ever since Indubhai joined with Zinabhai Darji. In the aftermath of the communal riots, Indubhai was deeply worried by the sole presence of Ayub in Khet Bhavan. Ayub put up with all the moods of Indubhai with utmost dedication and reverence.
I had avoided to meet Indubhai for the past two years. It was personally difficult to witness the loneliness and helplessness of the man who was always in the midst of the masses.
Indubhai had complete disregard for political forces, no matter how powerful they were, for their willful neglect of the interests of the common person, and he had complete faith in the common person, even if there were confrontations with them. He had made his choice for the life he wanted to live and he paid the price for his choice.
*Founder, Navsarjan Trust, Dalit Shakti Kendra