Wednesday, May 30, 2007

People's messenger is gone

It shocks you and shatters you down when the first message, as you set down to start your working day tells you that Sanjay Sangvai, a people's messenger, author of River and Life: a historical narration of people's struggle in the Narmada valley, is no more. He passed away at 7 am on May 29 th, 2007 while undergoing treatment at the Nature Life Hospital at Kochi run by Jacob Vadakkanchery.

Sanjaybhai, a frail bodied person with an unflinching commitment to be with people's struggle, was a people's messenger who penned numerous Press Releases and articles in English, Hindi and Marathi, and spread the news of ups and downs of struggles to a larger world. In two decades long struggle, there were also moments when he gripped pen to write obituaries on his comrades – Shobha Wagh from Domkhedi, Bhaijibhai from Canal affected Undva village, Kiritbhai Bhatt of PUCL, Baroda – and he wrote them pouring his heart out. I can't control my tears at the idea of having to type an obituary on him.

In the two decades long struggle, I had known and interacted with him for last five years, years when "one after another illnesses kept paying visits", as he put it while chatting a few months ago. I had met him first time on January 26 th, 2002 – the day when Mumbai Samachar reported Narendra Modi announcing in Rajkot about Gujarat's efforts to lobby with PM to raise the Narmada dam height from 95 to 100 metres before monsoon – travelling with him in local train to a hurriedly organised press conference by NBA. Last time when he appeared online, I pasted a news clip that said Narmada Control Authority meeting was scheduled on May 3 rd. "were they meeting to decide raising the dam height from 121 to 138 meters?" he asked wearily. He also talked about the Marathi book he was working on and I queried him on the need to bring out third revised edition of River and Life. He said, he wished, but "one after other illnesses kept paying me visits".

He was a source of inspiration, was always connected with people's struggles, and didn't let his ill health affect activism. Although trained as a media professional, after a short stint with teaching career - when he worked as a lecturer at the University of Pune – and as a journalist with mainstream Marathi daily, he immersed himself into Narmada Bachao Andolan as a full time activist in 1989. He wrote extensively in English, Hindi and Marathi on issues and political processes of Narmada and other such people's struggles. I don't exactly know whether he wrote in Gujarati, but every time we met, he used to speak in Gujarati while recalling the aborted discourse over Narmada in Gujarat and narrating anecdotes.

For last couple of years, he was closely observing the struggles against Special Economic Zones, land acquisitions and related injustices through his association with NCAS, Pune

His book River and Life starts by depicting tribals, peasants and activists celebrating the new year with mixed feelings of hope, anxiety, apprehension and will to fight in Nimgavhan, a submergence village on banks of Narmada in Maharashtra; even as in the cities the rich and mighty went dizzy on the night of December 31, 1999. Eight years later, when someone sent him an e-mail wishing sunlight, joy and prosperity on the last eve of 2006, he replied; "Thanks for the best wishes. But for many people the year started with the deprivation, displacement and destruction - be it in Narmda, Singur, Delhi or any number of things. It is good that we all want sunshine and prosperity etc. And surely, it is we who would get that.

Sorry for the melancholy inevitable -

I sing the same song,
cutting each time
nearer to the aching heart."

Himanshu Upadhyaya.


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