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Home > Tributes and Remembrances > India: Tribute to Sitaram Shastry

India: Tribute to Sitaram Shastry

by T. Vijayendra, 28 October 2012

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Sitaram Shastry died on 24 Oct 2012, when he walked into a running train between Adityapur and Gamaria stations near Jamshedpur. The incident occurred at a point where the train crosses a bridge over a river thirty feet below. His body was thrown off the bridge, and lay on the banks of the calmly flowing river. He was about 73 years old.

A week earlier, he had been diagnosed as having throat cancer. His daughter Kanti Prabha (Chinu) and her husband had come down to Jamshedpur from Delhi in order to take him back to Delhi for treatment. On the day they were supposed to fly out, he left home early in the morning and did not return. When contacted on his mobile phone, he replied that he would not return and that they should not search for him. Then he switched off his phone.

From 1968 onwards, till the day of his death, Sitaram was a full-time revolutionary/social activist. Till 1968 he had worked for the LIC in Jamshedpur and was a union leader. That year, like many other places in India, a lot of young people turned towards the path of social revolution. In Jamshedpur quite a few TELCO workers resigned, collected their PF, and joined the revolutionary movement. Those were heady times.

From the very beginning some of his special qualities were visible. The first and foremost quality was that he was extraordinarily courageous. He never feared anyone, never feared having a different opinion and lived his life on his own terms. He had great mobility – both in space and across society, connecting with a wide cross-section of people. He also had a great understanding of the region – Jharkhand – which only improved with his wide travels to every nook and corner of the region and his interaction with every section of the Jharkhand movement. Sitaram worked tirelessly for the Jharkhand movement, knew every Jharkhand leader and was respected by all of them. He brought them together again and again for the common cause.

Being a communist he had a great understanding of the working classes of the region. Later he developed a similar understanding of the Chhattisgarh region when he worked with Comrade Shankar Guha Neogi. But prior to that he worked in Dhanbad district, with A. K. Roy of BCKU (Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union). He helped organise the election campaign of A. K. Roy and later he edited the BCKU journal, ’Hirawal’ (Vanguard) for the working class. Everywhere he had a tough time, because while money was forthcoming for trade union work and for the lawyers, there was no money for the journal or for his upkeep.
The Emergency was a tough period for all political workers and he moved to Bombay to help edit Blitz Hindi. He had a fantastic command over Hindi – he wrote the best simple Hindi for the working classes, and in later years translations became a steady source for his maintenance. He wrote a brilliant booklet entitled ’Mehnatkashon ko Kitaben Chhahiye’ (The working class wants books).

In the early eighties, he edited Mitan for Comrade Neogi in Chhattisgarh. Everywhere he went he made good contacts with all the activists of the region, be they workers, peasants or, as happened in Chhattisgarh, with doctors, engineers and lawyers too.

Very often Sitaram came across as a difficult person. I think the main reason was that he was impatient and unhappy with us for not being active enough, not understanding the need to align with other movements like the Jharkhand movement or with the youth coming out of the JP movement, and lastly not understanding the need to support each other, not living in communes. However he was respected and loved by a very large number of people. Hundreds of comrades and friends received his (and Nalini’s, his wife) hospitality, help and advice. He will be missed by a large number of people.

Here we must also touch upon Nalini’s role in his life - she held him whole through all the noise and turmoil of his life, despite all their jhagras (domestic quarrels). She was also extremely generous under all kinds of stress that went inevitably with being married to Sitaram.

Many of us feel saddened that he had to commit suicide. Those who saw his mutilated body near the river will carry this haunting image with them for a long time to come. Many of us ask, why did it have to be like this?

Given the situation he was faced with, that was probably the only valid option. Despite his protests, his family had persuaded him to go to Delhi for treatment. Weak and vulnerable as he was, he could not argue out his case for not going. But he was not prepared to face a situation where he was dependent on others, a life of hospitalisation and the painful reality of throat cancer. On the other hand the family also feels weak and vulnerable in such a situation, and it is difficult for any family where such choices are not openly discussed to be able to accept such choices of no treatment.

So he took the courageous decision of walking out of this world. It was characteristic of him and his decision fitted his personality. The sad thing is that he had to be alone in his last moments. It is a sad commentary on our progressive movement that it has not supported the movement for legalising euthanasia, that we are not prepared to deal with situations like this, and were not available to help him for a honourable and dignified end.

Now we can only support the family to cope with this traumatic experience. We convey our heartfelt condolences to Nalini (wife) and to Chinu (daughter).

October 29, 2012

Email: t.vijayendra[at]