Thursday, May 31, 2007

A moment for Sanjay

Just a couple of days after writing about the rather untimely demise of someone I was eminently un-fond of, I find myself writing about someone I had gotten rather close to over the years, despite the difference in our ages (in terms of experience with the subject), and the difference in the paths our careers had taken.

Sanjay Sangvai was someone I met many years back during one of my two or three trips to the Narmada valley. He was a journalist, who had committed himself in a big way to the cause of the displaced and still-not-rehabilitated people of the Valley, who continue their fight to this day. And while I am not one to gush, especially about a person who's just passed away, I have to say that in Sanjay I found a man who was totally committed to the cause, managed to have a balanced view of the situation (something a lot of others failed to do, not unfairly), and possessed a brilliant mind when it came to arguing issues and making complicated points.

When on one of those trips, Sanjay also gave me his book The River And Life to read, a fine example of exactly the brilliant argumentative mind that I referred to earlier.

I lost touch with the NBA, their activities and their activism once I left Tehelka and became a full-time sports journalist - and it was Sanjay's copious press-releasing that kept me abreast of the situation and the developments as and when they took place.

Sanjay's death is a big loss. And when people like Sanjay die, it is always untimely in many ways, simply because he still had a lot to do. For the record, Sanjay was just 48.

NBA Press Release
Sanjay Sangvai is no more.

The last two decades of his work with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People's Movements as well as the professional contribution through various organizations like Abhivyakti, National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS) has proved that Sanjay was an activist of a different caliber, of unique capacities and rare commitment. He was not merely a ground level activist but also a journalist, writer and litterateur.

Sanjay was the most effective intervener and strategiser in the present world of corrupt politics, corporatised economy and increasingly consumerist society. He passed away at the age of 48, due tohis long lasted serious sickness of heart and lungs, on Tuesday, 29th May around 7 a.m. The funeral took place today, the 30th May at Pune.

Sanjay Sangvai learnt and taught journalism for years. His well-known qualities included in-depth study of history and politics, hard work as well as rich word power in at least 3 languages: Marathi, Hindi and English. He has written extensively and intensively on alternative development paradigm as well as politics. His articles and books, including those on Narmada, are testimonies on people's movements with aserious, reflective critique based on political ideologies and human value framework which he was well versed with. His prompt statements on the latest events or State actions were always looked forward and considered as the best of progressive, secular comment in the movement's framework.

As someone committed to activist journalism, he didn't waste but spent much of his time in such work of promoting movements and educating society instead of writing and producing a pile of books in his name. That was what made Sanjay an ideal for young journalists even amidst the commercialized corporatised media. It was obvious to anyone who engaged in dialogue with Sanjay that he had studied all political ideologies, the histories of nation states and civil societies well and developed a comprehensive, non-dogmatic view and vision of development as well as the future. He could best argue and debate onthe philosophies of Gandhi, Phule, Ambedkar, Lohia and Marx, but also put forth the Greek, Roman tradition and Sufi to other religious perspectives.

Sanjay would never boast of or show off his intelligence and knowledge base but it always reflected in his dialogue to writings which were of high quality and yet linked to the practical and popular actions.

Sanjay was however not just academic but a man of vision, strategy for transformation, and culture. His cultural moorings into Indian and Asian way of life made him committed to not mere preaching but practicing simple living, closeness to nature and sustainability in extraction. He raised the voice of the people of Narmada valley by becoming a part of their struggle short term as well as long term- widened his scope for analysisand action with people's struggle, as by being with NAPM. The beauty ofhis joining one and contributing any one of these fronts was never exhibited but highly facilitating and contributing.

Sanjay was a man of ethics. His commitment were not merely verbalized but practiced. His sensitivity and creativity was enabling him to lead a life committed to the common people- farmers, labourers, adivasis, dalits and others- and also gain aesthetic sense in every aspect. His deep interest in and knowledge of classical music, Sanskrit, Indian literature etc was a result of the same, and indeed led a 'progressive' life which was his goal, not just an avowed glamorous slogan.

The most unfortunate barrier in Sanjay's path of progress was his critically ill-health. When Dr Venugopal recommended replacement of his heart and both the lungs, none could take a decision. But realizing how risky, delaying and expensive process it was, he and his equally brave and creative mother stood against the surgery and instead took to Ayurveda andYoga. His fight against all odds, with the illness, continued for years but not without hard work and amazing output as a soldier in and for the movements. He continued to write and produce valuable results in documentation to strategizing. Being terribly disturbed with the corporatecrimes to unconstitutional plans such as SEZs, he insisted on joining actions- yatras to mass dharnas- and produced impactful writings and other tools for mobilizing masses against the same. This indeed brought him enormous health trouble and made him collapse, may be a bit early but peacefully.

With Sanjay Sangvai's demise we, as NBA and people's movements have lost the most powerful voice and advocate, the best of writers but most importantly an honest, brilliant and committed comrade creating an unfillable vacuum as one may unhesitatingly conclude.

BUT, many of artists, activists, researchers, journalists…political leaders in various parties too have lost a deeply spiritual and ideologically committed friend. He was a fighter, philosopher and guide with some awards, but the best of people's recognition- a human being with prosperous life and vision.

Many activists’ organizations- supporters are holding condolence meetings in various parts of Maharashtra and other states too, all of whom, are bound to take inspiration from Sanjay's life and carry forward the cruise on their shoulders. Only then will his soul rest in peace and a kind of "martyrdom" will fulfill the purpose.

Comrades at Narmada Bachao Andolan