On May 6th, 2015 Faguram Yadav, my one time fellow-warrior, breathed his last.
The history of the labour movement in modern India cannot be told without the story of Chhattisgarh Mines ShramikSangh, its main organizer Shankar GuhaNiyogi, and the tales of struggle, sacrifice and victory of the brave iron mine workers of Dalli-Rajhara. An account of the movement for the freedom of oppressed peoples would be incomplete without the Chhattisgarh MuktiMorcha.
Likewise, one cannot speak of the Chhattisgarh Mines ShramikSangh and the Chhattisgarh MuktiMorcha without mentioning the name of Faguram Yadav. He was the preeminent songwriter for these movements.
Faguram was not a middle-class intellectual, he was a transport labourer at the iron mines. His job was to load iron onto trucks. He hadn’t been able to study beyond class four at the village school. He was born in 1946 in the Chanwar village of Raipur district. He lost his father at an early age. His mother brought up the children by selling fireworks. Fagu managed to go to school by collecting the pieces from others’ broken slates and running errands for the teacher. After class four, though, he had to quit school and begin earning a living as a farm worker in other people’s fields. Right from childhood Fagu had a particular talent – he could take any event that happened in the village, build a song around it and set it to music.
There was a terrible famine in Chhattisgarh in 1973-74. That was when Fagu came to Dalli-Rajhara in search of work and became a contract transport labourer in the Dalli iron mines of the Bhilai Steel Plant.
In those days, the exploitation of contract labourers was inhuman – the contractor’s truck picked up the workers before daybreak and they came home only late in the evening after working for 14 or 15 hours. The pay for this backbreaking work was just 2 or 3 rupees a day.The two established unions, INTUC and AITUC, took care of the interests of the owners and contractors, not the workers.
As a protest against an unfair bonus agreement made by them, the workers left these unions and set up their own independent union, the Chhattisgarh Mines ShramikSangh, on March 3rd 1977. Instead of the tricolour and red flags of the older two unions, they picked up the red-green banner, a symbol of the friendship between labourers and farmers. Exactly three months after the formation of the union, the police fired on workers who were agitating for an allowance to buy building materials to repair their homes. Eleven workers were martyred. Faguram, inspired by the workers’ movement, began to write new kinds of songs – songs of struggle, songs to raise political consciousness. His pen never stood still after that. A few years after the killing of Comrade Shankar GuhaNiyogi on 28th September 1991, the movement lost steam and Faguram slowed down, but he never stopped.
I have neither the capability nor the expertise to make an appropriate evaluation of Faguram’s talent. But from 1986 to 1994 he was my fellow-warrior and I will make an attempt to explain his contribution to the labour movement. Faguram wrote in Chhattisgarhi and I will try to make a few rough translations of his noteworthy songs to provide some sense of the kind of songwriter he was.
In 1989, the publications department of the Chhattisgarh MuktiMorcha, LokSahityaParishad, published “Faguram Yadav kechunehuyegeet” (Selected songs of Faguram Yadav). The songs that follow are from that collection.
The songs of the first phase beautifully describe the birth of the Chhattisgarh Mines ShramikSangh.
“chhattisgarhkemazdoor man ha dallirajhara ma ainga,
lohakepatthara la for-for kebhilai la utpadankarainga,
sadautpadan bar jorlagathe ye mazdoorkebaniga.
lohakepattharaforaiya man ha apanpasinabohainga,
din bharkarinkadamehanatgasahimazdoorinai pain ga.
aghu ma rohindalal man ha lut-lutkekhaonlagees,
tab papi man bar janmadharees du rangwalanishaniga…….
chhattisgarh mines shramiksangh ha jab janamdharkeaisga,
shoshan le muktikarebarharmazdoor la jagaisga,
jag uthin sab mazdoorsathi, dushmanhogehairaniga.”
(The Chhattisgarh workers came to Dalli-Rajhara to break iron ore to supply Bhilai.
All management wanted was production and more production.
The stone breakers toiled day and night but did not get their due.
The contract leaders cheated the workers, their suffering had no end.
And then was born the two-coloured flag, the Chhattisgarh Mines ShramikSangh.
It arrived with a call to freedom, an end to exploitation.
The workers awoke, and the owners trembled in fear.)
Translation of a part of another song:
The bricks of thousands of workers
Joined by the cement of unity
Have built a dam with an iron wall.
From the dam the stream flows on
To Bilaspur, to Hirri
To Rajnangaon, to Danitola.
One who has bathed in this water
Is a person reborn.
Explaining the meaning of the red-green banner, Fagu wrote-
“mehanatkashkehitkari he ye du rang walinishanihai,
lal rang mazdoormanke au harihar rang kisanike,
dono rang eki me milkejaise ganga yamunakaspani he….
ladne me badabanka he, ye du rang walapataka he,
mazdoorkekhoon ma range habe, dushman bar ekdhamakahe..ye…”
(This two-coloured banner proclaims freedom for working people,
red for the labourer, green for the farmer,
the two colours merge like the Ganga and the Yamuna.
It does not fear the tortuous path of struggle.
Dyed in the blood of the worker is this flag, a terror to the enemy.)
After the union was formed in 1977, the first movement was a demand for materials to repair huts. The police fired on agitating workers on the 2nd and 3rd of June, eleven people were martyred. But the workers’ struggle could not be suppressed by bullets. The sacrifice of the martyrs strengthened the resolve of the Dalli-Rajhara workers and they went from victory to victory. The song Fagu wrote in memory of the martyrs,
ye sab ekhai, ekhai.
marnahai to marengephirbhibadtejayenge,
tumharearman pure kartejayenge.
jujjhenge ham bar bar,
shahidonkekhun se hum sab haitaiyar”
(Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Virnarayan Singh,
Anasuya Bai, Jagadish Bhai,
they are all one, they are one.
We have kept their struggle alive,
our struggle grows ever stronger.
We will die if we must, but we will keep moving on,
we will realize your dreams.
We will fight all oppression, every torment.
The workers and farmers have raised their weapons,
we are ready with the blood of the martyrs.)
Along with the economic struggles, the ShramikSangh also began working on other fronts. Everywhere, Fagu was there to give form to the struggle in his songs. Along with other worker artists such as Ramlal and Lakhan, Fagu set up the cultural organization “NayaAnjor” (Early morning sunrays) to disseminate the new democratic culture. The song that explained the goals of the organization at every event was also written by Fagu –
bagrabo re sanginawaanjorbagrabo.
nawaanjorkelalkiran sab jagahbagrahi, sab jagahbagrah
ho jahibihan, jagahimazdoor au kisan..”
(To every lane in the village we will bring the nayaanjor,
the rays of the newly risen sun.
The red rays of the morning sun will spread all around,
people will open their eyes, the dark night will fade.
Day will dawn and the worker and farmer will awaken.)
The “swasthyakeliyesangharshkaro” (fight for health) movement of the CMSS began in 1980-81. Fagu wrote –
“chalsangvari re mitan, swasthya bar gasangharshkarbo
ye jingikekarbogasudhar, ham gabimar ma kabarmarbo.”
(Come partner, come friend,
let’s join the fight for health,
we will bring healing to life,
why should we suffer and die.)
Fagu also wrote for the CMSS anti-alcohol movement –
“sharabibhaiya re mat pibebatalkesharab la.
mat pibebatalkesharab la.”
(My alcoholic brother,
don’t drink from the bottle,
don’t drink from the bottle.)
People fighting for freedom from exploitation are inspired by the history of past struggles and past sacrifices. Narayan Singh was the first martyr of Chhattisgarh, he was a leader of the peasant revolt against British imperialism. The British rulers and the rulers that followed painted Narayan Singh as a criminal and his memory was consigned to oblivion. The Chhattisgarh MuktiMorcha brought the story of the courageous Narayan Singh to light. Fagu made this story accessible to people and took it from village to village.
Chhattisgarh is made up of seven southern and eastern districts of Madhya Pradesh. The soil of Chhattisgarh was so fertile that it was called the rice basket. The forest resources were huge, it was a place rich in minerals. And yet there was unemployment and hunger in the villages, there was no water for irrigation, and the adivasis had lost their natural right to the resources of the forest. The residents of Chhattisgarh could not even get jobs in the industries set up in Chhattisgarh. Faguram not only told the stories of Chhattisgarh’s sorrow and deprivation, he also called for a free Chhattisgarh –
“janasangathan, janaandolan, janayuddhakerasta ma aghubado,
chattisgarhkemuktikekhatir, sangi koi jatankaro……
ye bhuinyake ham sab beta ye matikerakshakaro
ye bhuinyakemalikabeihankemazdoorkisan ha ga,
tekar beta sarhad ma ladat he deshkeuhijawan ye ga,
atyacharshoshan la bhagabokadamkadam sab badtechalo.”
(Move forward on the path of the people’s organization,
the people’s movement, the people’s struggle.
To free Chhattisgarh, friends, you must strive.
We are the children of this soil, we will protect this land.
The owners of this land are the workers and farmers and their children, the youth.
Let’s wipe out oppression and exploitation and move forward.)
The largest farmers’ agitation under the red-green banner took place in the Nadira village of Rajnandgaon district. More than a hundred years ago, the residents of Nadira had put together a common treasury to cope with famine in the area. They were Kabirpanthis (followers of the saint Kabir) and had accumulated property in the name of the Kabir math or temple. The wealth grew with time. Later a mahant (priest) from Uttar Pradesh stole the property. The villagers rescued their landed property from the mahant and established common ownership of the land. During this movement the village people had to deal with the suppression and torture of the police. This was when Fagu sang – “atyacharkabadla lo” (avenge the torture).
The first industrial venture in Chhattisgarh was the Bengal Nagpur Cotton Mills of Rajnandgaon. The history of the labor movement of this factory is also quite old. In 1920, the workers of this factory struck work for 37 days. In 1923, Jarahu Gond was martyred by police bullets. In 1948 it was Jwalaprasad and Ramdayal. In 1984, a red-green union was established at BNC Mills. The workers fought for an improved work environment. Jagat, Radhe, Mehantar and Ghanaram were martyred. Faguram’s songs keep alive the memory of these past and contemporary struggles.
Owners’ policy everywhere has always been to deploy machines in the name of development and to eliminate workers. The government wanted to use machines in the iron mines of Dalli-Rajhara. CMSS kept mechanization at bay through agitation from 1978 to 1994. This is the song Fagu wrote for this movement:
“ageymashinikaranke raj, juchchhakardehi sab kehaath,
berozgari ha aise bade he, au aghu bad jahi re,
mehanatkashjanata ha, bin mout mare jahi re,
phirhohianartha bat, sab pitatarabo math.
aye videshimashinsangi, desh ma derajamaot he,
inhakekamaiyamanke, hath le kamnangaot he,
ye me bhidehabedalal, howathabemalamal,
(The rule of mechanization has come,
it will snatch away the work from every hand,
wake up workers and farmers.
There is unemployment, it will grow,
alas the working people will die.
No use slapping our foreheads then,
wake up workers and farmers.
The foreign machines have made their home in our land,
to steal the jobs of the people of our land.
Be warned, raise your voices, wake up workers and farmers.)
One of the most significant struggles of the Chhattisgarh movement was the Bhilai workers’ movement. This movement, begun in 1990, unionized almost thirty factories in the Bhilai industrial area. The workers agitated for the right to organize and for a living wage. In order to suppress the movement, the authorities sacked workers, had them attacked by goons and the police, jailed Niyogi, barred Niyogi from entering five of the seven districts of Chhattisgarh, and finally had Niyogi murdered secretly on 28th September 1991. Sixteen workers were killed in a police shooting on July 1st, 1992.
In this phase, the worker artists were led by Comrade Faguram. His tribute to Comrade GuhaNiyogi was titled “shankarguhaniyogi la bhaiyakarathonmenhalalsalam”. You can find this long lyrical poem written in the Chhattisgarhi language at www.sanhati.com in the archives of the Chhattisgarh movement.
I gave just a few examples of the songs of Faguram. Without listening to these folk tunes sung in the Chhattisgarhi language in Fagu’s open-throated voice, one cannot get the full flavor of these creations. In 1992, as an undertaking of the Chhattisgarh MuktiMorcha, a recording of eight songs of Faguram was arranged in Calcutta by the folk singer Bipul Chakraborty. A cassette titled “lal hara jhandahamar” was released. This cassette is no longer available. Since Faguram’s death, Bipulda has tried to have these songs posted on Facebook. There are also efforts to produce a CD.
This piece will remain incomplete if I don’t say a few words about Fagu, the person. I saw Faguram very closely during the eight years I lived in Chhattisgarh. Every morning he went off to work in the mines in his torn half pants and worn-red undershirt. When he came back he did housework or work for the union. Fagu was one of the few worker activists of the ShramikSangh whose political perspective was unclouded, his body of artistic work was vast. But he had no arrogance, no ego. I have spoken to Fagu’s coworkers – he was the elected union representative of more than 200 workers in his area. Everyone agreed that as a person Fagu was endowed with extraordinary human qualities. But Faguram could not have become Faguram without the militant labor movement and the proper organizational leadership in Dalli-Rajhara. I have seen for myself and heard from others how Faguram flourished under the care of Comrade Niyogi.
To be continued…..