Campaign for People’s Rights: Celebrating the Legacy of 1857

At the Inquilab Rally of March 23 a campaign was launched to reassert ‘Our Country, History, Our Freedom, Our Rights’ – a campaign to take the anti-imperialist content of 1857 and Bhagat Singh to the people and to link it with the struggle against imperialism as we face it in our lives today: against SEZs, against the Indo-US Nuke Deal, against the scuttling of people’s rights to serve liberalization.
In the month of May, this campaign was taken up in earnest in various ways in Bihar, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, as well as all over Bengal. A report.   
May 10 in Bihar
On May 10, the 150th anniversary of our first war of independence, CPI(ML) held a series of programmes in Bihar. A Balidan ko Salam (Salute the Sacrifice) event was held on May 10 at Jagdishpur (Ara) – the centre of Kunwar Singh’s brave battle against the British in 1857.
For long, feudal forces have been appropriating Kunwar Singh as a hero of a particular caste, to legitimise the oppressive feudal order. This year, too, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar participated in a programme organised by a chieftain of a banned feudal army (a predecessor of the Ranveer Sena). The main organizer, in his new avatar as JD(U) leader even boasted that none other than Laloo Prasad had given him the certificate of being the true successor of Kunwar Singh! Not surprisingly, even Brahmeshwar Singh, the chieftain of the notorious Ranvir Sena and mafia don Visheshwar Ojha appeared in some papers, sitting along with the jail superintendent celeberating Kunwar Singh Jayanti!
In contrast, CPI(ML), liberating Kunwar Singh from the clutches of the feudal forces, presented the mass rebellion of Shahabad led by him in the broader perspective of  1857: its remarkable armed guerrilla warfare of peasantry against imperialism, its Hindu-Muslim unity, and its spirit of democratic equality towards the peasant masses and oppressed castes. Addressing the programme, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya observed that the heroic peasant struggle of Bhojpur was continuation of the tradition of 1857; a life and death battle for liberty, self-respect and equality in the same Shahabad where Kunwar Singh had taken arms for freedom, at the age of 80 years. The editor of Janmat Comrade Ramji Rai, the national president of AIALA Comrade Rameshwar Prasad, and CPI(ML) MLA the legendary Comrade Ram Naresh Ram also addressed the gathering.
There is a rich tradition of local songs in memory of Kunwar Singh’s war, waged largely from the forests around Jagdishpur – and this tradition was reflected in the event. Hirawal presented the 1857 ideologue Azimullah Khan’s song on 1857. Nirmal Nayan of Jan Sanskriti Manch from Rohtas rendered a song written freedom fighter Ramakant Dwivedi ‘Ramta’ in memory of Kunwar Singh and the martyrs of the freedom movement. Sudhir Suman also sang another long poem which Ramakant Dwivedi ‘Ramta’ had written on the occasion of the 1857 centenary year. The folk singers of Keshwa presented the songs of Master Ram Ayodhya on Kunwar Singh. The paintings prepared by the Keshwa village were also a centre of attraction. Santosh Jha of Hirawal presented the folk songs which described the struggle between Kunwar Singh’s army and the British army. These folk songs clearly showed the widespread support that Kunwar Singh got from the people in 1857.
A painting exhibition titled ‘The War of Independence (1857-1947)’ and ‘The War Goes On’ by Arjun of Kala Kammune (Banaras) displayed paintings on 1857, Bhagat Singh and the Naxalbari movement.
At Patna every year around May 10, an event is held to commemorate the legacy of Peer Ali, one of the leaders of the 1857 war who was martyred in Patna. A Free Medical Centre has been dedicated to Peer Ali’s memory and named after him. This year, the Shaheed Peer Ali Free Medical Centre and the Inquilabi Muslim Conference held a ‘Shahadat ko Salam’ (Salute the Martyrdom) celebration on May 11. The event was presided over by Ramji Rai and Shambhunath Mehta, founding member of the Shaheed Peer Ali Free Medical Centre, conducted the programme.
The event began with respects being paid to the veteran people’s playwright Dr. Chaturbhuj. Well-known theatre person Rishikesh Sulabh paid tribute to Dr. Chaturbhuj, recalling that he had penned several plays on the martyrs of 1857 –Kunwar Singh, Lakhmibai, Bahadurshah Zafar as well as several nameless martyrs were the central characters of his plays. Two of his plays were on Peer Ali. In addition to writing these plays, he also directed them and travelled all over Bihar with a troupe of actors, presenting these plays in village after village. Rishikesh Sulabh and Dr. razi Ahmad presented a shawl to Dr. Chaturbhuj; after which Dr. Chaturbhuj, inspite of being over 80 years old, read out a part of his play on Peer Ali along with his son.
The Seminar was addressed by Gandhian thinker Dr. Razi Ahmad, Director Khuda Baksh Oriental Library Prof. Imtiaz Ahmad, and Comrade Dipankar. At Gaya on May 12, a seminar was held to commemorate the legacy of 1857. A large gathering assembled at Ambedkar Park, and the seminar was addressed by Kisan Sabha leader Comrade Rajaram Singh, Socialist leader Shaukat Hayat Khan, veteran activist Brij Kishore Satyarthi, CPI District Secretary Akhilesh Kumar, Senior advocate Sartaj Ahmad,  CPI(M) leader Pervez Ahmad and Kisan leader Yugal Kishore Sharma and Shambhunath Mehta. The main speaker was Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya.
The following resolutions were adopted in all these programmes: Scrap SEZs, Bring the mortal remains/ashes of Bahadur Shah Jafar from Rangoon and establish his mazar in Delhi, accord the status of national song to the flag song of 1857 composed by Azimullah Khan, ‘Hum hain iske malik, hindostan hamara’, and rename the children’s park marking Peer Ali’s hanging as Peer Ali Baageecha. In this regard, a 9 member committee was formed with Dr. Razi Ahmad as its convener and Shambhu Mehta, as co-convener.

- Sudhir Suman