Remembering Lost Comrades

Remembering Lost Comrades

Shantaji, Surendra Mohan and KG Kannabiran

Newsletter Sep - Dec 2010

These are indeed, sad times. For several issues in a row, every Saheli newsletter has carried obituaries of seniors and comrades lost, thinkers whose work has inspired generations of activists and whose vision and guidance will be missed in times to come. The end of the year 2010 has again been such a period of loss. Shanta Devi, Surendra Mohan and K.G. Kannabiran, all stalwarts of civil liberties and human rights, were born in 1929 and passed away in December 2011... enormous losses to our collective struggles for a world of dignity, freedom and democratic values.

The first was Shantaji, the tireless and almost timeless woman without whom almost no protest action in Delhi was ever complete. A small but power-packed woman, Shantaji was a single woman with seven children, who lived a very hard life, but fought even harder for all that she believed in. She worked hard to educate all her children and herself in an adult literacy centre with the vision to create greater awareness among women, children and the youth. Consequently, in 1983, the Education Department recognised her as the ‘Best Educator’. She also relentlessly fought for the rights of people living in the slums — labourers, factory workers, rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, street children, hawkers and vendors, fish workers, blind children, etc. She gave strength, support and confidence to everyone who came in contact with her. From women’s rights to anti-nuclear struggles, from conventions against caste to protests against Sati, Shantaji wasn’t known as ‘Shanta Toofani’ (Shantha, the thunderous) for nothing.

A torch-bearer of the socialist movement, Surendra Mohan has always been admired for his intellectual honesty, moral uprightness and clarity of conviction. As an activist he was always concerned about the issues of farmers, workers, dalits, tribals and all those living on the margins of current development paradigm and stood steadfastly with people’s movements, taking initiatives to build bridges for broad-based struggles. From resisting the Emergency to supporting Narmada Bachao Andolan and the struggles of Bhopal Gas Survivors; from working relentlessly to strengthen civil society initiatives in the peace processes of the north east to challenging national rhetoric through the Pakistan Indian Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, no struggle was too long or too hard for Surendra Mohanji. In his passing, we have lost a visionary and inspiration.

In recent weeks, again another loss – advocate K. G. Kannabiran, known to most as ‘Kanna’ of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties. A distinguished human rights activist and a scholarly writer on civil liberties, Kannabiran was a tireless builder of the civil liberties movement in Andhra Pradesh in the post-emergency  period. Over four decades, he helped articulate a uniquely Indian perspective on civil liberties, both through his legal practice and through his writings and public speaking. He had single-handedly filed more than 400 public interest litigation (PIL) cases, and was also instrumental in mediating between the Naxalites and the State in Andhra Pradesh along with K. Balagopal who also passed away some time ago. For his tremendous contribution in the field of civil liberties, he will always be considered a one man army to be sorely missed by all. A recent documentary film on his life and work, titled “The Advocate” by Deepa Dhanraj is available from the Magic Lantern Foundation for distribution and discussion to any individual or organisation wishing to screen this film for Kannabiran’s memorial or public education. Please write to