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Remembering Rajendra Sail: Doyen of human rights movement and a wall against repression

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Rajendra Sail  Human Rights  Chhattisgarh  Activist  Human Rights




Dr Goldy M George

Adv Rajendra Sail, the doyen of human rights movement in the country, is no more with us. He passed away in Raipur on January 26.

Sail has been one of the legends of Human Rights movement in the country. His association with People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has marked an era of engaging on the questions of Human Rights at the highest level in India.

One of the early members of PUCL, he was the National Organsing Secretary of it from early 1980s till late 1990s. His association with rural bonded labour led to the popular case on bonded labour in the Supreme Court of India in 1980s that led to the release of nearly 25000 Dalit caste based bonded labourers in Chhattisgarh.

Later he was the Supreme Court appointed Commissioner on bonded labour issues, specifically in the rehabilitation of the released bonded labourers.He guided PUCL Chhattisgarh in the most difficult phase during the 2000s, when its then General Secretary Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested under anti-national and sedition laws.

He was much instrumental in the recent struggles for demilitarisation of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. His key role in drafting PUCL's draft bill on Protection of Journalists that was submitted to the government of Chhattisgarh and the memorandum for the release of Adivasis falsely imprisoners under the pretext of being Maoist associates from various jails in Chhattisgarh cannot be ever forgotten.

Sail's long standing association with Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and late Com. Shankar Guha Niyogi also tells us stories of his close link with the working class movement. He supported the movement in almost all its battles and crucial historical phases - right from the workers strike to police firing to assassination of Com. Niyogi and till last.

Alongwith Bishop George Ninan, Sail has been the key architect and founder of Indian National Social Action Forum (INSAF) and led it from front in its initial decade. A long time association with Programme for Social Action (PSA) had provided with several insights and new dimensions to the very context of Social Action.

A core and committed Christian believer, he emerged through the winds of liberation theology in late sixties while he was still a student leader in Allahabad associated with the Students Christian Movement of India (SCM). After graduating in Law (LLB) he moved to Raipur, Chhattisgarh where he founded the Raipur Churches Development and Relief Committee (RCDRC).

He remained for the rest of the life in Chhattisgarh working among the poorest of poor and oppressed and marginalised. He had argued many cases in various courts of India, seeking justice for the unrepresented ones. He has been closely associated with the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) for his entire life.

His involvement and intervention with the Urban Rural Mission (URM) had given new rays of hope to the church to expand its to the rural and urban poor, paticularly Dalits, Adivasis and women. Rajubhayya, as I called him, has inspired and motivated hundreds of rural and urban youths.

Sail remained a wall against repression, a hope amidst hopelessness, a comrade to the fellow travellers and a voice to the voiceless. I had the opportunity to travel more than two decades alongside him. He is today gone to become a star in the sky. He had suddenly fallen sick after the shocking news of his long time friend, comrade and associate Abdul Jabbar Khan in November 2019.

He then survived a massive heartattack and a paralytic stroke. Since then his body functions were reduced, his mobility curtailed. His wife, a long time activist on women rights across India and sons Akshay and Agnay (both lawyers) and their families have survived this tough time. I wish them all spiritual energy and strength to overcome this phase.

Rajubhayya a big Blue-Red salute to you. Personally I will be missing you too much as you have contributed immensely in many of my struggles. I will be missing that big loud and ever smiling "hello", your handshake, and the hearty hugs. To me it's a big personal loss of an everwilling guide and elder. May you rest in Power and Peace Bhayya!!

[Dr Goldy M George is a human rights activist and writer based in Raipur]