‘A Branch of the Sapling of Sorrow’

Sankar Ray

The political autobiography of Ali Amjad, a member of the national council of the undivided Communist Party of India, who was driven to Pakistan by police harassment, looks dispassionately at the period from the run up to the partition of India until the creation of Bangladesh. His reminiscences of unflinchingly committed communists are the high point of the book—‘A Branch of the Sapling of Sorrow’

Have Sitaram Yechury, Doraisamy Raja and Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretaries of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI and CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, heard of Kazim Naqvi who officially died of cardiac arrest on 26 January 1950 when imprisoned as a member of the undivided Communist Party of India (then banned) in Bihar? He was “tortured to death at the Hazaribag Central Jail... This young man had the courage to raise a red flag on the door of his jail cell. He was dragged into his cell and lost his life after being mercilessly beaten for two or three days. His family was not informed of his death nor was the body turned over to his (next) of kin. At the time, as the secretary of the provincial committee, this writer wrote at length about this tragedy and tried to do something about it. When a petition was filed to the Supreme Court, the civil surgeon posted at the jail was a Muslim who entered (in) a sworn affidavit that Kazim Naqvi died of cardiac arrest. When I came to the court for the second time, the judge asked me only one question. ‘What basic right do you fear not being able to exercise?’ I repined, ‘The basic right to live is the most fundamental human right, and I fear that I will meet the same fate as Kazim Naqvi because Hazaribag Central Jail has been converted into a place for exacting retribution.’ Obviously, the petition was dismissed.

The long quote cited above is from A Branch of the Sapling of Sorrow: A Life Story (Shakh-e-nihal-e-gham: Ek Afsana-e-Hayat in the Urdu original), the English translation of the political autobiography of Ali Amjad, one of the three main organisers of the historic strike at Tata Iron and Steel company on 2 May 1958. The other two organisers were Kedar Das and Barin De. Satyanarayan Singh, one of the founders of CPI(ML) in 1969, was also with them. Ali Amjad, a member of the national council of CPI, an almost forgotten labour leader in India today, migrated to Pakistan after police harassment and went on to become one of the top labour and civil rights lawyers there. His novel, Kali Mati (1999), on the 1958 strike is a breakthrough in Urdu literature.

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Vol 54, No. 33, Feb 13 - 19, 2022