A Tribute

Smarajit Jana

(July 21, 1952–May 7, 2021)

Subhasis Mukherjee

This “scoundrel times” coupled with the "pandemic" situation had taken away Dr Smarajit Jana from this world, ending rather prematurely his acting working life; in today's age of modern medical science, he can be called, at best to have reached the middle age period of his life. The basic discipline of his professional career was medical science, more specifically public health.

In the beginning of the seventies of the last century, the campus life of the students was charged with proactive political agenda, the “futility” of the prevailing education system lost its charm, those who supported the status quo, in the name of saving education, undertook activities for removing education from various educational institutions. This was the time, when students were searching for real alternative to everything. Smarajit came into contact with such kind of student movement in his early student days.

Smarajit was one of the leading person, along with others in the organisation, which started in the early eighties in the last century, publishing an excellent people science journal, named as “Manush” (People). Smarajit was actively involved with this journal as writer as well as streamlining the management of the day-to-day affairs of the magazine. After some time, the statutory obligation of obtaining the registration number of the journal from Registrar of Newspaper of India, the name of the journal had been changed from “Manush” to “Utsa Manush”. With this new name, the journal is still continuing its mission..

Smarajit used to run a few regular columns in this journal, Utsa Manush on topics, ranging from what items in the daily life are essential and which items are extraneous, people are influenced by the advertisement machineries of the multinational companies, to distinguish between essential drugs, and items which cannot be qualified to be called a drug. Utsa Manush later collected his articles in the form of books like “Pryojoniyo Oproyojoniyo” (Essential and Non-essential items).

In 1984, the pesticide factory in Bhopal city coughed out a huge amount of deadly poisonous gas, MIC, leading about 15 thousand dead and 10 times as much number of people maimed for the rest of their life. He was deeply moved by this genocide in the Bhopal and its aftermath.

To support the just demands of the gas-affected people of Bhopal for their proper medical treatment and social rehabilitation, "No More Bhopal Committee" was formed in West Bengal. Smarajit was very active in this organisation and along with other concerned citizens and medical professionals of India, he was championing the cause of the gas victims victims. He wrote an informative pamphlet on how to address the problem of the people of Bhopal in terms of medical as well as social rehabilitation, a viable alternative at the national level, which has become almost a "guide" for active social workers.

The "Drug Action Forum" was set up in West Bengal in an effort to launch a scientific campaign against the advertisement blitz by the multinational companies to promote unscientific substances as drugs. The effects of these ineffective, sometimes harmful substances affecting the citizens, in the name of “drug”, has been taken up in right earnest, and Smarajit, along with others leading this crusade from the frontline.

To spearhead this movement, he wrote a number of articles, providing the necessary theoretical backup and travelled extensively throughout the state and outside the state to promote this cause.

Smarajit was of the most effective and competent spoke-person of Drug Action Forum. It was publishing, in those days, a very informative quarterly journal, "Drug Disease Doctor", promoting the cause of rational therapy and CME for those physicians who did not have access to scientific literature. Smarajit became a contributor of articles, a relentless campaigner and a member of the editorial board of the journal.

Smarajit, along with a handful of people, was one of the earliest organisers of the anti-nuclear movement in the state of West Bengal and played a leading role in bringing the issue to the public discourse through his theoretical writings on the subject. In a series of discussions, used to be organised by the pro- and anti-nuclear lobby in those days, on the acceptability of nuclear power, he was adept at exposing the irrationality of the arguments put forward by the emperors of the nuclear establishment of India.

He had deep connections with the environmental movements of our country, which was gaining its momentum in the late eighties of the last century. He wrote about anti-Narmada Dam movement, reported about the Harsud conclave while keeping a deep relation with “Bharat Jan Vijnan Jatha”, popularly known as BJVJ. His theoretical essay, "Emotions and Ideologies in the Environmental Movement," published in a special anthology of the Bengali journal, Anustup, stirred up quite a debate in those days raising many new questions as well as critiques of the movement, which turned out to be very relevant in today’s scenario.

AIDS and related issues became a global phenomenon and Smarajit approached the problem from a very original starting point. Since the beginning of 1990s, he started approaching the problem of so-called “red light areas” of the city of Kolkata and was initiating projects which had changed the lives and livelihood of the sex-workers of the area. For that matter, he had set a precedent for the rest of the world, especially in the Sonagachi area of Kolkata, for his tireless effort on issues ranging from sex workers' health to social rights and women's emancipation. He, along with the some proactive members of the community, founded the first ever cooperative by the sex workers, for which the government was forced to amend certain clauses in the state laws. The scientific journal, Lancet named these efforts as “Sonagachi or Calcutta Model” and became a system of study round the globe. In order to do this very effective social undertaking, he resigned from his very lucrative and permanent job, and launched himself into this endeavour.

He has taken real and effective social initiative to bring these workers back to a respectable job in the society, provided them with proper training to stand on their own two feet, provided them with the skills and empowerment to tell the story of their gallant fight against heavy odd and social stigma associated with them for centuries on, to present their success story to their countrymen and abroad. Last, but not the least, their endeavour along with the required push from Smarajit, has opened the door to schools and higher education for the children of erstwhile sex workers. He made this organisation, Durbar Mahila Samannoy Committee, a vibrant social organisation, ready to express solidarity with the down-trodden sections of the society, Usha Multipurpose Cooperative, a model for how to run an organisation in a real participatory manner. His wits never failed him, even in a very hostile situation, he smoothly steered these organisations with all alacrity and a smiling face.

Frontier owes a special gratitude to Smarajit, though for him, extending a helping hand to people who are in need in something which never failed him. He gave Frontier a shelter at 44, Balaram Dey Street, Kolkata because the journal founded by legendry Samar Sen faced the wrath of a promoter gang and office was ransacked. Smarajit came forward with no hesitation and provided Frontier space, not out of any “charity”, but with empathy and commitment.

Not too many persons from the so-called “third stream” of political thought contributed in any effective manner, so that their work became worth emulating in an international perspective. Smarajit was one such exception. His untimely demise was a loss to the country and the world at large.

Back to Home Page

Vol. 54, No. 8, Aug 22 - 28, 2021