‘Pen Is Mightier Than Sword’

Red Hammer and One ShyamSundar Ray

Abhijit Guha

Shyam Sundar Ray, knownto us as our favourite man in Midnapore, was a journalist in the strict sense of the term. I came to know about him from my friend Samir Sanyal, who was a Professor of Physics at Midnapore College in the early nineties. The occasion of my meeting with ShyamSundar Ray was a dirty incident at Vidyasagar University in which I worked for 30 years from 1985-2016 in the Department of Anthropology. During 1990 a very bright young lecturer at our Department of Library and Information Science was not given extension for his study leave to complete his PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK under a Commonwealth Scholarship. The lecturer Mr Gobinda Gopal Chaudhury, who was doing excellent works at UK and had just asked for an extension of one year to complete his doctoral work and the Commonwealth authorities, had also agreed to extend the scholarship. But Mr Chaudhury’s fault was that he was not a supporter of the then CPM-led ruling left front government and the Vidyasagar University executive council decided to dismiss him from his job. ShyamSundar Ray wrote a scathing report on 2nd July 1992 in The Statesman on the dismissal of Chaudhury, which still exists in the archive of the newspaper as a record of how the Red Hammer smashed even the slightest opposition and the way degeneration of the educational institutions engulfed the universities in West Bengal during the left rule. Just after one year another lecturer Mr Sibabrata Das of the Commerce Department of Vidyasagar University was not given extension beyond two years who got a fellowship by the Government of India to do his PhD on community development at the John Hopkins University, USA. ShyamSundar Ray did not remain silent and again wrote a factual report in The Statesman on 5th September 1993 referencing the case of Mr Gobinda Gopal Chaudhury.

Ray’s reportage also had good effects in checking corruption. I know of two glaring incidents. In one incident the exposure of corruption by a left party affiliated non-teaching staff at Vidyasagar University prevented him to apply for faculty position by a series of news items penned by ShyamSundar Ray during 2004-2006. In the second incident, a former vice-chancellor had to refund the UGC money with interest, which he had misappropriated to fund his conference participation in Beijing in 2004. Here also, Ray’s series of reports seemed to have worked.

ShyamSundar Ray could not be bribed by any authority and he attacked corrupt vice-chancellors, professors, officials, student union leaders and even non-teaching staff of Vidyasagar University on grounds of misappropriation of UGC funds, irregular functions of Departments and the like. But Mr Ray like a true and unbiased journalist also reported the successes and achievements of Vidyasagar University and some of the positive examples set by its vice-chancellors and teachers of the varsity in the various fields of academia like obtaining patents, publishing lectures of world renowned experts and holding workshops and seminars having social relevance. Nothing escaped ShyamSundar Ray’s probing journalistic eyes. His reports in The Statesman provided the mirror for Vidyasagar University.

The above account, however, does not mean that Ray was confined to the affairs of a university through his microscopic lens. His wide ranging journalistic binocular also viewed macro issues like land acquisition for private profit making industries by the government in Midnapore. Ray was probably the first journalist to describe the grabbing of fertile land by the government for the Tatas and Birlas at least a decade before the Singur and Nandigram episodes in the Kharagpur area of the Paschim Medinipur district. Ray neither missed to admit his errors through the publication of a number of corrigenda nor did he forget to follow up issues over the years, a rare quality of a journalist. One glaring example was his series of news items published on the acquisition of fertile agricultural land for two big pig iron manufacturing industries. One may reread his reports in The Statesman entitled ‘Midnapore farmers resist land survey’ (10.01.1996, p.3), ‘Neither iron nor rice for Midnapore tribals’ (12.03.1998, p.3), ‘Kalaikunda land unused’ (18.11.1999, p.4) and ‘Hungry tribals pay for unfinished dream plant’ (05.07.2000).

Let me now turn to ShyamSundar Ray’s biography without which my account would be incomplete. ShyamSundar Ray was born in the western part of a rural area of erstwhile Midnapore district on 1st March 1942 and studied at Garbeta High School. He passed B.A. with Honours in Political Science from Asutosh College, Calcutta and then obtained his M.A. in the same subject from the University of Calcutta. He joined The Statesman as a correspondent in 1976 and retired from the same house as a staff correspondent in the year 2011. Ray loved The Statesman and his profession and never thought to leave this newspaper. He was not interested in getting a better salaried job elsewhere. He used to live a simple life and made a small house in an almost rural setting on the eastern margins of Midnapore town, never accepted gifts from the rich businessmen and politicians.

Ray married in 1972 and his wife late Mrs Swapna Ray was a graduate and chose to remain a housewife. The couple paid all attention in educating their three daughters before their marriage. Their daughters, Rajyasree, Shilpi and Kasturi were well educated but Kasturi had an untimely death while studying for her graduation at the Raja N.L.Khan Women’s College. Rajyasree completed her PhD from Vidyasagar University and now a lecturer in Zoology at a College in Birbhum and Shilpi is a housewife after the completion of her graduation.

ShyamSundar Ray who passed away on 10.10.2023 believed that ‘pen is mightier than sword’ and led a frugal way of living with a love for writing what he used to call ‘factual reporting’. Ray’s demise left a void in the world of bold and painstaking journalism devoid of hypocrisy and stunts.

Abhijit Guha, Former Professor in Anthropology, Vidyasagar University,

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Vol 56, No. 33, Feb 11 - 17, 2024