Tuesday 22nd April. On Monday night the world lost a brilliant and dedicated political activist, people’s movement leader and socialist thinker. Sunil Gupta, better known as Sunilbhai was the general secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (the Socialist People’s Council), a political party founded by the deeply respected socialist Kishen Pattnayak, and dedicated to supporting people’s struggles across India. As a political activist and people’s economist Sunil succeeded in sustaining the movement of the Adivasis, Dalits and other oppressed caste people’s movement for 32 years from 1984 till his untimely death in 2014.
Sunilbhai trained as an Economist from Jawaharlal Nehru University, but rather than follow a career in the city, settled in the remote Keshla village of Hoshangabad district, Madhya Pradesh in 1984, and organised the locals against oppression under the banner of Kisan Adivasi Sangathan (KAS). He was associated with Samata Yuba Jan Sabha, Samata Sangatahan and Samajwadi Jan Parishad since its inception in 1995.
He rose to prominence leading agitations for rehabilitation of Tawa Dam oustees in 1995 and established India’s most successful adivasi fishing cooperative in the Tawa Dam area. 44 tribal villages were displaced by the Tawa dam, and another 34 by an Army Proof Range Establishment and ordnance factory. Sunil organised them in a struggle for rights and proper rehabilitation, coordinating rallies dharnas and chakka jams which demanded that the fishing rights in the reservoir be given to the displaced tribals. Finally the Madhya Pradesh government conceded the demand and the Tawa Matsya Sangh (Tawa Fishermen Cooperative) was formed in 1996 with the right to fishing and marketing its product for five years. It was later broken up when the catchment area was absorbed by the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Sunil was a mentor for many activists, some of whom have become prominent socialist lawyers and politicians. Sunilbhai will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues and comrades, and by the thousands of farmers, fishermen and Dalits whom he worked tirelessly in service of.