Comrade Shah Chand is no more. The soft-spoken, warm-hearted CPI(ML) leader known for his inexhaustible human compassion and unshakable communist commitment breathed his last in Patna Medical College and Hospital at 12 noon on 2 November. Sentenced to life imprisonment by a TADA Court in Jahanabad in 2003, Comrade Shah Chand spent the last twelve years of his life in Bihar jails. The harshness of jail life and persistent lack of medical care took a heavy toll, and by the time Comrade Shah Chand was transferred to PMCH in October 2014 he had already suffered irreversible multiple damages following a cerebral stroke.
Shah Chand came from a well-to-do landed family in Bhadasi village in Arwal. When he finished his graduation from BN College in Patna in the late 1960s, he could see all around him the quest for social transformation. On the other side of river Sone, the oppressed people in Bhojpur were rising in revolt against centuries of social oppression and bondage. The revolutionary battle launched by Comrades Jagdish Mahato, Ramnaresh Ram and Rameswar Yadav at Ekwari became the new folklore of emancipation of the downtrodden. Shah Chand dedicated his life to the uplift and emancipation of his fellow people. The people of Bhadasi also reposed their trust in him and elected him the ‘mukhiya’ of the panchayat in 1978. He is still fondly remembered by the people of Bhadasi and adjacent areas as 'Chand mukhiya'. His sincere and innovative efforts to improve minor irrigation facilities and literacy in the area are still remembered by many people in Arwal-Jahanabad.
In April 1986, police opened fire on a peaceful assembly of landless people at Arwal and gunned down unarmed men, women and children, re-enacting the horror of Jallianwallabagh in post-colonial India. Brutal police repression and feudal violence became the hallmarks of Congress rule in Bihar in the 1980s. This was also the period that witnessed the beginning of the rise of the BJP amidst an aggressive communal mobilisation. As the popular ‘mukhiya’ of his panchayat and a leader of the Indian People’s Front and CPI(ML), Comrade Shah Chand emerged as a powerful symbol of people’s aspiration and assertion for peace and harmony, dignity and justice. Massacres of the oppressed people acquired more ominous proportions in Bihar in the 1990s. From Bathani Tola in Bhojpur to Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankarbigha and Narayanpur in Arwal, the Ranvir Sena perpetrated a series of barbaric massacres between 1996 and 1999. Against this backdrop, in February 2000, Comrade Shah Chand contested the elections to Bihar Assembly as the CPI(ML) nominee from Arwal and finished second by a narrow margin of just some 2,000 votes. The growing popularity of Comrade Shah Chand unnerved the feudal power structure – an old 1989 case in which Shah Chand and many other comrades had been falsely implicated was revived under TADA and in August 2003 the Jahanabad TADA court convicted him along with thirteen other comrades and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
TADA was no longer in force and the RJD was in power in Bihar. CPI(ML) MLAs in Bihar Assembly fought spiritedly under the leadership of Comrade Ram Naresh Ram for withdrawal of TADA provisions and for release of the 14 TADA victims. But the government which had no scruples in allowing Ranvir Sena to perpetrate massacres with impunity did nothing to intervene against the injustice meted out to Shah Chand and his comrades under the ‘lapsed’ draconian provisions of TADA. No different approach could be expected from Nitish Kumar who began his rule by disbanding the Amir Das Commission and became instrumental in the subsequent spate of judicial massacres when the guilty of Bathani Tola, Bathe, Nagri and Miyapur massacres were all acquitted en masse by the Patna High Court. The CPI(ML)’s desperate plea for release of Comrade Shah Chand on parole to ensure proper treatment fell on deaf ears. Just the day before Comrade Shah Chand passed away in PMCH, the Arwal SP recommended against his parole invoking threats to security and law and order!
Comrade Shah Chand’s body was ravaged by the harshness and institutionalised harassment of prison life, but his revolutionary spirit and innate human warmth and compassion remained unshaken till the end. All through his incarceration he exposed the systematic violation of jail manual and human rights and fought for the rights of fellow prisoners. A few days before his death when I met him for the last time in PMCH, Comrade Shah Chand was no longer in a position to even sit up, but summoning all his strength he hugged me and Comrades Ramjatan Sharma, Kunal and Parvez with that unforgettable expression of warmth and love on his face. When I met his inconsolable wife Comrade Jameela just before his burial, she kept repeating Comrade Shah Chand’s last words: hold high the Party flag.
Comrade Shah Chand has been the fourth of Arwal’s fourteen TADA victims to die in custody after Comrades Mahangu Chaudhary, Madan Singh and Sohrai Chaudhary. While paying our tribute to Comrade Shah Chand, we must once again raise our voice for the release of the remaining ten TADA victims of Arwal: Comrades Churaman Bhagat, Baleshwar Chaudhary, Tribhuvan Sharma, Jagdish Yadav, Laxman Sau, Ajit Kumar, Arvind Chaudhary, Shyam Chaudhary, Madho Chaudhary and Arun Bharati. As we carry forward the protracted battle for dignity, harmony and justice against the forces of institutionalised injustice and communal hatred, Comrade Shah Chand will remain an inexhaustible source of inspiration and strength. For every man and woman implicated and persecuted by the state on false and fabricated charges, Comrade Shah Chand will remain an icon of courage and resistance. Against the divisive and destructive designs of the merchants of hatred and death, Comrade Shah Chand will remain a beacon of life and love.
Let us try to be worthy communists like Comrade Shah Chand. Let us imbibe the human values that Comrade Shah Chand exemplified in his life. Red Salute to martyr Comrade Shah Chand!