A loving spouse
Jameela Khatun speaking about her husband, said: “We got married after he became mukhiya. At our wedding, the song for the groom went, “Our unmarried mukhiya, our beloved mukhiya” – at that time it was very unusual for such a young, unmarried man to become mukhiya.
Even when he was mukhiya, he earned nothing. And as a party activist he would often go away for 10 days at a time, and then return with a large number of comrades. We would make them all welcome.
Many a time the police would come to raid the house, threatening to kill us, terrorising the little children. I would say, “Kill us, but we don’t know where he is, and so we can’t tell you.” The knock of the police on the door was something we would always expect and fear.
Even when we were short of money, I would never ask him. I would say to those who asked, that he doesn’t have money, that’s why he can’t give us any. He’s in jail, and must be worrying anyway, we won’t add to his worries. He was always deeply committed to people and to the party, and would always tell us to be with the party.”
His efforts for peace
Shah Chand was very well known and respected for his efforts towards promoting peace between communities. In 1982, he became a member of the Jehanabad-Arwal Peace Committee. As a member of the Peace Committee and IPF, he played a very important role in preventing and diffusing communal tension.
A close associate of his, Mohd Shahab, recalls several such incidents. Once, there was tension in Motha village of Bhadasi, over a rumour, fuelled by a local politician, that Pathans had stolen the cowdung cakes that were to be used for the Holika Dahan ceremony on the eve of the Holi festival. Shah Chand, with a handful of people, went off first to the Pathan hamlet and then alone to the Yadav hamlet. He spoke to them, won their trust, and then went with them to burn the Holika. Shahab says that Chand Saheb often went off like this alone into the hamlets of the majority community, and his very confidence in them, seemed to win their trust.
Another childhood friend of his, Bindeshwari Prasad Singh, recounts that Chand Saheb began the practice of Hindus and Muslims playing Holi together in Arwal.
A lively and committed activist
A comrade recalls how Shah Chand would hawk copies of Lokyuddh on a cart – crying out like a street hawker to people to spend Rs 3 and buy a copy. And he would thus ensure that all copies would be sold out!
His son Shah Shad says that when he was in Gaya jail, notorious RJD leader from Siwan, Shahabuddin, who had masterminded the killing of Comrade Chandrashekhar, was also brought there. Shahabuddin met Com. Shah Chand and professed concern for his family, offering to get his sons admission in engineering and medical colleges under his control. Shah Chand snubbed him roundly, saying it was beneath him to take help from a political adversary.
Struggle for Prisoners’ Rights
Inside jail, Shah Chand organised prisoners to struggle for their rights. He drew up a 26-point charter, including healthcare, food, clean drinking water and toilets. He raised the point that if a prisoner died in custody, the jail authorities must be held responsible and his family compensated. He demanded that all convicts over the age of 65 be released, and prisoners who had been kept in jail after their prison term was over, be compensated. He demanded that prisoners who opposed draconian laws and anti-people policies be recognised as political prisoners. The struggle he launched in Beur jail in 2013, soon spread to many other jails.
His Jail Notebook
His jail notebooks are testimony to his interest and involvement in a range of issues, on which he read deeply and made notes. Among the concerns reflected in his notebook were: Azimulla Khan and other strategists of 1857, the situation of Muslims, especially Dalit Muslims in India, the witch-hunt of innocent Muslim youth in terror cases, Maulana Azad’s writings on Hindu-Muslim unity, democratic rights of Muslim women, as well as the Left perspective on many contemporary political developments.
A Fighter to the Last, A Remarkable Mass Leader
The Supreme Court verdict that upheld the conviction of Shah Chand and the other Arwal TADA convicts, was a shameful one. It essentially conveyed the message that those accused of terrorism should be assumed guilty and denied rights. And it endorsed the notion that possession of peasants’ organisation literature was enough to prove that someone is a ‘terrorist’.
Shah Chand’s actions were always guided by his political perspective. His concern was always to build mass movements, expose the ruling class politics and its institutions, and unleash the initiative and fighting spirit of people. Rather than armed actions by a select few, his efforts were always focussed on how to mobilise the mass of people in the struggle for social and political transformation.
When the Maoists broke jail in Jehanabad, Shah Chand went out of the jail, had a cup of tea, and returned back to the jail! This was not because he had any faith or belief in the system that had so unfairly incarcerated him. He was a popular mass leader, whom the system had branded as a ‘terrorist’ – and he felt his very incarceration could expose that system. Indeed, every child in Bhadasi, Arwal and Jehanabad, knows Shah Chand to be a hero, a true leader of the people, and feels deeply against the grave injustice committed by the State in dubbing him a terrorist and snatching away his life under life imprisonment. The outpouring of people who flocked to his funeral was a clear testimony to this fact. The ‘system’ of ‘justice’ was exposed by Shah Chand to be a structure of systematic injustice – and this was Shah Chand’s victory. Martyr Shah Chand will be a powerful inspiration to people's struggles for justice and rights.