BADAL SAROJ | 3 DECEMBER, 2019
A Friend and Son-in-Law Departs
Remembering Abdul Jabbar (1958–2019)
That evening I stood stunned and disoriented. All understanding of science and life went numb.
Despite all understanding and knowledge, the ostrich syndrome is so dominant that you do not even imagine the world without the people you love. You don’t even think of the situation when you will have to live on even after their departure, and when such a condition comes you are left so numb and stunned you cannot even cry.
In this life I have earned countless companions and comrades on whom to blindly rely and trust. But “friends” in the true sense are very few, and in Bhopal even fewer. Jabbar Bhai is one of them.
“Friend” means someone with whom you can communicate without being heard—a friend, whose memory alone can thrill your mind, by sitting with whom alone you will get a thousand horsepower of energy and your heart fill with freshness—friend means you cannot decide whether to coddle or respect them—friend means alter ego.
Jabbar is our friend and the alter ego of everybody like us.
Bhopal has given the world many zealous personalities and militant fighters; I got a chance just to know about him but as Papa’s son got an opportunity to see some of them also.
Jabbar Bhai is a struggle-made icon. A human being who reached the sky from a house in the lane. The symbol of the mass struggles of Bhopal in the last half century, not just Union Carbide, but also the most vigilant and equipped warrior of all the struggles against poisonous winds of every kind—an Azeemushshan Bhopali.
My first meeting with Jabbar Bhai was together with the late comrade Shaily, during the embarrassing days of Bhopal in December 1992 when the small team of Digvijay Singh, Shaily, Ramprakash Tripathi, Hardeniya ji and others started to extinguish the burning fire of Bhopal. Jabbar Bhai was the team’s most active and mass-based part.
The last time a message came from him was the day before, when he texted expressing gratitude for cooperation and asking to meet. He also assured us of his recovery. We were so busy handling the pending work and doing the routine last-minute work of our fortnightly newspaper, that we postponed our visit to him for today.
Last year, a meeting for an agitation against the fake encounter of Bhopal Jail was held in his office. While returning after the meeting, he called me back and insisted on having a cup of tea. When I agreed, he said in his typical innocent mischievous style, “There’s one more thing I wanted to tell you!”
After a while when his better half brought the tea, then introducing her he said, “She is my wife who is the daughter of Comrade Sultan Ahmed” (the first District Secretary of the CPM’s Bhopal unit). With this introduction he added with smile, “In this way I am the son-in-law of the CPM.”
I immediately took out my new pen and presented it to him and said: “We will call you later for the valima party.” I owe you this party, Jabbar bhai, a debt I can now never pay off.
The departure of one person alone can also make Bhopal, a city with a rich heritage of struggles, unguarded and impoverished. How the silence of only one voice can create a frightful silence is being felt since that evening.
Goodbye Jabbar Saab! Long Live Abdul Jabbar, the One And Only!
Not only Bhopal but all humanity will miss you!
But his departure in the absence of his own people was terribly felt.
Jabbar Bhai was an Azeemushshan Bhopali who was the most consistent struggling personalities of the last half-century. His biggest contribution is not the struggles of the gas tragedy and its successes, but his historical contribution in bringing the women of Bhopal out on the streets in that fight, and developing confidence and leadership ability in hundreds of them. Yes, hundreds!
The largest demonstrations in Bhopal with around 5,000 to 10,000 women comprising Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, Savarnas, which we saw were all through the leadership of Jabbar Bhai. The name of his organisation was itself the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.
That day, in search of his house, when we asked his address three women one after the other said; “Brother’s house? They just took my brother!”
That day’s biggest tragedy was the irony that brother was alone. And that the main forces of the battles he fought were women, who were kept away from paying homage in his last journey.
Some women activists had reached the cemetery. For an hour, more than one and a half dozen persons, who considered themselves protectors of traditions, kept advising these women to leave the cemetery. When one of the activists asked why, these advisers would go ahead without giving any logic. One of my colleagues even asked, “Then women would be buried here, and then…?”
However, she stood firm. Although few in number, they were there. At last this dignified leader of the Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan went to his last sleep without having a handful of soil from those whom he considered to be his most trusted companions. Who were both his army and shield.
If there is such a tradition then it should be stopped NOW!
Badal Saroj is State Secretary of the CPI(M).