PUCL Bulletin, Feb., 2001

Obituary: Gour kishore Ghosh
A civil liberties activist

-- By R.M. Pal

Gour Kishore Ghosh (1923-2000) who passed away on 15 December 2000 was an active member of the Radical Democratic Party until its dissolution; later he enriched the radical Humanist movement and the civil liberties movement. He was a member of the National Council of the PUCL for number of years.

Gour Kishore was an unusual person, exceptionally prone to look at life from any angles: he worked as electrician, waiter in eating places (dhabas), salesman of pharmaceutical goods, member/ manager of a dancing group, proof reader, and so on. In short, Gour da (that's how this writer always addressed him) learnt from life. His formal education had to end at the Intermediate class, but he rose to be one of the best known and the most influential editors, writers, satirists, and novelists in Bengali.

Rupadarshi of Desh (a Bengali weekly, now a fortnightly) and Gauranda kavi of Ananda Bazar Patrika (his pseudonyms) were household names with Bengali readers. No other column-both political and social satire - has ever been so popular and powerful as the Rupadarshi. It exposed the corrupt, including politicians in a fortnight and outspoken manner. One of the reasons for his popularity was that he put his ideas and thoughts into practice, he identified himself with the victims, he was a fearless activist. Gour da, unlike the average intellectual in our country, did not live an ivory tower existence. He was down to earth and altruistic. Unlike the average intellectual in Bengal, he did not escape into the ethereal; he dealt with things mundane.

He was founder editor of Aajkal, a Bengali daily started in 1980-81, a daily with the difference in that he made it a vehicle for serving the cause of the people. He resigned later because one of his senior columnists (the will-known Hamdi Bey) was dismissed by the proprietors without his knowledge. The Ananda Bazar group was only waiting to welcome him-with respect; he continued to write for them until he fell ill-he had an attack of cerebral thrombosis almost immediately after a successful second heart surgery a few years ago from which he did not recover.

In the early 1970s he came under heavy attack from the Naxals in Calcutta, whom he had criticized on ideological grounds. His life was threatened. He was advised by friends to move re3sidence. He hid not-he moved about freely risking his life. Later when the Naxal movement was being crushed by the law enforcing agencies which resorted to indiscriminate and horrendous torture and murder of Naxals very often on suspicion. Gour da wrote exposing the atrocities. The west Bengal Government was behind the atrocities. Gour da did not wait to condemn the violence against the Naxals. His writings touched all-rightists, leftists, centrists, housewives, the common man and woman.

Gour da honoured with a number of awards, Maharashtra Government Award 1981, Hardayal Harmony Award 1993, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award 1993, Ananda Bazar Award 1970, Bankim Award 1982.

He, and another radical humanist, Santi Sen (who was very close to M.N. Roy) and Barun Sen Gupta-intellectuals and writers-were arrested during the 1975 -77 emergency for their open defiance and criticism of the emergency. Unlike others they were fearless, they did not whisper, they were loud in their protests. Unlike many other intellectuals, they perceived the danger, the death of democracy and civil liberties and freedoms. Gour da was awarded the press foundation of Asia Award in 1978, and the Magsaysay Award in 1981 in recognition of this valiant defiance of authoritarianism and his fight for freedom of expression and civil liberties.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid painted him immensely, and the activist in him took him to Muslim areas-to prevent communal holocaust.

In this note I don't refer to his great novels-he wrote ten (or more) novels some of which have been translated into Hindi. I would, however, refer to one of his novels, Sangina Mahato (famous even outside Bengal) which became a box office hit as a film (with Dilip Kumar and Saira Bano in the lead roles). Dilip Kumar personally requested the director of the film to have him (Dilip Kumar) to play the role of Sangina.

Gour da, a good man (a very rare species) and great humanist (his kind was almost disappeared from our country) passed away on 15 December 2000, declaring in his will that his body be given for research, and his eyes to the eye bank.

I may add a personal note. Family and I had the unique privilege of enjoying his love, affection and friendship. We stayed with him in Calcutta (now renamed Kolkatta) on number of occasions. Sheela di (his wife) and did everything to make our stay comfortable. Whenever he visited Delhi he would have an informal meal with us-even after his first heart surgery when he found it rather difficult to climb steps-and make all the guests laugh, and after the spontaneous laughter all would become thoughtful, through his tales told in his unique satirical and humorous style. Soon after his release from jail when he visited Delhi, we were keen to here about his jail life. He did not disappoint us; he gave us a detailed account of how thieved, dacoits, pickpockets got friendly with him and would listen to his stories with a hearty laugh. One of them would insist on massaging him with oil every morning.

Fighters for civil liberties and freedoms would miss him.

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