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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sanjoy Ghose: Joy and outrage

Joy, as the saying goes, came in a small bundle. I first met him in 1980, when conducting admissions interviews for the Institute of Rural ...

August 12, 1997

Joy, as the saying goes, came in a small bundle. I first met him in 1980, when conducting admissions interviews for the Institute of Rural Management at Anand. We were highly impressed by his paper qualifications. He walked into our small room, all 5 ft 5 in of him held like the fearless bantam he undoubtedly was. But since he had applied to IIM Ahmedabad also, we thought we would lose him. We spent an hour discussing the relative merits of IIMA and IRMA. When he turned down IIMA, it was a coup for us.

He could never be silent when he thought something was wrong: an argument in class, the mess food of what he thought of as “big brother” watching (IRMA was promoted by NDDB and was located in its campus). But he never wavered from his commitment to work for an organisation of rural producers. He set up the first rural health programme in India for the Tribhovandas Foundation (named after the founder-chairman of Amul). Even as TF won international acclaim, he felt restless. Kheda district was prosperous, and for him rural health meant fighting malnutrition and disease among the poorest, not just spreading the gospel of family planning.

So off he went to Lunkaransar, to live among the nomads and cowherds of the Bikaner desert. Readers of The Indian Express might recall the lively columns he wrote during that period. `The Village Voice’, which showed vividly how his concern for rural health had to embrace other worries such as firewood, literacy, gender equality and village power structures. He threw himself whole-heartedly into everything he did, be it developing a mathematical model for a master’s thesis at Oxford (he was known to struggle with quantitative techniques) or getting an increase in the project budget, or regularising the title deed of some wage-serf in Rajasthan.

We continued to meet, frequently at first and somewhat irregularly later on. He was frustrated at times, even angry, but his commitment never waned. I once sensed that he was deeply disappointed and offered to give him an assignment, or to place him in a commercial firm.

He was too polite to turn me down. He came instead to discuss his ambitious plans of going to the Northeast. He was to start what he termed a “development entrepreneurship” programme, assuring a monthly family income of Rs 4,000. He had rightly identified a shortage of opportunities to rise above poverty as the root cause of the alienation of the youth of the region. I sent him to captains of industry in Calcutta, known to pay off militants to do business in the Northeast. Sadly, few had the foresight to support him.

When we met last, we tried to anticipate the problems he might face. But it never occurred to us that he would run foul of the ULFA. Naively and tragically, we believed that being an organisation championing the legitimate grievances of the local dispossessed, it would support his efforts.

There was no more felicitous diminution of a name than Joy for Sanjoy Ghose, the embodiment of the free spirit, fearless, caring, articulate, witty, enterprising, and committed. His long association with Kheda town is of equal serendipity: he brought anand to us all.

Yet when I think of him today, I am extremely outraged. When our best and brightest are consumed by wanton, senseless venom, mere condemnation is too mild a response. A correspondent with another newspaper drew a parallel with the entire Spanish nation rising as one last month to protest the Basque separatists’ kidnapping and killing of innocents. This is the least we can do.

Terms such as `outsiders’, `government spies’, and the murderous actions following them, either in Majuli or Mumbai, suggest an authoritarian state and a fanatical response, verging on the criminal, not a democratic policy. Are 50 years not enough to knit us as a civil nation? How long are we going to tolerate this — until our own Joys are snatched from us?

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