Arun Kumar Roy – Red Salute to a Revolutionary Trade Unionist

(Born 15 June 1935 – Died 20 July 2019)

In the passing away of Comrade A.K. Roy, India has lost a veteran trade unionist and communist who fought for the rights of the most deprived coal miners of Dhanbad in Jharkhand. An engineering graduate he gave up a promising career (indeed he was dismissed by his firm for supporting worker’s strike) to take up trade union work to fight the coal mafia which controlled the lives of hapless tribal miners. He lived a simple life in an un-electrified hut and organised the workers for their rights. His immense popularity among the workers and the peasants of Dhanbad led to his being returned thrice to the state legislature in 1967, 1969 and 1972 and thrice to the Indian Parliament as an MP in 1977, 1980 and 1989. Though he was initially a member of the CPI (M), he was expelled in 1971 for critiquing its policies and he eventually helped to form the Marxist Co-ordination Committee (MCC) in 1971.

Roy was not just a trade union leader who fought for the rights of the workers but extended his activities to the poor peasants and tribal people in defence of their land rights. This led him to take up the larger issues of Jharkhand region – a region of mainly tribal people who were in the process of being dispossessed of their lands by coal mines and outside zamindars (called dhikus). Thus took shape the ‘Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’ (JMM) in 1970s which eventually led to the formation of Jharkhand state in 2000. However, Roy fell out with the corrupt leadership of the movement and chose to remain a militant trade unionist.

Roy was associated with another radical trade unionist of Chhattisgarh, Shankar Guha Niyogi, who too had extended the scope of his movement to include the broader demands of poor peasants and tribal people of the region. Both of them strove to develop a mass based ‘national’ or regional movements which eschewed narrow ethnic or anti-outsider sentiments promoted by the corrupt leadership of those state movements.

He was ailing for a number of years but refused to avail the pension due to an MP and refused all privileges associated with it. He remained a friend and comrade of all struggling workers, peasants and tribal people of Dhanbad.

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