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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 20, May 10, 2014

Tribute to Sunil

Monday 12 May 2014

by S.N. Sahu

Sunil Gupta deleted his surname to discard primordial identity of caste and displayed rare heroism in life in harnessing his academic insights and human capabilities for positive and constructive social change. He passed away at the age of 54 in which people look forward to lead a happy and prosperous life. It was no age to die. His life has been snatched away from us by unforeseen ailments which caused serious damage to his brain.

He combined the excellence of a great human being with the excellence of a very bright student. He proved his worth as an authentic Gandhian constructive rebel for transforming society so that the last person is empowered and great ideals become realities. A shining example of a dedicated activist, he was the personification of exacting standards of simplicity in the face of exuberance of materialistic appetite and stood for the basic values of our civilisation. I recall Sunilbhai in kurta and pyjama in the JNU campus displaying rare dignity and poise of a composed human being with an iron will for peaceful social reconstruction and removal of poverty of people and the creation of a happy and healthy society. He was so refreshingly different from proponents of dialectical materialism and so inspiring in bringing about inner change in those who came in contact with him. It was he who introduced me first to Kishen Pattnaik in the JNU and made me aware of his originality as a socialist thinker. Imparting instruction to the children of the labourers living in the campus and striving to educate them remained an integral part of his vibrant academic life. The way he annually celebrated Diwali in the JNU by visiting the homes of those labourers and distributing sweets to their children was indicative of his future life dedicated to the cause of tribals and toiling masses wholly and in substantial measure. His strength of conviction was so infectious that even his detractors were drawn towards him and acclaimed his high values and standards of conduct.

A self-effacing man, he was a radiating centre of warmth, compassion and social sympathy. By moving from the JNU to the jungles of Madhya Pradesh on completion of a brilliant academic career to serve the tribals, he became the rarest of the rare student to willingly opt for the difficult path of service and sacrifice. In late 1930s when India was hardly urbanised and its people had an unmistakable rural outlook, Mahatma Gandhi wrote an article entitled “Wanted Rural Mindedness”. In the twentyfirst century India urbanisation is spreading at an accelerated pace. Large swathes of rural areas are getting urbanised. The rural mindedness which Gandhiji wrote assumes critical significance for putting a check on multiplication of wants and desires so that energy and resources of the planet are moderately used and global warming and climate change is addressed by simplifying life. Sunilbhai happily opted to go back to the remote villages inhabited by the tribals after spending half-a-decade in a metropolis like Delhi and studying in the JNU and, therefore, authentically represented the spirit of rural mindedness which Mahatma Gandhi envisioned and wanted every Indian to imbibe. Einstein’s statement in the context of Mahatma Gandhi that “he confronted the brutalities of Europe with the dignity of a simple human being” so amply applies in the context of Sunilbhai who fought for the dispossessed and disinherited with the strength of character and a moral worldview.

A rare personality, he gave primacy to service over material pursuits and clearly set an example of a fine human being woven around the noble values of life. His stature surpassed his accomplishments on account of his total sacrifice for the cause of the suffering humanity. A student of Economics who topped the list he could be hailed as the conscience of economics for his service, self-sacrifice and humane application of knowledge of economics which he learnt in the class rooms of the JNU. I was reading a manifesto, called Women’s Manifesto, issued by women of Britain some years back. It stated that by respecting the cultures and customs of tribals, aborigines and indigenous people a major step can be taken for protecting the planet earth from the danger of global warming and climate change. Sunilbhai not only respected the culture and customs of tribals but also led a life in tune with theirs and, there-fore, emerged as a defender of the planet earth.

Time magazine, in one of its issues of 2007, came out with a cover story under the caption, 51 Global warming Survival Guides. The fifty-first guide was “Share More, Consume Less and Simplify Life”. From his college days Sunilbhai’s life was shaped by the values of sharing, simplicity and less consumption. After he became one with the tribals and village people, he lived a more simple life, consumed much less and shared much more. In this sense his life-style became a role-model of an altered life which is now recommended for saving planet earth from the danger of what is called a carbon economy. He was, thus, a living example of planetary citizen defending and saving the planet earth through a healthy and wholesome life-style based on least consumption of energy and resources.

The world is poorer in the sad and untimely demise of such a noble soul. May we be inspired to follow his ideals to the best of our ability so that our society, incessantly assailed by materialistic values, can celebrate values and morals in face of insurmountable challenges.

Sunilbhai, you led a glorious life by serving the tribals and sacrificing for them. In doing so you sacrificed your life for the cause of the planet earth. This is the larger meaning and significance of your life. May your tribe increase! Sunilbhai Zindabad!

The author is a Joint Secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed here are personal and not that of the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.