Karthik Navayan & Karunakar
(This is the translation of a Telugu article written on 3rd July, 2005)
Riyaz, who had come for peace talks*, was killed by the Government. He was detained around 10 pm in the night on 30th June, 2005, in Barkatpura area of Hyderabad, and was shot dead around 3 am in the early hours of 1st July, 2005, within 5 hours of his arrest, in a mango orchard near Badankal village of Karimnagar district. There is nothing more unjust than this. Riyaz was a member of the Central Committee of the CPI-ML. He had spent 14 years in revolutionary politics. The passing away of Riyaz– an exemplary communist worker, leader, young revolutionary intellectual, and strategist— is an irreparable loss not only for CPI-ML (Janashakti) but for the entire revolutionary movement. For the activists in the revolutionary movements, for its well-wishers and followers, Riyaz’s death comes as a great shock, a bolt of lightning. The killing of a peace envoy was unheard of even during the days of monarchies and itihasas but has been accomplished under democratic rule. It is shameful that this kind of rule has to be endured.
Riyaz belonged to a family of fishermen in Tamil Nadu. He came from a caste that had had to bear its share of ‘graded inequality’ and oppression doled out by the caste system. He was only the second individual in the whole community to have completed higher education (Engineering). Riyaz, despite being born in a community excluded from education and knowledge for ages, acquired higher education and grew up to become a fearless, lion-hearted revolutionary who sacrificed his life for the cause of changing society.
Chenchengari Venkateshwarlu became Riyaz only seven months ago. When the Andhra Pradesh government decided to hold talks with Naxals, Riyaz who was until then looking after the legal affairs of the party was assigned the role of emissary by the leadership. The government turned the peace talks into talks of unrest and deliberately scuttled them. It killed Riyaz who had come as an ambassador of peace. This reveals the true nature of the state.
Riyaz, seated on extreme right, with other CPI-ML (Janashakti) leaders
I got to know Riyaz because I had worked with the revolutionary students’ organization PDSU Vijrumbhana. This gave me the opportunity to know him from up close, staying together with him. We always found his simplicity and childlike naiveté very surprising. But what we found more amazing was the scientific precision and clarity with which he analyzed problems. Which problems need to be dealt with, what kind of programmes should be taken up to resolve them? His strategies on these questions were always based on accurate reasoning. His solutions seemed acceptable to us under all conditions.
Even now, there are many times when we miss Riyaz’s wise counsel in resolving even our personal problems. No one could beat Riyaz in spending money frugally. Any expenditure would be made only after thinking carefully about it for several times, and every expense would be meticulously recorded. Riyaz’s pecuniary conservatism seemed to resemble the ways of old style communists but he wasn’t a rigid, inflexible personality. He used only one pair of footwear during the whole year he stayed with us. No matter how many times they got damaged he would get them mended and use them again. He used to say ‘The Party’s money is the people’s money and therefore it should be used as sparingly as possible on personal expenses’ and also put that belief into practice. He used to smoke around 4-5 cigarettes a day. He had no favourite brands, anything from king sized cigarettes to the smaller charminars would do. He used to argue that fruits and juices are not the poor people’s food. He believed that those who worked among the people should not eat, speak or dress differently from them. Activists’ conduct should bring them closer to the poor, as one of their own, he used to say. Riyaz was a truly selfless person. The part of his life he lived for himself and his family was very little. During the year that he lived with us, for every week he stayed at home, he would be traveling to different places for another. He would tell us very interestingly about the places he visited and the conditions there without referring to the party related affairs. We are proud that we lived together with a young, revolutionary intellectual like Riyaz for at least an year. With his death, it seems like we have lost a member of our family.
Riyaz, who used to be shy and unassuming in his personal affairs, was very forthright and lucid when expressing his views on social and political issues. It was his forthrightness that had caused him some trouble with a few leaders in his own party, and because of them he had to leave the party for a short while and go home. But later, recognizing his importance to the party, he was sent to Hyderabad. That was when we met him.
Whenever he had some time to kill, we would spot him reading or writing something. He used to read English magazines like Frontline, Force and The Hindu regularly. Once, when we had sold an old stack of newspapers to the raddiwallah, he went after him and got them back. He had good proficiency in English. He used to help out the B.Ed students who lived next to us with problems they faced in the subject. As far as we knew, Riyaz spent more money on books than on any other needs. Every Sunday, he used to go around all the second hand book stores in Kothi, Sultan Bazar and Abids and buy the books he wanted. He would specially buy books on weapons design, training and war strategies, no matter how expensive. But Riyaz did not know how to haggle over prices of books, so he would take along one of us!
We knew him only as Venkateshwarlu, so we used to call him ‘Venkanna’. Only when he was chosen as a representative of the party at the peace talks that we came to know that he was Riyaz. Whenever he found time, he used to lead us into discussions on various issues. Caste in the revolutionary parties was one of the main subjects of discussion.
Riyaz was a unique personality; we would come across people of his integrity and character very rarely in life. The days we spent with Riyaz are not mere memories now. The bitter truth that we have lost a great friend haunts us often and causes great pain in the heart.
Epilogue: After killing him, the DGP of Andhra Pradesh, Swaranjit Sen, gave a press statement saying that ‘there are 26 murder cases pending against Riyaz’. That was a wonderful joke, because even if we had counted the number of mosquitoes that Riyaz had killed, that would not have equaled 26.
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.
[Translated from Telugu by Kuffir]