A Tribute To Dr. B.D. Sharma
By Campaign for Survival and Dignity
08 December, 2015
Sunday night, many of us lost a teacher and comrade, and India lost an extraordinary person. Dr. B.D. Sharma was an IAS officer who began his administrative career as the Collector of Bastar and retired as the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; and then went on, for another 25 years, to be a mass leader of the Bharat Jan Andolan and an influence on countless other platforms (as well as one of the key figures in the formation of the Campaign). Throughout his life, in government and out, he fought against the brutal exploitation of India's poor and oppressed classes, particularly the adivasis. He also played a key part in framing many of the laws that today exist to defend people's rights, including the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Forest Rights Act and numerous policy and executive measures on these issues. He never lost sight of his fundamental belief in the need for people to organise themselves and to fight for a better and more just society.
Dr. Sharma, or Doc-saheb as he was known to many, was not only an official and an activist - he was an excellent writer in both Hindi and English, publishing tens of books and booklets on resource rights, adivasi issues, agriculture and the unorganised sector. He focused particularly on two themes: on the power of direct democracy, and the struggle for people to collectively control their resources and livelihoods; and on the manner in which policies and laws were constantly distorted to the benefit of large corporates, urban elites and the exploiting classes. He wrote eloquently on how agriculture had been systematically destroyed, and, at a time when natural resources are being grabbed by companies across India and farmers are being reduced to destitution, his writings are more relevant than ever.
His vision of direct democratic governance has had far larger influence than many are aware. His ideas spread far and wide. His books can be found in tribal villages in Chhattisgarh and with activists in Assam; his slogans resonated in areas as far apart as Kerala and Maharashtra; he and his comrades built movements in several parts of central India. Almost till the very end of his life, he traveled the entire country, usually in the unreserved carriages of trains, teaching, inspiring and building struggles.
Dr. Sharma's life represented the fundamental truth of what our rulers never seem to realise: people do not accept injustice lying down; they do not go quietly into the night; they rage against the dying, and the killing, of the light. Till the end that is what he did, and the legacy he has left will live on as an inspiration for countless others.