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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 34, August 19, 2023

Achyut Yagnik will be remembered as much for his own writings and activism as for helping others | Bharat Dogra

Friday 18 August 2023, by Bharat Dogra


Achyut Yagnik breathed his last on August 4, Friday. He was one of the most versatile among that rather select number of people who are able to combine a lifetime of writing and activism. However even this introduction would fall short of a very important part of his contributions which relate to the numerous ways in which he helped other writers and activists to make a better contribution to society. As for those working on social issues and history of Gujarat, Achyut Yagnik was an invaluable source of many-sided information as well as insights.

He was a very active and senior journalist for a leading Gujarati newspaper when his views came in conflict with what the management would allow and so he became ‘free’ to devote his life to more important work. It was around this time that I first met him in Delhi where he had come to speak about the importance of mobilizing a fact-finding team to expose anti-dalit atrocities.

A team that ultimately took upon this work was a team of Mumbai civil liberties activists led by Asghar Ali Engineer but I was co-opted as a member from Delhi. This gave me an opportunity to see how helpful Achyut Yagnik, his colleagues in Lok Adhikar Sangh led by the great Girishbhai Patel and including Achyut’s two younger brothers (Manish Jani, a leading poet and activist, and Gaurang Jani, now a renowned sociologist) were in helping the efforts of others to promote justice-related causes. What subsequently impressed me even more was that they were willing to take up with courage and determination those true and noble causes to which the elites of society and in fact even the majority local opinion were at times extremely hostile.

As a journalist writing for EPW or as founder-editor of academic journal Arthat, as a poet or as author of books in English and Gujarati, Achyut Yagnik made valuable contributions, which would appear even much greater if only we remember how many other writers he helped in a free and generous way, always finding the time for this in the middle of his many engagements.

He was the biggest source of strength for SETU, or the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, which was the hub for a lot of important research and social initiatives. It was here that Achyut first introduced me to Madha Patkar, who worked for some time here before starting off for her great Narmada efforts.

Achyut was involved closely with several other organizations, particularly the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He taught various subjects including journalism at several institutions of learning, and travelled to Germany and the USA for lectures.

His keen interest and commitments to various aspects of the welfare of tribal communities will be remembered, as also his efforts to be helpful to the maldhari community.

Achyut’s wife Bharati , a doctor, had been a source of support and strength for him. His son Anand, who is a lawyer in the Gujarat High Court, has taken up important public interest issues. Manishi Jani, younger brother of Achyut, has a long record of selfless devotion to some of the most important issues of justice.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is a journalist contributing on social justice issues.)

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