Dolores Chew

INSAF mourns the passing of Rana who died on 10th May in Montreal.  His death, a great loss for family, friends and comrades, is also a loss for the politics of justice and democracy.

Politically active in India, Rana left the country in the ‘70s and came to the US where he completed a degree in chemical engineering at Washington University. Then, as the Emergency was in full swing and it was unsafe for him to return, he went to Canada with the help of Hari Sharma and Daya Varma, key figures in IPANA (Indian Peoples’ Association in North America), and got involved with the work of the organization.

IPANA, was formed in June 1975 by individuals from Canada and the USA, in response to the worsening political situation in India.  Chapters of the organization also worked in collaboration and solidarity with groups of expatriates from different countries (Iran, Haiti, etc.) and also with local movements committed to political change in places like Quebec and Canada.   IPANA also got involved in local struggles and solidarity movements against racism, for farmworkers rights, immigrant rights and so on. 

During the Emergency, when thousands were thrown in jail in India, IPANA became very effective, to the point where the Indian government impounded the passport of Hari Sharma.  When civil liberties organizations such as the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) were outlawed in India and the report they were publishing, Bharatiya Ganatantrer Swarup (The Real Face of India’s Democracy) was confiscated in a police press raid, IPANA translated and published it.   IPANA had regular publications –New India Bulletin and India Now. There were study groups and outreach.  Cultural events were organized. They also hosted visitors such as Gail Omvedt and Gursharan Singh’s Amritsar Natak Kala Kendra. After the Emergency, on-going debates about the nature of the Indian state and about Mao’s Three World Theory continued, but political differences contributed to IPANA eventually disbanding.

Emerging from these times in Montreal were organizations that continue to thrive. Rana was involved in all three, directly or in a supporting role, right up until his death – Teesri Duniya Theatre, Montreal Serai magazine (for a time also a theatre group) and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC). Elsewhere, IPANA activists also played key roles, as with the formation of the Canadian Farmworkers’ Union in British Columbia.

While Rana worked as a professional engineer, he also wrote, directed and produced plays, as well as wrote stories, poems and novels (see He became well-known in the Montreal literary scene.  His play “Tribes (No Matter What)”, will be staged in Montreal in June ’23.

Over the years Rana’s perspectives became more catholic, even as he remained uncompromising on principles and became more impatient with hegemonic political status quos. He remained in touch with events in India, with splits and continuities, in agreement with some of the directions, disagreeing with others.  In recent times, with the outright denuding of any semblance of democracy in India and many other parts of the world, Rana was a staunch advocate and supporter of coalition-building.  Despite his terminal illness, he participated in diasporic coalitions. 

Rana’s last novel, Shaf and the Remington, (2022) a work of historical breadth and the result of deep and wide reading of history, is a reflection of his thinking; a synthesis of all he learned and his worldview.   As Rana recently wrote: “We have looked for class-based exploitation in all struggles we have participated in. But class has changed and while words have been created to outline the intersections … in the end class is not enough. When tribal people clash with workers we are lost; when ethnicities clash for racist reasons, we don’t know what to do; when riots/ wars are started for non-economic reasons, like geopolitical trickle down or incipient white privilege notions, we are overtaken by liberal democracy. …[C]oalitions may be more important than class confrontation. It has happened before, but education is crucial.”  In terms of the world situation he said: “There must be multi-polarity first and the World Majority must determine which system must dominate. And the World Majority is Asia, Africa and Latin America; Third World!!!!” 

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