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Obituary Avtar Singh Sadiq, 1941-2018: An inspirational socialist and giant of anti-racism

AVATR SINGH SADIQ was born on April 13 1941 in the small village of Chak, now in Pakistan, and following the partition of 1947, which is stained with inhumanity and the blood of so many of innocent people on both sides of this divide, his parents managed to reach their original home Kahlon, a small village in East Punjab.  

His mother died when he was only 11. His father was a poor peasant and married again to support the family as was the requirement to sustain life.

His stepmother did not treat him so well, but he never blamed her or his stepbrothers for it. He remained very close to his stepbrothers and sisters. The painful experiences of childhood had a deep impact on his personality which gave him a sense of humanity and kindness.

He was one of the most recognisable faces of the Indian Marxists in the UK.

He shared the visible signature identity of his lifelong political inspiration, the veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Harkishan Singh Surjeet. He maintained his long hair and wore a turban with pride.

Avtar Singh “Khomal” was his pen-name to start with, but he later changed it to Avtar Sadiq as suggested by a renowned Punjabi writer Gurbax Singh Preetlari — meaning in Arabic and Urdu “truthful friend” — to personify his dedication to a secular, democratic and socialist ideology.

Comrade Sadiq, as he was fondly called, graduated from DAV College in Hoshiarpur in 1961 and completed postgraduate teacher training from a college in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar in Punjab.

After a short stint as a teacher, Sadiq, like many of his generation coming from the poorer sections of peasantry, left the spartan comforts of life in Punjab in search of a brighter economic future in England. 

He arrived in Leicester in 1964, making it his home until he took his last breath on January 28 2018.

According to his son Arvinder Singh Kandola, “Dad always said in life you should strive to struggle to improve yourself and serve others and also that life is beautiful. It’s given to you once and should be lived with enjoyment and no regrets.”

The first words following Avtar Sadiq’s demise by his lifelong partner Gurdarshan Kaur were “Let there be no tears. Let us remember how he was always smiling and happy, never giving in to pain.”

Avtar Sadiq faced the harsh reality of racial discrimination and economic austerity of life in Leicester, as he started to build a new life as a factory worker with Dunlop and other plastic manufacturers.

From his association with like-minded people like Dharam Singh and Harkewal Singh Kewal he joined the local unit of the Indian Workers Association (IWA) GB in 1965.

Sadiq was elected as secretary of the local writers’ unit in 1966. His keen interest in poetry and literature was soon recognised and Sadiq was elected as the cultural secretary of the Leicester unit.

Sadiq saw these as the formative years of the political life that was to follow. He was given the responsibility to form the Progressive Writers’ Association in 1968.

Years later Sadiq recalled this association with pride, stating: “It’s because of IWA (GB) that my voice reached out to the people and as a result I received recognition as a writer and freelance journalist.”

The IWA in turn recognised the talents of the gifted Sadiq, said his lifelong comrade Mohinder Farma.

“Sadiq was instrumental in setting up youth groups, teaching folk dance, mentoring budding poets and writers, encouraging and inspiring communist activists. He was a remarkable role model for his peers and the next generation in impeccable socialist behaviour.”  

For Hardev Dosanjh one of the veteran founder members of the IWA GB,  “Sadiq’s poetry symbolised the struggles of the working class for freedom, a world free of exploitation, with social and economic equality and a yearning for the alternative to neoliberalism ... socialism.”

“His going is such a great loss to the Association of Indian Communists (AIC), the IWA, his community and the progressive movement in Leicester and the whole country.

“I can't believe that never again will we hear Avtar patiently and cogently guiding us on the right path to combat imperialism,” says veteran Communist Party of Britain comrade David Grove of Lincolnshire.
 

Avtar Sadiq was elected as the national general secretary of IWA GB at its Golden Jubilee in 1988 and then as national president from 1993 to 2004.

His quest for a secular democratic society was recognised at an international gathering of eminent Punjabi academics at a conference in Punjab during what was to be his last visit to his native homeland in November 2017.
 

Sadiq became quite ill at the conference but was not deterred and delivered his address before returning to England. Upon returning to Leicester his health further deteriorated, yet in his normal manner he remained focused on championing the struggle against the rising menace of Hindutva fascism led by the paramilitary RSS and was planning a series of events for the summer.

“We will carry forward Avtar Sadiq’s legacy with renewed vigour and commitment,” said Joginder and Rajinder Bains from Derby.
 

Sadiq was influenced by the progressive movement and the writings of Marx and Lenin which attracted him to communist ideology.

He joined the AIC when it formed in 1967. He was elected to the AIC executive committee in 1970, its secretariat and eventually as its secretary in 1995.

He held this highest post of the AIC until 2012, when he passed on the responsibilities due to failing health. During this period he attended the national congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on seven occasions.

As the party’s general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “The CPI (M) deeply regrets the passing away of a dedicated communist.

“Comrade Avtar Singh Sadiq served the party through the Association of Indian Communists in Great Britain and the Indian Workers’ Association and immensely contributed to the consolidation of these organisations.

“Comrade Avtar will be sorely missed and will always remain among the ranks of dedicated communists working to establish an exploitation-free society.”
 

Sadiq became a familiar figure on working-class platforms. He, along with the support of his comrades in Leicester, regularly organised creative events to raise funds for the Morning Star as well as solidarity funds for the national liberation struggles in Palestine, Vietnam and South Africa, supporting the defence of the revolution in Cuba and the toiling masses of India.

Communist Party of Britain general secretary Robert Griffiths said: “Avtar was a lifelong activist and communist campaigner both in his local community and with the Indian Workers Association.

“He was recognised as a leader, nationally and internationally, and was one of the best-known and longest-serving cadres of the Association of Indian Communists here in Britain. He would be everywhere and you knew that his contributions were well thought-through and well carried out.

“He was a warm figure who was known to so many communists in Britain and his energy will be sadly missed.”
 

Avtar Sadiq had an insatiable appetite for study and self-development. He quit full-time employment in 1977 to study youth and community work at Leicester University and went on to study for a master’s degree in sociology from Warwick University.

He used his newly acquired skills and knowledge to advance his career as an employment officer and became a senior executive officer at the time of his retirement in 2001 with the Race Equality Council in Nottingham and Leicester.

“Sadiq’s academic background and powerful intellect infused with the anti-imperialist ideology of the working class and resonated through his writings and speeches. Equally comfortable in Punjabi and English, Sadiq would manipulate social and economic information and provide simple examples to explain the complexities of dialectical materialism,” recalls IWA GB national president Dyal Bagri.

By the time of his death, Avtar Sadiq had published four books on poetry, three story books and a travelogue of his visit to Cuba. He also has a couple more pending publication.   

“Avtar Sadiq was a brilliant student, exemplary teacher and the epitome of revolutionary leadership,” remembers Harsev Singh, secretary of the Association of Indian Communists GB.

 

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