Red Star in Jammu: How a Marxist who took on Sheikh Abdullah in the 1970s has kept the fight for workers’ rights alive
Abdul Majid Khan has fought for workers' rights and communal harmony all his life. He has Bhagat Singh's photograph tucked in his pocket. He remembers when his house was raided by the govt, and his wife's only pair of gold earrings taken away.
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Abdul Majid Khan is an 86-year-old Marxist, living in the bylanes of Jammu city — a crusader who launched campaigns against Sheikh Abdullah in the 1970s, Khan successfully ensured labour rights for low-income employees in Jammu and Kashmir.
Inspiration, forever: Abdul Majid Khan always carries a photo of Bhagat Singh in his pocket. (Picture: Pooja Shali)
Khan carries Bhagat Singh's photograph tucked in his pocket every time he heads out from home. On the streets, "Majid uncle" as he is popularly known, is greeted with hugs and smiles — clearly evident of the respect he enjoys.
However, Khan keeps his history low-profile in a state tormented now with conflict.
Breaking from practice, he opened up to me in a rare conversation at his residence.
Established in 1956, the All J&K Low-Paid Employees Federation decided to fight against the alleged ‘mistreatment of workers’ — their real struggle started in 1975, when the National Conference (NC) patron was ruling the state.
“The Sheikh Abdullah government decided to remove thousands of employees. The plan was to retire them, either at 50 years of age or 25 years of experience. The government branded workers as corrupt and irresponsible. These employees were insulted, targeted and given poor wages. We revolted and took out rallies. Eventually, we got our rights and workers were retained. We had won,” claims Abdul Majid Khan, president of the federation since the last 28 years.
After persistent campaigns by the federation, the government was forced to take back the dismissed employees.
But activism and victory came at a high personal cost. He claims his house was raided and his wife’s only gold earrings were taken away. Federation funding was disrupted and some workers were jailed. Eventually, however, the protest succeeded in meeting its objective — he had managed to unite thousands of people for basic rights at work.
“I was unceremoniously dismissed first by Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq’s government and then by the Abdullah family. Eventually, VP Singh’s Union government reinstated me. I retired in 1990. We survived due to the support of fellow workers across J&K who took care of us,” Khan said.
His house is modest and has a bare minimum of furniture. The wall paint is peeling — but his moral courage remains high. Newspapers scattered about in the room are reflective of a deep intellectual interest in daily occurences.
Khan is a trade union leader and a believer in socialist/Marxist ideology. In contrast to the polarising political discourse seen during these elections, Khan remains a staunch believer in the revolutionary Bhagat Singh and keeps the freedom fighter’s photograph with him as his inspiration.
Notes of another kind: Abdul Majid Khan has paid a heavy financial cost for remaining loyal to his beliefs and cause. (Picture: Pooja Shali)
He still works as chairman of the federation and addresses gatherings on May 1 (Labour Day) even today, to keep alive the fight for the basic rights and wages of low-income employees. He is still active in trade union politics and doesn’t shy away from raising workers’ issues with those in power.
He is critical of right-wing politics — and reminisces with pride over the days of communal brotherhood in Jammu. Some locals acknowledge his contribution to social harmony in the neighbourhood during volatile days. “Political leadership always tried to divide people in the name of religion. Otherwise, there was no difference between a Hindu and Muslim. My music guru, Pandit Jagdish Dutt, enlightened me, stating that ‘soul is God’. Our blood is the same colour — but incumbent leaders call Muslims 'traitors'. Communal politics will bring social instability and lead to India’s ruin,” he cautioned.
Abdul Majid Khan, a Dogra Muslim in the Hindu-majority Jammu, is also known to have maintained harmony between communities.
“India is my Watan-e-Aziz, and I am a believer in communal amity. Jammu people have a positive outlook — in the 1940s, when a protest was fired upon, leading to casualties, Hindus and Muslims helped with each other's last rites. When the Babri Mosque was demolished in 1992 and violence erupted across India, including in Pakistan and Bangladesh, there was no riot in Jammu — the reason was that we went around shouting ‘Hindu-Muslim Ek Hain, Ek Hain. (We are one)’,” recalls Khan.
He then returns quietly to his pile of newspapers and to his now-legendary musings.