Every day 86-year-old P. R. Krishnan takes the Bombay local to reach the office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Azad Maidan, a routine he has been following for the past 56 years, ever since he helped in the formation of the party base in Maharashtra in 1964.
You wouldn’t judge by his demeanor that he is one of the tallest leaders of the working class movement, a prominent trade union leader and labour rights fighter. In fact, Mr. Krishnan is a doyen of labour movement in Mumbai and the State of Maharashtra and many political leaders past and present hold him in high esteem.
The fact that he has won many rights for the labour class through struggles and various court judgments sits lightly on the senior citizen’s shoulders with thoughts of various labour class issues still worrying him, the latest being the systematic dismantling of various labour rights that is happening under the National Democratic Alliance government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party elsewhere in the country.
Born to Paranganat Raman and Parvathi Amma on October 7, 1934 in an agricultural family at Elavally village in Thrissur district of Kerala, Krishnan had primary education in Vaduthala L P School and Parakkad L P School. He landed in Mumbai in 1950.
During the 1950s Krishnan worked in hotels, mills and factories where he experienced firsthand the tough lives of the poor laboring class. In fact, the long hours of work at the mills and factories and the low compensation paid rankled the mind of young Krishnan who decided to complete his studies that he had stopped when he left his village to reach Bombay.
While working, he studied in the night school run by the Bombay Keraleeya Saksharata Prachara Sabha. Initially, Krishnan worked in the social, cultural and educational fronts of the Keralites.
In September 1953, at the age of 18, Krishnan became a card-holder of the Communist Party of India. During this period he was in the forefront of a number of agitations and struggles.
With his intimate knowledge of the plight of workers in the factories, mills and hotels, Krishnan identified his life’s mission to work for the upliftment of the labour class. He chose the working class movement for his political and trade union work. He was the first leader to organise blind workers in a trade union. He also did pioneering work in organising workers of burial ground and also of institutions like ISKCON.
From 1960 to 1964 he was a member of AITUC Maharashtra State Committee. He played an important role in the formation of CPI (M) in Maharashtra and is its Bombay Committee member from its inception in 1964.
Mr. Krishnan was forced to go underground when the Government clamped down on the Communist movement in 1965-66. He was imprisoned under Defence of India Rules (1966-67) for one-and-a-half years. Just before his arrest, Mr. Krishnan’s tenement at Bandra was confiscated by the Government as a vindictive measure.
Mr. Krishnan played a significant role in the formation of CITU in Maharashtra. He was Secretary of CITU’s Maharashtra State Committee from 1974 and now, from 2018, its Vice-President.
He is also the President of Bombay Committee of CITU since its formation. In addition, he was Vice-President of Goa State committee of CITU for nine years. He has been a member of the All India General Council of CITU for 20 years.
While little is known about Mr. Krishnan in his home state of Kerala, in Maharashtra he is a force to reckon with. During the past 70 years in Mumbai, Krishnan has worked in different capacities in the social, cultural, literary, educational, political, trade union and legal fields. As a labour law practitioner he has to his credit more than 1,200 judgments published in Maharashtra Gazettes. He was instrumental in bringing about many beneficial precedent-setting decisions for workmen through litigation.
Leaders like NCP’s Shard Pawar, who is in the opposite camp, has rightly recognised the contributions of Mr. Krishnan. In fact, some of the tallest leaders of the Communist movement in Maharashtra, nay India, shared close ties with Mr. Krishnan that he would little about.
Even Mr. Krishnan’s role in the movement for the reorganisation of States on linguistic basis is little known outside of the Maharashtra. He was arrested twice in the agitation for Samyukta Maharashtra. He was also an active participant in the movement for liberation of Goa-Diu-Daman, Pondicherry and Mahe.
Ever an organiser, Mr. Krishnan was a member of V.K. Krishna Menon Election Campaign Committees twice. He was also the election programme coordinator in Maharashtra for Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer when he was the Presidential candidate against R. Venkataraman in 1987.
Being a trade union leader, the Communist leader participated in many anti-imperialist and trade union related International Conferences as CITU representative in Czechoslovakia (1981), Thailand (1985), Cuba (1994), Vietnam (1997), Spain (2004) and Sri Lanka (2006).
His wide network among the labour class ensured that Mr. Krishnan was in the Organising Committees and was office-bearer of many all-India conferences held in Maharashtra.
A founder-member, Bombay Labour Law Practitioners’ Association, Mr. Krishnan was twice elected as member of the Managing Committee and twice as Vice-President; Member, State Advisory Contract Labour Board, Government of Maharashtra for five years.
No government, whether those formed under the Congress or Shiv Sena, could ignore the expertise of Mr. Krishnan as labour rights lawyer and his membership in various government panel could not be avoided. As Member of Maharashtra Government Legal Aid Committee for five years; Member, Central Advisory Board on Workmen’s Compensation Act (Central Government); Member, Committee for Simplification of Labour Laws, constituted by the State Industrial and Investment Corporation of Maharashtra (SICOM), and Member, Industrial Relations Joint Committee, Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry for five years, and twice member of the Adalat constituted by the Industry and Labour Department, Government of Maharashtra, for settlement of industrial disputes, Mr. Krishnan made significant contributions in protecting the rights of the workers.
With his close and practical knowledge of various labour laws and problems in Maharashtra, at one time Mr. Krishnan was also a Guest Lecturer, Maharashtra Institute of Labour Studies, Government of Maharashtra, and National Institute of Fashion Technology, Government of India.
A prolific writer all his life, the trade union leader has written in all prominent newspapers published from Kerala. From the early 1960s, Mr. Krishnan started writing articles regularly based on his experience in the field and observation.
He has written articles in all Malayalam dailies, magazines and other periodicals from Mumbai. Express daily from Thrissur has carried maximum number of his articles. During 1964-65, both Deshabhimani daily and Chintha magazine had published regularly his articles. During this period, he was the Mumbai correspondent of these publications.
Mr. Krishnan has written extensively on national and international issues in publications such as Kalakaumudi daily published from Mumbai, PravasiSabdam, a magazine from Pune, VishalaKeralam, a magazine from Mumbai, Marunadu Express, Jwala, Gramaratnam, Kerala Mitram, WhitelineMagazine – all popular publications from Mumbai, and Kerala Plus published by FEGMA (Federation of Gujarati Malayali Associations).
Besides, his reports and articles in English have appeared regularly in People’s Democracy, the mouthpiece of CPI (M) and in The Working Class, the mouthpiece of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). All these articles in turn were translated into the vernacular editions of these publications such as Lok-Lahar (Hindi), JeevanMarg (Marathi), Swadheenata (Bengali), Chintha and Deshabhimani (Malayalam), Thikkathir (Tamil), AikyaRanga (Kannada), Prajashakti (Telugu), DeshSevak (Punjabi), Deshr Katha (Tripuri). He has also written articles in other English publications like Clarity (News Men’s National News Weekly), Parlance, Seeker Employment Plus, Kerala in Mumbai, and so on.
Krishnan the author
Mr. Krishnan is also a much-published author in Malayalam and English as well as in Marathi. His life during the clampdown in the 1965-66 is depicted in his first book, ‘Adichamarthalum and Cheruthunilpum – OlivileLekhanangal’ (Oppression & Resistance – Writings from Underground), which waspublished in 2005. The second followed five years later. ‘OliMangathaOrmakal – OruPravasiyudeViplavaJeevithaSmaranakal’ (The Unfading Memories – Recollections from the Revolutionary Life of an Emigrant) was published in 2010.
His third book, Milestones Revisited, in English, was published in 2012. His second book in English and his fourth book, ‘Flames from Battlefronts’ was first published in 2013.
His fifth book, ‘AnubhavangalSameepanangal’ (Experiences and Approaches), dealing with various labour class issues, was published in 2015. He published another book, the sixth, again in 2015 and was titled ‘Kadannakramangalude Chritra Rekhakal’ (History of the Onslaughts). His seventh book titled, `Mosam Nadikkappuravum Ippuravum’ (On either side of Mosam River), in 2016.
Later in 2016, his first Marathi book and his eighth book, titled ‘Na Samplelya Sangharshatum Ek Pravas’ was published by the Industrial Workers Union. The ninth book, `Daivangal Entha Rakshikkanethathathu’ (Why the Gods Have Not Come to the Rescue?), is a compilation of essays in Malayalam, published in 2018.
Mr. Krishnan’s 10th book, ‘Pinnitta Nazhikakkallukal’ is the Malayalam edition of his book ‘Milestones Revisited’, translated by Prof. E. Rajan and published in 2019.
It was not that his contributions to the working class movement have gone unrecognised. Many organisations have formally recognised and felicitated P. R. Krishnan for his yeoman service to society. In 1986, in a survey conducted by the Malayalam daily MalayalaManorama, he was elected as one of the prominent non-resident Keralites.
Many magazines and labour union affiliated organisations has recognised his contribution by conferring him prestigious awards.
Three awards from The Ambedkar Institute for Labour Studies under the auspices of INTUC-affiliated Rashtriya Mill MazdoorSangh (RMMS) were conferred on Mr. Krishnan. They are a) For appearing in and obtaining the largest number of judgments on wage fixation from Industrial Tribunals, Industrial Courts and Central Industrial Tribunals and Arbitration Board for workmen; b) For being member of LokAdalats in 1985 and 1992 for promoting settlements of backlog of industrial disputes pending in Labour Courts and Industrial Courts in Maharashtra; and c) For being appointed as Lecturer on labour laws in government institutes.
In 2002, Mr. Krishnan was conferred with the G R Khanolkar Award, instituted in memory of the late Communist Party-Trade Union leader. Again in 2002, he was felicitated with the Western Railway EmployeesUnion award.
In 2015, he was the recipient of Comrade B S Dhume Award (instituted in memory of the Communist Party and Trade Union leader, late Comrade BS Dhume).
In 2018, the Government of Kerala nominated him as a Loka Kerala Sabha member and again in 2020 for a second term. Prior to that, he was a Director of Non-Resident Keralites Welfare Board of the Government of Kerala (2006-2012).
Krishnan’s personal relation and friendship transcends all political barriers and he treasures his contact with many a great leader in India and abroad. Mr. Krishnan is married to Sathyabhama and they have three children; Premkumar, Shaju, and Sindhu.
His home State of Kerala could have immensely benefitted from Mr. Krishnan’s contributions had he chosen it to be his battle field; but then, by design or by choice, his contributions in India’s commercial capital Mumbai could not have been a more right full place where there were more struggles to be won and problems to be solved.