[Reader-list] memories of a naxalite friend

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Tue Apr 29 07:35:04 IST 2008

Dear Sanjay,

many thanks for forwarding the tribute to Anuradha Ghandy by Jyoti  
Punwani. One does not have to agree with Naxalism of any variety to  
be moved by the example of the kind of life that this text points to.  
What is important for me in it is that it suggests that the strength  
of one's convictions do not have to automatically translate into  
making other people feel guilty about their life choices, or about  
patronizing them. The world would be a better and more interesting  
place if we had more people like Anuradha Ghandy in our midst.



On 28-Apr-08, at 7:31 PM, Sanjay Kak wrote:

> Apologies for cross-posting: and in respect.
> Sanjay Kak
> -------------------------------------------
> Memories of a Naxalite Friend
> Times of India, Mumbai Sunday 20 Apr 2008
> by Jyoti Punwani
> Cerebral malaria can be fatal, but people have been known to  
> recover from
> it. Anuradha Ghandy, however, didn't stand a chance. Already  
> weakened by the
> sclerosis when she walked into the hospital, it was too late.  
> Within 24
> hours, she was gone. By the time her vast circle of friends was  
> informed on
> the evening of April 12, the 54-year-old had already been cremated.  
> Better
> this than death by 'encounter', after prolonged torture. For that  
> was the
> fate we feared this Naxalite could not escape.
> That Anu managed to evade arrest for so long, was an indicator of the
> ruthlessness with which she effaced her identity. This, of course,  
> meant
> isolating herself from all those who would have given up everything  
> to nurse
> her. There was another way she could have recovered, even while  
> underground.
> Anu could have followed medical advice and given herself the break  
> her body
> so badly needed. For someone so important to the Party (CPI- 
> Maoist), it
> might well have allowed it. But that wasn't her style.
> Just climbing stairs had become an ordeal five years ago. Yet, days  
> before
> her death, she was in some jungle where malaria was probably an
> inevitability. Anuradha Ghandy, I learnt after her death, was a senior
> Maoist leader. Her political career spans the first radical student  
> outfit
> in Mumbai (PROYOM) in the '70s, and the armed dalams of Adivasi  
> women in
> Bastar. Certain that like her comrades in Chandrapur, she too would be
> implicated in false cases and arrested, Anu went underground some  
> years ago.
> When I first met her in 1970, Anuradha Shanbag was the belle of the  
> ball in
> Mumbai's Elphinstone College. A petite bundle of energy, bright eyes
> sparkling behind square glasses, her ready laughter, near-backless  
> cholis
> and coquettish ways had everyone eating out of her hands, professors
> included. Elphinstone then was an intellectual hub. The Bangladesh  
> war was
> just over, drought and famine stalked Maharashtra. Naxalism had  
> come to
> Mumbai, at that time the industrial capital of the country. Anu,  
> majoring in
> Sociology, was everywhere—inviting Mumbai's leading radicals to  
> talk about
> the reasons for the drought, putting up posters that proclaimed  
> 'Beyond
> Pity' and urging students to get involved with the crisis in the
> countryside, defending this stand against those who felt a  
> student's role
> must be limited to academics and at the most, 'social work'.
> Anu was also the one to question celebrity guest speakers such as  
> Girish
> Karnad, whose path-breaking plays had just hit the stage, on the link
> between theatre and society. And it was Anu who introduced us to that
> feminist bible, Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. Those were the  
> days of
> 'parallel' cinema. Marathi amateur theatre was blossoming at Dadar's
> Chhabildas Hall. The Dalit Panthers had exploded into the Marathi  
> literary
> scene. Adil Jussawala's New Writing In India was still making  
> waves. Forum
> Against Rape, Mumbai's first feminist group, had just been founded.  
> Anu, by
> then a lecturer at Wilson College, was immersed in all this. With  
> her wide
> range of interests, she succeeded in linking the human rights  
> organisation
> she and few others founded after Emergency with the city's  
> intellectual
> ferment. Among other things, the Committee for the Protection of  
> Democratic
> Rights (CPDR), demanded that the State stop acting lawlessly with  
> Naxalites
> even though they rejected its laws.
> Thanks to Anu's ability to talk as intelligently with George  
> Fernandes as
> with Satyadev Dubey, her brother Sunil Shanbag's mentor, the cream of
> Mumbai's intellectuals supported this demand. Playwright Vijay  
> Tendulkar and
> reformist Asghar Ali Engineer were CPDR's president and vice- 
> president.
> It was time for Anu to grow into a successful academic, the type  
> who writes
> books and attends international seminars. Instead, in 1982, she  
> left the
> life she loved to work in Nagpur. The wretched conditions of contract
> workers in the new industrial areas near Nagpur and of Adivasis in the
> forests of Chandrapur had to be challenged. Committed cadres were  
> needed. In
> her subsequent trips to Mumbai, Anu never complained about the drastic
> change in her life: cycling to work under the relentless Nagpur  
> sun; living
> in the city's Dalit area, the mention of which drew shudders from  
> Nagpur's
> elite; then moving to backward Chandrapur. In Marxist study circles,
> 'declassing oneself' is quite a buzzword. From Mumbai's Leftists,  
> only Anu
> and her husband Kobad, both lovers of the good life, actually did so.
> Kobad's family home had been a sprawling Worli Sea Face flat; he  
> was a Doon
> School product. Anu's lawyer-father may have left his family estate  
> in Coorg
> to defend communists in court in the '50s, but she had never seen
> deprivation. Despite her own rough life, neither did Anu make us  
> feel guilty
> for our bourgeois luxuries nor did she patronise us. On the few  
> occasions
> she would suddenly land up over these 25 years, it was as if she  
> had never
> left. She had the same capacity to laugh, even at herself, the same  
> ability
> to connect, even with management types, the same readiness to  
> indulge in
> women's talk. But with those closest to her, she seemed unnaturally
> detached. Her parents doted on her, yet she didn't take every  
> opportunity
> she could to meet them. I realise why now.
> Rushing to meet them whenever she came to Mumbai would have been  
> worse than
> an indulgence. It would not only have eaten into the time she had  
> for Party
> work, it would have also made it impossible for her family to have  
> accepted
> what she saw as inevitable—an underground future. In order not to  
> endanger
> her family, Anu simply disappeared from their horizon. When her  
> father died,
> she couldn't go home. That was also the reason for her harsh  
> decision never
> to have children, though her parents would have willingly brought  
> them up.
> That was one bond she knew would draw her away from the life she  
> had chosen.
> The 'Naxalite menace', says Manmohan Singh, is the biggest threat  
> to the
> country. But I remember a girl who was always laughing, and who  
> gave up a
> life rich in every way to change the lives of others.
> jyoti.punwani at gmail.com
> _________________________________________
> reader-list: an open discussion list on media and the city.
> Critiques & Collaborations
> To subscribe: send an email to reader-list-request at sarai.net with  
> subscribe in the subject header.
> To unsubscribe: https://mail.sarai.net/mailman/listinfo/reader-list
> List archive: <https://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/>

Shuddhabrata Sengupta
The Sarai Programme at CSDS
Raqs Media Collective
shuddha at sarai.net

More information about the reader-list mailing list