[Reader-list] memories of a naxalite friend

Shivam Vij शिवम् विज् mail at shivamvij.com
Tue Apr 29 18:23:41 IST 2008

I second what Shuddha is saying, and Jeebesh's analysis actually
raises more questions than it purports to. But I have some questions
for Sabitha.

Jyoti Punwani's assertion - "Despite her own rough life, neither did
Anu make us feel guilty for our bourgeois luxuries nor did she
patronise us" - is indeed very heartening. Those who ally themselves
against any kind of oppression in anyway are often mocked at for their
personal lifestyles. We saw this some months ago on this list in a
Nandigram debate when Shuddha was being 'praised' for his work amongst
the poor. You see something like this in the atrocious film Bawandar
where the feminist activists from Delhi are being mocked for their
penchant for shopping, films and burgers as they fight Bhanwari Devi's
case. Anu, we are told, was someone who 'declassed' herself and yet
did not have such a patronising attitude. The Naxalite does have a lot
of lessons to offer.

But the only place where Punwani offers a semblance of an argument for
Naxalism - this is a personal obituary - is in the last two lines:
"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."

To state the obvious, the naxalites - threat or not - are much bigger
than one individual. And that individual's limited personal
interactions with friends of the pre-Naxalite life are no barometer to
measure Naxalism. And as Jeebesh points out, the narrative has a whole
about what she did or did not do in the underground life and years.

Which brings me to Sabitha's response. She writes:

> What I find appalling in Manmohan Singh and the new corporate Congress (as
> well as the new corporate CPI-M) is how they use the language of terror to
> describe Naxalites, remaking them as "terrorists", instead of addressing the
> deprivation of millions that leaves them with no alternative but to look out
> for themselves and join aggressive movements of dissent such as Naxalism.

Firstly, the official Home Ministry policy is to indeed look at 'the
deprivation of millions'. See

"Naxalites operate in a vacuum created by inadequacy of administrative
and political institutions. They espouse local demands and take
advantage of the prevalent disaffection and injustice among the
exploited segments of the population and seek to offer an alternative
system of governance which promises emancipation of these segments
through the barrel of guns.

"The naxal violence continues to be an area of major concern to
internal security. The problem cuts across several state boundaries.
In order to check the growth of naxalite activities in the country,
the Government has addressed the problem both on security and
development fronts"

The development ministries have especially marked funds for
development in Naxalite areas. Having travelled a bit in Jharkhand and
Chattisgarh, I can tell you this is not all bunkum. They are also
looking at the issue of rights and the Forest Rights Act is a step in
that direction. The massive scale of displacement is another story
though, and I'm not so naive as to say that the rural poor in the red
corridor has no disenchantment with the state - I mean, even the state
admits as much. But the labelling of Naxalites as terrorists is I
think in line with the definition of terrorists. A terrorist is
someone who uses violence to frighten or terrorise with a political
aim. The touching obituary of Anu Ghandhy cannot blind us to delete
the word violence in discussions of Naxalism.

So while I agree with Sabitha that -
> The recasting of Naxalites as "terrorists" absolves the state of its
> responsibility for the brutal police actions against admirable personages
> such as Dr.Binayak Sen

But I ponder at the word 'recasting'. The problem with the
line is that we are looking at the state's actions and inactions but
not those of the Naxalites. I am not defending the Indian state, just
asking why you present this binary to me on a plate, State vs
Naxalites, and ask me to take my pick? Is another world that

So while I stand with you in opposing, condemning the fake encounters
of the innocent and false cases against Binayak Sen and others, and
the brutality of Salwa Judum, here are my questions.

Do you support violence?

But do you support violence as a means of achieving 'revolution'?

And do you support revolution? Are you arguing against universal adult
franchise, against multiparty democracy, elections, freedom of

And if the Naxalites indulge in violence, why won't the state seek to
repress them, punish them?

Are you saying you want an India ruled and run by the Communist Party
of India (Maoist)? Do you want to live in a communist state, 17 years
after the collapse of the soviet union? Oh, and how many did the
cultural revolution kill? And how many will the Indian Maoists kill
before we can be freed from the violence of deprivation perpetrated by
the Indian state, so that we can replace Gandhi's photographs with

Are you saying that you support the taking away of individual rights
of people who don't want to live under Maoist rule, or those who are
not willing to join The Party?

> I've grown up with Naxalites and Naxal-sympathizers - including my father
> -and they're all far from being "terrorists", just a community of brave
> socially conscious individuals and public intellectuals who want to make a
> difference, who don't want to close their eyes and shut their ears like the
> vast majority of us.

Fine, but the Naxalites are much more than that. They use landmines,
they exploit deprivation, they put the tribal poor on the frontlines
to clash with the police and build their political dreams in safe
underground hideouts, (in Jharkhand) they use the gun to support one
party or another in elections; in Dantewada they take money from tendu
leaves businessmen to allow the business...

One Naxalite-turned-Salwa Judum guy in Dantewada told me that amongst
other things he had to do amongst the Naxalites was to raid villages
and find the riches man in the village, ask him to hand over all his
wealth, which would be redistributed amongst the villagers. Should he
not agree to do so, he would be killed. In which case he would be
killed, half his wealth taken away by the raiding Naxalites and the
other half distributed.

Tell me Sabitha, is this how you want feudalism ended?

I really hope anyone who sides with Naxalites and calls himself or
herself a Naxalite 'sympathiser' does so only as a rhetorical retort
to the Indian state. And by the way, The Naxalites love it when
Manmohan calls them the biggest internal security threat. They take it
as a compliment. So if you are a Naxal sympathiser, you should be
happily smiling at Manmohan's comment. But let me also say I think
Manomohan's threat perception is exaggerated, perhaps deliberately.
There is not a single police post in the country that the Naxalites
have been able to permanantly capture. The election commission says
there is no polling both where they are not able to hold elections
because of the naxalites.

The naxalites have just filled in the vaccum in places where the
Indian state didn't exist, and where it now has an urgent need to
enter. And I thank my atheist gods for that.


On 4/29/08, Jeebesh Bagchi <jeebesh at sarai.net> wrote:
> dear Sanjay,
> Thanks for posting these memories.
> If we seriously read this as a memory, then what surprises me is the
> unreflective and euphoric account of so called the "radical" 70s. As
> a narrative, it marks the 70s as the hotbed of radicalism and then
> 80s and 90s as a story of personal choices.
> This makes it as if the milieu of the 70s disintegrated - only - into
> various disappointments, cynicism, renunciation, dogmatism and
> silences. This positioning of the  "underground" seems to me to mute
> any possibility of  thinking about what went on (then and after),
> what kind of interventions , and what and how their efficacies played
> out. Why is sacrifice the main trope of for narrating a life rich in
> complexity and experience.?
> Is it possible to think these last 40 years differently?
> Should we not think hard on the giving up of a life for a "party"? Is
> Manmohan Singh going to determine how times and biographies are
> remembered?
> just wondering.
> warmly
> jeebesh
> > 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 sawas 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
> > _________________________________________
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