recieved via mail.
On April 12 2008 at 8.30 am Anuradha (alias Narmada, Varsha, Janaki, Rama) passed away after an attack of falciperum malaria. She was just 54 at the time of her martyrdom. She had just returned after spending a week in Jharkhand taking classes amongst the tribals on the question of women’s oppression. After getting high fever on April 6th she was not able to get proper medical attention due to the difficulties of underground life. The local pathologist said there was no malarial infection in the blood and so she was treated for stomach upset by a local doctor. It was only on 11th after another blood test that she realised that she had falciperum malaria. Though even on that morning she appeared fine, inside the falciperum bacteria had already affected her lungs, heart and kidney. Though she was admitted in the hospital immediately, barely within an hour her systems began failing. Though she was put on oxygen and later life-support systems, the end came the next morning. While on oxygen she was conscious and her eyes wide open. The same soft eyes with her depth of expression, though in acute pain with probable knowledge that she was sinking. The degeneration was catalysed by the fact that she had an incurable disease, systemic sclerosis. This auto-immune disease first affected her hands and slowly attacked the inner organs. Detected two years ago and probably in existence since the last 5 years it had already affected her lungs and heart beat. Yet, with her commitment to the masses and revolution she worked with the same ardour as earlier. She rarely spoke of the disease and took on even the most strenuous tasks. Her commitment to the cause of revolution was unshakable no matter what the ups and downs. Being with the incipient revolutionary movement right from her college days in the early 1970s, she gave up a career as a brilliant student, and dedicated her entire life to the revolution to become a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). At the 9th Congress-Unity Congress she was the single mahilla comrade to be elected to its Central Committee.
In this span of about 35 years work with the Indian revolutionary movement she has contributed much to the building of the revolutionary movement in the country, not only organisationally, but also politically and ideologically. Though her prime focus was in Maharashtra (both the Western and the Vidarbha region) she also contributed to the building of the all-India organisation and even of the Dandakaranya movement. Even at a late age of over 40, and after serving as a senior professor teaching sociology to post-graduate students at Nagpur University, she moved to live with the tribals of Bastar staying with the armed squads for three years. She was there at the peak of the 1997 famine when her own health had deteriorated under those hard conditions of life.
She started her political life at Elphinstine College Mumbai in 1972. Earlier she had gone to the famine hit people with a group of students during the horrible famine of 1971. Deeply moved by what she saw there, and being a very sensitive person, she began taking part in college activities and social work with the poor. While active amongst students she came in touch with the student organisation PROYOM (Progressive Youth Movement), which was connected to the then Naxalite movement. She soon became its active member. She also worked in the slums through which she developed her first interaction with dalits, the dalit movement and the horrors of untouchability. Her sensitive nature drew her to the agony of dalit oppression and led her to seek answers to it. She read voraciously and gained a deep knowledge of Marxism. Later, in the post-Emergency period she became one the leading figures in the country in the civil liberties movement and was one of the initiators of the CPDR (Committee of Protection of Democratic Rights). In 1982 she moved from Mumbai to Nagpur and while teaching at Nagpur University she actively participated in, and played a leading role in the trade union and dalit movements in the region. In the process she went a number of times to jail. Later, at the call of the Party she went to Bastar, and on returning she took up the responsibility once again of building the revolutionary movement in Maharashtra. Since the last 15 years she has been working in the underground, until her sudden and untimely demise.
Anu, an Exemplary Communist
Almost child-like, her face was a mirror expression of her emotions/feelings; pretense, falsehood, intrigue, ego, etc, were unimaginable for her. And this nature never changed through all the traumatic decades of revolutionary life. It was her extremely high level of honesty towards herself and others that attracted all genuine people towards her; even those who disagreed with her views. She had a natural ability of mixing and integrating into any environment ........ whether it be the tribals, dalits, construction workers, or top academics, intellectuals of the country. Her simplicity and child-like innocence, together with enormous liveliness made her a most likable person. She would cry as easily as she would laugh, when hurt by a situation.
She was totally selfless, uncaring about her own comforts and even health, with a lot of concern for others. She was exceedingly hardworking and with a very strong sense of discipline. She was the type of person that if she took up any task all would be rest assured it would get done. She had a strong sense of responsibility towards people and any task what-so-ever, however trivial it may be. This was reflected in her teaching work, political work, or anything she took up. It was reflected in her attitude towards her students, colleagues, comrades, or, in fact, any person she was associated with. And one of her best and most lovable qualities was her high sense of principles. She was an extremely principled person standing up for what she believed in and not a person to adjust her beliefs according to the views of others, however senior, or for the sake of some petty gains. So, people could trust her implicitly. Yet, she had the modesty to be a willing learner.
While being creative and not stereotype in her thinking, she was always firm on the Party line and Marxist ideology and never compromised with views she felt was incorrect, no matter who was presenting them. It was this steadfastness that allowed her to stay with true revolutionary parties/groups till her very last, through all the ups and downs in her over 3½ decade long revolutionary life. Yet, she had the positive approach of seeing the positive in others, even with those she differed with, and showing respect to all, no matter what her differences. Though impatient at times she never bore grudges against others. In that way she acted as a solid and steadfast anchor for the Party, through all its ups and downs, particularly in Maharashtra. She never knew fear and even in the face of death, during the last moments of consciousness her eyes had the same softness and tenderness as was in the normal days. She took up the most ardous and dangerous tasks at very critical changes in her political life — this was reflected in her ability to give up her high profile public life when she was in Mumbai and overnight shift to Nagpur where not a sole knew her; then again she could give up her University job and image of one of the most popular leaders of Nagpur (particularly amongst dalits, construction workers and progressive intellectuals of the region) and go underground and join the squads in Bastar; even in the very last days when the bulk of the Party leadership was arrested in Maharashtra it was she who held the Party, together though it was high risk with the police specifically hunting for her; etc.
And all these qualities shone through her personality even as a woman activist in this highly patriarchal and feudal atmosphere in the country. As a person she had all the qualities of what a real human-being should be like. She had all the qualities that make a true and genuine communist. And her loss is an enormous loss for the revolutionary and democratic movement of the country; and more particularly for its progressive and revolutionary women.
Growth as a Renowned Leader
During the late 1970s Anuradha was in the forefront of the countrywide civil liberties movement. In the early 1980s, with the formation of the CPI(ML)(People’s War), and the spread of the revolutionary movement to Gadchchiroli district of Maharashtra, there was talk of the need to spread the revolutionary activities from Mumbai to Vidarbha. Here too she was one of the pioneers giving up her job in the Mumbai College and her high profile public life and shifting to Nagpur; a place totally unknown to her. With her record as a good lecturer she soon landed a job of teaching sociology to post-graduate students in Nagpur University. Her focus of activities in Vidarbha was primarily trade union work and amongst dalits.
In the trade unions she worked primarily amongst construction workers and led many a militant struggle. Most notable was the lengthy strike at the Khaparkheda (30 kms from Nagpur) thermal power plant being constructed of over 5,000 workers. This ended in police firing and curfew being declared in the region. She was also involved in organising the ‘molkarins’ (house servants) of Nagpur, workers in the MIDC companies at Hingna (Nagpur), railway workers, bidi workers in Bhandara, powerloom workers at Kamptee (15 kms from Nagpur), other unorganised sector workers, and later shifted to Chandrapur to help organise the coal-mine and construction workers there. Most of these unorganised sector workers had defacto no basic trade union rights and were totally ignored by the traditional unions. She also developed links for joint activities with other progressive trade union leaders of the region from not only Nagpur, but also from Chandrapur, Amravati, Jabalpur, Yeotmal, etc. In these struggles she was arrested a few times, and had spent a number of days in Nagpur jail. Inspite of her job, she became a renowned revolutionary trade union leader of the region.
Besides this, she was even more active within the dalit community organising and awakening them against caste oppression and for their liberation from this oppressive system. She was infact one of the pioneers amongst the revolutionary Marxists to have addressed the issue of dalit oppression and caste discrimination at very early stage itself. She had read extensively Ambedkar and other sociological writings on the caste question. Unlike the traditional Marxists she fully identified with dalits and infact moved her Nagpur residence to one of the largest dalit bastis of Mahrashtra, Indora. Though this was a stronghold of most of the dalit leaders, large sections of the youth soon began getting attracted to the Naxalites. Particularly the cultural troupes had enormous impact. She grew to become the open face of the Maoists in the dalit movement; and became one of the major public speakers at most dalit functions in Vidarbha. Though vehemently opposed by the dalit leaders, her deep study of Ambedkar, dalit issues and caste oppression, she could stand her ground, with widespread support from the youth. She wrote profusely on the topic in both English and Marathi presenting a class view-point to the issue and countering not only the numerous post-modernist trends on this issue but the wrong Marxist interpretations of the dalit and caste questions. The most elaborate article on the issue was a 25-page piece in Marathi that appeared in Satyashodhak Marxvad (the organ of Sharad Patil from Dhule) explaining a Marxist stand on the dalit question and linking dalit liberation with the task of the new democratic revolution in the country. Till today this article is quoted by many. Many years later it was she who prepared the original draft on the basis of which the erstwhile CPI(ML)(PW) prepared the first ever caste policy paper within the Marxist movement in India. In this draft she outlined that in India the democratisation of society is inconceivable without smashing the elitist caste system and fighting all forms of caste oppressions, most particularly its crudest form against dalits in the form of untouchability. Much of the views expressed by her then in the mid-1990s, have now been adopted by the CPI(Maoist) in its recent Congress.
Besides these two fields of work there were many notable events that occurred in which she played a pioneering role while in Nagpur. Below we mention only two such examples; which had an indelible revolutionary impact on the consciousness of the people of Vidarbha. The first was the Kamlapur Conference of 1984; the second was the proposed Gaddar Cultural programme in 1992. Both these events had a major impact on spreading revolutionary views widely all over Vidarbha. It was she who was the main architect of both these programmes.
Inspite all these activities she was a very popular teacher amongst her students with a high level of responsibility towards her students, not missing a single lecture. Like any task she took up she would be thorough and conscientious about it. So, she was much loved by her students, and respected by her professor colleagues. But later due to intense police pressure the Party felt her affectivity would be more from the underground. And so, since about 1994 she has functioned continuously from the underground; braving all the difficulties of underground life.
During her one-and-a-half decades in the Vidarbha region she had an enormous impact on the region in bringing revolutionary politics to the area. Not only did she, together with others, build a revolutionary working class movement, and powerful revolutionary movement among dalits, but she helped build the revolutionary student movement and attracting a vast cross-section of intellectuals, including senior professors, journalists, noted playrights and top advocates of the region. Soon after coming to Nagpur, on the death of Cherabandaraju she got his poems translated into Marathi, which was released at a function by the most renowned Marathi poet of the region. The Marathi translation of the poems sold extensively in all Maharashtra, having a major impact. Yet, her most effective impact was taking revolutionary politics amongst the dalits and arousing them to a revolutionary consciousness. She lived and worked amongst the dalits of the region day-and-night. She also helped build the women’s organisations in Nagpur and Chandrapur.
Call Of Bastar
Having carried the revolutionary message of the Dandaayaranya movement to the rest of Vidarbha, she without flinching responded to the call of the Party to shift base to Bastar. In the second half of the 1990s she spent three years living with the squads amongst the Bastar tribals. Carrying a rifle and in military fatigue she spent the next three years of her revolutionary life amongst the tribals of DK. She went out of her way to gather many a PHD study on the Gond tribals to the Partyleadersof DK. She always said that these three years were one of the most fulfilling in her life where she learned about the lives and struggles of the Gond tribals of Bastar, She keenly studied their lives and how the movement was built. She particularly focused on the lives of the women, their organisation, the KAMS (Krantikari Adivasi Mahilla Sanghathna) and the women in the squads. She too learned how to wield the gun and as part of the squad she carried one for her self-defence. In fact on one occasion she had a very narrow escape when the police came within feet of where they were resting. Their firing missed her and the retaliation by her squad allowed them to escape without any loss of life.
She spent most of her time in the Byramgadh area which, recently, has been in the limelight for facing the brunt of the Salwa Judum attacks. Though she contracted malaria a number of times while she was there it was never the dangerous falciperum kind; besides she was in the good care of the local Party that showed much concern for her. Her tenacity in staying with the squads astounded and impressed even the local tribals who would time and again mention how at this age she had managed to come and stay there.
During this period she also spent much time in taking classes, mainly for the growing leadership amongst tribal women. She took classes on women’s health issues, women’s oppression and the new democratic revolution, on imparting general knowledge, on giving the rudiments of Marxism, etc. She helped draft handbills and wrote numerous articles in the local Party magazine.
Towards the last part of her stay she was given independent charge of the West Bastar area covering what is known as the National Park region. This too is a region which is affected by the recent Salwa Judum onslaught. While she was there she guided and developed the movement in the area.
She was there during the peak of the 1997 famine in which hundreds had died of starvation in other areas. Here, with the Party seizing grains from the hoarders and also by distributing grain the damage was much controlled. During this period attacks of malaria, the terrible dry heat of summer, coupled with the famine conditions took a toll on her health, when she lost about 10 kgs of weight. It was only her enormous commitment to the cause of the people, and tremendous will-power, that kept her going under even these worst conditions. Besides, her nature was such that she never showed any of her own sufferings. She always bore pain, whether physical or mental, without complaining or others coming to know.
After returning from Bastar she took up Party responsibilities in the Mumbai-Surat region while continuing an underground existence. For the last decade she has contributed to building the revolutionary movement in this region. After being elected to the Central Committee in the Unity Congress- 9th Congress in 2007 she was given additional charge to head the Central Mahilla Sub-committee.
Anu’s commitment to the oppressed masses was unflinching. It was this concern for the well-being of the poverty stricken masses that drew her to revolutionary politics. Unable to tolerate the poverty and humiliation that the poor faced, she sought answers. The terrible humiliation that dalits faced due to untouchability and other forms of inhuman discrimination drew her to study the caste question in India and Ambedkar’s writings and own the cause of the dalits from a very early period. At that time dalit issues were not the fashion as it now is, and was anathema in most Marxist circles. Even as a student she joined in the Marxist study circles run by the then incipient Party. She was one of the chief architects of the building the revolutionary movement in Mumbai in the 1970s.She played a premier role in the revolutionary student movement and building up the Party core within it. In the post Emergency period once again it was she who was one of the chief pioneers of setting up the CPDR and building the civil liberties movement in Mumbai. She played a prominent role in the famous Civil Liberties Conference held in 1977 at Delhi, demanding the release of political prisoners, which included such leading lights as V.M.Tarkunde, Govinda Mukhoty, VaraVara Rao, Subba Rao, Sudesh Vaid and even some ruling class elements as George Fernandez and Arun Shourie. She was one of the leading persons in the civil liberties movement in the country at that time, until the time she left for Nagpur in 1982.
Popularity and fame never went to her head and she easily switched to a new low profile role as per the needs of the Party. When the need grew to develop a political movement in Vidarbha after the initiation of the Gadchchiroli armed movement, she willingly volunteered to shift from her home base in Mumbai and move to a place where she did not know even a single person.
There, given her teaching reputation, she soon managed a part-time teaching job with post-graduate students in Nagpur University and thereby gained social acceptability locally. She was an ordinary member of the Party when the CPI(ML)(People’s War) was formed in 1980 and after she moved to Nagpur she played a leading role in building the Party and revolutionary movement there. Later, she became a member of the Vidarbha Regional Committee of the Party. She also played a role in the formation of the AILRC (All India League of Revolutionary Culture) formed in 1983. She was one of the main speakers at the Sindri (near Dhanbad) Conference of the AILRC in 1985, together with KVR, Gaddar, VV and others, and till today she is much remembered by the comrades of Bihar and Jharkhand (many in the leadership today) who were attracted to the revolutionary movement by the impact of that Conference and the cultural performances. Many in the region remember her fondly from those days.
After coming back from Bastar she was elected to the Maharashtra State Committee of the Party with independent charge of looking after work in Mumbai and for a brief period Surat. Later she was also given additional responsibility as part of the Central Mahilla Sub-committee, ever since it was established. She attended as a delegate to both the 2001 Congress held by the CPI(ML)(PW) and the CPI(Maoist) Unity Congress of . She was the only delegate that was elected to the Presidium of both the Congresses, which conducted the proceedings of both the Congresses. At the time of her martyrdom she was a member of the highest body of the CPI(Maoist), its Central Committee, with independent charge of the Central Mahilla Sub-Committee and also a part of the CC’s South Western Regional Bureau. As part of her role in this Sub-Committee she played an important role of drafting the Women’s Perspective of the Party. At the time of her death she was working on studying the problems women comrades were facing in the Party, the varied forms of patriarchy they face, and devising a rectification plan that would help the growth of women comrades, so that they can grow to take greater leadership responsibilities. In fact her very last task was taking a class of the leading women activists from Jharkhand, mostly tribal background, to explain the Women’s Perspective of the Party. Her untimely and premature death will have an impact on the development of women’s work in the Party as also the development of work in Maharashtra.
The Writings Of Anuradha
Anuradha played many roles in the long span of her revolutionary life from being a mass leader to an underground Party organiser. She was associated with the formation of VPS, CPDR, AILRC, Stree Chetna, AMKU (Akhil Mahrashtra Kamgar Union) and numerous other mass organisations, primarily in Maharashtra. But whatever her role she was a consistent and prolific writer. She was closely associated with the first revolutionary student magazine, KALAM, which achieved a countrywide image. This magazine was brought out in both English and Marathi. She was the main person behind the revolutionary Hindi magazine, Jan Sangram, brought out from Nagpur. She contributed regular articles, under various pseudonyms, to the revolutionary magazine, People’s March. She wrote for the local Marathi magazine Jahirnama and for a period was in charge of its publication. She also wrote many theoretical and ideological pieces particularly associated with the dalit and women’s question. Besides, she conducted many a polemic on this question with both, those taking a dalit/post-modernist view on the question and with Marxists who took a hostile view. This she wrote in both English and Marathi. As already mentioned it was she who wrote the basic draft for the policy paper on the caste question in India which was later adopted by the erstwhile CPI(ML)(PW). This was the first such policy paper by a revolutionary communist party. More recently she wrote a polemical/analytical piece on bourgeois feminism, bringing out its various manifestations. She was also instrumental in the preparation of the Women’s Perspective of the CPI(Maoist) adopted recently by the Party. It was she who drafted many a March 8th statement of the Party.
There was not even a short time when she was not writing something linked with the movement. She was a regular contributor to many magazines in English, Hindi and Marathi. Many of her articles and writings have also been translated into other languages.
Anuradha will always be remembered by all those who met her no matter who the person was. Her sincerity, honesty, her child-like simplicity, her liveliness, her unwavering commitment, her acute sense of responsibility, made a deep impression on anyone she met. She could relate equally well with the poor, the intellectual, the young, the old, the revolutionaries, the ordinary progressive or for that matter any one. In addition she had a total selfless attitude sparing no effort inspite of her poor health. She was indeed a model communist. An example for all. Her dynamism to is an example for all women activists, where she could go well beyond the patriarchal limitations of this society and flower. She was a true rose blossoming in this thorny world. She will live for ever in our hearts.