At the end of 2008, a friend had sent me an article by Krishna Bandopadhyay titled ʹNaxalbari politics: A Feminist narrativeʹ (EPW, April 5, 2008). I read it immediately twice and had kept a copy of it with me and had looked at it once or twice again. I felt an urge to write something on it - even addressing Krishnadi. I was so taken up in my works that I could not find the time to do so.
I felt an affinity towards her as she was our predecessor and had worked in the Naxalbari movement which had inspired many of us of later generations to join the revolutionary movement - just like her in those days. Another aspect for this feeling of affinity was that she was a woman comrade like me. I had always had this urge to meet and talk with my senior women comrades and know about their experiences from them. It helped me a lot in understanding the role of women, the problems they faced and how each of them tackled them so that I can know how it contributed to the growth of the party. I never had a chance to meet any woman comrade who had worked in the 70s in the party. So in a way, I felt very happy as it gave me a chance to know her experiences. I may or may not agree with her interpretation or presentation, but as an activist I know her experiences are genuine and worth knowing and giving a thought.
The sentences written at the end of the article had brought her closer to me. To quote: ʹWomen, too, came forward to join a movement that was so full of promise. Taken up with fighting against a system, I never realized when I entered the realm of a completely different struggle. At that time I did not appreciate how necessary this struggle was. But today I feel that if all of us had continued and sustained it, we women would have stood side by side with the men and had an equal say in decision-making. Perhaps the history of the Naxalbari movement would have been written differently then". I appreciated her realization. Truly, it would have helped all of us women comrades of the next generations.
When I had first joined the CPI (ML) (PW), I always longed to have some senior women comrades above me whoʹd serve as guides in many aspects - not directly (though that would be welcome too) but indirectly - by their example. When there were so many unsolved problems regarding woman-work or concerning women comrades in the party, I felt exactly as Krishna had written - that if all those women comrades who had worked before us and left the party had not left and if they had continued and sustained it, then we would have been spared some of the battles which we had to wage inside the party. Consequently, I also thought and took a determined decision that whatever we may face - the next generation of women should not be allowed to face. That is, we should remove the thorns in the path to pave a smoother journey for them. Sure, theyʹd have some more thorns to remove, but definitely not the same old ones. It was this resolve which helped me to tide over the many odds in the matter of women in the party. Once you firmly believe that MLM is the only ideology which can provide answers to the womenʹs question and once youʹre convinced that ʹthis is the true revolutionary partyʹ which works for the liberation of your country, it logically follows that whatever may be the flaws and weaknesses inside it, you just strive to correct them, overcome them through struggle inside the party instead of leaving it. The society from which wrong trends are entering a revolutionary party is decadent and it defies simple logic to think that you are not ready to fight the flaws in a revolutionary party which is the harbinger of change and so can be transformed through internal struggle, but you are ready to lead a life in that decadent society compromising on many matters. It is happening more in the case of people from certain castes and classes because this society provides some space for them. True, many activists from oppressed castes and classes too opt to surrender or leave the movement. But their reasons are not similar. They do so due to repression or because theyʹre unable to bear the rigors of the hard life of a revolutionary. Sometimes, some immediate problems like that of marriage may also trigger this migration. But all that is a different arena to enter. What I mainly want to say is that belief in MLM and belief in the revolutionary line and content of the party are the base on which you stand and judge the party on all issues.
The second point I want to make is - you always make history in the context of the time and space you are making it in. There will be many after thoughts and reviews later but you can never judge the past with these parameters. Yes, you can use them to analyse the past so that you can go ahead in the future, without repeating the same mistakes. This is the purpose of the time-bound reviews in a communist party and as even the ʹenemyʹ had realised, here lies its strength too. Whichever party fails in doing this is bound to be thrown into the dust-bin of history.
The third point I want to make is - the role of personal experience and emotional responses in understanding a movement or its various aspects. A movement, especially cadre based movements like the communist movement have hundreds and thousands (sometimes lakhs) of members and each oneʹs experience has many exclusive/unique aspects too. When we come to a conclusion about a movement , the usual method is to take the common features of these experiences as the base. The unique experiences are used in most instances to assert/emphasise the common features of the movement. But there are always exceptions. Am I saying these exceptions have no value? Not at all. On the contrary, as a communist, I know each life is valuable and any negative experience in any activistsʹ life not only pains me but also affects the advancement of the movement, however tiny or large the damage may be. But the problem we have on hand is how much of the subjective judgments or assessments of individual experiences can be taken to ʹobjectivelyʹ come to a conclusion about the movement?
I will come to these points more than once while narrating some of our experiences in the movement after people like Krishna had left it. Krishna had written how she was inspired by the movement and had joined it. Later too, after the movement was revived in Bihar (including Jharkhand now) and Andhra Pradesh, hundreds of women had joined the movement. Petty-bourgeois women like Krishna joined it and adivasi, peasant, worker women joined it. The latter constituted the bulk of the women joining. There were women from other classes too but these two categories of women characterised the main recruitment. Women joined because the movement promised liberation of the people and women as part of it. It promised to break their shackles fastening them as members of their class and also as women. As anyone who joins the revolutionary communist party knows, this generation may not be immediately liberated and each CP member knows that she/he may not even live to see that day. The CP members work and die for the bright future of the next generations. There also lies the sacrificial nature of a communist. But as long as a CP member lives, she/he is regarded as a liberated person. They are not oppressed or exploited as other people in the society in the sense that as persons who have grasped the principles of transforming a society, they are not bound by any unknown forces. They are not bound by any shackles. They are the ones who break them. Likewise the CP runs on the principle of democratic centralism and any submission to the higher committees is voluntary while democracy is the lifeline of the internal party life. This is what the theory says and in a true CP this is more or less implemented too. But the key point is that such a party can only be built through struggle against alien trends and there is no shortcut at all for this. Class struggle in all spheres and at all levels is the harbinger for genuine change. The fight against patriarchy is in essence class struggle – a struggle between a feudal, bourgeois view of women and a proletarian view of women that advocates complete equality irrespective of gender. This struggle is nowhere a smooth one and it is during this bitter and harsh struggle that some soldiers leave the battle front - either becoming disappointed, disillusioned or not believing in it any more.
All the CP members have come from any one of the classes, sections, communities, religions and gender in this society. But a CP still functions inside this decadent society and the CP members are influenced by the various feudal/bourgeois ideologies and trends whose underlying principle is selfishness. That is why we find bureaucracy, patriarchy, lying, thieving, extravagance etc inside the party too to some extent. Yes, such persons have to be thrown out of the party if they donʹt rectify in spite of the partyʹs efforts to correct them and their practice proves detrimental to revolution. But in reality, is it that simple? No. It takes a process, it takes a struggle and it takes time. So what happens? People suffer; cadres suffer; ultimately the movement suffers. An individualʹs suffering doesnʹt stop with her/him. It extends to the movement. The extent of the damage depends not only on the scale and depth of the wrong trend but also on the total circumstances through which the movement is passing at that particular juncture.
When such instances are highlighted by the affected individuals it really worries even the well wishers of the movement. Those who are not sympathetic or against it may say -ʹdidnʹt I say soʹ. The question is how many instances does it take to see it as symptomatic of the movement? Another question is, even if it is symptomatic of the movement in that aspect, can the movement be judged totally as right or wrong because of this one aspect?
What I want to say is - even after leaving a margin for subjectivity in Krishnaʹs article, I do not have any scruples in taking the incidents as it is and I shared her agony as I went through them through her words. With some more study, I would not be surprised even if it comes through that most of the male comrades at that time were patriarchal. In fact, the leaders of that time who had rebuilt the party again have told us about such attitudes in comrades and that they too were no exception in certain aspects. Forms or levels of patriarchy may differ. Even if we have no study of that period, when we look at the rebuilt party, we can easily understand how such attitudes must have existed. If such attitudes still exist in spite of large number of women comrades working at various levels of responsibility and the whole party is consciously fighting against it, then we can easily imagine the conditions in those days. I will not stop with this. I would even say that these attitudes will exist for a long time to come and after the revolution too. Our experiences in Russia and China are ʹpromisingʹ this too for us. Even if India had been the first country where revolution was happening, one can say the future would be like this with the help of Marxism. ʹFortunatelyʹ we have the experiences of post revolutionary societies and so we need not ʹimagineʹ, we can say with cent percent certainty that it would be so. So the question is what the women should do.
The problems which Krishna had faced to leave the party are not confined to patriarchy. It was the problem of the direction of the whole party, of the whole movement. The problems she faced as a woman may have given her an added justification in her mind to leave the movement. The main question facing a revolutionary in those days was how to bring the movement on track and rebuild the party, how to establish the correct line of Naxalbari once again by defeating the opportunists in the garb of the revolutionaries. And that is what the true leaders of the party did which resulted in the formation of the CPI (ML) (PU), CPI (ML) (PW) and MCC. (Here afterwards when I say party I mean all the three and later the CPI (Maoist) into which these have merged). Many women comrades were martyred in the Srikakulam movement, many more were jailed and some like Krishna had left the movement. Some of the women comrades in jails and some women comrades who worked in the squads and in the movement and those who were sympathetic to the movement continued. The best example of the women comrades who continued was Com. Chittekka. (Refer Women Martyrs of the Indian Revolution Volume One for her life history).
Women began joining the rebuilt party again and the trickle became a stream within a few years. The reason being not a lack of patriarchy inside the party but the existence of a correct line. The movement inspired them just like it had inspired Krishna in those days. The party had the correct theory about the role of women in the revolution too. Though there may have been flaws in interpreting it and implementing it in practice, in theory party was firm about the role of women in revolution and there was no doubt about it or going back on this issue. Women joined the party for liberation as promised by the program of New Democratic Revolution (NDR) of the party.
Initially, there were many patriarchal trends which women comrades had to face in the rebuilt party too. When problems cropped up in guiding them in work or when problems regarding sex and marriage came up, there were even instances when some comrades thought it was because women were present in the movement! There were instances when women were asked to remain in dens (though temporarily) in severe repression instead of devising methods to help them in operating or sending them to squads. There were other problems too. And problems in man-woman relations existed. One can recount any number of individual experiences which had pained the women comrades at one time or the other.
In areas where the party leadership was conscious, they fought against such attitudes and also encouraged the women comrades to fight against them. Women comrades fought against patriarchy on their own and even when they were alone in that fight sometimes.
Still women joined, worked and got martyred too.
I am not trying to answer all the questions by showing the numbers or martyrdoms. But I am trying to say that these should be given due importance. This very fact should make women like Krishna or other women intellectuals to sit up and ask the question - why so?
Coming to the other aspect - what is the impact of all this on the development of the party and movement? What is the change the collective practice of these women comrades had brought about in the movement and in the society?
As a woman comrade, I can confidently say that women in the party and army have made rapid and genuine advances, winning their rightful place in the revolution as leaders of the whole party and the people. This is the greatest achievement the women of the generation after Krishnaʹs generation had won through sheer determination and clarity about their role in the revolution.
Women comrades are not dependent on men comrades nor do they look to them for decisions. They are part of the decision-making process. It is their revolution, it is their party which they had built up and which they will defend, preserve, lead and continue.
Krishnadi, I am proudly declaring these facts to you. What you had written at the end of the article - we had done exactly that. We had continued and sustained it and we are standing side by side with the men and are having an equal say in decision-making. That is why the history of the revolution which is carrying the legacy of Naxalbari is being written differently from that of the earlier revolutionary movements in India. This had been possible only because the party had a correct line, because of the innumerable sacrifices of the comrades (dead and living) - comrades who were selfless and had nothing else but the interests of the people at heart. More than anything because of the women who had joined the movement and owned it as theirs. They did not think that the movement belonged to ʹmenʹ and that they had joined it as their subordinates. They felt it was their own movement and they take responsibility for both the good and the bad in the movement instead of putting the responsibility on men alone. Both men and women are responsible for everything, no blame games, no accusations. They review the practice in the party in all spheres and fighting patriarchy is just but one part of the whole revolutionary practice of the party. Making revolution is their work and as part of it they fight patriarchy as they are well aware that revolution cannot advance without this fight too. This can never be the sole fight of the women comrades in the party as they have umpteen number of things to fight and change and they concentrate on all those things as part of their work.
Just as Krishna had written, there are many ʹgoodʹ male comrades who respect women as their equals and strive hard to help them win their rightful place in revolution. If their numbers had not been in the vast majority in the party, itʹd have been really difficult for us women comrades to have come to this stage. I can proudly pronounce a long list of names of excellent men comrades who can be called the best human beings to have existed on this earth with regard to women. No exaggeration but a simple fact about a true communist party.
Each member of the CP is educated to fight against all kinds of alien trends in the party including patriarchy. So both men and women are fighting it. The fight is done by everyone but the women lead it. This is the principle.
Krishnadi, I hope you would get a chance to interact with any of the women comrades in the present movement so that you can see for yourself all the changes which had come about. Even if it is not possible, I want you to be assured about the rightful place of women in the party.
P.S. I want you and women intellectuals like you to know about our work and we seek your support in our struggle. Women and men are fighting bitterly against the unjust war unleashed by the ruling classes and are sacrificing their lives in thousands. But many women intellectuals (except for a few exceptions) are choosing to ignore this struggle and some are even trying to portray us women comrades in a poor light or spreading lies without true knowledge about our conditions. For eg some had written that we are ʹvictimsʹ of patriarchy in the party and that we follow the men leaders. They did not even think for a moment that what they were actually doing was ʹinsultingʹ us as women. A word of support for our struggle from any quarter of the progressive sections of the society is very valuable for us. And thatʹd be more valuable only when it is truthful to the people. So we request you Krishnadi and other such women intellectuals to know about our work, our lives and then decide whether to extend support or not.
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Open letter to Krishna BandyopadhyayAs a woman comrade, I can confidently say that women in the party and army have made rapid and genuine advances, winning their rightful place in the revol..