Monday, June 23, 2008

Kerala’s Naxalbari: Memoirs Of A Young Revolutionary

Kerala’s Naxalbari: Memoirs Of A Young Revolutionary
Translated by Sanju Ramachandran
288 pages


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A Naxal remembers
Pramod K Nayar
Sunday, June 22, 2008 03:27 IST

The Marxism-inspired Naxalite movement of late 1960s Bengal found its echoes in communist-ruled Kerala soon after. Ajitha, then 18 years old, became the face of this movement in Kerala. Her memoirs, now available in one volume in English, is a delightful mix: autobiography, the biography of a collective, and the history of an ideology.

Ajitha, the daughter of committed Marxist parents, was part of a team that attacked Pulpally police station in Waynad, Kerala, in November 1968. The attack was scheduled to be followed by a similar one at Thalasserry. It was also directed at the landlords and feudal families of the area. The onslaught resulted in deaths and injuries to policemen but failed to be more effective as a major uprising because the Thalasserry attack petered out. The Naxalites became fugitives, spending days in miserable conditions in the forests. Eventually they were caught, and discovered that many of their fellow-revolutionaries had been caught, tortured and shot. Ajitha was paraded by the police, who did not realise then that they had created a new martyr, a new icon of rebellion.

Ajitha’s memoirs recount the heady days of ‘revolution’ — the collective reading of Marx and Mao, the plans for revolution and emancipation of the poor — the attack, her inspirational parents and the camaraderie. The description of her life in prison — she was 27 when released — are graphic, but deliberately muted so as to not elicit sympathy. Ajitha does not at any point see herself as victim — interesting at a time when the victim is writ large everywhere, and the most dominant discourse is of victimhood (real or imagined). Indeed she spends more time describing the cruelties perpetrated on other inmates so that we understand the terrible nature of India’s prison system.
The personal merges with the political here when Ajitha describes the tensions within the Naxalite-Marxist groups in Kerala. Her withering contempt for ‘establishment’ Marxism — symbolised by EMS Namboodiripad and others —is tinged with regrets at the dilution of the revolutionary zeal when former Marxists acquire government posts and wealth. What emerges from Ajitha’s memoirs is the schism within Indian Marxism and the hypocrisy of the communist parties — the party communists in Kerala were the first to criticise the rebellion. The government does its best to ensure that the poster girl of Kerala naxalism stayed in prison. But, as Ajitha puts it: “I didn’t need freedom at the cost of forsaking my ideology”. Ajitha settles into marriage, but is unhappy at what she calls the ‘placid’ life of a housewife and mother. She founded Bodhana, a woman’s organisation, in 1987. Later she joins Anweshi, the outfit that was instrumental in exposing the sex scandals of a Kerala minister.

Ajitha’s Memoirs are idiosyncratic but powerful, fragmented but visionary. The dreams of the revolutionaries and the oppressive state apparatus are delivered with the right amount of anger. In an age when the most committed Marxists in academics are the ones who own palatial houses even as they plead for Dalits or fisherwomen, Ajitha represents an older, perhaps more genuine face of the Left in India. What’s left of the Left now is of course a matter for speculation.

The writer teaches English at the University of Hyderabad.


ShipiN said...

I think all should read this before watching the movie 'Thalapavu'

Unknown said...

naxalbari zindabad

Unknown said...
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