Feminist Narratives of Indian Left

Unlike in Russia and China, the communists did not fully triumph in India. They were a small, even fringe, though in many ways radical part of the national struggle for liberation. After independence, especially after their embracing the path of parliamentary politics, they emerged as the biggest opposition to the ruling Congress party, creating a record by having the first elected communist state government in history when they formed the government in 1957 in Kerala and still later perhaps the longest elected state government in West Bengal. Thus, while they did not succeed to the same extent as in Russia or China, they did not fail either, unlike in the West.

This, however, gave a very specific dichotomous character to the Indian communists, whom the historian D.D. Kosambi called the “Official Marxists” or, literally and metaphorically, OM. Thus, they re- created the structures of ruling communists parties in the major citadels, at the same time they also internalized traditional Indian social structures. This part- success also led them to miss the emergence of the New Left and their ideas since they never had to go back and question their basic premises in their wishful thought to continue to pursue their “party- line” even as it swerved from supporting the Congress at one time (in 1975 as well as now) to indirectly supporting the BJP (the CPI and CPM both supported V.P. Singh’s National Front government which was also supported by the BJP.) In other words, they have become totally engrossed in parliamentary politics.With the rise of caste politics since the late 1980s, they have missed the boat completely as their class based analysis had no place for caste. Even today, they are yet to reconcile their theory with caste.

Similarly, the Indian communist Left has remained completely indifferent to the questions raised by feminists. In this very well written narrative from the Naxalite movement of the early 1970s, Krishna Bandhopadhyay recalls how, even a nascent communist outfit without an entrenched bureaucratic structure, patriarchal ideas and practices dominated. Needless to say, the CPI and the CPM are far worse off.

Naxalbari Politics: A Feminist Narrative (pdf!) (alternate source)

Anyway, she would give all the boys ‘chatu’ (barley) in one hand and ash in the other and say, “Go to the corner of the road and scatter the ash in the name of your enemies and the chatu in the name of your friends”. One of my cousins was of my age. Spotting the ash and barley in his hands I would start demanding, “Give it to me, I’ll scatter it for my friends and enemies”. In her east Bengali dialect, pishima would comment, “Where will friends and enemies suddenly appear from for girls? Do you think girls are human beings?”. Everyone would laugh at this, and I found that everybody agreed with her. I would feel very small compared to my brothers. Ashamed and insulted, my eyes would fill with tears and I would cry silently and secretly. Even later in life I would cringe at the discrimination in every aspect of life – be it eating habits, education, freedom of movement. In my own way I protested once in a while, but not a brick on the wall of “don’ts” was affected by it. I always thought that something needed to be done about this.

So many women joined the movement, but on the party’s part there was no actual directive as to what their role was expected to be. Many commented that even in the case of the men, there were no specific directives. For the sake of argument this is perfectly true, but the party leadership was male and can it be denied that their policies would automatically tend to be patriarchal?

The legendary heroine of the Naxalite movement, K. Ajitha, has also pointed out on this earlier.

The women were always in an inferior position in the movement. I was highly disturbed by the loss of opportunities on account of being a woman. The men either showed a protective approach towards women or treated them as a sexual commodity. They considered the support the revolutionaries got from their wives and mothers as their duty. They did not realise that these innocent women had to suffer a lot because of their actions. The police and the authorities constantly harassed them. They also failed to appreciate our intellectual capacities and human feelings. Marriage was prohibited for revolutionaries as the party felt it hinders freedom. Later, however, the party allowed marriages approved by it. If anybody fell in love with those who did not like the party, it acted like a feudal lord.

Incidentally, her auto- biography has been recently published.

Related Post: The Left, Caste and Dalits: A Troubled Relationship

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