Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tracking the history of Naxal movement

Understanding the Naxalite movement requires traveling back in time when the romance of revolution was in the air and when many young men and women left their homes and worked in the rural hinterland.

Not all of these revolutionaries turned to violence and not every revolutionary was misguided.

For instance, nearly 50 years ago, caught up in the mood of the times, Niki Cardozo - then a traditional Jesuit priest in Bombay found himself traveling to a remote tribal village in Maharashtra.

In a couple of months, he realized that each of the 100-odd women there had been raped by the upper caste men at some point.

And when a young mother dared to complain to the police, the police turned on her.

''A group of us took whatever we could find to beat the cop. I picked up a knife. I was so angry. But the cop ran away. After that I have not picked up a knife,'' said Niki Cardozo, Social Worker.

Although the often cruel nature of the state may have provoked him to violence, Niki Cardozo is not and has never been a gun-carrying Naxal.

But many others, who like him left their sheltered urban homes to travel to the rural hinterland, made a different and more violent choice.

The romance, the danger and the often misguided idealism of those times is captured brilliantly in Sudhir Mishra's Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi, as the youth - fresh out of universities - were disillusioned by a system that had failed to deliver the country of their dreams.

''The 1960s, you can imagine - Mrs Gandhi comes to power with the promise Garibi Hatao, which the youth soon discovered was an empty slogan and was a political tactic.''

''Say 20 years after Independence, the disenchantment with promise of independence was apparent. There were very serious famines, for example the 1967 Bihar famine. Those were very traumatic,'' said Darryl D'Monte, Author, Journalist

The stories of these men were reported with more than a little sympathy by journalists like Bernard D'Mello.

''Those students and youth who were more sensitive to the problem of poor, the problem of India, were drawn towards the Naxal movement. They began to organize poor peasants, labourers and so on, and in a small way, it spread.''

''The epicenter in first half of the 1970s was really Kolkata. So if you contrast Mumbai with Kolkata up to early and the mid 1970s, the Naxalite movement was almost non-existent in a relative sense to that in Kolkata,'' said Bernard D'Mello, Deputy Editor Economic and Political Weekly.

''In Mumbai, there were many sympathizers - some of whom were just camp followers and many of them had no idea of Marx or Lenin. They might have carried a little red book, but they certainly hadn't read it. It was fashionable,'' said Darryl D'Monte.

But in Bombay, for some it was not just the prevailing intellectual fashion that pushed them; it was actually their personal faith.

For some of Bombay's young Catholics, it was the doctrine of Liberation Theology, which preached the need for social change.

That doctrine not only bore a striking resemblance to a Communist charter but also sat uneasily next to the Left's aversion to religion.

It's this odd mix of Liberation Theology and Marxism, which, for instance, drew someone like Vernon Fernandes into the more radical path of Naxalism.

''Liberation Theology is a mix of Christian option for poor and Marxist philosophy. It would fit into Vernon's philosophy, like making option for poor,'' said Kenneth Gonsalves, Brother of Vernon.

Today, some of these urban guerillas are in jail, while others have gone underground. Yet some others have returned to more respectable professions.

''We think Naxals are some kind of fringe idiots who have nothing better to do. But here are people who are putting their lives on the line, certainly their family, by working in remote inhospitable terrain with the risk of being shot by the army at any time.''

''And let me repeat that it's misguided to take to arms; it's misguided. But it's a sign of the frustration of the very conditions,'' said Darryl D'Montet.

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