'Naxalbari 50': Living In Peace

A Many Splendoured Movement

T Vijayendra

Fifty years is a long time. The revolutionary spark that was lit 50 years ago may not have started a prairie fire, but nor did it die. The direct lineage of the Peasant Uprising of 1967 continues in the form of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)'s activities in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Orissa and some western parts of West Bengal.

However, along with this central theme, the movement gave rise to many related movements. Today, the word Naxalite has come to mean all those movements that are not supported by any of the existing political parties that participate in elections. It has thus become a many-splendoured movement, even if unintentionally!

I was involved, in some of these related movements: trade union activities, Hindi left wing journalism, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Child Labour, Peak Oil, and most recently, the Platform for Sustainability and Equity. Everywhere, I found that there was someone in the key position who had a Naxalite background and was deeply inspired and influenced by the movement. Also, everywhere I was received with great warmth and camaraderie.

I belonged to a group in the Movement which had its own ideological position. It treated imperialism (and not feudalism) as the principal contradiction of Indian society, and therefore gave equal importance to work among the peasantry and the industrial working class. Because I could speak, read and write Hindi, I mainly worked in the Jharkhand region of the then undivided Bihar.

Initially, I wandered about in the forests of West Singhbhum and had a meeting with Kaka (Ashim Chatterji). The meeting ended with a difference of opinion. Kaka maintained the primacy of peasant struggle, and denied the leadership of the proletariat in the current Indian revolution. So, I moved to the trade union movement, where some revolutionaries were active in the region.

To begin with, I was associated with the rural beedi workers' struggle, where our group did achieve some notable success. In passing, it may be noted that the movement gradually got close to its logical constituency; that of unorganised labour in the informal sector. So, the struggle of rural beedi workers, and of tribals collecting tendu leaves (used for making Bidis), has remained an important constituency till this date. Later on, I moved to the steel unions in Durgapur and Bokaro.

In 1972, our group decided to publish a Hindi journal called Filhaal from Patna. The editor was Vir Bharat Talwar. We were very influenced by Frontier and Filhaal looked like a Hindi edition of Frontier. At first I was at Bokaro and formed a workers' writing group which often sent reports to Filhaal in a series of articles with a series title: 'Bokaro: A show case of government socialism'. At that time, I was reading Gramsci and was very influenced by his ideas of left wing journalism: the working class has a right to know the critique of every aspect of the bourgeois society and we decided it was our mandate to provide it. Later I moved to Patna to help Talwar run Filhaal.

Like Frontier, we covered the news of the movement and working class struggles. We covered news of the atrocities committed against Dalits all over rural India. We covered the famous 'coke oven strike' at Durgapur, the trade union movement in the Dhanbad coalfields, and most rural struggles. We also carried articles on the theoretical debates going on in the communist movement, nationally and internationally.

Unlike Frontier, however, we also published poetry—mostly, translated from Telugu and Punjabi, and some poems in Hindi too. I remember we published poems of Paash in Punjabi translated by Chaman Lal, several Telugu poets of Viplavi Rachayita Sangham (Revolutionary Writers' Association) and the famous Hindi lyricist Shailendra's 'Netaon ko Nyota' (an invitation to the leaders from a working class settlement in Bombay). We published articles on Buddhism, Arya Samaj and excerpts from Kosambi's books.

After the Emergency, our group got involved in the Jharkhand Movement and we published two journals-Jharkhand Varta edited by Sitaram Shastri and Shaalpatra edited by Vir Bharat Talwar.

In 1985, I spent a year at Bhopal in the aftermath of the gas tragedy. Bhopal attracted many comrades from diverse fields; trade unions, law, health, occupational health and so on. First, I was involved in putting together a book for the citizens of Bhopal. This led to my writing two booklets on occupational health for the workers—Byssinosis (Brown Lung Disease) for the textile workers and Kaala Fefra (Black Lung or Coal Workers' Neumonoconiasis) for the coal workers of Dhanbad.

Child Labour
In 1991, I moved to South India and in Hyderabad I met Shantha Sinha. She had done her Ph. D. on 'Maoism in Andhra Pradesh' and was doing pioneering work for the elimination of child labour and in sending rescued children back to school. She used to subscribe to Filhaal and so we had a bond. I worked with her in preparing a curriculum for the camps where these children prepared to join the school in a grade appropriate to their age.

Peak Oil
In the early 21st century, issues of Global Warming and Mineral Resource Depletion were becoming major issues. These implied an implosion of capitalism. The traditional Left, including the Naxalites, were not paying any attention to it. Our little group in Hyderabad took it up and in 2009. I published a book, 'Regaining Paradise: towards a fossil free society'. This helped to expand our activities and we launched a website called, '' which later became '' We had several meetings around these issues and eventually launched the 'Platform for Sustainability and Equity'. This brought together several groups working in the field of equity (Left groups) and sustainability (environmental groups). We have had two meetings so far—one in Bangalore and the other in Calcutta. The next one is scheduled to be held in Pune.

In Conclusion
During all these years, I kept in touch with my original comrades during annual visits to Calcutta and Jharkhand and through Frontier. I have been writing for Frontier continuously since 1995, and have contributed nearly 40 articles, more than ten of which have been for the Annual Number. Timir Basu, the present editor of Frontier, has been very supportive in all this. By now I have published two books consisting of articles published in Frontier. I have become an author!

Since then, I have also written a book on resource depletion and some fiction—two slim volumes of short stories, a novella and an autobiography. This year, I have dedicated myself to celebrate the bicentenary of the bicycle—a symbol of the ordinary man's transport and sustainability. So far, we have published three books on the subject and several are in the pipeline. All my writings are 'copy left' and are freely available online.

I have managed to cover a huge range of topics in my articles for Frontier: Bihar, coal fields, Naxalites, Santhali script, Buddhism, Dakhni language, language and bio-geography, environment, critique of vegetarianism, old age, Sanskrit, Hinduism, Bhimsen Joshi, Education Manifesto, euthanasia, small states, population, cities, Peak Oil, the politics of non-violence and so on. There are also two small articles dealing with the Passion (Christ's suffering on the Cross) and the concept of Liberation.

The Naxalite movement has shaped my life in the last 50 years and has helped me to live in peace with myself in the very distressing times that we live.

Autumn Number
Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 - Oct 21, 2017