50 Years Later

Subbarao died a Martyr's Death

Asok Chattopadhyay

A minstrel of Indian revolution, a dream-haunted for the emancipation of mankind sang in his Maluku Maluku:
Lo, the Sun line red is physically seen in the East, a call for rendering a radical change is winding; lo, the downtrodden are crying for, it's the time to respond to them…

These lines are more than enough to have the translation of the philosophical outlook of the poet. And this poet was none other than Subbarao Panigrahi.

The ruling class did ever aptly smell the scent of anti-state revolt and the address of opposition of vested interest of the Government in the tuning chant of the call for arousing people in distress. And naturally the Government got it easy to find out the concrete address of rebellion in the each and every line of the poems and songs of this minstrel. The arms of the Government left no stone unturned to seduce the poet for many a time from the sinister outlets and avenues to get him off with the other side of the moon, but only a gigantic futility was achieved. And then police, at the behest of the Government, stormed gun to kill him along with others.

Subbarao Panigrahi was called the lyricist of the people. He was tied tight with a tree in an Orissa border region and shot from a point blank range to have him wiped out of the soil of the land. That was December 23, 1969. Come 23rd December and fifty years of this murder of a people's poet will hit the yellow pages of history.

This time the poet was in his late thirties. When he was shot dead the Sun still shied away to peep in the sky. The bullets of the police could have been succeeded in getting the rebel poet a still body devoid of a bit sense, but his songs, hymns and the pattering sound of the wordy languages kept belling and ringing onwards! He sang:
We are Communists,
                   we are the toilers,
Whether you agree with us or not
We shall remain Communists....
* * *
Can you stop the rays of the Sun
By putting up your hands?
Can you stop the waves
                   of popular upsurge
By putting us behind bars?...

Obviously, wiping out of the poet Subbarao Panigrahi the rays of the Sun could not have been thwarted; the waves of the hilarious tide of the revolutionary people could not have been staved off. Undaunted they were on the field to face the ire of the ruing class and walk onwards for the radiant days tomorrow. State terror could ever fail to stop blooming the flowers in smile. Never did any tyrant of any country of the world succeed to obstruct the waves of resolution in spite of organising bloody massacres. But this reality and truth failed ever to touch their heart and sense.

Subbarao was born in 1933 in the village of Sompeta under the district of Srikakulam of Andhra Pradesh. He was one of the nine brothers and sisters of a poor Oriya Brahmin family. He had four more brothers and four more sisters. His father Sribatsya Panigrahi was a priest of a Shiva temple. As priesthood was his profession, he wished Subburao to follow him to lead his life for future. But Subbarao was sorry to bow to his father's will. His first schooling happened to have its ground in Sompeta. While a student of class seven, Subbarao came in contact with the Communist Party which remoulded the world of his thought.

When the inundation or Godavari made much worse to the people, he, with a view to serving the flood-struck ones, composed songs and began singing of his own tuning and went down to the masses to collect assistance for them. After matriculation he got himself off from further education and established a school under his pedagogy. This he did after much ponderings. Actually this institution became the centre of his political mission. He composed many a drama and involved his pupils to stage them. Impregnated with his political ideology these dramas came into being his arms of agitprops. Then he endeavoured to get his dramas being the mouthpiece of class struggle.

Once he was compelled to have priesthood—his family profession for some time indeed. But here too he acted otherwise for he found the other side of the moon. He was firm enough to make the devotees coming to the temple free from blind faith and superstitions. And to serve this cause he composed some dramas like Kalachakra, Vimukti, Kumkumrekha, Rikshawalla, Mrigajaal etc and began performing them. These dramas were able enough to influence the people in the villages.

The family members of Subbaro accompanied him performing his dramas. The younger brother of him took part in acting and propaganda too. Thus his entire family was involved in his political activities. On the October 31, 1967, five months after the incident of Naxalbari on May 25, two communist party members were killed by the goons of the zamindar in the village of Levidi. The peasants of Girijan community, in protest, looted the land, property and grains, stocked so far, of the zamindar. And this incident enthusiastically illuminated the other villagers. The police force remained encircled almost six months. This enthusiasm encouraged the communist leaders and the party itself. Now the party came up leading the protest movement armed with guerilla squad formed formally. And this movement of the Girijan peasants encouraged Subbarao to compose Jumkul katha, a new drama which paved the way of a wider mass awakening. Two volumes of his writings entitled Arunkiranatu and Aynikanalu made him much more popular. These writings used to be called the live testament of peasants' struggle against revisionism. Besides Telugu, Subbarao was acquainted with Oriya, English and even Bengali. He composed poetical verses and songs in Telugi and even in Oriya languages.

He was averse to art for art's sake theory and called it bourgeois metaphor. His dramas, poems and songs spoke highly of political analogues. And yet he accepted the form of folk culture to have the best use of it. He opined in favour of composing creative works in the colloquial languages for the common people felt it to have their own. And this made him much popular. He actively participated in the political meetings and used to paste posters by his own hands. As a committed party worker he played his active role and as such he was endeared to all his comrades and fellow people. Easily he could step down to the ranks of the common people with the propaganda works of the party. A report was published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika on December 8, 1968 wherefrom it came to light that the police were 'searching for one Subbarao Panigrahi' who was allegedly 'operating' on the border of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. After Bhaskar Rao was killed by the police, Subbarao was elected the secretary of the Sompeta area committee of the party. It was November 1969.

The women folk once were assaulted and humiliated by the people of Zamindar in a village while rendering propaganda works. The news came to Subbarao. Armed with his followers Subbarao held a protest meet in front of the palace of the zamindar and exposed his true facet. This open exposure got the zamindar furious and Subbarao was attacked by a gang of hired goon. The result got back the worst. Hundreds of peasants ransacked the palace of the zemindar and got him killed.

In November I960 Subbarao initiated an emotive propaganda in favour of armed struggle among the peasants of Srikakulam. The next year he led the struggle of Banjar Yuvarajpuram. Bhaskar Rao having been martyred, he had to take charge of the Sompeta village. This time the name of the poet and singer Subbarao was a familiar name to every villager. To them poet-singer and the organiser Subbarao was the same and a monolithic figure.

To him pen and sword were interdependent and inseparable for the sake of revolution. Nazim Hikmet too said: the poet and soldier is the same and identical person. The martyred poet Saroj Dutta also viewed pen and sword running on the same vein. Jean Paul Sartre wrote:
A day comes when the pen is forced to stop, and the writer must then take up arms. Thus, however you might have come to it, whatever the opinions you might have professed, literature throws you into battle. Writing is a certain way of wanting freedom; once you have begun you are committed willy-nilly.

It's the state that imposes one-sided war on the people and the preyed ones cannot but wage counter-war to face it. The Naxalite movement unfolded this crude reality-oriented truth. Subbarao, being acquainted with destitution since his childhood days, befriended with the poorest, starved and oppressed ones of the society with a natural development of the life style he shared. The communist party divulged a new firmament radiant with new hope before his eyes. Standing by these wretched people he gradually became their own and faithful man whom one could trust with. And this practice and process made him the fiery minstrel of people's struggle. By dint of his dramas, poems and songs he became the harbinger of revolution. A time arrived when he kept his pen on his writing desk and was armed with gun to face the enemy of the people. In a Hindi periodical 'Aamukh' Subbarao was attributed valiantly. This periodical wrote that the spark of Naxalbari showed a new way not only to the exploited and oppressed ones, rather to the creative writers and poets to be conscious enough of their practicable duties and liabilities. And Subbarao himself was one of those poets and writers who came forward to do his doable duties in a war time and in a war field. While struggling for the emancipation of the Girijan peasants of Srikakulam Subbarao died a martyr's death.

A Bengali novel entitled 'Yenan theke Srikakulam' (From Yenan to Srikakulam) depicted the tale of struggle of Communist Revolutionaries like Thamada Ganapathy, Nirmala Krishnamurthy, Subbarao Panigrahi, Ramesh Chandra Sahu and Bhaskar Rao, who all were martyred while involved in the struggle for the people's cause. Of these martyrs some one was poet and dramatist, some was teacher, some were physicians and couple having their defendants left. Bhaskar Rao left back his profession, felicity and his family and flagged high the cause of revolution. And Subbarao, the renowned poet and dramatist too, followed the suit. The acting and performance of his dramas could have made him rich enough with opulence but he was averse to these all and assumed for the wider sky of happiness than that of his own.

The red rays of Naxalbari movement gave birth to a new ballad of emancipation of the exploited classes of the country five decades back. Subbarao took these rays for his own philosophy and practice thereof. His entire family was involved with his dramas for performances and his family members and kins stood by him politically. Such an active involvement earned him a declared enemy of the state and one of his brothers and sisters were arrested by the police with a view to get him a worse lesson. Even after Subbarao was martyred they were behind the bars.

After Subbaro was martyred, the January 1970 issue of Liberation, the English mouthpiece of the CPI (ML), published a statement issued by the party itself. The statement read : "Thirteen party comrades had been murdered by the police in between late November and early December (1969/1970), one of them was Subbarao Panigrahi. But this material stood far from the fact. Of the said thirteen, seven comrades were martyred first. The rest six got arrested by the police. Subbarao was one of these six. Police is reported to tempt them to surrender and disown the party but they all remained faithful to the party and were martyred facing firing squad. Subbarao was martyred on December 23,1969 (i.e. in the third week of December 1969 only one month after he became the secretary of the Sompeta area committee. And as such the question of early January 1970 was incorrect). He was then 36 years of age.

But the murder of Subbarao by the police failed to cow down the struggling peasants of Andhra Pradesh". The party issued a statement which read as follows:
We note with pride that our heroic comrades of Andhra are quickly recovering from the loss and stepping even more quickly into the breach caused by the death of those leading comrades. The losses have failed to weaken their resolve : they are determined to wage on the revolutionary struggle and are actually doing so… Our sorrow is intense, but our pride, too, is beyond measure, for our comrades, our heroic martyrs, when faced with choice, preferred to die rather than to live by disowning the party.

Despite changing of government in Andhra Pradesh after the martyr of Subbarao, the outlook of the newly enthroned governments did have no change and the opposition of the vested interests had never earned patrons. The Congress government came into power in Andhra Pradesh and the government led by Rama Rao got enthroned in the following years, but the Andhra Pradesh remained the same pasture of the slayers. K Balagopal, one of the upright leaders of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties movement apprised even in the mid-eighties that any sort of dialogue of a person with any of this Civil Liberties activist might invite police raiding his home. While raiding home had the police raged the bricks or tiles of the house to torn, the sufferer must have to say that he himself did it of his own. Had the police picked up one's son and torture him, the wretched father must have to admit that he did not know where his son had gone! Een if any father failed or denied to trace his son's address, he might invite staving off mercilessly by the police and this besmeared father with blood must have to state that the bloody stains and wounds were all he had bore since his birth!

This state of the ruling regime still remains unchanged. A radical difference has stood too far to reach. And yet the dream of revolution, emancipation and of a new India free from all heinous dark can have not been eradicated or uprooted from the stable soil. Poet Subbarao is physically no more now, but he is omnipresent in the minds and thoughts of the people at fray on the war field not only in Andhra Pradesh rather beyond like a dazzling star in the nocturnal sky.

Come December 23rd this year and the fifty years of the martyr of Subbarao will set out for a stroll through the cunning passages and contrived corridors of history which hardly patrons any loafer. After Lorca, the great poet, being martyred, Pablo Neruda wrote in his 'Ode to Fererico Garcia Lorca':
If I could cry out of fear in a
                   lonely house.
if I could take out my eyes and
                   eat them,
I would do it for your mournful
                   orange tree voice
and for your poetry that comes out

Here from the deep of the blue deep a fragrance of the orange plant being the voice of the slain poet Lorca was as if ringing and a peremptory utterance had been coming forth from the inner soul of this poem.

This voice and peremptory utterance did belong not only to Lorca alone, it was that of martyred poets like Subbarao Panigrahi, Saroj Dutta, Dronacharya Ghosh, Amiya Chatto-padhyay and others too. This voice and peremptory utterance are still remaining sleepless all the time. A long fifty years after Naxalbari have passed but the unfulfilled dreams ceaselessly haunt all those who participated in it, all along having no cool breeze in pastimes.

 November 3-5, 2018

Vol. 51, No.22, Dec 2 - 8, 2018