‘Naxalbari 50’

A Few Words About Naxalbari

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

It is hard to think that fifty years have passed since the first confrontation in Naxalbari. I was both too far and too close. One of my cousins, with whom I had gone to school every day as a child, was deeply involved. And one of our batchmates let loose unbelievable mass brutality upon young men lining a street, asking householders to close their windows. Rumours, before cable television (we had a small black and white), before the internet, before satellite telephone. I was tucked away at the University of Iowa, a young Assistant Professor quite set in with the anti-Vietnam War struggle earlier, and with the diasporic support of the Bangladesh upheaval later, but about Naxalbari was caught in helpless hearsay. Hadn't enough money to go home until 1972, only then to realise the depth and breadth of the wounded polity. But, and I say this with some embarrassment, an old cynical woman now, some of us had romanticised the fact that the first shot was an arrow. My best understanding of the entire movement still comes from Sumanta Banerjee's In the Woke of Naxalbari. I have learnt some Chinese since then, enough to teach some Mao Zedong with the help of graduate students in Chinese. It seems at this distance that, although Charu Mazumder's general inspiration from Mao was certainly enormously effective and moving, it was the at least temporary conscientisation of Left intellectuals that seemed most impressive to us. In 1968, when French university students joined hands with the working class, the Naxalbari phenomenon seemed to us, from far away, a greater political achievement.

It is no doubt a function of my base abroad that I cannot readily perceive continuity between the Naxalbari movement and what is called Maoism now in India. It could also be a function of the horror of violence among my co-workers from the landless SCST-s (this is the descriptive they commonly use) on the border of Birbhum and Jharkhand. It nay also be because I have personally encountered ex-Naxals in Purulia, completely given over to hands-on work for agricultural justice; I have inevitably thought of swords and ploughshares.

I am a literary critic and a translator. In 1981, I translated Mahasweta Devi's "Draupadi". That story rather than the novel The Mother of 1084, set the seal on Naxalbari for me, as it will for generations to come.

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