Book Review

Thrills and Exposures

Anirban Biswas

Sattarer Diary
(The Diary of the 1970s)
by Sailen Misra (with a foreword by Ashim Chatterjee)
Birutjatiya Sahitya Sanmilani, Bolpur, 210 pages, Hardbound, Price Rs 300

Sailen Misra, who was a prominent Naxalite activist of Birbhum, and till today continues to participate in struggles involving mass issues, earlier wrote two books on his experience and understanding as a political activist dreaming of changing the class- divided, inequality-based society. In his new book, he has added more information and described his many escapades. That he could evade arrest for a long time was due to his courage, intelligence and presence of mind, and his proneness to listen to the advices of his well-wishers, most of whom were subalterns.

While going through the book, this reviewer was struck by the tyrannical and murderous activities of some police officers. One of them, Mr Amiya Samanta, then SP of Birbhum, beat Misra mercilessly; Misra's body still bears the marks of this torture. It may be pointed out that when Mr Samanta was the SP, the police, as per the information given by Misra and the personal knowledge of this reviewer, committed quite a few extra-judicial killings and the victims were unarmed; they did not die 'encounter' deaths. Officers like Samanta ostensibly liked to kill unarmed Naxalites, themselves lacking the courage to face them when they were armed. A young man, known to this reviewer, named Siddhartha Mitra, was prematurely released from Suri jail, rearrested from the prison gate, taken to a place about 10 miles away, and then shot dead. It does not require much intellect to understand that these cold-blooded murders did not take place without Mr Samanta's approval. Justice demands that Mr Samanta and his subordinate police officers should have been tried for murder and punished accordingly. One can easily recall that a judge of the Allahabad High Court once remarked in his judgment that as regards criminal activities, no one has been able to surpass the Indian police. Mr.Samanta later wrote a book, based on police records and posing himself as an outsider, on the Naxalite movement and still later, tried to pose himself as a champion of human rights. The hypocrisy of such soi-disant humanists, however, had few takers except those who had no knowledge of his illegal (mis)deeds. Misra however names some other police officers, e.g. Shyamal Datta, Shibdas Ray et al who, as faithful servants of the state, became practised hands in cold-blooded, extra-judicial killing in the name of preserving the rule of law, and taking fat salaries and other facilities for this purpose.

Misra's book, however, has many other things to offer. One or two episodes may be narrated. One was Misra's journey from Kolkata to Bolpur. Even at the Howrah station, he was warned by an acquaintance of the possibility of being killed by local reactionaries and the police. Yet he boarded the train, and taking a circuitous route, succeeded in reaching Bolpur. He was also chased there, and his life was saved by a Muslim peasant who risked his life and showed great presence of mind in misleading the police and accompanying him to a safer place. There too he was chased and along with some other frightened young men, spent the night in a paddy field. This episode is redolent of the saying, 'Truth is stranger than fiction'.

In another case, the police, led by the officer-in-charge of the Bolpur police station, fired at him and some others. Although not hit by the bullet, Misra fell down because of sheer physical exhaustion, and the police officer, thinking him dead, left him there after kicking at his body several times. He then entered a thatched house and the housewife saved him( and another fellow) by facing the police boldly.

It is an irony that several years later, the daughter of the same police officer who had dealt with Misra and others with extreme brutality became inclined to Sailen Misra's politics, and her hooligan-like father could not prevent her.

In late 1972, Sailen Misra had to surrender to the court, because before him, there was presumably no underground to go into. The many-sided left adventurism had already taken its toll. The police however took him into their custody and brutally tortured him. The process of torture was directed by SP himself. This torture damaged his body permanently. In jail, he was kept in sub-human conditions. While in jail, he, along with a few of his comrades, became convinced of the disastrous nature of line adopted in the Party Congress of 1970 and decided to start working with their changed political understanding. This work too underwent ups and downs and the overall success was rather limited although it showed considerable promise initially. The latter setback was largely due to subsequent divisions and splits. Misra's book contains an account of the entire process, and his own appraisal of the setback of 1971-72. One important observation of him is that since there was no programme other than that of annihilation of landlords, peasants gradually came to believe that their own demands would not get priority. Hence their initiative waned in the face of state repression. Misra's book contains an account of the anti-British armed struggle in Birbhum. This was necessary and is useful.

Times have changed much since then, and many ci-devant revolutionaries have, over time, succumbed to frustration and careerism. Many have effected an U-turn in their style of living . For the petty-bourgeoisie, the defeat of the movement has left a permanent sense of demoralisation. But Misra has retained his optimism, and says " These lives( those of martyrs) will not come back, but through their deaths, those young men have kindled the flame of liberation of India. That flame can never be extinguished; it waits for the crucial hour, in order to re -illuminate the country and the nation with the light of a thousand suns".

[This review is a very much incomplete narrative of the contents of Misra's book. One must go through the book itself in order to appreciate its true worth.]

Vol. 53, No. 21, Nov 22 - 28, 2020