Voices from the Underground*


The peasant movement, that rocked the status-quo in place which was just a tiny dot in the very big landscape of India in Northern part of Bengal, more than five decades ago, instead of being a mere memory, remains an active area of research by serious scholars throughout the country. Apart from monographs authored by scholars, those who were active players in those stormy days, wrote their memories. The second category included high-ranking leaders through foot-soldiers to those who were entrusted to crush the movement.

Professor Amit Bhattercharya, a teacher in History, Jadavpur University is well-known for his scholarly monographs on Naxalite movement had done a great job by initiating a project of collecting the documents of the movement. It all started as an academic project, funded by the erstwhile UGC. The time-period chosen by the author spans a period from 1965 through 1992. The first volume of this multi-volume project, containing documents for the period 1965 to 1971 has been published by Setu Prakashani of Kolkata in January 2022. This volume contains a total of eighteen documents, organised in two distinct but not too disjoint sections.

Any collection of documents which seeks to portray a cogent picture of Naxalite movement necessarily begins with the proverbial “Eight Documents” by late Charu Mazumdar. As the legend goes, all of them were written originally in Bengali to serve the ideological battle being waged against “revisionism”, which according to a large section of the Communist Party workers has its origin in the leadership of the Party. The second section contains articles, most of them are English translations of the articles published in the Bengali language organ of CPI (M-L) during the period.

The chosen articles describe the most controversial “act” of the Naxalite youths, namely “book-burning” and “Iconoclasm”. Youths of today are mostly fed with received knowledge and are not in a position to go through the debates originated from the initiators, would be benefitted as they have now get access to the original articles written by Saroj Dutta himself, buttressed by none other than Charu Mazumdar. It is fair, for the sake of history, that the rival views on these issues from within the movements be given its due share. This compilation also contains the polemical document by Sushital Ray Choudhury, which was circulated within the party circle, criticising both these activities from a theoretical view point. One may recall that during the later years of Naxalite movement, many leaders and activists supported the fundamental kernel of what Ray Choudhury raised during those stormy days. Notable among them were the party’s leader Suniti Kumar Ghosh, well-known activists like Sumanta Banerjee, Krishna Bandyopadhyay and many others.

The author’s intention was very clear at the very outset, when he writes in the Introduction that “ A large number of … documents have been lost forever, destroyed by the possessors because there were times when the mere possession of it would surely have landed one in prison, not to speak of being subjected to physical torture or murdered in cold blood. These represented the voices of dissent, the voices of rebellion and revolution. The need was felt to preserve these documents of immense historical value for posterity—for general readers, activists, scholars and historians” (P-i). From this point of view, the author has done a great job.

There is few confusion though. The author declared in the Introduction part that “eight articles of Charu Mazumdar some of which are undated..”, yet at the end of each English rendition, some dates are mentioned. As is well-known, these documents were clandestine documents, circulated among the confidants and propagated among a larger audience by the closed associates of Mazumdar. The dates were mostly obtained from them and there is little agreement among them about these issues. Although, by circumstantial evidence, later researchers could tab the year of publication of all the eight documents, but one cannot be very sure about this vital historical information. Another point is about the translation of these documents into other languages, where the English translation serves the primary basis for such an undertaking. Those who wrote history of this movement in English, soon realised that the English version of the articles by Charu Mazumdar and Saroj Dutta, which were published in Party’s English monthly journal, Liberation, translated from the Party’s Bengali journal, Deshobrati, was rather inaccurate, in the sense that often extreme liberty was indulged in, which must be a result of extreme hurry and such other avoidable and not-so-avoidable reasons. Sumanta Banerjee had pointed out these lacunae in his monograph, “In the Wake of Naxalbari”, thereafter; many scholars had mentioned the same aspect. Sumanta Banerjee himself had translated many portions from original Bengali version and included his own translation, instead of what was officially published in Liberation, in his book, and avoided quoting from the translation available in Liberation. The same is true about the documents available in internet.

The author of this collection has undertaken the same endeavour, but as regards the “Eight Documents”, looks like it that some inaccuracy in the English translation still persists, which should be rectified for the fairness to the person and history. The collection would be very useful for students and scholars who want to delve deep into the currents and cross-currents of events of the decades of sixties and seventies of the last century.

[*VOICES from the Underground—Select Naxalite Documents 1965-1971, Edited by Amit Bhattacharyay, Setu Prakashani, Kolkata and Delhi, January 2022, Price Rs 225.]

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Vol 54, No. 47, May 22 - 28, 2022