A Tribute

Ratikanta Hazra (Suren) in Memoriam

Dipak Piplai

Ratikanta Hazra, alias “Suren”, breathed his last on the morning of May 30, 2022 at the residence of his uncle in Kolkata.

He hailed from Amta of district Howrah. His schooling was in the district Murshidabad in his maternal uncle’s home. He subsequently came to Kolkata, enrolled himself in Bangabasi College and completed his graduation there. He was born in a well-to-do family. But the Naxalbari peasant revolt influenced him and dragged him in the area of revolutionary politics. He denounced the ultra revisionist opposition to revolutionary politics and joined the“Vitti”group in the communist revolutionary camp.

On May 24, 1967, the uprising of a few thousand peasants of Naxalbari of Darjeeling district took place. The very next day, (May 25), a peaceful rally of mainly female workers took place, the CPM-led ‘United Front’ Government opened fire on them, unprovoked, thereby killing eight women, two kids and a person.

There were violent political protests throughout India against this act of killing peasants by the ‘Marxists’. As a sequel to that reaction, two leaders of armed peasant movement of Khulna district now in Bangladesh, Shree Sudhir Chatterjee (or Budhu as he was very fondly called by many) and Shree Pulin Piplai founded an organisation of the Communist Revolutionaries. “Vitti” became the organ of this revolutionary group. The first issue of “Vitti” appeared on August 15, 1967.Both Chatterjee and Piplai were once fore-runners in the Tebhaga movement led by the undivided Communist Party of India in the Khulna district.

Driven by revolutionary zeal, Ratikanta Hazra made a contact with Sudhir Chatterjee and expressed his willingness to work among masses. In 1967 itself, Hazra, under the direct leadership of Sudhir Chatterjee went to a village in Haroa-Sandeshkhali region to organise peasants and spread the message of Naxalbari rebellion. At that time, he assumed the “tec” name “Suren” though he was popularly known as ‘master’in his area of activities. He became the Printer-Publisher-Onwer of the journal, “Vitti”. That “Suren” and Ratikanta Hazra are one and the same person, many activists, who were associated with “Vitti”, did not know even today. While devoting himself towards creating a revolutionary peasant organisation in the villages, he used to write reports about peasant movements in “Vitti” under various pen-names. It was the policy of the journal, “Vitti,” not to publish anything with real names.

For one thing Suren never expressed his personal demands ever. On one occasion, he was suffering from severe cold, an activist wrapped him with warm clothe, a woolen sweater , but he never asked for any warm clothing, silently suffering from the cold. He spent years in and years out in such a hardship. Once his condition was so critical due to blood dysentery that the Munda family that used to give him shelter thought he won’t survive. No doctor, no medicine, scanty food. There was a quack in the nearby bazar but it was next to impossible to go there because of round the clock vigil by police informers and CPM cadres.

Leaving everything personal, comfort and other worldly aspects, Ratikanta Hazra bore all the hardships, devoting himself relentlessly for the cause of revolutionary politics, establishing himself as a dedicated revolutionary. He used to come to Kolkata if there would be any need for the party; otherwise he integrated himself with the common people of the villages where he was preaching his revolutionary politics. He rejected the concept of roving annihilation bands of “left adventurist” politics; instead he was a tireless crusader to establish a mass peasant organisation, creating a base with the landless labourers and Bidi workers in a sustained and consistent manner.

“Vitti” was published regularly till March 1970. Ratikanta was both a revolutionary organiser of the peasants in the village and the printer-publisher-owner of the journal. Against the threats and hegemony of the two communist revolutionary organisations, namely MCC and CPI (M-L), he continued his revolutionary activities as a peasant organiser with a view to championing an alternative line of mass action. Rival political groups attacked him with arms, his health was deteriorating, he was put to severe death threat twice in his life, but he braved all the odds. Sitting in the cities, those who used to issue clarion calls of “Agrarian Revolution”, against them Hazra was just a rebellious model against such practices.

In 1970, the prime-mover behind the journal “Vitti”, Sree Sudhir Chatterjee was detected Cancer, not curable by medical intervention. His terminal illness and for other unavoidable reasons, the publication of the journal, “Vitti” was stopped. But Ratikanta remained undaunted; he continued to carry on his political activities among the peasants with an organisation, known as “National Liberation and Democratic Front” (NLDF). Another communist revolutionary, Timir Basu alias ‘Jatin’ was his close associate in the villages since 1969.

Direct political activism ended for him but his political life revolved around his association with the weekly magazine, Frontier till the end of his life. Failing health and old age, though got the better of him, but he remained politically alert.

Suren was born on April 4, 1941. He died at the age of 81, remained single throughout his life. The death of Ratikanta Hazra has closed a glorious chapter of communist revolutionary struggle that broke the status quo in the Indian Communist Movement. The way Ratikanta exemplified the immediate post-naxalbari generation of youth as a revolutionary force speaks to all generations.

His association with Frontier, the magazine founded by Samar Sen way back in 1968, dates back to early ‘80s. He was not a writer. Nor was he a leader. So he was less known to Frontier readers. But he used to help Frontier in his own way by raising funds and campaigning for subscribers. He became a director of Germinal Publications Pvt Ltd that owns Frontier in August, 1999. At one stage Frontier, more precisely ‘Germinal..’faced serious structural crisis due to dilution of share-holding pattern necessitating induction of some new shareholders loyal to Frontier ideals. He came forward to mobilise some money to purchase a few shares to keep Frontier going as usual. He remained a director till the last day of his life. Frontier mourns the death of Ratikanta Hazra.

[Translated from original Bengali by Subhasish Mukhopadhyay] 

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Vol 54, No. 52, Jun 26 - Jul 2, 2022