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The Naxalbari-days:
The rural poor formed village defense squad

Third of the three interviews by Subhasis and Arijit from the cradle of the revolutionary uprising, which dispel many distorted analyses on Naxalbari

[Aneek, an independent, radical Baanglaa monthly from Kolkata, India, in its 53rd years of publication, interviewed three leaders of the Naxalbari Uprising. The leaders with working class background were organizing armed struggle of the poor-landless peasantry in the Naxalbari region since the earliest days of the revolutionary initiative, which nullify many one-sided analyses of Naxalbari depicting the revolutionary initiative as an individual-based conspiratorial activity. Following is Nemoo Singh’s interview, conducted by Arijit and Subhasis from Aneek, and published in the monthly’s May 2017 (vol. 53, no. 11) issue. The interview was conducted in May 2017 at Nemoo Singh’s village home in Siliguri, more than 450 km north of Kolkata. All the three interviews were video recorded; and its audio parts were transcribed by Subhasis, and were vetted by the interviewees. None of them denied any part of respective interview. The translation of this interview into English from Baanglaa has been done by Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer. Two earlier interviews were carried by Countercurrents.org, an e-journal from South India, and Frontier, the radical weekly from Kolkata, on November 20, 2017 and (https://countercurrents.org/2017/11/20/aabaar-naxalbari-naxalbari-again/) and December 31-January 6, 2017 and (vol. 50, no.26, http://www.frontierweekly.com/articles/vol-50/50-26/50-26-Naxalbari%20Again.html) respectively. ]

Nemoo Singh:
I’m Nemoo Singh. I was born in Raamvolaa [also spelled Rambhola] Jot, a rural settlement. We four brothers of the five actively took part in this movement [1]. I’m still active with politics. I shall remain active. It’s not fair to leave behind our path of struggle. It’s very important to lovingly keep alive work and memories of our comrades, who made supreme sacrifice for this movement.

We got involved with the movement of 1967. Tarai Krishak Sammelan, a conference of peasants from the Tarai [the outer a foothill of the Himalayas is identified as Tarai] region, was organized. Kaanoo Saanyaal [also spelled Kanu Sanyal], Khokan Majoomdaar [also spelled Majumdar] and Jangal Shaaotaal [also spelled Shantal] were leading the conference. I was, at that time, 10-12 years of age.

Raamvolaa Jot under Booraaganj [also spelled Buraganj] was our foremost stronghold. Kaanoo Saanyaal, Souren Bose, Khokan Majoomdaar, Beeren [also spelled Biren] Bose, Jangal Shaaotaal, Keshab Sarkar, Krishnavakta Porel from the hill area used to regularly visit our village, and interacted with the villagers. We liked their analysis and viewpoints on issues very much. We have firsthand experience of the jotedaars’ [2] repression and torture. Consequently, we had no problem to realize the need to organize movement against the jotedaars.

Jotedaar Harihar Sing’s residence was adjacent to our home. Once I witnessed that, the jotedaar murdered two sharecroppers. The jotedaar narrated the entire murder-incident in a false way. He described that the two sharecroppers stole jute. Beating and other tortures of the poor peasantry by the jotedaars were regular incidents, almost daily. We were fuming as we used to witness these incidents of torture. One day, my parents were tortured also. During that time, Bandhan Oraao was with the laal jhaandaa [3] party. We had no idea about the laal jhaandaa party. After the torture of my parents, my father began to listen to Bandhan Oraao.

My father, then, actively joined the movement. We also followed our father. We began considering Booraaganj as a liberated area. In our village, 18 guns were with our possession. In some cases, a number of the jotedaars surrendered a few of those guns to us while we seized the rest from the other jotedaars. We distributed huge amount of paddy among the poor peasantry. The paddy was seized from barns of the jotedaars. We also seized a quite number of plots of land from the jotedaars. We made charges for seizing of three types of land: the jotedaars’ land with title under false name, land from which sharecropper was evicted by the jotedaars, and public land occupied by the jotedaars.

At that time, the jotedaars were retreating. A village defense squad was formed with the participation of the rural poor, and the squad was armed with the 18 guns we had.

Jotedaar Ranilaal [also spelled Ranilal] Singh used to torture too much. Movables were seized from his home.

Jotedaar Sampat Raay [also spelled Ray] at Chater Haat used to maintain a large force of goons. The jotedaar burned to ashes the homes of Manilaal Singh and Shovaan Ali, two poor villagers. Manilaal was connected to Khoodan [also spelled Khudan] Singh. Khoodan Singh was a trusted leader of the Raajbangshee [also spelled Rajbangshi] community. Everybody relied on them.

A big incident of firing occurred at Barajharoo Jot in 1967. We were not there during the incident. Police cordoned Barajharoo Jot, the poor peasantry charged with bows and arrows while the police inspector Wangdi died. We rushed to the area after the news reached us with whatever arms we had.

During those days, it was our hegemony in the area. We moved in open day light carrying guns. However, we didn’t take guns to Barajharoo Jot.

After the incident, the police force cordoned the villages during daytime. Villagers ran away to different places away from the villages. A number of them ran towards Sebdalla Jot while others rushed towards Hochaai Mallik Jot. No young aged peasant was inside the villages cordoned by the police. It was a sort of occupation of the villages by the police.

It was May 25, the next day after the death of Wangdi. Our procession was heading towards Bengaai Jot after passing by Rathkholaa. The demonstration march was organized to protest the atrocities of the police and the jotedaars. At that time, there was a forest known as Saatvaaiaa. We were well-known faces in the villages sitting below the forest at the upper reaches. Nepalis, Shaaotaals and Moslems used to live together in one of those villages. The villages experienced no communal disturbance.

We learned about the incident of police firing on the procession of the rural people. We stepped back after learning the news of the police firing. Police began arresting the villagers widely in Dhooliaar Jot. A police camp was set up there. About 100 policemen were deployed in the area. Tortures began in the villages after the deployment of police.

Treebenoo Kaanoo began fight against police after taking position inside a sugarcane field. Police shot dead Treebenoo Kaanoo and Premlaal Mallik. Police also fired at Paban Singh. Paban was from our village, Raamvolaa Jot. Police demolished all our houses. All members of our family were compelled to turn fugitive. Police looted all of our produces from all homes in the village. They carried away those loaded in their vehicles. There were 35-40 homes including the home of Kadamlaal Mallik in our village. By that time, Khemoo and my father were arrested and sent to prison. Later, I also landed in jail. Patal Singh, my brother, couldn’t be arrested. Cases were filed on a blanket basis against all of us. The charges brought against us included looting of the jotedaars’ crops and guns, etc. These developments were after May. The First United Front was running the government in West Bengal [now, Paschim Banga] during the time.

In our area, Booddheemaan Teerke, Ishwaar Teerke, and their associates were with Baanglaa Congress [4]. Many of us were charged under P D Act [5], and were transported to a prison in Darjeeling. Me, Kaanoo Saanyaal and Khokan Majoomdaar were in that group. I was freed after 18 days. However, police were following me. I was again arrested after a few days. It was on the eve of a poojaa [6]. I was arrested from our home, and was sent to Siliguri Special Jail. We were sent to different jails. Khemoo was sent to Bhagalpoor [also spelled Bhagalpur] Jail. By that time, Shantee Paal [also spelled Shanti Paul], Kaanoo Saanyaal, Deepak Beeswaas [also spelled Dipak Biswas], and others were behind bars. Me, and these comrades were in Siliguri Special Jail. A few days later, I was released from jail. I was arrested again around mid-1970. During the period, I was carrying on political activities in a semi-clandestine way. I’m with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Deepak Beeswaas, Shantee Paal, Manilaal Singh, Khojen Singh, Paanjaab Rao, Panchaanan Sarkaar [also spelled Panchanan Sarkar], and some other comrades were in the same jail. In total, it was 15-16 comrades in the prison. I had to pass 9 months in that jail. During those jail days, the authorities conveyed to us a proposal for availing division status [7]. However, we rejected the proposal. We said: We have entered jail as we began organizing revolution; we shall remain steadfast on the road to revolution; we won’t compromise with government. We opined that the plan for extending division status to us is a tactics to completely isolate us from the ordinary prisoners. During that time, an idea of escaping from prison was repeatedly peeping into our head.

At that time, we had a guerrilla squad in Baaboo Paaraa [also spelled Babu Para] under Siliguri. The number of members in this squad was about 13. All of them were energetic youth. This squad sent us letter telling that they would help us even at the cost of their lives; so, you consider plan breaking away from prison.

During the period, there was the North Bengal-Bihar Regional Committee. Deepak Beeswaas was leading in the committee. He, naturally, had influence on the committee. The committee made the decision that we would file case and inform the administration that we like to initiate legal fight in court of law. Our plan was to divert police attention from us and to bring slackness in security arrangement.

We sent information to comrades outside of the prison that they should arrange interview with us with a posture of assisting us in filing case in court of law. With this arrangement, opportunities for frequent interviews would be possible, which would help discuss plan for prison break. Members of the squad were from different localities. They individually met us one by one, as we sent names of nine comrades seeking interview.

Our plan was to get out through the main gate by taking away key of the main gate, and this would be done during interview. Some sticks were in the jail office. It was planned that one group of us would guard with those sticks while the rest would charge toward the main gate and snatch away the key from the sentry.

I was entrusted with the job of snatching away the key. I snatched away the key by slapping the sentry with a quick speed. Comrades from our squad charged two bombs on the police camp near the main gate, and the police there fled away. We began rushing away through the main gate. Comrades from the squad were racing ahead of us while we were following them. We took shelter in a home after nearing the NGP. The shelter was pre-arranged. Railway workers had profound love for us. We stayed in their quarters. They assisted us in a wide way, and kept us clandestinely. Then, we formed smaller groups, and moved to different locations. The incident was in 1971.

News from Nepal reached us in 1971: Peasant rising similar to the Naxalbari occurred in Jhaapaa [also spelled Jhapa]. Beeren Raajbangshee [also spelled Biren Rajbangshi], a rich farmer at Nepal border, was the leader of the organized move. Manilaal Singh, our comrade, was Beeren’s maternal uncle. Younger brother of Manilaal and me went there, and from there, to Nepal. Then, a committee with 18 members was formed. Representatives in the committee came from different areas including Maro, Jhaapaa [also spelled Jhapa], Daharee [also spelled Dahari] and Damak. The committee was formed with members from a number of districts [8]. We stayed there. However, our experience was bare. We continued discussions based on that too-little experience.

We, at that time, used to listen to the Baanglaa program broadcast by Radio Peking [9]. Peking [10], at the initial stage, extended wide political support to our Naxalbari Movement. We felt encouraged as we to know this support. We perceived that we have gathered international support. We also felt that we have public support. News about us reached Nepal as we had public support. Charu Majumdar was alive during the time, and he was writing on the question of breaking of prison. News of breaking of jail by us also reached Nepal. Actions against the jotedaars were successfully carried out in Nepal. Guns, 10-12 in number, were seized. Members from all communities participated in the action. Members from Dhaamaal [also spelled Dhamal] community also participated. I was having underground life in Nepal the way I used to live in India. However, I was apprehended at Nepal border. The area was near Naxalbari. This happened as I entered India. I used to bring periodicals and journals including Peking Review [11] from Nepal to India. Red Books [12], copies of Peking Review, and other periodicals were with me while I was apprehended.

The Mochee River was flowing full. I failed to cross the flowing river. I stayed at a shelter at night. That was a comrade’s home. However, police arrested me at that night. I was taken to Chandragooree [also spelled Chandraguri] Jail. I was kept there for 28 days. Then, I was sent to a jail in Nepal at Beerganj [also spelled Birganj]. A number of comrades from Nepal were also arrested on the charge of the Jhaapaa case. I was charged along with them.

We were young in age. Our experience was also little. That’s the reason we were defeated in terms of tactical fight with the state. I had to pass 18 days in Kathmandu Jail after passing a month in Beerganj Jail. I was transferred from one jail to another, four jails in total. We, 17 sentenced comrades, were in Nathoo [also spelled Nathu] Jail. I was sentenced to life imprisonment. I, there, was identified as Raajen Raajbangshee. We organized a 7-member committee there to find out ways for breaking jail. We thought revolution could not be organized if we are in jail; and we would be failing in joining the revolution.

We once planned to cross over prison wall; but the plan was abandoned as a number of comrades brought to notice the watchtowers along the wall flooded with searchlights from dusk to dawn. The plan was abandoned after considering all related aspects. The plan to escape through the main gate was accepted. Security arrangements in this jail were slack, not strict as was found in the jails in the plains. I was entrusted with the responsibility of gun: I have to continue with fire. Other comrades were to run away with guns from jail gate. However, this plan was also cast off as it was questioned that who would continue with firing if comrade Rajen, me, dies. Other comrades had no training of firing guns. The plan would have failed if firing of gun turns off.

Then, digging of a tunnel as an escape route appeared as an alternative plan. During the time, incidents of jailbreak were going on, one after another, in Vaagalpoor [mainly spelled Bhagalpur]: crossing jail walls or coming out through tunnel. The Statesman [13] was covering all those news.

In the meantime, Patal Singh, my brother, turned martyr. The Party brought out a leaflet in his memory headlined: “Be a good fighter like Patal Singh”. The leaflet reached us in the Kathmandu Jail. Lethargy whatever was there among a few of our comrades went away after the leaflet reached us.

We four comrades identified the area to begin digging of a tunnel. We were at the upper floor of the jail. The ground floor was vacant, and that was a non-brick structure. It was decided that we should stay in the ground floor. Therefore, we appealed to the jailor to allow us stay there in the ground floor. The jailor approved our plea. The total jail population was we – 17, leaders and workers of Congress – 45, others – 37. The distance between our cell and prison wall was 72 feet. We began discussing the tact of hiding so much soil that would come up from digging of the tunnel.

With permission of the jailor, we collected a few hares as pets. A pen for the hares was constructed. The tunnel digging was started at just beneath the hare pen. We build up raised platforms as sleeping places with the soil. There were many broken bricks. With those bricks, square enclosures were made, and into those enclosures, soil was dumped; then, that soil was covered with rest of the broken bricks. The appearance of the entire structure was that of a raised platform made of bricks. We also brought soil from outside, and that was done in front of all. The tact was, as for example, 10 baskets full of soil from the tunnel dug were dumped there while one basket full of soil from outside was brought in. Thus, we made 11 raised platforms for 11 of us. We used to dig tunnel round the clock. We kept watch around. Along with this, we began practicing songs. Two from among us were engaged with the digging of tunnel while the rest were busy with practicing songs. One of the two, dug soils while the other pulled up the soil from beneath.

Digging of the tunnel began on the 11th of Falgoon [usually spelled Falgun] [14]. We left the jail through the tunnel a month later. The date was the 12th of Chaitra [15]. It was 1977-’78. We all but one comrade left the jail at dusk. The lone comrade stubbornly refused to leave the jail through the tunnel we dug. We pursued him a lot. However, he insisted to stay inside the jail.

We had no connection with the world outside of the prison in this operation of jail. We organized the entire operation on our own. We had a number of courageous comrades in the mountainous Lalitpur area of Kathmandu. They were of Tamang nationality. They joined us to show the path to proceed.

Surroundings of the jail were lighted. We had to find out tact for not being focused under that light. One of our comrades was a Brahmin from Boodhbaaree [also spelled Budhbari] area under Jhaapaa district. He studied up to class XI. One day, he told me: “Comrade Rajen, let’s go to a place inside the jail. I accompanied him. He entered bathroom of the jail. He then covered a wire with a wet towel after removing plastic coating of the wire. A short circuit occurred, and consequently, electric supply in the entire Vaktapoor [also spelled Bhaktapur] town including the jail went out.

About half an hour after the electricity outage, we donned extra dress over our usual clothes and came out of the jail by walking through the tunnel. We threw away our mud smacked extra dress. Our original dress was clean. We began walking away. There, at the exit point of the tunnel, was a police camp. However, the police at the camp could not notice our movement as there was deep dark around, which was because of the electricity outage. We identified ourselves as bepaaree [16] while we were passing through villages. With that identity, we also stayed in villages during nights. We reached Heteraa [also spelled Hetera] after walking for about seven days. At Heteraa, we divided ourselves into groups, three in each group. The groups took different routes. We planned to reach the plains, and contact our Party.

Two in the group I was with, fell into enemy hands while we were moving. They were Kismaa Dhaamaal [also spelled Kisma Dhamal] and Veem Porrel [also spelled Bhim Porel]. That place of the accident was Janakpoor [also spelled Janakpur]. During the accident, I was in a barbershop, trimming my hair. I passed the night in a tea stall. I told the tea stall owner that I lost all my money in a fair, and lost contact with friends. I had a wristwatch; and I was wearing a coat. I fetched Rupee [17] 500 by selling out those. With that money, I resumed my walk next morning. On the way, I came across a bus. My destination was Dhoolaa Baaree [also spelled Dhulabari], Jhaapaa. That was not a single, uninterrupted, journey. I used to get down from a bus at a stop, and then, took another bus. Thus, I rode with three buses. There was a long bridge connecting Nepal and India. It was Bihar, India. Vehicles were waiting in a line at the Nepal side of the bridge. I came to know by overhearing drivers of the vehicles that a search for ran away prisoners was being carried out. One woman was sitting by me. She was from Damak. A child was sitting on his lap. They went to a village fair. After completion of the checking, vehicles resumed journey. The bus I was riding, reached the point of checking, the Nepal-end of the bridge. I picked the child from the woman’s lap, and kept him sitting on my lap.

Police entered the bus through the doors at the front and the back. I took the posture of taking care of the child sleeping at that time. The officer leading the police search party signaled the bus to move on as they found no ran away prisoner. I reached Dhoola Baaree at around 11 at night. I knew the area. I reached Karteeklaal Raajbangshee’s [also spelled Kartiklal Rajbanshi] house. I stayed there for seven days. My mom and my younger brother Baatol Sing [also spelled Batol Singh] were working there as laborers. I ran across my mom. By that time, comrades established contact.

The Border Security Force [18] encircled us while we were in a meeting in a village. Before to that incident, we seized a gun from a jotedaar and a rifle by making assault on a police camp. Those two arms were with me. I was firing the rifle. A bullet from the rifle hit an officer of the Frontier Rifles [19]. The officer died almost instantly. The officer was carrying a Stengun [20]. We retreated from there. However, we took the Stengun and a clip of bullet before we made the retreat. One of our comrades could handle Stengun. A bullet hit my hand while we were making retreat. The hand was bleeding. We, the three comrades, were sticking together. Two of us were wounded. However, the lone unhurt comrade could handle rifle.

We slowly crawled away to a nearby house. By that time, police threw incendiary bullets on the house we were staying-in. The house began to burn. Bamboos used to construct the house were bursting with loud sounds while burning. The police party stepped back to a distance, as they got scared with the sound. The raiding police party concluded that the Naxals taking shelter in the home died in the fire alighted by the police.

We, also, slowly walked towards Taaraabaandaa [also spelled Tarabanda]. A hamlet of the Oraao [also spelled Oraon] people is there. We passed the night there. One comrade at Shiliguri came to know the news of the skirmish. He sent a comrade with bundles of bandage and other medical items to our shelter. That comrade treated us. He cleaned our wounds and applied medicine. We stayed there for another four days. The local comrades sent us to Shiliguri by a vehicle, which they arranged. From Shiliguri, we moved towards Assam. A few intelligence agents were in the same railway compartment of the Kamrup Express we were riding with to Assam. They were conversing: Nemoo Singh and two of his accomplices died in the blazing home. We moved to another compartment after passing three stations following Rangiyar. We went to Dibrugar after staying for a day at Gwahati. We were sheltered in the house of a professor of the Dibrugar University. Then, I was moved to an area near to Nagaland.

I, later, went to Kamakkhyaagoori [also spelled Kamakkhyaguri] region, and began organizing Krishak Sameetee [21], as part of legal form of work. Paddy from 10 beeghaas [22] of land of a jotedaar was confiscated under the leadership of the Krishak Sameetee. That was around 1980.

Note:
1. The Naxalbari movement.
2. A big landholder.
3. Red flag, symbolically signify the communist party.
4. A party formed with a breakaway faction of the Congress in Paschim Banga.
5. A security act usually used to suppress people.
6. Religious festival of the Hindoos.
7. A better facility in jail, usually extended to the privileged.
8. Administrative unit at mid-level.
9. Now, Radio Beijing.
10. Now, Beijing.
11. Later, Beijing Review.
12. A red covered, pocket-sized book with a collection of quotations from Chairman Mao’s works.
13. A leading Indian daily.
14. Part of the spring season in the region, and 11th of Falgoon is end-February.
15. Part of the spring season in the region, and 12th of Chaitra is end-March.
16. A trader.
17. Indian currency.
18. An Indian paramilitary force in charge of frontier security.
19. An Indian paramilitary force in charge of frontier security.
20. A lightweight submachine gun.
21. Poor peasants’ union.
22. More than three acres of land; and an acre is an area of 4,840 square yards.     

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.                           

Feb 7, 2019


Farooque Chowdhury [email protected]

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