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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 6, January 31, 2015 - Republic Day Special

Tribute: Remembering Perin

Saturday 31 January 2015

by Primla Loomba

The following is a tribute to Perin Chandra (née Bharucha), 96, who passed away in Mumbai on January 7, 2015, from one of her oldest associates since her days in Lahore.

I have had a long association with Perin. It goes back to the days when I was still an under-graduate student in Kinnaird College, Lahore, Perin was already a well-known Communist leader.

There is a very vague recollection I have of my first meeting with Perin. It was outside the Regal Cinema after a bewitching dance performance by the one and only Uday Shankar and his troupe. A few months later again at the same place we met, this time after seeing a performance of Bharatnatyam by Ram Gopal. Perin was there with some of her comrades. It was not easy to procure tickets for such high-profile shows and Perin must have put in considerable effort to get the tickets. It was a period when Communists greatly valued art and culture not only as a weapon of struggle but also to draw inspiration and strength and to develop a vision of life and work.

I am unable to recall the area of Lahore where Perin, Romesh, Litto and Ajoy Ghosh had rented a few rooms for their residence. During the day it was used for study circles as well as for planning the day’s work. Perin had collected a small band of young women, some of them still studying in college, and inspired them to select mohallas and bastis and work amongst women, help them to get ration cards and rations, raise their political consciousness and draw them into the freedom struggle.

A few I came to know and continued to meet after partition. There was Suvira Mahe, who later married Karam Singh Mann, a founder member of the Communist Party in Punjab, Puran Acharya, Swatantra Bhagat and Sheila Bhatia, the well-known poet, song writer and theatre person, who later spent some time in the Kashmir Valley and based on her experiences there wrote the song and dance drama entitled Call of the Valley. At the time of the Bengal Famine Sheila’s songs with their strong anti-imperialist content attracted large crowds. Her small squad went to the grain mandis and appealed for grain and the kisans opened up their tijories as the saying goes. It was Perin who arranged for the tour, introduced the squad and made passionate anti-imperialist speeches, which were nevertheless simple enough for the people to relate to. The response was marvellous, an enormous quantity of grain was collected.

Sheila’s songs appealed to the women to become active participants in the freedom struggle giving examples of the role that anti-fascist women in Germany played under the oppressive Hitler regime, the role French women played in the underground resistance movement against the Vichy regime and the heroism Soviet women displayed in the war against Nazi invasion. I remember the last couple of lines of the song that went like this –

“Tak Keevan Rusee Bhehna udiyan
Dushman no banne lagai laya
Tusan te ghukee ajai na chhaddi
Tuhada te gulami kanda viche reya.”

As a student leader Perin was very stern and known to be a hard taskmaster. She did not hesitate to severely reprimand those who wasted time gossiping in the coffee house. When she was told that a ditty on her was doing the rounds of which the opening lines were –

“Coffee House men Perin aye,
Dilo Jan ki baren aye …”—

Perin was very amused and said maybe she needed a little self-reflection. Perin was a much-loved person after the birth of her two children, Shobha and Feroze.

AFTER independence Perin was assigned to work in the Peace Movement. She was the General Secretary of All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation. As I was deputed to attend the AIPSO meetings on behalf of the National Federation of Indian Women, I was most impressed by Perin’s speed of work and the meticulousness with which her records and files were maintained.

Under Perin’s guidance the AIPSO office at New Delhi House was professionally run—a great contrast to the offices of some of our other mass organisations including that of the NFIW. As was typical of her, she gave her best to building a Peace Movement in the country. She developed a very wide circle of contacts – academics, researchers, scientists, members of the medical fraternity, educationists, bureaucrats, politicians, parliamentarians, trade unions, kisan sabhas, students and women’s organisations. I know of no other political activist who had such a large circle of acquaintances.

I have heard it being said that a person of Perin’s calibre and capacity to work was wasted by putting her on the Peace Front.

It needs to be remembered that the end of the Second World War and the defeat of Fascism had given rise to a wave of national liberation movements in Asia and Africa. The first use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in August 1945 by the United States of America when the outcome of the war in the Far East was no longer in doubt. It claimed more than 3,00,000 lives and left gruesome consequences for the survivors and their future generations. The Cold War policies of the USA with increasing number of military pacts round the world as also stockpiling of nuclear weapons, developing more and more deadlier ones, had plunged the world into an arms race seriously hampering much needed development to overcome the destruction caused by the war. It was also lending support to the colonial powers who were brutally suppressing the uprisings of the people in large parts Asia, Africa, Latin America against racism and foreign domination.

Nehru’s firm stand against military pacts and nuclear weapons of mass destruction as well as India’s policy of anti-racism and support to freedom movements in Asia and Africa created a fertile ground for making India an important partner in the struggle for world peace.

Perin was working on the Peace Front not to go on foreign jaunts but to discharge a political duty and she did her job regardless of whether she was appreciated or not.

Perin had the remarkable capacity to make new contacts and acquaintances but she remained a very private person and loyal friend. Tahira Mazhar Ali of Pakistan was one of her closest friends and she maintained regular contacts with her.

The author, an educationist, is the Vice-President of the National Federation of Indian Women.