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Mainstream, VOL LV No 17 New Delhi April 15, 2017

Remembering Anuradha on her 63rd Birth Anniversary

Wednesday 19 April 2017, by Kobad Ghandy

 Noted Leftist intellectual Anuradha Ghandy was born on March 28, 1954 and died on April 12, 2008 shortly after her 54th birthday. In this piece, written on March 28, 2017, her husband and Leftist thinker Kobad Ghandy remembers her on her 63rd birth anniversary. He has sent this piece from the Cherlapalli Central Jail, Cherlapalli, Medchal district, Hyderabad where he is currently lodged. 

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but those who watch without doing anything.” —Albert Einstein

Anu took this to heart and lived and died working tirelessly so that good could prevail over evil. Born to communist parents on March 28, 1954, she was brought up in an atmosphere which valued honesty, justice and hard work. While her father was a straight-forward lawyer, her mother had been active in social work still a decade back (now she is 89). While her only brother, Sunil, is a renowned progressive theatre director with many creative popular plays to his credit, Anu followed the path of her parents.

Anu’s life was snatched away barely a fortnight after her 54th birthday (April 12, 2008), a victim of the unscrupulous medical profession. She had just spent a couple of weeks in the Jharkhand forests taking classes on women’s rights and patriarchy among tribal women activists. It is reported that within those few days the young tribals grew so attached to her that they had tears in their eyes as Anu walked away into the horizon, tripping and falling on the stony terrain due to her artheritic knees. Little did they realise she would be no more within a few days.

Immediately on returning to Mumbai she fell ill. Fearing falciperum malaria, which is rampant in Jharkhand, she immediately did a blood test at a nearby pathological lab. The report was negative. But, when I returned to Mumbai after a few days we did another test at a big hospital. The report was positive, but by then it was too late. Falciperum is easily curable, but has to be detected and treated immediately; otherwise it is fatal. So, that pathological lab was directly responsible for her death due to its incorrect (or false) report.

Though it amounts to murder, does any police, court or government ever take action against such unscrupulous elements? But Anu is not a lone victim, lakhs and lakhs are killed, maimed, paralysed each year by this murderous nexus of pharma companies, doctors, hospitals and labs. Earlier what was a noble profession (and there are still some in the profession who work in the same spirit) has been converted into India’s biggest killer-machine due to the government policy of making fortunes off people’s suffering. Right from the time of the medical education (a la the Vyapam scam), where lakhs are extracted by the politico-education mafia, to the privatisation of every conceivable aspect of healthcare—the govern-ment spends a mere one per cent on healthcare, the lowest in the world—it is now the biggest money-spinner in the country. And the govern-ment ensures a rich market for these vampires by creating an entire country of sick people through the pollution of water, food, air, soil, everything!! No wonder the largest number of billionaires in India are from the health sector—21 out of the total 132 billionaires ($).

Be that as it may, this mafia snatched away a precious life at a young age—a model socio-political activist, an exemplary example of women’s liberation, a popular mass leader, a dedicated educator/teacher and, above all, a true patriot who worked selflessly for the oppressed of our country.

Let us thus, on this occasion, look at the varied facets of the life of this noble being.

Anu and Patriotism

Anu realised that nice words like freedom and democracy are meaningless unless combined with freedom from want, freedom from patriarchy, freedom from casteist terror, freedom from communal apartheid etc. etc.—in short, freedom to live a life with self-respect and dignity for all.

She observed that even after decades of independence, the goals for which her parents and others fought were still an illusion. In fact since the neo-liberal policies of the 1990s, the conditions have further worsened. While earlier patriotism was associated with the fight against British rule, post-1947 it is linked to the liberation of our starving masses from all forms of oppression.

So from a young age Anu became an activist struggling against injustice. When in Elphinstone College, besides being a brilliant student, she took up many college issues as a student leader. Later, as a sociology lecturer, first in Mumbai colleges and then at Nagpur University, she continued her activities in the institutions, but now her focus was on slum dwellers, Dalits, unorganised labour etc.

She lived a frugal life, active from early morning till late at night. In Nagpur she would cycle over 20 kms from our residence in Indora basti to the University for her lectures, then from afternoon to late evening she would be active in bastis, workers’ colonies etc. and at night she would prepare for lectures or study/write on social issues. Her entire movements were on cycle or bus, that too in the Nagpur heat. And she did all this with so much liveliness and cheerfulness, never saw it as a burden. In Nagpur she soon emerged as a well-known mass leader and an authority on Dalit issues and caste oppression. Yet, her interests were multifaceted, being well versed in theatre, literature and progressive films.

Today, when there is so much debate on nationalism/patriotism, one needs to look at Anu’s life to see what it really entails in a post-independence India. No nation can be really proud of itself when, 70 years after independence, everything from defence equipment to soaps, toothpaste, mobiles are made by foreign-owned/controlled companies, and even when our Vice-President laments that “the richest one per cent have claim to 60 per cent of the country’s wealth, and the bottom 50 per cent to two per cent”. Anu sought a stake in India’s independence for this 50 per cent. Anu knew that real patriotism meant the flourishing of the 99 per cent; not just the top one per cent.

Anu and Freedom

Real freedom must necessarily be linked to the innate goodness in men. The factor of goodness is essential as one’s individual freedom should not act to deprive/curtail others/another of their freedom. If it is associated with evil, it will restrict others’ freedom. On the other hand, if linked to good, one’s awakening to freedom would be contagious—impacting one’s entire circle. In addition, freedom and happiness should be intrinsically linked as the final goal of all activities should be greater happiness. Freedom, equality, justice etc. are all pathways to the goal of happiness for the majority.

To be one’s natural self, as Anu was, is the starting-point of a person’s freedom. Anu, with her straightforwardness and frankness, was an example how one can move towards freedom. Most of us bind ourselves in thousands of complexities, always playing to the gallery, never being ourselves, covering up our flaws etc.—in short, live life deeply alienated from ourselves. Rather than being free we become prisoners of our situation. Such a person will only fuel such an atmosphere (of lack of freedom) in any organisation or surrounding.

Anu, on the other hand, had the least compexities, and her innate naturalnesss resulted in a relaxed atmosphere for those around her (people need not be on guard) where everyone could be themselves. Anu generally brought a fresh breeze of freedom wherever she went.

Anu and Truth

India’s motto is Satyameva Jayate—‘Truth shall Prevail’. To start with, in our country this motto is itself the biggest untruth, as we can see ‘falsehood, dishonesty, deceit prevail’. Not surprising, as Chanakya said centuries back: “A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first and honest people victimised first.”

But, truth and honesty are a pre-requisite for creating a new just order. Often, communists think that as their goals are just, so to resort to duplicity (in the supposed interest of the move-ment) is legitimate. This is, of course, short-sighted, as though it may give some immediate results; in the long term there will be no basic change.

Anu was, in fact, the epitome of truth. Pretences, hypocrisy, deceit, cunning, manipu-lativeness were totally inconceivable to her. Anu would frankly speak what she thought, believed, felt. There was no question of putting on an act, playing games etc. That was why she was normally at ease and put others at ease. She was an extremely principled person. It is in an unjust system/environment that Truth and Principles are the first to be sacrificed at the altar of power.

Anu and Love

Anu was one of the most lovable persons due to her naturalness and child-like behaviour. She would be equally liked by progressive people as by those who differed with her. Besides social and Marxist themes, her keen interest in varied facets of life and her extensive knowledge (she had a good memory) made her an interesting and lively person.

Of course, there are two aspects to love—love for one’s fellow beings and sex-love.

First, let us consider love for one’s fellow beings. The excruciating suffering of the masses in India cannot but move a person to action, however limited. Altruism and a deep empathy for the oppressed and suffering is inevitable for any humanist and/or socialist/communist. Most activists start with such empathy; but slowly this goes into the background and intellectual baggage, organisational activities and routinism tend to come to the forefront. One blatant example of this in India has been the communists’ attitude to Dalit/caste oppression. For decades, involved in the class-caste debate, they were blind to the horrific terror perpetrated daily on Dalits; it is unimaginable to think such inhuman and medieval behaviour could be ignored by those seeking socio-economic justice. Obviously, empathy had totally ceased to exist, and for such people ‘love for one’s fellow human beings’ (here Dalits) was subsumed by intellectual play. For Anu, in the 1970s and 1980s itself her heart went out to the Dalit cause supporting the four great Dalit movements that shook Maharashtra. At that time such support was anathema to most communists, though many sought to co-opt them and turn them into decent ‘class’ movements. Though Anu was quick to support their cause due to her innate stand against injustice, it did not end there. This was followed by a deep study and brilliant analysis of the Dalit/caste question in India.

Love for humanity cannot be neutral where the tyrant is put on the same plane as the sufferer. The heart and mind need a deep connectivity to make the love meaningful. In India, many a communist, arrogant about their superiority of Marxism, often tend to view life through formulae, negating the heart, emotions and feelings, turning the person into a robot-like being. On the other hand, many an NGO do the Opposite—have deep empathy for the suffering, but are unprepared to seek its root cause. The former tends to see the woods (system) and not the trees (individuals); the latter sees only the trees but miss the woods. Anu’s warmth and depth of feeling was combined with a sharp intellect, giving an excellent balance between heart and mind.

Now if we turn to the second aspect of love—sex-love, Anu was a truly liberated person unconstrained by the thousands of invisible threads of patriarchy/feudalism which tend to bind even progressive people in India with archaic social mores. On this issue we tend to have two extremes here—at one end women’s liberation is promoted as the vulgarity associated with Western culture; at the other end its opponents (both Hindutvavadis and Islamists) promote the ‘mother image’ or ‘sati-savitri’ culture. In fact both are two sides of the same coin of commodifying women—the former as sex-objects, the latter as children-producing machines. Anu strongly felt that women had their own feelings, emotions, desires which need to be respected, and patriarchal relations, however subtle, tend to suppress these. Speaking on such issues from her heart, it was no wonder she endeared herself to the young tribal activists in Jharkhand.

Anu and Passion

Any task Anu did or any interaction with others she did with a passion. She would get deeply immersed in anything she did, even if it was the most minor task, and take it up with both responsibility and enjoyment. I am sure no one can forget watching Anu eat a meal she relished—she went at it with such passion, resembling a child eating an ice-cream. But a similar passion and involvement was seen in any task she took up—be it organising, teaching, lecturing, studying—and any relation she established, Delay, postponement, procrasti-nation, unpunctuality were unthinkable, as were superficiality, aloofness and routinism. For example, in spite of her hectic social activities, she would never miss a lecture nor go unprepared. In organisational work she could always be relied upon to finish any task on time. In her interactions she was generally dynamic, lively, cheerful, yet not frivolous.

The only sphere she neglected was attention to her health, though she had developed painful arthritis in both knees and had been detected with systemic sclerosis.

Anu and Simplicity

Anu had little or no complexities. In spite of being a well-known figure she never put on airs. As already seen, cunning and duplicity were just not part of her nature; yet by no stretch of imagination was she naive. She had an excellent combination of simplicity with perceptiveness; straighforwardness with intellectual sharpness.

In India, with our Chanakya culture, simplicity is seen as foolishness, while the ‘clever ones’ tend to rule the roost with their retinue of charlatans and flatterers (mostly sub-standard). An organiser with street-smartness often gets quick results, but those attracted may not be the best elements. With the Anu-type simplicity one may not get immediate results, but those attracted are likely to be far more genuine. Have we not witnessed even powerful movements crumble overnight like a pack or cards?

Anu and Naturalness

Anu never lost her child-like simplicity through all the vicissitudes of the movement and her academic life. This was no easy task, specifically for a woman in India’s feudal-dominated culture. To sustain such simple values became even more difficult as time passed, particularly after the 1990s, with society turning more and more selfish and self-centred. The retreat of socialism and communism worldwide added to the vileness all around, something which is reaching peak levels today. The values we witnessed in the 1960s and 1970s we cannot even dream of today. This sea-change is to be even witnessed in the Indian films/songs of that period and those post-1990.

How then was Anu able to sustain her naturalness, innocence and simplicity in an increasingly alien environment? Besides her innate goodness and the support she received from many an honest and sincere cadre, as also from the masses, the reasons were mainly two—first, she never aspired for post and pelf, whether in the organisational sphere or in her academic life; so there was no need to resort to tricks to climb any ladder. Second, her commitment and high sense of responsibility and discipline resulted in her ability to excel with ease. Those with superficiality, inefficiency, irresponsibility etc. and yet aspiring for posts, favours, impor-tance are the ones who tend to resort to all forms of chicanery, flattery, manipulativeness, one-upmanship, vindictiveness, duplicity etc. in order to push others down and push themselves up the ladder. The latter’s commitment to the masses and country is generally partial as it comes with a caveat—self-promotion.

Anu’s naturalness remained with her till the very end. Her every emotion, feeling, desire was reflected like a mirror. When hurt she would easily cry, when angry her face would get flushed, and, of course, when cheerful and happy her eyes would dance around like a bird. No doubt the appreciation she got from many a genuine activist, helped her sustain the beauty of her innocence,

Anu—A person of the Future

On this, her 63rd birth anniversary, I write this not to praise her, but to remember her as a model for those seeking to create a new society built on justice, freedom and equality. No doubt she had her shortcomings—she was only human—but it is the positives from which one can learn. This is particularly important today when the rulers worldwide have reached the drags of social rot, when humanity is being strangulated, when culture is fostered through hate and criminality, when even nature (environment) is being raped and destroyed and when the masses die like fleas due to hunger, starvation, disease, pollution..... Worse still, the rot has reached so deep that many are beginning to lose hope. They see no light at the end of the tunnel; darkness appears to develop all aspects of life.

And with the ‘Animal Farm Syndrome‘ dominating the 20th century, when the leaders of the new societies are beginning to mimic the old, the guarantee for a bright future becomes even dimmer.

In this depressing scenario Anu’s life comes as a beacon of light, and a hope that good can finally prevail over evil. The fact that her memorial meetings have been held in Mumbai every year since her death, is an indication of that flickering hope. But one lesson from the 20th century failures is that no new just order can be built merely on economic, politics, organisation etc.; it requires primarily a new set of values in order to sustain it. And herein lies the importance of an Anu. Let her life be a tiny atom for a new explosion of freedom and happiness.

(March 28, 2017)