‘What a Woman She Was’
Book: Scripting the Change
Selected writings of Anuradha Ghandy
Publisher: Daanish Books
Price: Rs 350
Sociologist Anuradha Ghandy died young, for a revolution. These notes from the underground bring her back to life
Aakshi Magazine Delhi
In her preface to Scripting the Change, Anuradha Ghandy’s collection of writings, Arundhati Roy writes: “It has been hard to work out how to read these writings. Clearly, they were not written with a view to be published as a collection.” This is because the writer spent more than 30 years of her life outside the world of middle class jobs, careers, academics, opting to live a hard underground life with the poorest of the poor, being a part of a movement to change the fundamentals of the world as it exists. Ghandy, at the time of her death, was the only woman member to be elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
She did her MA and MPhil in sociology. In 1982, she left her job as an extremely popular sociology lecturer at Wilson College, Chowpatty, and Jhunjhunwala College, Ghatkopar, Mumbai, and went to Nagpur University. She married Kobad Ghandy in 1977; together they left their privileged lives to work together on the margins of Indian society. (Kobad came from a wealthy Bombay Parsi family, his childhood spent in a sprawling sea-facing house in Worli. He studied in the elite Doon School, Dehradun. Later, he did chartered accountancy in London.)
Anuradha worked in Chandrapur, Amravati and Yavatmal with the working class — particularly with construction workers and coal miners. By the late 1990s, she was in Bastar, working with the Maoist party’s People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) and the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (KAMS) in the Dandakaranya forests for three years. Roy calls the writings collected in this book: Anuradha’s “notes to herself”.
A considerable section of these writings is clubbed under two categories: ‘Caste’ and ‘Women’. This tells us that here is someone who is not only receiving the Marxist tradition as it has been interpreted by those Anuradha calls “traditional communists”, but also negotiating with and reinterpreting it. Anuradha, being a party member, doesn’t use the pronoun ‘I’ and instead speaks as part of a collective.
In an article on caste, she writes: “We wish to raise some more points on the caste question.” She reinterpreted it according to her experience of working with the collective since she raises new and individual questions. She questions the attitude of ‘traditional communists’ towards caste. It is the Dalit movement, she says, which “pushed (caste) to the forefront of political debate among Marxists”. The trouble with them, she writes, is that they view the ‘democratic revolution’ as ‘anti-capitalist’, and not ‘anti-feudal’ and ‘anti-imperialist’, limiting the range of potential allies in the struggle for fundamental change. All forces resisting a feudal society are inevitably progressive, but the ‘orthodox’ Marxists — CPI and CPI (M) — failed to see this.
The same quest can be seen in her writings on women. These reveal her involvement with KAMS, which shaped her understanding of patriarchy in all its forms. Anuradha was committed to the need to organize women from oppressed sections. In this way, the revolution’s nature would be more encompassing – free of all forms of exploitation, injustice, inequality and discrimination. She also wrote on rape laws, labour laws, price rise, small magazines as expressions of people’s culture, killings in police custody, the Khairlanji killings, and so on.
The manner in which she died reveals the tragic terrain of life in the underground. Suffering from high fever, she got a blood test done in a Mumbai hospital. Being underground, she couldn’t come back to find the results of the test – the doctors discovered she needed urgent, emergency care. The doctor couldn’t contact her since the telephone number she left behind was a fake one. On April 12, 2008, at the age of 54, Anuradha Ghandy died of malaria falciparum.
The next year, Kobad was arrested in Delhi while undergoing treatment for cancer. He was charged under the Unlawful Atrocities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), besides cheating, forgery and impersonation under the IPC. Last month he was discharged as the UAPA charges were found defective; a fresh chargesheet has been filed.
Writes Roy: “She believes that without dismantling patriarchy and the caste system, brick, by painful brick, there can be no New Democratic Revolution. In her writings on caste and gender, Anuradha shows us a mind and an attitude that is unafraid of nuance, unafraid of engaging with dogma, unafraid of telling it like it is – to her comrades as well as to the system that she fought against all her life. What a woman she was.”