The women who fought against exploitation and the poor families who took in their children, bringing them up on their own, were making history even if none of them appear in its annals.
In the first part of her journey tracing the activities of Srikakulam’s revolutionary women on the 50th anniversary of the Naxabari uprising, the author interviewed Chandramma, who was a full-time fighter till her arrest in May 1975. In this second and concluding part of the narrative, Chandramma, who gave up her daughter Aruna in the heat of the revolutionary movement, introduces us to some of the other women who fought alongside her during those days.
Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh): An auto rickshaw was arranged to take us to Boddappadu village. A young driver. Chandramma called him Buji. His full name was Malleswara Rao. He will always be there, whenever Chandramma wants to go somewhere.
‘Jayakkaa’s son,’ Chandramma said.
Jayakka is a former firebrand comrade. An active fighter of the armed struggle. She too was in jail and in the underground just like Chandramma. She is also there on the list of people we are going to meet at Boddappadu.
“What happened in my case was exactly what happened to Jayakka too. Since she was in jail or in the underground most of the time, her two children were brought up by two other families,” Chandramma said, while struggling to get into the auto rickshaw. “Buji grew up in the family of a weaver. His sister Lakshmi was brought up by an adivasi family. She lives the life of an adivasi.”
So there are some others too like Aruna, those who could not live with their own parents in the name of revolution.
“Buji, do you feel bitterness towards your mother?” I asked.
“Ey, no. What is the point in being bitter? I might have been angry at them if they had done it for some selfish motives and for personal happiness. But this was not like that. It was for a noble cause.”
Buji started the auto. He had studied upto the 10th class. The financial background of the family where he grew up could not support him beyond that. So he took a loan and purchased the auto. And he is managing.
I certainly felt like meeting Lakshmi, who was living as an adivasi in an adivasi settlement.
“Do you have contacts with your sister, Buji ?”
“I meet her once in a while.”
“Shall we go there?”
“We can go. But it’s a bit far. It’s not possible to go there today. We shall make it tomorrow.”
During the journey to Boddappadu, Chandramma intermittently took us back to the days of the armed struggle. “Look, this is the road to Garudabhadra village. If we go this way, we will reach the house of the landlord we killed. This was the lane through which we women marched to his fields…”
It was dark by the time we reached Boddappadu. A bunch of comrades was waiting for us, women and men. Once, they were all together. Then they splintered into various groups. But all of them were excited when they talked about their early days in the movement. It was the rally of the women which inspired the then 25-year-old Dasara Sriramulu to join the movement, he said. Others too had many things to talk about the past and the present. Madila Malliswara Rao, central committee member of the CPI (M-L) Liberation spoke, analysing the turn of events from the beginning.
Jayakka was the last to speak. She is in Chandramma’s party, a district committee member. Most of what she spoke was similar to what Chandramma had narrated earlier. As decided by the party, she got married to Dr Devineni Mallikarjun, one of the leaders. But he was killed shortly after that. Jayakka had become pregnant. She aborted the pregnancy as per party instructions. Later on, she married Pothanappally Appalaswami, a party activist. There were two children in that relationship. The children were entrusted with two families for upbringing. Underground, imprisonment…
“Did you at anytime feel that you should not have given away your children?”
“No. it had to be done for the movement.”
“Do you still have faith in armed revolution?”
“Do you support the activities of the Maoists?”
“They’re the only group still continuing with guerilla warfare and they also swear by armed struggle. I won’t blame them.” Chandramma too had come out with the same reply to my question. Jayakka went on to say that she is active in the people’s struggles against thermal plants in Sompetta and Kakrappally, as also against the nuclear plant in Kovada. It was then that Malliswara Rao reminded her of something:
‘Jayakka, you have forgotten to tell them something important.”
“When hiding in the forest, you had to carry weapons and one day a bomb exploded in your hand. You were battling between life and death for about two months..”
“Oh, I forgot that.” Jayakka laughed loudly.
These women revolutionaries! They don’t even remember being on the brink of death. All that they keep in mind are the revolutionary activities of that time.
The second day at Palasa. I have time only upto the evening. I have to meet Jayakkaa’s daughter, Lakshmi. It is a bit far, Buji had indicated.
“We’lll go there, but before that we have to visit another village,” said Aruna’s mother.
“Will there be time for that?”
“We have got to go,” the comrade was emphatic. But there also it could be a repetition of what we’re hearing till now, I felt. And will we miss out on Lakshmi for want of time?
But it turned out to be something quite different. It would have been a great loss had we not gone to Marippadu. I would not have met Rapaka Pappamma, Konaru Mahalaxmi, Rapaka Danamma, Rapaka Adamma, Konari Laxmamma.. They were all in the age group of 65-70. They were all young women during the armed struggle. Firebrands of that time. Everyone was sporting large nose rings on both sides. Delightful to watch.
What I got from them was more intense pictures of the armed struggle, the police reprisal and atrocities. All of them had participated in all the actions against landlords. “Maddi’s highhandedness will not work here,” shouted those who followed Panchadi Nirmala to finish off Maddi Kamesh. Afraid of the impending police action all the men had fled from the village. Only women and children were left behind. The next days and beyond, it was a terror hunt by the police. Everyone was rounded up, beaten and sent to jail. The jails of Srikakulam and nearby districts were choked with women. They had to endure the most brutal kind of torture. By the time they returned from prison, many had lost their husbands, brothers and fathers, killed by the police.
Konaru Mahalaxmi was pregnant when the police took her to the jail. She returned carrying a two-year-old girl. She was named ‘Panchadi Nirmala’. Rapaka Danamma’s two little children were there with her in the jail. Even they had to bear police brutality. They were given food only once or twice a week. Danamma would feed the children while she starved. The police had captured them and had taken them in the dresses they were wearing at that moment – torn saris. None of them had spare clothes. Danamma remembers standing bleeding in front of the policemen having no cloth during menstruation. How can we stop nature’s stream of blood, was how Danamma put it.
There are some other things which still remain with clarity in their collective memory. Even after losing everything, even after their men folk were killed, they were particular that the revolutionaries living in the hideouts inside the forests were provided with drinking water and food. Fully aware that they would be killed instantly if the police or their informers caught them doing this, they would keep the food in a small basket they usually carried during harvest, concealing it with leaves or cow dung cakes and taking it to the forest. Quite often their own children would go hungry while they fed the comrades.
The women of Marippadu said that living conditions in the village and district have improved since those days. There is no stark poverty and they have houses to live in. And they get Rs 200 instead of Re. 1 as wages. But none of the welfare schemes of the government come their way.
Tears started rolling down Pappamma’s cheeks while this conversation was going on. The intensity of her sobs gradually increased as more memories rushed into her mind. “I’ll not be there when you come next time,” she said and continued weeping, laying her head on my shoulder.
Buji’s auto rickshaw meandered through jungle paths. Three of us on the back seat. Chandramma in the middle, Aruna and me on either side.
“See that mountain there? Our wedding was in a forest there. “She pointed towards a distant hill. Aruna’s mother seemed to be collecting her memories scattered in various mountains and various forests, and storing them at their proper slots during this journey with us.
Buji was driving the auto in absolute silence. What a strange journey, I thought. Vehicle driven by Buji brought up in a weaver’s family, going to meet his sister who grew up as an adivasi. Along with Aruna and her mother, the two main characters of another similar story. Only I don’t fit in. A journalist, an observer of it all.
The auto finally reached Lakshmi’s village. Bamsugav was just another adivasi colony, without even basic amenities. The forest was just behind the village.
We sat in front of the house. By that time Lakshmi came out. She was every inch an adivasi. In her appearance, expression, speech, dressing, gentle manners and in her faint, beautiful, shy smile. She sat between her brother and son.
Jayakka gave Lakshmi away to Savara Nagamayya, the adivasi activist who used to fetch food for her when she was underground.
“Have you ever felt bad that your mother asked someone else to bring you up, that she gave you away?”
“Sometimes, yes. If I were with my real parents, I wouldn’t have been living here, I feel sometimes,” Lakshmi said softly.
“Anger towards your mother?”
“Have you thought about why she did so?”
“I know. Prajakosham”
Prajakosham means ‘for the sake of the people.’
I felt my heart skip a beat.
“When did you meet your mother?”
“After growing up.”
“Do you meet her often?”
“Once in a while. Sometime ago she fell ill and I stayed with her and looked after her.”
“Your mother is alone now, isn’t it? Will you join her?”
‘No. I’m an adivasi. This’s my home. The father and the mother who gave me a lot of love and brought me up with care are adivasis.”
“ What’s your livelihood, Lakshmi?”
“Anytime work? What does it mean ?” Aruna and me, both of us asked her together.
‘Yes. Wage labour. Here everyone lives working as labourer,’ Lakshmi replied in a serious tone.
Waiting at the Palasa railway station platform for the superfast train to Kolkata, I felt shame and guilt as well. What is this I’m doing? Why am I rushing like this? I had literally scrambled through the rich lives of people who do not figure in any documented history. Shouldn’t I have spent more time with them and listened to all that they had to say?
I will come again, I pacified myself. This time I had come with the intention of meeting only Aruna’s mother. I will make sure I spare more time later. I can go over the entire agency area. Maybe try to find out what difference half a century had made to their lives. I will go to all those places where people’s struggles are taking place.
I looked at Aruna. She was also deep in thought. Silent.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
“What is revolution, who is the real revolutionary, I was thinking. On one side are those brave unknown people who gave up everything and fought against exploitation, suffered for the oppressed and the poor. There is another set of good, ordinary people who welcomed into their poor families the children of revolutionaries without even asking any question, loved them without any limits and brought them up. None of them appear in the annals of history, I was thinking…”
We sat in silence till the train arrived.
(This article was originally published in Malayalam in Mathrubhumi Weekly May 21-27)