In an interview to discuss her memoir An Education for Rita, Brinda Karat reveals that Rita was the name she was first given when she joined the CPI(M). One of her colleagues called Chandrabhan, a textile worker and former wrestler, could never pronounce her name Brinda. He called her Birinder instead.
She says: “My repeated efforts to correct his pronunciation had come to nought. It was probably with relief that he enthusiastically welcomed the suggestion to rename me. He said: ‘Let’s have a name that is easy to pronounce. We will call you Rita’. From that day for the next ten years, I was known as Comrade Rita.”
In a 35-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Karat reveals that her first big corporate battle happened when she was working for Air India in London in 1967. It had to do with the right to wear sarees rather than a mini skirt. She was 20 at the time.
It was in London, where she immersed herself in the “national liberation struggle of Vietnam” and was part of the famous Grosvenor Square protests of 1968, that she was first drawn to Marxism.
On her return to India, she joined the Communist Party Marxist and fell in love with Prakash Karat. When they decided to get married, they chose November 7, the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. But, actually, in 1917, the date in Russia was 12 days earlier (October 25).
She reveals: “I had no intention of being an ideal wife – communist or otherwise.”
One of the challenges she faced was to navigate a career for herself around her husband’s position as a senior member of the same party and, eventually, the General Secretary of the CPM from 2005 to 2015. “I found that often my own identity as a communist, as a woman, as a whole-timer of the party for so many decades, was all conflated with my being Prakash’s wife.”
Her book is about the period from 1975 to 1985, a decade during which she spent time in jail where she met Charles Sobhraj, who was accused of contempt of court and found guilty and punished. He was involved in several anti-dowry campaigns and worked diligently to help the Sikh community during the dreadful killings of 1984.
During the Janata government years, when she was working with textile mill workers, Karat was falsely accused of trying to murder a police inspector whereas the truth was that he was guilty of beating her. She ended up spending time in jail.