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Santosh Rana: A Rebel with a Cause

25 Jul 2019

Death has finally overtaken Santosh Rana, the prominent activist-cum-intellectual and one of the foremost leaders of the historic Debra- Gopiballabhpur peasant struggles that attracted attention throughout West Bengal in 1969-70.




He died on 29th of June after a prolonged fight with throat cancer at a private hospital of South Kolkata.

Hailing from a poor peasant family of West Medinipur, he managed to perform creditably at the then intermediate science examination of the University of Calcutta from Jhargram Raj College and then got admitted into the Presidency College, which had then an extraordinary galaxy of brilliant students and teachers. The reader may find a glimpse of it in his autobiography Rajnitir Ek Jiban (A Life of Politics) published by Ananda Publishers, Kolkata. The book, it may be noted, was written when he was already a patient of cancer. It also describes what he had to undergo during his student life.

After his graduation, he received his M. Tech degree from the University of Calcutta and stood first, by virtue of which he was awarded a lucrative fellowship.

But he had already acquired a close familiarity with the nature of feudal exploitation in the countryside and felt the need to struggle against it. That was a period of strong political turbulence and a leftist surge. As a young man with a strong sensitive mind, Santosh Rana became attracted to it, and after the Naxalbari uprising, supported it. He then decided to give up his lucrative fellowship and organize the peasantry of his area.

Quite a few student and youth activists, led by Ashim Chatterjee, also went to the area. In late 1967, he, then serving as a school teacher, was arrested under the Preventive Detention Act, and released in early 1969. Then he restarted his work in the countryside along with his fellow activists. The result of their work was the Gopiballabhpur uprising. After about one year of initial progress, the movement received a setback, mainly due to the left adventurist practices that gripped the CPI (M-L). In his autobiography and some of his articles, he has analyzed the reasons for the setback.

Finally, Santosh Rana was arrested from a Kolkata shelter in 1972. He spent five years in jail.

In 1977, when his organization decided to participate in the assembly polls, he was elected to the assembly. During the process of reorganization and reunification of the Naxalite movement, he became an important leader of it.

What is important about his personality is that he, despite many trials and tribulations, never surrendered to frustration and went on adding to his knowledge about society and politics by study and practice.

He was a prolific writer, and since the later eighties of the last century, wrote many articles on various issues dealing with the question of identities and the relation of identity struggle with class struggle as well as the problems of building socialism and communism. A number of his articles were compiled in two volumes named ‘Samaj, Shreni O Rajniti’ (Society, Class and Politics) and Bampantha O Ganatantra (Leftism and Democracy). If one goes through these two collections, one will have a glimpse of the range of his knowledge and ideas.

One point should be noted in this connection, Rana’s deep thoughts about the problems of socialism led him to believe that there could be no flourishing of socialist practice and of dictatorship of the proletariat without the broadest possible democracy. He, along with his close colleague Vaskar Nandy, wrote much on the subject.

Even when he was struggling with cancer, his pen did not stop functioning, and he wrote many articles for Frontier, Deshkal Bhabna, Sramajibi Bhasa, etc. Some of his articles were translated from Bengali into English, and published in Frontier. He also co-authored, with Kumar Rana, a factually rich book on dalits and adivasis in West Bengal. This small book is a veritable treasure house of information on the depressed identities of West Bengal. He was a prolific translator also and translated a number of books into Bengali. Two of these books are William Hinton’s The Great Reversal and Samir Amin’s The Future of Maoism.

Santosh Rana had many detractors also, and often many kinds of lampoons were directed against him on many occasions. It should be noted that many of those who tried to denigrate him never had the courage to get involved in struggles that Rana did; they never thought of sacrificing their worldly interests for the cause they pretended to uphold. These self-styled ‘radical’ intellectuals only learnt some phrases like ‘revolution’ and ‘armed struggle’ and hence their radicalism became symbolic of the motto ‘opportunism for myself and Marxism for others.’ Santosh Rana, however, did not pay such criticism any heed because he was well aware of the nature of hollowness of those critics and their criticism. Rana’s demise marks the end of a long journey, a journey of unflinching commitment to the people.

First published in Frontier, Vol. 52, No. 2, Jul 14 – 20, 2019, Kolkata

Courtesy: Counter Current

Santosh Rana: A Rebel with a Cause

Death has finally overtaken Santosh Rana, the prominent activist-cum-intellectual and one of the foremost leaders of the historic Debra- Gopiballabhpur peasant struggles that attracted attention throughout West Bengal in 1969-70.




He died on 29th of June after a prolonged fight with throat cancer at a private hospital of South Kolkata.

Hailing from a poor peasant family of West Medinipur, he managed to perform creditably at the then intermediate science examination of the University of Calcutta from Jhargram Raj College and then got admitted into the Presidency College, which had then an extraordinary galaxy of brilliant students and teachers. The reader may find a glimpse of it in his autobiography Rajnitir Ek Jiban (A Life of Politics) published by Ananda Publishers, Kolkata. The book, it may be noted, was written when he was already a patient of cancer. It also describes what he had to undergo during his student life.

After his graduation, he received his M. Tech degree from the University of Calcutta and stood first, by virtue of which he was awarded a lucrative fellowship.

But he had already acquired a close familiarity with the nature of feudal exploitation in the countryside and felt the need to struggle against it. That was a period of strong political turbulence and a leftist surge. As a young man with a strong sensitive mind, Santosh Rana became attracted to it, and after the Naxalbari uprising, supported it. He then decided to give up his lucrative fellowship and organize the peasantry of his area.

Quite a few student and youth activists, led by Ashim Chatterjee, also went to the area. In late 1967, he, then serving as a school teacher, was arrested under the Preventive Detention Act, and released in early 1969. Then he restarted his work in the countryside along with his fellow activists. The result of their work was the Gopiballabhpur uprising. After about one year of initial progress, the movement received a setback, mainly due to the left adventurist practices that gripped the CPI (M-L). In his autobiography and some of his articles, he has analyzed the reasons for the setback.

Finally, Santosh Rana was arrested from a Kolkata shelter in 1972. He spent five years in jail.

In 1977, when his organization decided to participate in the assembly polls, he was elected to the assembly. During the process of reorganization and reunification of the Naxalite movement, he became an important leader of it.

What is important about his personality is that he, despite many trials and tribulations, never surrendered to frustration and went on adding to his knowledge about society and politics by study and practice.

He was a prolific writer, and since the later eighties of the last century, wrote many articles on various issues dealing with the question of identities and the relation of identity struggle with class struggle as well as the problems of building socialism and communism. A number of his articles were compiled in two volumes named ‘Samaj, Shreni O Rajniti’ (Society, Class and Politics) and Bampantha O Ganatantra (Leftism and Democracy). If one goes through these two collections, one will have a glimpse of the range of his knowledge and ideas.

One point should be noted in this connection, Rana’s deep thoughts about the problems of socialism led him to believe that there could be no flourishing of socialist practice and of dictatorship of the proletariat without the broadest possible democracy. He, along with his close colleague Vaskar Nandy, wrote much on the subject.

Even when he was struggling with cancer, his pen did not stop functioning, and he wrote many articles for Frontier, Deshkal Bhabna, Sramajibi Bhasa, etc. Some of his articles were translated from Bengali into English, and published in Frontier. He also co-authored, with Kumar Rana, a factually rich book on dalits and adivasis in West Bengal. This small book is a veritable treasure house of information on the depressed identities of West Bengal. He was a prolific translator also and translated a number of books into Bengali. Two of these books are William Hinton’s The Great Reversal and Samir Amin’s The Future of Maoism.

Santosh Rana had many detractors also, and often many kinds of lampoons were directed against him on many occasions. It should be noted that many of those who tried to denigrate him never had the courage to get involved in struggles that Rana did; they never thought of sacrificing their worldly interests for the cause they pretended to uphold. These self-styled ‘radical’ intellectuals only learnt some phrases like ‘revolution’ and ‘armed struggle’ and hence their radicalism became symbolic of the motto ‘opportunism for myself and Marxism for others.’ Santosh Rana, however, did not pay such criticism any heed because he was well aware of the nature of hollowness of those critics and their criticism. Rana’s demise marks the end of a long journey, a journey of unflinching commitment to the people.

First published in Frontier, Vol. 52, No. 2, Jul 14 – 20, 2019, Kolkata

Courtesy: Counter Current

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Basavanna – A man who rebelled against Sanatana Tradition

07 Jun 2019
A woman saint-poet, a contemporary of Basavanna called Urilinga Peddigala Punya Stri Kalavve, critiqued the orthodox Brahmanical traditions and the caste system. “The Hindu religion, which stands on the foundation of the caste system,” she wrote, “distinguishes people according to what they eat. Those who eat chicken, sheep and fish are considered middle castes. Those who eat beef are considered outcastes, since the cow is believed to have given panchamrita to Shiva.” It was the sharana movement — a dramatic development led by Basvanna and others in erstwhile Karnataka — that gave a dalit woman poet like Kalavve the confidence to be be a rebel. The sharana movement enabled  people from the lower rungs of society to raise their voices against the dominant caste structures.


Image courtesy: Youtube

In our own times, the words of  Urilinga Peddigala Punya Stri Kalavve act like an  axe to hit at the roots of Manuvadi, and the constant discrimination against dalits and minorities in the name of cow slaughter. The sharana period, and its ideas of equality, still have much to say to us.

The sharana movement encouraged  equality, brotherhood and free thinking. It was revolutionary: people of the working class got together to fight for equality, and against inhuman caste and gender discrimination. They  created awareness about superstition by propagating reason. Most of all, the mass movement created by Basavanna and aimed at the root of exploitation by opposing the sanatana traditions of the Brahmins.

Basavanna was, perhaps, the first person in the world who wrote about the novel and revolutionary idea that work is worship. He organized people from the lowest strata of the society to realise this worthy objective. This leader of the working class became a saviour of the people who had been suffering for centuries. He worked hard to spread the concept of one God. He emphasized the importance of education and insisted on gender equality.    
 
To the orthodox Brahmins who said a person was born untouchable because of the karma of the sins committed in previous births,  Basavanna said, “Look at the houses of the poor, all the sharanas of Koodala Sangama are champions of self-respect.” This is how he motivated the exploited to strive for self-respect. Basavanna was a pioneer in making people aware of political consciousness, and ideas like equality and freedom.

Again, the sharana movement has a lesson for us about freedom of expression – at a time when free speech and dissent are being curbed.

Basavanna built an “Anubhava Mantapa”, a platform to express  views without caste and gender prejudice. Basavanna handed over leadership to the oppressed castes. The Anubhava Mantapa consisted of 770 sharanas, something like the first parliament in the world. Allama Prabhu, a dalit,  propagated the philosophy ‘attainment of nothingness’ was like the Speaker of this parliament, which included women saints such as Akkamahadevi, Gangambike, Neelambike, Sule Sankavva, Dhanamma, Kalyanavva and Aydakki Lakkamma, and others such as Dohara Kakkayya, Ajaganna, Kurubara Bommanna, Holeyara Boganna and Madhuvarasa. All of them, women and men, participated in the discussions on the welfare of the people.

Basavanna introduced an adult education system which led many people from the lower castes to become writers – vachanakaras or writers of vachanas. This led to a boom in literary production; more important, it proved that knowledge did not brook discrimination. These vachanas could be considered  the first writings produced by dalits and other lower castes, as well as women.

But a shocking development was in store for the sharana movement. Hundreds of them were hounded and butchered for having thought of, and put into practice, a movement against inequality and human rights violations. One instance of the sharana practice of equality was a marriage arranged between the son of  the dalit Haralayya and the daughter of the brahmin Madhuvarasa. As Haralayya’s son Sheelavanta and Madhuvarasa’s daughter Lavanyavati had become sharanas, there should have been no obstacle such as caste keeping them from marrying each other. But Manuvad did not want this marriage to take place. The conservative Brahmins argued that this marriage was against Hindu tradition and Rajadharma which would eventually lead to destruction of the empire. The conflict was between people who firmly believed in caste hierarchy and who did not. The noteworthy point here is that the sharanas were even ready to sacrifice their lives to fight against the cruelty of Manuvad.  

The sharanas decided to face whatever came their way, saying, “Let what is likely to happen in the far future happen now, and what might transpire the next day, let it happen this minute.” Although King Bijjala and the brahmins opposed the inter-caste marriage, the sharanas went ahead with the inter-caste marriage despite  death threats. Enraged, the brahminsplucked out the eyes of the sharanas and tied them to the legs of elephants to be dragged along the streets. Then the Sharanas were trampled to death by the elephants. Other sharanas were beheaded and cut into pieces, such was the hatred and cruelty of the “Hindutva elements” of the time. The sharanas martyrs died  for the sake of a secular marriage. The remaining sharanas went into exile to save the vachanas.

Literary critic and historian Ramzan Darga notes, “This movement which fought for human dignity on the basis of an idea of ‘one path, one tone’ witnessed the worst killings in history.” He adds, “The counter protest by Manuvadi-s which halted the revolution led by Basavanna and other Sharanas was a huge setback for humanity.”

While anyalysing caste, Babasaheb Ambedkar writes that “Buddha’s revolution was followed by the Brahmin’s counter attack. This led to the spreading of the roots of the caste system helping spread the cruelty of inequality everywhere.” It is a well documented disaster in history that the Kalyana revolution was followed by a counter-protest by Brahmins. Anyway, one should not forget the fact that the revolutionary event of inter-caste marriage was symbolically against the caste system. It is also quite evident that Basavanna and other sharanas addressed the core issues of people’s livelihood.

The sharanas’ struggle against caste structures through their vachanas is still remembered by the lower castes. In recent times, people belonging to the Lingayat caste project Basavanna as their leader. It is shameful that few self-proclaimed followers of Basavanna glorify Hindu gods by making use of Basavanna’s ideas. There have been thousands of mata-s built in the name of Basavanna. These have become centres for business. Followers of Manu are against the demand of a separate Lingayat religion. Lingayat leaders have been misled since they have joined hands with the Sangh parivar.  

M.M. Kalburgi, who wrote the play “Kettithu Kalyana” (Destruction of Kalyana) based on the killings of Sharanas in the twelfth century, was killed by the Hindu extremists. Similarly, Gauri Lankesh was murdered for spreading rational thought. The followers of Basavanna should worry deeply about the growth of the Sangh Parivar, and the growing intolerance which has led to the killing of progressive writers.

Every Indian should understand that the Indian constitution is replete with the ideas of Basava and his followers. It is the need of the hour to come forward and support these voices to uphold human dignity. We have to try build afresh, for our own times, the Kalyana revolution.

Courtesy: Indian Cultural forum

Basavanna – A man who rebelled against Sanatana Tradition

A woman saint-poet, a contemporary of Basavanna called Urilinga Peddigala Punya Stri Kalavve, critiqued the orthodox Brahmanical traditions and the caste system. “The Hindu religion, which stands on the foundation of the caste system,” she wrote, “distinguishes people according to what they eat. Those who eat chicken, sheep and fish are considered middle castes. Those who eat beef are considered outcastes, since the cow is believed to have given panchamrita to Shiva.” It was the sharana movement — a dramatic development led by Basvanna and others in erstwhile Karnataka — that gave a dalit woman poet like Kalavve the confidence to be be a rebel. The sharana movement enabled  people from the lower rungs of society to raise their voices against the dominant caste structures.


Image courtesy: Youtube

In our own times, the words of  Urilinga Peddigala Punya Stri Kalavve act like an  axe to hit at the roots of Manuvadi, and the constant discrimination against dalits and minorities in the name of cow slaughter. The sharana period, and its ideas of equality, still have much to say to us.

The sharana movement encouraged  equality, brotherhood and free thinking. It was revolutionary: people of the working class got together to fight for equality, and against inhuman caste and gender discrimination. They  created awareness about superstition by propagating reason. Most of all, the mass movement created by Basavanna and aimed at the root of exploitation by opposing the sanatana traditions of the Brahmins.

Basavanna was, perhaps, the first person in the world who wrote about the novel and revolutionary idea that work is worship. He organized people from the lowest strata of the society to realise this worthy objective. This leader of the working class became a saviour of the people who had been suffering for centuries. He worked hard to spread the concept of one God. He emphasized the importance of education and insisted on gender equality.    
 
To the orthodox Brahmins who said a person was born untouchable because of the karma of the sins committed in previous births,  Basavanna said, “Look at the houses of the poor, all the sharanas of Koodala Sangama are champions of self-respect.” This is how he motivated the exploited to strive for self-respect. Basavanna was a pioneer in making people aware of political consciousness, and ideas like equality and freedom.

Again, the sharana movement has a lesson for us about freedom of expression – at a time when free speech and dissent are being curbed.

Basavanna built an “Anubhava Mantapa”, a platform to express  views without caste and gender prejudice. Basavanna handed over leadership to the oppressed castes. The Anubhava Mantapa consisted of 770 sharanas, something like the first parliament in the world. Allama Prabhu, a dalit,  propagated the philosophy ‘attainment of nothingness’ was like the Speaker of this parliament, which included women saints such as Akkamahadevi, Gangambike, Neelambike, Sule Sankavva, Dhanamma, Kalyanavva and Aydakki Lakkamma, and others such as Dohara Kakkayya, Ajaganna, Kurubara Bommanna, Holeyara Boganna and Madhuvarasa. All of them, women and men, participated in the discussions on the welfare of the people.

Basavanna introduced an adult education system which led many people from the lower castes to become writers – vachanakaras or writers of vachanas. This led to a boom in literary production; more important, it proved that knowledge did not brook discrimination. These vachanas could be considered  the first writings produced by dalits and other lower castes, as well as women.

But a shocking development was in store for the sharana movement. Hundreds of them were hounded and butchered for having thought of, and put into practice, a movement against inequality and human rights violations. One instance of the sharana practice of equality was a marriage arranged between the son of  the dalit Haralayya and the daughter of the brahmin Madhuvarasa. As Haralayya’s son Sheelavanta and Madhuvarasa’s daughter Lavanyavati had become sharanas, there should have been no obstacle such as caste keeping them from marrying each other. But Manuvad did not want this marriage to take place. The conservative Brahmins argued that this marriage was against Hindu tradition and Rajadharma which would eventually lead to destruction of the empire. The conflict was between people who firmly believed in caste hierarchy and who did not. The noteworthy point here is that the sharanas were even ready to sacrifice their lives to fight against the cruelty of Manuvad.  

The sharanas decided to face whatever came their way, saying, “Let what is likely to happen in the far future happen now, and what might transpire the next day, let it happen this minute.” Although King Bijjala and the brahmins opposed the inter-caste marriage, the sharanas went ahead with the inter-caste marriage despite  death threats. Enraged, the brahminsplucked out the eyes of the sharanas and tied them to the legs of elephants to be dragged along the streets. Then the Sharanas were trampled to death by the elephants. Other sharanas were beheaded and cut into pieces, such was the hatred and cruelty of the “Hindutva elements” of the time. The sharanas martyrs died  for the sake of a secular marriage. The remaining sharanas went into exile to save the vachanas.

Literary critic and historian Ramzan Darga notes, “This movement which fought for human dignity on the basis of an idea of ‘one path, one tone’ witnessed the worst killings in history.” He adds, “The counter protest by Manuvadi-s which halted the revolution led by Basavanna and other Sharanas was a huge setback for humanity.”

While anyalysing caste, Babasaheb Ambedkar writes that “Buddha’s revolution was followed by the Brahmin’s counter attack. This led to the spreading of the roots of the caste system helping spread the cruelty of inequality everywhere.” It is a well documented disaster in history that the Kalyana revolution was followed by a counter-protest by Brahmins. Anyway, one should not forget the fact that the revolutionary event of inter-caste marriage was symbolically against the caste system. It is also quite evident that Basavanna and other sharanas addressed the core issues of people’s livelihood.

The sharanas’ struggle against caste structures through their vachanas is still remembered by the lower castes. In recent times, people belonging to the Lingayat caste project Basavanna as their leader. It is shameful that few self-proclaimed followers of Basavanna glorify Hindu gods by making use of Basavanna’s ideas. There have been thousands of mata-s built in the name of Basavanna. These have become centres for business. Followers of Manu are against the demand of a separate Lingayat religion. Lingayat leaders have been misled since they have joined hands with the Sangh parivar.  

M.M. Kalburgi, who wrote the play “Kettithu Kalyana” (Destruction of Kalyana) based on the killings of Sharanas in the twelfth century, was killed by the Hindu extremists. Similarly, Gauri Lankesh was murdered for spreading rational thought. The followers of Basavanna should worry deeply about the growth of the Sangh Parivar, and the growing intolerance which has led to the killing of progressive writers.

Every Indian should understand that the Indian constitution is replete with the ideas of Basava and his followers. It is the need of the hour to come forward and support these voices to uphold human dignity. We have to try build afresh, for our own times, the Kalyana revolution.

Courtesy: Indian Cultural forum

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