Read an excerpt from Kobad Ghandy's Fractured Freedom, a stirring narrative of his activism and incarceration
The memoir also documents the turning points in the activist and thinker's life including his introduction to Marxist ideology, meeting his wife Anuradha, and the couple's involvement in the Naxalite movement.
For the last decade, Kobad Ghandy has been embroiled in several legal battles, moving in and out of multiple prisons across the country. He has been arrested, detained, even branded as an anti-national. Amidst it all the Maoist ideologue has dedicated his life towards working with the impoverished and vociferously advocated for the rights of the Dalits.
His 2021 autobiographical work, Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir makes for a stirring narrative of Ghandy's life, right from his boyhood spent in a privileged household to his time studying in London to his introduction to the Dalit Panthers and radical politics and his experiences as a prisoner at Tihar Jail and other facilities in the country. He talks about the interactions he had with Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his involvement with the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, of the Khalistanis and the Naxal prisoners he encountered and of the Maoist movements taking place in several provinces in the country. The memoir also documents the turning points in the activist and thinker's life including his introduction to Marxist ideology, meeting his wife, Anuradha and the couple's involvement in the Naxalite movement.
In the excerpt that follows, Ghandy writes about Anuradha's activism and her work with the Dalit members of the Indora basti in Nagpur. He casts a spotlight on her grit and commitment towards the cause of uplifting minorities in this region and how she managed to become a profound inspiration for the Dalit boys she worked with.
Indora was such a dreaded place that middle-class people were scared to go to that area after dark due to the impression that it was a nest of crime and were shocked to find we were living there. Such impressions are easily created in impoverished Dalit and Muslim localities because of inbuilt biases and a certain amount of petty theft due to extreme poverty that gets magnified.
A typical day in Nagpur would start with Anu cycling/ busing to university, over 15 kilometre away, leaving early in the morning after having breakfast. I would do some of the cleaning up of the rooms and then meet the Dalit members of the community in our basti.
Working amongst Dalits we hoped to arouse them not to accept their existing status that their religion sanctified. We encouraged them to stand up for their rights and study both Ambedkar and Marx. Ambedkar would give deeper insight into the caste issue, while Marxism would keep them away from identity politics and help them unite with other oppressed, even from other castes. The two ideologies would show them the path as to whom to target and whom to ally with – i.e. target Brahminism (the ideology) and those who propounded it and not all upper castes; on the contrary one needed to educate those from the other castes (like the OBCs and even upper castes) to drop their casteist feelings. We would encourage inter-caste love marriages to help facilitate this unity. The point was not to consolidate caste, even Scheduled Caste sentiments, but destroy the caste system from its roots. One had to counter identity politics amongst Dalits which the Dalit political leaders promoted for their vote-banks.
Many of the youth of Indora were attracted to our views and joined our organizations of student/youth, especially the cultural organization, Aavhan. Jyoti, the daughter of Khushal Chinchkhede (the postal employee whose first floor we rented), and her friend who stayed across the road, Jyotsna, were active in our organization.
In Nagpur, we used to travel all over the city on cycles in the notorious Vidarbha heat. Earlier our residence was reasonably near the university where Anu taught. Indora was virtually at the other end of the town. Her schedule was so hectic that only strict discipline, her high level of commitment to any task she took up, and her inexhaustible stamina enabled her to do justice to both her students and to her social activities.
Because of Anuradha, Devanand Pantavne, a black belt in karate turned into a poet and the lead singer of a radical cultural troupe. Pantavne remembers her as a stickler for deadlines. ‘She would get very angry if we took up a job and then didn’t deliver on time,’ he says. Another young man, Surendra Gadling was motivated by Anuradha to take up law. Today, he fights cases for various activists and alleged Naxals. ‘She is my guiding light,’ he says. He is at present in jail as one of the accused in the so-called Koregaon Bhim case, though he lived and practised in far off Nagpur. It is not without reason. Anuradha led by example, living the life she wanted the basti boys to lead.
The above excerpt from Kobad Ghandy's Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir has been reproduced here with permission from Roli Books | Price Rs. 595
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