First of three interviews from the cradle of the revolutionary uprising
Aneek, an independent, radical Baanglaa monthly from Kolkata, India, in its 53rd years of publication, interviewed three leaders of the Naxalbari Uprising. The leaders with working class background were organizing armed struggle of the poor-landless peasantry in the Naxalbari region since the earliest days of the revolutionary initiative. Following is Dulal Chandra’s interview, the first of the three, conducted by Arijit and Subhasis from Aneek, and published in the monthly’s May 2017 (vol. 53, no. 11) issue. The interview was conducted on November 17 and 18, 2016 at Dulal Chandra’s Siliguri home, more than 450 km north of Kolkata. Dulal Chandra, a trade unionist, breathed his last in August, 2017. Aneek, the interviewers and the translator of the interview, Farooque Chowdhury, pay respect to the revolutionary.
Dulal Chandra: We organized guerrilla units
I, Dulal Chandra, was working with comrade Charu Majumdar, one of the leaders of the Naxalbari path, since 1964. I was not practicing revolutionary politics in that period as it was not there. At that time, I was working with a trade union associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM). Gradually, I turned out as a leader of the trade union in Siliguri, a few hundred kilometers north-east of Kolkata. I was a member of the district executive committee of Darjeeling District Beeree [also spelled bidi, handmade cigarette] Workers Union.
Sauren Basu, one of the leaders of Naxalbari path, had an affectionate attitude to me from the very beginning we came across. At that time, a bye-election was scheduled to be held. Charu Majumdar, who died in police custody on July 28, 1972, was the candidate from the CPM in the bye-election. I worked in the election as Sauren Basu asked me to work.
From then on, I began work with Charu Majumdar. The election was over. Then, the revolutionary politics emerged. It was 1965-’66. Sauren Basu was working among the poor peasantry.
We were simultaneously carrying on legally allowed politics during the time. Leaders were telling us the importance of politics within legal limits; at the same time, teachings about revolutionary politics were also delivered. I joined revolutionary politics through this process.
Now, I like to say about a number of comrades. None of them are now alive. They are comrade Deepak Biswas [also spelled Dipak], comrade Shaantee Paal [also spelled Shanti Paul], comrade Pabitra Sengupta, comrade Ashok Ghosh. Comrade Ghosh was living in our Khoodeeraam Pallee [also spelled Khudiram Palli]. There were similar other comrades. They were student leaders. There was a discussion in a special meeting, which was joined by those emerging as cadres by learning from Charu Majumdar. We were, at the time, not in a state of discipline. A possibility of getting arrested was increasing in absence of a specific organization and program.
Deepak told us: We are carrying on activities in the rural areas. We are regularly going to villages. There was an urgent need for a center for communication between us. We told Deepak: We can establish such a point within days.
That contact point was established. They used to put out their messages written on small pieces of paper. I collected those, and then, sent those to relevant comrades. I also carried those messages to comrade Charu Majumdar. I never had any inquisitiveness to know the messages.
I waited after delivering the mails if he asked me to wait, and returned with the replies he wrote down. Charu Majumdar was staying in his home, at the time. Identities of our comrades in the underground were unknown to police. Not too many persons were aware of their identities also. They left homes to carry on organizational work in the rural areas. That was around the early part of 1967.
I was staying in an area adjacent to Naxalbari on May 24, 1967 while the incident occurred. News spread out that police was firing there. I began rushing to the place of occurrence immediately after the news reached me. I was then moving from Doodhjot, a nearby locality. A few comrades halted me on the way. They said: You’re new in the area, you might face trouble.
Those were my initial days in the area, and I was not well acquainted with the roads there. I required a guide at that time for moving from one place to another. Comrades from the aborigine community suggested me not to go to the place of occurrence.
Then, it was May 25, 1967. On that day, police opened fire on a procession of women. I reached up to the home of Kadamlaal [also spelled Kadamlal] after the news of shooting reached me. I tried to meet comrade Kanu Sanyal, one of the leaders of the Naxalbari path, there. But, my attempt failed.
Younger brother of Kadamlal told me: Don’t wait here, please. Either you move back to your area of work or move to the left. I asked: Will it be appropriate to move to the left?
To the left, there was a forest, the Tookooriaar Jangal. I could bypass the place of shooting and move forward if I followed the path to the forest. Comrades were more concerned with my safety as I was a recent-arrival in the area.
I reached the rural area on April 13, 1967, and the incidents were on May 24-25, 1967. Our group got organized although we were then belonging to the CPM. This group encouraged me to move to the villages. Pabitra Sengupta, one of our comrades, turned sick. His condition was serious. He had to temporarily leave his area of work, and the area turned void of any political worker. This resulted problems to the organization there. Moreover, a few differences of opinion on village-based work were beginning to crop up. As for example, Pabitra Sengupta and his comrades were almost blindly following Charu Majumdar while another group opposed to them was raising its head.
The latter group was practicing there in the area before others began work there. Its members were influenced by comrade Kanu Sanyal, who penned one of the first reports on the Naxalbari Uprising. They were not willing to blindly follow all of Charu Majumdar’s suggestions as Deepak, Pabitra and others were following. Supporters of our group, that is of Pabitra and Deepak, assumed the number of our supporters would dwindle if there’s decrease in number of our organizers. That assumption led them to engage a comrade in the area. Mainly, Shantee Paal, and partly, Deepak Biswas were encouraging me to move to the rural area. I was the last student of Charu Majumdar. Deepak and his comrades were his students at the initial stage. I thus began work in the rural areas.
I return to the point I was discussing, which is the home of Kadamlal. One comrade said: Comrade, let’s move through the Tookooriaar Jangal. I’ve never before entered the forest. That was my first stepping in the forest. That comrade took me up to Thaanaajoraa Baagaan, a tea estate. Then, comrades in the area took me to another area after crossing Khareebaari [also spelled Kharibari]. I reached the area Pabitra da [elder brother or person considered as elder brother is addressed as “da”] was working in. The areas around Barakarmaa Jot, Kooriaapukur were our area of work.
I’m permanently staying in the rural areas since then. I was with the trade union associated with CPM. However, I’ve never enrolled me as CPM-member.
We had no discussion with the followers of official line of CPM since the Naxalbari incident. The news spread out in Siliguri area that me, a bidi-laborer active in trade union front, has gone to the rural area to work among the peasantry as I accepted the line of Charu Majumdar. I used to work in trade union in Siliguri town while I was an electric worker. I also carried on revolutionary work. I came back to Siliguri town a few days after the May 25, 1967-incident.
The path I followed to enter my home in the town was not known to others. But, I was pointed out there. They warned me: Be careful, most of the bidi and electric workers know that you’ve gone to the rural areas to work with revolutionary politics. You are following the line of Charu Majumdar. I came to know this fact after I got released from prison. Upen Das, secretary, Beeree Majdoor Union [Bidi Workers Union], told me: I saved Anil, at last; but I failed to save you. I, then, understood that Upen Das knew everything. They, anyhow, freed Anil Saha from influence of Charu Majumdar’s line, but failed to restrain me. Probably, they would have tried to press me with the help of threats from police. I was in the rural areas in 1967-’68. I was arrested by police in 1969-’70.
I went to work among the peasantry while I was working among the laborers. The first problem I faced in the rural areas was that villages, roads, people, all in the area were totally unknown to me. However, I faced no problem in the areas the aborigines lived. Home of my elder sister was in a tea estate. I passed childhood-days in the area. So, I could communicate with the aborigines using their language. But, I had to face problem as I began organizational work.
Let me cite an example of peasant movement. A poor peasant got allotment of 2-3 bighas [one-third of an acre] of khaas [also spelled khas] land, government owned land, and was cultivating 1-2 bighas of land from a jotedaar, a rich landowner. The pieces of land were adjacent to one another. That jotedaar obtained court’s order to have allotment of the government-owned land. But, the poor peasant would not give up cultivating the land even we try to make him realize that the piece of land would be in the jotedaar’s clutches in the existing situation. The land could not be permanently kept in his control if jotedaars-zamindars are not eliminated; a poor peasant can’t win litigation with zamindar; zamindar would take control of your paddy produced in the land.
This resulted in the annihilation of Booniaad Singh [also spelled Buniad Sigh]. It was in Khareebaari area, probably in 1968, the Communist Party of India (M-L) was not formed at that time. I told peasant-comrades: You have to leave your homes and join our guerrilla units if you annihilate Booniaad Singh. By that time, it was possible for us to organize a few guerrilla units. These were in the Terai (outer foothills of the Himalayas) region. In each unit, 3-5 youths, who left their homes and were prepared for carrying out armed action, were organized. There were a few attempts to carry on action, but the efforts failed.
These guerrilla units used to move around Khareebaari-Faaseedewaa [also spelled Phansidewa]-Naxalbari area. Deepak Biswas and his comrades were active in Chaterhaat area under the Faaseedewaa police station. They attacked jotedaars whenever they could get hold of him. I witnessed a few such incidents.
There was revolutionary committee in the area Booniaad Singh was annihilated. Peasants were in majority in the committee, and the peasants took decisions. I told the peasants: Party has sent me to you to accompany you; I will not do anything other than this; so, I will not take any decision. The peasants’ revolutionary committee took the decision that jotedaars should not be allowed to harvest the paddy cultivated in the lands of the peasants. I asked them: Will it be possible to secure the paddy without entering into a clash? And, there will be litigation if there’s any clash. The hostile jotedaar has to be annihilated secretly if the annihilation is to be carried out. Guerrilla unit can carry on the task. So, you have to join guerrilla unit.
At that time, we had guerrilla units, which had the courage to annihilate jotedars. But that would not bring any benefit. I made the revolutionary committee realize: It was their problem; I can’t solve the problem on your behalf. Jotedaar will annihilate revolutionaries with the help of robbers hired from outside of the area if it transpires that annihilation of jotedaar is possible with the help of persons from outside of the area. The peasantry will not have realization about their problems, and will not have awareness about the necessity of solving the problem if persons from outside of the area solve the problem. In that case, the peasants will have the attitude that party aa kar haamaare leeye kam kar dega, the Party will do work on their behalf.
That area was under the influence of Congress. The head of local Panchayet, local government at lowest tier, circulated a notice before the peasants could get prepared. Even, aborigines were strong supporters of Congress. This was one of the characteristics of the area. The notice was related to paddy and land. I went to the area without having full knowledge of the development related to the notice. It was notified through the notice that Thana, police station, has told Panchayet-chief that the chief should keep custody of paddy harvested from disputed pieces of land.
I identified the tact, and told the peasants that both the harvested paddy and the land would be lost if Panchayet once takes hold of the paddy; moreover, it was certain that the peasants would be put behind bars. The peasants would have to resort to litigation to get back the paddy, and the peasants would loss the litigation as a result of tricks by jotedaar. What resource shall you have to continue litigation if you don’t have paddy?
However, consequently, a skirmish began there. The peasants took hold of Booniaad Singh. The incident was in open daylight. The peasants charged on Booniaad, and he died. The peasants also went to get hold of the Panchayet-head. But, he slipped down on the ground, and began crying with a high voice: “save me, save me”. The skirmish was on a crop field.
I assembled the peasants to another place, and raised the question to them: “Now, come, take a decision on what should be done.” An incident has already occurred. A jotedar has died. A few peasants told me: “Thheek haay, comrade, jo ho geeya to ho geeya, kamse kam ekthho dooshman to khatam hooaa”, “an incident, whatever it is, has happened, at least one enemy has been annihilated”. I told them it would be wise if you go underground and don’t appear in court. I further told them: Police will assault the village after you leave the place, conduct house-to-house searches, and torture in ways as brutal way as you could imagine. So, discuss all the aspects thoroughly in revolutionary committee before you take any decision. You have to take decision, and inform me your decision. They said, well, we would do. After having discussion, revolutionary committee told: We should not leave the area. We have to go police station if we are notified to go. The litigation would continue for a long time, which would allow us a longer time. At least one enemy has been annihilated.
Nagen RoyChowdhury got annihilated after a long time. At that time, our comrades were not that experienced. Many comrades were picked up by police after the annihilation of Nagen RoyChowdhury. However, they secured release from police custody within a short time. But this case of annihilation was different.
The peasant-comrades appeared in police station. The government accelerated pace of legal procedure in court. Comrades were sentenced within a short time: 4 years of imprisonment. I was arrested in 1970 from Khareebaari area.
I went to West Dinajpur district [now, the district has been bifurcated as North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur]. I attained an acquaintance among people from Maatigaaraa [also spelled Matigara] to Kaankee [also spelled Kanki]. The area was mostly Moslem-inhabited. The environment in the area was strongly anti-communists. I temporarily lost contact with the party.
As a result of practices a few questions cropped in my brain. But, I had no opportunity to raise the questions due to the tense situation during the time. I was indirectly made responsible for the lost of contact with the party.
By this time, I was regularly visiting Maagoorjaan [also spelled Magurjan]. Comrade Aagnoo [also spelled Agno] was also visiting the area. Karmakaar Bastee, a small village in the area, was our main place to take shelter. It would have been totally impossible to carry on the operation in Maagoorjaan had we no foothold in Karmakaar Bastee. It is impossible to carry on such a big operation with one or two comrades taking shelter in a home.
Comrade Aagnoo Topo is the initiator of the Maagoorjaan operation. Aagnoo picked me from Karmakaar Bastee, and came to railway station. We let some time pass. We assessed all conditions were not fulfilled. By that time, comrade Punjab Rao reached there. I reached Maagoorjaan from Islampur by a local train. During the period, usually, the number of passengers was small. I was moving forward on platform. I found comrade Punjab Rao was waiting there. For passing some time, Punjab asked me: “Shall not you go to Maagoorjan?” I replied: “No, not now. Information reaching me that situation in the area is bad. There’s a gap in visiting the area. The gap is about of six-months. It would not be wise to go there without knowing well situation prevailing in the area.”
Punjab told: “Don’t worry. Come with me.” On our way, we stopped at a comrade’s home near Sonaamatee [also spelled Sonamti] Bridge at Khareebaaree [also spelled Kharibari]. A brother of one of our comrades was working for police. An attempt was made to apprehend us. I don’t know whether that attempt was made on the basis of information of that person or not. I could escape. The incident was at night. One Shaotaal [mostly spelled Shantal] man was crossing the river. He had a torch light and a spade. I also tried to go away through the river. I reached an area full with a lot of snakes. A big Seemul tree was there. Light from a torch was focused on my head as I stood there. At the same time, a high-pitched voice said: “Eedhaar ekthho aadme haai”, “a person is here”. I tried to run away. But I failed. The police party fired 2-3 bullets. I fell down into mud. I pressed down my body into mud. I was not raising my head. Light from torches were on me from two sides. The police party came near to me, and asked me to get up. I got up from mud. Police then took me.
The CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] officer at the Naxalbari police station was a Marathi. He tortured Punjab Rao savagely. Punjab was once in army. They assumed Punjab was a deserter. So, they tortured Punjab savagely. They began to torture me after sending Punjab to lock up.
At first, they beat on the lower side of my feet. Then, they began beating me on the sides of my body. They were trying to fold my leg to a 90 degree angle. This resulted: the middle portion of my bone broke down and came out. They also sent me to lock up after continuing beating me for some more time. They had a single question to me: “Charu Majumdar kaahaa haay?”, “where is Charu Majumdar?” By that time, Deepak Biswas, Kanu Sanyal, and others were arrested. I continued telling them: “I don’t know that information. I’m not a party-man”. They were refusing to believe me. I told them that I was a mason, and I came here from Kisangaj in search of work. The reason for this statement was: The homeowner in whose home we took shelter was a mason. But they were not accepting my statement. It seemed that they had a quota for beating. They sent me to lock up after fulfilling that quota.
From there, I was taken in remand in Shiliguri. Santosh Chaterjee, an inspector of police, came next day, and asked: “Have not you been provided with foods?” I told: “Food? You bring people only to torture.” I was correct. Not even a cup of tea was given to me. Police told that nothing was available there. However, they were taking tea. They were not ashamed to tell lies to a prisoner.
Santosh said: “I have seen police diary, etc. documents on you. I’m not interested with you.” He then left. At around 02:30 or 03:00 at noon, they told me: “You are being sent to Shiliguri court.” I was sent back to Shiliguri again from court. Nothing was provided to me at the police station. Another morning arrived. Tarak Pramanik was an assistant sub-inspector of police. He clutched my hair, tore out a few, and began kicking my back. He was wearing boot. I was sent to jail in the afternoon. I was given a few pooree, small, round-shaped flat bread made with flour and pulse-paste, before sending me to jail. They said: You’ll have water in jail if you like to drink.
About two months after my entry into prison, there was an incident of flight from prison. I was involved in the incident. The planning was going on for long. Deepak was leading the plan. He was the leader inside the prison. I don’t know the persons involved from outside the prison. There was huge debate on the issue within the prison. The debate was done secretly, beyond ears of authority.
I was assigned to plan. After discussion with the plans I put forward, Deepak said let’s have a try. I arranged some explosives. I also taught them its use. But they said it’ll not work, we can’t properly handle the explosives. I also said: check the prison wall, which was 20 inches in width, and it is not possible to breach the prison wall with this explosive.
Then, six knives were brought inside prison during interviews, legal arrangement to meet prisoners. Deepak arranged this. We were at the initial stage of our movement. The prison security arrangement was not strict. There was no such incident of flight from prison. During the period, 5-6 comrades were allowed to have interview simultaneously. So, arrangement for interview was made. It was decided that inner and outer gates would be opened with keys, which would be snatched away from prison guards during the planned interview; and comrades will run away. But, I was skeptical about one part of the plan, and I was not in agreement. Neemoo [also spelled Nimu] Singh was the main architect of the plan. We were at the rear; because we were not the prisoners allowed for interview on the day. No Baangaalee was found in the area, who would seek permission to meet us. It was easier for prisoners from indigenous people to arrange interview. Neemoo Sing and another prisoner, we assume, snatched away the keys. Probably, they hit prison guards’ hands with a big iron pipe. I collected the pipe for them, and they took it with them during interview.
In total, 19 comrades and three ordinary prisoners were able to fly away. The prison flight of so many revolutionaries from the Siliguri Special Prison was a powerful incident. A few among the prison-breaking comrades were a number of intellectual-comrades. Punjab Sing and I were apprehended again.
We, at the rear during the initial stage of the hit, began running the moment the gate was opened. Punjab was older, and with a heavy built-body. He felled down while running away. I ran toward Bhakti Nagar. Probably I could have run away to a safe distance. But someone hit me with a bamboo stick from behind. I felled down, and I was encircled. Emergency siren of the prison was crying with its high pitched tone. The entire scene was noisy. Police in plain clothes picked me up into a prison van. Then, they left me at the jail gate. All the re-apprehended prisoners were brutally injured by those of prison authority.
Siliguri Town Committee of the party led the jail-breaking operation. The committee contacted us inside prison after a few days. They came to know that we were tortured barbarically. We were felled on floor on our back, and two persons from the prison continued to jump on our chest. We suggested that threat should be issued from outside of prison. The prison authority used to keep standing comrade Panchanan Sarker so that he could see the savage torture we were being inflicted with.
I was released from the Darjeeling Jail in December 1976. A delegation from the Janata Dal, a major political party of the time, came to West Bengal, now Paschim Banga. They took initiative for release of political prisoners after forming government. I was suffering from high fever while my release order reached the jail. I used to refuse to get admitted in hospital despite serious sickness. But, during that sickness the jail physician forcibly sent me to hospital telling me that it would be risky to stay in a solitary cell. Physicians in the hospital poured water on my head so that my body temperature goes down. They also administered medicine. The physician ordered attendants to give me something like oral rehydration saline each 15 minutes.
It was between 2 PM and 3 PM, and lunch by all in the hospital was over. The head warden entered the ward and was asking: where’s Dulal Chanda? I was taken to office, and there, I came to know that my release order has reached the office. The jailor informed me that release order of not only of mine, but of our entire group has reached the jail. My address was Alipur Duar, that’s the reason I was informed separately. There was no separate release order for me. Release order of all arrested along with Kadamlal Mallick was issued.
I told them: I have to go to Alipur Duar via Siliguri. One of my sisters resides there. The jail authority arranged accordingly. A few leaders of the Jana Sangh and the RSS were along with me. They were also behind bar. Their release orders also reached jail authority. Police was looking for a bus for our journey. Jagadish Agarwal, a leader of the RSS, took my hands and said: Why shall you wait unnecessarily? A car will come shortly to pick me up. You, please, accompany me to Siliguri.
The Sang-RSS was making a huge noise with a big mobilization. They had prior information about the release order from Siliguri.
I started with Mr. Jagadish after having permission from Kadam da. All paper work related to cancellation of arrest warrant was entrusted on Kadam da. We reached Siliguri. A big crowd was waiting on road at Darjeeling Mor, a crossing. The crowd was chanting slogans supporting the RSS.
It was around 11 PM. One of my old comrades was residing at Hakim Para. I requested to take me there. I passed the night at my comrade’s home. My clothes were those of prisoners’ uniform, which was provided by jail authority. My comrade gave me his clothes. He informed me that an intelligence agent was waiting in the shop in front of the home. The agent was looking for me. The comrade gave me 100 Rupee, Indian currency, and told me to pass away through a backdoor of the house. I left Siliguri for Alipur Duar.
Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer, has not authored/edited any book in English other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next, The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and he does neither operate any blog/web site nor any facebook account.