A petite Mumbaikar, Anuradha Shanbag, captured the fancy of a tall, lanky, bespectacled young man, who had returned to Mumbai from London after a stay in jail.
The man was an affluent Parsi youth, Kobad Gandhy, an alumnus of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College. The two married in 1977 and ‘Anu’, as Shanbag was called, became Gandhy’s wife of 35 years, until she died of sclerosis.
"Anuradha’s simplicity and total lack of ego or arrogance and her innate attitude to see all others as her equal drew her to the issue of caste in her early college days," the jailed Maoist ideologue Gandhy reminisces in the book, "Hello, Bastar", by journalist-writer Rahul Pandita. The release of the book coincides with the third death anniversary of Gandhy’s wife.
Anuradha began "studying the caste/Dalit question at a time when the issue was an anathema to most shades of communists and by 1980 she had presented extensive analytical articles," Gandhy says in an essay, "Comrade Anuradha Gandhy and the Idea of India". The essay is one of the 11 chapters in the book.
It was written by Gandhy in April from his cell in the Tihar Jail here.
He was arrested in 2009. The 63-year-old leader headed the South Western regional bureau of the Communist Party of India-Maoist before his arrest.
The essay is a tribute to his wife, who had sown the idea of a perfect India into his head, early in life with her pro-Dalit and pro-poor outlook.
The Mumbai girl inspired Gandhy into Maoist ideology and to work on the ground in states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
"It is an occasion to remember her monumental contribution to the understanding of caste, the Dalit question in India and the significance of its resolution for the democratisation of individuals and with it the society. In a society, where a small percentage of people consider themselves superior to others due to birth, there can be no democratic consciousness," Gandhy writes.
Gandhy explains the plight of the Dalits in 21st century India with an example.
In Chief Minister Mayawati-ruled Uttar Pradesh, a 16-year-old Dalit girl was attacked by three upper caste youths Feb 5… They dragged her away in an attempt to rape her; but when she resisted and shouted for help, they chopped off her ears, part of her hands and injured her face, the Maoist leader says.
This single incident brings out three facts, Gandhy says.
"First: the intolerance to any form of Dalit assertion, even if it is an assertion to resist rape. Second: the impunity with which Dalits can be attacked even in a state ruled by a Dalit leader which stems from the confidence that the state will not touch the culprits. And third: it brings out the arrogance of the upper caste youngsters," Gandhy says in the book.
Gandhy argues: "Major sections are seen as inferior (and nearly 20 percent people treated as untouchable), merely due to birth results. It is a society that is hierarchical, not democratic."
"Caste consciousness supersedes national consciousness, identity, loyalty – and everything," Gandhy says.
Gandhy attributes his wife’s fiercely independent thinking as a great help to a rational understanding of events, people and issues. "There was no other person with whom I have had as vehement debates. This normally brought a balance to my often one-sided views," he says.
Anecdotes such as these abound in the book, which weaves the story of Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar.
The book comprises accounts, interviews and analyses based on reportage by Pandita for over a decade. The writer traces the growth of Maoist insurgency in Bastar in the context of the greater Left insurrection movements in south and central India.
"I have been going to Bastar since 1998 as a young reporter. In the course of my visits, I got an idea that it would turn out to be one of India’s biggest internal security threats," Pandita told IANS.
He said: "The problem has become very big because of the policies of New Delhi."
"The thin line between the ordinary tribal and the Maoist has blurred. They have more weapons to attack the paramilitary forces and more support in the villages. The focus of Left insurgency has also shifted from traditional hotbeds of Bihar and Jharkhand to the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border and Bastar," the writer said.