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In Memory of Sharmistha

CPI (ML) Red Star, July 2021

by  Sankar

I saw her in 2005 for the first time. The famous struggle in two units of National Jute Manufacturing Corporation was going on at that time in Khardah-Titagarh area in the northern suburb of Kolkata. Nine comrades of Sangrami Union went for a hunger strike. She was one of them. At that time I was in a different organization and Sharmistha and Alik, her life partner and comrade, were in another organization called CCR [ML]. It was a time in Bengal when Left Front government decided to move in neo-liberal road drastically. In the next year there was election in the state Assembly and Left-front was back with huge majority. The leaders wrongly assumed that this verdict was a green-signal for them from the people in order to carry forward their neo-liberal agendas. Therefore, Left-Front undertook numerous neo-liberal projects in the name of industrialization and development. This aggressive “industrialization” and urbanization demanded aggressive land grabbing throughout the state. And the first salvo against this immediately broke out in Singur of Hoogly district nearby Kolkata which sparked a series of agitations and struggles. These agitations and resistances against land grabbing were in the main peasant movement. However, at the same time a few but important working class movement were also happening. Movements in NJMC or Hindustan Motors are examples.

As a Communist Organization CCR [ML] used to believe that organizing the industrial working class was the pivotal task in front of the communist revolutionaries. Therefore, Sharmistha along with Comrade Alik and others went jute mills to organize the jute workers. Of late, many persons forget her massive militant works among the working class and almost portray her as a women liberation activist only. However, this is not the case. Sangrami Mazdoor Union fought a heroic struggle in NJMC although the battle was defeated. However, as a result a bunch of jute workers was politicized and became members of the group. CCR [ML] earned high respect in the jute belt of Barrackpur industrial area. Since 2007, I was organizationally connected with CCR [ML], and in the beginning of the next year a massive struggle started in another jute mill in that area, Loomtex Jute Mill. The struggling workers invited the leaders of NJMC’s Sangrami Mazdoor Union, especially, its President Sharmistha to help them. Very soon Sangrami Mazdoor Union of Loomtex Mill was formed and Sharmistha was elected as President of the union. Within hardly two months of forming the union the gate meeting of the union was attacked by the goons. These goons were hired by the management and the CPIM MP of Barrackpur at that time, Shri Tarit Baran Topdar. Com Sharmistha was attacked personally by the goons. They almost hit her on her head by bamboo and iron rods. However, she survived miraculously. As a consequence nearly one and half thousand workers present in the mill at that time went on rampage as they thought their President was killed by the goons. The personal manager of the mill was murdered mysteriously and two dozens of the workers including Com Alik and myself were booked in charge of that murder. The glorious battle in Loomtex jute mill started with that much-discussed incident in 2008. The criminal case went on for ten more years and all the accused were acquitted. As a part of this struggle, Union went into a massive rail blocked in the beginning of 2014. Eleven and half hours rail roko in the busiest Sealdah main line, under the dynamic leadership of Sharmistha once again snatched people’s attraction as it was widely reported in bourgeois media. The jubilant workers of the whole Barrackpur industrial area and many industrial belts throughout the state celebrated this class-assertion. Panics started to flow through the spines of the owning classes which were also evident. This was Comrade Sharmistha.

Extremely well-educated; a bit short tempered Sharmistha was a student of Carmel school of Durgapur, another industrial town of the state located at Burdwan district. She lost her doctor father in her childhood. Later she and her mother were shifted in Kolkata and she was admitted in Presidency College. Here, she came in contact with left radical students’ organizations. Initially she was involved in a small magazine called “Nehai” which mainly focused on the women issues and gradually she became a radical left student activist. At that very time some of the senior leaders of these radical students were seriously trying to form a small Communist Revolutionary [CR] organization. Sharmistha gravitated to it and eventually joined in that CR organization. When the infamous Kargil War broke out this organization decided to launch a vigorous campaign against the war. Consequently, the nascent organization invited huge state and non-state suppression, attack and terror, in spite of the fact that at that time a leftist government was in power in the state and most of the constituent parties of the government had a past of anti-war politics. Comrade Alik was arrested along with other senior members of the organization. The matter was raised in the Assembly and the government became compelled to release the arrested activists very soon.

Soon after the incident Sharmistha wrote a letter about her experiences as a student regarding the whole episode related to the anti-war campaign in a leading English daily, The Telegraph. By this time she was admitted in M.A. in Kolkata University in journalism after graduating from Presidency in philosophy. The very language, expression and elaboration in that said letter were so magnificent that the top bosses in the newspaper asked their juniors to find out the writer. Thus The Telegraph offered a job in the prestigious media house. Sharmistha took the job and at the same time she completed her M.A. course with a first class first degree. However, her professional carrier as an upright young journalist did not last more than two years. She came in the world for a mission different. She left her job and became a professional revolutionary in 2003. It was a great leap forward for a woman activist and created an instance before the new comers.

In 2009 CCR [ML] went into a merger talk with the then CPIML led by Comrade KN Ramachandran and as a part of this process Sharmistha went to Bhopal to participate in a special conference of CPIML along with other members of CCR [ML]. In that conference she presented two theoretical papers and took part in a living and profound discussion with the comrades of CPIML. Very soon the merger took place and CCR [ML] became the state organization of CPIML in West Bengal. Comrade Sharmistha became a Central Committee member of the party. Since then she has been rendering her service as a CC member of the party till her death. After the last Party Congress she became one of the Politburo members. She was one of the editorial board members of Red Star also. By 2010 when the merger between CCR [ML] and CPIML took place Sharmistha became a full blown theoretician of Women Liberation Movement who linked the gender struggle with the class struggle and the revolutionary communist movement to fight against patriarchy, male-domination and male-chauvinism. However, in this process other theoretical questions as well took a new dimension.

The concept of working class and the concept of revolutionary movement took a new character when she directed us to see those concepts through gender lens. The working class is the most revolutionary class in the world, it is obviously true, however, the working class is no more revolutionary if it fails to uphold and safeguard the interest of each and every oppressed section of the masses. Communist Manifesto declared, “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” Therefore it is absolutely imperative to the working class to fight against patriarchy, male-domination and male-chauvinism which exist not only in the society in general but also within the class and party in particular. Comrade Sharmistha, thus, held high the evergreen teachings of Manifesto in the light of gender movement. And, in this process, the real Marxist outlook to understand the working class was re-discovered.

Very often it is thought that the working class is a class which has no ownership in the means of production and it possess only one possession, labour-power. Is not it true? Yes, it is true, however, not sufficiently true. This is only a rudimentary understanding of working class. The working class is actually much bigger and much taller socio-economic category which Marx taught us throughout his life. In the Marxist discourses it is also often discussed the difference between “class-in itself” and “class-for-itself”. This is the utmost boundary of present Marxist thought in order to understand the working class. However, Marx advocated a cultural-philosophical transformation and upgradation of the working class which enable it to fight for not only its own interest in narrow sense but to fight for the interest of whole society without which the working class was not the working class which was often forgotten. So Marx said to the English workers in relation to the cheap Irish labourers and Irish question of freedom that those who oppressed others could not emancipate themselves. Lenin applied this teaching magnificently in the nationality question.

In our close discussions Sharmistha repeatedly pointed out the importance of this teaching in relation to the gender question. Engels wrote an extremely revealing passage in “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, “The overthrow of mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. This degraded position of the woman, especially conspicuous among the Greeks of the heroic and still more of the classical age, has gradually been palliated and glozed over, and sometimes clothed in a milder form; in no sense has it been abolished.”

What is the main essence of this passage? After overthrowing the mother-right man became the master of the whole world. The woman became slave. And till this time in spite of some corrections in form, the master-slave relation between man and woman continues in content. This is preciously Engels taught. Then within the class and even the party the same relation exist unless a vigorous process of ideological-cultural-philosophical transformation takes place without which neither the class not the party can be revolutionary because “those who oppress others cannot emancipate itself.” Comrade Sharmistha very correctly pointed out this spiritual aspect of the working class.

Let me put forward another example of her contribution in order to rectify our political sense and political behavior. Since a long past, it is assumed that good male-folks behave differently with the women. They must consider the women as their mothers or sisters. So the Communist Party began to develop itself as something “good” in relation to the women and quite unconsciously became “good male” in its political behavior. Numerous appeals to the masses from the Communist Party can be found in Bengal where those start with, “Dear comrades, friends, mothers and sisters” or something like that. This practice is still rampant within Party as this cultural fabric is embedded within us so deeply. A party where absolute male majority and domination exist, this political behavior appears as extremely normal. Sharmistha’s political instinct was so powerful that immediately the question she raised: “What is the gender of the Communist Party? Is it male?” All of a sudden, a new horizon of thought used to be open in front of us. This was Comrade Sharmistha.

Her role in the famous Bhangar movement has been discussed a lot. However, I would like to cherish the memories of the legal battle related to the Panchayet election in Bengal of 2018 where Sharmistha played an exemplary role. Bhangar movement was going in full swing at that time. TMC goons did not allow any other party to field nomination. I was arrested with two more comrades of MKP during a failed attempt to submit nomination in BDO office. We were attacked, nomination papers were torn into pieces, and the police arrested us instead arresting the TMC goons. Huge terror was unleashed after that to prevent us submitting nominations in other administrative offices. No other parties also had been able to submit nominations throughout the state. As a result several cases were lodged in the High-court. JJBOPRC [Jomi Jibika Paribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee] of Bhangar was a party in one of those cases in High-court. Before going to the High-court another attempt to submit the nominations in the SDO office was failed due to severe terror by the TMC goons. Sitting inside the jail we were observing hopelessly the entire battle of our brave comrades. At that time a strike of the lawyers in the High-court was going on. Therefore, our lawyers did all the paper works but could not appear for argumentation. Com Sharmistha herself put arguments so magnificently that honorable Judge ordered the DM office to receive nominations. However, a massive and most dreadful attack was unleashed on our comrades in DM office. TMC leadership under the instruction of the top bosses of the party mobilized huge number of anti-social goons. All of our comrades including the proposed candidates and Com. Sharmistha and Sukla and accompanying comrades of MKP were abducted from DM office. All nomination papers were again torn into pieces. Sharmistha and others were beaten severely, clothes were torn and they were locked up since the working day was over and that was the last day of submitting the nominations. However, wise Sharmistha foresaw the situation and sent all the nominations to the EC by Whatsapp. Next day Sharmistha and our comrades again went to the High-court. Irritated and annoyed Judge asked what was the matter? Sharmistha on that day again performed magnificently with a ‘god-gifted’ talent. As a consequence the High-court ordered the EC to accept JJBOPRC’s nominations without any such formalities. The High-court warned the EC further, if the candidatures of JJPBPRC’s candidates would be cancelled by EC in the scrutiny and if the names were not found in the list of the candidates the entire election in whole Bhangar would be abandoned by the Court. It was great and far-reaching victory of Red Star and JJBOPRC in the legal struggle which was led by Comrade Sharmistha. Thus, she showed us that it was imperative for the communists to have the abilities to use the bourgeois state institutions at the highest level. From trade-unions and working class front to women’s liberation movement, from street struggles to legal struggles, from national arena to international arena, from agitation to theoretical work, from publication to scuffling with goons, Sharmistha was everywhere with her splendid rare talent.

Of late, Sharmistha became keenly interested in Kurdish experiments in the field of women’s movement. In the World Women Theoretical Seminar held at Bangalore in 2018 a group of Kurdish women activists came to join. A deep discussion and thorough exchange on Jineology Sharmistha had with the Kurdish women. Sharmistha was the chief director of entire show of the three days seminar where many important issues were discussed. She took extremely active role in global level in all the programs of World Women Conference as a part of ICOR [International Co-ordination of revolutionary Parties and Organizations].

In her last theoretical paper on Women’s Liberation Movement which she presented in last year’s party school Sharmistha concentrated some new points like invisibilisation of women in human history. She wrote, “Bourgeois history has consistently invisibilised women. In fact the history women’s struggle for equality and liberation has never been considered as an important part of mainstream history --- it has been relegated to the also-ran status of ‘women’s history’.” Sharmistha could never give a clean-chit to the Communist Movement also in this field as the party also has shown severe indifference to uphold its own women heroes in its history consistently. For last three years or so she was working in this area and engaged an elaborated research to unearth the glorious role of women communists in the communist movement in our country of one hundred years. Within a short lifespan of forty five years she has been at least able to set up the direction of our future tasks.

However, many more things are left unfinished.

It is extremely difficult for left of us to finish those. Buy, borrow or steal, we must get her back.

Long live Comrade Sharmistha!


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