Hatighisa (Naxalbari), April 9: Sixty-year-old Lumbhi Munda puckers her forehead when you tell her you want an interview with her. The shy smile, which causes the face to wrinkle up, seemed incoherent with the image of a woman who was a firebrand leader of the seventies Naxalite movement.
One hour into the conversation, the words flow unstopped as a passion slowly arrests her voice and the eyes sparkle with energy. You realise the leader was still with you.
Shanti, as she is popularly known, is still an active member of the state committee of the Communist Organisation of India (Marxist-Leninist) and also holds the office of the president of Mahila Sangharsh Samity, its women’s wing.
Given her preoccupation with the tea gardens, she is disturbed about the current status of the estate workers — one which she feels is not very different from the seventies.
She sighs: “The present situation is extremely bad, be it the case of agricultural labourers or tea garden workers. If it goes on this way, no one can stop another Naxalite movement”.
Kanu Sanyal, one of the pioneers of the Naxalite movement and the general secretary of COI(ML), remembers her as a young 12-year-old girl who would make it a point to visit every political rally or event.
“She was sensitive to the problems of the landless labourers ever since she was a child and used to participate in all political rallies and functions, often voicing her opinions without hesitation.”
In 1958, Shanti joined the Communist Party of India, playing an important role in building up the movement and mobilising the support of the farmers.
Ask her how it all started and Shanti will tell you about the meeting at her village where she stood up to vow that the villagers will take to arms if peaceful means fail.
Then came the Naxalbari uprising in 1967 that put armed struggle on the agenda of the Indian revolution, changing the political scene.
For Shanti, there could be no better opputunity to fight for the rights of the peasants. Frequent police encounters — that killed many of her friends — the clandestine meetings held in the dark and police gheraos, she has experienced it all.
“My second daughter was only six-month-old when the Naxalite movement was at its peak. I used to keep her with my mother-in-law and attend meetings. Home mattered little to me as I was dedicated to a greater cause,” she recalls.
Will she join the movement, if there was one again’ The old lady smiles and states calmly: “There can be no doubt about it. If it happens again, I will definitely be there to help put the younger generation and render my services for the sake of the people and lead them to the path of liberation,” says the lady.
The story was first published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, on April 10, 2003.