Thursday, 30 June 2022

Books that change lives

A journey with books from a public library in Rampura Phul in Bathinda district of Punjab to JNU in Delhi to Trinidad and Tobago.

Chaman Lal


29 Jun 2022

Books and Library

When did I start reading books in life, apart from course books? In my childhood, I used to go to a public library and another open kind of newspaper reading place in my hometown, Rampura Phul, in Bathinda district of Punjab. I used to read Hindi and Punjabi children’s magazines like 'Chandamama', 'Bal Sandesh' or Hindi/Punjabi newspapers and the children’s sections. After matriculating, I was not able to join any college, and went to stay at my elder sister's place in Abohar in Ferozepur district.

Abohar, incidentally, was a much better-known town before 1947. Eminent Hindi writers and national leaders during the freedom struggle used to visit Sahitya Sadan there. My brother-in-law arranged for me to work as a trainee worker in Bhiwani cotton mills. I tried for a month or so but could not adjust with factory work. But during my stay in Abohar in 1962 or so, I got into the habit of reading spy or jasoosi novels in Hindi. There was a shop in Abohar, which stored hundreds of such novels and charged one anna (6 paise today) per day for reading. Sometimes I used to read more than one novel a day. Many of these were monthly publications like 'Jassosi duniya' etc.

After I returned to Rampura Phul, I started helping my father in his shop. I started going to the library again and sometimes browsed English papers, mainly 'The Tribune', particularly film advertisements or sports pages, since I used to listen to cricket commentaries on the radio. Names of Salim Durrani, Chandu Borde, Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni from India and Gary Sobers, Gibbs, Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai etc from West Indies, had etched in my mind.

When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru died in May 1964, the shop was closed for two days, one on his death day and another when his ashes were immersed. I think at that time I became a member of the public library and the first book I issued out of the two issued at that time was Premchand's novel Godaan. Perhaps Premchand’s autobiographical story 'Mera Jivan' in school curricula made a deep impact on my adolescent mind. I read the novel in a single day or maybe two days, but that set my standards for literary reading. I tried to read Punjabi novels by Nanak Singh and Jaswant Kanwal, but could not continue, as novels in Hindi by Premchand and other writers gave me more aesthetic pleasure than Punjabi novels.

The public library in Rampura Phul was established during the freedom struggle and has a rich collection in Hindi, Urdu, English and Punjabi. I tried reading the Urdu copy of 'Godan' with my father, who was middle pass those days and was not allowed by my grandfather to accept a schoolteacher’s job in 1933 at Rs 18 a month. My father could not be attuned to literature, but continued reading his favourite Urdu daily, perhaps 'Hind Samachar'. Since that day, my reading has never stopped and that helped me become what I am today.

I started buying books other than course books in the late 60s, when I became a schoolteacher in 1967. I became a member of Hind Pocket Books. Those days in Re 1 one got good paperbacks. I translated one of these books in Punjabi from Hindi in my early phase of writing—it was Manmathnath Gupt's 'Bharat Ke Krantikari', sketches of 16 or 18 revolutionaries. It was serialised by Ghadarite Baba Gurmukh Singh who edited 'Desh Bhagat Yaadan' from Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall Jalandhar. Some pieces were published in 'Preetlari'Aarsee' journals also.

Unfortunately, in the police raids in the 1970s to suppress the Naxalite movement, even the Ghadar Party memorial could not preserve its records and those issues of Desh Bhagat Yadan, edited by such legendary Ghadarite Gurmukh Singh Lalton, were lost. Perhaps out of fear, I did not preserve those issues, and only five or of those sketches are with me that were published in some literary or government journals.

While doing M.A. in Hindi and Punjabi, I bought lots of books. During my incarceration in Bathinda jail for seven months during the Emergency of 1975-77, the best part was reading huge novels like those of Sarat Chandra. My weekly supply of books came from the public library in Rampura Phul. 

Bulk buying of books started when I became a research scholar in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 1977 and started getting a fellowship. Every hostel room in JNU has a bookshelf and not having books on the shelf meant being a lesser being in that culture. I always spent more than what I received as contingency grant for purchasing books. It gave immense pleasure to own a book which was considered important, whether literature or any other discipline. Faculty members and JNU students would stand at Geeta Book Shop in the Kamal Complex market every evening to look for new titles and join the race to buy first.

I had so many books in my collection that when I left for Bombay in 1982 to join as Hindi officer, I left a big collection in my room with my friend Shashi Bhushan Upadhyaya (now Professor in History at IGNOU, New Delhi) and one of the painful chapters of my life is that many of these books were lost when JNU was closed sine die in 1983 and Shashi was one among arrested and later rusticated. Students were not able to preserve their precious books, because hostels were vacated in a very rough manner.

I continued buying books after I joined the job. It became a habit, a continuation of the Geeta Book Shop culture. But conditions changed after 1985, when I joined as lecturer in Hindi at Punjabi University, Patiala. The purchase of books increased, adding Punjabi books to my collection apart from Hindi and English. But, after a few years, there was a gap in my buying books and reading them. I never depended on the library for my personal or professional need of books, I preferred to buy. Yet, with family life and professional engagements and socialising with colleagues, participating in teachers’ movement, and with the entry of television in life, reading got affected. The  gap between purchase and reading of books kept widening, and with a lot of magazines coming up in Hindi, Punjabi and English, the demand/urge for writing further affected my reading. So much so that even after rejoining JNU, the situation did not improve. Rather, it worsened with the entry of computers with internet facility. Now, the situation is that while my purchase of books never stopped or slowed, even after retirement without pension, my reading has further diminished.

I have more than 5,000 books in my personal collection of Hindi, Punjabi, English and, lately, of Urdu, yet, I may not have read more than 2,000 of these, perhaps less. That does not mean that average reading has completely stopped, which perhaps is not less than 60 books a year. But since internet/magazines consume too much time, the average reading has reduced substantially. Had these factors not entered life, my average reading would not have been less than 200 books a year.

While joining The University of West Indies (UWI), Trinidad & Tobago in 2010-11, my one temptation was to read many books that I felt I must read and also see films. So, I brought more than 500 books and about 100 or so film DVDs there, knowing it would not be easy to fulfill the desire, as I had a task at hand -- complete at least one major manuscript and travel to a lot of countries nearby.

So, my reading of books restarted after reaching Port of Spain. It started with a pile of Hindi, Punjabi and English magazines, which I mostly scanned, including two important issues of Journal of Literature &Aesthetics focused on Indian dalit literature in Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Gujrati, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam. Edited by Dr. D.Sreenivasan from Kollam in Kerala, this was a good literary journal. In scanned issues of Summer Hill ReviewLaw Animated WorldMainstream, Frontline, and Frontier in English; Filhal, Virsa, Sirjana and Chirag in Punjabi and Tadbhav,SheshParikatha,Naya GyanoudeyVasudha, Samkallen Janmat,Aalochna and Apeksha in Hindi.

Leo Tolstoy's classic novel 'Anna Karenina' is my favourite, too, after reading its summary in Hindi in 'Naya Gyanoudey'. Since my books were to arrive by courier a few days later, I got some books from the Indian High commission library there. Before that, famous Hindi writer and Professor in Hindi, Susham Bedi (she died in the beginning of COVID-19), gifted her books-Chidiya Aur Cheel' (stories) and 'Shabdon ki Khidkiyan'(poems) to me in New York. I also got her novel 'Havan' from the High Commission library to complete reading her writings in poetry, and fiction.

Among the few more books borrowed from the library were Asha Rani Vohra's-Swatantarta Senani Lekhikayen'(Freedom fighter women writers), this included Bhagat Singh groups' activist Susheela Mohan's sketch as well. Also Dr. Bharat Mishra's '1857 ki Kranti aur uske pramukh krantikari', Dr. Kailash Kumari Sahay's 'Pravasi Bhartiyon ki Hindi seva' and Vimlesh Kanti and Dheera Verma's 'Fiji mein Hindi. The last two books that I read were to refresh my exposure to Hindi language in Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad &Tobago, Suriname and Guyana--five countries of Indian descent people domination where political power also remains with or shared by Indian descent people. I also read Bahadurshah Zafar's Urdu poetry transliterated in Hindi.

                                                                                      (To be continued)



  Books on Neglected Aspects of Freedom Struggle Are a Veritable Treasure


In the concluding part of his reading journey, the writer highlights the contribution of Rahul Sankrityayan and a host of Punjabi and Bengali writers.

Chaman Lal


30 Jun 2022


Among the more important books that I read in Hindi during my stay in Trinidad are Rahul Sankrityayan's-'Ghummakad Swami' (The Traveler Hermitage) and 'Aaj Ki Samasyayen'. Both these are not available these days and a photocopy was gifted to me by Dr. P.N.Vidyarthi, when I visited his house in Ranchi in 2007 or 08.

Ghummakad Swami is a semi-autobiographical account or Sankritayayan’s travelogues, which included a Punjab travelogue in 1919, when the Jallianwalabagh massacre took place. Very few people know that Sankrityayan had deep knowledge about pre-Partition Punjab too.

'Aaj ki Samasyayen' is a 1945 book, and includes four important articles -- Pakistan ya jatiyon ki samasaya (Pakistan or Problem of Nationalities), Matar Bhashayon ki samasya (Problem of Mother Tongues, Pragatisheelta ka Prashan (Question of Progressivism) and Aaj ka sahityakar (Writer of Today). The book is really enlightening, it explains in a very rational and objective way how the creation of Pakistan became inevitable.

Sankrityayan rightly blames the Hindu majoritarian fundamentalist attitude of treating the Muslim community like untouchables and also Hindu capitalists not allowing Muslim capitalists to have share in national wealth. Partition was made inevitable by both the communities’ ruling feudal and bourgeoise classes, because the Hindu ruling classes were not ready to share the appropriation of wealth from the Muslim ruling classes in a fair manner. And they did not allow Muslim community members into Hindu kitchens or used to serve them food/water in separate utensils even among friends.

Sankrityayan rightly asks: Which self-respecting person will tolerate this treatment? And, he predicted the fallout of Bangladesh at that very time. In his opinion, language is at the core of the nationality issue, though religion also is a strong factor and geography, too. This became true in the case of creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Sankrityayan counted 73 nationalities in India in 1945 and 11 in the proposed Pakistan at that time.

The article, Matar Bhashayon ki samasayen, also deals with the sensitive issue of mother tongue. Sankrityayan is against Hindi's domination over mother tongues like Bhojpuri, Maithili, Santhali etc. People, and my friends like Prof. Amarnath Sharma, should read this article to understand the language sensitivity of people that can explode if any oppression of their language is done.

This also made me realise that Mahatma Gandhi and Premchand conceived that Hindustani is no more possible or feasible except in verbal communication. The existence of Hindi and Urdu as two closely linked but separate languages should be accepted, yet young children can easily learn both the languages easily if this is made part of school curricula.

Rahul Sankrityayan was a versatile writer-activist. Born in 1893, he lived up to 1963, completing 70 years of life. From a traditional Hindu family, to becoming a monk, then Arya Samajist, then Buddhist and finally a Marxist, he authored/edited/translated nearly 150 books in Hindi, Pali, English and Tibetan.

Sankrityayan travelled a lot and his book 'Ghummakad Shashtra' is traveller's guide book. He travelled on foot/ponies/buses/trains/ships/by air and visited many countries. He was a professor in Sri Lanka and perhaps in the erstwhile Soviet Union as well, where he married and his progeny lives there (his Russian wife-born son also died). His Indian wife Kamala Sankrityayan died a few years ago. His son and daughter Jaya and Jeta live in India.

Sankrityayan faced lathi blows along with writer Nagarajun during the peasant movement in Bihar and served many months in various jails. When I get bogged down with my multifarious activities, then his life shows me the way. He could start writing four books at a time.

A very significant book that I read and  which literally shook me is an old classic -- Dinabandhu Mitra's Bengali play 'Neel Darpan' , written in 1860, just three years after the First Indian War for Independence took place. The play exposes British colonial cruelties on the Indian people, who destroyed Indian peasants for doing indigo farming. The kind of cruelties committed and described in this 90-page play reminded me of Abhimanyu Anat's 'Lal Pasina' set in Mauritius that exposed the brutal cruelties on Indian indentured labour taken to that country by the British.

There are similar stories of cruelties on Indian indentured labour in Trinidad & Tobago, where I was based and also in Suriname, Guyana and Fiji. So has been the case in South Africa and other African countries colonised by the British those days.

Neel Darpan was translated into English by a British Christian priest and he was jailed for that. The play was performed in theatres in Calcutta in 1872 for the first time and despite ticketed entry, large crowds turned up to watch it. This play has become relevant again now, when under the neo liberal/colonial policies, peasant lands are again being snatched in favour of multinational companies to establish industries. I wish someone translated this play in Punjabi.

Another significant, though controversial novel of 1961, is again a translation from Bengali, called 'Plassey ka Yudh' by Tapan Mohan Chattopadhyaya. It is a history-based novel, but underlines historic dates and incidents perhaps accurately. It is written from the anti-Sirajudaulah angle and, in a way, supports the rise of British occupation of India led by Robert Clive. But, it attacks British myths, like Calcutta's blackhole story, where, in the writer's view, not more than 30 Britishers died, but Sirajudaulah had no hand in it. Though the Britishers propagated it as brutality by Sirajudaulah, and gave the figure of the dead as around 150.

During the 1857 War of Independence, therewas another blackhole in Ajnala in Punjab, where the British Deputy commissioner at that time made 257 Indian freedom fighters die of suffocation. The Britishers created a monument to a false blackhole, but the Indian government has nothing to show the Ajnala blackhole as a reminder of colonial brutalities.

An interesting feature of the 1757 Plassey war actors have been their personal tragedies. Starting with Sirajudaulah, who lived for just 25 years, which included 14 months of being the Bengal Nawab,  and was murdered in the most brutal and cruel manner. Mir Jafar, the traitor, who was also a close relative of Siraj, died in 1765 due to leprosy, and was hated by everyone, even his sons. Meeran, who killed all the close relations of Siraj in fear of the Nawab’s throne being passed on to them, died of lightning. Maharaja Nand Kumar was hanged.  British Admiral Watson did not survive even two months of the Plassey war and was buried in St. John graveyard. The 'hero' Clive, who looted Rs 21 lakh from the Plassey war, killed himself on November 22, 1774. Almost a similar fate was met by the Jallianwalabagh mass murderer, General Dyer.

Some Punjabi books that I read in this period also included Gurdial Singh's novel 'Aahan', Gurbachan Bhullar's travelogue "Ek Amreeka Eh Vi', Swarajbir's play 'Kallar', Atamjit's play 'Mangu Comrade',Nand Singh Mehta's autobiographical novel 'Suhe Rahan da Safar'.

The 400-page first part of 'Aahan' has been published 17 years after Gurdial Singh’s last novel 'Parsa' was published. Its second part should have come by now, but seems to have been delayed. This novel also narrates the story of British colonial power's destruction of the peasantry and a village Karamgarh near Jaitu. Set after the Praja Mandal movement in the 1936-40 period, the novel also depicts the cruelties of the colonial police at its worst. When peasants have nothing to eat due to a locust attack that destroys crops in the whole village, the British masters are bent upon charging annual land tax from peasants.

Gurbachan Bhullar's travelogue of America is an example of objective observation of a country about which there are a lot of prejudices. Written in an interesting style, I liked the book a lot, but was surprised with Bhullar's depiction of how Khalistanis had overtaken the Ghadar party's Stockton Gurdwara and dumped all the Ghadarite fighters’ photographs, which did not create any ripples in Punjab, even among the Leftists.

Government occupation of Yugantar Ashram – the Ghadar Party HQ in San Francisco -- not being opened daily is another shocking fact that did not seem to have bothered anyone. It should be protested strongly in my view in India and abroad by all right-thinking Punjabis and Indians.

Swarajbir's play focuses on pauperisation of  Punjab's peasantry in recent times and their fate in foreign countries, where they try to escape. Though realistic, this play is not as impactful as his earlier plays, such as Dharamguru and Krishna. 

Atamjit's play opens our eyes to the great Indian freedom fighter in Kenya-Makhan Singh, whose sacrifices were recognised even by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of independent Kenya, but whose role was soon to be forgotten by Kenya as well as India. This play has a good look at history, but Atamjit has unnecessarily tried to undermine the character of a revolutionary by making his character overplay the Gandhian philosophy.

Nand Singh Mehta's Suhe Rahan da Safar-Trails of Red Path is neither an autobiography nor a novel. It would have been better if he had written plain memoirs of the Naxalite movement in the Bathinda area, where he was an activist. Incidentally, I was an observer during some of his narrations.

Apart from Hindi, Punjabi and English readings, I kept on practicing Urdu reading by way of Ibne Kanwal edited 'Muntakhib Ghazaliyat'. This is a collection of Urdu ghazals, from the beginning to the contemporary period.

Philosophical and Real Problem in Reading Books

The world of books is like an ocean, and no one can ever think of swimming through all the waters, yet one is always tempted to read more and more. For academic/professional/creative writers, it becomes even more difficult to indulge in the luxury of just reading for pleasure. So, some hard choices need to be made. A reading selection has to be made. I cannot finish reading my own purchased books, even if I get 20 more years of healthy life. And I know that I will have to donate most of my books to some good libraries, if I don't want these to go waste. (I have already set up Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre in Delhi Archives in 2018, and am gifting nearly 2,000 books, journals and other documents on freedom struggle)

Now I want to write on some of these books. Very few academics have interest in writing, especially on the history of the revolutionary stream of the freedom movement. It is not my academic area or study, yet I find it more attractive than my own professional area, literature. I have lost interest in fashionable and abstract theories of the academic world, whether in literature or social sciences, and just wish to record the hard facts/events of some aspects of the freedom struggle, long neglected or written in a distorted manner by vested interests.


The writer is a retired Professor from JNU and Honorary Advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, New Delhi. He writes on some important books for Newsclick.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Bhagat Singh-Dutt letter to Home Member

ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਦਾ ਅਣਗੌਲਿਆ ਖਤ

ਚਮਨ ਲਾਲ


14 ਜੁਲਾਈ 1929 ਦੇ ਐਤਵਾਰ ਦੇ ਅੰਗਰੇਜ਼ੀ ਟ੍ਰਿਬਿਊਨ ਵਿਚ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਦਾ ਭਾਰਤ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਦੇ ਗ੍ਰਹਿ ਮੈਂਬਰ ਦੇ ਨਾਂ ਆਪਣੀ ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ਬਾਰੇ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਖਤ ਛਪਿਆ ਹੈ। ਨਹਿਰੂ ਯਾਦਗਾਰੀ ਮਿਊਜ਼ੀਅਮ ਅਤੇ ਲਾਇਬ੍ਰੇਰੀ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਹਾਸਲ ਕੀਤੇ ਇਸ ਖਤ ਦਾ ਪੰਜਾਬੀ ਅਨੁਵਾਦ ਆਜ਼ਾਦੀ ਦੇ 75ਵੇਂ ਵਰ੍ਹੇ ਦੌਰਾਨ ਪਹਿਲੀ ਵਾਰ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ। ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੇ ਕਈ ਖਤ ਉਨ੍ਹੀਂ ਦਿਨੀਂ ਕਈ ਅਖਬਾਰਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਛਪਦੇ ਰਹੇ, ਕੁਝ ਨੂੰ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੇ ਦਸਤਾਵੇਜ਼ਾਂ ਦੀਆਂ ਸੰਗ੍ਰਹਿ ਕੀਤੀਆਂ ਕਿਤਾਬਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਸਾਂਭ ਲਿਆ ਗਿਆ ਪਰ ਕੁਝ ਲਿਖਤਾਂ ਅਜੇ ਵੀ ਖੋਜ ਕਰਤਾਵਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਲੱਭ ਜਾਂਦੀਆਂ ਹਨ। ਇਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਇਹ ਖਤ ਵੀ ਇਕ ਹੈ। ਅੱਜ ਕੱਲ੍ਹ ਦੇਸ਼-ਧ੍ਰੋਹ ਕਾਨੂੰਨ ਖਤਮ ਕਰਨ ਦੇ ਸੁਪਰੀਮ ਕੋਰਟ ਦੇ ਸੁਝਾਅ ਦੇ ਪ੍ਰਸੰਗ ਵਿਚ ਇਸ ਖਤ ਦਾ ਖਾਸ ਮਹੱਤਵ ਹੈ, ਕਿਉਂਕਿ ਇਸ ਖਤ ਵਿਚ ਵੀ ਦੇਸ਼-ਧ੍ਰੋਹ ਦੇ ਕੇਸਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਜੇਲ੍ਹਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਬੰਦ ਦੇਸ਼ ਭਗਤਾਂ ਦਾ ਜ਼ਿਕਰ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੇ ਕੀਤਾ ਹੈ:


ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਦੱਤ ਨੇ ਗ੍ਰਹਿ ਮੈਂਬਰ ਨੂੰ ਖਤ ਭੇਜਿਆ


“ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਇੱਕੋ ਜਗ੍ਹਾ ਇਕੱਠੇ ਰੱਖਿਆ ਜਾਵੇ।”


“ਸਾਨੂੰ ਨਹਾਉਣ ਧੋਣ ਦੀਆਂ ਚੀਜ਼ਾਂ ਦਿੱਤੀਆਂ ਜਾਣ।”


ਲਾਹੌਰ, 12 ਜੁਲਾਈ


ਹੇਠਾਂ ਉਸ ਖਤ ਦੀ ਪੂਰੀ ਇਬਾਰਤ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਨੇ ਆਪਣੀਆਂ ਮੰਗਾਂ ਬਾਰੇ ਸਪੈਸ਼ਲ ਮੈਜਿਸਟਰੇਟ (ਲਾਹੌਰ ਸਾਜ਼ਿਸ਼ ਕੇਸ 1929), ਲਾਹੌਰ ਰਾਹੀਂ ਭਾਰਤ ਸਰਕਾਰ ਦੇ ਗ੍ਰਹਿ ਮੈਂਬਰ ਨੂੰ ਭੇਜਿਆ, ਹੁਣ (ਦੋਵੇਂ) ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ’ਤੇ ਹਨ।


ਜਨਾਬ, -ਸਾਨੂੰ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਨੂੰ 19 ਅਪਰੈਲ (8 ਅਪਰੈਲ)* 1929 ਦੇ ਦਿੱਲੀ ਅਸੈਂਬਲੀ ਬੰਬ ਕੇਸ ਵਿਚ ਉਮਰ ਕੈਦ ਹੋਈ ਹੈ। ਜਦ ਤਕ ਅਸੀਂ ਦਿੱਲੀ ਵਿਚ ਮੁਕੱਦਮੇ ਅਧੀਨ ਕੈਦੀ ਸੀ, ਸਾਡੇ ਨਾਲ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਵਿਚ ਬੜਾ ਚੰਗਾ ਸਲੂਕ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾਂਦਾ ਸੀ ਅਤੇ ਬੜੀ ਚੰਗੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਜਾਂਦੀ ਸੀ ਪਰ ਜਦੋਂ ਤੋਂ ਸਾਡੀ ਤਬਦੀਲੀ ਕ੍ਰਮਵਾਰ ਮੀਆਂਵਾਲੀ ਅਤੇ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਕੇਂਦਰੀ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਵਿਚ ਹੋਈ ਹੈ ,ਸਾਡੇ ਨਾਲ ਆਮ ਮੁਜਰਿਮਾਂ ਵਰਗਾ ਸਲੂਕ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ। ਤਬਦੀਲੀ ਦੇ ਪਹਿਲੇ ਹੀ ਦਿਨ ਅਸੀਂ ਉੱਚ ਅਧਿਕਾਰੀਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਖਤ ਲਿਖ ਕੇ ਚੰਗੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਅਤੇ ਕੁਝ ਹੋਰ ਸਹੂਲਤਾਂ ਦੀ ਮੰਗ ਕੀਤੀ ਸੀ ਅਤੇ ਉਸ ਦਿਨ ਤੋਂ ਹੀ ਅਸੀਂ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਦਾ ਖਾਣਾ ਨਹੀਂ ਖਾ ਰਹੇ।**


ਸਾਡੀਆਂ ਮੰਗਾਂ ਨਿਮਨ ਅਨੁਸਾਰ ਹਨ:-


1. ਸਾਨੂੰ ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਦੇ ਤੌਰ ’ਤੇ ਚੰਗੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਜਾਵੇ ਅਤੇ ਸਾਡੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦਾ ਪੱਧਰ ਘੱਟੋ-ਘੱਟ ਯੂਰੋਪੀਅਨ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਦੇ ਬਰਾਬਰ ਹੋਵੇ। (ਬਰਾਬਰ ਹੋਣ ਦਾ ਅਰਥ ਉਹੋ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਨਹੀਂ, ਸਾਡੀ ਮੰਗ ਹੈ ਕਿ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦਾ ਪੱਧਰ ਉਸ ਦੇ ਬਰਾਬਰ ਹੋਣ ਚਾਹੀਦਾ ਹੈ)।


2. ਸਾਨੂੰ ਸਖਤ ਅਤੇ ਸ਼ਾਨ ਦੇ ਖਿਲਾਫ਼ ਮੁਸ਼ੱਕਤ ਕਰਨ ਲਈ ਮਜਬੂਰ ਨਾ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾਵੇ।


3. ਉਹ ਸਾਰੀਆਂ ਕਿਤਾਬਾਂ ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ’ਤੇ ਪਾਬੰਦੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਲੱਗੀ, ਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਨਾਲ ਲਿਖਣ ਸਮੱਗਰੀ ਬਿਨਾਂ ਰੋਕ ਟੋਕ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਜਾਵੇ।


4. ਘੱਟੋ-ਘੱਟ ਇੱਕ ਮਿਆਰੀ ਰੋਜ਼ਾਨਾ ਅਖਬਾਰ ਹਰ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਵਿਚ ਹਰ ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀ ਨੂੰ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਜਾਵੇ।


5. ਹਰ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਵਿਚ ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਦਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਖਾਸ ਵਾਰਡ ਹੋਵੇ ਜਿੱਥੇ ਯੂਰੋਪੀਅਨ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਵਾਲੀਆਂ ਸਾਰੀਆਂ ਸਹੂਲਤਾਂ ਹੋਣ ਅਤੇ ਇੱਕ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਦੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀ ਉਸ ਵਾਰਡ ਵਿਚ ਇਕੱਠੇ ਰੱਖੇ ਜਾਣ।


6. ਸਾਡੀਆਂ ਨਹਾਉਣ ਧੋਣ ਦੀਆਂ ਸਾਰੀਆਂ ਲੋੜਾਂ ਪੂਰੀਆਂ ਕੀਤੀਆਂ ਜਾਣ।


7. ਬਿਹਤਰ ਕੱਪੜੇ।


ਅਸੀਂ ਉੱਪਰ ਆਪਣੀਆਂ ਸਾਰੀਆਂ ਮੰਗਾਂ ਸਪਸ਼ਟ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤੀਆਂ ਹਨ।


ਇਹ ਸਾਰੀਆਂ ਬਿਲਕੁਲ ਵਾਜਬ ਮੰਗਾਂ ਹਨ। ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਅਧਿਕਾਰੀਆਂ ਨੇ ਇੱਕ ਦਿਨ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਦੱਸਿਆ ਕਿ ਉੱਚ ਅਧਿਕਾਰੀਆਂ ਨੇ ਇਹ ਮੰਗਾਂ ਮੰਨਣ ਤੋਂ ਇਨਕਾਰ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਹੈ।


ਇਸ ਤੋਂ ਇਲਾਵਾ ਜਬਰੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦੇਣ ਸਮੇਂ ਸਾਡੇ ਨਾਲ ਬੜਾ ਭੈੜਾ ਸਲੂਕ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾਂਦਾ ਹੈ। 10 ਜੂਨ (10 ਜੁਲਾਈ)*** ਨੂੰ ਜਬਰੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦੇਣ ਸਮੇਂ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ 15 ਮਿੰਟ ਬੇਹੋਸ਼ ਪਿਆ ਰਿਹਾ। ਇਸ ਲਈ ਅਸੀਂ ਤੁਹਾਨੂੰ ਬੇਨਤੀ ਕਰਦੇ ਹਨ ਕਿ ਜਬਰੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦੇਣੀ ਤੁਰੰਤ ਬੰਦ ਕੀਤੀ ਜਾਵੇ।


ਇਸ ਦੇ ਨਾਲ ਹੀ ਅਸੀਂ ਤੁਹਾਡਾ ਧਿਆਨ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਜਗਤ ਨਾਰਾਇਣ ਅਤੇ ਕੇਬੀ ਹਾਫਿਜ਼ ਹਿਦਾਇਤ ਹੁਸੈਨ ਦੀਆਂ ਯੂਪੀ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਕਮੇਟੀ ਦੀਆਂ ਸਿਫ਼ਾਰਿਸ਼ਾਂ ਵਲ ਖਿੱਚਣ ਦੀ ਵੀ ਇਜਾਜ਼ਤ ਚਾਹੁੰਦੇ ਹਾਂ। ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਨੇ ਸਿਫ਼ਾਰਿਸ਼ ਕੀਤੀ ਹੈ ਕਿ ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਨਾਲ ‘ਬਿਹਤਰ ਕਲਾਸ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ’ ਵਾਲਾ ਸਲੂਕ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾਵੇ।


ਅਸੀਂ ਗੁਜ਼ਾਰਿਸ਼ ਕਰਦੇ ਹਾਂ ਕਿ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਕਰਕੇ ਜਲਦੀ ਤੋਂ ਜਲਦੀ ਸਾਡੀਆਂ ਮੰਗਾਂ ’ਤੇ ਵਿਚਾਰ ਕੀਤਾ ਜਾਵੇ।


ਅਸੀਂ ਹਾਂ


(ਦਸਤਖਤ) ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ


(ਦਸਤਖਤ) ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ


ਨੋਟ (NB) -‘ਸਿਆਸੀ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ’ ਤੋਂ ਸਾਡਾ ਭਾਵ ਹੈ ਉਹ ਸਾਰੇ ਲੋਕ ਜਿਹੜੇ ਰਿਆਸਤ/ਸਟੇਟ ਖਿਲਾਫ ਕੇਸਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਸਜ਼ਾਯਾਫ਼ਤਾ ਹਨ, ਮਿਸਾਲ ਦੇ ਤੌਰ ’ਤੇ ਉਹ ਲੋਕ ਜੋ 1915-17 ਵਾਲੇ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਸਾਜ਼ਿਸ਼ ਕੇਸਾਂ, ਕਾਕੋਰੀ ਸਾਜ਼ਿਸ਼ ਕੇਸ ਅਤੇ ਦੇਸ਼-ਧ੍ਰੋਹ ਮਾਮਲਿਆਂ ਵਿਚ ਸਜ਼ਾਯਾਫ਼ਤਾ ਹਨ। - ਫਰੀ ਪ੍ਰੈੱਸ****




*ਦਿੱਲੀ ਅਸੈਂਬਲੀ ਬੰਬ ਕਾਂਡ 8 ਅਪਰੈਲ 1929 ਨੂੰ ਵਾਪਰਿਆ ਸੀ ਅਤੇ ਇਸ ਦਾ ਫੈਸਲਾ 12 ਜੂਨ ਨੂੰ ਹੋਇਆ ਸੀ। ਸੋ, ਇੱਥੇ ਤਰੀਖ 19 ਅਪਰੈਲ ਦੀ ਬਜਾਇ 8 ਅਪਰੈਲ ਜਾਂ 12 ਜੂਨ ਹੋਣੀ ਚਾਹੀਦੀ ਸੀ।


**ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਨੇ 14-15 ਜਨਵਰੀ 1929 ਨੂੰ ਰੇਲ ਗੱਡੀ ਵਿਚ ਮੀਆਂਵਾਲੀ ਅਤੇ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਲਿਜਾਂਦੇ ਸਮੇਂ ਹੀ ਆਮ ਮੁਜਰਿਮਾਂ ਵਾਲੇ ਸਲੂਕ ਖਿਲਾਫ ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ਸ਼ੁਰੂ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਸੀ। ਜਦੋਂ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ 10 ਜੁਲਾਈ 1929 ਨੂੰ ਮੀਆਂਵਾਲੀ ਜੇਲ੍ਹ ਤੋਂ ਲਿਆ ਕੇ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਸਾਜ਼ਿਸ਼ ਕੇਸ ਸ਼ੁਰੂ ਹੋਣ ਸਮੇਂ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਅਦਾਲਤ ਵਿਚ ਵਿਚ ਪੇਸ਼ ਕੀਤਾ ਗਿਆ ਸੀ ਤਾਂ ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ਕਾਰਨ ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਸਟਰੈਚਰ ’ਤੇ ਅਦਾਲਤ ਵਿਚ ਲਿਆਂਦਾ ਗਿਆ ਸੀ। 13 ਜੁਲਾਈ 1929 ਤੋਂ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਅਤੇ ਬੀਕੇ ਦੱਤ ਦੀ ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ਦੀ ਹਮਾਇਤ ਵਿਚ ਲਾਹੌਰ ਸਾਜਿ਼ਸ਼ ਕੇਸ ਦੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਕੈਦੀਆਂ ਨੇ ਭੁੱਖ ਹੜਤਾਲ ਸ਼ੁਰੂ ਕਰ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਸੀ ਜਿਸ ਵਿਚ 13 ਸਤੰਬਰ 1929 ਨੂੰ ਜਤਿੰਦਰ ਨਾਥ ਦਾਸ ਸ਼ਹੀਦ ਹੋ ਗਏ ਸਨ।


***ਖ਼ਬਰ ਵਿਚ ਲਿਖੀ 10 ਜੂਨ ਤਾਰੀਖ ਵੀ ਅਸਲ ਵਿਚ 10 ਜੁਲਾਈ ਹੈ ਜਿਸ ਦਿਨ ਅਦਾਲਤੀ ਪੇਸ਼ੀ ਤੋਂ ਬਾਅਦ ਸ਼ਾਇਦ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਨੂੰ ਜਬਰੀ ਖੁਰਾਕ ਦਿੱਤੀ ਗਈ ਸੀ।


****ਇਹ ਖ਼ਬਰ ਫਰੀ ਪ੍ਰੈੱਸ ਏਜੰਸੀ ਨੇ ਜਾਰੀ ਕੀਤੀ ਸੀ।


(ਅਨੁਵਾਦ ਤੇ ਪੇਸ਼ਕਾਰੀ: ਚਮਨ ਲਾਲ ਜੋ ਜਵਾਹਰ ਲਾਲ ਨਹਿਰੂ ਯੂਨੀਵਰਸਿਟੀ ਦੇ ਸਾਬਕਾ ਪ੍ਰੋਫੈਸਰ ਅਤੇ ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਆਰਕਾਇਵਸ ਨਵੀਂ ਦਿੱਲੀ ਦੇ ਆਨਰੇਰੀ ਸਲਾਹਕਾਰ ਹਨ।

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Fidel Castro on Cuban Revolution

Though focused on the issue of religion, the book actually narrates the story of Castro's life as well as the story of the Cuban revolution.
New Book Covers the Fascinating Life of Fidel Castro in His Own Words

Following is an essay on Fidel and the Religion-Conversations with Frei Betto, People’s Publishing House, Delhi, 1st ed. 1987, pages 276.

These are Fidel Castro's conversations with the Brazilian Dominican Friar, a practising Catholic who believes in socialism. Cuban culture minister Armando Hart has introduced this conversation. In 'Paths to a Meeting', Frei Betto has narrated the background of these conversations, which he planned in 1979 as a book to be called-'Faith in Socialism'.

The success of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua with faithful Christians participating in it, where Frei was invited as an advisor, encouraged him to work on this book. Lot many priests like Father Miguel D Escoto, the foreign minister, were part of the revolutionary government, whose ideal was Cuba.

He first met Fidel Castro at the house of Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez in July 1980. Fidel encouraged him to freely discuss Bible and Christian ideas with him without getting 'irritate' as Frei apprehended and told him that 'at no time the Cuban revolution has been inspired by anti-religious feelings'. Castro addressed Chilean clergy in 1971 during the Allende period, and in Jamaica, also he addressed a Protestant audience in 1977. In Nicaragua, there was unity between Christians and Marxists during the revolutionary struggle.

Frei visited Cuba 12 times from 1981 to 1985 and had 23 hours of recorded interviews from May 23 to May 26 in four days, an average of almost six hours a day of conversation. He wrote this note immediately after the conclusion of the interview on May 29 1985.

Book has two parts. The first part, titled 'Chronicle of a Visit' includes Castro talking to many people during the visit of Algerian President Chadli Bendje did and with some other guests, like a group of Brazilians, meeting Brazilian journalist Joelmir Beting. Fidel has the courtesy of even personally driving down Beting and Bretto to their hotel one night at the conclusion of their meeting.

The first part has seven chapters and is spread into 45 pages. It comes out from this part that Fidel is a good cook, and later in comparison with Che Guevara, in the second part of the book, he comments-'I am a better cook (Che). I am not going to say that I am a better revolutionary, but I am definitely a better cook than Che was.' (Page 268) Fidel informs that they have one lakh independent farmers in Cuba, holding private land, but other farmers joining cooperatives have many better-living conditions. Castro also emphasises manual labour and students going for it one month per year.

Part II is the major part of the book, spread over four chapters and 220 pages. Every chapter is an account of one night's interview, most of the interviews were conducted in the evening or rather a late evening, and some continued past midnight. On the first day, May 23, 1985, at the beginning of the interview, Frei informs that perhaps for the first-time head of a socialist state has been granted an exclusive interview on the topic of religion.

Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of Nicaragua did issue a document on religion in 1980. In the first part of the interview, Castro speaks about his family, his childhood, his religious training in school etc. Castro says that his mother Lina and father Angel were faithful religious people, but more so his mother. He was born on a farm called Biran, but there was no church. Castro's father was a Spaniard from Galicia and had settled in Cuba, working there. Castro's parents were from poor backgrounds, though later his father bought enough land.

Castro refers to Cuba's first war of independence against Spain in 1895, which ended with the defeat of the Spanish colonial regime in 1898; Castro describes Cuba to be 'the Vietnam of the 19th century'. Castro's father died on October 21 1956, before the triumph of the Cuban revolution, and his mother died after the revolution on August 6 1963. Castro describes how Christmas was celebrated in his house in his childhood. Castro was born on August 13, 1926, and his armed struggle started at the age of 26 years on July 26, 1952, with an attack on Moncada, the struggle got the name the ‘26th July Movement’.

His father bought 800 hundred hectares of land, of which 400 hundred hectares were surrendered after the revolution as per the new law of land-owning limit. There was no church in Castro’s village, he was baptised in Santiago de Cuba at the age of 5 or six years. He was named Fidel-the faithful one, on his godfather's name. Castro's aunts and grandmother had strong beliefs. Castro was the third child of her mother's second marriage, out of seven in total. Children from the first marriage were also known to them.

Castro has four sisters and two more brothers. He was put in school in Santiago de Cuba, staying at the house of his godfather. Castro listened to the Three wise Men stories from his family—Caspar, Melchoir and Balthazar-mythical stories. He was not happy in-home, later was shifted to boarding school La Salle for four years, which gave Castro satisfaction. He had his religious training in school and enjoyed his Christmas vacation of two weeks at his home. He was a good athlete at school and good in his studies as well.

Castro makes an interesting observation about martyrdom here-'Conviction is what makes martyrs. I don't think that anybody becomes a martyr simply because he expects a reward or fears punishment. I don’t think anybody behaves heroically for such a reason.’ Castro had his high schooling in Colegio de Belen School in Havana, he graduated from high school in 1945 at 19 years. He first heard about communism in school as a ‘terrible thing’. He excelled in sports, and academics. His school certificate recorded—

“Fidel Castro Ruz (1942-45)- He distinguished himself in all subjects related to Letters. A top student and member of the congregation, he was an outstanding athlete, always courageously and proudly defending the school's colours. He won the admiration and affection of all. We are sure that, after his law studies, he will make a brilliant name for himself. Fidel has what it takes and will make something of his life."

After joining the University, Fidel acquired Marxist ideology; he was a firm follower of Jose Marti. Batista made a military coup in Cuba on March 10, 1952, and on July 26, 1952, Castro made an armed insurrection, which failed. The first part of the interview concluded at 3.00 am, starting from 9.00 pm, six hours before.

The second part of the interview started on May 24 1985 at 4.45 pm Frei refers to Christian participants in July 26 movement, such as Frank Paise and Jose Antonio Echeverria. Castro told how much they respected their faith and gave an example of how he chastised his comrades at the death of Echevveria, when from his will, his invocation to God was left out. In this chapter, the attack on Moncada is detailed; about 120 men attacked Moncada.

In the clash, 1,000 soldiers countered the attack, and only 2 or 3 comrades were killed in the initial clash. But Batista army brutally murdered 70 rebels after arresting them. Castro could also have been killed, but a black lieutenant did not allow his men to shoot them. In fact, he even praised Castro's men by saying-you are brave boys, brave-, later, the lieutenant was blamed for not killing and discharged from the army. Later after the revolution, he was made Captain and in charge of the President's security. His name was Padro Sarria. He died in 1972 from cancer.

Castro spent 22 months in prison in the Isle of Pines, now named the Isle of Youth, 19 months, he was kept in solitary confinement. Father Sardinas from church joined the Sierra Maestra guerrilla struggle in 1956. After the revolution, one judge Urrutia was made provisional President of Cuba, but he clashed with the revolutionaries. Castro was named Prime Minister, he resigned, and in public debate, Urrutia had to face embarrassment, and he resigned. Later a prestigious comrade was named President, and then many radical laws were passed. Castro tells-'Values and morals are man's spiritual values.

Castro refers to how priests and churches were tried to be used by the CIA against the revolution, and three priests participated in the invasion of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs in 1961. They could have been executed but were treated leniently. The Communist Party of Cuba came into existence in 1965 from Integrated Revolutionary Organisations.

Eighty-two men waged war in 1956-57, a first major battle in January 1957 by 22 comrades, won the first battle. When they won the war on January 1 1, 959, Castro had just 3,000 men who defeated Batista's 80,000-strong army. People's Socialist Party (PSP) was more homogenous. Socialism was proclaimed at the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Castro described relations with the church as 'A period of coexistence and mutual respect between the party and the churches.' (Page 171).

The conversation concluded at 10 pm, more than six hours after it started.

The third conversation started on May 25 at 8 pm Castro exposed 'gentleman' Pinochet, allegedly a 'devout' man, who is responsible for thousands of deaths, murders, tortures or missing people in Chile. Castro tells the proud role of one lakh teachers and thousands of doctors working in other countries as missionaries. Castro also praises nuns who are taking care of old people's homes in Cuba with much austerity, like model communists.

They talk about Father Ernesto Cardenal, a Sandinista poet and writer, a much-respected personality of Nicaragua. Castro emphasises the need to improve works of revolution and defines them as a work of art. They discuss the positive role of Liberation Theology in Latin American countries like Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, El Salvador and others in promoting revolutionary ideas, which were described as subversive by US rulers. Church described as the oldest institution, 2000 years old, Buddhism and Hinduism may be older, but they are not institutions.

The discussion concluded at 11 pm, the first time in just three hours.

The fourth and last part of the interview took place on Sunday, May 26, 1985, at 7 pm Castro gifted a copy of his school certificate as a memento to Frei. They discuss the proposed visit of the Pope, which Castro is ready to welcome. Frei asks a question on religion as the 'Opiate’ of the people. Castro explains the phenomenon in detail and opines that it is possible for Christians to be Marxists, but they have to be honest in ending the exploitation of man by man and struggle for equal distribution of social wealth.

Here Castro also refers to the first social revolution of the modern period-French revolution, with a three-word slogan-Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but exposes the myth of the slogan in practice in the capitalist system. Castro opines that the achievement of the spirit of this slogan is possible only in a Socialist society. Castro also exposes the myth of ancient Greek and Roman democracy by detailing the unknown facts about the number of slaves, more than the Greek/Roman own population and only high classes participating in debates; reference to Nero also came while Rome was burning, and he was playing the lyre! Slavery was abolished in Cuba and Brazil in 1886.

Then they talk about 'hatred', and Castro explained that either Marx or Lenin, Marti or he, never hated persons. They hated only the system; it reminds Bhagat Singh's famous court statement mentioning this very concept. Castro underlines the fact that he hates fascism and Nazism. They also note the fact that during imperialism's most cruel period, in the First World War first, 20 million people and in a second world war, more than 50 million people lost their lives and underlines the fact that the Imperialist system was to be blamed for this, which needs to be smashed as a system.

Frei also questions love and the 'export' of revolution. Castro explains that revolution can never be exported. Only ideas that travel the world over, not the physical forces can go and make a revolution. Revolution is made by internal forces and mechanisms only. They talk about Che Guevara as well, the kind of fond relationship Che and Castro had with each other. Castro brings out the exceptional qualities of Che, his leadership quality, intellectual characteristics, and courage; he was so daring that he had to be held back by Castro.

Che had great moral integrity, was a man of profound ideas, an untiring worker, and was rigorous and methodical in fulfilling his duties. 'He was one of the greatest figures of his generation in Latin America, and nobody could tell how much he would have accomplished if he'd survived'. The same comment may be true for Bhagat Singh in the context of India. Che went to Congo, Zaire, Tanzania and then Bolivia. They talk about other revolutionary heroes like Camilo, who died young at 27 in 1959.

The book concludes with the fact - 82 men's expedition arrived in Cuba on December 2, 1956. After the first hard setbacks, 14-15-16 men regrouped-Fidel and Raul Castro, Che and Camilo among them and made a historic revolution in Cuba on January 1 1959, the most wonderful event, even more, interesting than October 1917 and 1949 Russian and Chinese revolutions!.

Though focused on the issue of religion, the book actually narrates the story of Castro's life as well as the story of the Cuban revolution. This is a very good book to follow.

Chaman Lal is a retired Professor from JNU and Honorary Advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, New Delhi. The views are personal.

Monday, 16 May 2022

A Classic Book on the History of Human Liberation | NewsClick

A Classic Book on the History of Human Liberation

Image Courtesy: New Socialist

James, C L R,   ‘The Black Jacobins’-Toussaint L’Ourverture and the San Domingo Revolution, second revised edition, October 1989, Vintage Books(Random House), New York, first ed. 1963, pages 426, price $16.

This is a classic book of the first revolution in the Third World. This is the story of the 1791-1803 Haitian revolution, which became a model for liberation movements later. Author C.L.R. James was born in 1901 in Trinidad. The first Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Eric Williams, was James’s pupil.  James wrote on cricket, apart from writing on revolutionary movements and fiction. He wrote on Herman Melville in 1953, a novel Minty Alley in 1927, World Revolution (1937), A History of Negro Revolt (1977), Notes on Dialectics (1980), and At the Rendezvous of Victory (1984). C

James was foremost a Marxist in the Caribbean region and tried his hand in Trinidad politics, but was not successful. His pupil Williams even detained him. Before his death in 1989, James was awarded the highest award of Trinidad &Tobago — The Trinity Cross – that at last recognised his contribution to Trinidad’s society.

James had dedicated his book on Haiti’s revolution to his British friends, Harry and Elizabeth Spencer. A map of Haiti and its surroundings has been given in the beginning of the book. In the Preface to the 1963 Vintage edition, James mentioned that this book was written in 1938. The publisher has not been mentioned. In the 1963 edition, after the Cuban liberation of 1959, James added the chapter, ‘From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro’, looking at future of Caribbean nations in the Cuban socialist model. But, the dream of James has still not been realised in the Caribbean.

In Preface to first 1938 edition, James has referred to the importance of San Domingo for France. In 1789, the French Revolution took place, Bastille and Jacobin became iconic names. Inspired by the events in their master country, France, the slaves revolted against French occupation in 1791 in Haiti, so James called them ‘Black Jacobin’.

The struggle of the San Domingo slaves took 12 years to succeed. The defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 led to the establishment of the Negro state of Haiti, the first free Black or Negro state. All other Black states in Africa or South America/Caribbean were still under colonial control of Spain, France, England, Dutch or Portugal. The hero of this revolt was the gifted slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Apart from the two prefaces, James has written the Prologue for the book and 13 chapters. The bibliography is exhaustive, an index is given and the appendix is in the prior mentioned essay, ‘From Toussaint L’ Ouverture to Fidel Castro’. In the Prologue, James has given a brief background of the region, where Christopher Columbus first landed on the island of San Salvador, looking for gold. Local Red Indians directed him to Haiti, a large island, rich in the yellow metal. Spaniards annexed this island in early 16th century. Slavery was introduced. Later, France, Spain and Britain slaughtered each other for 30 years to possess this island in the region. France got a larger part of the island in the 17th century. More and more slaves were brought from Africa and the human drain from Africa ran into millions.

In the first chapter of the book, ‘The Property’, James depicts the establishment of slavery and the conditions in which the slaves lived. They worked for 18 hours a day and, as per James, “worked like animals, the slaves were housed like animals “(page 10). For the smallest of faults, the slaves received the harshest punishment. Whipping was common, a piece of hot wood was placed on buttocks of a victim, salt, pepper, citron, cinders, hot ashes were poured on bleeding wounds. Slaves were tied with irons on their hands and feet, logs of wood tied behind to carry wherever they walked. Blowing of a slave was — ‘to burn a little powder in the arse of a nigger’. But in the midnight celebrations of their African cult, Voodoo, they would sing—Eh! Eh! Bomba! heu! heu!.

The song meant—‘we swear to destroy the whites and all they possess; let us die rather than fail to keep this vow’—and they died in hundreds, as the vow could not be kept!

A literary opponent of slavery was Abbe Raynal, who even before the French Revolution, called for the slave revolution. He was a priest and wrote a book on the exploitation of oppressed people by the white masters. This book inspired Toussaint to make a revolution in Haiti.

In the second chapter, ‘The owners’, James depicts the human and natural resources of Haiti. Port-au-Prince was the official capital of the colony, and even today is the capital of the country. James explains the demography of the island. There were blacks, whites and Mulattos – the offspring of black-white couples. Mulattos were in a better condition than the Blacks. The San Domingo Blacks heard about the French Revolution exploding; Bastille, the symbol of feudal reaction, was stormed in July 1789.

 ‘Parliament and Property’ is the title of the third chapter. In 1790, a colonial assembly was held. Mulatto and Blacks sometimes united against the Whites, while sometimes the Mulattoes did not support Blacks, rather they supported the French occupants. In France’s national assembly, a group called ‘Friends of the Negro’ was formed. Lots of struggles took place, and one liberal Mullato leader, Oge, was tortured to death by the Whites.

In fourth chapter, The San Diego Masses Begin’, the slave rebellion explodes. Toussaint joined the rebellion one month later. Four months of insurrection came to a dead end. Even good liberals–Friends of the Negro — did not do anything to abolish slavery. In fifth and continuing chapter, ‘And the Paris Masses Complete’, about 6,000 thousand men sailed from France in 15 ships to crush the slave revolt. On August 29, 1793, slavery was abolished by Sonthanax.  Toussaint’s forces were growing now, and he did not respond to French overtures, but after the French Assembly passed the decree for abolition of slavery, Toussaint joined the French under threat from British forces.

‘The Rise of Toussaint’ is the sixth chapter, which shows the power of Toussaint, who was advising French Governor Laveaux, but who ignored his advice and capitulated. In seventh chapter, ‘The Mulattoes Try and Fail’, Laveaux was arrested by Mulattoes, released by Toussaint, who was proclaimed as ‘Assistant to the Governor’. In the eighth chapter, ‘The White Slave Owners Again’, there are episodes of intrigues in the ruling sections, Sonotheaux, was a friend of Blacks, but was dictatorial. Toussaint was liked by all– Blacks, Whites and Mulattoes.

‘The Expulsion of the British’ is the title of the ninth chapter. In the three-year war in West Indies, Britian lost 80,000 men. ‘Toussaint seizes the Power’ is title of 10th chapter. By 1800, Toussaint was victorious, he was a master of the whole island, though there were internecine killings among Blacks. ‘The Black Consul’ is the 11th chapter. Toussaint in his control tried to develop the island, gave it a constitution in which the Church was subordinate to the State.

‘The Bourgeoisie Prepares to Restore Slavery; is 12th chapter. It is about the time of reversal; Napoleon Bonaparte was on the rise and he hated the Blacks. Toussaint committed blunders, but his failure, according to James “was failure of enlightenment and not of darkness” (page 288).

The final and 13th chapter is the longest, ‘The War of Independence’. This is history of deceits, forgery and bravery. Toussaint was arrested after failures, which was a shock to the whole population. Bonaparte restored slavery in Guadeloupe. That was an alarm for Haiti. Governor Leclerc Charles Belair and his wife were arrested, condemned and shot. Leclerc died. His successor Rochambeau drowned so many people in the Bay of La Cap, and 1,500 dogs were unleashed to hunt the Blacks.

It was Dessalines from among the Blacks who faced the crisis. A boy of 19, he told the oppressors that “you don’t know how to die. See how to die”. He set himself ablaze and got burnt without uttering a groan. It reminds one of Guru Arjun Dev on a hot plate and Bhagat Singh on the gallows. A woman shamed her Black chief husband and took a rope to hang herself, rather than let the oppressors hang her!

In prison, Toussaint was made to die with torture, hunger and insults. He died on April 7, 1803.On November 29, 1803, Dessalines made the proclamation of liberation of Haiti. On December 31, the new state was named Haiti. In 1805, the Whites were massacred in Haiti. Dessalines was crowned in October 1804.

The book’s appendix is written equally passionately and focuses on Trinidad, the Caribbean and West Indies’ glorious tradition of anti-colonial struggles. The author refers to many novels and poems to indicate that West Indies should follow Castro. He quotes from Aime’ Cesaire’s poem:

But the work of man is only just beginning

And it remains to man to conquer all

The violence entrenched in the recesses of his passion

And no race possesses the monopoly of beauty,

Of intelligence, of force, and there

 Is a place for all at the rendezvous

 of victory………

Truly, a great and essential book to understand human history!

Chaman Lal is a retired Professor from JNU and Honorary Advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, New Delhi. He was a visiting Professor to The University of West Indies in Trinidad during 2011. The views are personal.