Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Sushila Didi: Companion of Durga Bhabhi


Relook at a Book: Sushila Didi – Life of a Quiet Revolutionary

Chaman Lal 

The book by Satyadev Vidyalankar includes not just memories of Sushila Didi by her fellow HSRA revolutionaries but also an autobiographical note written by her.
Relook at a Book: Sushila Didi – Life of a Quiet Revolutionary

Vidyalankar, Satyadev, Didi Sushila Mohan (Hindi Biography), 1965, Delhi Marwari Prakashan, Pages 390, Price 2/rupees and half Introduction by Dr. Yudhveer Singh

Sushila Didi, in the revolutionary circles, was almost as important as Durga Bhabhi, but she did not get as much fame. Sushila Didi, who later came to be known as Sushila Mohan, after marrying her friend Shyam ji Mohan, who provided her protection when the police were after her.

It was in the late 1960s that some very important books were published on the life and activities of revolutionaries. Many of these books were not republished and slowly became oblivious, except some old libraries holding on to their copies, which are rarely looked upon by readers. Only researchers or some diehard activists read such books, but due to lack of upkeep with modern technology, these too are withering away. Some such books include Manmath Nath Gupt’s They Lived Dangerously in English and Didi Sushila Mohan in Hindi among others. Several special issues of journals on Bhagat Singh, Azad and other revolutionaries also came out in the 1970s, but only a few of these are found now.

The Hindi book Didi Sushila Mohan is authored by Satyadev Vidyalankar and was first published in 1965 by Marwari Prakashan, Delhi at the printed price of just Rs.2.5, having 386 pages and several photographs. This is not just a biography of Sushila Didi, as she was known among fellow revolutionaries, it is also an edited volume, as it includes memoirs of Didi by fellow revolutionaries and an autobiographical note by Sushila Didi herself.

When the book was under print, the editor got the copy of the autobiography by Sushila Mohan written in English, which was included in the volume’s Hindi translation. Thus, this big volume has four sections-- the first is written by Satyadev Vidyalankar as Jivan Darshan (Philosophy of Life) of Sushila Didi in 16 chapters of nearly 170 pages. The first 20 pages are an Introduction by the author/editor and Blessings from well known Delhi freedom fighter, Dr. Yudhvir Singh.

The second section includes photographs of contemporary freedom fighters and Didi’s family in about 25 pages. The third section is devoted to memoirs of Didi’s fellow revolutionaries in nearly 135 pages and the fourth section, or as appendix, is Didi’s own biographical narration in 20 pages plus some other material.

The whole volume, though somewhat spread out and not tightly edited, is a rich source of authentic information of Bhagat Singh, Hindustan Socialist Republic Association/Army and his comrades, of which Sushila Didi herself was a major, but quiet participant.

susila

One should begin looking at the book from the appendix- the autobiographical narration by Sushila Didi. In his editorial note, Vidyalankar underlined her meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in connection with Bhagat Singh’s impending execution, which, as per the editor, clears the doubts about Gandhi’s indifference toward Bhagat Singh execution.

Sushila Didi's autobiographical narration is in simple style. She begins with referring to her birth on March 5, 1905 at Datto Chuhar village of Gujarat district of pre-partition Punjab. Her father Karam Chand was a medical officer in the Army, who retired in 1927. He was an Arya Samajist and a staunch nationalist. After retirement, due to his selfless social service, the British government offered to confer ‘Rai Sahib’’s title on him, which he declined. He was an admirer of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He arranged education for all his children in DAV schools, as these were considered nationalist education centres.

Sushila Didi was only 14 years old at the time of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. At that time Gujranwala railway station (now in Pakistan) was burnt and British forces in retaliation air-bombed the city and committed extreme tortures on the people. Mahatma Gandhi visited Gujranwala and while addressing a public meeting asked people to boycott foreign clothes and wear khadi. Sushila Didi was deeply impressed and gave her gold ring to Gandhi. She also started wearing khadi (hand-spun cotton), which she wore throughout her life except when she went underground. She was sent to a nationalist school, Kanya Mahavidyalaya, (set up by Lala Devraj) in Jalandhar in 1921, where she stayed till 1927. Another sympathiser of revolutionaries and Congress activist Kumari Lajjawati was the principal of the school, which later was upgraded to a college and continues till date.

Sushila Didi used to sing her own written poems and songs to spread nationalist feelings. During the visit of radical Congress leader Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das to her school, to greet him, she recited her poem, which was so emotional that he could not control his tears. On the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai, a Punjabi song written by her was distributed throughout Punjab.

During her nationalist activities, in a letter to her, her father advised her not to do anything would affect his Army job. She wrote back that rather than quitting her mission, she would prefer not to visit home. So, for two years she did not go home. When she was to appear for her graduation papers, the trial of the Kakori case accused was going on. On the day of her paper, she heard about the death sentence to four Kakori case accused -- Bismil, Ashfaq, Roshan Singh and Rajinder Lahiri. She fainted in the examination hall and could not complete her first paper.

Sushila Didi was already in touch with the revolutionaries. In 1926, on the occasion of the annual function of Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Dehradun, the students of KMV Jalandhar and National College Lahore met each other. Pandit Chet Ram, who was lecturer in Hindi at National College Lahore (teacher of Bhagat Singh) was the link among the students. Everyone then decided to dedicate themselves to the service of Mother India.

HSRA was in the process of formation then, and she had met Bhagwati Charan Vohra and his wife Durga Bhabhi at the Dehradun conference. Vohar wanted her to distribute HSRA pamphlets that advocated freedom of India by all means, including using violence, if need be. Sushila, with her close friends, secretly and carefully distributed the pamphlets in Jalandhar and sent its copies to officials through post. This created a sensation in Jalandhar.

After completing graduation, Sushila offered her services to KMV for a year, but remained in close contact with the revolutionaries. Vohra introduced her to Jai Chander Vidyalankar (professor of history at National College Lahore and well known historian of ancient India later), who was in charge of the Punjab branch of HSRA. He said that to get the Kakori prisoners released, HSRA needed money. Sushila’s father had given more than 10gm of gold to her for her marriage, which she had kept in safe custody of Kumari Lajjawati. She passed it on to Vidyalankar.

Sushila also came into close contact with other revolutionaries like Yashpal (Hindi fiction writer), Sampuran Singh Tandon (Delhi college Professor), Dhanwantri etc. This made a radical change in her mental outlook.

Sushila Didi then narrates the well-known incident of Bhagat Singh’s escape from Lahore after Saunders’ murder and she and Vohra receiving them at Calcutta station and providing him shelter. Bhagat Singh was accompanied by Durga Bhabhi as his ‘wife’. Sushila Didi was then working as a tutor to Savitri, daughter of Chaudhary Chhaju Ram in Calcutta. He narrates:

“Annual Congress session was to be held in Calcutta. Shri Bhagwaticharan had reached Calcutta to my place prior to Saunders assassination. His aim was to contact Bengal revolutionaries. I got a telegram from Bhabhi Durga that she is reaching Calcutta with his brother. I could not make out anything of that telegram, but Bhai Bhagwaticharan immediately understood that Durga ji is coming with Sardar Bhagat Singh. I made arrangements for their stay here.

We reached station to welcome them. Bhai Bhagwati immediately recognised Sardar. Since having clean shaved and hair cut and being in European attire, I could not immediately recognise him. We hugged each other and I brought all to my residence in Sir Chhaju Ram ji’s place. Bhagat Singh stayed with me in Calcutta and Bhai Bhagwaticharn along with Bhabhi Durga returned to Lahore, as the staying together of all in Calcutta was not considered safe…….”

There is further narration of the story, including police raids at the house where Bhagat Singh was staying. Bhagat Singh went to some unknown place, but in February, he again visited Sushila Didi in Calcutta, as he had come to meet Jatin Das for making bombs. There is some contrary narration of events related to th action of bomb throwing in the Assembly. As per Sushila Didi, Bhagat Singh offered himself for this action, but Chandershekhar Azad was not in favour of it. Sukhdev was also of a similar view. This is contrary to other revolutionaries’ accounts, which all say that Bhagat Singh did offer to go, but others rejected it and selected two other revolutionaries for this action, as they did not wish to lose his leadership at a crucial time and knowing well that he is involved in Saunders assassination, which will risk his life.

Since Sukhdev was not present in that meeting, he met Bhagat Singh later and taunted him for ‘trying to save his life’, as he knew that he was the best person for this action. Bhagat Singh called meetings of the group again and despite resistance from other evolutionaries, forced them to send him along with Batukeshwar Dutt for this action. Either there has been a mistranslation of this sentence in Hindi or Sushila Didi was not aware of this fact. She mentions that Sukhdev brought negatives of Bhagat Singh Dutt’s jointly clicked photographs.

Sushila Didi lived with Vohra and Durga Bhabhi in Lahore. In one instance, there was police raid at the house in the absence of Vohra, but Sukhdev was there along with both Durga Bhabhi and Sushila Didi. How both managed to get Sukhdev to escape is an interesting episode.

Another episode completely forgotten now is how Sushila Didi was got involved in the Viceroy bomb attack on December 23, 1929, by Vohra, who had planned this action with Yashpal. He got Sushila Didi to wear a very expensive foreign saree and asked her to inspect the train in which the Viceroy was to travel. At the station, as the Viceroy’s train was standing, Sushila Didi sought permission to just see the beauty of the train from inside, which she was allowed as she looked like a rich lady. She later informed Vohra which compartment the Viceroy was to sit in.

Sushila Didi was also involved with the plan to rescue Bhagat Singh from jail, in which Vohra lost his life while bomb-testing in the house that was rented for this purpose. Durga Bhabhi could not get a last glimpse of her husband, as he was buried by the revolutionaries on the banks of river Ravi in Lahore, as it was risky to get his body home.

After Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death, there were huge protests in the country. The Gandhi-Irwin talks were on. Chandrashekhar Azad deputed Durga Bhabhi and Sushila Didi to go to Delhi and meet Mahatma Gandhi to save the lives of the three revolutionaries. As per Sushila Didi, she and Durga Bhabhi met Gandhi and conveyed Azad’s message that if he saved their lives, the revolutionary party would surrender to Gandhi. Sushila Didi mentions that they later came to know that Gandhi tried his best in this regard. But again, Durga Bhabhi’s account differs. She had clearly spoken about Gandhi telling Durga to surrender, as she was an absconder in the Lamington Road Bombay shooting incident. (The detailed account of this is included in the appendix of the book written by Baba Prithvi Singh Azad). Durga said they had not come to seek help for Durga, but for saving the lives of three sentenced revolutionaries. As per Durga Bhabhi’s account, Gandhi point blank refused to intervene in the matter. Though Sushila Didi is partly correct that Mahatma Gandhi made some efforts unsuccessfully at the personal level with the Viceroy to get the death sentence commuted.

Sushila Didi first met her husband Shyam ji Mohan in 1929 at Congress leader Shanno Devi’s house in 1929 at Jalandhar, when she was working for the revolutionary party. Mohan was a colleague of another revolutionary Sampuran Singh Tandon, who was teaching in Ramjas College, Delhi. In her absconding period, she took shelter at Mohan’s house, too, who suffered for giving her shelter. Later, they got married.

Sushila Didi joined the Congress party and went to jail during the Quit India movement with a fictitious name, Indumati. (Her inter-caste marriage with Mohan was on January 1, 1933, after she came out of jail). She adopted an orphan boy even before her marriage who remained part of their family.

After coming out of jail, Sushila Didi became active in the Congress party and remained an office bearer of Delhi district party. Her account of life is not complete, it is up to 1942 only, though she lived till January 13, 1963. For her last 20 years’ account, one has to refer back to the author Vidyalankar. In the appendix, there are two letters of January 1954, one by poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and another by Rudardatt from Ajmer, addressed to her. Then there is Baba Prithvi Singh Azad’s account of the Lamington Road Bombay shooting case of 1930, in which Durga Bhabhi had taken part prominently.

To fill the gaps of Sushila Didi's brief account of her life, Vidyalankar mentions that she was the eldest among six brothers and sisters. The problem with the biographer is that he had penned this in memoir form, which are otherwise authentic historic accounts, fascinating to read, but not in chronological order. So, one has to look through the chronology.

One important fact underlined by author in his introduction is that Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev used to send letters through Sushila Didi from jail to their comrades or other people. He emphatically says that perhaps two dozen such letters of Bhagat Singh had been lost. If so, there is still a possibility of Bhagat Singh’s writings getting discovered from unknown sources. But, now this possibility is becoming dimmer, except that the Lahore conspiracy case’s most important 134 files from Punjab archives, Lahore, are still not fully explored.

Vidyalankar mentions how Sushila Didi made efforts to make the socialist convention successful in 1946 and also helped in organising an old revolutionaries conference in Delhi in 1958, in which over 400 living revolutionaries participated and the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had a long meeting with them.

Sushila was also associated with the Madan Mohan Skill institute for girls for a long time. In the last year of her life, she was the first Alderman (an old term, next only to Mayor, no more in use now) of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. She died on January 13, 1963, before she could complete her term. On her first death anniversary in January 1964, Delhi Congress President Mir Mushtaq Ahmad named a road as Sushila Mohan Marg and Delhi Mayor Nooruddin Ahmad named a high school in her name as Sushila Mohan Girls High School.

Some notable incidents of her life have been narrated in loose style, such as Sushila Didi had sent a rakhi to Bhagat Singh in 1929 with a letter so full of patriotic feelings that Calcutta Hindi daily Swatantar editor had to face sedition charges for publishing it.

There are historic pictures in the book, but since the pnes published here are photocopied from Shiv Verma’s collection, which is now part of Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, New Delhi, their quality may not be so good.

In the memoirs section one can see almost every well-known revolutionary of those times, who were alive at the time of compiling this book. Beginning from Batukeshwar Dutt, this section includes names like Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Bhagwandas Mahaur, Jogesh Chatterjee, Vishawnath Vaishampayan, Durga Devi Vohra (Bhabhi), Shanno Devi, Satyavati, Subhadra Devi (Joshi?), Kamalnath Tiwari, Pandit Parmanand Jhansi, Banarsidas Chaturvedi, Sita Devi (wife of Principal Chhabil Das), Chaudhary Brahma Prakash(First Chief Minister of Delhi), Sucheta Kriplani (UP Chief Minister) Aruna Asaf Ali and few more.

Banarsidas Chaturvedi, an ex-MP and editor of many books on revolutionaries, had certified author/editor’s claim that Sushila Didi had told him about having many letters of Bhagat Singh that were taken away by some volunteer who did not return them, and she felt very anguished about that. Another interesting incident mentioned is that during Bhagat Singh’s stay in Calcutta after Saunders’ assassination, a torn and worn-out shirt was hanging outside the bathroom. Sushila took away that shirt and brought a new one. As Bhagat Singh returned and enquired about his shirt, in a bit of irritation, she told him that it had been confiscated and gave him a new shirt. She kept that shirt in her own cloth box.

Sitaram Seksaria, an eminent Hindi protagonist of Calcutta, had mentioned that Sushila Didi helped collect funds for Chittagong revolutionaries also. Chhaju Ram Chaudhary’s daughter Savitri Devi, for whom Sushila Didi, was invited as guardian teacher, remembers her bringing an orphan child home and her mother Luxmi Devi (Mrs Chhaju Ram) bringing out that child during Sushila Didi’s underground period. Sushila had placed her younger sister Shanta as guardian teacher of Savitri Devi, after going underground. Luxmi Devi was so impressed by Sushila, that she had agreed to shelter Bhagat Singh without letting her husband know.

The volume is a good and authentic source of historical events of Bhagat Singh and his comrade’s life and actions, HSRA activities and of Sushila Didi’s role in all these activities. But it lacks good editing. A new edition of this



volume, more tightly edited, should be brought out, as an authentic source of revolutionaries' lives is more required in present circumstances of fake and mythical stories being spread as ‘history’ by certain sections of society.


The 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. Prof.chaman@gmail.com

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Venezuelan Ambassador Coromoto Godary visit to Bhagat Singh Archives in Delhi






Videos from 28th September 2022 Delhi Qudsia Bagh function









The Bolivian Dairies and Castro memoirs of Che Guevara

Relook at a Book: The Bolivian Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara; Che – A Memoir by Fidel Castro

On October 9, 1967, CIA operatives brutally killed Che Guevara. The Diaries record his last months, fighting in the Bolivian jungles. The Memoir has speeches by Castro after Che’s death.
Relook at a Book: The Bolivian Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara; Che – A Memoir by Fidel Castro

The Bolivian Diaries-authorised edition, Ernesto Che Guevara, Introduction by Fidel Castro, Preface by Camilo Guevara, 1st ed. 2006, Ocean Press, Melbourne-New York, Pages 303, Indian price, Rs. 450

As one of the most important books of world revolutionary movements, this book is made up Che Guevara’s diary notes during his Bolivia mission. Beginning November 7, 1966, the diary has regular entries for 11 months, till October 7, 1967.

The next day, on October 8, 1967, Guevara was captured by the Bolivian army. He was murdered in cold blood on October 9.

Except for Cuba and its leader, Fidel Castro, and the world’s revolutionary movements, no bourgeois politician of the world expressed any sorrow or condemnation for the cruel treatment of a wounded Che and his murder at the behest of US imperialists and their lackey, Bolivian dictator Barrientos.

Che Guevara was at his marvellous best even during his one-day custody, bearing all the pain heroically and challenging his killers to shoot him.

Though the diary is not important in terms of any theoretical foundations, but it reveals, in a matter of fact manner, how selflessly and heroically Che Guevara led this most difficult mission of making revolution in Bolivia. How, despite his serious asthma problem, he left Cuba at a time when he was providing leadership in building socialism as Castro’s most trusted comrade; and how he worked in Bolivia, where most of the circumstances were hostile and conditions not favourable to advance the revolution.

But Che was Che, he could not agree to Fidel’s assessment to wait for more favourable circumstances and ground preparation before he could join the forces there. And Castro was equally great, and kept his word to allow Che to leave the Cuban government and let him organise a Cuba-like revolution in the rest of Latin American countries, a dream nurtured by Simon Bolivar to create a revolutionary United States of South America.

Che wished to begin in his motherland, Argentina, but the conditions were not yet ripe there to lead such a movement. Bolivia was also not ripe yet, but the Cuban victory was a source of inspiration.

 In Cuba, the struggle had started with just 82 men on Granma, of which just 15-16 people survived. Yet, within two years, the 80,000-strong army of dictator Batista was defeated and the revolution was victorious on January 1, 1959.

Fidel Castro not only relieved Che to lead the revolution in Bolivia but he also provided men and arms, including many senior communist party cadres, who sacrificed their lives in the Bolivian mission, like Che.

The Bolivian Diaries has been edited meticulously. Apart from entries by Che, it includes rare photographs of that period, the editor’s brief note, maps of the area, including guerrilla zones, a glossary of people and terms/events, and five communiqués issued by the National Liberation Army (ELN) of Bolivia, fighting under the leadership of Che. The actual diary entries are covered in about 220 pages. A life sketch of Che is also there. 

book

Camilo Guevara, the eldest son of Che Guevara, has written a brief but moving preface. He observes that in the last entry on October 7, 1967, “there is not the slightest tone of discouragement, pessimism, or defeatism; on the contrary, these words seem to be a beginning, a prologue...”

Camilo is sure that the enemies could have never captured Che, despite his wounded leg, broken rifle and no other weapon, except that he could not leave his other sick and wounded companeros. Camilo describes the scene on October 9 as well, when Che was murdered as the ‘order to murder him came from Washington’.

He beautifully concludes that –“Without a trial, without a thought, the new man Che Guevara represented is killed. But what is born is a yearning for the new human being, who is neither an illusion nor a fantasy.  A dream, dormant for many centuries takes shape: an ethical, virtuous selfless human being. This time stripped of all myth and mysticism; this person must be fundamentally human”.

Fidel Castro wrote an Introduction to the diary in 1968, when it was published for the first time in Spanish in Havana, and two lakh copies were circulated free to Cubans. In this introduction, Fidel narrates the story of acquiring the diary from the interior minister of Bolivia, who lost his job for this, and establishing its authenticity.

The Introduction underlines the intense human character of Che and his immense bravery, it also exposes the brutalities of the Bolivian regime, which was a lackey of US imperialism and was playing a puppet’s role.

Castro also exposes the treachery of Mario Monje, secretary of the Bolivian Communist Party at that time, who ditched Che. Even the other group led by Oscar Zamora became a venomous critic of Che Guevara. Moises Guevara, the miners’ leader, joined the movement and sacrificed his life. Other comrades of Monje, like Inti and Coco Perado, also joined and proved their bravery, but Monje went to the extent of sabotaging the movement.

Che knew many peasants in Bolivia but was suspicious and cautious of their character. Despite so many difficulties, he and his comrades performed marvellous feats and the Bolivian army could succeed only on September 26, 1967 against Che’s detachment, after which this group could never overcome the damage.

Castro opines that never in history has so small a number of men set out for such a gigantic task. He has also highlighted the bravery of Che in fighting his last battle on October 8, trying to save two comrades and fighting on, even while he was wounded.

In La Paz, dictator Barrientos and defence chief Ovando decided to murder the captured Che. It was Che, who said firmly to his killer—‘Shoot! Don’t be afraid’. Still, the drunk killer could only shoot him in the side. Che’s agony in the last few hours of his life was very bitter, and Castro puts it aptly: “No person was better prepared than Che to be put to such a test”.

Castro reveals that Che’s diary was obtained without any payment and was published simultaneously in France, Italy, Germany, the US; and in Chile and Mexico in Spanish. He concludes with the famous slogan of Che- Hasta la victoria siempre! (Ever Onward to Victory).

The 25-page-long glossary gives details of almost all the people involved in this epic struggle on both sides. The first appendix refers to instructions to urban cadres, dated January 22, 1967, written by Che and Loyola Guzman, when she visited Che on January 26. According to this document’s reference, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was established in March 1967.

Che has given detailed instructions regarding all organisational aspects for the army, like supplies, finances, transport, and contact with sympathisers, etc. Other communiqués make it clear that ELN is the only responsible party for the armed struggle. In one entry, Che makes an impassioned plea to join ELN, as ‘we are restructuring the worker-peasant alliance that was broken by an anti-plebeian demagoguery.’ He  is confident at this moment that ‘we are converting defeat into triumph.’

The actual diary begins on November 7, 1966, with the inspiring first sentence: “Today begins a new phase...”. The diary has an interesting entry on November 12:  “My hair is growing, although very sparsely, and the grey hair are turning blond, and beginning to disappear; my beard is returning. In a few months I will be myself again.”

Che had entered Bolivia with a fake passport and he had shaved off his characteristic beard. He could not be recognised even by Castro and other comrades in Havana. Che also refers to the existence of 12 insurgents on November 27. He made it a point to write a review of each month’s events at the end of the month. November’s analysis records Che’s opinion: “Everything has gone well; my arrival was without incident and half of the troops have arrived, also without incident...”.

On December 12, Che made certain appointments in the group, giving charge to various people. On December 31, an important meeting with Monje took place. Some understanding was reached, which was not followed by Monje later.

On January 6, Che noted: “The importance of study is indispensable for the future”. In the analysis of the month, he notes with anguish: “As I expected, Monje’s position was at first evasive and then treacherous”. He notes with concern that the party (communist party) has taken up arms against us...” Che concluded ironically: “Of everything that was envisioned, the slowest has been the incorporation of Bolivian Combatants.”

February was not a very conducive month for the group. They had been walking ‘miles and miles’.

On March 14, Che noted: “We heard parts of Fidel’s speech in which he makes blunt criticism of Venezuelan communists and harshly attacks the position of Soviet Union on Latin American puppets.” On March 17, he notes another loss for revolutionaries, as many crucial weapons on backpacks were lost in crossing a river.

On March 23-24, they make gains, they capture weapons from the enemy and kill and arrest many. There is mention of French leftist Regis Debray visiting ELN. In the March 25 meeting of the group, the liberation army is given the name of National Liberation Army of the Bolivia, ELN in short.

Che notes in a detailed analysis of events in March: “The phase of consolidation and purging of the guerrilla force - fully completed”. He noted that the enemy was totally ineffective so far and he was trying to moblise peasants to isolate them.

In April, Che notes ‘total disaster’ on the 4th and ‘great tension’ on the 6th. April 11 records the radio news of a ‘new and bloody encounter’ with mention of nine dead from the army and four guerrillas. April 22 is noted for ‘making mistakes’, and 25th as a ‘bad day’ with the best guerrilla Rolando dying in ambush. The summary of April confirmed the death of Rubio and Rolando as a ‘severe blow’. The certainty of North America’s heavy intervention, which has already sent helicopters and Green Berets, is mentioned, but Che notes the morale of combatants as good.

May Day is celebrated by clearing vegetation in the guerrilla camp. The diary noted Debray’s status as a  journalist being rejected by dictator Barrientos, and his trial. The summary of May is worrisome -- Che notes total loss of contact with Manila (Cuba), La Paz and Joaquin (the other guerrilla group) of ELN, reducing the strength of the group to 25; complete failure to recruit peasants, though they now admire ELN. He notes that it is a slow and patient task.

In June, the 14th is mentioned as the birthday of Che’s youngest daughter, Celia, which is his own birthday as well, which he notes simply as: “I turned 39 (today) and am inevitably approaching the age when I need to consider my future as guerrilla, but for now I am still ‘in one piece’”.

Che notes on June 23 that ‘asthma is becoming a serious problem for me and there is very little medicine left’. In the ensuing days, it worsens. On June 29, he noted they were now 24 men. On 30th, Che notes that ‘Debray apparently talked more than was necessary’. In an analysis of the month, Che notes the total lack of contact, continued lack of peasant recruitment, lack of  contact with the Bolivian communist party, Debray’s case and Che’s recognition as ‘the leader of the movement’. Che notes the urgent task of recruiting at least 50 to 100 men in the movement.

The very first day of July mentions Bolivian dictator Barrientos’s press conference terming the guerrillas as ‘rats and snakes’ and calling for wiping out Che Guevara and punishing Debray. Che’s deteriorating asthma is noted repeatedly.

On July 14, Che noted with concern that the Bolivian “government is disintegrating rapidly. Such a pity that we do not have 100 more men right now.” On July 31, he wrote: “We are 22 men with two wounded, and me with full blown asthma”. The month’s analysis notes the total loss of contact continuing, lack of peasant recruitment continuing, guerrilla force becoming legendary, and the morale and combat experience of guerrilla force increasing with each battle.

On August 2, Che noted: “My asthma is hitting me very hard and I have used up my last anti- asthmatic injection, all I have left are tablets for about ten days.’ On August 8, he makes a speech to his comrades and mentions the difficult situation, but noted: “This is one of those moments when great decisions have to be made, this type of struggle gives us the opportunity to become revolutionaries, the highest form of human species, and it also allows us to emerge fully as men.....”

August’s summary mentions the blow from loss of all the documents, medicines, loss of two men, one desertion (first one). The other features of the month remain the same, but the morale factor changes to ‘decline’, though Che hopes it to be ‘temporary’.

September has much worse news as, after much confusion, it is confirmed that Tania has been killed. Mentioning 10th as a bad day, Che made a funny entry: “I forgot to mark an event: Today I took a bath after more than six months. This constitutes a record that several others are already approaching.” His 26th entry begins with the word ‘Defeat’, on 28th, the entry begins with the words ‘Day of anguish’.

The month’s summary is sad. Che now accepted: “We must consider Jouquin’s group wiped out, still hoping the report to be ‘exaggerated’ and ‘small group wandering around”. He mentions the bitter fact that the army is now more effective and peasants are becoming ‘informers’. Che underlines the most important task as ‘to escape and seek more favourable areas; then focus on contacts, despite the fact that our urban network in La Paz is in shambles, where we also have been hit hard.”

The entry on October 3 is ironic: capture of two guerrillas, Antonio (Leo) and Orlando (Camba), both betray and give information. Debray is praised for his courageous stand in the trial. The last entry on October 7 begins as: “The 11 month anniversary of our establishment as guerrilla force passed in bucolic mood with no complications”. Che mentions that ‘the 17 of us set out under a slither of a moon, the march was exhausting, no nearby houses”.

Che’s last lines: "The army issued an odd report about the presence of 250 men in Serrano to block the escape of the 37 (guerrillas) that are said to be surrounded. Our refuge is supposedly between the Acero and Oro rivers. The report seems to be diversionary. Altitude=2000 meters”.

The Bolivian Diary of Che Guevara records the 11- month glorious struggle to liberate Bolivia from the crutches of dictator Barrientos and its brutal army working directly under US imperialists.

I took look at The Motorcycle Diaries and The Bolivian Diary of Che Guevara together, though the two diaries are entirely different in content and style, one can understand his marvellous and heroic character, which made him an icon of the international revolutionary movement in every part of the world. Wherever resistance movements have erupted after Che’s murder in 1967, his photographs/posters/souvenirs have been the most visible part of demonstrations/processions etc.

Che is an icon for the youth. One can see this from the conduct of Che’s life. The Bolivian Diary shows how selfless and caring he was toward his comrades. How, despite his horrible asthmatic conditions, he suffered all the hardships of guerrilla life, walking 15-20 km a day, performing all the duties of a guerrilla, always full of optimism, even when things were going completely beyond control.

Che realistically analysed the weaknesses of the movement through his diary. He was an idealist, despite being a Marxist. Conditions were not ripe for him to go to Bolivia, which was the opinion of Fidel Castro also, but he was restless to go.

Che Guevara and Bhagat Singh-like personalities create role models for youth or struggling people by their complete selfless conduct. Che was probably hoping to create another Cuba with his 25 men or so, as in Cuba just 15-16 of them mobilised the whole of Cuba and defeated Batista.

But Che underestimated the US's role after the Cuban revolution. It would not allow another Cuba in Latin America at any cost and that is what it did in Bolivia by killing Che and many Cuban revolutionaries in 1967. Yet, the saga of Che Guevara’s bravery and struggle has become a legend and inspiration for the liberation of humankind from all kinds of oppression.

Che could have been impulsive in Bolivia, but his sacrifice created a much more powerful Che for US imperialism, which can never be killed with bullets as it has become idea-personified. The life of Bhagat Singh, an icon in South Asia, has similar characteristics.

Che Guevara in the eyes of Fidel Castro

Che: A Memoir – by Fidel Castro, edited by David Deutschmann, Preface by Jesus Montane, National Book Agency, Calcutta, first Indian ed. 1994 [Original Ocean Press, Melbourne]. Rs. 100; Pages 168.

I read for the second time, and it was worth reading again. It has life sketches of both Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in the beginning, followed by Che’s life’s chronology. After a preface by Jesus Montane Oropesa, there is an introduction by David. Then, in seven chapters, Castro’s writings or lectures relating to Che Guevara have been compiled, followed by a Post Script and a Glossary of persons and events.

It starts with Che Guevara’s farewell letter to Castro before proceeding to start revolutionary activities in Africa and Latin America. As Che was not seen in Havana, all kinds of rumours and scandals were spread by the bourgeois media and Castro made the letter public only when Che reached Bolivia in 1966 to participate in the armed struggle that finally led to his life being sacrificed in 1967.

Then there is a speech by Castro on Cuban television on October 15, 1967 to announce the death of Comrade Che. The third chapter includes his speech in front of a million people in Revolutionary Plaza, Havana, in a memorial meeting for Che. Chapter four includes Castro’s introduction to the Bolivian diaries of Che, which were published in 1968 after these were recovered from Bolivia.

Chapter five includes Castro’s speech in Chile, where he inaugurated the first statue of Che Guevara. Chapter six is Castro’s interview with Italian journalist Gianni Mina on the occasion of 20th anniversary of Che’s martyrdom in 1987 and the seventh and last chapter includes Castro’s speech on that occasion at electronic factory named after Ernesto Che Guevara in the city of Pinar del Rio.

It is difficult to take notes on this book - I may have to copy almost half of it. Suffice it to say that it is a very important book to understand both Che and Fidel. It confirms my earlier conviction that Che and Bhagat Singh have much in common. What has been aptly described by Castro in the context of Che is largely applicable to the personality of Bhagat Singh.

Chaman Lal is retired Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Honorary Advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre New Delhi. He can be contacted at prof.chaman@gmail.com

Tania-Undercover for Che Guevara in Bolivia

Tania

Ulises Estrada, editor of Tricontinental, joined Cuban revolution from the very beginning as part of 26th July movement in 1953. He was part of Cuban liberation war 1957-59 and later worked with Che Guevara in many assignments including in Congo. He was close friend of Tania, fiancée in today’s terminology and they were supposed to marry after the success of Tania’s mission in Bolivia, which unfortunately resulted in her, Che Guevara and many more guerrillas’ assassination at the hands of Bolivian army. After their assassination, USA and western media vilified Che and Tania to demoralise revolutionary forces and to hid their own crimes behind smokescreen of this vilification. However Tania’s mother fought for the reputation of her daughter and got the vilifires convicted.

Tania’s real name was Haydee Tamara Bunke, she was born in Argentina from German communist couple, who have to go to Argentina to save themselves from Hitler’s fascism. Tamara was born on 19th November, 1937 and was martyred on 31st August 1967 in the jungles of Bolivia by Bolivian army, before completing even 30 years of her life.

In 1970, Estrada with another writer has published-Tania-The Unforgettable Guerrilla. That time many things could not be made public, now in this expanded and exhaustive biography with lot of secret documents made public for the first time in Appendices, Tania’s heroism, bravery and sacrificing spirit comes to fore. Her letters, her personal account of life, all make this book more enriching.

The book is rightly dedicated to Nadia Bunke, mother of Tamara-Tania, who knew Tamara had wanted to marry Estrada, ‘who treated me as her own son for more than 35 years’, in author’s words, who has written a detailed and touching dedication with the regret that Nadia Bunke would not be able to see the book, as he passed away before the publication of the book. Exhauvtine contents of the book include-Acknowldgements Preface by author, Prologue by editor-Luis Suarez and Tania’s biography in 14 chapters and 137 pages. There are 17 documents as Appendixes in Appendices, Notes, List of Acroynms and List of Aliases in further abut 2oo pages. One feature of Ocean publications missing in this book is Choronology, which is generally part of all books on Che and Castro, in case of Tania, that was even more necessary. But in totality, with nearly 30 rare photographs, makes the book a significant contribution to biographical literature.

In Preface, Ulises Estrada narrates his intense personal relationship with Tamara, bunking the western sensalization of Tania-Che romantic liaison. Ulises aexplains that except for few companerosand Tania family, no body knew about this relationship till 1969, two years after the assassination of Tania. Only when the author collaborated in first book on Tania, author published Tania’s letter about their relationship to her mother. After that Tania’s mother identified the “negrito” (Afro-Cuban), whom Tania dreamt of marrying and producing many “mulatito” (kids).

As per the author Che and Tania were discredited for political objectives or profit motives by many writers like French Pierre Kalfon, Mexican intellectual Jorge Castaneda. Later in last chapter of the book, author detailed how West German publisher in 1997 published the libel by Uruguyan writer Jose A. Friedl Zapata under title- ‘Tania the woman-Che Guevara Loved’. Nadia at 81 years of age dragged the publisher to the court and won the case by getting 14 defamations removed from the book in 1998 and also getting him fined. There were many more in the west, who through their cheap sensational writings had vilified the revolutionary spirit of the two great revolutionaries of the world. But it is not new phenomenon. Karl Marx was described as ‘Red bandit’ and all communist leaders have been vilified, US has vilified and continue till now to vilify Fidel Castro.

In Prologue Luis Suatez has mentioned Tania was denigrated by some intellectuals in pay roll of ruling classes in US, Europe and Latin America by describing her as ‘femme fatale’, who had ‘useless sacrifice’ for “her secret and sordid extramarital affair with Che.” She was also described as ‘Triple Agent for Cuba, East Germany and KGB of ex Soviet Union. These villifiers described Che Guevara also as ‘seeking death’, because of his differences with Cuban leadership. All these lies have been bunked with documents bow being published from Cuba, putting an egg on the faces of these so called ‘intellectuals’ and ‘writers’ holding rabid anti communist views. On the contrary great writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez have upheld Cuban revolution and its heroic leaders, including Fidel and Che Guevara.

Chapter 1-Historical context

In this introductory chapter Ulises has explaned Che’s plans to expand liberation guerrilla struggles to other parts of the world as true internationalist. First they tried in Congo, where popular freedom fighter and Prime Minister Patric Lumumba was brutally assassinated by CIA in 1964. There were dictators in Haiti, Nicaragua like places. Ulises has travelled with Che secretly to Congo through Tanzania; stayed clandsinely in Prague.Che spoke of his best relations with Fidel and Raul during those days. These days in these preparations writer got linked to Tamara, who had come to Havana.

Chapter 2- Operation Fantasma

Tamara was mentioned by Pineoro for the operation recommended by Che.

Chapter 3.The Tania Case-

Tamara born in Argentina, came to East Germany with her parents when 14 years old and joined youth organisation, visited Soviet Union as youth delegation, heard about Cuban struggle, well informed about war in Sierra Maestra and demonstrated solidarity. In 1959, she acted as interpretor for Che Guevara, when he visted East Germany. She became enthused to come to Cuba and finally arrived in 1961, at 24 years. Worked as interpretor/translator, associated with ‘Assocation of Young Rebels’ turned into ‘Union of Young Communists’ (UJC), on 4th April 1962… Tamara highly educated, knew many languages-German, French, Spanish, and English, well versed in music and literature, and studied philosophy at Humboldt University. She was working with Sandanista, planned to fight in Nicaragua. Che interviewed for mission in Bolivia and she end up by saying-I will not betray this trust while I am alive and breathing’-Page 29

Chapter 4-Operational Training in Cuba-

Tamara worked with Ulises during training period and they came close, though violating revolutionary code of not being personally close. Tania sung Argentine folk songs, played Guitar

Chapter 5-Preparing for Latin America-

Che told her about her mission in Bolivia and to take up legal residency there.

Chapter 6-Tania and Ulises-

Author honestly tells that ‘we both knew that our relationship was forbidden in clandestine work, but we also knew that we could no longer retrain ourselves. We were convinced of the purity of our feeling and that these would not affect our professional relationship’-Page 56. Ulyses shared with his senior comrade Diosdado, Tamara shared with her parents by writing to her mother on 11th April 1964 from Prague. Writer knew about this letter only when he joined Marta Rojas and Mirta Rodriguez Caldron in writing the book-Tania: the Unforgettable Guerrilla, published in 1970, where this letter was published. Ulises divorced his wife and remarried years after Tania were killed. Ulises Writes longingly: ‘i have to confess that she still remains alive within me. Not just as Tania, but also as Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider, the exceptional woman, compenera, and friend I once loved with all my heart.’-Page 59

Chapter 7-Failed Cover

Tania was sent ot Prague for further training, but this time Diosdado was assigned the task to train her, writer was heart broken, he also felt it as punishment for breaking the rules. Diosdado sent positive reports about Tania’s progress.

Chapter 8- The Birth of Laura Gutierrez Bauer

Tania was first planned as Italian cover Vittoria Pancini, which was dropped due to language deficiency and other practical problems.This time it was planned as Argentine woman, she was well versed with country and language. There have been funny instances of Tania-Diosdado stay in Prague. Tania always made Diosdado read her letters to her parents, even to Ulises, despite his reluctance to do so.

Chapter 9 Tania’s first year in Bolivia

Riding aa mule, Tania entered Bolivian border from Peru on 17th November 1964. Got into touch with all high and mighty in that society, through showing her interest in Folk lore and met painters, writers, journalists, once even had dinner with dictator Barrientos, with a ‘friend’. Her network included intellectuals, professionals, politicians of right wing; she always projected her as anti communist. For legal residency, she even married an enginnering student Mario Martinez Alvarez, who helped her in exit procedures, she had new passport now, travelled to Brazil as translator. Comrade Mercy sent a positive report about her.

Chapter 10-An encounter with Ariel-Tania came to Mexico from Brazil in 1966 to meet Cuban officer. Che was clandestinely working from Cuban embassy in Tanzania. Tania did not know that Che was behind her selection for the mission and he had been involved in Operation Fantasma, which determnined the following years of Tania’s life, her sacrifice, and her transformation into Tania the Guerrilla.

Chapter 11- Reunion with Che-

Che checked about Tania’s well being and about her marriage, whether it was with her free will. In 1966, as planned earlier, Tania got divorce from her husband, but helped him in his training in Bulgaria by arranging scholasrship for him. Che arrived in La paz on a passport of business person with Uruguyan passport as Adolfo Mena Gonzalez. Che probable met Tania on 4th November. Tania arranged for Che travel documents to travel the whole of Bolivia. The letter present to Sr. Adolfo mena mentions ‘special envoy of OAS to research on economic and social situation in Bolivarian countryside’, recommending all possible cooperation for research from all national and private institutions. Page 107

On November 20-19th December she brought ranch to jungles, not supposed to do then she accompanied Mario Munje, Bolivian cp leader on 31st December 1966 crucial meeting, disagreed, tense. Bolivian Communist party inside Moscow line and Peking line, Monje Moscow line. Che predicted ‘difficult time’ ahead and announced to work for ‘the unity of all those who want a revolution’. Tania later visited Argentina to arrange Che’s liasions with revolutionary support. AS PER WRITER TANIA FOLLOWED DIRECT INSTRUCTIONS OF Che from 2nd January 1967 to 19th March 1967. Tania brought Regis Debray and Ciro Roberto Bustos, both now ‘regret’ to committement to revolution. Che criticised Tania for being there, as two Bolivians deserted and difficult situation developed.

Chapter 12-Tania the Guerrilla-

23rd March 1967, first encounter with army-25th March Bolivian ELN, liberation front announced in meeting of 43 Bolivian, Cuban and Peruvian combatants. On 27th March, situation worsened. On 31st March Tania given M-1 rifle and became combatant. She had fever of 102 and Che attached her to Cuban Joaquin’s command on 17th April, where she remained till 31st ambush by army, in which ten of the combatants were killed by army. Tania fought, falling with bullets in river, body found after aweek on 7th September. Bolivian peasant Honorato Rojas betrayed and led army to ambush gurrellis. 35 members of army killed 7 of 10 member Joaquin’s column combatants. Che‘s impression of Rojas on 10th February was ‘a potentially dangerous man’.

On 8th October Che ambushed, killed brutally on 9th October. With that out of 49 Cuban, Peruvian, Bolivian, majority of guerrillas killed.

Chapter 13-Return to Cuba

Officially death of Tania declared on 7th September, people wanted her body to be treated with respect, but army officer cruel. For pubilicity stunt Bolivian dictator Barrientos photographed with Tania corpse on 10th September, saying he ordered burial of Laura G baeur, Argentine woman with Tania alias ‘with military honour’. But Christian burial was given to Tania due to pressure of women of area Vallegrande. But no one knew the remains later till 1997, when President Lozada has to order investigation.On 28th June 1997, Che’s remains discovered and buried with honour in Santa Clara on October 8, 1997 on 30th death anniversary of Che. Tania’s remains found on 19th September 1998, brought to Cuba in December 1998.

Chapter 14-‘My Little Ita’

On 29th December 1998, Tania’s remains interned in Santa Clara alongwith Che and other guerrillas in presence of her mother Nadia Bunke. Nadia died in 2003, her deepest feeling expressed in her ‘little ita’, an autobiographical note- They came to Argentina in 1935.Erich got job as teacher, had two children-Tamara and boy Olaf, pet name Tamarita, she too little say ita, she signed as Ita, happy optimist, energetic, tireless, vibrant, romantic, liked Argentine folk songs and folk music, attached to Latin America. Ulises assures Nadia and Erich that ‘Tania is and will always be alive among us’-Page 144.

Appendices

  1. Personal Records prepared for the Tania case –Secret

Tamara Bunke wrote this autobiographical note in preparation for her new identity as Tania.-

Born in Buenos Aires, parents Communist, anti fascists, helped Jew refuegees, returned to Germany in1952, settled in Stalinstad, arrived in Cuba on 12th May 1961

Appendix 2-Tania’a Operational Plan for the Cienufegos Practical exercise

Secret-Havana-12th February 1964

Appendix 3-Tania’s report on the Cienfuegos Exercises-

Only Copy-Secret

To Ulises-Tania’s report on work from 21st Feb. To 1st March 1964

Appendix 4- Tania’s Message from Prague after her first trip to Western Europe

To: MOE from Bolivar

Secret message 3

Appendix 5-Tania’s message from Prague before her second trip to West Germany

Secret To: MOE meant for Ulises Estrada

Appendix 6-The Laura Guetierrez bauer Cover Story

July 25, 1964

Top Secret

To M1 Copy 1- From MOE page 1

Appendix 7- Message to Mercy from HQ regarding Future contact with Tania in Bolivia

Mercy Message 5, November 1965, start

Appendix 8- Mercy’s report on contact with Tania in Bolivia and Brazil-To MOE From Mercy Report on the various contacts made between 7 January and the last days of March 1966

Appendix 9-Tania’s oral report on her first year of work in Bolivia given to Ariel on 16th April 1966 in Mexico

Appendix 10 Document Denying Tania’s link to Stasi-GDR agency-1997

Appendix 11- Document denyingTania’s link to KGB

Russian Fedration –Dec. 5, 1997

Appendix 12-Document denying Tania’s link to Soviet intelligence -1997

Appendix 13- My Battle for Truth-An interview with Nadia Gunke

Interview by Chritoph Wiesner, published on 7-8 March 1998, in Junge Welt

There are many groups and institutions that are named after Tamara Bunke or Tania in Cuba, also in Bolivia, lot of children are named Tania or Ernesto

Appendix 14-Nadia Bunke’s letter to Fidel Castro on Tania’s remains be buried in Cuba-25th December 1995

Appendix 15-Fidel Castro’s Reply to Nadia Bunke-1st April 1996

Apendix 16-Fidel Castro’s speech at the burial of the remains of Che Guevara and his Companeros-Santa Clara-17th October 1997

I see Che as a moral giant who grows with each passing day, whose image, strength, and influence have multiplied throughout the earth.

Che was a true Communist and is today an example and a paradigm of the revolutionary and the communist, -Page 285

Che is taking up and winning more battles than ever.

This land is your land, these people are your people, and this revolution is your revolution. We continue to fly socialist banner with honor and pride-page 287

Appendix 17- Ramiro Valdes’s speech at the Burial of the remains of Tania and others internationalist combatants-30th December 1998

Tania, she filled a glorious page in the history of Che’s actions in Bolivia, giving her life in hostile environment, side by side with other Bolivian, Peruvian and Cuban Companeros

Welcomt Tania, immortal example of a woman and a communist-page 293-Socialism or death, homeland or death, we shall overcome

Notes

Patrice Lumumba founded Congo on 30th June 1960, assassinated on 17th January 1961 Mobutu Seiku became dictator and was overthrown in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, with whom Che had differences

Ciro Bustos drew sketches for army and US services, confirming Che’s presence in Bolivia.

A well written book and an apt tribute to Tania!

Chaman Lal,Honorary Advisor, Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi Archives, New Delhi