The Personal Is Political

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”
- Che Guevara

The Making of a Communist Leader of Women's Movement

Kolkata, 2010. A lively discussion on unpaid domestic work was going on in a study class of women comrades. Geetadi was seated by my side. "I have read so little of such theoretical works", she murmured. "I don't think that's a big issue", I replied without a moment's thought, "for your life itself is a text on the struggle for women's liberation – a book which is for us to read and reread."

On 24 October 2014, that book was concluded. Che's words on love and revolution crossed my desolate mind like a gentle breeze. An indomitable urge for freedom and boundless love for fellow people were the two basic impulses that moved Geetadi forward to become a protester, a fighter, a communist revolutionary.

In the story of her life one finds the legacies of Satyabati-Subarnalata-Bakul rolled into one. There was one crucial difference though. With Gitadi, that legacy rose to a qualitatively higher plane by integrating itself with the communist movement. Naturally, the transition was not an easy one.

In the out and out feudal-patriarchal settings of the Bengali bhadralok community, a woman has to fight her way to a relatively free and dignified life through all kinds of trials and tribulations, through the agony and ecstasy of love and familial disturbances. Geetadi went through all these, and in ample measure. Her distinguished career as a communist leader of women's movement was but a natural continuation and direct development of her strenuous struggle in personal life. Coming from a modest lower middle class background, she easily became a natural leader – an organic leader, if you will – of the women's movement.

The bitter battles of life did not, however, soil the beautiful mind. Her broad sparkling smile, the bright beaming eyes, the warmth of her affectionate touch – everything radiated a robust revolutionary optimism. To one and all she was a most trusted friend in need, a source of inspiration.

Geetadi had been a home-maker and mother who reared a son and a couple of daughters with great care, almost single-handedly. But in the later decades of her life she broke free from the bondage of family norms and started living alone, or as a paying guest, for the sake of full freedom in conducting political activities.

She wanted to be able to meet comrades at home, and visit areas of work, without the interference, however benign, of loved ones. To ensure this, she had to shift residence several times with great difficulties. She continued with this practice even at an advanced age when she battled a failing memory and health, calmly ignoring the advice of near and dear ones who urged her to be a bit more “realistic and pliant” for her own interest. On this question - of maintaining her autonomy - she was extremely firm, some would say obstinate and adamant.

But there was an opposite trait to her character. She had the largeness of mind to forgive a loved one who had been a source of much pain and anguish and to treat that person with great compassion when the latter sought help. The two traits together accounted for a lot of anguish and emotional stress throughout her life. "She asked for it all", some of her closest well-wishers complained with deep sympathy.

I for one had a totally different view. For me, it was these traits that made Geetadi unique and outstanding – as a human being and a true communist. At critical junctures in life she used to take courageous decisions from a principled position that transcended commonsensical prudence and based itself on a unique sense of justice, compassion and urge for freedom. On that elevation, which was beyond the reach of many among us, she was "magnificently alone in the multitude", to borrow an expression from Rabindranath.

And yet, she was very much a woman of the masses – easily approachable, simple and sincere – everybody's Geetadi. Graceful and courageous, modest but self-confident, she once told one of her closest comrades, "I may be weak in theory, but I have my principles learned from my party. That's my strength."

There was no barrier separating Geetadi's political personality from her inner world. In fact that is how things always are. What is deeply personal is at the same time thoroughly political. The increasingly visible collective struggle for women's liberation for example appears also as a largely unnoticed subterranean stream flowing through the life and thoughts of every woman. Geetadi's personal life and political career in their indivisible totality demonstrate this very well.

In concluding my personal musings, let me reiterate with all admiration that for Geetadi freedom was like the oxygen we breathe. She saw it as a fundamental right – partially won through hard battles, preserved with eternal vigilance and to be continuously expanded through relentless struggles. She took it as something for which everything else could be given up, but which could not be sacrificed for anything whatsoever. Today, as the women of India are marching forward with the banner of fearless freedom against all odds, to the veteran leader of that noble movement let us all tender our respectful tributes. Red salute to comrade Geeta Das.

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