Mother Courage: Kaushalya Devi

Chandrashekhar had a close and loving relation with his mother. No doubt, this was because he lost his father at a young age, and for a long time, both of them only had each other. His letters to her from school and the NDA were not formal missives – they communicated his fears, his feelings – and his changing convictions and developing political beliefs. In the letter telling her of his decision to leave the NDA and his determination to struggle to change the rotten society, he imagined she would one day be like Gorky’s ‘Mother’! One of his closest friends has written about Chandu’s anguish and concern on hearing she had suffered a dog-bite – leading to him rushing off to Siwan without a reservation.

Of course, the relation was not without its frictions; when his mother would visit his hostel room in JNU, she would be understandably irritated by Chandu’s demanding public role as JNUSU President and AISA activist – due to which he would be absent from the room all day and till late in the night. However, she would not hesitate to step out of the room into the corridor to intervene in a quarrel among two other students!

Kaushalya Devi never objected to Chandrashekhar’s decision to abandon a career in the NDA and opt for Left politics instead. But when she heard of his decision to return home, her pleasure that he would live closer to her was overshadowed by fear: Shahabuddin’s threats to her son had reached her too, and she well knew that several CPI(ML) activists had been killed at Shahabuddin’s behest. So, she told him to stay away from Siwan – to take up any role in the party but one that required him to be in Siwan. When he paid no heed, and came with all his infectious enthusiasm to embrace life as a wholetime activist of the party in Siwan, she must have been consumed with fear for him.

When Chandrashekhar was killed, Kaushalya Devi’s world was shattered, as any mother’s would be, whose son was the victim of such a ruthless political assassination. Rather than being broken by this blow, she re-fashioned her world in a remarkable way. From the minute she saw her son’s body, riddled with bullets, at the hospital, she broke the hushed and fearful silence on Shahabuddin to which Siwan’s terrorized people were habituated. Again and again, she named Shahabuddin as her son’s killer, and she demanded justice. Even in that hour of deep personal loss, she gave a clarion call to students and youth to challenge the terror unleashed by Shahabuddin and the ruling establishment of Bihar and Delhi which patronized him. Offered Rs. 1 lakh as ‘compensation’ by the Home Minister in the UF Government, Indrajit Gupta, she penned a scathing reply. She had brought up her son, educated him, all alone, she said, and surely she was capable of taking care of herself without compensation money or any pity or charity from those in power. But, she pointed out, the only thing that could be balm for a mother’s loss of such a brave son, would be justice. And Shahabuddin, her son’s killer, was an MP in Parliament, belonging to Laloo Yadav’s party the RJD, and whose vote on a confidence motion had helped the UF Government stay afloat. Punish Shahabuddin, she challenged the Home Minister – or else expel him from the protective fortress of Parliament, and let the people deal with him!

In Siwan and in Delhi, she sought strength in becoming part of the struggle her son had led. A woman who had never spoken in public before found herself giving speeches at rallies and public meetings. Her presence was an enormous source of inspiration and confidence for the activists and common people in Siwan. She contested Assembly elections from the CPI(ML), defying Shahabuddin’s terror right in the heart of his stronghold – Siwan town.

And while she failed to see Shahabuddin convicted for Chadrashekhar’s murder in her lifetime, she did, however, live to see Shahabuddin’s grip of terror weaken. Shahabuddin was convicted for the abduction (and murder) of another CPI(ML) activist. In Siwan town, not far from J P Chowk where he was killed, Kaushalya Devi felt some sense of triumph at her son’s statue being installed, almost a decade after his murder. The sculptors were activists from Banaras, many of whom Chandrashekhar had known when they were students at the Fine Arts faculty in BHU. When the statue was ready, Kaushalya Devi was not satisfied with the likeness, for many months. Finally, she was convinced about agreeing to its installation, when a comrade who was close to her, told her – “No artist in the world could ever succeed in creating him exactly as you, his mother, did! You can’t get a better likeness than this…”

Always a sufferer of asthma, she had suffered a serious kidney ailment for many months. She breathed her last on the afternoon of 3 September 2008. She was buried next to her son’s grave, outside her home in Bindusar village, Siwan. Those intellectuals, activists, writers who had met her and even those who had never met her personally, flooded us with messages of loss, and their memories of Mother Courage – Kaushalya Devi.

Kaushalya Devi will always live in our hearts !

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