Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Forgotten Life Sentence of Comrade Ramchandra Singh, a Prisoner of Memories. By S. Anand

Salaam, comrade. RIP

Ramchandra Singh of Bangaramau village, Unnao district, Uttar Pradesh, silently passed away at 2 am on 2 March. It was a brain haemorrhage that took him. Anonymous that he was, there was no hue and cry about his passing. No social media obituaries celebrating his life. His is not a name you will find on Google. Needless to say, there weren’t any notices of his death in the corporate-controlled media, nor was there so much as a mention of his name in the alternative media — which too comes to us via the seemingly guileless charms of protean capital that peddles the belief that social media is the last hope for democracy and dissent.

One wonders, if a death goes unnoticed, was the life which preceded it worth the effort? Do the anonymous travails of entire lives spent dedicated to egalitarian values amount to anything at all? And yet, Ramchandra Singh lived a full life, a revolutionary life no less, with complete fidelity to his ideals, struggling and suffering without decoration. Had his autobiographical manuscript of 13 years spent in prison not come my way, I too wouldn’t have had the fortune of knowing him, spending time with him, writing this piece about him…

Inspired by the ideals of communism and the cry for an end to feudal oppression, Singh became a ‘party bachcha’, a party boy, when he was a 14-year-old student in the eighth grade. This was around 1960–61. He immediately became an active member of CPI(M) and found himself on the party’s district committee. The Naxalbari uprising — India’s 1968 — broke loose in 1967. Singh inevitably found himself answering Charu Mazumdar’s call in his campaign for the ‘annihilation of class enemy’, a movement that drew inspiration from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

In 1970, he participated in a 12-man attack on an oppressor landlord who terrorised peasants under his thrall. The landlord, from village Bakhaura some 15 kilometres from Bangarmau was annihilated 
to use the term Ramchandra Singh preferred. But just as easily, most members of the squad were nabbed and put behind bars. Ramchandra Singh was one of them: he was awarded a life sentence. From 1970 to 1983 he spent his 13 year imprisonment across five jails in Uttar Pradesh.

In 2012, Madhu Singh, a professor at the English department of Lucknow University chanced upon a prison diary, Thehre Hue Terah Saal (1970–83), at Dastavez Prakashan, a treasure house of books old and new. The man who ran Dastavez Prakashan, Prashant Kumar, had founded and edited a short-lived little magazine called Samkaleen Dastavez (Contemporary Dossier) in Lucknow. In May 1991, he had dedicated an entire issue of the magazine to this diary and published it under the title Thehre Hue Terah Saal

This was Ramchandra Singh’s diary, smuggled out of prison a few loose pages at a time. It had first seen the light of day way back in 1984 when another ‘comrade type’, Anand Swaroop Verma, had serialised it in Rashtriya Sahara’s Lucknow edition. Verma — who in 1977 had translated Mary Tyler’s My Years in an Indian Prison into Hindi (Bharatiya Jailon Mein Paanch Saal) — continues to dream of the revolution and runs a little magazine called Samkaleen Teesri Duniya (Contemporary Third World) from a small apartment in Noida… read more: