Author: Manikuntala Sen
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8185604266
This memoir, 'Shediner Katha', which appeared in Bengali nearly two decades ago, has been translated for the first time in English so that a wider readership may know about the life of a remarkable woman.
Manikuntala Sen's memoir, 'Shediner Katha', which appeared in Bengali nearly two decades ago, has been translated for the first time into English so that a wider readership may know about the life of a remarkable woman. Coming from a conservative upper caste, middle class family, she broke free of familial and social bonds to reach out to a cause. As she says, 'The dream of socialism was in the air and the young shared it'. That dream was to propel her to play a significant role in the tumultuous history of her time, the 1930s to the early 1960s.
Beginning her political journey as a young college student, she soon became a full-time member of the Communist Party at a time when 'party membership was not granted easily', lived on a stipend of Rs. 20 a month that increased to Rs. 60 in the early sixties. She rose to become the deputy leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly with Jyoti Basu as the leader.
Manikuntala recounts a story of fervor and sacrifice, of bitter feuds and ultimate self-imposed exile when the Communist Party split and she could not accept either faction. As a young student she left the district town of Barishal, now in Bangladesh, to come to Calcutta and work for the Party. She traveled extensively throughout Bengal, mobilizing women in the towns and villages, helping to shape the women's movement of her time. Setting up mahila samitis or women's groups and societies, she aided many women to articulate their needs, learn marketable skills and take part in momentous struggle like the Tebhaga.
Her work was done with characteristic modesty, always as a member of a team. When she wrote about it she said, 'we have taken part in many struggles and movements during the years with the Party. The joy that we felt serving people at this time,. Sometimes going hungry ourselves, has never come again.' The movement took greater impetus during the cruelly harsh man-made famine of 1943 and the terrible aftermath of Partition when millions of people were uprooted and women often found themselves becoming the breadwinners.
The greatest struggle came after Independence when the Communist Party was again declared illegal and many members arrested. Manikuntala writes of her time in jail, where she was to spend most of 1948-1951, of her visit to the USSR and of the changes in the party, which was rife with dissension and split in the aftermath of the China-India War. She viewed the self-seeking, the loss of dedication and idealism amongst many party members with deep foreboding and pain. Finally she forced herself to leave the Party, though she never formally resigned from it. In her last years her one regret was that the cause for which she had given her life remained unfulfilled. She felt that if she had the strength she would have continued the struggle.
Manikuntala's book is a rare document that faithfully records what she participated in and witnessed within and without the Party. Moreover, it tells us about the many women not necessarily Communist who supported the social and political movements, serving as an important record of their activities.
Manikuntala Sen in 1954 'frontispiece'
Foreword by Tapan Raychaudhuri
A Note on the Author by Jolly Kaul
A Note on Translation
A Word of Explanation
The Three Wise Men of Barishal
Making contact with the Party in Calcutta
The Plunge into Politics
The Second World War
In the District: Work Amongst Women
the New Cultural Movement
People's Relief committee and Nari Seva Sangha
The First Conference of the Mahila Atma Raksha Samiti
The Peasants' Conference at Netrakona
After World War II
The Third Conference of the Mahila Atma Raksha Samiti
The Tebhaga Andolon: The Rights of Sharecroppers
The Anti-imperialist Upsurge
Riots, Partition and Independence
Partition: Streams of Refugees
At the Midnapore and Presidency Jails
My Homeland: Pakistan's Barishal
The New Party Policy and Elections
The Women's International Democratic Federation
The Hindu Code Bill
The Struggle Against Dowry
On Mass Movements
The World Mothers' Conference
The Second General Elections
A Murder and the Role of the Samiti
The Golden Jubilee of the Women's International Democratic Federation
The India-China Conflict
Campaign against Famine and the Third General Elections
The China-India War and Its Consequences