Interview on the Revolutionary Cultural Work of the Indian Maoists
Posted by Ka Frank on January 23, 2010
This interview was published in the August-September 2006 issue of People’s March.
Interview with the In-Charge of Danda-karanya CNM: Comrade Lenj
This is a fascinating interview about the work and thinking behind the mass organization of the CPI (Maoist) for writers and artists.
PM: What are the aims of the Chaitanya Natya Manch?
Lenj:. The people’s art and literature are a rich cultural heritage preserved by the people since ages. But now they are getting destroyed by the imperialist consumerist culture. People’s cultural heritage is being gobbled up by the exploitative rotten culture permeating to all corners. So some important tasks have come up before us. On the one hand we have to preserve the ancient cultural heritage among the people. We have to study deeply and thoroughly what is outdated and what is fine in it.
Chetana Natya Manch (CNM) is a revolutionary mass organization consisting writers and artistes. It has many opportunities to study and revolutionize the peopleís arts. It should study the arts and literature of the people. This should be done subordinate to the task of building the base areas. Every mass organization should strive to advance the war. And war should help every organization to carry on its activities efficiently. There is an inseparable bond between the two. So cultural front should help the war efforts in building the base area. Likewise peopleís wars are going on in adjacent states like Jharkhand, Bihar, etc. We have to study their efforts in the cultural front and pass on those experiences to the cultural movement here. In other words our effort will be to destroy feudal and imperialist culture and develop a new democratic culture.
PM: Is the formation of CNM helping in the centralization of cultural work? If so how?
Lenj: Definitely. We could bring forth many new artistes and writers. We are studying people’s art forms and trying to revolutionize them. We are preserving the peopleís cultural heritage. Likewise we are studying the cultural efforts going on in other areas. Recently we went to another area to study the revolutionary movement and the cultural front there. We are trying to study and understand the changes in the cultural front in other states.
On various occasions like parliamentary elections, March 8th, party classes, July 28th etc, we are preparing and sending the necessary songs, dance forms and plays that fit the occasion, to the cadres. We are trying to print song books. We are even trying to record the cooperative movement and the collective movement going on here in a documentary form. The formation of CNM has enthused artistes in this field theoretically, politically and in cultural matters. Since this consists of members with specialized experience in the cultural field, it is helping in developing it in the right direction and giving leadership to the cultural movement.
PM: Comrade, tell us the background for the birth of CNM in Dandakaranya.
Lenj: To answer this question we will have to go back right to the days the revolutionary movement set its foot in the DK area. Revolutionary cultural activities entered the DK along with the revolutionary movement 25 years ago. As you know, the DK area is totally an adivasi area. Here arts are an indivisible part of the peoplesí lives. So the revolutionaries, from the beginning many art forms like songs, dances etc; to arouse the masses. In fact, no meeting ever took place here in DK without a cultural performance.
In the earlier days only the guerillas were giving cultural performances, based on songs and dance forms of AP Jana Natya Mandali, of course, translating them into local Gondi language. Later the guerillas started composing songs based on the tunes of the traditional adivasi songs,. By then, the revolutionary movement has already became a mass movement, with hundreds of people coming forward to take various responsibilities.
Many among them started composing songs and started giving expression to their new revolutionary fervor through various art forms, thus bringing in a transformation both in form and content. In this way hundreds of new writers and artists emerged from the masses during the course of the rapid development of the revolutionary movement. Until 1997, cultural teams comprising of artists drawn from the guerilla squads or from various mass organizations, or drawn from both were giving performances in villages as and when needed basis. So the party decided to form the CNM so that all the energies of these hundreds of artists can be channalised in to a single organization so that a concentrated emphasis can be given on the work in the cultural field.
PM: What were the tasks of CNM when it was formed?
Lenj: Party propagates its goals and tasks through its various departments. So the cultural front also has the task of propagating them through art forms and various writings. So the first task is to take the tasks of the movement among the people on a large scale. The second is to study the people’s arts, third is to revolutionize peopleís art forms. When CNM was formed there was only one team for the whole of DK. So we took up the task of forming more of such teams and training up many new artistes in large numbers. This was the fourth task.
PM: Will you explain the progress you have achieved in fulfilling these tasks?
Lenj: The last ten years effort was a process of development of the movement, changing ideas, changes in understanding, the ensuing results in practice and that again developing our understanding. In practice it took us some years to develop CNM as a mass organization in DK. Since the past three years it is getting consolidated as a mass organization at the grass roots level in villages. It is able to unify and consolidate the adivasi, non adivasi writers and artistes in the villages. At present we have consolidated thousands of artistes and writers in CNM. This was a great achievement by itself. It was a good progress that CNM was developed at the village level as a revolutionary mass organization and a manifesto and constitution were drafted and a flag was decided. Another achievement was that “Jhankar”, the cultural magazine which was started in 1994, became the official organ of CNM.
We are developing people’s culture and are revolutionizing their art forms. The task of building base areas was given by the 9th Congress of the erstwhile People’s War Party. Accordingly, the cultural front has also formulated its task of playing its due role in fulfilling this task and consolidating the peopleís power springing up here as part of it. So CNM work is done in tune with those four tasks and those coming up in the course. We feel this is a good progress.
PM: What are your efforts in building CNM teams?
Lenj: There was only one CNM team in South Bastar in 1997. Gradually some more teams were formed all over DK. The results were promising and so teams were formed in all divisions (roughly districts) by 2003. Area teams were also formed under these division teams in some areas. At first we formed teams with the persons having artistic and cultural talents from among the youngsters joining the movement. Now teams and units are formed at village centre (4, 5 villages) levels too on a large scale. Another aspect is that those artistes -both men and women- whose consciousness level is high and are ready to work with dedication for the people are opting to work full time for CNM. They are working at area and division level in accordance with its manifesto and constitution. Training is compulsory to develop any organization. Now the district teams are concentrating on consolidating and developing the area teams in the cultural sphere. Similarly area teams are concentrating on developing local teams and teams working within a centre. Thus CNM is putting efforts to develop the cultural movement and train up teams at various levels.
PM: How are you trying to build up CNM as a mass organization? Tell us about the structures.
Lenj: Till now we have been able to consolidate five to six thousand cultural activists separately. In DK, in general, there are small hamlets. Every hamlet has 20 to 30 huts. The men and women are members of DAKMS and KAMS, the peasant and women organizations respectively. But there are no restrictions that they cannot join other organizations. A peasant becomes a member of peasant organization, but he may be interested in cultural activities too and may join CNM. The only principle is that they should not be in leading positions in both organizations simultaneously. This was written into the constitution keeping in view the practical problems in fulfilling responsibilities. So we thought of forming cultural units not at the village level but one for every 4 or 5 villages. We came to the conclusion about this keeping in view the emerging new power also. An organ of people’s power is formed for 500 to 3000 people. This is taken as one unit. People of 4, 5 villages elect a people’s government.
So a CNM unit is formed with those interested within these 4, 5 villages. In big villages we are forming a unit for the village. Executive committees are elected above these. There are district and area ECs. In future we will have a DK (Zone) level EC too. Thus we are trying to consolidate the structure by forming ECs from the village to Zone level and by strengthening the mass organization.
PM: Tell us the details of the training camps and workshops conducted by you till now? How are the results?
Lenj: There were two DK wide training camps -in 1998 and 2001- conducted with the help of JNM. After the All India Workshop in May 2002 we conducted a DK wide workshop in December 2003 on the topic “Let us revolutionize Adivasi arts”. We placed the draft manifesto of CNM before the delegates here and took their opinions. We revolutionized some dance forms out of a myriad of them in DK and tried to take it into the people in a systematic manner. We even trained people to create more and more revolutionary literature. We also trained delegates in producing plays by discussing with them on that form and the need to take it among the people.
After this workshop, training camps were held at district, area and village level. These helped, to a great extent, in achieving uniformity in the cultural field in the whole of DK. A workshop and two training camps were held in S. Bastar in 2002. As a result a revolutionary atmosphere was created where youth formed teams on their own and performed in neighbouring villages with those songs. Keeping these results in view we conducted many training camps in N.Bastar, W. Bastar and Maad division. Due to these youth are writing songs on their own in many areas.
Between 2002 May and 2003 December nearly 1500 artistes were trained in the training camps conducted by the area and district CNM teams. We mainly trained youth in the villages under RPCs (Revolutionary People’s Commitees) or those from villages where RPCs were to be formed. DCSC conducts political, theoretical and cultural classes for the CNM teams. These teams are taking the message into the masses. Thus we are achieving positive results due to all these kinds of collective efforts.
PM: What is CNM’s role in the All India workshop? How did the workshop help you in your efforts?
Lenj: The drafting of a perspective paper in the workshop was a good thing for the cultural movement. Since comrades leading the cultural movement in various states discussed that document it helped in achieving theoretical clarity. CNM shared its ideas and experiences with cultural organizations from various states and played its role in discussing the document. We discussed the various problems, challenges, experiences which came up in the DK cultural movement. It is a fact that the influence of the workshop is very much there in the functioning of CNM as a mass organization today.
PM: What kind of training are you imparting to the young men and women and to children in the villages?
Lenj: We impart training to all members of CNM. Children from the age of 10 years to elders are members of CNM. We invite them to special camps according to their activities and enthusiasm. We are trying to teach marching songs, songs with simple words to increase scientific thinking and dances to children. We are concentrating more on young men and women. We are facing severe police repression in giving training. Especially it is a big problem to give training in places like Gadchiroli (Maharashtra).
We go to the villages and mobilize the CNM members. We fix a schedule of 4, 5 days or two days according to their agriculture works, wage earning or collection of forest produce works. We participate in production work along with them and give them training. We don’t teach them many songs, dances, steps or instruments at one go. We teach one song or a dance or an instrument one at a time. We give training by keeping in view their talents, interests and learning capacity. This is giving good results. Some times we are teaching them to write songs also as part of training. For example we held a five day training camp in South Bastar in 2002. We concentrated on encouraging them to write. The people here are experts in singing songs extempore.
So we concentrated on revolutionizing the songs they sing from their own experiences and problems. The men and women who attended the camp wrote the song “Palapitta keyamuntha” on martyr Com. Ranadev and “Errajanda dadimithe” (under the red flag) in this camp. This song described how new people’s power is developing under the red flag. The inspiration, the fact, the practice that these new power organs are coming into existence for their own sake was reflected in this song. Their confidence in writing new songs is increasing. That is what we want. It is very important for them to say with confidence that we are able to write and sing and reflect the revolutionary movement in our traditional forms. This phenomenon has a great future. This is worthy of mention as CNM’s guiding principle is – “People are the makers of history and people are the creators of new culture”.
PM: Explain the main characteristics of adivasi culture.
Lenj: Adivasi arts and literature are mainly oral. Their literature is extempore. Its greatest quality is that everything is collective in it. On moonlit nights, especially in winter when the fields are thriving – before harvest and after the rainy season- the whole village gathers happily around fires and dances with joy. Everybody participates cheerfully in this. It is a collective feeling. There are no restrictions that some could participate and some could not. If one starts singing, all the dancers join in the chorus. In adivasi culture there is song for dance and dance with instruments. But there is no fusion of song, instrument and dance. This has to be developed. When the people dance to the music of instruments it is very rhythmic and they all look like one entity. They play the instruments in a melodious and harmonic way. The most important, common and noteworthy characteristic is the collective spirit in everything. There is no parasitic class of court artistes, court writers or court poets like outside. This is a significant feature.
PM: What is the programme of CNM in these concrete conditions?
Lenj: We are taking care not to damage the collectiveness. So when we are forming CNM teams we are not giving importance to the number of members whether there are eight or ten or whatever. Especially once the team enters the villages the whole village turns up. So they are performing plays by taking all of them or some of them to play the roles. So people become the performers. CNM activists make the whole village participate in dance and are thus developing dances. When a singer sings a song not only the team members, but the whole village gives chorus. We are teaching songs collectively. We have introduced a new form. In the oral tradition one person sings extempore and another answers her or him. Now what we have done is – one is preparing the first stanza and the direction for the song. Another prepares the next stanza and two or three persons continue it. Then another follows. Thus all of them together write a song. If there are ten members in a CNM team all ten of them are writing a song i.e. collectively.
The song “Narayanpur atum the baathal naiku keyantha” was written sarcastically on the police and their repression. There are many such collectively written songs. Then there is the oral tradition. The songs which they sing extempore are our new writings. They are mixing revolutionary practice with their life experiences. We are writing them down. Everything is done collectively. Meanwhile we are trying to develop poetry writing too.
PM: How are you recording the adivasi art and literature?
Lenj: Especially we are collecting materials on some ancient art forms like Gotul Paata and Gotul Peto. We studied in history that the primitive people expressed their joy and other feelings with sounds. We can still find this in Maad. Now they are becoming extinct. Even Gotul Paata and Gotul Peto are vanishing. Only a few Gotul Peto Gurus are left. When we go to those areas we enquire from people and know who the old artistes are, how many village elders are there, what kind of artistes are available in that area etc. We meet them and spend time with them and study their art. We attend marriages. We go to their Karsads (village fairs). We attend ceremonies for birth, death, naming the newborn etc. We are observing and recording them. We take photographs when camera is available and record audio cassettes. Since 4, 5 years the process of preserving picked up. After the formation of DCSC this gained momentum.
PM: What is the role of women in CNM?
Lenj: During marriages and festivals or in the evenings when youth gathers at Gotul they sing songs. Though they did not receive any training in classical singing, the adivasi women sing clearly, melodiously and in one voice. There are nearly 50 percent women in the DK movement; in CNM also right from the village to the division level the number of women exceeds 50 percent. Among the leading cadres in CNM also more than half are women. In the social conditions prevailing here women are free till they are married. So generally the role of women in arts is considerable.
This is a positive aspect for CNM. Their role is increasing in writing literature. CNM has formed special women teams to increase their role in the cultural movement. This came into existence first in South Bastar. We are getting very good results through them. In every village the women artistes feel this is our team. They are providing protection to the team. Many women are rallying behind it and getting consolidated. The number of women teams is increasing in the areas in various divisions.
PM: Tell us about the dress and the instruments you use?
Lenj: We have a dress for dances. In the plays, as you know, it will be according to the scene or the character portrayed. Though we tried to adopt the dress of the Guru in the popular art form called the “Gotul Peto” while portraying his character it did not go down well with our cadres. They thought that the dress was not attractive enough. We failed in convincing them. The dresses of various cultural organizations seemed more attractive than the Guru’s dress. Gradually CNM thought it should have a special dress while performing. We decided the dress according to the task of DK. Since liberated areas were to be built up here everything is linked to the people’s war and military activity. We will have to perform amidst repression. So we chose a dress which blends with the forest and protects us. Our artistes wear a green “Ger” (lehenga). They wear a banian or jacket of the same color as top. Women wear a half saree over it. Green reflects the beauty of the forest and blends with it.
The instruments of DK are very ancient. There are 18 kinds of them. Only a few are in use now. We are using these instruments and also some modern ones. The importance of instruments cannot be underestimated. We did not put any restrictions that only the local instruments should be used. We are using a combination of various instruments. Music should not dominate the song and its lyrics. So we are using modern and local instruments according to the needs of the performance and in a way that it is enhanced. The main ones are the “Dapp”í (a percussion instrument)and the “Melam” (wind instrument).
PM: How are your relations with the people? How do you apply mass line in your work?
Lenj: CNM is achieving fine results in this aspect. If a team goes to the village all of them including children cheerfully gather around them. They look after the team with great love and affection. The news of the arrival of the team spreads rapidly and everybody tries to finish off their work quickly so that they can meet the team. They are very popular with the villagers. CNM activists also go into their homes, mingle with them, take part in their work and build up close relations with them.
CNM follows mass line as well as class line. CNM is expressing the sufferings, the problems and solutions to these problems in its songs, dances and plays. It is also raising the consciousness of the people and fighting against the consumerist, imperialist culture permeating to all corners. CNM develops closeness with the people by taking up their problems.
PM: What kind of repression is CNM facing? How are you overcoming it?
Lenj: CNM was born amidst repression. It is becoming the victim of all kinds of repressive measures adopted by the central and state governments directly or indirectly. Enemy surveillance on CNM teams is increasing by the day. If they come to know of a performance, they are alerting the forces and conducting combing operations. Sometimes they tried to surround the camping places of CNM teams. But they turned into futile exercises due to the support of the people. In areas like Gadchiroli there were firings on the teams too. When the youth of the villages dance collectively during festivals or marriages, they are attacking them indiscriminately thinking they are CNM members.
But the people are guarding CNM like the pupil of their eye. CNM also has ample support of the militia. On special occasions PLGA forces are providing protection. Under militia protection CNM teams are giving performances even at a distance of one or two kilometers from the police stations on demand from the people. People’s artistes are carrying on revolutionary propaganda amidst severe repression. On April 19th Chhathisgarh government banned CNM.
PM: Let’s talk about “Jhankar” now. Explain the background of its formation, its history and your efforts.
Lenj: Since the inception of the DK movement in 1980, there were some writers and artistes among the revolutionaries and they produced some literature in the form of stories, poems, articles and small novels. All of them were written due to the pressing needs of the movement. Revolution demands everything. Who will fulfill all these demands? A few people outside (revolution) cannot fulfill these. The revolutionary movement has to fulfill the demands of the revolution and people. Then only the revolutionary movement can develop in all fields.
The language is different here. The problems are different. There is difference in backwardness. There is some specificity. Literature is being produced keeping all this in view. To encourage these writers and artistes and to record their writings depicting peopleís life and preserve people’s literature we thought of publishing a magazine. As a result Jhankar was started in July ñ August 1994.Every comrade here is involved in bringing this. This is being brought out amidst repression. Since the enemy attack is multi faceted our resistance should also be multi faceted.
Comrades write in Gondi, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Telugu in this magazine, this is another special feature of Jhankar. They can write in whatever language they fell they can express. There are adivasis, non adivasis, Bengalis, Telugus, Marathis and Odiya i.e. people belonging to various areas and nationalities in the DK movement now. So Jhankar is a multi lingual magazine. We are trying to make writers not only out of people but out of cadres also. Regarding people since they are already extempore poets the need is more to revolutionize them than to make them into writers. They express excellently all their problems, sufferings, happiness and feelings in those songs. Mainly we have to give them the revolutionary vision to write about solutions too in them. CNM members are also learning to read and write now. We are correcting and publishing their writings and developing them. There are some shortcomings in this effort too. We are not able to concentrate fully on what the new writers are writing and on improving them. By correcting this we can produce better results.
PM: What are the goals you aim to achieve in the context of publishing the tenth year issue of Jhankar?
Lenj: The publishing of the tenth anniversary issue of Jhankar is a happy occasion. We mentioned the problems faced by our writers in the issue. Mainly the writings are in the same mould. So we have to change that. So our main goal is to help the writers in taking up people’s issues and expressing them in an outstanding manner and to make them write in new literary forms. There are many problems here. Though there are only limited literary forms in this society we should take other forms from the outside world. There is no development anywhere without exchange of ideas. We should express the sacrifices, struggle experiences and problems of people in art and literary forms. We are not able to catch up to all these needs. So we have to give a direction to our writers to catch up. Jhankar will play a role in moulding them as writers.
PM: What are the goals you formulated in relation with the developing people’s war in DK?
Lenj: If we have to achieve something in this field then we have to develop ourselves first. Our advancement is linked to the advancement of the people’s war in this field. When peopleís war is in the initial stage the artistes and writers should be a step ahead and prepare the people for it. They should improve their writing standards and language style. All their writings should help in advancing the war.
Here as we are working with a base area perspective we have to explain to the people through writings and art forms what a base area is, how people’s power is exercised, how two classes fight for power and how revolution means political power to the people. Since the consciousness of the people in these areas is relatively higher the level of the writings should also rise accordingly. They in turn should raise the level of the people. So our revolutionary writers should be a step ahead than ordinary people and envision the future for the people.
PM: How will the formation of CPI (Maoist) boost up the efforts in the cultural field?
Lenj: The merger of two streams raised the hopes of all working people. Similarly it inspired and stimulated the writers and artistes in the cultural field. This will help us a lot in developing further. It will be very useful to learn the experiences of writers and artistes who have been working with base area perspective for the past thirty years in another area. It will be useful for them to learn our experiences here. There were such efforts before also. But committee member-cum-platoon commander comrade Rammohan alias Naresh. Six of the martyrs were women comrades. In the second incident near PRC Tanda in Pullalacheruvu mandal in Nallamala on June 16, comrade Ravi Kumar alias Sridhar, a member of the state committee as well as the state committeeís secretariat, was killed. Three other comrades, who were caught at an appointment place on June 15, were tortured for two days and shot dead the next day. Comrade Sudhakar alias Suresh, a member of the district committee of Guntur, was arrested and murdered two days later.
In the third incident in the last week of June, a PLGA squad in Mahbobnagar was surrounded and in the ensuing encounter eight comrades were killed. The fourth incident was the attack on the APSC HQ on July 23 in which eight comrades including the state secretary comrade Madhav became martyrs. In the latest encounter on August 3rd, the platoon of the Anantapur-Cuddapah divisional committee was attacked in which four comrades died including comrade Sathyam alias Kranti, a district committee organizer. The PLGA comrades fought heroically then it was under two parties, under two leaderships. Now it will be carried under a unified party and will help in carrying forward in a consolidated manner. It will help in building new democratic culture rapidly.
PM: Finally, what is your call to the writers and artistes outside?
Lenj: (Smiling) what can any fighting people say to other fighting people? We are fighting here. We ask all others to fight. That is all. We are fighting with all our efforts to build up an anti imperialist, anti feudal new democratic culture. Our call to people is to dare to fight to eliminate the exploitative classes’ culture. Since our aim is the same lets try to carry on this fight by unifying in a more consolidated manner. “Let us build new democratic culture by uniting”.
We extend our Lal Salm to People’s March for coming here amidst many difficulties and taking this interview and giving us a chance to tell about our cultural movement to people of our country and other countries as well.