Friday, 29 July 2016

Mahashweta Devi & the Marichjhapi massacre

Mahashweta Devi's, whose death India is celebrating today, was an outspoken critic of Bengali Hindus raping and killing Santal women. However, she kept silent- one of the few poets and writers to do so- about the Marichjhapi massacre in which Bengalis Hindu refugees, previously exiled to an arid wilderness outside the State, were starved, beaten, raped, murdered and forcibly deported from the State by the very Leftist Govt. which had previously invited them to return to their motherland.

Why did she do so? Her story- 'Draupadi'- exults in the spectacle of non-Bengali speaking Santals being raped and butchered by slightly less backward Bengali Hindus in 1971- a year when a very much larger number of Bengali speakers were being raped and butchered and ethnically cleansed.

Why did she not write a story gloating over the rape and butchery of lower caste Namasudra agriculturalists who had peacefully settled in Marichjhapi? After all, it was higher caste 'educated' Leftists, like her own kin, who gave the orders- though, no doubt, local Tribals and Muslims might have been paid to do the actual raping and killing.
Indeed, quite apart from its commendably Secular nature, the Marichjhapi atrocity was also much more technically sophisticated- it being an amphibious operation- than the supposed anti-Naxal sweep Devi was then busily commemorating.

The answer, I suppose, is that Mahasweta Devi had better things to do with her time than to ponder the feelings of the 250, mainly Hindu Bengali, police-women who participated in the illegal operation.
 I believe she taught English in a College for girls who might hope to join the Police Force. Perhaps, they were literate enough in Bengali to read her books- but then those books hardly brought in any money.
The writers and artists who took up the Marichjhapi issue, on the other hand, were successful and influential and, in one or two cases, not utterly shite. Yet they failed miserably in bringing anyone to book or ameliorating the lot of the victims who, in any case, had probably been duped by some other bunch of upper caste Bengali Leftist fantasists. I suppose, someone or other did turn a profit on illegally felled trees and some land did get redistributed on the basis of factionalist politics. Still, as Mahasweta would later point out, the affair didn't really matter much- unlike Nandigram & Singur- because elite musical chairs was not then facing a climacteric.

I suppose we all know deep in our bones that because Literary 'Activism' is not Alethic but strategic, simply, it is useless for any purpose other than gratifying the particularly obscene schandenfreude of the impotent. It will be what Mahashweta is remembered for- which is why she is now falsely credited with protesting Marichjhapi- but I think a truer tribute to her genius would begin by acknowledging that none of the English translations of her books were written by people she had herself taught English. Whatever else she may be guilty of, there is no evidence that she actively harmed her students though, no doubt, once they got into the Police force, they did their share of harming student activists and the innocents they stupidly imperil.

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