Benedict Anderson (1936–2015) was the Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government and Asian Studies at Cornell University, New York. He passed away in Indonesia on December 13th 2015 at the age of 79.
He will be remembered long and well for his contribution to the study of nationalism, which had its impact in several disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. A polyglot, his most well-known work, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, first published in 1983 was to prove to be one of the most thought-provoking books in the study of nationalism for decades to come. In this work he argued for the nation as an “imagined political community” that came into being through an interplay between capitalism and the printing press, among others. It was print that allowed for the spread of an overarching identity and discourses across differing languages that allowed for the generation of the idea of a nation. His work did not stop at imagining the community of the nation but rather extended to critiques of orthodoxies in Anglo-American scholarship as well as Western logic and rationality more broadly, as Ariel Heryanto pointed out.
A Marxist and anti-colonial scholar, in his “Cornell Paper,” he spoke of the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia of 1955-56, undauntingly, recording for posterity the massacre of over 500,000 people. This work led to a subsequent ban on his entry to Indonesia, a ban that was eventually lifted in 1988. When Anderson returned to Indonesia, Scott Sherman described the event thus:
“At a luxury hotel in downtown Jakarta, the sixty-two-year-old Anderson, wearing a light shirt and slacks to combat the stifling heat, faced a tense, expectant audience of three hundred generals, senior journalists, elderly professors, former students, and curiosity seekers. In fluent Indonesian, he lashed the political opposition for its timidity and historical amnesia—especially with regard to the massacres of 1965-1966.”
This then, was Anderson and his commitment to progressive political change made him, as Kevin Hewison, a professor of politics and international studies at Murdoch University, remarked, an “icon for scholars”, particularly those who worked on South-East Asia, especially Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Anderson’s view of the nation, too, stemmed from this progressive position, wherein he saw people working through critical fraternities. He said, “In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals … to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love.” Anderson’s words in Imagined Communities are a timely reminder for us, at the present in India. When there is a tremendous pressure exerted to produce the nation as belonging only to some and not others, it is the link that love and fraternity may produce for all, that we must honour. We salute his legacy of support to the Communist Party of Indonesia, his progressive politics and his vision of nations as fraternities of people, which allowed all equal space, right and vision.
Dr. B D Sharma
Dr. Brahm Dev Sharma, a committed defender of the rights of Adivasis and the 5th schedule areas, passed away on 6 December 2015. He was 86. An IAS officer, he committed his life fighting the oppression and exploitation of the poor, particularly the adivasis.
His contribution to democratic movements and official policies aimed at strengthening democracy at the grassroots and defending the rights and livelihood of those in the forest areas was remarkable and will always be remembered.
He played an instrumental role in framing of several key policies affecting the lives of poor living in rural and forest areas, such as the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat Extension of Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) which enables the Gram Sabhas to govern their own resources in scheduled areas. He also served as the Vice Chancellor of the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong in Meghalaya and as the commissioner of the National Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribe Commission, after resigning from the government.
In times of increased assaults on lives and livelihoods of people by way of policies like land acquisition and open invitation to the corporate to loot the natural resources especially in the forest regions, a real tribute to Dr. B. D. Sharma’s legacy would be by strengthening the movements against anti-people policies of the government and for defending people’s rights and livelihood.
Comrade Sankara Narayanan, from Tirunelveli, in the far south part of Tamil Nadu, is one of the comrades who emerged from the ranks of youth who rose up in protest movements in the beginning of 1980s.
Interestingly, the district known for participation of youth in the freedom struggle, the anti-Hindi agitation, and now known as a caste cauldron – is also known for the vibrant CPIML-backed ‘Tamil Nadu Youth Movement’ in the 1980s – the predecessor of present Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA). That was a phase of transition for the party towards a mass political line and mass organizations.
The movement produced many activists, cadres and significantly many full-time cadres as well. Comrade Sankara Narayanan along with present state committee member, Sankara Pandian, played a crucial role in shaping the anger of youth by organizing youths of welfare organizations and gyms in every street, various literary and film circles, most significantly by organizing hundreds of manuscript magazines. A rally of few thousands of youth, which was completely unimaginable for any established political party in the district, was led by CPI(ML) and by its mass organization and its mass leaders.
Comrade Sankara Narayanan was also instrumental in organizing alternative revolutionary cultural, literary and film groups in the district. He has always associated himself with the Party and progressive movements. When he was in Delhi, as an employee of Lakshmi Vilas Bank, he also informally functioned as a staff of the party organ, Liberation and was a regular visitor to party office.
In the later period of his life, he was more interested in environmental and cultural activities while continuing to uphold the party’s political line. He opted for voluntary retirement from bank only to associate himself with people’s struggles. But, unfortunately, he breathed his last untimely at the age of 59, on 10 December 2015 as a victim of cancer.
Comrade Tapan Bhattacharya, Secretary of Murshidabad District Committee, West Bengal, died on 30 November at the age of 66. Com. Tapan was one of the leading comrades at the time of the reorganisation of the party. He was one of the leading state team member in West Bengal in 1974 after which he was sent by the party to Assam for party work. He played a leading role in party building and in organising the peasants and various democratic forces in the district. He was a popular leader in the district. He had been suffering from chronic diseases and completely lost his eyesight. However, despite illness and loss of vision, nothing could deter him from his full time party work. His exemplary role is an inspiration to all of us.
Comrade Rani Devi, residing in the Kurji area of Patna, passed away at the age of 82 on the morning of 21 November 2015. In the 80s during the underground phase of the Party, her home was a dependable shelter for the Party where many leaders stayed. She undertook this responsibility with great dedication and sacrifice. She even brought up the children of Party comrades with great love and devotion, never letting the economic constraints of the family bring a murmur or a frown to her face. Even afterwards, Patna comrades used to frequent her home. We remember her as a comrade whose qualities we would like to imbibe. The contribution of Com. Rani Devi and women like her in keeping the Party alive in that phase is extremely important and unforgettable.
Comrade Bindeshwari Singh, a veteran communist leader and the District Committee member of CPI(ML) Bhojpur unit, passed away on the morning of 3 December 2015. He was suffering from cancer. Com. Bindeshwari hailed from Tarari and had played great role in the Bhojpur movement.
The Party along with thousands of masses pay homage to the departed leader !
Comrade Shakuntala Prasad (affectionately called Munni ji), passed away on 24 November 2015 at the age of 60. Raised in Jamshedpur. She had been Patna town AIPWA President as well as a member of the AIPWA Bihar State Committee. She had married the late Comrade Ashok, former editor of Lokyuddh. She is survived by her son Santosh, with whom she had been living in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, where she passed away after a protracted illness.