[Transcription of a speech at the AIDWA Meeting Remembering Comrade Ranjana Nirula]
Comrades from AIDWA in their tributes beautifully expressed the various aspects of our beloved and militant comrade Ranjana’s life and contributions. I feel if Ranjana was alive today, she would have smiled and said, “Come on comrades, stop being sad!”
Ranjana faced all the ups and downs of life with great strength and courage. Today we are remembering Ranjana with such immense heaviness in our hearts also because she left us so suddenly. It is true that one day all of us have to die. But at least in such closure the ones who will be left behind get some time to prepare their minds and their hearts for the imminent departure of a loved one. Ranjana departed so suddenly. Such is the cruelty of this virus, no one knows when it will take someone away from us. That is what happened with Ranjana; she left us within two weeks.
We all knew Ranjana had been ill for some time. For the last six months, she had been making the rounds of hospitals. She was suffering from Crohn’s disease. But those of us talking to her regularly felt she was recovering, her health was getting better. Strength was returning to her voice. Her laughter was becoming what it used to be. Her political commentary, jokes, humour-- there was hope to see all of it again as Ranjana was getting stronger just in the past month or so after she returned to her sister Meena’s home for her recovery. But this did not happen.
Today I do not want to recount the events of the last two weeks. Doctors did all that they could. But there is one thing I want to share with all comrades here. Since I and comrade Sindhu were in regular contact with her in her last days, I want to tell you that Ranjana left us with great strength and dignity.
Everything that you know and have said about Ranjana’s life, all these stories and realities we will tell the coming generations as well. In the message Ranjana’s elder sister posted on her Facebook remembering her, she has written a sentence, “Live life to the fullest!” Indeed if we look at Ranjana’s life, we can say with happiness that she lived her life to the fullest. Not just for herself, for her family, for her niece and nephew, for her sister Meena’s daughter Mini. The presence of Mini, a child with special needs, compelled Ranjana to work with disabled children seeing that there are no good provisions for those with such needs in our country.
Because of this love she had for her family, for her friends, she had a huge circle of friends who loved her immensely. If she had wanted, she could have spent her life with just these close relations. But the path that she chose for her life followed an ideology. Ranjana changed the course of her life through her commitment to the ideas of Marxism, by being inspired by the ideas of socialism, and her dreams of living up to the ideals of communism.
All of us here know, particularly women, that this is a difficult path; it is not a straightforward path. If we do not keep our focus constantly on the destination of this path, and merely count the milestones, we will come to a halt. Ranjana always remained focused on the destination, on that dream, on the immediate need of the revolution.
To achieve this, Ranjana decided to fight against the exploitation of the working class and the rule of capitalism. She brought this theory into practice, in how she lived her life. We saw this in Ranjana and in all her qualities. Of course, all good human beings have such qualities, it is not necessary they be communists.
But a communist is committed to practicing this, to being selfless. The life of a communist such as Ranjana is not spent on doing charity or welfare, but in fundamentally changing the structure of society.
I remember, back in early 70s, just before the Emergency, comrade Kitty Menon who was a professor in Delhi University and lived in Vithalbhai Patel House at the time, used to conduct classes on Marxism about once a week. Many used to attend those classes; Ranjana was among them. Comrade Kitty played a major role in inculcating Marxist ideas to those generations. Starting from there, Ranjana took those Marxist ideas to heart and spent her life practicing them.
I will emphasize again what other comrades here have said rightly before me. When we talk about social exploitation in our country, be it on the basis of gender or caste, we need to analyze it together with class exploitation for our struggle to be correct.
At the time, all of us belonging to that particular generation took great inspiration from the Vietnam War. The class question was of utmost importance to us. Today, of course, it is urgent to understand the sophistication of identity politics. But back then, we began our struggle with a strong class approach in a place like Delhi, where democratic mass movements are so weak. In such conditions, Ranjana paved her own path by joining the working class and their struggles. She also closely looked at the role of women in the class struggle against capitalism.
I remember when the Delhi unit of AIDWA first met, there were eleven of us. Ranjana was also there. In the discussions that were held that day, one conclusion emerged clearly: the women’s movement has to play a role in accordance with the voice of the working class. Since all of us were associated with trade unions, the Left women’s movement emerged in Delhi as a part of the working class movement in colonies where workers lived.
The democratic women’s movement in Delhi was a result of the confluence of the student’s movement on the one hand, and the trade unions on the other. Ranjana played a major role in this as she worked directly with workers, with the families of workers in working class localities. From the beginning to her last day, Ranjana remained closely linked with the Delhi unit of AIDWA. On the basis of this relationship, she was closely linked to the national level women’s movement.
There were many debates before AIDWA could exist in its current form as a national level organization. The organization had to accommodate the collective experiences of all its state units. Except comrade Mallu Swarajyam, none of the founders are alive among us today. Ranjana was among the next generation of AIDWA those who now hold the positions of office-bearers, CEC members, etc. Among those as well, Shyamalidi is no longer with us today. Mythili is right now suffering from COVID. [Mythily Shivaraman passed away on May 30, a week after this meeting was held to remember Ranjana.]
There is a preamble which decides an organisation’s ideology, its policies, and the direction it takes. However, I have never believed, and Ranjana would have heartily agreed with me on this, that this preamble is set in stone and cannot change. Ranjana had the capability to understand new challenges that come with changing times. It is an organisation’s strength to be able to assess the changing situation and accordingly, decide what new steps need to be taken. Ranjana had this skill.
We cannot just rely on our old dreams and ideas. They are our legacy, but not so that they become a burden. They are our legacy because we can learn from them what challenges stand before our movement. Understanding that is a major responsibility that has to be carried out by the members of a communist organization, and Ranjana did just that.
Throughout the pandemic as well, Ranjana understood the importance of healthcare and the task of ASHA workers and issued multiple memoranda on their working conditions. She worked on how young women can be involved more in organizational work, and she got them involved.
People tell us, you communists are out-dated, you need to change your thinking. No. We don’t give up on the basic tenets and ideals of communism. We do, however, adapt with the changing conditions and give our movement a new direction accordingly. At every turn, Ranjana understood what the movement needed. Today, our primary fight is against the Hindutva forces led by BJP-RSS. Ranjana was the working editor of The Voice of the Working Woman [the journal brought out by the Coordination Committee of Working Women]. In issues spanning the last few years, you can see how well the dangers that BJP-RSS pose against women and the working class have been articulated. Ranjana had a clear understanding of this. Today, it is essential for us to formulate how to take this understanding ahead. Even here, Ranjana was clear, that without class struggle, these right-wing Hindutva forces cannot be defeated.
From her role in JMS, and in AIDWA, and her role in CITU, we can see how she tried to understand the changing conditions, and how according to these changes she along with others tried to plan the path ahead.
I would like to mention another point here. Ranjana fervently opposed every manifestation of male chauvinism. Sometimes even I tried to tell her to approach the situation a little differently, but she would refuse and say, we do not need to be tactful here. She would insist that if in such matters, our position is not absolutely clear, we cannot clear the path for others who would face the same challenges tomorrow.
We always believed that just as revolutionaries before us have created a path for us, we can do the same only if we speak out on certain questions loudly and without any compromise. Ranjana would always speak out, properly but without any compromise on her politics. She could do this because she was never seeking any position of power. She would always stand by her rules, her principles and her thoughts. That is who she was.
All of you in your personal capacity have spoken about the crucial role played by her in building cadres. Within Delhi, so many of our comrades have worked and learnt with Ranjana and have continued to stand with the red flag despite challenges and difficulties. It is undeniable that Ranjana had a major contribution in that.
When it comes to personal relationships, all of you share close memories with her. You got little time to share those memories here today, but such is the reality of these online meetings. However, her memories cannot be restricted to this meeting today. Whenever we get the opportunity to meet and talk, Ranjana will always be a part of those conversations.
The relationship I shared with her was one of ups and downs. Before I came to Delhi in 1975, I met Ranjana at Comrade Kitty’s home for the first time on one of my visits to the city. When I moved to Delhi as per the Party’s instructions, I began my work in the trade union movement, in the women’s movement. In our shared work in these different committees, our experiences and debates, there also used to be contention, sometimes there was even harshness. But that never created a wall in our relationship.
It is my understanding that through this journey, we began to understand each other better and our relationship was only strengthened. Relationships with all party comrades are strong, of course. After all, what more of a family do we have if not our comrades? But additionally, there are personal relationships as well, and in the last 20-25 years, the bond Ranjana and I shared got strong and close. Everything that you all have shared before me about the qualities you saw in Ranjana, I saw those as well.
After she was admitted to the hospital, on the second day we had a long conversation over the phone. She was very cheerful. She told me, Brinda, you say we have known each other for the last 50 years, but actually I have known you since my college days. She was my senior in college, she studied in IP College, I was in Miranda House. She recounted that Nina’s cousin lived in Nizamudin and she often used to go there. This cousin was my roommate. So we often used to take the same bus. Ranjana would get off at her college and I would get off at mine. I did not remember this, but that day Ranjana reminded me of this and said, I have known you since then.
We were old friends. We have an old friendship and in that friendship, there was also a lot of laughter, a lot of humour. There were Ranjana’s jokes, her sharp political comments. Most importantly, there was a lot of her love.
Ranjana and I had a code - ‘noon day sun.’ It used to baffle other people. Ranjana and I were then in Faridabad as part of a small women’s group, campaigning against dowry. It was noon and the sun was harsh on our heads. There was not one person to be seen to witness our campaign. But we were so passionate, loudly sloganeering, our voices reaching the sky, our fists raised. Then suddenly, I and Ranjana halted, looked to each other and burst into laughter. Ranjana said, there is nobody else here, only communists, only us mad women.
When we decide to embark upon a new path, we need some amount of craziness. Without it, we cannot counter society’s cruelty. In that harsh noonday sun, Ranjana also had her fun. She spent her life with the same objective and for the same dream, truly living up to Meena’s description, “Live life to the fullest!” We are happy that Ranjana, our dearest comrade, did live life to the fullest, as a communist, for her ideals, for her goals, and gave so much love to all those who came in contact with her.
We will miss her. We shall always remember her. She is now part of the history of AIDWA, of working class movements in Delhi, of ASHA movements and scheme workers movements across India, and of course, always as part of the legacy of our beloved red flag.
Red salute, Ranjana.