People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 22, 2007



Tribute To A Valiant Fighter   


G Ramakrishnan



THE birth centenary celebration of Comrade B Srinivasa Rao, affectionately called as BSR, was organised in a befitting manner in Thiruthuraipoondi town of Thiruvarur district, Tamilnadu, on April 10, 2007. To commemorate his birth centenary, a bronze statue was unveiled by N Shankaraiah, chairman of Party Control Commission. The statue of Comrade BSR was sponsored by the Tamilnadu units of AIKS and AIAWU. 

Later, a public meeting was held in the town which was presided over by G Veeriyan, state president of AIAWU. K Varadarajan, general secretary of AIKS, N Sankaraiah, chairman of the Party Control Commission, N Varadarajan, state secretary, G Ramakrishnan, state secretariat member, A Soundararajan, general secretary of state CITU, K Balakrishnan, general secretary of Tamilnadu AIKS, A M Gopu, CPI leader and also other leaders spoke at the public meeting.

N Sankaraiah, N Varadarajan and A M Gopu recalled their association with Comrade BSR and explained the contribution he had made in building the peasant movement in Tamilnadu especially in East Thanjavur. While speaking at the meeting N Sankaraiah said that Comrade BSR was the architect of the communist movement in East Thanjavur district. (Thanjavur district later was trifurcated as Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagappattinam districts. Thiruvarur and Nagappattinam districts together constituted the erstwhile East Thanjavur) 

Comrade BSR was born in 1906 in south Canara area of Karnataka, part of erstwhile Madras presidency. After finishing his school education in his native place, he continued college education in Bangalore. Responding to the call of Mahatma Gandhi, Comrade BSR quit his college studies and joined the freedom movement. He was one among the leaders who picketed against the sale of foreign clothes in Madras city in the later part of the thirties. Comrade BSR became a member of the Communist Party in Tamilnadu along with P Ramamurthy, Jeevanandam and others. In fact, he was inspired by Amir Hyder Khan when they met in Trichy central prison during those times. At the time of his death, he was a member of the national council and the state secretariat of the Party.

In 1943, the Tamilnadu state committee of the Communist Party decided to send Comrade BSR to Thanjavur to mobilise the peasants and agricultural labourers. In the early part of the 20th century, there was a huge concentration of land in the hands of few landlords, Mutts and zamindars in Thanjavur district. The entire district was under the domination of the landlords and the economy and the lives of the people in the villages were under the iron grip of the landlords. Among all the districts of Tamilnadu, the age-old caste system and caste oppression of the dalits by caste Hindus was the worst in Thanjavur district compared to other districts in Tamilnadu. Majority of the dalits were pannayals (bonded labourers) in the 1940s. Majority of the cultivating tenants were caste Hindus. All the landlords were caste Hindus and some of them were from upper castes. The dalits had to face both feudal and caste oppression. In the 1930s there was a certain spontaneous upsurge among the dalit pannayals and tenants in East Thanjavur. In this background Comrade BSR was sent to Thanjavur to mobilise the peasants and agricultural labourers. When he went to Thanjavur he could speak Tamil but not read and write. Still he was successful in building a powerful communist and peasant movement in East Thanjavur. He was able to grasp the socio-economic situation in East Thanjavur then and dedicated himself to mobilising the oppressed people against caste and feudal oppression and also against the colonial rulers.

Comrade BSR was given a rousing reception at Kalappal village presided over by Kalappal Kuppusamy. (At the instigation of the landlords Kalappal Kuppusamy was poisoned to death in Trichy central prison in 1948) While thanking the organisers Comrade Srinivasa Rao said “You all were in mother’s womb for ten months and your mothers gave birth. Your landlord and their agents were also like that. You are also a human being like your landlords. Like them you also have two legs and two hands. What is the difference between you and them? If you are hit, hit them back. It is not only illegal to whip the pannayals and forcefully pour cow dung liquid into their mouth, it is inhuman too. If they try to impose punishment like this, you should chase them and attack them. If the goons come to attack, you tie them to a tree. If any one of you is attacked, the entire village should rise against the attack and defend you. Your unity and the strengthening of Kisan Sabha are more important. Hoist the Red flags in all the villages” This was how Comrade BSR spoke to the people. He ate with the dalits, stayed with them and spoke their language. In 1943 the first unit of the Kisan Sabha was formed in Thenparai village. Struggle against untouchability, struggle for wage increase and protection of tenants, and struggle for land began all over the district. Units of the Party and Kisan Sabha were formed in all the taluks of East Thanjavur. Besides this, Comrade BSR concentrated on developing cadre system in the Party.

The peasant movement had to face police repression. During 1948-51, the Communist Party and the peasant organisations were banned in these districts. Comrade BSR along with other leaders had to function underground in this period. Many a settlement was reached between the landlords and the Kisan Sabha abolishing the worst form of untouchability and for wage increase and other demands later.

He was able to build a strong leadership of Communist party in the districts consisting of people from both dalits and caste Hindus. In the 1952 assembly elections, the Communist Party won six assembly seats out of 19 seats in Thanjavur district. It is pertinent to note here that the undivided CPI won 14 seats in the entire state out of which six were from Thanjavur district.

On August 20, 1952, the Kisan Sabha held a conference against the eviction of tenants form the lands at Thiruthuraipoondi. About 60,000 tenants and pannayals attended the conference. Newly-elected Congress state government brought out an ordinance abolishing pannayals system and also protecting tenants from eviction. After the promulgation of Pannayals Protection Act (1952) the relationship between the landlords and the pannayals changed as landlords and agricultural labourers. As the situation changed, peasant movement raised new demands. Comrade BSR was not only an organiser of the movement in East Thanjavur but also the state general secretary of Tamilnadu Kisan Sabha. On his initiative, state-level picketing was organised by Kisan Sabha in 1961 demanding amendments to the land reforms legislation bill introduced by the state Congress government. He toured all over the state organising the picketing. Around 20,000 Kisan Sabha volunteers courted arrest. He was very frail and as he restlessly campaigned, he became ill and died on September 29, 1961.

Comrade BSR lived for 54 years and worked for 19 long years in East Thanjavur. His dedicated work contributed to the development of communist movement and peasant movement in not only East Thanjavur but all over the state. Though the dalits of East Thanjavur are still poor and economically backward, they are comparatively free from worst forms of caste oppression and untouchability. They earn agricultural wages above the level of minimum wages notified by the state government form time to time.

The relentless struggle of the dalits and downtrodden agricultural workers – who were subjected to innumerable insults and inhuman exploitation –against all odds even today, is only because of the kisan movement and the foundation of leadership provided by Comrade B Srinivasa Rao and others. Comrade B Srinivasa Rao is a legend even today in every hutment of East Thanjavur. He lives in the memory of his comrades-in-arms even today and would continue to glow in the memories of generations to come as a comrade who broke the back of the feudal oppression and class exploitation. The unveiling of his statue is a fitting tribute to his memory and to remind the younger generation to keep the vigil till the bourgeoisie-landlord social order is razed to the ground.

Comrade BSR, Red salute to your memory!