People's Democracy

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


No. 43

October 25, 2009

Red Flag Unfurled Again

In Umbargaon Tehsil Of Gujarat


Mariam Dhawale


MORE than 1000 adivasi men and women from many villages of the Umbargaon tehsil in Gujarat recently gathered at Comrade BTR Bhavan, the CPI(M) Talasari office in the Thane district of Maharashtra and resolved to once again unfurl the Red Flag in this area.





Umbargaon tehsil was one of the historic centres of the famed Warli Adivasi Revolt led by Comrades Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar over six decades ago in 1945. This revolt later spread to Dahanu, Palghar and other adjoining tehsils of what was then known as Bombay state, which comprised large parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. At that time, today�s Talasari tehsil, which is the strongest base of the Party in Thane district, was a part and parcel of the Umbargaon tehsil.


On January 12, 1945, fifteen adivasi delegates from Umbargaon tehsil had gone for the founding conference of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha at Titwala in Thane district. One of the clarion calls given by that conference was to launch a struggle to overthrow the inhuman system of bonded labour then prevailing in that area. One of the oppressed adivasi delegates, Mahya Dhangda, himself a bonded labourer, spoke out boldly in this conference about their exploitation and wholeheartedly supported this resolution. While returning, these tribal delegates took the Red Flags with hammer and sickle that decorated the conference pandal and brought them to this area for the first time. 


On May 23, 1945, a 5000-strong convention of adivasis was organised by the Kisan Sabha at a village called Zari in the then Umbargaon tehsil (now in Talasari tehsil). It was here that Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar gave the call to launch a massive struggle to bury the system of bonded labour once and for all. Thus began the Warli Adivasi revolt which spread like wild fire in the tribal areas. It terrified the landlords and the British government that supported them to the hilt.


On October 10, 1945, the ruling classes hit back in a move to crush the adivasi revolt. In a conspiracy hatched by the landlords, false news was spread in all tribal areas that Godavari Parulekar had been ambushed and was under attack by the landlords at Talwada - a village which is even now in Umbargaon tehsil - and that they should immediately come to save her with all the arms at their disposal. From miles away, over 30,000 adivasis, faithful to the Red Flag, came walking to the spot within hours with spears, bows and arrows, rods and sticks.


The same landlords then informed the British police that a militant armed mob of tribals had gathered in Talwada to attack the landlords. The British police came in full force and fired several times on the huge gathering. Comrade Jethya Gangad and four others were killed. They were the first martyrs of the adivasi revolt. Many were severely injured.


But the most remarkable feature was that the crowd did not disperse for hours together despite the police firing. It was only when a Kisan Sabha worker, coming to know of the tragedy, came to the spot, told them what had happened and asked them to disperse, did the huge crowd disperse, with even more hatred for the landlords and the British police stored away in their hearts.


Ever since then, October 10 is observed as Martyrs� Day every year in Thane district. There have been 59 martyrs so far in the district in the struggle of the Red Flag � killed by the British, the Congress and the Shiv Sena-BJP governments � the last two being in police firing on Republic Day, January 26, 1997. By a remarkable coincidence, it was on October 10 itself in 1996 that the legendary leader of the adivasi revolt, Comrade Godavari Parulekar, was cremated at Talasari in the presence of tens of thousands who had come to bid her a last tearful farewell. Thus, this day is also observed in her memory.


With the formation of Maharashtra and Gujarat as separate states on May 1, 1960, over 40 villages in this area went to Gujarat. Despite this, the influence of the Red Flag continued there for a few years. But later, since the Communist Party in Maharashtra naturally gave priority to increase the movement in newer areas of Thane district, the Party influence in Umbargaon tehsil waned. The exploitation of the tribals there grew in direct proportion to the increase in influence of the Congress, and later the BJP.





A few months ago, the CPI(M) Thane district committee decided to pick up the threads of the past and to re-establish contacts with the tribals in Umbargaon tehsil. CPI(M) Thane district secretary Rajaram Ozare, MLA, and Talasari tehsil secretary Barkya Mangat, zilla parishad member, were entrusted with this responsibility. They visited the area, had regular interactions with the people and learnt the serious nature of the problems that they faced. They called on the people there to revive their own glorious past record of struggles under the Red Flag to confront their present problems. It was in spontaneous response to this call that the 1000-strong convention of tribals from Umbargaon tehsil was organised at Talasari amidst great enthusiasm.


CPI(M) Gujarat state secretary Arun Mehta, Maharashtra state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, Surat district secretary Mansukh Pavasia and Thane district secretary Rajaram Ozare, MLA, warmly congratulated the gathering for coming back to the Red Flag after many decades, briefly recounted the revolutionary traditions of this area, outlined the present problems that they faced as a result of the anti-people policies of the Congress-led regime at the centre and the rabidly communal BJP-led regime in Gujarat and called upon them to organise themselves village by village under various mass organisations led by the Red Flag, as a first step to increase the political influence of the Left movement.


CPI(M) Maharashtra state secretariat members Lahanu Kom, ex-MP, and Mariam Dhawale, state committee member, Barkya Mangat and Talasari Panchayat Samiti vice chairman Ladak Kharpade explained the people�s issues being taken up through struggle by the Party and mass organisations in the adjoining Thane district, and assured the comrades from Umbargaon tehsil that the Party and mass organisation leadership in Thane district would extend all help and full support to increase the movement there.


Leader of the comrades from Umbargaon, Harjibhai Dongarkar narrated the numerous instances of injustice and oppression heaped on tribals there by the landlords, the police and the BJP state government. There is no implementation at all of the Tribal Forest Rights Act or of the NREGA in this area. The public distribution system has collapsed, with almost no grain being available to the poor. The problems of education and health are serious. He said that they had been fighting for justice in their own way, but had not been able to find the proper path. It was then that some aged people from the area told them stories of the glorious adivasi revolt of the Red Flag against landlordism. At the same time, the CPI(M) leadership from Thane district established contact with them, arousing in them a new hope for the future. He pledged that they would once again resurrect the shining legacy of past struggles and would uphold the principles and practices of the Red Flag.


After the convention, a meeting of the main activists of Umbargaon tehsil was held in the presence of Arun Mehta, Dr Ashok Dhawale and other leaders. The aims and objectives of the CPI(M), its basic organisational principles, the structure and importance of mass organisations etc were explained. The future direction of work was also decided.


Since then, in the last two months, mass membership of the AIKS, AIDWA and DYFI has begun in Umbargaon tehsil. Many village committees of these mass organisations have been formed. More then 100 annual subscribers to the CPI(M) Gujarati fortnightly Sarfarosh Chintan have been enrolled. A political study class for leading activists has been planned. The Red Flag will once again proudly fly in Umbargaon tehsil � and will spread further - in the days to come!