People's Democracy

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


No. 22

June 03, 2012


Farewell, Comrade Kitty Menon


Sitaram Yechury


COMRADE Kitty Menon is no more.  A remarkable life of commitment, dedication and fortitude has ended in its 90th year. 


It was sometime in early 1970s, before Indira Gandhi imposed emergency, that I met Kitty for the first time at a small meeting along with Professor Thavaraj in order to discuss how to strengthen the Indian School of Social Sciences and its publication Social Scientist. Some of us, students and research scholars, were asked to participate in this effort.  Kitty was then on the faculty of Delhi School of Economics along with such giants as Sukhomoy Chakraborty, K N Raj, Amartya Sen et al.  Soon, some of us were attending the study classes conducted by Kitty which systematically discussed Marx’s Capital chapter-wise. Little is known about this important role she played in building the SFI in Delhi as well as the teachers movement in Delhi University.  She was the secretary of the Party students and teachers’ branch in late 1960s. She was also an elected member of the Delhi University Academic Council for many years.


Born in Bombay in 1922, Kitty’s family migrated to England when she was six years old. She studied at the King’s College at Cambridge and later at the London School of Economics (LSE).  During this period, she was an active participant in the anti-fascist youth movement and moved to embrace the ideology and philosophy of Marxism.  She recollected, in an interview, that I took of her for the Students’ Struggle in early 1985 during the preparations of the World Youth Festival (Moscow, July 1985), “I remember that in England there was a very sharp divide between students.  This was ideologically the divide between the Right and Left. So intense was the atmosphere that in Cambridge for example, there were often physical fights between the Rightist Cambridge students and the more radical LSE students, temporarily housed in Cambridge.”


After the Second World War, the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) was formed at a Youth Conference in London in 1945.  The undivided AISF was unable to send a delegate to this conference because of the situation in India.  Kitty was then a prominent member of the Federation of Indian Students in England (FEDIND).  She was asked to represent India and sign the Charter of the WFDY.  As a member of the first Executive of the WFDY, she traveled all across war torn Europe participating in post-war reconstruction activities. 


Kitty returned to India in 1947, met Comrade Ramdass Menon at the CPI headquarters (PHQ), married and moved to Chennai.  As Ramdass was a Party wholetimer and as one had to earn while the other devoted all time for Party activities, she joined the Ethiraj College to teach for some time before moving to Delhi. 


When she came to India around the time of independence, apparently this was a visit with the intention of returning to England.  She, however, chose to be associated with the Indian people’s struggles and the CPI. She often mentioned that her mother and two brothers were very upset  that she did not return.  From that moment, she never looked back and remained an active Communist serving the cause of the Indian Revolution. 


With the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964, the PHQ shifted to Calcutta and Ramdass was assigned the responsibility of bringing out the Party weekly, People’s Democracy.  Kitty stayed back at Delhi bringing up her two sons while teaching at the Delhi School of Economics.  All the while, however, she continuously engaged in regular study classes. She urged us in JNU to start evening classes for the children of the construction workers, which we did. 


Recollecting her experiences on the anti-fascist and anti-imperialist struggles while she was in England where she was an active participant in the struggle against the “systematic effort  being made to erase the memories of the stupendous anti-fascist struggle to kill the movement and ideology of anti-fascism, to encourage feelings of revanchism  and turn back the wheels of history,” she would say, “The question really is not that there is  too much politics in youth as some in our country and elsewhere like to preach, rather there is too little.  The question is that of political partisanship.  The question is of being conscious of the urgent issues at stake and uniting to resolve them.” 


While playing a part in shaping the political consciousness of my generation and others, she would say, “We must draw upon our own anti-imperialist struggle and traditions.  We have a very rich heritage.  The youth must be told about it.  They must start thinking on their own of it, learn their history, draw on their heritage and move forward. Once that is done, the youth of our country have a great role to play.  They will then not need to be told what to do, which way to turn.”


After the defeat of Emergency, the CPI(M) headquarters and People’s Democracy moved to Delhi.  Comrades Ramdass, Kitty and family were back together.  After Ramdass’s untimely death in 1985, Kitty joined the editorial team of People’s Democracy where she remained till the end.  As student activists, we were often asked to contribute to PD. Personally, I learnt a lot of grammar and syntax from the meticulous editing that Kitty would do.  I had the experience of writing when asked by her and as circumstances evolved, I was given the responsibility of Editorship of PD, while she continued to serve on the editorial team.  Kitty’s desire was always to make the PD as one of the best Communist weeklies in the world.  She tirelessly contributed towards this effort.  


Her sweeping internationalist vision combined with the urge to change the Indian society  had a magnetic  attraction.  All through the upheavals in the socialist world, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, the fierce international ideological onslaught after the Tiananmen Square incidents in China etc, Kitty’s commitment to the emancipatory vision and ideology of Marxism remained steadfast. 


In her death, we have lost a dedicated Communist, a warm human being and a sympathetic teacher. We, in People’s Democracy, shall miss our forever vigilant and deeply committed comrade. Farewell, comrade-in-arms.