People's Democracy

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


No. 41

October 13, 2013





AIDWA Launches Haunted by Fire


IT was an extremely memorable and significant occasion, graced by AIDWA patron Mythily Sivaraman, whose book entitled Haunted by Fire – Essays on Caste, Class, Exploitation and Emancipation was released on September 30, 2013 at the India International Centre in New Delhi.


A former CITU activist and AIDWA national vice-president, Mythily Sivaraman was the embodiment of  the relentless spirit of a comrade whose life has been inseparable from the struggle for workers’ rights and women’s equality. The book brings together a substantial part of her writings over a period of two decades, especially the developments in Tamilnadu during the 1960s, and the 1970s, put together assiduously by her daughter K Kalpana, along with V Geetha, and published by Leftword. AIDWA general secretary, while welcoming the gathering, pointed out the crucial role that Mythily had played in combining activism with theoretical understanding, an approach that helped to link up the issues of caste, class, and gender exploitation effectively.   The writings are multilayered, and Mythily’s contribution has influenced the growth of AIDWA and the Left women’s movement in Tamilnadu to engage with multiple oppressions, she said. She committed AIDWA to the task of bringing out more such publications, to do justice to the scale and diversity of Mythily’s work.  


CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Brinda Karat released the book, and paid rich tribute to Mythily for being a constant source of inspiration for women to be part of the organised Left movement in India. She stressed the critical role played by Mythily in evolving  Marxist ideology through her writings which brilliantly brought out the class and caste underpinnings of contemporary developments, even as they were taking place. This contributed to the shaping of the Communist movement itself, and Brinda emphasised that the writings were the work of a woman ideologue of the Communist movement in the country. It exemplifies the interventions made by the CPI(M)  against caste oppression and discrimination from early years. She added that Mythily’s book assumes significance in both the national and global context, as the work done by women communists is often underestimated and undervalued. Brinda asserted that the clarity with which Mythily analyses and relates work to politics to the larger structures is not something found in many trade union writings. She also recalled some of the very crucial points raised by Mythily in the discussions that were taking place during the formation of the AIDWA and how she theoretically argued a case for women. She has been an ideologue whose understanding has shaped the movement and the course it has taken at every step, she said.  Present on the dais were K Karunakaran, Mythily’s husband who shared in the joy of the occasion, AIDWA vice president, Kirti Singh, and Sudhanva Deshpande from Leftword Publications. 


The launch of the book was accompanied by a panel discussion on Mythily’s work and life, and her influence on Left politics and the women’s movement in India. It was moderated by Indu Agnihotri  (director, CWDS), in which presentations were made by  eminent author, Githa Hariharan, historian Uma Chakravarty (who has documented part of Mythily’s life in her film Fragments of a Past, and K Kalpana ( IIT, Chennai). Indu spoke about the importance of documenting Mythily’s life which meant documenting not just her life and thoughts, but the movement itself and through that the life and work of comrades who gave up everything in the service of the people and put their lives into organising the movement. Githa spoke of Mythily, the woman who married idea and practice, and the complexities of a lived political life. She also looked back at the years when she closely worked with Mythily and the influence that exposure had on her understanding of various issues. Uma talked about Mythily’s key interventions, especially in the Kilvenmani killings as well as the Vachathi case of 1992, and said that while individual memory might fade, it was important to document collective experiences to preserve its memory. Mythily’s ability to draw people into the movement, her sharp view of the world and her capacity to lead and forge collective action were the points that stood out in the discussion.


By meticulously documenting and preserving every scrap of paper that contained information on the Left movement in India, Mythily through her life has always been chronicling history in the making, said Kalpana. She spoke about the process and experience of compiling Mythily’s writings, and said it was enriching as it added to her own understanding of Tamilnadu, its politics and its societal makeup.  


Excerpts from a film on Mythily were also screened on the occasion.


Haunted By Fire

The book draws its name from the Kilvenmani massacre of 1968, when 44 dalit landless peasants were burned to death by their landlords in one of the most atrocious crimes in independent India. Mythily’s visit to the village had a long-standing impact on her. She wrote extensively on the incident and subsequently waged a battle against the killers, who could never be convicted of the crime. Her wide intellectual canvas coupled with rigorous work on the ground has produced exhaustive writings that include essays on electoral politics in Tamilnadu, the Dravidian movement and its ideology, dalit atrocities, workers’ struggle for wages, experience as a young researcher in the US and a visit to Cuba, to name a few. Besides bringing out The Radical Review, which she edited from 1969-1974, Mythily has written extensively for various journals and magazines from which many of the analytical pieces have been extracted.