Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) leader Comrade Srilata Swaminathan passed away in Udaipur (Rajasthan) in the early morning of February 5. She was 74.
Comrade Srilata suffered a stroke on January 28 and was rushed to a hospital in Udaipur where she breathed her last following a cardiac arrest.
Srilata was born in Chennai on April 29, 1944. After finishing college she went to Delhi and joined the National School of Drama, then went to London to pursue her interests in theatre. But back in Delhi in 1972, her life took a decisive turn. She joined the CPI-ML and began organising farm workers in the Mehrauli region of Delhi. She also worked among hotel workers in Delhi.
During the state of emergency, she was jailed in Tihar jail for 10 months, after which she was interned in Chennai. For Comrade Srilata, this only meant an opportunity to plunge back into trade union work among port and dock workers.
After the emergency was lifted in 1977, Srilata returned to Delhi and shifted base to Rajasthan in 1978 to start working among Adivasis, women and various sections of working people, from rural bonded labourers and displaced people to trade unions in the mining sector and various industries.
For a woman with an elite background and upbringing to adopt rural Rajasthan as her area of Marxist activism was a bold decision that typically reflected Srilata’s revolutionary zeal and political courage.
Until her last breath, she worked to strengthen the revolutionary left movement and spread and defend progressive ideas and values against the deeply entrenched feudal-patriarchal forces and communal-mafia nexus in Rajasthan.
After the early 1970s setback to the CPI-ML, Srilata worked for some time with Comrade Kanu Sanyal, but the rise of the Indian Peoples’ Front in Bihar attracted her attention and, following the highly inspiring Delhi rally of the IPF in October 1990, Comrade Srilata rejoined the CPI-ML along with Comrade Mahendra Chaudhary, her husband and comrade-in-arms, and hundreds of other comrades.
She was elected President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association in the mid 1990s. At the Varanasi Congress of the CPI-ML in October 1997, she was elected a member of the Central Committee, a responsibility she continued to discharge till she had to be relieved on health grounds at the Ranchi Congress in April 2013.
She was also a vice-president of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions.
Srilata was a remarkably versatile activist with great creative energy, infinite enthusiasm and strong political will. She withstood every adversity in life with characteristic resilience and a powerful sense of humour. When her deteriorating health stopped her from attending the AIPWA National Conference in Patna in November, she composed and sang a song for the delegates and sent the audio clip to the conference.
With her wide-ranging concerns and activism, Comrade Srilata was a natural bridge between the CPI-ML and various streams of progressive democratic ideas and action. She had high respect for all struggles of the people for a progressive cause and had great hopes for the CPI-ML-led struggles in Bihar and Jharkhand. She had deep empathy for the people and felt deeply for all her fellow comrades working on various fronts.
Comrade Srilata’s illustrious legacy will continue to inspire us to carry forward the struggles of the oppressed people for dignity, democracy and social emancipation. A red salute to Comrade Srilata Swaminathan!
[Reprinted from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]