(With a long prologue, longer epilogue and a short main section)

Exactly 40 years ago, on the evening of 3rdSeptember 1974, I entered the jail in Daltonganj, headquarters of Palamu district (then of Bihar, now of Jharkhand state) and was to spend nine days there.

They were fairly eventless, except for a couple of chats with a smiling, soft-spoken and clearly very well-read person, jailed for being a “Naxalite” (extreme leftist) who organised poor, oppressed-caste rural folk to resist landlords’ terror, peacefully for the most part but otherwise if need be.[1]

But how and why did I get to be lodged in that prison?


During my undergrad years studying in St Joseph’s College, Bangalore, I used to occasionally attend talks and seminars at various venues around town, especially over the weekends. Those days the local branch of the Gandhi Peace Foundation was somewhat active and as it was easily reached by bicycle, I used to gravitate there often. Moreover, I had read books in praise of Gandhi. The Gandhian and socialist Jayaprakash Narayan was much in the news in the early 1970s as he was raising a voice against the then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s autocratic ways. Incidentally, I learned of an atheist Gandhian named Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao) and it felt good to know that there were precedents to an atheist such as me admiring the deeply religious Gandhi.

At one of the weekend meetings around town, I met two interesting people. One was a person living in the Gandhi Bhavan compound but who seemed quite pro-left, especially pro-Soviet Union. He continues to live there. During a couple of my recent chats with him, I was shocked to note that he had now turned pro-Modi.

The more interesting person was V.T. Rajshekhar Shetty, who went on to found Dalit Voice. Mr Shetty, whose son Salil currently heads the global human rights organisation Amnesty International, had already written a paper entitled “Why Marx failed in Hindu India”. I began to call on Mr Shetty from time to time and he taught me a great deal about caste and casteism. From what I understood of his thesis then, he argued that the left parties were under Brahminical control, had neglected to address the issue of caste and that any change to the current exploitative structures in India was impossible without tackling caste oppression. Mr Shetty was from the Bunts sub-caste, which he proclaimed to be Dalit, much to the chagrin of his community (which includes the actress Aishwarya Rai).

Mr Shetty was then a reporter with the Indian Express and he was but one individual. The Gandhians had brick and mortar institutions and their pull was greater. The desire to “change the world” was strong within me and the Gandhians seemed to offer opportunities. One of their publications carried an announcement from the Banwasi Seva Ashram in what was then Mirzapur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh calling for volunteers. I wrote to its then head, Prembhai (who used just one name) and he replied inviting me and offering a stipend of Rs 100 a month to cover expenses.

My father had just been posted to Bhubaneshwar, capital of Orissa, and I went with him until there, with the plan of going on to Mirzapur via Howrah (Calcutta). Once in Bhubaneshwar, my father said he wouldn’t give me the money for the ticket and asked that I join the M.A. Economics course in the local university. Nice try. I’d already hoarded the cash needed. And so I left on a train, the very first time I was going to northern India. And was immediately gripped by a feeling of ennui and homesickness. There had been a number of times I had left home to go to camps with school and college mates and visit relatives but this was my first foray so far from home and in a distant land. It was also the longest train journey I was making yet. And I was 19 then.

Banwasi Seva Ashram was a reasonably cheerful place (now with a web presence, obviously).[2] It received funds from a number of foreign NGOs and used them to build small earthen dams for the benefit of people in the mostly forest area.  There was a well-run residential school for children from the area and the kitchen that served them, next to a biogas plant, was also used by those who did not cook their own meals. The monthly bill came to just about Rs. 50 or so – the usual fare was rotis and boiled vegetables with a hint of salt and spices. No tea, nothing. And so I was left with a like amount but with absolutely nothing to spend on for miles around.

Moreover, I was gripped by bouts of Gandhi-style self-abnegation. There were times when I wanted to give up things like tea and coffee. Now, twice-daily doses of coffee had been part of my life ever since early childhood. My attempts at giving up these beverages as a 19-year-old merely led to my thinking of little else for parts of the day.

The Ashram – as it was usually referred to – had placed some workers in distant villages, the better to cater to the needs of neighbouring areas. After a few days of orientation I was asked to accompany one of the workers to the village where he lived. This man was the starkest in simplicity I’ve met yet. Absolutely no question of tea, breakfast or snacks. Just two meals a day consisting of crudely made thick rotis and boiled vegetables. I was to assist him in collecting socio-economic data in nearby villages. Fortunately for me, he decided after just a few days to hand me over to the care of another worker elsewhere. The latter engaged a local lad to cook rotis and vegetables with not just salt but some pepper. The difference, though small in retrospect, seemed immense then.

Once during lunch break, while the worker I was assigned to was resting, I noticed a farmer close by ploughing. He seemed tired. I asked whether I could take over for a while. He let me do so. There is a set pattern to the ploughing. So the buffalo I was supposedly overseeing kept at it. But after a while he must have realised that behind him was no farmer but some clueless idiot. And he stopped.

The Gandhian worker I was with used a small corner of his cottage to shower. But obviously the water had to be carried there by the lad he had engaged. I was asked to use public conveniences. And so I had to adjourn to a nearby well to shower. I used to strip down to my underwear, pull up the water and pour it on myself. Often I was asked whether I wanted some oil to rub over myself by the villagers who were also showering. (It was much later in life that I learned of their good sense in asking me. The skin needs a bit of oiling to avoid getting dry. I’m reminded that in the film Reds, the Grigori Zinoviev character is shown in one scene to be eating lemon slices and explaining to the celebrated journalist John Reed that this prevents scurvy. And sure enough…)[3] After a few days of this, a discreet and indirect message was communicated to me: “wear a towel around your waist while showering. This undie thing is not done, even if there are no women about”.

I found that many of the workers had little conviction in the job they were doing or in their membership of the institution. Some of them wanted to be paid more. Many seemed to lack enthusiasm for the task. A lot of them fully subscribed to the caste system even though the head, Prembhai, by suppressing his surname, was making a point about the need for a casteless society.

One point of disagreement I had with the Gandhians was on alcohol. Tribal villagers and others in many states of India brew a drink from the mahua flower and consume it in moderate quantities as part of their culture and animist religion.[4] Prohibitionist zeal directed against them was, I thought, misplaced and poorly thought through. The Gandhians might have been, and still be, sincere in their opposition to alcohol but some state governments have cynically banned arrack and toddy only to replace those with products from super-affluent urban liquor manufacturers.

After the first few weeks at the Ashram and its workers in far-off villages, I began to realise that I, an economics honours graduate, was making little contribution. Had I been a doctor, engineer or otherwise talented in crafts or arts, I might have been of use to the rural communities.

Around that time, Prembhai had gone visiting in Bihar, where Jayaprakash Narayan (known as JP) had launched a movement opposing Indira Gandhi’s authoritarianism and corruption.[5] This was a time when among India’s Gandhians there was a deep split between the JP line which opposed Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian ways and the massive corruption that was flourishing under her, and the Vinoba camp which was supportive of the government. (This earned Vinoba the sobriquet, “sarkaari sant” or pro-government monk). Prembhai was in the JP camp. On his return from Bihar he asked me whether I wanted to go over to take part in the JP movement and I jumped at it.

By this time, JP had already led a couple of major rallies in Patna, at one of which he had suffered beatings by the police. This was also the summer when India’s first nuclear test had taken place and most Gandhians were opposed to it. There was considerable sympathy for JP’s message of waging a war on corruption and official high-handedness. He proclaimed that the movement was not limited to corruption but “total revolution”. It might sound hollow now, but in those days quite a few people, especially in his native Bihar, thought he knew what he was talking about. And so did I, an urbanite from south India.

A short train journey took me to the western town Garhwa Road in Palamu district where I hooked up with one Arvind Sinha who had arrived from Patna. JP had given a call for Bihar Bandh (general strike). Arvind and I went to a nearby village on the night of 2nd September 1974 and the following morning stopped a train. After an hour or so the police and a sub-divisional officer arrived there and asked us to go away quietly or they’d have to arrest us. We opted for arrest.

We spent the good part of the day at the police station in Garhwa Road. I gave honest answers to all the questions regarding my address, father’s name and occupation etc. All that we got the whole day was a cup of tea and perhaps a couple of biscuits.

Late in the afternoon Arvind and I were handcuffed together and, along with a police constable, put on a train to Daltonganj. While on the train, both he and I had to use the toilet once, but thankfully only for what in our school days was known as number 1. I shudder to think what might have ensued if either of us had had the number 2 urge and whether the constable even had a key to the handcuffs.

And thus it was that I found myself in Daltonganj jail.



There were perhaps another 150 or so people arrested the same day in various parts of Palamu district. We were put in two large halls and had to sleep on the ground. Each of us was given a thin white cloth to serve as a “lungi” and a small and thin white towel. There was just about enough room for us all to sleep, in that there was at least a foot or more of space between us. I was lucky to get a place near a window and away from the toilet which, like most Indian facilities, was ill-maintained. I was young and slept soundly and so could contain myself until the hall was unlocked in the morning and use the slightly less intolerable facilities outside.

Food, prepared by convicted prisoners, consisted of a measured amount of rice and dal, breakfast consisting of a paratha. Apparently each prisoner was allotted a certain amount of rice, flour, oil and dal a day but obviously there were many slips between the ledger and our lips. At mealtimes, each of us was handed an aluminium plate for the food. These plates, which were new when we checked in, started suffering massive damage from one day to the next. It was as if someone was deliberately beating them with a stone. For what purpose remained a mystery.

For most of the day, we were allowed to roam around the prison compound, which, if memory serves me right, was the size of five or six football fields. A couple of times I saw the prison chief making his rounds. It was a bizarre spectacle: an orderly walked behind him carrying a huge umbrella made of coloured cloth, the kind usually used in temple processions. It was said that he would personally taste the food from the communal kitchen. If that was so, it did not show in the quality of the fare.

An ex-member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly of the then Bharatiya Lok Dal (led by Charan Singh) had also been arrested but his conditions were palatial compared to ours. He had a room plus kitchen and bathroom all to himself in a separate building and a prisoner to cook his meals and clean his clothes. I and a couple of others called on the diminutive man once and he treated us to a cup of tea, perhaps the only cup that I had during those nine days.

By far the most interesting person in the jail was the genial “Naxalite” I mentioned in the second paragraph. He was in solitary confinement but his quiet dignity might perhaps have won over the jail authorities and led to his being let out in the sun for long periods. I failed to ask him what his crime was and of the treatment he had received at the hands of the police. But I guess that was partly because he effortlessly made his interlocutors the subject of his conversation. I’d told him more of my background than he had told me of his. On learning that I had been hobnobbing with Gandhians, he asked me if I’d read a certain book on Gandhi. (I’m afraid I do not remember the title nor the author he named.) That was his way. No preaching, nor talk of Marx or Naxalbari.

By about the sixth or seventh day in jail, it became clear that most or all of us who had been arrested on 3rd September would be released on bail. Some lawyers sympathetic to the JP movement were working on it. One of the prisoners who acted as a cook sidled up to me once and said he wanted my white lungi and towel when I left. It sounded more like a menacing order than request. Which I ignored.


Given the large numbers of people who had courted arrest, the Bihar government had the good sense to drop charges a few days later. In other words I’m unblemished in legal terms.

A sign of the misplaced and perverse efficiency of the Indian bureaucracy was that a few days or a week or two after my brief incarceration, it transpired that my father, then a central government technical officer in Bhubaneshwar, received a visit from the local police who asked him how and why his son was taking part in an anti-government protest in Bihar. My father replied entirely truthfully that he had no control over his son.

(In the good year 2014, I’m able to say that my father, 87, and mother, 85, have as little control over me as I have over them. My corpulent father ignores my advice regarding the fat and salt content in his consumption and the need for exercise and my rake-thin mother ignores the opposite. And I turn a deaf ear to most of what they tell me. Modus vivendi.)

Many weeks later, I found myself in Garhwa town where a certain young man named Vijayji, who was a local forest contractor’s son, had taken part in a pro-JP movement meeting and invited me to a “havan” (or “homa” – ritual offerings to a consecrated fire). Not to be impolitic, I turned up there, only to find the sub-divisional official who had overseen my arrest a few weeks previously near Garhwa Road looking daggers at me. He took the head of the household aside for a quiet word. I was then severely ignored. No food, nada. I left. And found that subsequent efforts to contact “Vijayji” were thwarted.

Incidentally, while getting to Garhwa town, I had to pass through Garhwa Road station. The previous time I had taken the train from the (unstaffed) station close to Banwasi Seva Ashram, a Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) on board had issued me a ticket. This time, no TTE turned up. I had every intention of paying for the journey and was left anxious. After I got off at Garhwa Road, set on paying the fare at the counter and exiting legally, I was accosted by a railway official who demanded a bribe. My explanation that I was heading to the ticket counter to buy the ticket (albeit post facto) fell on deaf ears. I was a South Indian in a rather strange land, quite young and tired. I confess I gave him the bribe demanded – Rs 10 perhaps, not a small amount those days.

By a strange coincidence, the next evening while I was calling on a local homeopathic healer who was said to be sympathetic to the JP movement, the railway chap who had shaken me down dropped in. After overcoming my shock, I reminded him of the previous evening. He denied his bribe-taking completely. My host weighed in on his side.

I was to have other bits of education regarding train journeys in Bihar in the following weeks and months: “chain-pulling” to stop a train close to one’s village was fairly common. Once while travelling from Gaya to Patna, I got on to a train as it was steaming out and noticing that the crowded bogeys (carriages/compartments) had no TTEs I could spot, went over to the last compartment to buy a ticket. The man mumbled something to the effect that it was the first time since Independence (1947) … I hope he was exaggerating.

I was in Bihar – off and on – until late May or early June 1975, with one or two visits back in Banwasi Seva Ashram. There were a certain number of “shibir”s or camps where some of us gathered for training or conferences. One of them was at Benares (Varanasi) where I met Narayan Desai, son of Mahdev Desai, Gandhi’s secretary. Narayanbhai, as he was called by everyone, used to spin the charkha constantly, even while delivering a lecture. Another was in Ujjain where JP addressed the meeting. JP spoke at length about the situation in the country and the need for “total revolution”. The next day’s local papers highlighted some minor reference he had made to misunderstandings among his supporters.

While in Ujjain, I saw S.N. Subba Rao, who had acquired renown for having rehabilitated hundreds of “dacoits” in Madhya Pradesh, interpret JP’s speech for a couple of visiting foreigners. It was simultaneous interpretation of superb quality.  Another abiding memory from Ujjain was the high quality of the tea in local shops. It was thick, with generous amounts of ginger and cardamom.

Once in Muzaffarpur (from where the erstwhile socialist firebrand George Fernandes was to contest Lok Sabha elections in 1977 and win with a massive margin), I met senior Gandhian Siddharaj Dhadda who, despite his advanced age, picked up a broom and started sweeping the front-yard of a place we were staying at – perhaps the little-used office of a local activist group. I relieved him of the broom and it was a lesson in the importance of cleanliness. While in Muzaffarpur, at one of the functions organised by local youth, I heard that the name of one of them was Chakravarthy. I went up to him and asked if he were a South Indian. I was to learn later that the name is found not only in southern India but is a common surname in Bengal. I guess I had come to see myself as a South Indian and it had been months since I’d met and spoken to one. Years earlier, when I was studying in Madras (Chennai) where my father was posted, the class teacher, a Tamilian, made me feel that non-Tamilians were somehow inferior. And in 1977 when I moved to New Delhi to work, I learned that I was a “Madraasee”.

In Gaya I met S. Jagannathan and his wife Krishnammal, who were both so concerned with the issue of land ownership that they had even named their son Bhoomi Kumar. Gaya and neighbouring districts presented a pathetic scene. In some villages, there were so-called ashrams headed by a “mahant” that owned vast swathes of land and the rest of the population there had little or nothing. These districts were fertile grounds for extreme left movements.

Casteism was rife. Caste seemed to be the first and abiding identity. Often while walking from village to village, someone would ask me “kahan makaan ba” (where do you live)? I was to learn that it was a loaded question. If I’d mentioned the name of a nearby village, the person could size me up and place me in the caste hierarchy (many are dominant-caste villages. I presume that in the case of multi-caste villages, further interrogation as to which part might have followed). Since I came from far away, it led to more questions: “thaithil (title)” (meaning surname)? Obviously most surnames in India are identified with a specific caste and even sub-caste.  (Singh and Rao among others are used by members of more than one caste.) There again, I told my interlocutors in Bihar truthfully that I had no surname. I guess my father figured surnames had gone out of fashion in post-independence India and gave just the village name, abbreviated to one initial, N. and my given name, Jayaram when I started going to school.

A few who did not want to give up would ask me outright “what is your caste?” It was an article of faith with many of us in the JP movement that we wanted to build a casteless society.  I was stubborn. Once in a village in Gaya district, a Brahmin villager I was visiting offered me lunch but said he had to know what caste I was from because that was vital to where I would be seated. I refused to divulge. So he made me sit outside his house and brought me a plate of rice and dal there. He was rather courteous otherwise and accompanied me till the edge of the village to see me off. I was debating whether to deliver a parting shot by telling him but thought better of it.

I once met a Brahmin named Pathak who said “we Pathaks are the highest sub-caste among Brahmins” immediately adding, “I don’t say so, others say so.” And I met a man surnamed Haq, who said “we Haqs are the highest sub-caste among Muslims”. And he too went, “I don’t say so, others…” In Daltonganj, a so-called Gandhian named Jha (Brahmin surname) who owned tracts of land and houses in several villages in the district, asked me how to make out the caste from South Indian names.

Incidentally, just as the English word “title” is used in that part of India to mean surname (euphemism for caste identity), I learned that there were a few other words with different connotations in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. “Gaarjun” (guardian) meant parent, “diet” meant a meal (“you have consumed x diets this month and you owe…”) and “professor” was anyone in the teaching profession.

Many Indians have a peculiar notion of “purity” and “pollution”. Once in Garhwa town I had a glass of tea and kept the used utensil at one end of the counter. The teashop owner abused me roundly for polluting it. My sin was that I had kept the used glass on the same level as the one where he was keeping glasses full of tea, not yet drunk from. My mother too believes in such purity/pollution ideas: she objects to used plates being kept on the kitchen counter. But we Indians have abjectly neglected toilets.

One issue I have thus far not dealt with: What was I doing over all those months in Bihar and what did I accomplish? Precious little, to be honest. As the foregoing shows, plenty of time went in travelling from place to place. And much time was wasted in trying to gather people to talk to. I would talk about “total revolution” and the need to frustrate the corrupt government through non-cooperation. Mostly I was listened to politely but I guess people had their harsh lives to lead, and no time to bother with “revolution” or a distant entity called government which had no beneficial influence on their lives. One Muslim villager lectured me and another pro-JP volunteer who happened to be Muslim about the virtues of the Indira Gandhi government and the bankruptcy of the opposition.

I spent quite some time in Kalpana Kuteer in Patna, a sort of de facto headquarters of the JP movement, and helped by going to the printers to collect copies of the Hindi publication we hawked, Sampoorna Kraanthi (Total Revolution), and other bits and pieces of work. Once one of the local lads told me that outsiders such as me were “eating” Bihar’s resources and at best doing the work locals could do or contributing nothing. In other words he was accusing me of being a parasite. It stung, of course and I then thought it unfair. But somewhere the message went home. Perhaps weeks or months after that exchange, I decided to return to Bangalore and pursue “total revolution” there.

Looking back, what do I think of the JP movement?  First the person of JP himself: there have been some writings to the effect that he was a rival of Nehru and that he felt ignored by Indira Gandhi and therefore the movement. I find that difficult to swallow. The man consistently spurned office. What might stick is to say that he was upper caste, although not a patrician by birth, he became one thanks to his education and the opportunities he had. But he certainly came across as honest and principled and adducing negative motivations to his movement is plainly crass.

However, the movement he led, and the idea of “total revolution”, were nebulous and ideologically rootless. The movement had on board the non-communist left and the right-wing Jan Sangh-RSS in addition to many Gandhians and idealistic youth. The socialists (Lohiaites and others) were critical of the inclusion of Jan Sangh-RSS in the movement. JP is reported to have said, “If RSS is fascist then JP is fascist”. I believe he was plain wrong. Perhaps he mistakenly thought that by bringing the RSS into the mainstream, he could humanise them. Recent years and months in India have proved that it is the RSS that has eaten into the mainstream to the extent that one of its members is ruling the country today. JP grossly underestimated the fanatic fervour of the RSS and its lethal capabilities as shown not only in 2002 in Gujarat and 1992 in Ayodhya but also in New Delhi in 1984 when many of its members quietly cooperated with Congress party goons in their anti-Sikh pogrom following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Before returning to Bangalore I went to Bhubaneshwar to spend a few weeks with my parents, ageing grandfather and my brother. A cat and her kittens had adopted our family and I had a delightful time playing with them. My love of cats and – over recent years – many other species of fauna dates back to those few weeks.

On 25th June 1975, the radio delivered the news that Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency. A fortnight earlier, Justice J.M.L. Sinha of the Allahabad high court had set aside her election, declaring her guilty of corrupt practices.[6] This only further fuelled the long festering revolt against her rule. That night, as I listened to the news, I was left shaken and lost my appetite, a feeling that was to recur after news of the destruction of the Babri  Masjid in Ayodhya came in on 6th December 1992 and on 16th May this year after the election results were announced. (I was not in India during the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and the anti-Muslim one of 2002 in Gujarat and, at any rate, the full scale of the carnage came to light in the days following. In 1992 I was in Beijing and a brief altercation on the Babri issue led to my spurning an influential Indian there.)

Upon returning to Bangalore post Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, I was left friendless and rootless. I thought perhaps I could use that time to educate myself. I can’t recall exactly why it was that I enrolled in the M.A. Economics programme in Mysore rather than in Bangalore but I guess it had something to do with the last date for applications.

I lasted just a couple of months there. The casteism in that university, including the economics department, was unbearable. When I submitted my application form, I’d left the religion column blank. The clerk who examined it objected and filled it without so much as a by your leave. The late U.R. Ananthamurthy was a teacher in the neighbouring English department. I wished I could have been his student (as I said in my previous blog).[7] One of my economics teachers (I was told she was the wife of an army officer) made us, MA economics students, write an essay on Indira Gandhi’s “20 point programme”. I wrote a stinker (and a classmate later informed me to my delight that the first thing she did in the next class was to call my name out.) That was the last straw. I quit and went back to Bangalore.

During the remainder of 1975 and early 1976, I wasn’t up to much other than some minor anti-Emergency underground pamphleteering. I believe many of these pamphlets were of RSS origin. The secular but Sanskritised language suggested as much. Nevertheless, in so far as they were opposing the current autocracy, I was in agreement. Incidentally, I learned a couple of years later that some of the pamphlets I’d left in the toilet of my Alma Mater, St Joseph’s College, had gotten a pro-RSS lecturer in trouble. (Most of the South Indian Hindu teachers in that college were fanatical and pro-RSS. Their gripe was that Christians were being favoured in that institution. Never mind that their kind controlled/and control many more multiples of educational institutions which had and have few, if any, non-upper-caste Hindu teachers.)

In 1976, I signed up for a journalism course during which, memorably, I met a member of my own sub-caste but who was pro-CPI (then pro-Soviet Communist Party of India, but which was also, incidentally, pro-Indira Gandhi regime). The man has since moved Hindutva-wards, or so it seems to me.

Do I regret my outing in Bihar/UP in 1974-75? Absolutely not. I do genuinely regret availing of the generous hospitality that I received from individuals and institutions. Then again, in my defence, I’d say that feeding a visitor (though not stranger – given our caste constraints) was something I’d grown up with. I feel grateful for the many generous souls I met in Bihar. Incidentally, the very rich culinary traditions of Bihar – the diversity of its meals and snacks and especially satthu and litthi – left me with great respect for that state whose lilting Bhojpuri I fell in love with. I met many brilliant people, albeit briefly and came away with great respect for Bihar and its people.

Moreover, during those months, I met some wonderful people with whom, thanks to the Internet and social networking, I have reconnected in recent years. Nachiketa and Aflatoon, sons of the aforementioned Narayanbhai and grandsons of Mahadev Desai, I was fortunate enough to meet in recent years. I’m also in touch with Arun Kelkar, Ashok Bhargava, Kumar Kalanand, Kumar Shubhamoorty and Sudhakar Jadhav (to mention only those I can remember, and who I’ve connected with now via social media.)

I’d met Nachiketa in New Delhi in either the late 1970s or early 1980s. Both of us had got into journalism. I reconnected with him via email some years ago and via social networking links in more recent years. And I met his brother Aflatoon and his wife several months ago when they visited Bangalore. I’ve mentioned only male names. The JP movement was mostly male dominated but behind it was a small band known as Tarun Shaanthi Sena (Youth Peace Force) consisting of both males and females, which inevitably earned the sobriquet “Tarun Shaadi Sena” as a few members clicked and got hitched.

Unbeknown to me then I had run into Harsh Mander in Banwasi Seva Ashram briefly but was to have a longer association with him in Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi in the late 1970s. In Bihar I also met Krishna Kumar, who went on to become one of the best directors the National Council for Educational Research and Training has had and a doughty voice against communalism. During my travels I also met the Professor Thakurdas Bang and his sons Ashok and Dr Abhay Bang, who are both doing yeoman work in rural Maharashtra.

Now that I’ve been back in Bangalore since early 2012, I’ve reconnected with many people who work on caste issues. Plus social media has helped me connect with Kuffir Nalgundwar, who edits Round Table India.[8] And many working on communalism.

My education continues in the larger – intellectual though not in all our cases physical – jail that is India under Modi.










About walkerjay

The author, N. Jayaram, a journalist now based in Bangalore after more than 23 years in East Asia (mainly Hong Kong and Beijing) and 11 years in New Delhi, was with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years and Agence France-Presse for 11 years and is currently engaged in editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions.
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  1. Inspiring and engrossing piece of writing from start to finish! Simply loved reading it. You are one of the very few people I have come across who write so lucidly and fearlessly about casteism. This mini memoir lays bare the humanist in you. 🙂

  2. Aniery says:

    A wonderful post on the seventies in India, of student politics, JP’s movement and Gandhian engagement!
    I remember vividly the end of “Emergency” because at home we would be listening intently to the election results on AIR. I had made a bet with my school friend, who was the son of a state Chief Justice, that Indira Gandhi would lose the elections in 1977 and he had to shave off his head!

    I also worked with a disciple of Subba Rao during two years to rehabilitate Tamil bonded labourers who had been freed from stone quarries in Madhya Pradesh.
    This was made possible because Chief Justice Bhagwati introduced public interest litigation (PIL) to the Indian judicial system and appointed social activists as Commissioners of the Supreme Court. The original idea was to give marginalised citizens access to justice. That’s how these bonded labourers from Tamil Nadu had been freed in M.P. They were brought back to Tamil Nadu and rehabilitated in their ancestral villages with the help of Gandhian activists.

  3. thomasabr says:

    Wonderful memoir of a period that for many was the closest we would experience of what it might have been to live through the ferment of the independence movement ( even though the JP movement was a pale imitation of the independence movement)

  4. Mohanram says:

    The best chapter of Jairam,s autobiography. He proved that he is best copy writer. Two points: One, he should come out of so called ‘secular’ phobia. It has become obsession for some. Incidentally, today, Digvijay Singh of Congress, though I have no much regards, for his political affiliation, had called his party to re-look at the definition of secularism, which is time needed. Enough is enough. Not achieved much, but six decades has past. The word has become cliche and lost its relevance in the given context. It is outlived and outdated. We all should refresh out thinking. Second, the country has been saved from Jairam not becoming an economist, while the gain is for journalism. I wish he should have been in Jail for some more months!

  5. Presenna. says:

    It was inspiring to read your memoirs. I am proud my brother Aniery also worked with a disciple of Subba Rao. You are great people.

  6. Rajesh says:

    Jay garu, enjoyed reading every bit. A honest narrative put in humble style. Refreshing for new generations to read. I must also tell you that I was wondering if today we can find any 19 year old leaving home for changing world. Keep writing.

    • walkerjay says:

      Thanks, Rajesh garu. Am quite sure there certainly are a large number of young people who are impatient for change. How their energies are to coalesce and realise meaningful changes is the problem.

  7. aparajita krishna says:

    A fine chapter of your political life & intervention. Muzaffarpur is my birthplace. The JP movement was literally at my closest quarter. Your analysis & recall is a very fine piece of article & faith, but am afraid that a lot that has gone wrong with Bihar has been a direct fall-out of the JP movement of the1970s.

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