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Remembering martyrs of Chandanathope firing

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The Chandanathope Martyrs Column.
The Chandanathope Martyrs Column.

Ignatius Pereira

KOLLAM: It was the deaths and bloodshed in the July 26, 1958 Chandanathope police firing that was instrumental for cashew workers later on earning many of their rights and benefits. But the paradox is that while observing the 50th anniversary of that incident, the plight of the cashew worker is as bad as it was 50 years ago.

Several senior and retired cashew workers felt that in spite of the minimum wages and other statutory rights, there was not much change in the living conditions of the workers.

The incident

Raman and Sulaiman, the two men who were killed in the firing, became martyrs in the fight for the rights of the cashew workers. A column in their memory was erected at Chandanathope and it is here that the 50th anniversary of the firing will be observed on Saturday. The programme is being organised by the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).

In fact, the cashew workers’ agitation was led by the RSP under the banner of the Kundara Cashew Workers Union.

T.M. Prabha, vice-president of the union at that time, is a victim of the police action. He was badly injured and is still undergoing treatment for the injuries.

The police firing on the cashew workers had taken place at a time when the first Communist Ministry was ruling the State.

The RSP, a heavyweight political party in Kollam then, was a strong political rival to the Communists. Senior RSP leaders said the police firing put the ruling Communists in an awkward position, both at that time and even much later. They said the ruling party branded the agitation as a pre-planned violent movement, with political overtones, organised by the RSP against the Communist government.

At a later stage, the Communists appeared to correct the earlier version by stating that “the firing was a conspiracy hatched by a section of the police who were against Communists in power and hence wanted to mar the image of the government.”

Mr. Prabha told The Hindu that the first Communist Ministry had all the Stalinist qualities and the firing on the cashew workers reflected the Stalinist model of rule. But the RSP rallying behind the Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle) soon afterwards provided the ruling Communists a good reason to justify their initial stand on the police firing.

An RSP leader who is now in a different faction of the party said that irrespective of whoever likes it or not, the RSP had made a big contribution towards the success of the Vimochana Samaram in the southern parts of the State. It was the Chandanathope police firing that made the RSP join the Vimochana Samaram, he said.

Interestingly, in spite of the RSP’s long-standing Left Democratic Front association, none from the CPI or the CPI(M) has been invited to address the seminar or public meeting organised in connection with the anniversary programme.

It could mean that when it comes to the Chandanathope police firing, the RSP is not in a mood to forgive the Communists even after half-a-century, the RSP faction leader said.

He also pointed out that though Mr. Prabha was in the forefront of the agitation, he was not given any importance worth the mention at the public meeting.

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