ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Politics in a Time of Radical Change: Reconsidering Controversial Actors of the Naxalbari Movement in Postcolonial Calcutta (1967-1975)


Corrado Vanessa - Independent, International PhD in 2022 (University of Pisa), Italy


36 – Interrogating Deviance and ‘Crime’ in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia


 The Naxalbari movement (1967-1975) began as a peasant uprising led by Marxist-Leninists in West Bengal’s countryside, but it also aroused political resistance in towns and Calcutta city as socio-economic crisis had become widespread. This proposal addresses a complex aspect of this period of radical change in Calcutta, namely the role of street toughs in protecting and propagating revolutionary politics. Though different sections of the society became involved in the city, subsequent narratives have generally neglected or, rather, criminalized the presence of street toughs, ascribing also the movement’s violent fallout to their questionable methods. Rather, this proposal looks at how social and political reservations about these actors framed as ‘lumpenproletariat’ or ‘miscreants’ within Marxist or state-centric view respectively came into play during the Naxalbari years. Drawing on personally collected interviews, memoirs and biographies of Naxalites, the paper will explore the disjuncture between the movement-induced evaluation of street toughs’ conduct and the latter’s own political realization of revolution. The paper will specifically look into three cases to highlight how phases of social change are not periods during which politics is denied but they, rather, involve actors who are implicated in political mechanisms of the everyday life which contribute to the making of militant politics.