P. Sainath: ‘The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom’

NB: A recent article headed The Right is Writing Now, celebrates unsung warriors, and (if the report is correct) criticises the ‘Left’ for ignoring them. It is unfortunate that history has become a battleground and that aristocratic warfare seems to be the sole focus of those historians who choose to identify themselves as ‘Right’. (Judging by the recent utterances of our worthy Union Home Minister, it would appear that we are still fighting the Mughals). There’s no doubt that doctrinal bias has been a part of historiography. But in my view it is time for us to realize that for scholars to identify themselves as Left-wing or Right-wing is unseemly and detracts from their scholarship. They ought better to let their values become manifest in their work.

As for the claims that the lives of ‘brave-hearts’ have been ignored by historians whom the “Right’ dislikes so much, Sainath’s new book might help them take a more balanced view. I also append a short selection of titles beneath this post for those interested in pursuing the study of ‘brave-hearts’ who have been ignored etc. Of course, it depends on whose lives you consider worthy of study, and whom you consider brave. DS

Extract from The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom

“My father and his forefathers – they were forced to grow indigo by the British. Our parents and grandparents could not resist the British might.”- Thelu Mahato, Puruliya, West Bengal

“There were around 1,500 of us gathered to gherao the police station in Manbazar. We were sick and tired of the torment and torture of British rule. Besides, there had been recent attacks by their agents, the feudal Raj’s goondas, on our villages. People were very distressed.

The call had gone out as part of the Quit India agitation, and people began marching on 12 police stations in Puruliya from September 29, 1942. The next day saw them converge at those stations. I was with the crowd in Manbazar. Some of our leaders intended to raise the national flag atop the station. A few protestors climbed the roof of the building and started removing its terracotta tiles.

The British police opened fire and two people died. Chunaram Mahato died on the spot. Gobinda Mahato died in the hospital. They were the ones trying to raise the flag. They were unarmed and were gunned down in front of our eyes. Girish Mahato was hit by a bullet that lodged in his body.

The police fired recklessly into the crowd as well. That’s when a gherao turned into an attack on the station. People thought those two – Chunaram and Gobinda – might still be alive and were being held captive. And our intent was to free them. Some others, like Tularam Mahato, died later in British jails.

Magaram Mahato and Baidyanath Mahato, both organisers of the protest, had been to jail before. They were hunted down again and thrown into Baghalpur Jail [now in Bihar],” says Thelu….


My Correct Views on Everything: Leszek Kolakowski’s correspondence with E. P. Thompson (1974)

A short list of titles in labour history:

P. Sainath; The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom; Penguin Random House, 2022

Rana Behal; One hundred years of servitude: Political Economy of Tea Gardens in Assam

Radhika Singha; The Coolie’s Great War

Radhika Singha; A Despotism of Law-Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India (2000)

Chitra Joshi; Lost Worlds

Janaki Nair; Work, Culture and Politics in Princely Mysore; 1998

Heike Liebau, Ravi Ahuja; The World in World Wars: Perspectives from Africa and Asia

Ian Kerr; Building the railways of the Raj, 1850-1900

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, & Jan Lucassen; Workers in the Informal sector: Studies in Labour History 1800-2000

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya; The Colonial State: Theory and Practice; Primus Books, New Delhi; 2016

Ranajit Das Gupta; Labour and Working class in Eastern India: Studies in colonial history; K.P. Bagchi and Co., Calcutta, 1994

Dilip Simeon; Workers, Unions and the State in Chota Nagpur 1928-1939 (1995)