June 20, 2021

AIDWA Remembers Its Founder Leaders Ranjana Nirula & Mythily Sivaraman

Mariam Dhawale

THE All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) lost two of its founding leaders, Ranjana Nirula and Mythily Sivaraman on May 10 and May 30, 2021 respectively, due to Covid-related complications. Their lives spanned over fifty years of activism each in the communist movement. The AIDWA CEC recently organised separate online memorial meetings to pay homage to them. Both the meetings were very inspirational and also very well attended.

Speakers in the memorial meeting for Ranjana Nirula were Brinda Karat, Tapan Sen, Subhashini Ali, Rekha Goswami, P K Srimathi, Vijay Kumar Jha, Indu Agnihotri, Sumitra Chopra, Sandhya Shaily, Kiran Moghe and Ashalata. Condolence messages from Dr Utsa Patnaik, Meena (Ranjana’s sister), Afzal Freize and Adv Tara Narula, were read out.

Speakers in the memorial meeting for Mythily Sivaraman were Brinda Karat, Subhashini Ali, A K Padmanabhan, U Vasuki, Sudha Sundarraman, N Ram, Vasanthi Devi, Kalpana Karunakaran (Mythily’s daughter), Bader Sayeed, Vaigai, Meera Velayudhan, Sudhanva Deshpande, K S Vimala, Parvati Menon and Kavita Krishnan.

All the speakers, who were very close to Ranjana and Mythily respectively, shared their moving personal and political reminiscences and many significant anecdotes about these leaders.  

AIDWA president Malini Bhattacharya presided over both the memorial meetings. AIDWA general secretary Mariam Dhawale placed the condolence resolutions. Brief videos prepared by the AIDWA team, outlining the life and work of both these remarkable leaders through photographs, were screened in each memorial meeting. The technical team consisting of Surangya and Atul Chandra helped in conducting these meetings.

Ranjana Nirula and Mythily Sivaraman played a very important role in nurturing AIDWA during its crucial formative years. Mythily was its national vice president and Ranjana was a member of the central executive committee for many years. 

Both of them returned to India after studies abroad, inspired by the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, and plunged into the working class movement with a passionate commitment to Left ideology. They started working in the trade union movement, took up the issue of gender exploitation and were engaged in unionising women workers under the banner of CITU. Right from youth, both of them became whole timers, chose the path of Marxism and socialism to change society, and never lost sight of the dream of revolution. They unswervingly followed the principles they believed in and uncompromisingly voiced their opposition to patriarchy.  

Ranjana was also a working committee member and former treasurer of the CITU. She was the convenor of the All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers and played a major role in organising ASHA workers across the country. She was the working editor of The Voice of the Working Woman since 1998 till now. This journal was first published in 1980 with Vimal Ranadive as its founder editor. The journal was brought out by the Coordination Committee of Working Women, which was set up in 1979 as a sub-committee of CITU. 

Mythily’s was also a prominent CITU leader in Tamilnadu. Her training as a journalist enabled her to document oppression and violence with authenticity. At the same time with her simplicity and approachability she played an energetic role in mobilising and organising women belonging to the labouring poor both among workers and peasants. Her remarkable interventions in the Keezhvenmani brutal massacre of dalit agricultural workers demanding just wages, and later in the Vachathi mass rapes of tribal women, were testimony to both these rare qualities. She founded the AIDWA journal in Tamil – Mahalir Sindanai (Women’s Thoughts) of which she was the editor for many years. She was a prolific and powerful writer and some of her writings have been collated and published in the LeftWord published book Haunted by Fire: Essays on Caste, Class, Exploitation and Emancipation. 

Both these leaders had long standing relations with various sections of people and had a wide circle of friends and contacts. They were warm and caring towards young cadres and ever willing to help every needy person. Their optimism and enthusiasm was infectious and would encourage activists to overcome all obstacles with a smile. They would patiently hear and guide new activists to face the challenges while fighting for a world free of exploitation and injustice.

Newer generations of activists will surely be inspired by the life histories of these two exceptional communist women leaders, which will help them in their struggles to carry this legacy forward.