The coronavirus-spurred nationwide lockdown has revived the practice of commune in Darjeeling district.
During the heyday of the Left movement in India, commune had become a popular arrangement that facilitated the collective accommodation and shared food for party workers and leaders.
The concept has returned to the district with the CPM’s frontal organisations running a community kitchen for around 3,000 people at Naxalbari, the seat of the famous Naxalbari movement that had rocked the country in the late sixties and brought to the fore issues of peasants and workers’ rights.
“As the lockdown started, we found many people, mostly daily wage earners, in crisis. There are families of seven, eight and even more members with only one bread earner in and around Naxalbari. The income of these people dried up soon and we started the kitchen for them. It has been 26 days that we have been running this kitchen and every day, around 3,000 people are being provided with a square meal,” said senior CPM leader Gautam Ghosh.
The kitchen has been set up at Bengaijote — a village that bears testimony to the peasants’ uprising 53 years back, which eventually led to the birth of Naxalite movement.
Since the lockdown had started, a number of organisations have been serving cooked food to the poor in and around Siliguri, but the community kitchen in Naxalbari stands out because most of the people having food there are making contributions in their own small way.
While the men are arranging firewood to feed the ovens and managing the kitchen, homemakers are bringing gourds, green jackfruits and “kochu” (taro root) and other vegetables harvested in their homes.
They are also joining the men to cut and prepare the vegetables and serving food.
“People from different walks of life are coming with help. Right from schoolteachers to traders, we are getting people arriving at the kitchen with sacks of rice, lentils and spices,” said Koushik Acharjee, a schoolteacher who has also joined in the effort.
Every day, the food – rice, dal and a vegetable curry – is being distributed from eight distribution points other than the kitchen. Around 1,600 people collect food from these points in the afternoon, while another 1,400 queue up at Bengaijote near the kitchen, he said.
Ghosh, who is a known face of the CPM’s labour wing Citu, said significantly people who were economically sound were joining the kitchen and making contributions. Sometimes, they are also joining the lunch.
“It is good that we could bring people from different economic strata together at this hour of crisis, like the communes which were run by our party where there was no distinction among a worker and a leader. Also, the effort has succeeded in Naxalbari, a name that is synonymous with the movement that had advocated equality of people and right to food for all,” the CPM leader said.