Obituary to a great soul: T R Vishwanathan (TRV) 3

T R Vishwanathan was one of the founding members of the communist movement in South Arcot District

I met TRV for an interview two weeks ago. Though he was unwell and very old, he insisted on speaking to me. “I may have a heart attack and pass away anyday”, he said, “if I talk to you, you may take my message to more people”. We went on to have a delightful 4-hour discussion on his legacy. I am sad to say that he has passed away last night and will be cremated today. This post offers a short snap shots from his inspiring that has left this world a better place for thousands of people.

Joining the communist movement

After education, TRV visited many cities across India in getting to know the country better. In this period he often worked in restaurants and other places as he moved from place to place. Upon coming to Pondichery he became a member of the Communist movement in 1950. He was deputed by the leaders in Pondichery to create and nurture the party in the Chidambaram area. TRV thus became one of the founders of the communist movement in the South Arcot District.

Pannaial padhukappu sattam

Though he worked both in urban and rural areas TRV’s main contribution was in strengthening the communist movement in the rural areas. His first initiative was to demand the implementation of the Pannaial padhukaapu sattam in the Chidambaram-Kattumanaragudi area. In the process of demanding the extension of the Act, he was jailed for six months along with many other communist and Congress leaders who were supporting this Act. They were finally released after the intervention of Mr. R Venketraman who went on to become the president of India.

The movement achieved a major success when the Act was extended to this area. With this TRVs struggle moved to the next phase of ensuring the implementation of the Act. This was never going to be easy since the landlords were organised and powerful. TRV was involved in numerous historic struggles in Keezhanatham, Thanathampattu, Thirucheramedu, Udaiyur, and many other villages with tenants. In Thevangudi, Melathanathampattu and others places he fought for increasing wages. Through these protracted struggles he was instrumental winning better wages and work conditions for workers and tenants across the district.

The pioneer

Being an early member of the communist movement, TRV was involved in numerous major initiatives including starting of Unions in Neyveli and the first labour union in Annamalai University. He was also involved in the consolidation of the fractured communist movement. This included starting a Taluk level Agricultural Labourers Union in 1952. He was initially a gun wielding member but gave up his gun after Stalin advised members of the Communist Party in India to give up arms and start a process of mobilisation. To put it in his words, instead of using weapons in struggle, they made struggle their weapon.

Mobilising the labourers and tenants has been his life’s task ever since. TRV and his colleagues ensured that they lived with the villagers through their struggles and in their moments of need. While the struggles he led were mainly class based, he was also involved in numerous struggles against untouchability with the Dalits. These include struggles for equal education and for basic civil rights such as wearing chappals, accessing public roads, using public wells, etc.

Politics and the personal

Politics is of course personal. Born as a Palakkad Brahmin he went on to shed the rituals of caste. His work was mostly with the Dalits with whom he ate and lived for long durations. His in-laws include Dalits, tribal people and others. When his first wife died, he insisted on cremating her in a common burial yard, rather than one reserved for Brahmins. At a time when agricultural labourers were desperately poor, he would live with them and share their life style during their struggles.

Struggles and successes

Establishing a party is never an easy task, but being a member of the communist movement meant many additional struggles. At the dawn of independence and democracy for India, the communist party was banned – and this is when TRV joined the party. He worked in an era when there were deep suspicions about the party. TRV recalled how he would be hounded by the police, and other powerful interests in the process of setting up the party. If we have a flourishing democracy today, it is due to the foundational efforts by people like TRV to take it to the poorest of people by mobilising them against all odds.

The struggles that TRV was involved in have ensured that agricultural labourers have a much better deal in their lives today. Though caste is far from eradicated, Dalits can live today with much greater dignity and can dream of a good education or a career. His struggles helped enabled the poorest and the most oppressed to make use of our democratic framework into securing a better life for themselves. He lived as an exemplar and has left us today with a much better world than it would have been without the likes of him.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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3 thoughts on “Obituary to a great soul: T R Vishwanathan (TRV)

  • Eli

    Glad you got a chance to sit down with Vishwanathan. Sorry to hear he died.

    I leave for South Africa in three days. I’ll be there for five weeks before heading to Zambia for another three. Then I move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work on improving mental health care for people leaving prison. This Thursday will be my last night at Auburn.

  • Stalin Viswanathan

    It is a great surprise to me, as I was searching something with the google and I got the opportunity to view this site.

    Well, the surprise is, Comrade TRV is my father. I am really very proud to be his son. Even though I am not very much involved in the party activites, I am little bit happy that I could have taken care of him during his last days as good as possible.
    As you said, He lived as an exemplar and had left us today with a much better world, and if I would be able to live at least 10 – 20 % of his life style, then I will proudly say that I lived completely.

    Anyhow, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING ABOUT MY FATHER and if he lives, definitely I would have told him about this.


  • vivek

    Dear Stalin,

    It was a very pleasant surprise to get a mail from you. I was the last person to interview your father and we had a great meeting. Subsequently, I have met many of your father’s friends and well wishers and it is clear that your father was able to achieve what he did due to the family’s support. He was proud of his children and so were all his well-wishers. I heard many stories about how much all of you had to sacrifice and how well you took it and supported him through his remarkable life. I am very happy to see that you have faced all the difficulties and are proud of him today. I congratulate you for that spirit.

    S Vivek