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Radical masculinity: morality, sociality and relationships through recollections of Naxalite activists


In this article I argue that the concern with gender relations and the challenges female activists were facing foreclosed any discussion of the transformation activism signalled for male comrades, and thus for wider society. I am particularly interested in men’s own views of their social roles and personal predicaments as the more subtle processes of transformation in the lives of male activists are often overlooked. The article takes a closer look at relationships between men, whether friendships or kin relations, as important roles and everyday practices former activists were/are involved in—during their phase of active participation, but crucially also before they become militants and in the aftermath of their involvement in the movement.

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  1. 1.

    Naxalites are actively involved in the protests (Paitnak 2007).

  2. 2.

    For detailed discussions see Franda (1971), Nossiter (1988), and Basu (2000). For accounts of the ideology, structure and repression of the Naxal movement itself see Dasgupta (1974) and Ray (1988). Charu Majumdar’s writings on strategy are provided by the Maoist Documentation Project at

  3. 3.

    This refers to the killing of ‘class enemies’.

  4. 4.

    By 1977 about 18,000 arrests had been made under the ‘Maintenance of Internal Security Act’ in West Bengal alone (Nossiter 1988:136).

  5. 5.

    ‘The Naxalites through the eyes of the Police’ edited by A.K. Mukhopadhyay explores the role the police played during this period (Mukhopadhyay 2006).

  6. 6.

    English in the original.

  7. 7.

    This and comparable instances demonstrate how the CPI(ML) established a hold over the personal lives of its members.


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Research in Calcutta was carried out between 1999 and 2005 and was supported by the ESRC and the Suntory and Toyota International Centre for Economics and Related Disciplines. I am greatly indebted to those who shared their experiences and views with me, in particular Gautam Banerjee. For obvious reasons the identities of former activists are disguised. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the EASA conference in Bristol and the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh and I am grateful for critical comments by Radhika Chopra, Sharika Thiranagama and John Hutnyk, Alpa Shaw and Judith Pettigrew. Parts of this article have been published earlier (see Donner 2004a, b).

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Correspondence to Henrike Donner.

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Donner, H. Radical masculinity: morality, sociality and relationships through recollections of Naxalite activists. Dialect Anthropol 33, 327 (2009).

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  • India
  • Maoists
  • Activism
  • Masculinity
  • Gender
  • Memory
  • Life histories
  • Calcutta
  • Naxalite
  • Friendship
  • Kinship
  • Morality