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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 14, March 27, 2010

Lessons from the Telangana Movement

Saturday 27 March 2010, by Inukonda Thirumali


The Telangana movement, that is going on for the last few months, is an expression of the people’s democratic yearnings. It is a silent but people’s revolution for a separate Telangana State. The people’s protests are taking place in the forms of dhoom-dhams (songs and dances), garjanas (hullabaloos), and padayatras (marches). Sometimes it is celebrating vijayayatras (victory marches) in anticipation of the Telangana state, and at times it is taking out shava yatras (processions carrying the dead) too. These protest campaigns gathered momentum in the course of the Telangana discourse in the region. They protested in typical Telangana bonalu-style (offering to deities), drawing rangoli, and vanta-varpu (cooking and eating in public places) and of course in the tears of (about) 250 mothers whose sons and daughters had died in the last two months. The Telangana service castes expressed their solidarity with the Telangana movement through remonstative forms of shaving, washing clothes, and in vanta-varpu, in public places. Not in the form of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s agenda, nor by staging theatrics and resorting to political manoeuvres.

A massive people’s movement is going on in these forms in the villages for the past two months without a semblance of any let-up. These protest forms are rooted in their desire to turn the political system to listen their to voices. People themselves are leading the campaigns in the villages and towns. The same people’s resolute determination scared the politicians to visit their constituencies and forced them to resign from their positions. It is obvious that the students have initiated the present outburst and helped it to spread to the other sections. The urban intelligentsia, like employees, journalists, advocates, teachers and artists, are associating and supporting the mass movement and carrying it down to the towns. In certain districts like Warangal it spread to almost all villages. As far as its intensity and mobility is concerned, it was no way lesser than the people’s movement in the 1940s. The difference perhaps is that weapons were used earlier but today they are only the yatras, garjanas etc.

Today the Communists are outside this movement. The ‘Jai Telangana’ fists are scaring the politicians and the government agencies to brand it as a “Naxalite movement”; in fact these people’s forms of protests helped the Naxalites to learn from the strength of these forms of struggles. The very rise of the caste organisations weakened the Communists and Naxalites and they are external to the movement. However, they are eager to own this movement and joining in the people’s protests. This upsurge was brewing for some time but exploded in December 2009 and is continuing till date keeping all political parties including the Naxalites at bay.

The difference of the present movement with those in the past is it is primarily a mass based one, independent from the political parties in terms of forms of protest, in expression and also in the scale of partici-pation. The protesters had direct connections with caste associations for some time. Therefore the lowest communities like Chakalis (dhobhis), Nayibrahmins (barbers), Katikaparlu (a caste that buries the dead), and Dalits (particularly Madigas) have formed into protest teams and are carrying on their protests. The novelty of designing unique forms of protests by the peasants, women, and Singareni workers has attracted everyone’s attention.

As per the reports in a section of the press, violence broke out in the Telangana region within hours of the Centre’s announcement on January 23. “Police resorted to lathi charge to disperse a mob in Warangal. This led to a stampede that left one dead and several injured. The mob laid siege to the nearby Hanumankonda police station, but was chased away by the police. Nearly 20 vehicles were damaged on the Karimnagar-Hyderabad highway and a shop was set on fire in Godavari Khani.”

Since it is to present the people’s autonomy in the outbreak we quote a newspaper (Andhra Jyoti) that described the movement under the caption “Kula Sanghala Telanganam” (Telangana movement under the caste associations). It reports the “Caste Associations [Kula Sanghalu] have conducted a huge rally and demonstrated with the professional symbols of their castes”. The caste associations participated in expressing the desire for constituting the region from the point of view of their interest. “The students from different districts” more or less from the same background “set out to attend student garjana in the capital” on the Osmania University campus.

In different districts women are offering bonalu [women’s festival of traditional offering to the deity] and playing batakammas [a feminine expression of protest specific to Telangana women] as a mark of protest. The doctors are treating the patients on roads. In Ketepalli village of Nalgonda district the protest against those opposed to Telangana was expressed in the form of drawing rangoli in burial grounds. An Andhra settler’s colony known as Vizag colony of Chan-dampet village was named after Telangana in a fashion of accommodating them as a part of the Telangana society. The people also came out to burn the effigy of Chandrababu Naidu in Nalgonda despite the TDP leaders’ symbolic opposition to the protest against his policies and against the party that is perceived to be a party of the Andhra capitalists.

In another prominent district, Medak, where weaker sections constitute 83 per cent, the caste associations held relay fasts, drew rangoli as protest, and window panes of a bus were broken in the village of Kondapaka Revenue Mandal. Lunch was prepared on the road of Akshapur in Namgunur mandal. A procession of bullock-carts was held, padayatra was taken out, dharnas were conducted in front of police stations. Lower caste women have taken out bonala procession in Nizamabad in which the Mayor and Corporators have participated. The caste associations like Aryavaishya, Yadava, Padmasale sanghas have taken out their respective processions. Effigies of local politicians were burnt, bonalu processions were taken out as usual and bullock-cart, tractor, bike rallies were held. Rasta roko [roadblock] was held in another village and local leaders including the Zilla Parishad Chairman participated.

The women carried bonalu and washermen washed clothes on the roads of the Adilabad villages. Coalmine workers have taken out a half-naked procession in Karimnagar, and Munnurkapus [backward caste peasants] held a big rally, and paddy transplantation was symbolically done on the road as a token of protest. In Ellendu of Khammam district, [basically a tribal region] Aryavaishyas held a rally and Brahmins conducted yagnas. Adivasis conducted dances, the Bestas, fishermen took out a rally with their nets in Kottagudem of the same district.

The movement has surged at the grassroots. It appears to be the beginning of a new era of a movement by those who were excluded from the political process. The weaker sections of northern Telangana, kept outside politics, have now jumped into the movement. The specificity of these districts like Warangal and Karimnagar is that these sections constitute about 85 per cent there, in Adilabad district about 87 per cent and 83 per cent in Nizamabad. By weaker sections we mean the Dalits, tribals and artisans and service castes, and political awareness descended on them through this upsurge. And the movement developed with their own initiatives in the cause of Telangana.

The women and peasants are adversely affected by the reforms, and have lost faith in the promises of the parties and politicians, and therefore they are actively associating with the present movement. They do no more believe in the promised pensions, ration cards, and swagruha which they feel are only political tricks and stunts for votes. It is essentially a new type of ‘political movement’ from below.

The students, employees, lawyers and various associations, representing the lower stratum, are leading the movement. With the participation of the Telangana lower classes—artisans, service castes, and pastoral castes that were trained by their caste associations—the movement has become a massive one and expects separate Telangana to be achieved as a solution of their difficulties. The upsurge from the meat selling caste, the caste burning dead bodies, dhobis, and barbers is indicative of their desire for Telangana; therefore it is significantly different from the 1969 struggle. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi appears only a replication of 1969 but the mass of people, caste organisations, artists have taken it too far to turn it into an upsurge.


All this, however, started because of the fast K. Chandrashekara Rao undertook. After the 2009 elections Chandrashekara Rao was in disarray for his poor performance in the elections. He suffered defections from the TRS party and his meetings were disturbed by dissenters in his own office. Chandrashekara Rao then planned an indefinite fast to protect his party. He announced it as a warning to the State and Central governments in October that his fast was supposed to begin on November 29, 2009 at Siddipet where he has a strong base. He threw a challenge though nobody took it seriously in view of the failure of his earlier fast. Anyhow the appointed day came and he was taken into “custody” on the way to Siddipet where he was supposed to start his fast, and was put in Khammam jail driving him down about 200 kilometers towards Andhra. His earlier fast in Delhi was a flop, and he is known for gimmicks; but the government arrested him, and kept him under custody. He was uncomfortable in Khammam; therefore he demanded that he be shifted to Warangal or some other place in northern Telangana.

At this time, during K. Chandrashekara Rao’s fast, on the night of November 30, he had some “coloured juice” as per the visuals shown on the TV channels and the doctors confirmed the story. The students, who were on relay hunger strike in his support, took out his shava yatra on the Osmania University campus. Then Chandra-shekara Rao’s family members supposedly compelled him to continue his fast fearing attacks on the family and their property. The students were concerned about Telangana, not about his life anymore—he was for the first time forced by the students to continue the fast.

The students of Osmania University formed a Joint Action Committee to express solidarity with him. First, they targeted Rajashekara Reddy’s men. One of his protégés/relatives was allotted a university quarter though he is not an employee, the students protested against it but they were beaten up, and the agitation was suppressed at that time. In this new opportunity the students attacked and smashed the car and furniture of the illegal occupant of the quarter making him run for his life. That was how the student movement took shape: targeting Rajashekara Reddy’s men in Hyderabad, Warangal and elsewhere.

The University students, particularly the Arts students, are from the weaker sections since they could not afford education in private engineering or professional colleges. The Osmania University Student Joint Action Committee primarily consisted of students from the Dalit, Adivasi and Backward Caste background. And they were known to have been working in various caste organisations earlier on; therefore they are very much conscious of the issues, parties and politics. The moment the actions of this JAC forced KCR to continue his fast it earned him very good reputation; and then the JACs have been formed in the Kakatiya University, and then in Palamur, Satavahana, and Mahatma Gandhi Universities of Telangana. The employees JACs, Lawyers JACs, and the JACs of caste or community-based organisations have sprung up in the region within no time. And the district level JACs as affiliated bodies have also been formed to conduct the agitation. With the felt perceptions of discrimination and struggle experiences the mass organisations of students, lawyers, employers and communities (caste and religious) have formed their respective Joint Action Committees (at least about 50) independent of the political party, the TRS, to conduct and lead their own movement.

As expected, K. Chandrashekara Rao’s fast became a massive people’s movement, and Chandrashekara Rao was to continue the fast to satisfy the expectations of the masses. Along with the deterioration of his health day by day the pressure was mounting on the government, and the mass movement was spreading to all sections and all districts. In view of this tension and pressure from below he was determined to continue the fast saying that either there would be vijaya yatra (victory march) or his shava yatra (procession of his dead body). The situation was such that it was felt that in this ambiance Telangana would be declared any moment.

The silent movement developed because the idea of injustice to Telangana had accumulated in the minds of the people. The students in the universities have organic linkages with the mass of the people to provide additional information on the discriminations and skilfulness of the Andhraites. The development initiated in the last 15 years has rather aggravated the disparities —regional and social. In their perception the process of development was geared towards benefiting only business-minded politicians of Andhra and for their communities’ benefit. Andhra, in their perceptive world, is a distinct society with only business ambitions and a sense of acquiring properties. Over and above they scrapped the mulki rules, took away Telangana’s share of water. All these concerns are well known and have been deliberated among the semi-literates too. The caste professions further were increasingly becoming irrelevant to the artisans and service castes; therefore they felt threatened and associated with the movement.

Telangana’s lower classes—artisans, service castes, and pastoral castes and their sub-castes, still intact somewhat—have formed their caste associations in the last ten years. These associations transformed as para-political organisations developed into the massive people’s movement. It thus became essentially a ‘political movement’ from below. The students, employees, lawyers and various associations from the same social stratum, representing the ‘non-political’ lower stratum, are leading the movement. The peasants are also adversely affected by the reforms; and women have grown as a conscious gender group from the days of the anti-liquor movement. They instantly associated themselves with the present movement.

So the Telangana of 2010 is different from the Telangana of 1969 and the movement that made M. Channa Reddy a leader. It was a middle-class movement easily hijacked by the seasoned politician, M. Channa Reddy. Today the masses and middle classes are interwovented, connected through caste organisations/affinities; however, they have cataputted KCR as a leader and tested his sincerity.

The organisations we talked about till now are formed parallel to the TRS, and the movement has been mounting for the Telangana State. These organisations did not like the way the movement was revolving around one person, Chandrashekara Rao, and only the elections. Despite understanding this, the struggling caste associations believe that their specific problems would be solved with the formation of a separate State. And the students and employees organisations have the agenda of asserting their positions in the movement so that they get their share of power to formulate State policies in favour of those excluded so far. This awareness and political expressions from below are universal in nature. These have to be accommodated in the interests of the democratic organisations and successful completion of the Telangana movement.

Dr Thirumali is the Chairman, Telangana Prajasanghala Joint Action Committee. He teaches History at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi.

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