This sun refuses to set
Never reconciled, in their loved land, born from the pangs of history, the Telangana movement resurrects in the hearts of young students like fire and fury, waiting to become rivers of self-respect and equality. Will it, this time?
Manjusha Madhu Hyderabad
The serene atmosphere of Landscape Gardens, Osmania University (OU), is tense and disturbed. Hundreds of students have gathered to mourn the death of Venugopal Reddy, a first year OU student, the latest 'martyr' to the cause for a separate Telangana. The students have not allowed the body to be taken and it remains for hours together in the blazing sun. All the right politicians are here and so is the media - the war for 'bites' is on. A bunch of students hold up a picture of Reddy and a visibly upset Upender speaks into the camera: "How many more lives will they take?"
The question looms: in the crisp white shirts of seasoned politicians, in the impregnated silences of the mourning classmates and in the frenzied eyes of the mulkis (the natives of Telangana). "This is not a suicide. This is murder. Murder by the State," says legendary revolutionary balladeer Gaddar, who has arrived to speak to the students. Soon, the tension escalates as throngs of lawyers and students from other colleges join the crowd. The Rapid Action Force and the state police patiently waits out the role of spectators.
Sphinx-like, the fight for Telangana has re-emerged. It remains contested whether the movement had ever been dormant in the first place. However, since 1969, the struggle had ceased to be a burning issue and had somehow gotten restricted to glorious reference points in election manifestos and political rallies. With the Telugu Rashtra Samiti Chief Chandrasekhar Rao's fast unto death in early December, 2009, the movement has received fresh impetus. Criticism may abound that the struggle is yet another instance of political opportunism and that the politicians in the game are simply waiting for a cue to up their stakes. However, even the most vitriolic of critics would concede that the passion and deep emotional frenzy that one witnesses in the lanes of Osmania and other universities in the Telangana region have a haunting innocence and honesty about them.
The student's movement, in its third phase now, has taken all by surprise by attempting to break from political reins and consolidate a struggle that has not been able to exhibit the key strength of any people's movement- the people themselves. The students of Osmania, Kakatiya (Warrangal) and elsewhere are in the process of attempting to formulate a strategy beyond the call of vote banks and money and it seems to be paying its dividends.
The large-scale student support maybe seen in the backdrop of the region's extreme educational backwardness. The legacy of the Nizam had been stark and widespread poverty and exploitation in a terrible caste society dominated by the upper castes, low literacy levels, poor educational facilities and an Urdu medium of instruction. This made 90 per cent of the population incapable of taking on government jobs. The State Reorganisation Committee, perceptive of the gross inequalities, gave a time bound programme for a merger - a period which it hoped would be utilised for the region's development. However, the Indian Union went ahead nonetheless and declared the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1953, on the cornerstone of the 'Gentleman's Agreement' for regional growth.
The next two decades witnessed repeated flouting of the stipulations. In 1965, the Osmania University Act gave the sole right to nominate or remove a vice chancellor to the governor. This led to the immediate removal of Dr DS Reddy, the then vice chancellor - a move that met with severe student and faculty denouncement. By virtue of being a non mulki, Reddy's initial appointment in 1957 had met with considerable resentment,
However, over the 10 years, the university had come to represent a Telangana institution demanding freedom from outside differences. Moreover, commissions set up in 1969 to look into the distribution of the Telangana's surpluses, stated that the region had been unfairly treated. These factors along with the student's strike in late December 1968 had led to the violence of 1969. The protests had claimed 391 students' lives - a detail that is not lost on the participants of the present movement.
"In 1969, the students started it and the politicians ended it. In 2009, the politicians began it, but the students will end it. We will get our Telangana. This is not any politician's game. This is a people's movement. We want it. If these ministers backtrack now, they will not be allowed to walk these lands again," says Bhaskar, an OU student and JAC (Joint Action Committee) member. "It is spreading to the villages. People are not paying taxes. We will not allow the politicians to sabotage the movement," says SL Padma, ex-state secretary of PDSU (People's Democratic Students' Union) and former research scholar, OU.
'Regionalism' - what?
The fight for Telangana fails to be incorporated into the mainstream rhetoric of 'regionalism'. In this context, it is more of a social and cultural expression associated with a geographical space that talks about a historical evolution. The linguistic redrawing of the states in the 1950s failed to reflect the new 'social regions' that the new political culture had strengthened
over the years. The rise of new conflicting units clashed with the larger entities of language and economics, creating imbalances. As a retort, the recipients have resorted to the vocabulary of victimhood, fitting it into a larger counter movement against hegemony - cultural, social and economic. It is this narrative of marginalisation that the Telangana rhetoric seems to carry through.
Another significant departure from the 1969 strikes is the near absence of moderate faction amongst the pro-Telangana grouping. All are demanding for complete secessionism and recognition of their rights. Through the prism of mainstream media the demand for Telangana has been perceived to be a secessionist movement but for the participants it is a fight for autonomy for a region that they feel was never historically part of today's Andhra Pradesh. "We were never part of them. They say Telugu people should be together. But when they don't even recognise our language as Telugu, why must we be with them? Isn't their argument self-defeating?" asks Harsha, a homeopathic intern.
The JAC members maintain that though the OU has been portrayed as the lifeline of the movement it is in reality a very popular struggle that cuts across all sections of the society. They are heavily critical of mainstream media especially the English media for portraying the fight for Telangana as just a student's movement with a separatist vocabulary. The students maintain that the scale and reach of 'Jai Telangana' is much more vibrant and fierce than what ordinary Indian citizens would ever be able to grapple with.
The large number of workers, teachers, doctors, weavers and even housewives who have lent their support to the cause for Telangana is testimony to the fact. When this reporter visited the now infamous Arts College, OU, on the festival of 'Shangrandhi', hordes of housewives had left the comfort of their homes and families to voice their concerns and register their protests. From a clamour of voices a shrill sound rang clear: "First we were under the Nizam, then the Andharites and now this Italian lady," screams Kavita Rani, a housewife. The former OU student is visibly fuming, "Why must we even ask them? This land has always been ours. The kind of humiliation and exploitation we live through is unimaginable. Why can't we be free?" she asks.
Her questions hit a nerve with rest of the people. "Our movement needed a pacemaker. That happened in December. The Telangana we are asking for will be still larger than 19 other Indian Union states," says Satya, a doctor. He is all set to participate in the Vaidya Garjana planned to consolidate the voice of the doctors from Telangana.
Another key element that hits is the strong participation by women - an aspect that somehow got lost in the din. Several girls at OU have stood up to the security forces deployed and have actively been part of the movement. "We were equally there in all the rallies. Police companies were stationed in front of our hostels. One day, when we were forcibly stopped by the police from joining the relay hunger strike, we openly defied them leading to a minor altercation wherein some of our students got hurt. Two of us were arrested on January 9, they were released later in the day," says Mani, a MA first year Hindi student and JAC member.
The participants don't view the dramatic rise of the Telangana issue as unusual. They think it is a natural transition of the movements itself. "Those who feel it is sudden enjoy a very superficial understanding of the struggle itself. It has never been dormant. The inner dynamics of the movement itself has brought it here," says K Vimala, former Assistant Professor, Chicago University, and a core committee member of the Telangana Women's Joint Action Committee.
Three Rs: A question of identity
The students have gone to organise various padyatras covering the 10 districts of Telangana and converging at Kakatiya University on the Feb 7. The aim is to exert pressure on those ministers and Central government employees who have not resigned to do so and join the movement. The organisers also hope that the attempt will help in bringing more people at the grassroots into the limelight. "Every man, woman and child in the Telangana region is charged today. You have tailors stitching clothes on the roads, women making rotis on the roads. The movement has touched every section. So we need to channelise this strength of ours," says Santhosh, a former student and a bank employee. "What we want is a time-bound plan to give us the state. We will fight till we get that assurance," adds Kishore, a JAC member.
Though OU has received the bulk of media coverage, other universities from the region have rendered significant support. "More than 200 students from Kakatiya University (KU) are participating in the padayatras and going to every village. Everyday we have meetings to determine our future course of action and to evaluate our strategy. We enjoy significant support from the other groups on the campus," says Yakaiah, a PhD scholar and JAC member at KU, Warrangal.
Sections in the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), which is dominated by the 'pro-Andhra' crowd, also has lent its support. "We are a small number but equally committed. Some 80 per cent of our students' strength is from coastal Andhra and only the rest is from Telangana," says Temaji, a JAC member at HCU.
In the din of pro Telangana protests, conspicuous in its absence is the 'Samaikya Andhra' and 'Jai Andhra' movements in the Telangana region. "They will not say anything now. We are in the majority. They are scared," says an OU JAC member. HCU, also, does not seem to be reacting strongly, though minor incidents of altercations have occurred. Indeed, the minority question, which remains a hurdle in the struggle, seems to have found a favourable expression on campuses. The OU JAC members maintain that the Islamic Students Association here is part of the struggle and is putting significant pressures on the Majlis-e-Ittihad al-Muslimin (MIM). "The MIM will join us by the end of January," says an optimistic JAC member.
The Telangana movement is a manifestation of disintegration of the linguistic states that the 1950s brought about, especially in the non-Hindi areas. A different political and cultural experience has created a distinctive identity in the Telangana trajectory. The people and even the regional elite had no role to speak of in the formation of Andhra Pradesh. The manifestation of 'sub-regional localism' that one sees reflected in the movement took time to mature when linguistic boundaries were being drawn. It is this growth that one sees in bits and pieces in the students' reaction. It is within these complexities that the present movement gets adequate reflection.
A history of division and cultural hegemony populates the language of the Jai Telangana struggle. But it would be naïve to suggest that the movement may be solely attributed to the activities of a small clique of disappointed and frustrated men or a bunch of idealist students carrying the burden of romanticism. It is probably best summed up in the words of a student itself:
"It is not just about representation. It is not even about resources. I would define our struggles on a 3R principle: Recognition - of the self and the other. Respect and Rejuvenation of our sources. Our water, our land, our way of living and our culture."