Sunday, January 24, 2010

[ZESTCaste] In The State Of Telangana

In The State Of Telangana

By Kalpana Kannabiran

23 January, 2010

At the time when the movement for the State of Telangana reaches its
peak, and even as the leaders of this movement craft the contours of
this state that is one step towards liberating the people of this
region from a history of economic, political and cultural oppression,
it is important to think about which way we would like to go. As
somebody who believes in Telangana statehood, not as part of a general
argument about the efficacy of smaller states alone, but as
indispensable to the dignity of the region, I raise these questions
with the aim of pushing for a greater democratization of the movement.
There are unresolved issues that need to be addressed and there are
leaders of integrity, with a radical vision and political astuteness
like Kondandram and Ratnamala, who have the capacity to take difficult
questions on board and turn them into strengths.

One pillar for the demand for a separate Telangana is the fact of
economic hegemony and the appropriation of the assets in Telangana by
the ruling classes and business interests in Andhra. Indeed what sets
the Telangana movement apart is the fact that it is led by persons
with a proven commitment to civil liberties and human rights. This is
in stark contrast to the Samaikya Andhra movement. This however, is
only the starting point. Having a leadership with a socialist vision
in a region, which has seen the worst forms of feudalism and continues
to grapple with the worst forms of caste discrimination and
exploitation of adivasi communities, it becomes imperative to outline
the economic contours of the new state. This is even more important
because the power of the movement today, although the result of years
of silent work and campaigning in each district by civil libertarians
committed to the cause, is within the grasp of mainstream politicians
of different hues who see in the new state unlimited political
opportunity. It is of course necessary to broaden the base and create
inclusive platforms by converting political opportunism into a
commitment to justice. But what will be the non-negotiables in that
platform, apart from the demand for a separate state?

What sets Telangana apart from other "small states" is that six
decades ago, it witnessed the armed struggle against imperialist and
feudal forces; three decades ago it provided the epicentre of the most
vibrant civil liberties movement in the country. What sets Telangana
apart as well, is not just that the Marxist Leninist resistance to the
state attained its most powerful and most creative forms here, but
importantly that the most trenchant critique of the patriarchal bases
of Marxist-Leninism came from this region in the aftermath of the
Emergency, leading to the formation of the first autonomous women's
rights groups in the country in the mid 1970s.

The history of the Telangana region is a history of political
radicalism and resistance to forces of conservatism across the board –
ranging from fundamentalism and feudalism to authoritarian "democracy"
to dogmatic and patriarchal communism. It is this history of Telangana
that will set the new state apart. At a time when global capitalism
has eaten into our economies and our lives, Telangana having paid a
particularly heavy price, we need to draw on our history of political
radicalism and set out the non- negotiables – resistance to virulent
capitalism and discrimination being an important part of state policy.
The opposition to economic inequality and hegemony that provides the
primary justification for the emergent state must travel its full
course and draw an irreversible roadmap for the equitable distribution
of resources.

The second pillar of the demand for a separate Telangana is the fact
of cultural hegemon. The Telugu film industry is the worst offender –
the criminalizing of Telangana language and the people of Telangana in
popular culture reaching levels that undermine the dignity of the
people of the region. Culturally, what sets Telangana apart is its
composite culture and the strong presence of the Deccani language till
recently not a language spoken by Muslims alone, but increasingly
becoming so; and the presence of a strong and visible Muslim

In the aftermath of Gujarat, the state's war on terror and hindu
nationalist propaganda has driven a deep wedge of mistrust and
exclusion – Muslim youth in Hyderabad [the heart of Telangana]
becoming targets of suspicion, illegal arrests and detention. Sixty
years ago, this region witnessed a historic struggle against
imperialist-feudal-capitalist-communal forces, and forged a common
identity based on shared values of justice and equity. In recalling
that struggle, we need to ask ourselves what conscious measures we
have taken in crafting our struggle to give voice to minorities –
voice and visibility can only be effective through shared leadership.
And in this we need to move beyond a token presence of the mandatory
"minority representative" in the leadership. The meetings must address
not merely the Telugu-speaking people of Telangana but the
Urdu-speaking people as well, a sizeable section. We can scarcely
forget that Telangana will be a bilingual state – with Telugu and Urdu
as official languages with equal focus.

Speaking of feudal and cultural domination, the central focus of the
Telangana struggle was the liberation of women from violent
subjugation. And the participation of women in this struggle is
historic – Mallu Swarajyam and Chityala Ailamma continue to be widely
revered icons. Three decades later, Telangana, more specifically
Hyderabad, was the centre of the emergence of the autonomous women's
movement which put the articulation of women's rights in place
nationally – the agenda that was drawn up then continues to influence
public policy and party politics across the board even today. And
Hyderabad continues to be remembered as one of the few cities in the
country that witnessed the birth of the second wave women's movement.

As progressive women who support the demand for the Telangana state,
we act in the faith that this leadership, given its stated commitment
to democratic ideals and equal citizenship will exercise duty of care
in matters as important as this. It is time now for us to look around
us and ask, where are the women leaders? That women, equally with men
are the architects of this movement, there is no doubt. What needs a
second look, however, is what is the space women occupy in the
official deliberations on state formation? While it may be argued,
rather simplistically, that nobody obstructs women's elevation to
leadership, or even their entry into the political arena, the more
pertinent question has to do with how women's leadership is being
enabled and built consciously on equal terms with men.

Adivasis of the Telangana region have a history of resistance against
all forms of hegemony and today continue to provide vital support for
the movement. This is a struggle that goes back at least to the early
1940s, when Gonds under the leadership of Komaram Bheem fought state
repression. In the present context, across different adivasi
communities in the region, the Telangana movement has seen the
emergence of adivasi leadership at different levels. Dialogues with
adivasi communities in this region have demonstrated their unswerving
support for a separate state.

Over the past several decades, especially in Independent India there
have been concerted struggles waged by these communities in different
parts of the state for control over resources and land as well as
struggles against forced displacement. Adivasis of this region were
the first to define the meaning of self-rule, building it around
control over resources, knowledge and culture. We have often spoken of
the resources in the Telangana region. Since these resources – coal,
water, minerals, forests — are an inalienable part of the homelands of
the Gond, Koya, Kollam, Nayakpodu, Chenchu and other tribes, decisions
on resource utilization must be a matter of adivasi self
determination, because a failure on this count will amount to
recolonisation. This brings us back to the question of Adivasi voices
and visibility in the processes leading to state formation.

Within Adivasi communities, importantly, there is a diversity of
location, identity and experience that has been central to any
dialogue or contestation on their rights. And they have secured
important gains through courts and on the ground. This dialogue and
contestation is one that characterizes every vulnerable community –
the specific situation of Telugu Muslims, the need for Madiga
reservation, the situation of Dalit and Muslim women and the specific
experience of different adivasi communities in the region. We must, in
building a common platform keep sight of this diversity, and make
every effort to be representative in real terms, difficult though the
task may be – through a sharing of leadership in significant numbers –
rather than be satisfied with a representation of issues alone.

The agenda for Telangana is born out of the lives and struggles of
diverse communities in the region. The leadership of the struggle must
give voice to the contribution of these diverse constituencies in
order to be truly representative – and the burden of ensuring that
this movement strikes a different path is on the progressive civil
liberties leaders in the movement. It is well within the realm of the
possible because the social and intellectual base that supports the
movement is its strength. At this time we need to move beyond assuming
that representation will follow after the struggle has achieved its
goal, because representation, for us is a defining component of the
goal itself.

[This article is the result of discussions between the author, Sagari
Ramdas and N. Madhusudhan and presents a shared perspective]

This article is an English translation of the article in Telegu that
appeared in Varta.


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