Friday, February 12, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Stir, My Beloved Country

CURRENT AFFAIRS special report

Stir, My Beloved Country

Water, self-respect, opportunity – SAMRAT CHAKRABARTI tracks all the
reasons why the Telangana movement has become a passionate roar on the

Battle cry Telangana supporters at a protest rally in Hyderabad
KRISHANK M, 21, an aspiring actor and student, grabs a quick bite
sitting on a charpoy under a tent in the nondescript village of
Chinnapur, just off NH-9. The Osmania University student, along with
120 others drawn from 12 universities across the Telangana region, has
stopped for a lunch organized specially for them by the village chief.
"We grew up hearing and reading stories about what it was like to be
part of India's freedom struggle. I never thought I'd ever know what
it felt like to experience it first-hand. But today, I do," says the
law student who, along with other members of the Telangana Students
Joint Action Committee (TSJAC), is demanding that a separate Telangana
state be carved out from Andhra Pradesh. Krishank and his colleagues
have been on the road for 12 days already during the course of their
march. By the time it finishes eight days later, after crisscrossing
Karimnagar on the way to Adilabad and Warangal, the students would
have walked 600 km across five districts and 300-odd villages to tap
into support for a separate state.

When the Telangana agitation came to a boil in December last year with
K Chandrashekhar Rao's fast-unto-death leading to a shutdown in the
region, many regarded it as mere cynical politics, a desperate gambit
by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader to revive a political
career that had been in free-fall. But the reality on the ground is
very different: there is a huge, popular mass movement that is fast
gaining critical momentum. Students like Krishank and his colleagues
are beinng feted as heroes as they espouse their cause across the
countryside, tapping into the simmering discontent. Typically, the
students walk around 30 km each day. Walking alongside the students on
the stretch from Jagitala to Chinnapur TEHELKA saw villagers —
sometimes a few hundred in number, sometimes less — lining the route
to garland the marchers, tossing flowers and egging them on. School
children have given their classes a miss to see their heroes, holding
aloft banners; some girls jostle to take autographs in their exercise
books. Women come out and dance in circles around the intricate flower
arrangements made along the route. Motorists slow down, stopping and
joining in the impromptu dance. It is as if Batakama, the local spring
festival, has arrived early. The celebrations are an expression of
cultural identity and a proclamation of self-respect. Indeed, the
students are terming their statehood call a self-respect movement. By
all indications the students will be the show-stoppers in Dharmapuri
when they make it to the village later for a seminar on the Telangana
movement, struggle and the way forward. The whole village will be in

"It's no longer an identity movement or about development. It's become
a selfrespect movement. In 1969 (when Congress defector M Chenna Reddy
founded the Telangana Praja Samithi and launched an agitation which
petered out within two years), it was mainly middle class and urban in
nature and led primarily by a political party. But this time there is
a much wider support base," explains Nagam Kumaraswamy, another member
of the TS-JUC. "We are seeing the convergence of just about every
social movement, involving all the other denominations — urban, rural
poor, dalits and the middle class — all coming together regardless of
class, caste or political affiliations. This time it's a mass movement
led by the people and not controlled by any political party," says the
PhD in Political Science from Osmania University.

The agitation certainly shows no signs of petering out this time. An
under-pressure central government announced on December 9 last year
that the process of forming a separate Telangana state would be
started soon. The Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions protested
against the proposed carving-up of the state, with local ministers and
MLAs shooting off their resignations. A fortnight later the Centre
backtracked, saying no action would be taken until all parties reached
a consensus on Telangana.

An all-party Telangana Joint Action Committee (JAC) and many other
such panels have cropped up ever since, staging relay hunger strikes
and threatening resignations of all legislators. Earlier this month,
the Union Home Ministry set up a five-member panel on Telangana headed
by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice DN Srikrishna. The panel will
consult all parties and the public on the matter. As many as 139 MLAs
and a handful of MPs have quit over the issue, but their resignations
are yet to be accepted. Rallies, hunger strikes and suicides have been
a regular feature in the last few weeks.

Shutdown Protests have been a regular feature ever since
Chandrashekhar Rao went on a fast-unto-death last November

In flames Students set alight a vehicle during protests at Osmania
University last month
Photo: AFP

Jail-bound Policemen detain a Telangana supporter in Hyderabad at a
Telangana today is dotted with small tents along main arterial roads,
major intersections and highways, sporting the words JAC prominently.
There are about 100 JACs and counting. These are decentralised
political units organised along caste, occupation and organisational
lines. Typically, workers at a factory and even shops organise
themselves under a JAC banner and stage a hunger strike, hold
awareness campaigns or engage in civil disobedience.

"The role model was the Osmania students' JAC," says M Kodandaram, a
political JAC convener and a professor at the university. "They took
out a rally on November 29 (the day Chandrashekhar Rao began his fast)
when they were caned. The lathi charge was brutal and the TV clippings
really motivated people to come out and support (the students). Every
village, town, district and mandal has a JAC. It's the instrument
that's leading the agitation," he says.

These JACs have managed to come up in a matter of weeks because there
is considerable political awareness among the people of the region.
This owes a great deal to a public meeting held in Warangal in 1996
when 2,000-odd people, among them lawyers, trade unionists,
development workers and the intellectual elite, met and discussed the
way forward for the Telangana movement. Kumaraswamy explains: "This
present movement, which incudes everyone regardless of caste, creed or
class, has been possible because of the artist. Not the politician.
You have to understand that Telangana is rich in folk traditions and
home to many singers. These balladeers write their own songs, songs
about the village and the locality and the problems they are facing
and the exploitation at work. They are great political commentators."

THE FORMATION of Chandrashekhar Rao's party in 2001 with a separate
Telangana state as its stated onepoint agenda represented the
organisational apogee of that momentum. Kumaraswamy, a dalit, says of
the uppercaste Rao: "We may have differences with him as an
individual, but as a political unit they have our support because we
all need to stand together to get Telangana. The different
organisations that have come together will pursue their own agendas
only once Telangana is achieved. That is paramount." Adds Krishank:
"We will support whoever supports Telangana."

At the heart of the simmering Telangana agitation is
under-representation in governance and bureaucracy and the cultural
and social prejudice that has pushed locals to the fringes and made
them unemployable. Previous regimes have reneged on their promises and
neglected the region. Most locals today feel their destiny is no
longer in their hands, having been appropriated by the landed
aristocracy of a different culture and community (the coastal
Andhraites) which considers them lesser citizens.

To understand the current movement, one has to begin with water. The
chief occupation in the region is agriculture. Being largely a
semi-arid zone, irrigation is paramount. The Krishna and Godavari run
through Telengana but while the region's catchment share from the
Krishna is 68 percent, its actual allotment is only 37 percent. It is
a similar story with the Godavari. Taking into account all the
existing and proposed projects, Telangana will have an irrigated to
cultivable land ratio of a mere 18 percent This, despite having the
highest cultivable area and a lion's share of the two rivers that flow
through Andhra Pradesh. The situation, in a semi-arid land dependent
almost entirely on monsoon, worsened in the late 1990s after a change
in agrarian policy under the then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

In keeping with the global economic market mantra, Naidu sought to
integrate the farmer with the market through the introduction of
contract agriculture. Among other things, this meant a change from the
traditional rain-fed food crops to cash crops which required more
water. A change to commercial agriculture needed investment, such as
borewells, which were the only dependable water source for farmers in
the region.

But in Telangana, bank loans dried up because banks were under
pressure to return a profit from every loan transaction. This left the
Telangana farmer at the mercy of moneylenders and traders who charged
high interest rates. The farmers borrowed at those rates and dug
borewells (about 75 percent of the borewells in the region were dug
between 1993 and 2005) and matters turned for the worse. Power became
a significant cost, the supply was erratic, groundwater dried up and
then came the nail in the coffin: three consecutive poor monsoons.
This led to the farmer suicides.

"Telangana now comes as a solution to all these problems. It says,
okay, we can redistribute the existing water in Krishna and Godavari
and with Telangana's due share from canal waters and using that to
fill up all the tanks, we can make agriculture profitable even in
Telangana," says Kodandaram. The region has always had a tangible and
distinct identity. This shows up in cuisine, religious festivals and
language. Owing to its varied history, Telangana has been a
multi-cultural cauldron with its dialect a mix of Persian, Marathi,
Kannada and Telugu.

At the time of the merger of Telangana region with Andhra state in
1956, the people from the coast had a distinct advantage. Apart from
the economic inequity of the two peoples, the Andhraites were more
able administrators due to their familiarity with English under the
British. Andhra also had a much larger Congress base, which fetched
political dividends. Not helping matters for the Telanganite was the
flight of its elite following the Nizam's ouster; most of the Muslim
aristocracy headed off to Pakistan and the Marathwada and Kannada
Brahmins back to Maharashtra and Karnataka respectively. Telangana did
not have a significant socio-economic elite to balance the landed
aristocracy of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra. The State
Re-organisation Committee had recommended that Telangana's merger
should be put off by at least six years, if not altogether, to give
the region some time to develop. The Centre ignored the

Over the years, the lion's share of the state's bureaucracy, business
and commerce has been taken over by the coastal elite. And when one
factors in the prejudice of other regions, this translates into a lack
of good jobs for the Telanganite, whose doctorate from Osmania
University will fetch him a job paying Rs 3,000 a month. T Srikanth
Rao, an Osmania scholar and Telangana Students Joint Action Committee
member, says: "If you go to Dr Reddy's Labs, for example, you'll see
that any managerial or supervisory post is held either (by someone)
from Andhra or elsewhere, never from Telangana. The only Telanganaites
you will find are less than half the workers on the factory floor.
Even among the workers you'll be hard put to find any Telanganites…"
Krishank adds: "We are migrating from these areas to… Mumbai and Dubai
and as drivers and electricians. The manual labour is always from
Telangana, the intellectual brains always from Andhra." It's no
accident that the movement erupted in Osmania University and is being
led by Dalit students. They've had to watch the better life from the

"We cannot afford to go abroad and study. The Telugus going abroad to
study, you'll notice, are all from Andhra because they are the only
ones who can afford it," Krishank says. "We live on scholarships, we
fill the government institutions. We cannot afford the higher private
technical education… We can't afford it. A huge majority of students
in Osmania University are poor."

KUMARASWAMY SAYS: "An equally bitter pill to swallow has been the
prevalent cultural and social prejudice… that considers the
Telanganite, perhaps due to the unequal educational opportunities and
his difficulty with English, as inferior. His Telugu, which given his
multicultural lineage draws from Urdu, Marathi and Kannada, is
considered less 'pure' and his Dalit festivals contemptible." He says
the prejudice is "flagrant in the media", making the Telanganite feel
"unrepresented and relegated to the margins". Kumaraswamy adds: "The
only time a character in a Telugu movie speaks in a Telangana accent
is when he is meant to be ridiculed..."

The students laugh when told their movement is being linked with
Maoists. "In this country, every time a people's movement comes up
they have only one preferred strategy and that is to label it as
extremist. They are free to investigate if we are Maoists or not…
(Ours) has become a people issue," Kumaraswamy says. Krishank adds
that there is no question of theirs becoming an armed struggle.

Change is in the air and it appears this time that the pro-Telangana
protesters will finally get their way. The old order appears set to
change, and quickly at that.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 07, Dated February 20, 2010


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