Telangana rebellion

Telangana rebellion

Before Indian independence, Hyderabad state was a princely state within the territory of British India, comprised of three linguistic regions: the Telugu-speaking Telengana area (including the capital city, Hyderabad), the Marathi-speaking Marathwada area, and a small Kannada-speaking area. Telengana occupied 50% of the state’s area. The ruling elites, including the Nizam, were Muslims, while the majority were Hindus.

The nature of land ownership in the region was extremely exploitative. Forty percent of the land was either directly owned by the Nizam or given by the Nizam to elites in the form of jagirs (special tenures). The remaining sixty percent was under the government’s land revenue system, which relied on powerful landlords and gave no legal rights or security from eviction to the people actually cultivating the land. Other exploitative practices were widespread. The vetti (forced labour) system consisted of work performed by lower castes at the will of the landlord. For example, each so-called “untouchable” family was required to send one man everyday to do household labour and other jobs for the landlord. Another practice was “the prevalence of keeping girls as ‘slaves’ in landlords’ houses… used by landlords as concubines”.

The large landowners had taken over significant tracts of land, either through forced occupation or debt-sales. A small number of prominent landlords owned lands in the range of 30,000 to 100,000 acres, and 550 landlords owned land above 500 acres, amounting to about 60-70% of the cultivable land. The exaction from the peasants was immense, as “110 of them landlords used to collect 100,000,000 rupees every year,” while the official revenue income of the whole Hyderabad state was no more than 80,000,000 rupees .

In the 1920s, the suppression of languages and cultures provoked resistance, which eventually led to more wide-ranging agitations. At a Hindu Social Reform Conference held in 1922, a speaker attempting to give his address in Telugu was hooted out, leading several elders to form the Andhra Jan Sangham (“Andhra People’s Association”) “with the objective of securing a proper place for Telugu language and culture in Hyderabad City”. The group began to move beyond language issues, and in 1928, the Andhra Mahasabha (AMS) was organized. AMS, with membership limited to the urban educated elite, was largely concerned with reforms in administration, demands for more schools, concessions for the landed, and civil liberties.

Soon, though, a group of newly radicalized youth, including Ravi Narayan Reddy, joined the AMS. With their entry, a change was evident, which is reflected in the demands of the group’s 1934 conference: reduced land revenue rates, abolition of vetti, and the introduction of Telugu into the local courts (Pavier 1981: 68). The advent of the Second World War saw the beginning of communist influence on the AMS, and in 1942, with the removal of the ban on the Communist Party of India (CPI), the communists began to grow in Hyderabad. By 1943, the CPI had built a strong organisation in Telengana. The AMS was evolving into a radical nationalist organisation, collaborating with the communists to organize the peasantry. In the 11th session of the AMS in 1944, under the presidentship of Ravi Narayan Reddy, a split occurred and the right wing of the organisation was ousted.

ensions mounted when Visnur Ramachandra Reddy, a hereditary tax collector, attempted to forcibly take land belonging to a member of a village sangham. He sent a group of 100 goons and 100 servants to forcibly gather the harvest. They were resisted by the local village sangham leaders and volunteers. The next day, six leaders of the sangham were arrested at the call of the landlord. On July 4, 1946, a procession was organised by the villagers protesting the violence and terrorism of the landlord’s goons. As they approached the landlord’s house, some of the goons opened fire on the procession, leading to the death of Doddi Komarayya, the sangham leader. News spread to the nearly villages. People came with hay and fuel to burn down the landlord’s house. At this point, the landlord’s son arrived with 200 goons. Sixty policemen also arrived on the scene, assuring the people that strict action would be taken against the goons. The crowd dispersed, and – despite the police assurances – the goons were handed back to the landlord, and cases were filed against the sangham leaders.

The death of Komarayya enraged the people, sparking a massive revolt amongst the Telengana peasantry, with people from neighboring villages marching, holding meetings in front of the landlords house, declaring: “Sangham is organised here. No more vetti, no more illegal exactions, no evictions”. By the end of July, the movement had spread to about 300-400 villages across three districts. Several landlords and officials hurriedly left the villages. Volunteer groups were organised to defend peasants from attacks; their weapons were sticks and stones.

In response, the police, with the help of landlords, conducted a series of search operations, leading villagers to arm themselves. In October 1946, the Nizam’s government banned the AMS, and a spurt of arrests and military raids took place. Under these conditions of martial rule, some landlords began returning. The agitated masses, in one case, beat up a landlord who had insulted one of the women in the sangham, and this news spread like wildfire. The villagers also used leaflets that threatened severe action against the police if they indulged in violent activities.



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