This is a Guest Post by GAURAV J PATHANIA
As the twenty-ninth Indian state, Telangana owes its formation to the half-a-century-long mass movement and countless sacrifices by its people. In the movement for separate statehood, thousands of university students lost their lives, families and careers.
After the initial upheaval in 1969, the movement peaked again in 2009, thanks to Osmania University students who spearheaded fresh activism, and rising to become the real heroes of the movement. Throughout these trying times, hundreds of students were arrested and jailed, yet the government could not break the spirit of the movement. And so, just before he took oath of office on June 2, 2014 as the first Chief Minister of the new Telangana state, K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), the head of the ruling party Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), promised to rescind the police cases lodged against Telangana activists during the movement, as well as create one lakh jobs for the new state’s youth.
However, today, almost a year later, students are now back on the streets protesting against the state they fought so hard to bring into existence. Angry and dissatisfied with the present government’s neglect of its own promises, they formed the ‘Unemployed Joint Action Committee’ (JAC). Their current struggle has been met with police beatings and arrests. What is more shocking is that student activists have received retroactive government orders from the police, who had lodged cases against them for their involvement during the Telangana movement. Not surprisingly, activists who did not join the ruling TRS party have been targeted. The handful of activists given election tickets by the TRS and who are currently in power remain silent about their fellows’ plight. Generations of Osmania students, who made countless sacrifices for the state now feel cheated. And finally, students are shocked by attempts by the present government to grab university land. Osmania students see these actions as yet another chapter of betrayal in the long history of the struggle for separate Telangana.
1969: The First Betrayal.
On 1 November 1956, the state of Andhra Pradesh was created on a linguistic basis merging the Telangana region with Andhra, which aroused discontented voices. Since then, Telangana has been neglected repeatedly, specifically in government employment and financial allocation, as people from Andhra dominated the administration. Though there were many “safeguards”arranged for Telangana to ensure equal development in the region, many of them were never implemented. Employees hailing from Telangana faced constant humiliation as their was culture considered “inferior” and their Telugu accent ridiculed. As Osmania University is located in the capital city of Hyderabad, its students saw through this cultural” politics quite clearly. When agitations to uphold the policy of safeguards were repeatedly ignored by the government, OU students raised the demand for separate statehood in 1969. They formed the Telangana Praja Samiti (TPS) and rallied widely for support. Their collective anger burst onto the streets of Hyderabad in the form of the first violent student agitation, accelerating the movement yet creating bedlam in the city for nearly a year. Hundreds of students lost their lives in police atrocities which fueled more protests. This resulted in a mass satyagraha in all districts of Telangana. For the entire academic year, students were on the road confronting the police. Jails quickly became overpopulated with students, and even schools in Telangana were used as detention centers. At the movement’s peak, students invited Dr. Marri Chenna Reddy, a Congress party leader to head the TPS. In the 1971 election, TPS won 11 of 14 parliamentary seats, the most remarkable victory in the history of students’ struggle. With high hopes, pamphlets were published to announce “Telangana State”. Unfortunately, Reddy’s politicking and the eventual merger of TPS with the ruling Congress party led to widespread frustration among students, as they lost trust in the state. Activism on campus waned and the emotions and forces generated by the 1969 movement did not find a political platform. Sympathies began to sway towards the extreme Left with many student leaders joining the Naxal movement and People’s War Group. More than a decade later, these students eventually became disillusioned as Telangana was not on the Left’s agenda, and returned home and took up jobs. Nevertheless, the vision of a “Separate Telangana” never wavered in the minds of the leading intellectuals who had experienced the 1969 agitation and lost their friends in police firings. In 1986, they formed the “Telangana Information Trust” where they penned their experiences of the movement. Later, many of them became popular writers and poets. In addition, OU alumni formed many socio-cultural organisations such as Telangana Jana Parishad, Telangana Mahasabhaand Telangana Sanskruti Samakhya and to bring about consciousness to the masses.
When the Indian government brought into being the new states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarkhand, aspirations rekindled among Telangana supporters. They now tool their agenda to national-level authorities. In 2001, the TRS was formed under the leadership of KCR, and revived Telangana activism. From this point onwards, through various programmes, pamphlets and songs, students spread awareness in cities and villages about social backwardness of Telangana, an absolute deficit of governance and nepotism in employment practices in the present state, as well as the unjust exploitation of Telengana’s natural resources. During this phase, the movement expanded and diffused into different ideological camps, no longer clinging to the Left. The movement entered a second phase on 29 November 2009 when KCR’s announcement of a fast-unto-death caught national attention. The role of students at this time was very crucial; before KCR began his fast, he ensured he had the support of students and all of Telangana. Later, when KCR broke his fast without conferring with students, they became distrustful and in their disappointment, carried out KCR’s symbolic shava yatra (funeral procession). From this point onwards, the students’ took the movement into their own hands and made a powerful attempt to reach the masses by forming a Joint Action Committee (JAC)-a non-political organization.
The concept of JAC became widely popular and its decisions were unanimously accepted. The historic rally Vidyarthi Garjana(The Roar of the Students) organised by the OU-JAC attracted thousands of students who assembled in front of Arts College, in spite of desperate efforts by police to stop them. This week-long agitation did not go unnoticed by politicians and the masses. Political parties tried to dissolve student unity. Student JACs, however, remained steadfast and chalked out a Padayatra (journey on foot) to visit all Telangana districts (from 18 January to 7 February 2010) starting from OU and ending at Kakatiya University (KU), Warangal. This was their strategy to garner direct mass support, and it worked well. People were overwhelmed by the students’ commitment to the issues and received them whole heartedly. Newspapers covered stories where villagers literally washed the students’ feet with milk in order to honour them. Student leaders gained even more respect and trust, which jeopardised the image of Telangana politicians. In 2011, through programmes such as the Non-Cooperation Movement, Sakala Janula Samme and Chalo Assembly and Chalo Delhi, students once again proved that the Telangana movement did not rest completely in the hands of political parties.
Osmania’s Significance to Telangana
Osmania University and the Telangana movement have long been synonymous. The Telangana movement and its relation with the Osmania campus, and more specifically, Arts College – the movement’s breeding ground – is distinct in many ways. Since its inception, the movement has faced several hurdles; yet the enthusiasm and the spirit of struggle of Arts College students have been unwavering. There is a common saying among them that“once you are part of Arts College; you will be a Telangana activist for life”.The College became the “sacred” place for activists, where students pay homage to the sacrifices made by their predecessors. The Narmada Research Scholars (NRS) Hostel, also known as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Hostel, has been the hallowed abode of student leaders. Student activism catalysed the movement by bringing about socio-cultural consciousness. With their innovative methods, new terminologies and ideologies of protests, students propelled the Telangana agitations into a mass movement. Their contribution cannot be underestimated. Yet the present government seems to be ignoring Osmania’s legacy. Students are also angry that in mainstream media and new school text books the government is projecting KCR as the architect of Telangana. Now, on the eve of completing one year in government, KCR, instead of providing new employment opportunities to university students, is grabbing their campus land. This is yet another political betrayal students have experienced in the name of Telangana. Those who are in power should remember that these are students who have even laid down their lives so that the map of India could be redrawn in more just and democratic ways.
[ Gaurav J. Pathania is a research scholar at the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi ]