THE Telangana People’s Armed Struggle is one of the glorious phases in the freedom struggle of our country and also of the communist movement. The struggle, which started against the feudal exploitation of the Nizam rule in the erstwhile Hyderabad State in 1946, continued till 1951. The Telangana struggle can be broadly divided into three phases – the initial phase, struggle against the vetti system and eviction from land; the second phase, ouster of Nizam, establishment of village self-rule and distribution of land to the tiller and the third and final phase, safeguarding the gains and withdrawal of the struggle.
Hyderabad State consisted of three linguistic regions, Telangana area consisting eight Telugu-speaking districts (50 per cent of the area), Marathwada region of five Marathi-speaking districts (28 per cent), and three Kannada-speaking districts (22 per cent). The culture and language of the overwhelming majority of people living in the state was suppressed by the rulers, and their natural desire for education and cultural development, for protection and development of their own mother-tongue got inevitably linked up with the struggle against the Nizam’s rule.
The basic feature that dominated the socio-economic life of the people, especially in Telangana was the unbridled feudal exploitation. About 60 per cent of the land in the state was governmental land and about 10 per cent was Nizam’s own estate. The jagir areas constituted 30 per cent of the total state and jagirdars were the feudal oppressors. Here, land taxes on irrigated lands used to be ten times more than those collected in government lands. Various kinds of illegal exactions and forced labour were the normal feature. Some of these jagirdars had their own separate police, revenue, civil and criminal systems.
Apart from jagirdars, there were deshmukhs and deshpandes who were earlier tax collectors for the government and later became landlords grabbing thousands of acres of the most fertile, cultivated land through foul means. Peasants cultivating these lands were reduced to the position of tenants-at-will. Even lands which were in possession of the peasants were confiscated by the landlords during the period of economic crisis, when the peasants were unable to pay taxes.
In Telangana, vetti system was an all-pervasive social phenomenon. Each dalit family had to send one man from the family to do vetti. Their daily job consisted of household work in the landlord’s house and also act as their messenger. Dalits, who stitched shoes or prepared leather accessories for agricultural operations were forced to supply these to the landlords free of cost.
Toddy-tappers had to supply toddy; shepherds, their sheep; weavers, cloth; carpenters and blacksmiths, all agricultural implements and potters, pots, free of cost. Washermen were forced to wash clothes and vessels and barbers had to do daily service in the house and at night press the feet of the landlord and massage his body. Certain Other Backward Communities were forced to carry men and women of the landlord families in palanquins, from one village to another.
Peasants were also not spared of vetti. They had to till the lands of the landlords before they could work in their own fields. Until the landlords’ lands were watered, peasants would not get water for their fields. Agricultural labourers had to work in landlord’s fields without any remuneration and only then go to other peasants’ work for their livelihood. These various forms of forced labour and exactions were extracted not only by the landlords, but by all the officials, petty or high.
The worst of all these feudal exactions was the prevalence of keeping girls as ‘slaves’. When landlords gave their daughters in marriage they presented these slave girls and sent them along with their married daughters, to serve them in their new homes. These slave girls were used by the landlords as concubines.
Vetti system utterly degraded the life of Telangana people and ruined their self-respect. It was on this issue that the peasantry came into head-on confrontation with the feudal lords at the beginning of the 1940s. By that time, the Communist Party had become an organised force and was able to identify itself with these fighting, oppressed tenants and the rural poor.
Nizam’s rule was an autocratic rule, where there were no elected bodies at any level and no civil liberties whatsoever. It was against such a regime that the growing number of liberals, influenced by the development of the national movement in India, organised themselves into the Andhra Mahasabha, a broad political, cultural organisation in the Telangana region, into the Maharashtra Parishad and Kannada Parishad in the other two regions. Andhra unit of the Communist Party contacted many militant and progressive cadre among them and was able to build powerful groups in Telangana.
Initially, the Andhra Mahasabha confined itself to passing resolutions demanding reforms in the administrative structure, civil liberties, for more schools and concessions for the landed gentry, but did not mobilise people and launch struggles against the oppressors or the Nizam. The Communist Party did a stupendous work in taking the Andhra Mahasabha to the people. Moderates in the Andhra Mahasabha were opposed to this. The Left, led by Communists, demanded the abolition of vetti, ban on rack-renting, eviction of tenants and for confirmation of title deeds to the lands they were cultivating, drastic reduction of taxes and rents, compulsory survey settlements, abolition of tax on toddy trees, abolition of jagirdari and full responsible government and rallied people behind these demands.
From the beginning of 1944, Andhra Mahasabha under the leadership of the Communist Party conducted many struggles against zamindars and deshmukhs. The Sangham, as the Andhra Mahasabha was affectionately called, led these struggles by planting red flags in the fields. People under the leadership of the Sangham did not allow goondaism, they stopped giving bribes, nazaras to big landlords and performing vetti.
In this background, in 1946, Visnur Ramachandra Reddy, the hated deshmukh of Jangaon taluka, forcibly tried to take possession of land belonging to Ailamma, who was a staunch supporter and worker of the Sangham. He planned to seize the harvest directly from the fields. Seeing Sangham volunteers marching with lathis and fierce determination, the goondas ran for their lives. The harvest was gathered and sent to Ailamma’s house. The same night police arrived, but they dared not touch the harvested grain stored in Ailamma’s house. This incident roused the spirit of the people and lit the spark for the Telangana struggle.
Following this incident, on July 4, 1946, a procession was organised, on which the stooges of the landlords fired many shots, leading to the death of village Sangham leader Doddi Komarayya. Komarayya’s martyrdom set ablaze the pent-up fury of the Telangana peasantry. People rose in all taluks in Nalgonda en masse. People of one village armed with sticks and slings would march to the neighbouring villages and rouse them. A special feature of these processions was that along with men, women also took part not only in their own village, but in other villages also. People who came from neighbouring villages were fed without any distinction of caste and religion. They would jointly hold public meetings before the gadi (house of the deshmukh or the landlord), hoist the red flag and declare: ‘Sangham is organised here. No more vetti¸ no more illegal exactions, no evictions’. If the landlord or the deshmukh did not carry out these orders of the Sangham, they were socially boycotted. These orders of the Sangham were implemented and none worked for the landlord. Within a few weeks, the movement spread to about 300-400 villages in Nalgonda and neighbouring districts.
For the first time, the problem of land, eviction and vetti and forcible grain levies, were connected with the slogan of abolition of zamindari system, and that was the main feature of this period. In this flood of people’s movement, the government could not collect the levy grain. The officers and men who used to collect it were not even allowed to step into the village. Vetti was automatically brought to an end.
Many landlords ran away from the villages and sought the intervention of the Nizam, which led to the establishment of military camps in many villages. Military raids went on for weeks and months. People stood these hardships without losing courage. Taking advantage of these raids, landlords who left the villages, returned. A sort of paralysis spread over the people’s movement.
The Communist Party started training people’s volunteer corps, especially in those areas where they were facing determined attacks from the armed stooges of the landlords. It was these trained volunteers who defended the peasants against the landlords’ goonda attacks in 1945 and 1946. Every man and woman in every house pledged himself or herself to the fight. A big drum was put in the centre of the village at the sound of which everyone, wherever they might be, was to rush in and join the battle-field with their weapons. Hundreds and thousands of peasant youth, armed with lathis and slings, women with chilli powder, stones and boiling water, defended their hearth and home. That was the mood, spirit, discipline and confidence of the people.
Telangana people’s discontent and upsurge was so deep and great that they put an end to vetti, illegal exactions, compulsory grain levies and started to reoccupy the lands seized earlier by the landlords. People started resisting the landlords’ armed attacks, got ready to face the armed police and even the military forces of the Nizam; women joined the resistance in every manner possible and a mass cultural upsurge of militant songs, folk arts, took place.
As part of its resistance movement, the Party gave a call to defy court summons and arrest warrants, called them not to get caught by the police, resist confiscation and auction of properties. The masses responded enthusiastically and carried out these instructions to the letter, developing newer and newer forms of resistance. People looked after the Party leaders as the apple of their eye.
In these struggles, except towards the latter part of 1946, peasant squads were not trained to take up fire-arms. Party instructed the volunteer squads not to take recourse to arms, as it would transform the struggle into an entirely new stage and would have all-India repercussions. It was only under incessant armed police attacks, when the first upsurge of the peasant masses was suppressed that the Party allowed its cadre to arm themselves and go in for armed self-defence.