Words and Bullets

The unacknowledged role of women who shaped people’s movements in Telangana

31 August, 2022

THE STATUE OF CHITYALA AILAMMA is a recent addition at the Krishna Kanth Park junction, close to my working-class neighbourhood in Hyderabad. The arrival of the towering statue, with her hand holding up a baton, emphasises the mainstreaming of Telangana icons following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. In the 1940s, Ailamma’s fight for her land became the tipping point for the Telangana People’s Struggle against the Nizam. Long before the appearance of such statues, however, the legend of Ailamma rolled off the tongues of people in the region through songs and stories told by women. Her remarkable story presents one of the rare acknowledgements of Bahujan women in the movement.

Public meetings held by sangham members—as people associated with the communist-dominated Andhra Mahasabha were referred to at the time—typically included songs and performances modelled after the region’s folk culture. These became the cultural medium for the people’s struggle:

Tiragabaddanadu uyyalo, undura ee doralu uyyalo
Oorelli povuduru uyyalo, ee bhumi manadamma uyyalo

The day we revolt, o’ cradle, will these landlords be around, o’ cradle?
They will flee the village, o’ cradle, this land is ours, o’ cradle

In April 1944, various sangham members and residents of the Jangaon taluk, in Nalgonda district, gathered at the inauguration of a public library at Palakurthi. The atmosphere was tense because they were anticipating a backlash from feudal landlords and the police. Mallu Swarajyam, a young communist leader, sang at the event before it was disrupted by goons sent by Visnur Ramachandra Reddy, a landlord who owned around a hundred and sixty square kilometres of land across Jangaon. The event resulted in violence and the eventual arrests of 12 people, including Ailamma’s husband and sons, and Swarajyam’s brother.