By Uma Sudhir
“Telangana lo vanta, dilli lo manta” or “Cooking in Telangana, Fire in Delhi” was the slogan. But the heat of the June sun, the smoke and heat from the cooking fire around which they stood and the excitement of performing live before television cameras, was confusing the women party workers of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti every once in a while. They ended up saying “Telangana lo manta, dilli lo vanta” (fire in Telangana, cooking in Delhi). TRS leader KCR’s daughter Kavitha was quick to correct them and they giggled and continued animatedly to give voice to the Telangana cause.
Outside the Indo-American Cancer Centre, a short distance from the TRS headquarters in Hyderabad, on the one side were huge vessels on massive fires cooking meat on the road for a Sunday afternoon meal by the roadside. Sitting on the footpath were scores of lambada tribal women with toddlers and children, all wearing the pink TRS stole or holding a flag.
Shanti told me they had all come from Srinagar Colony, less than 5 km away. Her friend, Basavi, sitting next to her, tried to prompt her, asking her to say they had come from Mahbubnagar district. Shanti didn’t catch on. Daily wage labour, they anyways lived in makeshift shanties on the road, moving to wherever work takes them. Today they were asked to come with their children and vessels. I asked why she was sitting here, she said “For Telangana.”“Why?”
“We want Telangana.”
“Why?” Again the same answer. Till Basavi prompted saying, they wanted `jagah‘ (land) to live and with Telangana, they would get that.
I left soon after as I had to travel to Akunoor village, in Cheriyal, Warangal district. Rajitha who I had virtually seen growing up from a child of nine to a young woman was getting married today. Her father Malla Reddy had been a cotton farmer who committed suicide ten years ago as a heartbroken, indebted farmer. It was soon after the tragedy that I had first met his young, 28-year-old widow Mallamma and the three children, still in school then. Through the few Ups and several downs over the years, we had stayed in touch.
The mother and each of the children would call up and share happenings, fears, little joys in their life, every once in a while. To sometimes seek advice, to sometimes ask me to `scold’ the youngest of the children, Sekhar, for not doing well at school. I would sometimes visit them with some clothes, small gifts that I knew would come in handy.
Even today in all the hustle-bustle of the marriage, when there was curiosity among the in-laws about who we, the visitors were. Mallamma held forth on how after Malla Reddy had committed suicide, it was because `Madam’ had stood by her that she was able to stand up and feed her children and live for them, instead of giving up like her husband. My reports on NDTV had got the family some financial help (that she always says ensured her children did not starve during some very bad times) and it was after we took her story directly to the chief minister that YSR virtually came to her doorstep and gave her the one lakh rupees compensation such families were meant to get. Humbling some experiences are and inspiring too that your work can make a difference to someone’s life.
Through the years that I have known Mallamma, she is one of those who has refused to give up despite the worst odds. Failed borewells, rains playing truant, growing input costs, pest attacks and inclement weather, no remunerative returns, she has seen it all. When agriculture failed her, she would work as daily wage labourer in NREGA schemes so her family could eat. She would pitch in with her two daughters to roll beedis from the hour they wake up to late in the night. Back-breaking work it is to get some 60 rupees at the end of the day.
Two years ago, she got Gautami married and now Rajitha. No escape from paying a hefty dowry, all the more because they belong to the `high’ caste of Reddys. Mallamma has again borrowed heavily to conduct the marriage and pay for the dowry, which includes cots, household items, gold and cash. She still has to pay 60,000 rupees for a two-wheeler and a cooler. The groom’s side has been kind enough to agree to wait a couple of months. If she can’t arrange by then, Mallamma will have to part with her two acres.
“Last season’s crop failed. So this year I am not going to grow any crop. I don’t have any money for the inputs besides having to pay 150 rupees a day for labour is frightening. Now I don’t even have daughters to help out. So I have to survive as daily wage labour only,” Mallamma tells me. She has to swallow the pride of being a farmer herself. She can’t afford it.
Will a separate Telangana resolve the issues or even address the challenges faced by this hardworking and persistent farmer, the likes of who have kept the wheels of rural India moving, despite having nothing going for them except the will to go on? I doubt it.
Nearly 64 years after India got Independence, we have hardly shown ourselves to be conscious of or concerned about the challenges faced by the Mallammas in the `other’ India. I unfortunately don’t see hope for a change in their state that a new state can bring.