The first time I heard about Guda Anjanna (1 November 1955 - 21 June 2016), through my classmate and Anjanna’s nephew (brother’s son) Guda Rajendar, in 1989, when I was studying in 8th class. Anjanna belongs to Lingapur village of Dandepally Mandal in Adilabad District. At the time, I was studying in the Dandepally social welfare hostel, and Anjanna’s nephew Guda Rajendar was my classmate. Anjanna had two more well-educated brothers I knew at the time. Anjanna’s elder brother, Dr Guda Chandraiah (MBBS), was a Dalit leader and activist too. Later, after I left hostel, I heard that Dr Chandraiah died at an young age. Guda Shanthaiah, Guda Anjanna's younger brother was also a poet and songwriter; he too died at a very young age. I saw all of the three brothers of Guda family in my student life. They were all inspiring people.
The context of hearing about Guda Anjanna's name through his nephew was because our hostel in Dandepally was the centre for PDSU (Progressive Democratic Student Union) politics. The PDSU hostel committee was so strong that the same hostel committee was declared as the Adilabad district committee back then. We were introduced to revolutionary literature and songs. As usual, we used to listen to the very popular song “Vooru Manadira” - this song became so famous that there will be no village in Telangana region without some working people singing it. Here is a translation of the opening lines of the song*:
The village is ours! This wada is ours!
The village is ours! Every job needs us!
The hammer is ours! The knife is ours,
The crowbar is ours! The hoe is ours,
The cart is ours! The bullocks are ours!
Why do we need the Dora! Why do we need his tyranny over us,
why do we need the Dora! Why do we need his tyranny?
This song has now become famous throughout the country and has been translated into several languages. According to Mallepally Laxmaiah, this song was the signature song for the Naxalite movement. When some activists were singing this song, Guda Anjanna’s nephew Guda Rajendar informed me that this song was written by his father’s brother (uncle). Guda Anjanna was working as a pharmacist in the Utnoor government hospital then. I heard from Rajendar later that Guda Anjanna had shifted to Hyderabad on the suggestion of cine director, Narayana Murthy.
In 2000, I also shifted to Hyderabad and joined law. I saw Guda Anjanna in several meetings of people’s organisations, and I had a long meeting with him, in his house in Ramnagar, when I went there to meet Rajendar, who had come to see him. This was in 2004. I strongly remember this meeting and conversations with Anjanna because, he gave a completely different and path breaking outlook on the then existing Telangana movement. It was the time when Telangana mainstream political movement was in peak. Anjanna explained that the mainstream dominant politicians have vested interests in Telangana movement and he explained this very interestingly through a short story.
Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) joined the separate Telangana movement in 2002. Before his joining, the separate Telangana movement was headed and propagated by only left wing intellectuals, and their front organisations. With KCR joining, the separate Telangana movement and the formation of the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS), a mainstream political party, many feudal dominant caste leaders started joining the Telangana movement and the TRS party. There were lots of debates and criticisms against the joining of feudal leaders in the movement, since there would always be the risk of the movement becoming status quoist for the benefit of the feudal Reddys, Komati, Velama and Brahman and upper Shudra castes in Telangana. Now it is realized that with the formation of a separate Telangana state, it has resulted in the transfer of state power to the Telangana dominant castes, and atrocities on Dalits have also drastically increased since then.
Post-independence, the first generation of feudal landlords became MLAs, MPs and leaders in all political parties, be it Congress, the Communist parties, BJP, or regional parties such as TDP (Telugu Desham Party) and TRS (Telangana Rastra Samithi). Many of the first generation feudal landlords also became IAS, IPS, lawyers, doctors, engineers and other professionals. Except for those who were in politics, the others left villages due to the Naxalite movement and settled in cities such as Hyderabad, or migrated to western countries such as America, Canada, Australia and UK with the advantage of modern education. The second generation also became doctors, engineers and other professionals apart from being in politics. The third generation of feudal castes are not much aware about Telangana villages because most of them were born and brought up in either foreign countries or in metro cities; they are mostly into software and other modern professions. One needs to be aware of the cultural differences between societies in foreign countries and feudal societies such as Telangana.
The first generation of feudal families enjoyed the exploitation of Dalits and marginalised communities in Telangana villages with the practice of Vetti, bonded labour and Jogini. Those were the times when no one from the marginalised communities dared to wear shoes and rumal (the traditional headdress of man) before the feudal landlords. When the feudal landlord entered the village, the people of marginalised communities were required to remove their shoes and their rumal. They were compelled to stand and fold their hands. In western societies, the situation is completely different. In this context, Guda Anjanna explained the attitude of the Telangana feudal dominant castes and their participation in the separate Telangana movement in a short story of three generations of a feudal family of Telangana.
Anjanna spoke to me, "A first generation man (grandfather) from a feudal family from Telangana visited his grandson in America. The grandson took him around in America in an expensive car, and they partook of all the modern facilities there. One fine day, the grandson told his grandfather, 'you are lucky to have your grandson, me, in America; I have shown you many things here in addition to going around in a big car and living in a big bungalow with all modern facilities, be proud of this'. The boy repeatedly mentioned this.
The old man got fed up with the comments of his grandson, and said 'I enjoyed more when I was in my village than in America. Have you seen anyone folding their hands in respect for us, or anyone touching your feet here, or standing up on your arrival, or removing their shoes and rumal in respect of you in your presence? No, but it was different in my childhood in our villages. Whenever we entered the village, everyone used to stand up, remove their shoes and rumal, and fold their hands in respect. We used to get whatever we wanted free of cost (referring to Vetti, bonded labour and Jogini system) and that is our background. Now, who cares about us here in America? Who recognises us here? My life was much better in a Telangana village in comparison to your life in America”.
When the grandson expressed his desire to visit a Telangana village, the grandfather replied, "we can visit the village, but those golden years when all the people of the village used to come and work for us free of cost and serve us like our slaves are gone now because of the Naxalite movements. However, the situation has improved after the formation of the Telangana Rastra Samithi; now-a-days when we go back to our villages, people come and pay respect to us”. They both visited their ancestral village, the grandfather in this story is a political leader who was fighting for a separate Telangana. Just as the grandfather had said, all the village people arranged welcome banners; people came to their bungalow and paid respect while standing with folded hands, some of the village lower caste people also touched their feet.
The grandson felt happy to see this, and said, "It is nice that a whole village pays attention to us". The grandfather replied, "It was much better during my childhood days". The grandson asked, "Is it possible for those old days to return?”, to which the grandfather replied "why not, if we get a separate Telangana, we will get our old pride and golden days'.
The above story was used by some of the activists to make fun, but that is the truth about Telangana. Feudalism has come back after the formation of a separate Telangana state and Telangana NRIs want to come back to their villages. This story also tells us about the kind of politics that was played in the Telangana region in the name of a separate Telangana movement and which eventually led to the formation of the Telangana state. This story was told by Anjanna in 2004 when the Telangana political movement was at its peak.
Anjanna had foreseen the Telangana politics and imagined the public life. He was a great intellectual and artist apart from writing thousands of songs and stories, I remember one of his stories published in a small magazine that was run by Skybaba few years ago. The story was title “Beeripuri”, and in it he explained the life of a Dalit orphan boy, and how he was branded as a mad man by the village, I read that story a decade ago but I still remember the way he depicted Telangana Dalit life. Many of his works are unpublished, many of his songs published without his name. This note is my sincere tribute to this great man in my personal capacity. I hope his literary friends will write more about his literature that I am not capable to write now. He will be remembered for several generations and his songs will keep inspiring us.
The views expressed in this this article are the author's own and do not reflect the opinion of any organisation he's associated with.
Karthik Navayan is a human rights activist.