Dasu Kesava Rao
It is 39 years since the martyrdom of several Gond tribesmen in the police firing at Indervelli in Adilabad. This is a tribute not just to the proud Gonds but also to the people of this district, their rich culture and history.
My reporting assignments had taken me to various places in Andhra Pradesh, but Adilabad is the one I instantly fell in love with. This was one reason I had chosen to go to that far-flung district at least four times a year during the Eighties and the Nineties. I was charmed by its diversity and colour. The mighty Godavari, Pranahitha, Penganga, Kaddem and a host of smaller rivulets meander through the rich forests which account for about half of its geographical area.
It also houses a significantly large chunk of tribal population in the State. Here again, diversity is strikingly evident. Tribal communities as varied as the Gonds, Kolams, Naikpods, Lambadas, Pardhans and Thotis live in symbiotic existence.
When I first went to the district headquarters town 32 years ago, I wondered if I were in Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra. Marwari traders and Maharashtrians seemed to be everywhere. I checked in invariably at Dhanlakshmi Lodge, arguably the best those days. I was woken up by the bearer who sauntered in with the breakfast tray. It consisted of samosa/ kachori, poori and jilebi and not the idly or upma that my Telugu tummy was used to. Imagine starting the day with that kind of stuff. It was a culture shock of sorts. But I got over it soon. Resourceful people from the coastal areas were yet to make inroads with ‘messes’ serving Andhra bhojanam.
My very first trip to the media-uncharted district yielded more than a dozen stories provoking colleagues to tease me ‘look, here comes the Adilabad specialist.’
Images from the past flit across the mind’s eye; like the Indervalli firing on the Gonds, police-naxal shoot-out in Aalampally forest, Tamil Nadu Express accident near Sirpur and Dakshin Express derailment at Mancherial, dedicated efforts of officers like MVPC Sastry, CVSK Sarma, K. R. Kishore, Subrahmanyam, Manohar Prasad, G.N. Phani Kumar, VNVK Sastry etc to better the lot of the tribals, Prof. Christoph Von Haimendorf’s visit to perform last rituals of his dear wife Betty in Marlawai, and the colourful Keslapur jatra.
Three of us from Hyderabad were the first to reach Indervelli where the police had opened fire on restive Gonds the previous evening killing many (we will not go into the dead count) and injuring many more. The administration was dazed and had no clear idea of the casualty. We trekked through the forest and hill-top habitations braving scorching summer heat and humidity to meet the injured or the kin of the dead. I was present years later when the Collector, Mr. A. K. Goel, told the Forest officials at Mancherial that the Indervelli toll was much higher (he did mention the actual figure) than the official figure.
Here is an interesting story about how N.T. Rama Rao’s impulsive decision to spend the night in the tribal habitation near the site of the Aalampally encounter. The Chief Secretary, the DGP and others, who accompanied the Chief Minister, were worried about NTR’s safety should the naxalites make reprisal attack. NTR was in a different mood. He regaled the officials and the tribesmen with experiences from his silver screen days such as during the shooting of Adaviramudu in the Mudumalai forests and Paathalabhairavi.
It was during this visit that CVSK Sarma, Collector, caught his ear to make an articulate case for funds to help the long-neglected district. NTR immediately agreed and announced funds to make Adilabad ‘abhyudaya zilla’.
For many years Adilabad had failed to figure in the Government’s scheme of things because of its location. Officials considered a posting there as punishment. Successive chief ministers were wary of the jinx that a visit to Adilabad spelt immediate loss of power.
Another touching experience was at Mancherial, where flash floods swept away Delhi-bound Dakshin Express of the tracks in the late 80s. Officials and local conservancy men hesitated to remove the bloated, stinking bodies until Sarma, who had just taken charge as the Collector, got into the act and removed some bodies.
I love the district, its rivers, its forests and the natives. That’s why ‘Adilabad, zindabad.’
Dasu Kesava Rao is a seasoned journalist who has worked, among several newspapers, with The Hindu and served as its Bureau Chief in Hyderabad.