Mallu Swarajyam: The iron lady of Telangana armed struggle

Swarajyam was elected to the state legislative assembly twice in 1978 and 1983

By A S Kashyap

It was only on Saturday morning my 85-year-old mother was recalling the turbulent period of the Telangana armed struggle, in which my father late A Seshagiri Rao – a Communist party member those days – had participated.

She was remembering how my father had gone underground for 10 days during the crackdown of the Indian military on the Communists post-Nizam era. He was hiding somewhere on the Khammm-Andhra borders.

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My mother was also referring to a gruesome incident of military personnel kicking in the belly of her 80-year-old aunt to disclose the whereabouts of her son Purushottam Rao (my mother’s cousin) who was deeply involved in the armed struggle and had distributed all his properties among the landless poor in his village Indriyala near Bhoodan Pochampally village in then Nalgonda district.

“Purushottam “bava” (cousin) was hiding under his mother’s cot in the bedroom, but she did not disclose his whereabouts to the military personnel, who raided her house, even after they beat her up severely. A jawan kicked in her belly with his shoe and she fainted. They left the place, thinking that the old woman had died. She did not survive for long after that,” she recalled.

My mother was and still is, a voracious reader of books. “The incident reminded me of Russian writer Maxim Gorky’s book – Mother (Amma in Telugu),” she said.

I was wondering why my mother was suddenly remembering the days of the Telangana armed struggle. It was then I observed that she was reading a small report somewhere in the corner of Eenadu Telugu daily about veteran Communist of India (Marxist) leader and former legislator Mallu Swarajyam, who was in a critical condition at Care Hospitals, Secunderabad.

She distinctly remembers Swarajyam and her brave role in the anti-feudal struggle and the militant war against the Razakars during the last years of the Nizam era. She, however, could not recall whether my father had any acquaintance with her during the armed struggle.

By evening, the sad news of 91-year-old Swarajyam passing away flashed in the scrolling of Television news channels. And when I started reading about her background, I came to know that she joined the Communist movement, taking inspiration from Maxim Gorky’s novel – Mother, at the age of 10. Now, I realised why my mother was also recalling the same novel, after watching her aunt succumb to the internal injuries caused due to the brutal attack by the Indian military, in order to save her son.

Telangana armed struggle led by the Communists between 1946 and 1951, against the feudal lords, the Razakars of the Nizam army and later, the Indian military, had witnessed several legendary warriors – Chandra Rajeshwar Rao, Puchalapalli Sundarayya, Ravi Narayan Reddy, Baddam Yella Reddy, Tarimela Nagi Reddy, Devulapalli Venkateshwar Rao, Bheemreddy Narasimha Reddy, Dharmabhiksham etc.

The armed struggle also had a large number of women commanders – like Chityala Ailamma alias Chakali Ailamma, who led the battle from Kadavendi in Nalgonda district and Mallu Swarajyam, the iron lady of the Telangana movement.

Mallu Swarajyam’s journey

Born in 1931 at Karvirala Kothagudem village of Tungaturthy Mandal in present Suryapet district (erstwhile Nalgonda), Swarajyam was attracted towards the Communist movement at the age of 11, following a call from Andhra Mahasabha. Her brother Bhimreddy Narsimha Reddy who was an active participant in the militant struggle formed militant squads (dalams) in the forests.

Swarajyam began her journey with her fight against bonded labour. Till then, the labourers were not entitled to any wages for their work and for the first time, she led their fight for wages for their work. Similarly, she was going from village to village to inspire the youth with her songs and lectures, so that they would join the movement. Though she had studied only up to fifth standard, she had tremendous knowledge on national and international affairs.

When she was in the movement with a pseudonym of Rajakka, she married Mallu Venkata Narasimha Reddy, who was also playing a leading role in the movement against bonded labour.

Swarajyam went underground in 1948 and it was then that the Razakars had burnt her house at her village and declared prize money of Rs 10,000 on her head. During those days, she was extensively travelling in the forests of Warangal, Karimnagar and Adilabad districts to take up cudgels on behalf of tribals.

Swarajyam took training in firing arms at the age of 16 from an ex-serviceman, along with 300 other women under the guidance of ex-serviceman Major Jaipal Singh. She picked up the gun to fight against landlords on behalf of the peasants. She spent several days in the thick jungles of Warangal and Adilabad during the armed struggle.

In 1951, Swarajyam took to electoral politics

After the end of the Telangana armed struggle in 1951, Swarajyam took to electoral politics. She was elected to the state legislative assembly twice in 1978 and 1983 from the Thungaturti constituency on behalf of the CPI (M). She was a general secretary of the women’s wing. Later, she rose to the level of CPI (M) central committee member.

Even at the fag end of her career, Swarajyam actively took part in the CPI (M) meetings, delivering fiery lecturers. With her demise, perhaps the last fighter of the Telangana armed struggle has gone into the pages of history.

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