Mallu Swarajyam. She was influenced by Gorky’s ’Mother’, which she read at the age of 10.
THE Telangana armed struggle is a crucial chapter in contemporary history. But, the heroic role played by some of its commanders, including a woman who carried a prize of Rs.10,000 on her head, remains unsung. The woman commander’s name is Mallu Swarajyam.
Born into a semi-feudal family in the backward Nalgonda district in 1931, she transformed herself into a revolutionary, mobilising people against the Nizam’s Razakars. At the age of 10, she happened to read Maxim Gorky’s Mother, and that proved to be a source of inspiration.
Reading was part of a tradition in Nalgonda. “Brahmins and other educated people used to read the Ramayana and other epics for the women in their homes. This is how I and a few others in the village came across Mother,” says Swarajyam, whose family adhered to all Hindu traditions. Excerpts of the novel were imported into the district by the Andhra Mahasabha.
She was named Swarajyam in deference to the wishes of several of her relatives who participated in satyagraha in response to a call given by Mahatma Gandhi as part of the struggle to attain swaraj (self-rule, or independence).
Her husband Mallu Venkata Narasimha Reddy and her brother Bhimreddy Narsimha Reddy, who died recently, both doyens of the communist movement in the State, had a profound influence on her life. “They were called Krishna-Arjuna in their prime,” she said. While her brother was a military commander who was instrumental in promoting the concept of dalam (a basic unit of fighters) to carry out a war against feudal lords as well as the Razakars of the Nizam empire, her husband, who was underground most of the time, was the brain behind expanding the scope of the armed struggle from being a means to free bonded labour to one that would take land from the zamindars and distribute it among the poor.
Her stint in public life began at the age of 11 when, in response to a call given by the Andhra Mahasabha to end bonded labour, she defied the family norm and distributed rice to bonded labourers hailing from different castes and communities. “My own uncles were against my giving rice to bonded labourers. But, I was firm that they deserved their share. And my gesture set a precedent in the entire area where bonded labourers started demanding pay for their work,” she said.
She, however, makes light of her fame as a leader of the Telangana armed struggle. It was a movement of the people, and she was only leading them. “A similar uprising would have occurred in the present day had there been no division in the communist movement. But the divide was unfortunate, and it denied the people an opportunity to bring a Left government in Andhra Pradesh,” she said.
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