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COMMENTARY

Pathapally
Mahad of the 21st Century
Anand Teltumbde

In 1927, an iconic struggle of the


Dalits in Mahad, in modern day
Maharashtra, had to take a step
back in spite of overwhelming
enthusiasm of the community.
Nearly nine decades later, in
Pathapally in Indias youngest
state, Telangana, a more than
three-month-long struggle of the
Madigas, a Dalit community,
forced the administration
to accept its demands. This
article traces the events and
developments of the Pathapally
movement and compares it with
its iconic predecessor.

he Pathapally Dalit Baditha


Nyaya Porata Samiti (PDBNPS), a
united front of 11 organisations
created to spearhead the struggle of the
Dalits of Pathapally village, decided to
observe 25th anniversary of the Tsundur
Massacre1 on 6 August. It also decided to
undertake a long march from Pebber to
Pathapally to press its demands which
the administration had ignored despite a
series of protests by the organisation
including a relay fast from 8 July near
the Ambedkar statue, not very far from
the Pebber Mandal Officefor more
than two months.
A day before the march, the administration declared it would impose Section
144 on the stretch beginning from the
Pebber exit on the HyderabadBengaluru
highway, and ban entry to Pathapally
village on 6 August. But in an exemplary
display of defiance, nearly 7,000 Dalits
from surrounding villages gathered in
solidarity with the Pathapally Dalits and
forced the administration to give in to
their demands. The administration was
also compelled to give a commitment to
honour its promises.
The Pathapally struggle is the first
Dalit struggle after the formation of the
Telangana state. It is testimony to the
fact that even Telangana, with its legacy
of radical movements stretching back to
pre-independence times, is not immune
to caste atrocities. The importance of the
villages struggle is, however, not confined to Telangana. The Pathapally struggle could well be considered Mahad of the
21st century. It could herald the advent
of a new genre of Dalit movement.
The Trigger

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a


writer and civil rights activist with the
Committee for the Protection of Democratic
Rights, Mumbai.

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Pathapally, a small village in Pebber


Mandal in Mahabubnagar District of
Indias youngest state, Telanganaa
product of a popular movement that

claimed the lives of more than 600


youthis less than 15 km away from the
HyderabadBengaluru expressway. This
expressway connects two cities that
epitomise Indias high-end modernity.
But it also takes one at least 100 years
back when Dalits were not allowed to
enter temples, use common water sources and were compelled to meekly obey
the dictates of dominating castes. Those
who wonder why Dalits had endured oppression for over two millennia might find
their answer in Pathapally. The Dalits of
Pathapally have suffered brute domination by the areas dominant caste, Boyas,
for long. Viewed this way, the struggle
they waged against oppression since
1 May signifies new awakening. It gets
Pathapally close to Mahad, where, nearly
nine decades ago, Dalits had waged an
epic struggle for a very similar purpose.
The trigger for Mahad was the passing
of the Bole resolution2 in the Legislative
Council of Bombay and its adoption by
the Mahad municipality which opened
all public water tanks for Dalits. Dalits of
Pathapally did not have to wait for any
such resolutionthe Constitution of the
country granted them these rights way
back in 1950 and in addition brought in
stringent laws against upper castes discriminating against or perpetrating
atrocities on them.
The trigger for Pathapally came on
May Day when a Madiga3 (Dalit) boy,
Raghuram, a bus conductor in the Telangana State Road Transport Corporationone of the three lucky Dalits from
40 odd families in the village to have
some sort of regular employmentexpressed an innocuous desire to the local
Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA),
G Chinna Reddy. Raghuram told Reddy,
who is from the Congress, that he wanted
to offer puja at the village temple after
his marriage ceremony. The MLA, who
was one of the guests at the ceremony,
assured Raghuram and asked the Dalits
to follow him. But when Raghuram,
along with other Dalits, reached the
temple, the MLA was nowhere to be seen.
Thinking that they had the MLAs blessings, the Madigas entered the temple
and offered puja. The next day when

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Raghurams mother went to distribute


beetle leaves to the Boyas, as per the custom, she incurred the wrath of the Boyas.
They threatened to kill Raghuram for
daring to take Madigas into the temple.
Incidentally, Boyas, who are the dominant caste in Pathapally, themselves
rank the lowest among the backward
castes and have been seeking Scheduled
Tribe status since 2012.4 The temple
priest Krishnamachari performed the
yagna for purification and reprimanded
the Boyas for letting the Madigas pollute
the gods. At night, the Boyas held a
meeting and decided on a social boycott
of the Madigas. Then began the saga of
atrocities on Pathapallys Madigas.
The Madigas have to walk through a
kilometre-long road, a part of which passes through the Boya-dominated area of
the village, to reach their colony at the
lower end. Stones were thrown at them,
they were abused and affronted with caste
names and harassed in several other ways.
On 4 May, some Madiga youth went
to Pebberu and informed the tehsildar
about this harassment. In response, tehsildar Pandu Nayak, along with Prakash
Yadav, sub-inspector of police (SI), and
some policemen visited the Madiga
hamlet, established a police picket and
opened the doors of the temple to the
Madigas. However, as soon as the tehsildar left the village, a mob of 300400
Boya youth rushed in and attacked the
Madigas in front of the SI and drove
them towards the Dalit colony.
From that day, the harassment and
assaults intensified. In order to avoid the
daily ordeal, Madigas decided, on 1 June,
to leave their homes and shift to the
housing plots near the PebberuKollapur
road. These plots were allotted to them
by the then Andhra Pradesh government
in 2008. They erected hutments, brought
building materials and began living
there. However, the priest and the village revenue officer (VRO) incited the
Boyas. They told them if Madigas lived
at the upper part of the village, they
would pollute the entire village and
bring bad omen. In order to push them
back to their old colony, the Boyas came
in hundreds on 3 June and buried one
Chinna Sayanna, who had died the previous night, right in the middle of the
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august 22, 2015

Madiga settlement. Madigas approached


the police.
A contingent of 60-odd policemen
headed by Deputy Superintendent of
Police (DSP), Vanaparthi came to the village the next day. But the police could
not stop the Boyas burying another deceased, Godanna, again in the middle of
the Madiga settlement. In fact, Godanna
was buried right in front of the police. In
protest, Madigas blocked the Pebberu
Kollapur road. The police, which had
helplessly watched the Boyas bury their
dead amidst Madiga hutments, lathicharged the protesting Madigas. Jitendra Reddy, SI, Pebberu, took 200 Dalits,
including Raghuram, into custody and
beat them black and blue. Even women
were not spared by male policemen.
Many were still being treated for injuries
when I met them on 19 July.
Skeletons Tumble
The episode that began with an innocuous desire of a Dalit to enter a temple
with a 65year old constitutional guarantee in placeexposed years of injustice and terror endured by Dalits. Close
to the newly-allotted housing plots, one
Narayana Madiga was allotted a patta
of 1 acre and 13 gunthas of agricultural
land. He began cultivating the land in
2001. The dominant Boyas could not
stomach this. They started burying
their dead on Narayanas land and
putting up memorial structures. While
the Boyas traditional burial ground lay
just across the village road and had only
three or four memorial structures built
over several generations, the new burial
ground had over a dozen such structures in a short period. Narayana
was harassed into giving up cultivation
in 2007.
As we travelled into the Madiga colony, many more issues came to light. The
village had a water tank but it supplied
water to only Boya houses. There were
separate borewells from which an underground pipe carried salty water to
the Dalit colony. It opened into four pits
with an opening each from where Dalits
drew water. I had to request a Madiga
lady to demonstrate how Dalits drew
water to believe this appalling state-ofaffairs. Beyond the Dalit village was a
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huge tank, which was said to have


swallowed Dalit lands. Fifty-four acres
belonging to Dalits were submerged,
rendering them landless labourers. Such
is the terror of Boyas that Madigas could
not utter a word of dissent. The tank
standing on their lands reportedly fetches over Rs 12 lakh annually from the auction for fishing, and irrigates Boya lands.
What Madigas got in return was inundation of their houses during the rainy season during which serpents and other
reptiles give them company. While the
Boyas evicted Madigas from their own
lands, they have usurped the village common lands with impunity and put up semipermanent cowsheds and warehouses.
Interestingly, the sarpanch of Pathapally is a Madiga woman, Subhadra. She
was earlier a cook in the village schools
mid-day meal scheme. Boyas had objections to her working as a cook but accepted Subhadra as sarpanch. In the
current caste polarisation, Subhadras
family is on the side of the Boyas. In contrast, one Boya, Pedda Vusanna, who
was allotted a housing plot along with
Madigas is on the Madiga side. Subhadra
draws water from the borewells, much
like her fellow Madigas, but does not
speak a word against the dominant caste
and, Vusanna has incurred the wrath of
his fellow caste men, who have demolished his hut and thrashed his wife, son
and daughter.
Tsundur Day and the Long March
The lathi-charge on 4 June catapulted
Pathapally to the pages of district newspapers. The Kula Nirmulan Porata Samiti (Committee for the Struggle for Annihilation of Castes, KNPS) picked up the
issue and formed the PDBNPS on 10 June
to spearhead the struggle. It comprised
KNPS, Telangana Praja Front (TPF), Praja
Kala Mandali (PKM), Chaitanya Mahila
Sangham (CMS), Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), Palamuru Adhyayana Vedhika, Telangana Vidyarthi Vedhika (TVV),
Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangham, Democratic Teachers Federation (DTF), Madiga Students Front (MSF) and Jalavanarula Samrakshana Samithi. This new outfit organised a dharna in front of the
collectors office in Mahabubnagar on 23
June, but no one paid any heed to it.
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COMMENTARY

Dejected with the administrations


neglect, PDBNPS decided to hold an indefinite sit-in near the Ambedkar statue
near the Pebber Mandal Office with a
relay fast from 8 July. Even then none in
the administration felt the need to speak
to the agitating Dalits.
The KNPS requested me to intervene. I
could do so on 19 July. I met the people
on relay fast at Pebber and thereafter,
accompanied by some KNPS and PDBNPS
activists, went to Pathapally. I carried
out my own investigations and addressed an impromptu press meet in the
Madiga colony. The next day, Pathapally
got prominently flashed for the first
time in newspapers in Hyderabad and
through a report in the Hindu, the Dalits
struggle became national news. On 20 July,
we had a formal press conference at
Hyderabad which gave more exposure
to the Madiga agitation.
All this stirred up the establishment,
but negatively so. That very day (20 July)
some goons feigning as MRPS (Madiga
Reservation Porata Samiti) activists
destroyed the pandal where the agitating Madigas were stationed. They had a
scuffle with the Madigas and threatened
them with dire consequences if they did
not stop the agitation. But the goons had
to beat a retreat before the resolve of the
agitating Madigas. The administration,
however, remained unmoved.
In order to create pressure on the government, the PDBNPS, after consulting
me, decided to observe the 25th anniversary of the Tsundur massacre on 6 August and undertake an eight kilometre
long march to Pathapally after the meeting at Pebber. The district administration, as mentioned before, decided to
clamp down. The police cordoned off
the entire area in the morning. Before
starting off from the Hyderabad airport
to Pebber, I called up the SP and the
(special) collector to understand their
plans and informed them my desire to
discuss matters. As we reached Pebber,
people began gathering and soon the
crowd swelled to four to five thousand.
The Additional Superintendent of Police
(ASP) D V Srinivas Rao, who headed the
police contingent, spoke with me and
got my assurance that everything would
be peaceful. After the speeches of the
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prominent activists in observance of the


Tsundur Day, I addressed the gathering
and gave a formal call for the long march
to Pathapally. That provided the final
spur to the peoples enthusiasm. Before
we could manage to come out, they began
marching towards Pathapally. Many
joined in on the way and soon the sloganshouting procession was almost two
kilometre long. It reached Pathapally at
3 pm. The sloganeering touched high
pitch as it entered the village. People
walked into the temple, the entry to
which had triggered off the entire episode. After taking a round of the Madiga
colony, the procession converted itself into
a public meeting on Narayana Madigas
land. The two big pandals erected for
the purpose could barely accommodate
a fraction of the crowd.
A heavy downpour did not deter
the Dalits. Around 5 pm, I, along with
K Lakshmi Narayana of the University of
Hyderabad, M Raghavachary, B Abhinava,
and K Jayaraj of the PDBNPS, met the
Special Collector and ASP. The discussion
at the Scheduled Caste Welfare Hostel in
the nearby village of Srirangapuram in
Peppirair Mandal went on for three hours.
The administration represented by the
Special Collector Vanaja Devi and ASP
Srinivas Rao showed exemplary understanding and displayed dignified appreciation of the struggle. It gracefully accepted
all our demands, except those for charging Jitendra Reddy under the Scheduled
Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Atrocity Act)
and suspending the RDO and the DSP
under whose supervision the huts of
Dalits were demolished. Rao wanted to
discuss with the SP before making a
commitment on charging Jitendra Reddy.
Vanaja Devi assured us that the action
would be taken against the RDO and the
DSP as per the CCA rules. We accepted
both assurances in good spirit.
The demands that were accepted include: (1) Fencing off the graveyard
created by the Boyas on Madiga lands
and not allowing any more burials there;
(2) the heirs of Narayana Madiga to be
given 23 gunthas of land, which they lost
when the Boyas turned their land into
burial grounds, within three months;
(3) 45 pattas to be given to the Dalits

within a week for making houses and


construction of two-bedroom houses on
priority under the government scheme;
(4) 18 huts and one shutter that were demolished by RDO/DSP to be restored
within a week; (5) Madigas who lost
about 54 acres of land in the village tank
will be compensated with land under the
governments land purchase scheme
within three months if they have proof of
patta or cultivation; (6) the fake cases filed
against Madigas vide FIRs 65 and 67 of
2015 and another case under Section 107
against 23 Madigas to be investigated and
withdrawn within 10 days; (7) Jannaiah,
Erranna and others from Boya community
to be charged under IPC 307; (8) Boya
Mallesh and Anjanelu to be arrested under
the SC/ST Atrocity Act according to the
FIR 55 of 2015; (9) the temple priest
Krishnamachari to be tried under the
SC/ST Atrocity Act; (10) cases to be filed
against the persons named in the last 11
incidents in the village; and (11) cases to
be filed against the five families who buried their dead on the Madiga lands. The
special collector, in addition, assured
that she would work towards normalising relations between the Boyas and
Madigas. The ASP also assured us of
maintaining police vigil and protecting
Dalits from any Boya reprisal.
Reminiscing Mahad
Comparison of Pathapally with the iconic
Mahad struggle under the leadership
of Babasaheb Ambedkar might sound
audacious. But in many ways, the
Pathapally struggle is reminiscent of the
nearly nine-decade old iconic struggle.
After an attack on the Dalits on 20 March
1927 in retaliation for their polluting
the Chavadar tank, Ambedkar had consciously planned a satyagraha conference
on 25 December. It envisaged a team of
satyagrahis offering daily satyagraha at
the Chavadar tank by drinking its water.
However, some orthodox Hindus fraudulently managed to obtain a court injunction just a few days before the
conference, claiming that the Chavadar
tank was actually a Chaudhary tank, a
private property, and hence not under
the purview of the Bole resolution. The
entire conference debated whether to go
ahead with the satyagraha or not. An

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overwhelming majority of the 10,000


delegates that came for the satyagraha
were determined to go ahead defying
the injunction and court arrest. But
eventually, on Ambedkars intervention,
they relented and agreed to return without performing satyagraha.
The administration created a similar
situation for us on 6 August by clamping
Section 144. But sensing the resolve of the
several thousand Dalits, it took a sensible
stand and averted unseemly consequences. In Mahad, the situation was certainly
far more congenial than at Pathapally
for the Dalits to show resolve for their
human rights. But unfortunately in giving
up the satyagrahaas also not retaliate
the attack during the previous conferencethey lost an historic opportunity.
Pathapally, perhaps, reflected a learning from Mahad: the mode of struggle
depends upon the adversary and that
the state is not necessarily a friend of
Dalits or even a neutral arbiter in social
conflicts. The Mahad struggle had got
strangled into court battles which when
won after 10 years proved to be pyrrhic.

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Pathapally was surely more complex


than Mahad. While Mahad was focused
on a symbolic assertion of civil rights
of Dalits, which they had secured,
Pathapally involved actual civil and
criminal issues against the dominant
community. Mahad had largely pitched
itself against the orthodox Hindu society
whereas Pathapally was clear that it was
confronting both the dominant community as well as the state.
Mahad had a largely non-partisan colonial state to induce a notion of neutrality, but Pathapally had to knowingly
deal with the neo-liberal state, which
characteristically tended to ignore the
weak and shelter the strong. It could
only bend under the pragmatic exigencies of public pressure. Pathapally reflected learning from its predecessors
with which it could strategise and secure
victory in one gosomething Mahad
could not. Such advancement in strategy
and executionas well as their resultsshows Pathapally as an advancement over Mahad and as a movement that
learnt from its predecessor. But all this

vol l no 34

does not rob Pathapally of its similarities


with Mahad. Indeed, Pathapally could
well be seen as Mahad of the 21st century!
While it is shameful for India to need
Mahads, it may be necessary for Dalits to
herald a new genre of Dalit movement.
notes
1

3
4

Tsundur in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh


became infamously associated with a gory
caste atrocity on 6 August 1991 in which eight
Dalits were hacked to death by upper caste
people.
Bole Resolution, so called because it was introduced by SK Bole, a noted social reformer of
those days. It was passed on 4 August 1923,
stipulating that untouchables were authorised
to use wells, dharmashalas, schools, courts,
administration offices, and public dispensaries. See Jaffrelot (2000).
The most numerous Dalit sub-caste in Telangana, to which all Dalits in Pathapally belonged.
See, for example, the Hindu (2012).

References
Jaffrelot, Christophe (2000): Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and Fighting Caste,
London: Hurst and Co, p 46.
Hindu (2012): Valmikis, Boyas Seek ST Status,
the Hindu, 21 December, viewed on 12 August
2015, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/
tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/valmikis-boyasseek-st-status/article4224754.ece.

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