The Communist Party of India (CPI) was a significant force in the Andhra region of Madras Presidency and the Telangana region of Hyderabad State before independence, resulting in the well known Telangana armed struggle (1946-1951). From the early 1950’s, the Communist Party gained strength in Srikakulam district under the leadership of two school teachers, Vempatapu Satyanarayana and Adibhatla Kailasam.
Under the influence of the Naxalbari uprising in May 1967 in north Bengal, and in retaliation for the killing of Koranna and Manganna – two tribals who were on their way to attend a Girijan Sangham meeting at Levidi village on October 31, 1967 – radical sections of the CPI (Marxist) in Srikakulam gave a call for the seizure of food grains and land from landlords. The land seizures spread to several villages, paralysing the local police and the administration for about six months. The state brought in additional police forces to suppress this uprising. The peasant leadership started forming village guerrilla squads and evolving an organised party structure to sustain what came to be known as the Srikakulam Movement.
While these developments were taking place in Bengal and North Andhra Pradesh, two other school teachers – Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and K.G Satyamurthy – quit their jobs in 1968 to organise the peasantry in Adilabad district, under what later became the CPI (ML) People’s War. Their armed squads, known as porkala doralu (lords of the bushes), soon gained a strong foothold among the adivasis of the district where land was an acute issue as most of the tribal land had been alienated to non-tribals. The massacre of unarmed adivasis at Indravelli on market day, April 20, 1981, led to further alienation from the government and support for the People’s War group.
In response to this growing alienation, the Tribal Affairs division in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs enlisted Dr. B.D Sharma, who had been the district collector of Bastar from 1969-71. Along with B.N Yugandhar, the then collector of Srikakulam in 1971, and S.R Shankaran then secretary for social welfare in Andhra Pradesh, who was responsible for the creation of the Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs) in the state, the GOI came up with the concept of the tribal sub-plan. One of the key programmes of these agencies was education in tribal areas under the slogan “Catch them Young.” Ashram schools came up all over the country in the Scheduled areas in the 1970s. Within a period of 10 to 15 years, there were thousands of literate tribal youth who came out of these schools, even if many failed before the 10th class.
Following the 1987 Alampalli ambush of police jawans, the government of Andhra Pradesh expanded the number of schools in tribal areas and came out with G.O. No. 275 reserving 100% teacher jobs to local tribals in the Scheduled areas. Later, more than twenty other jobs like drivers, cooks, forest watchers etc. were reserved for local tribals. With these reservations in place, the non-tribal educated youth living in the Scheduled areas felt they were being cheated out of jobs. It was against this background that two non-tribals of Khammam district approached the AP administrative tribunal challenging G.O. No. 3 (originally G.O. No. 275). Incidentally, these non-tribals were not residents of the Scheduled area in Khammam.
One morning, Sondi Veeraiah, an upcoming tribal activist who set up the Adivasi Vidyarthi Sangham, came to my home in Hyderabad. He informed me that non-tribals had challenged the G.O. and requested me to take care of the matter. I approached the well-known civil liberties lawyer, K. Balagopal, who advised me that it would be better to implead a tribal in the case. At that time, Pulusam Krishna Murthy, a Koya adivasi from Warangal district was in his final year of B.Tech in the college of technology, Osmania University. I informed him about the case and the necessity of intervening. He responded positively and came with me to Balagopal’s home to sign the vakalatnama. However, we lost the case in the tribunal.
Before the tribunal gave its judgment, Krishnamurthy had completed his studies and gone back to his village near Narsampet town of Warangal district. Balagopal then advised me to approach the high court against the tribunal judgment. I sent some money to Krishnamurthy’s village to enable him to come to Hyderabad for this, and also bore the expenses of court fees. After the case was admitted, Sondhi Veeraiah filed an impleadment petition. In 2001, the AP high court overruled the tribunal order and upheld G.O. No. 3 issued by the government.
Anticipating a challenge, Sondi Veeraiah went to the Supreme Court to file a caveat with the financial help of ITDA Bhadrachalam. Thanks to this caveat, when the non-tribals approached the SC, the court did not grant a stay on the AP high court judgment. Everyone then forgot about the case till we were informed that it was coming up for hearing somewhere towards the end of the 2000s. A two-judge bench heard the case and in 2016 referred it to a five-member constitutional bench. The new rung of tribal employees who came into local leadership positions in AP and later Telangana ignored the case. The matter came up for final hearing in February 2020. The Telangana state government took some interest in the case but it was too late.
Meanwhile, in the absence of a stay on the AP high court judgment, on a rough estimate, more then 20,000 tribals have been employed in different categories in the Scheduled areas of Telangana alone, i.e in the districts of Adilabad, Warangal, Khammam and a few in Mahabubnagar. While the court has at least granted them protection from being removed, the question before the tribal communities is what next for adivasi youth?
JP Rao is an anthropologist who retired from teaching at Osmania University.