Snuffed Out By T-Politics

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Douse that fire Yadaiah, who worked at a restaurant to fund his education, immolated himself just outside Osmania University, Hyderabad, Photo: Reuters

A SUICIDE phenomenon is unfolding in Telangana, similar to the self-immolation of Tibetans demanding a ‘Free Tibet’, but the demand for a new state is not the only factor fuelling it. In 2013 alone, there have been five reported cases of suicide, mostly among students. While most suicide notes, like that of 19-year-old Kadavendi Neeraj Bharadwaj, a civil engineering student from Warangal, who took his own life on 4 February, blame the Congress for its inaction on the issue of a separate Telangana state, that is not the whole story.

Between November 2009 and January 2012, Telangana had seen 849 suicides. While some of the suicides have been over the issue of statehood, many are the result of debilitating socio-economic conditions. Today, farmers, weavers and students are being pushed to the brink by a deadly cocktail of poverty, indebtedness, agrarian crisis, dim employment prospects and constant political propaganda that they have no future without a separate state.

While lives are being lost, political muckraking continues to rage in Andhra Pradesh. A local court in Ranga Reddy district in the Telangana region, acting on a private petition, has urged the police to register FIRs against Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and the Congress AP in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad for “making false promises, cheating the people and creating a situation dangerous to social order”. A Hyderabad-based BJP leader has moved another private petition against UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for abetting suicides in Telangana.

In the Telangana movement, the lower castes seem to have become the foot-soldiers whose suicides are often the result of being pushed into an existence devoid of human dignity. In fact, almost all those who killed themselves in the name of Telangana were from the Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Other Backward Castes (OBCs), while no one from the Velamma community of K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) — the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) supremo leading the Telangana movement — is reported to have committed suicide.

In the village of Mansanapalli in Warangal district’s Bachannapet mandal, nobody knows that better than the parents of 25-year-old Ponnaibona Ashok. Belonging to the extremely backward Mudiraj caste (hereditary village watchmen), they work on their 2-acre farm that barely fetches them an annual income of 50,000. On the morning of 14 December 2009, Ashok consumed pesticide and left behind a one-page suicide note, barely a month after completing his BEd course, which said he had failed to find a job despite his education. “He thought Telangana was the only hope if he was to land a job,” says Ramaswamy Yadagiri, his father.

Soon after Ashok’s suicide, activists from pro-Telangana groups arrived in the village and claimed he had died for Telangana, driven purely by the “sense of betrayal for not being given a separate state”. A large number of youth in the village are graduates, some are even postgraduates. Most loiter around the village and help their families in the fields.

Mansanapalli is part of an ‘atrocity prone area’ under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. No village in the Bachannapet mandal has received funds under the Rajiv Yuva Shakti Scheme, launched in 2004 by the then CM of AP, YS Rajashekhara Reddy, for providing employment to the youth. “Many students drop out at the higher secondary level because they have to help their parents in the fields,” says Ashok’s roommate Srisailam. “Those who manage to reach college and graduate also end up working in the fields along with the school dropouts.”

While many youth from Telangana’s villages study in the big cities of AP, few manage to eke out a living there and often return to a life that seldom justifies the huge investments made in acquiring their degrees. Agriculture, too, is a risky proposition. A drought-prone region, Telangana’s woes have multiplied with the massive use of borewells. In Ashok’s village, the water table has dropped to 150 feet and many farmers face crop failure in a bad rain year. The passbook of Ashok’s parents shows they still owe the bank a sum of Rs 45,000 and are teetering on the brink of defaulting on loan repayments with another Rs 10,000 due to an LIC agent.

WHILE SUICIDES are invariably branded as emotional responses to a political problem, politicians in the state have been guilty of pushing real issues like unemployment and chronic indebtedness under the carpet, choosing instead to hijack personal tragedies and drown them in the cacophony of propaganda. Take the case of Manda Srinivas, a 32-year-old farmer from Athmakuru village of Warangal district. TRS activists and panchayat leaders claim Srinivas died “fasting” for Telangana on 22 December 2009. Srinivas left behind a wife and two daughters aged 10 and 4, who now live in a one-room house in the Dalit quarter of the village. Srinivas had taken a 2-acre plot on lease for cotton farming, on an annual rent of Rs 15,000. To buy pesticides and hire labourers, he took a loan of 1 lakh at a low annual interest of 5 percent, besides promising a part of his produce as part of the repayment.

Aborted drama A Telangana supporter in Hyderabad threatens to jump to his death, but climbs down later, Photo: AP

In December 2009, Srinivas took his cotton produce to the market, but it was rejected on account of its poor quality by private buyers as well as the Cotton Corporation of India. Confronted by his creditors and humiliated, Srinivas consumed pesticide on the night of 22 December that year. “When Srinivas could not support his family, he ended his life. A Dalit who barely managed to keep his family alive could not have given up his life for Telangana,” says Sanga Mahendra, a member of the Dalit organisation Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti. After Srinivas’ death, his wife now works as an agricultural labourer on a daily wage of Rs 100-150. The daughters too join in on some days when work is abundant, bunking school to augment the family income.

The Telangana region has been a hotbed for suicides, especially among farmers, weavers and others from the backward castes. Two-thirds of the suicides in AP from 1996 to 2007 were reported from this region. The Sri Krishna Committee report notes, “Due to drought, failure of new varieties of cotton and loss of livelihood among weavers, between May 2004 and November 2005, Telangana reported 663 suicides out of a total of 1,068 reported suicides (in AP). Based on an analysis of one district from each region, Prakasam from coastal Andhra, Medak from Telangana and Anantapur from Rayalaseema, coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema showed greater number of suicides among the forward castes while Telangana showed a distribution across forward castes, OBCs and SCs.”

While suicides due to distress, especially among the Dalits and the backward castes, have been a recurrent feature in Telangana, the 2009-10 phase of the agitation for statehood saw 313 suicides between 30 November 2009 and 27 February 2010, 218 of which were committed by people aged 18-50. “Many were influenced by the antics of KCR and his nephew Harish Rao. On 29 November that year, Harish doused himself with kerosene but could not find a matchbox to light the fire. KCR threatened to cut himself with broken glass and bleed to death,” says S Simhadri, a professor at Osmania University (OU), Hyderabad. “This sent a dangerous message to young and gullible minds already apprehensive about the future. They kept reminding the people that Telangana is the panacea to all their woes. Many youngsters saw in such actions a chance to redeem their lives and become heroes.”

Simhadri’s opinion finds an echo in the Sri Krishna report, which notes, “The oratory of TRS leader KC Rao has made them believe that a secure future for them lies only in a separate state.” Psychologists term this phenomenon as the ‘Marilyn Monroe syndrome’, where people blindly kill themselves after the death of their revered icon.

ONE WORRYING aspect of this politics of suicide is the predominance of students who have succumbed to it. On 19 February 2010, Venugopal Reddy, a 19-year-old student of a private college on Hyderabad’s outskirts, was found charred beyond recognition behind an auditorium of the OU. Soon after, the nation was shocked by visuals of a youngster ablaze outside the university gates. Yadaiah, an orphan who worked at a local restaurant to fund his own education, was neither a student of OU nor associated with any political party. Once his self-immolation was aired live on TV, politicians of every colour scrambled to brand it a Telangana suicide. However, many photojournalists who were present near Yadaiah recall he was shouting, “Save me, please save me” rather than “Jai Telangana”, as the TRS claimed.

Students from Telangana are often the first in their families to reach college and have a steely resolve to succeed. Take Meegada Sai Kumar, son of a marginal farmer and a second year chemical engineering student, who was paying his way through college by giving private maths tuitions. He hanged himself to death on 7 November 2010. “Kumar was frustrated that exams were not being postponed despite a shutdown of classes at OU, and feared he would fail because of the time he lost participating in the Telangana movement,” says Kumar’s close friend.

Few people have seen this frenzy at such close quarters as Diana Monteiro of the Hyderabad Institute of Psychology. Diana admits there has been a spate of ‘copycat suicides’, with students emulating what they see on the television. Within 12 hours of Yadaiah’s suicide, three other students committed suicide after watching the footage on television. Many students have got their friends to visit Monteiro for counselling when they saw suicidal tendencies in them. “The glorification of suicides by politicians exacerbate the suicidal tendencies among students from Telangana. The OU is an unpredictable place where the situation changes from calm to volatile in a matter of seconds. It can be shut down a day before exams and this really scares poor students, who are the only hope for their families,” says Monteiro. “The Telangana agitation reinforces these fears, and students are pushed to the brink by the propaganda of a doomed future without a new state.”

Yet, not many are willing to question the leaders who brand every suicide a contribution to the political goals of the Telangana movement. Till date, the TRS has not issued any directive calling for an end to suicides. “It’s not as if students are not bothered by social issues. The only way to stop these suicides is to form Telangana,” says M Kodandaram, Convener, Telangana Joint Action Committee.

There are no signs that the suicides will stop. Farmers are still consuming pesticides when they cannot afford one square meal a day. Weavers are committing suicide when they cannot bear the daily humiliation by their creditors. Dalit students are ending their lives when they fail to extricate their families from a life of misery. Opportunistic elements seem to have hijacked a people’s movement, ensuring that even if Telangana becomes a new state, it will only be a mirror image of what it is as part of AP. The suicides reveal what pushes people to the edge: feudalistic mindsets and perennial problems, both of which won’t go away anytime soon.

sai.manish@tehelka.com

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thank You for so Good article Mahesh. Should open eyes of many in Telangana State how TJAC & TRS are using this for some selfish gains.
    When so many are dying, KCR bought 60 Lakh Audi car after He won in 2009 and calls Himself as a Leader fighting for Telangana…He and people who believe in Him should be ashamed…

  2. Thank You for so Good article Manish. Should open eyes of many in Telangana State how TJAC & TRS are using this for some selfish gains.
    When so many are dying, KCR bought 60 Lakh Audi car after He won in 2009 and calls Himself as a Leader fighting for Telangana…He should be ashamed…

    • PradeepD, Many leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Kiran Reddy, CBN, Jagan, Chiranjeevi use costly cars. Does that mean they are not fit for leading people? The fight is for self governing, proper share of water, employement and funds.

      There are suicides in many sates. there may or may not be suicides after Telangana is formed. Leaders of Telangana have to work for people using the resources as the need of any state. That doesn’t mean demand for Telangana is not reasonable.

      • Really? So entire Seemandhra is waiting to loot from Telangana? Is that how you have always seen it, or is it the view Telangana agitaiton would like to rub on you?

        • every andhrite is driving audi in coastal. go see for yourself. jai telangana! once telangana forms, every telanagana guy will get a job …in chennai and bangalore!

          • You ve stumped me with your logic. I dont understand how a telangana person from the status quo Andhra Pradesh is different from a telangana person from a seperate Telangana state to be more eligible for a job in Chennai and Bangalore.

            I totally agree that the problems need to be addressed either by dividing the state or by finding a middle path solution. If a state is actually formed, it is merely a first step. It is foolish to think that all problems of Telangana people are addressed.

  3. Why telangana towns do not have govt. colleges, which gives access to rural students to work for living also get educated, why telangana lands are parched while andhra lands are getting water for 3rd crop, You will find same reasons behind if you have heart to dwell. Sure, Sai Manish didnt had stomach for it, He just wanted to impress somebody. Reddy along with Velama Community is forward caste, some of the students were Reddys too, leaving his caste diatribe aside, the reason i call it as diatribe because, in last 20 years after globalization Telangana movement is the one where all religions, castes, economic classes took part in.

    • Telangana towns don’t have govt. colleges?
      Warangal has REC/NIT, and govt. polytechnic. Mahbubnagar has govt. Polytechnic, Kurnool has a govt. medical college, Nagarjuna govt college in Nalgonda? These are the ones I know from the top of my head, so don’t make stuff up just because you are on the internet. Andhra has enough farmer suicides and the article does delve into the reasoning that socio-economic conditions are responsible. The author is the second Indian to be nominated for a prestigious Kurt Shorck award, so he is not ‘trying to impress somebody’, and no the author is not from Andhra region, so don’t worry about him being a bigot or biased.
      Instead of listening to the brain washing behind Telangana, there are real valid reasons some of which can be attributed to injustice of the past leaders from Andhra, but that was 20-30 years ago. Andhra people are not “stealing” from you in today’s AP, the multi-nationals and IT companies don’t care about you or your caste or your region, so it’s equal opportunity. The agitation is a political ploy and the worst sufferers are the students and economically weak. And the vitriol and rhetoric is only breaking up people who were once neighbors and friends.

    • water flows downhill and is cheap to move on flat coastal delta. the reason its cheap to move around the coastal arae is called gravity. andhra people invented gravity. When Telangana comes, i will fight gravity in the Supreme court and let it flow water into Telangana hills.

  4. standing outside the telengana frame shows us the real facts. Hyderabad as well as state is losing a lot of revenue in terms of investments and expenditures. Many oganisations started ignoring the Pearl City due its pink rebellion. Many students destination in the state is Hyederabad once but now its not even in the dreams. In 2011 there are unannounced 21(Approx) holidays which made the state as well as MNC’s present in the state to loose their revenues.

    When are we going to change and when are we going to build strong constituencies, strong states and strong Nation!!!

  5. KCR (really) should keep his mouth shut and work hard to succeed in life instead of begging government for jobs…natural law of selection forces inefficient and useless people out of the system…T state is carrot thrown at the desperate and gullible unemployed youth by the politicians…People like Sachin, Dhoni are self made…

  6. Whatever may be the real cause of suicides, unless glorification of suicides stop, and hijacking of suicidal reason for the political goal by unscrupulous politicians stop, these suicides will continue and the present saga of politicians will go on

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