A white saree bloodied red

R. UMAMAHESHWARI

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During the resistance of aravai-tommidi (1969), Kunja Rajulanna and Madi Lakch-maiah died in the police firing here… Our elders had a saying, ‘tella cheera erupa-avoddi’, which means unless our blood falls on the ground, we will not get our lands back. It refers to a blood-stained white saree… which refers to martyrdom. Whatever little we have got here, be it a school or electricity in the few villages, came not from the benevolence of any president or functionary, but from our struggle (poraatam)…, a collective effort and collective will of… this Panchayat… That is what this saying refers to: resistance and revolt…; we always had to fight to retain our lands… – Madi Muttemma1

 

ON a warm early winter morning in 2016, the fields of Kondamodalu rever-berated as the Kondareddi (and Koya-dora and Konda Kammara) women sang and danced, their naturally booming voices tearing through the tall tamarind trees, green fields, the hills and a still, blue, omnipresent river Godavari.2O rela-rela relela-rela… Kondamodalu kona ostaneelo Kondamodalu-kona osto… neelo…’, they sang. The dance-space was circular, and the women held each other around their arms as they went around. As their voices grew louder and the beat turned, almost imperceptibly, to a faster pace, some other women joined in, voluntarily, and left, after dancing a while.

The circle expanded, and contracted, continuously. There was freedom: to ‘join in’, or ‘let go’, as and when they wished. Neither the rhythm, nor the pace, nor even the synchronicity of this space was impacted by the free ‘entering’ and ‘exiting’, which signified the dreamt-of, aspired-to space; a space that neither confines nor imprisons, within its centre. There was an existing idea of commune and community in their dance (then, at a certain point in history, there arrived a political idea: Communism, the basis having existed already in their culture), and the song had a regular reference to Kondamodalu, this village, this land.

Madi Muttemma, June 2008. (Pics: R. Umamaheshwari)

This was a non-competitive, expansive space of collectives, as of resistance, since the singing and dancing happened in a particular context that day. It was the annual remembrance of the adivasi ‘martyrs’ (ama-raveerulu, as they referred to them) who fought for their lands and forests; their Space. The dance was not an enclosure, unlike the much-governanced space of the modern nation-state (‘democratic’, or otherwise), with little freedom allowed for its members to leave, should the enclosure begin to cause asphyxiation.

 

There were two kinds of dance and songs that day: one was the dance to the traditional song, followed by that of women in red sarees (members of the Agency Girijana Sangham and AP Rythu Coolie Sangham, the latter at present affiliated to the All India Khet Mazdoor Kisan Sabha) singing progressive (the template of Left parties in Andhra Pradesh-Telangana), revolutionary songs. This is a contemporary image of the Left movement in Kondamodalu. The intricacies of the revolutionary history of the adivasis of this space have not been studied at a deeper level from within the adivasi context, as yet.

 

In the mainstream, an image of an Alluri Sitaramaraju grabbed most space, including in the Telugu mainstream cinema, ignoring previous or contemporary organic dynamics of the adivasi (or Kondareddi) revolutionary past. Not to mention that he couldn’t have succeeded in his guerrilla war against the British without the support of the adivasi people of the larger Godavari hill-forest region. Elders in Kondamodalu remember his exploits and claim lineage from some of his supporters who helped carry out the planned attacks on the colonial police outposts in the region.

Dance 1, Kondamodalu, 2016.

 

Dance 2, Kondamodalu, 2016.

Some of the young adivasi women who danced that day were born after the Left (political paradigm, post-independence) entered this space, and are the third generation in that lineage of a particular Left, which entered through the period of the Telangana Armed Struggle, followed later on by the Srikakulam girijan movement – in the 1950s and 60s, respectively. The performative space of the song and dance was an acutely political and historical one: its meaning emanated from the sacrifice of the adivasis of the region who fought for their identity, rooted in a natural ambience that they made sense of, and constructed, over centuries.

Theirs is a world of several personhoods: of river Godavari, forests and fields, including the kondapodu farm space. Their resistance has been about protecting these personhoods, today threatened by ruination from the Indira Sagar Polavaram dam. So, the dance was a political space, and not some ‘tribal’ exotica of the kinds we witness at official events (celebrating either the foundation days of respective Indian federal states, or at Republic or Independence Day fests), removed from their very pregnant-with-meaning spatial and temporal contexts.

 

Kondamodalu is a beautiful space (in Devipatnam Mandal of East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh), nestled between the Papikonda Hills (part of which is a National Park today) and river Godavari. Godavari, more than roads, always linked these hamlets to the nearest town. The late Mutyam, boatman, and his family, at Sivagiri (a village on the west bank), remain the ‘ford makers’, responsible for crossing-overs of many years, of many turbulent times. The state buses are yet another lifeline, twice a day (or the ‘service auto rickshaw’, thrice a day, depending on savaari/passengers), linking Sivagiri with Polavaram, between 20 to 30 kilometres away. Not during the monsoons, though; and if I may add, certainly not during the lockdown of last year.

Here, you can’t miss the poetry of pathos and an affirmation of survival and life. The place lends itself to drama;3 and thus, appropriately, continued resistance against contemporary states of varied times. Till date, the Kondamodalu people maintain the stance that they will stay put in their villages (while some villages in other Panchayats in the submergence zone have been uprooted) and cultivate until such time as the dam waters submerge their villages, if and when that happens.

 

Varied meanings are assigned to the space called Kondamodalu and its people. For instance, the colonial Gazetteer records Kondamodalu as follows:

‘Twenty-seven miles west of Chodavaram (population 332). The headquarter of a mokhasa estate at the entrance of the gorge on the Godavari. The present owner is the grandson of the Linga Reddi who assisted Government in the Rampa rebellion... Linga Reddi had previously, in 1858, been granted an allowance of Rs 50 a month to compensate him for the withdrawal of his right of collecting fees on goods passing up and down the Godavari. This grant is conditional on good behaviour. Linga Reddi had just then earned the gratitude of Government by holding aloof from the fituri of his partner Subba Reddi. Kondamodalu comprises four villages and pays Rs 110 annually to the zamindar of Polavaram. Its precise relations with the latter are at present the subject of a law suit.’4

In the 1940s, Haimendörf spent time researching in Kondamodalu. He wrote:

‘The Konda (or Hill) Reddis of Andhra Pradesh are one of the tribal groups which depends to a great extent on slash-and-burn cultivation… Traditionally, the economy of the Reddis is based on the periodic felling of forest and the cultivation of various millets, maize, pulses, and vegetables in the resulting clearings. This type of tillage… is in Andhra Pradesh known as podu... It can be safely said that Reddi agriculture represents as crude a form of cultivation as may be found anywhere on the Asiatic mainland. It is by no means efficient... They also hunt with bow and arrow, and those living on the banks of the Godavari add to their food supply by fishing often from dug-out canoes… The sense of unity based on a group’s common ownership of a tract of land finds expression in joint ritual activities...’5

 

Referring to their resistance history, J.P. Rao wrote:

‘The state government became aware of the need for implementing protective legislations in the early 1970s when Naxalites began increasing their influence among the Reddis in this region... In 1969, they encouraged the Reddis, Koyas and Kammaras of Kondamodalu village and its 13 hamlets to harvest the paddy fields occupied by non-tribals. This they did and carried away 680 bags of paddy. The police immediately swung into action, arrested a large number of tribals, and filed cases against them. Many tribals were kept in jail pending disposal of the cases until 1975 or 1976. However, the government has since filed suo motu suits against the non-tribals of this village for occupying tribal lands in contravention of the Land Transfer Act.6

 

After an official visit (in connection with the submergence from the dam of areas of ‘historical interest’ and ‘artefacts’ of this space) with a team of archaeologists to the region (East Godavari, including Kondamodalu, West Godavari and Khammam districts of united Andhra Pradesh) in 1984, ethno-archaeologist, M.L.K. Murthy noted, ‘We found rainforest adaptations. From 5000 BC onwards, the use of rice is traced in this area…; human presence in this area is 1.5 lakh years old... The tribals who inhabit this area too are of significant value, as they practised the age-old lifestyle and farm practices.’7

The communities, too, were jotted down in these reports as ‘artefacts’ of history. But even in this skewed sense of history, or ‘heritage’, its obliteration by a dam wasn’t questioned. Administration in the ‘Agency Areas’ (a term coined by the British, with an Agent managing affairs in these areas) meant shrinking access to the forests. Later, regulation of their land – meant to ‘protect’ their interests – intensified their problems.

There is yet another aspect of this space of Kondamodalu, in governance terms, which Kumari, a Kondareddi herself, imperceptibly revealed in the post-demonetisation time8 when I travelled with her and others in a ‘service auto’ (a shared auto-rickshaw) in year 2016 on our way back from the ‘Martyrs memorial’ event at Kondamodalu.

She said, ‘From Kondamodalu, we get into a boat and come to Sivagiri; then we get down at Singanapally company;9 from where we take a boat to Devipatnam. From there we take a bus to reach Chodavaram (Rampachodavaram)… At Chodavaram we go to the Andhra Bank and then return the same way. We spend around Rs 200 between here and there… to pay for this trip and to eat something on the way; the money (that we get from the bank) suffices for this alone [she laughs]! If we start at 6 or 7 in the morning, we return home by 3 or 4 in the evening. Sometimes it is 6 or 7 in the evening...’10

 

Her ‘route’, in fact, is a pictorial elaboration of the administrative space which is a direct colonial legacy: a state-constructed administrative space for the adivasi people to access basic rights. This circuitous, long route, incidentally, also leads them to the postindependence apparatus called the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency), meant for assisting adivasi people through various government schemes. But in the context of the Polavaram project, the ITDA has ended up overseeing the displacement process of the same people, through surveys and compilation of submergence village lists. Rampachodavaram, thus, remains the administrative ‘go-to’ place of the longue-durée since British colonial times.

This is a contemporary resistance, not yet ‘history’, in the mainstream sense of history within the submergence zone of the Indira Sagar Polavaram Project, where my journalistic engagement with Kondamodalu commenced. The historian self was forced out of me when people (across marginalised social contexts) constantly evoked history, seeing to it that I ‘wrote down’ in my notebooks and recorded their voices on my devices of the time, which they believed would help their cause against the dam.11

 

The terms appudu (then), aa kaala-mlo (in those times), Brittish parbhut-vam (the colonial state) and, sometimes, dates and events, or years of certain schemes (the Dalits would remember the year they got assigned lands), were expressed as markers of the past. Had the pasts of ‘Andhra Pradesh’, formed post-‘Madras Presidency’, not been one of a deltaic imperial discourse on land and water, coupled with the caste-histories of Kammas, Kapus or Rajus establishing dominion over these lands and waters, the presents of the Kondareddis and Koyas, Kammaras, Konda Valmikis, and several other Dalit groups may have been different. The questions would then be different, too, and the lens of looking at a connotative ‘tribal’ history – as if a history of the communities existed outside of, unconnected and completely oblivious to, the history of an a-‘tribal’ kind, if it did exist – would be different, too.

 

I use the ‘a-tribal’ in the sense that the adivasi people of the submergence zone used the term girijanetrulu (girijana – itarulu: the ‘other’ than ‘girijan’ as against their self-reference as girjanulu) in common parlance, and in their pamphlets or petitions. The girijanetrulu are the upper caste landlords (always the landholding upper castes in perceptions, and historical records) with whose feudal and oppressor histories are tied the histories of Kondareddis in this space.

Back to self-location and politics of the time: there was, in the backdrop, a people’s movement in years 2004-2005 against the dam, at the village Polavaram on the banks of Godavari in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. And deeply involved were the Koyas, Kondareddis (largely, besides other dalits), because their lived histories were about to be sacrificed. Officially (as per an estimate made well before year 2004), 276 villages, of which more than 270 were in the V Schedule Area and more than 3,000 hectares of forests (semi-deciduous, semi-evergreen), and thousands of acres of fertile lands.12

Alongside the formation of the Telangana state in year 2013 (after a protracted struggle for statehood), there was a re-formulation of the submergence zone itself, and coinage of the term, ‘National Project’13 happened in its wake. By year 2016, at least four of the villages I had regularly visited since 2006, had gone off the radar and people moved. Incidentally, the adivasis of this zone were all too familiar with Sedition (raajadroham), which many of them were charged with. So there was nothing to lose. And they resisted to the last ounce of their energies. And when they couldn’t resist any longer, few of them gave in to state power and let go of their ancestral lands and forests.

On the other hand, some NGOs, too, quickly retreated into the background with the passage of time and entered into the ‘safer’ realms of designing projects for the government and sometimes private industry (palm oil and eucalyptus plantations, for instance) in the submergence zone, sometimes conducting geo-spatial surveys for the same in the forests. Some others entered into Negotiation Committees with the government for discussing the ‘R&R’ (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) ‘packagi’ for the ‘displaced’ people and made lists of villages of the ‘project-affected’, in which some of them had their offices.

 

These are landscape-located, or located-landscape histories. The long-term of the location and configuration of Space and Landscape is important. Thus, the configurations, namely, ‘Madras Presidency’ (and the timeline thereof), Andhra Pradesh (1956-2013 June), Andhra Pradesh (2013 onwards), Hyderabad state (19th century), Telangana (movement, 1960s to 2012), and subsequent Telangana state (2013 onwards), become important. And in all of these, the Kondareddis and other adivasis remain confined within the colonial formulation of ‘Tribes’ within special zones (be it the Agency Area or Scheduled Area) and are not central to the state (or Nation) discourse.

 

These configurations are also space-constructs quite at variance with the ideas of space and time, and being within those, of Kondareddis and others like them. These configurations have physical and administrative demarcations, where even flowing rivers can be ordered to fit (flow) in. These space-constructs use instruments of power and the governance language.

In this governance language, ‘R&R’ (Resettlement and Rehabilitation) becomes a fantastic idea, where communities can be shifted, held ransom, moved about from their historical locations to ones decided by the state. The identity numbers – ‘unique’, apparently, to each person in their locales – make sure that in governance language (which will be tomorrow’s history and historical record), Kondla Bullebbayi,14 for instance, will remain Kondla Bullebbayi, of course, but elsewhere, and not in/of Kondamodalu, which will be a name in a future gazetteer, a space underwater,15 to be retrieved by a future historian, thereby changing the very topography of the space that defined Bullebbayi’s personal memoir.

At the other end are the different space-constructs in people’s narratives. Then there was the history that the Kondareddis narrated to me, almost like a performative memory, which was part of the larger trajectory of revolt, tirugubatu (‘turning against’ or ‘revolting’) and of the Left movement in their space.

Another (in fact, most) important, social (and therefore space-) construct here is that of caste, which manages to intervene in the history of Kondamodalu adivasis and the itinerant fisher communities. Caste enters into the adivasi-lived historical space, and has the longest nexus with state and power, from the pre-colonial times, when land was massively appropriated by the upper castes, including Brahmins. Caste entered the world of governance, marking out territory, alienating land and finally, earning income from land thus alienated and appropriated, as it happened in the initial land acquisition for the dam, when officials convinced the upper castes to take compensations for lands they held since they were already holding them against the 1/70 Act.

 

In these ‘tribal worlds’ then, one couldn’t go far if caste were removed from the equation. This space, therefore, is not a pristine ‘adivasi’ area and has not been for centuries now; its governance and reconfiguration have an inherent caste history tied to it, which lives on in people’s memories and in records of legal battles. Caste is also an integral aspect of the political ideologies that entered this arena, post-independence.

Even before the entry of the Left, the Kondareddis were revolutionaries who fought against the oppressive zamindars of Polavaram, and the British colonial state, to protect their lands and forests against the creation of Reserves in forest patches where they practised cultivation (konda podu). Their revolts led to their ‘commons’ becoming ‘enclosed’ as ‘Agency Areas’, ostensibly to protect their lands.

Henry Morris in 1878 compares the ‘hill tribes’ with the rest of the population in the Godavari delta in different historical periods thus:

‘The peaceable and pastoral people inhabiting the fertile maritime plain which skirts the western shore of the Bay of Bengal, have lived successively under the rule of their own native Rajahs and Reddis, under the growth of Brahminism, the fascination of Buddhism, and the revival of Brahminical power, under the dominion of the conquering Rajahs of Orissa, under the distracted government of the Mohammedans, under the brief rule of the French, and under the more stable administration of the English Government…; but their present condition is incomparably superior to anything they had ever before enjoyed. The hill tribes and the people living in the upland Taluks bordering on the hills have been less peaceful; but whatever disturbances may have occurred, they have generally been occasioned by discontented chiefs, who had taken refuge in the fastnesses and forests of the mountains, for the purpose of escaping the payment of tribute, or evading the execution of the law….’16

 

This space, under the Madras Presidency, came under a separate set of laws. The reason is given as under:

‘The former Godavari District of Madras Presidency was made up of ten taluks and two deputy tahsildar’s divisions… (Of these) Yellavaram, Chodavaram, Polavaram and Bhadrachalam are tracts covered with hill and jungle and inhabited by uncivilised tribes to whom it is inexpedient to apply the whole of the ordinary law of the land. Under the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874 these have been formed into an Agency in which civil justice is administered under special rules and the Collector has special powers in his capacity of Government Agent. They are consequently always known as "the Agency" or "the Agency tracts".’17

Again, ‘In the… divisions of Polavaram, Yellavaram and Chodavaram and the taluk of Bhadrachalam, all of which are remote tracts covered with hill and jungle, sparsely provided with communication, shunned by the dwellers in the plains and inhabited by backward tribes who are most illiterate and ignorant of the ways of the world, and yet ready to go out on the warpath if once any of their many peculiar susceptibilities are wounded. In country, and to people, such as these, much of the ordinary law of the land is unsuited and a special system has consequently been introduced.’18

 

The special laws in the ‘Agency’ were definitely an instrument of control for the British government. Post-independence, this became an instrument of ‘protection of tribal lands’ from alienation. The ‘enclosure of the commons’ here is an enclosure first initiated by the British to stem the adivasi resistance (to contain them) and later followed by the Indian state to create the V Scheduled Area, further enclosing the spaces, including river, land and forests in the sense that, for the state, they remain distinct, unconnected entities (two-dimensional geographic projections alone, without human and wildlife histories written on them) just as the adivasi communities remain distinct entities in governance terms without, and outside of, these spaces.

Seen in this context, then, the circularity of the dance space, which one began with, resists the verticality of the caste-political power nexus.

For the Kondamodalu adivasi communities, their resistance history gives them their sense of self and antiquity, and their identity as revolutionaries. Poraatam, and hakku (struggle/resistance, and Rights, respectively) are built into their historical reconstruction of the Self in this space.

 

As a social space, Kondamodalu Panchayat is inhabited predominantly by Kondareddis, few Koyas (Koya Doras as self-referred), and relatively fewer Konda Kammaras, but it was socially and economically dominated for long by upper caste landlords from the Kamma and Kapu communities.19 Then there are the itinerant fisher-communities from the Palli and Vadda Balji communities now categorised as Backward Castes (BC) ‘D’. Interestingly, a handful of them also inter-married into adivasi families. There are the occasional itinerant Yanadi fisher-people, as well, who were earlier considered ‘tribe’ and transited officially into the BC category.

From this social space, the Kondareddis are included into the Indian nation-space as ‘PTG’ (Primitive Tribal Group) and later, ‘PVTG’ (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group)20 to formulate special provisions for them in the name of ‘developing’ them. This is an outside space; the colonial state- and Indian state-space. The inside (which is their own ‘within’), which is historically rooted, is thousands of years-old; their own ‘within’ is also their own ‘without’. From this, their own space, constructed and made sense of by their social histories, comes the idea of ‘ikkada’, and ‘akkada’ (‘here’, and ‘there’). I heard these terms over and over again in conversations, in the same manner as I heard the terms Godavari ‘occhinappudu’ (when Godavari came).

Ikkada – here – is where ‘we’ (as they would say) lived, live, have been living. Akkada – there – is where the state, visibly distanced, is. In this historical understanding is also their own perspective on the colonial state which ruled over them ‘here’ (ikkada), ‘then’/‘in those times’ (appudu/aakaalamlo), restricting their worlds. There is an external space in their perspective, the ‘inclusion into’ which is fraught with the dangers of exclusions, once they are included. So, even the idea of Scheduled and non-Scheduled are made sense of in their own historical perspective, in this sense. Because, their ‘inclusion’ is conditional upon their exclusion. Or, the exclusion is built upon/into the inclusion.

 

In terms of written and oral records, there occurs a break in the historical reconstruction of this space between the colonial period revolts and the 20th century post-independence (and post-creation of Andhra Pradesh of the ’50s) resistance movements. The Kondamodalu people’s conversations are dominated by the history of upper caste landlordism. One of the common names that cropped up was one Sivayya Patrudu and the slimy methods he used to grab land from the Kondareddis.

The long marches with red flags through the fields is a present of tirugubaatu (turning against), written upon the same marches in the past. Today, it is a fight of a small number of adivasi peasant farmers against a Rs 57,940 crore (579.4 billion, still counting) ‘National’ project, ‘under construction’ under the regimes of the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (Congress), Chandrababu Naidu (TDP) and now Y.S. Jagan (YSR Congress).

The world of the adivasi peoples exists within this political-geographic world fighting to protect a forest, and a river flowing south-eastwards against a deltaic water-land-forest governance. This broader political canvas regularly defined the Kondareddis (and others of this region) as ‘uncivilised’, ‘innocent’, ‘naïve’, ‘conflict-mongers’ (‘godava manushulu’, the Telugu word used for them by a government official, in a conversation21), and the like. Other problematic terms used post-Independence are ‘beneficiaries’, and now, ‘oustees’, with the latter term being used without hesitation even in pamphlets and posters, even by those resisting displacement.

 

The post-independence administrative referral space of Kondamodalu ‘Panchayat’ must enter as one island of resistance among many, and not ‘fit in’ to the idea of a developmental space of the state. Here, nearly all the adivasi families have had martyrs, or fighters against the system at some point or the other. Everything they say about the past is signatured in resistance. Their own reconstruction of events of protest almost always seemed to ‘speak at’ or ‘talk back to’ the state (of the time), and never ‘plead’ for benefits or concessions. It is in this space of earlier resistance that the Left movement entered22 and made its own local history through which the Kondareddis and Koyas again constructed an organic movement history of their space and their idea of Self.

This history and meaning-making of the space in a larger context almost resembles the circular traditional Kondareddi dance. In terms of the circulatory space of resistance, Kondamodalu in East Godavari district (crossing river Godavari, through Sivagiri), has had a long connect with Polavaram and the Koya village Chegondapally (in West Godavari district, now uprooted), connected by a common Left ideology. Also connected through the Left movement were the villages Pochavaram (which once came under the Khammam district of AP and Telangana before reformulation of districts and submergence zone) and others.

 

Pochavaram is also inhabited primarily by Kondareddis. It was here that I had once met (while walking past to another village), by sheer chance, the very senior, loin-cloth clad Gangi Reddi with a tattooed body, who was once associated with the radical, armed Left movement-history in the 1960s. Interestingly, Kondareddis of Pochavaram became entrenched in the Telangana statehood movement between the years 2009 to 2013, since at that moment, they belonged administratively within the Khammam district in Telangana. The Kondareddis of Kondamodalu did not deem it fit to join in with the Kondareddis of Khammam though they were partakers of a common anti-colonial resistance memory. Hence, space-constructs can also be fragile and shifting, in spite of a contiguous cultural-geographic space of either banks of Godavari.

In these historical developments, the worlds of adivasi people are constructed through different historical trajectories, sometimes given to them from the outside, or processes larger than the region, within which the region/space becomes agent in/of and from within, where they consciously define their world and their specific history or histories. The cartography of resistance and space is vectored through moments in time: the Rampa revolt, the revolt of a Subba Reddi, making of the Sir Arthur Cotton anicut, encroachment of lands by upper castes from delta regions, and the Polavaram dam at present. And within these are situated people’s memories, such as the ones I heard in 2008, from Kondla Gangaraju (who passed away in early 2016), Illa Rami Reddi and Madi Muttemma.23

 

Gangaraju was a former MPTC of Kondamodalu. He recounted:

‘In the past there used to be a Reddi Polavaram, near the present Panchayat office (in Polavaram) and Kondareddis were the heads, such as Nadupuru Rami Reddi and Lachi Reddi; that has become Polavaram today after the Hukumpeta zamindar took all those lands... In 1960s, we struggled between the oppression of the landlords and the government (forest department) which started creating restrictions on our grazing and use of forests. Our situation was like that of a mouse struggling inside a bowl of gruel (Kudipi-lo elaka laaga kottu mittaadutunnaamu).

‘With the coming of the zamindar and estates, our fortunes changed. In British times (Brittish kaalamlo), we paid pannu (tax) – 5 pannu per acre, or something like that – for kondapodu and we paid beda (another tax) to muttadars through the karnam (the village level land records keeper) and munsifs. Later we paid dastu (another tax) of Rs 2… Alluri Sitatramaraju worked amongst our people. He couldn’t have achieved so much had he not been supported by our ancestors.’

 

Illa Rami Reddi, former Sarpanch of Kondamodalu recounted:

‘In British times (Brittish kaalamlo), the government was always in conflict with girijans on podu. They brought in the reserved forest system. Our grandfathers told us they would demarcate a boundary line we were not to cross. Our people opposed it even then… Many Kondareddis stood up against them, such as Karukuntla Venkata Subba Reddi. We heard once there were revolts for 7 long months, in the 19th century. Subba Reddi stopped supplies to the British forces coming in boats between Cheduru, Thutigunta and so on. Finally, they caught him and executed him at Polavaram and another one of ours at Buttaigudem. Vetla Subba Reddi was also hanged in Polavaram. In the past, Kondareddis were hill chieftains of Reddi Polavaram until the zamindari estates were set up and Polavaram passed into non-tribal hands.’

The colonial Gazetteer mentions one of these incidents: ‘Another grim relic of the old disorders in these parts which existed here till recently was the gallows on which Subba Reddi and Kommi Reddi, the ringleaders of the fituri of 1858 were hanged. This was carried away by the floods of 1900.’24 Subba Reddi’s descendants still live in the village Koraturu, nearby.

Rami Reddi added, ‘In the 19th century in the Agency Areas there were also the taxes on arrack from ippa (Bassia laitifolia) or the toddy trees (the tax was called chiguru pannu) even for self-consumption. We couldn’t take timber for building our houses, fuel for firewood, in the reserve system. We would run for months and years between officials and the courts to clear the cases.’

 

Reserving forests meant shrinking of space for the Kondareddis, Koyas and other adivasi communities.

‘In AD 1877, Dr. Brandis who was advising the Government on its forest policy drew attention to the grazing, fire, indiscriminate cutting and shifting cultivation practised by the hill tribes, who were thus ruining the forests. He therefore recommended that the government should introduce Legislation and sanction the reservation of large compact blocks of forest area. Consequently, the Madras Forest Act came into force on the first of January 1883, and several of the forest areas in this district were constituted as reserves between AD 1891 and 1900.25

The concept continued. As Rami Reddi said, ‘Even after independence our government continued the reserve system. They used to charge us Re 1 for kondapodu (2 annas before that); we had to give pannu to the forest department and they would give us receipts. We were agricultural labourers on our own land and if we did kondapodu, we got into trouble with the forest department…’

Moving to the present, Rami Reddi adds, ‘We do not need R&R colonies. We need lands first; we seek pattas (certifying ownership) on lands that we have been cultivating. What use are colonies without land to feed us? Our homes have a place for everything: cattle, goats, hens… Most R&R houses are made like they were meant for slum-dwellers in cities like Hyderabad! ...We have fought a long battle without arms. We seek implementation of the Acts meant for us.

 

In a sense, the earlier methods of resistance against the British rulers (or during the 1960s) have given way to an almost imperceptible acceptance of the inevitability of the dam. Demanding compensation and seeking state acceptance of lands originally owned by them illegally going into the hands of upper castes, which the adivasis reclaimed, is an acute paradox. The adivasis have to keep struggling till even this pittance reaches them; not in a dignified way where the state might have sought their consent, apologising (a big word) for the loss of river, agricultural lands, forests, and thereby, even non-human life-forms, or even their sacred spaces. Instead, it is decided as a matter of the right of the state within the ‘eminent domain’ principle of power.

Madi Muttemma had evoked a unique space idea when she told me:

‘We cannot survive in plain area; this is Agency, and hence we have all things we need; in the plain area… you have to buy everything; we have to buy vegetables… edible leaves…fruits… tamarind, etc (koorakayalu konaali… chintakaayalu konaali). Here, in the agency, we get all of those free (ikkada agency kaabatti avanni uchitanga dorukutaayi). We just need to buy salt, which we get from our village santa [the weekly village fair]. There, we cannot survive. They say they will build our homes in places which we shall show them; they have not yet shown us anything yet... Non-tribals from Tuni and Samarlakota came here, set up small shops, first, and then became money lenders. They took lands when even small loans could not be repaid. Sivayya Patrudu (who was the largest landowner) once invited a few of our people for lunch and took (in return) over 15 acres! Gradually, he became owner of around 300 acres. The Kondareddis toiled on upper caste landlords’ fields for paltry sums of Rs 9 or 10 a month [this was post-independence], or for free, if the landlord happened to be a money lender, too.’26

 

Muttemma addressed the question of three sites, at once personal, political and historically rooted: self, home and habitat. And the in-construction sites that she spoke about were the Submergence Zone as a site, village as a site and an economic construct as a site. Her idea of Self and her I, or we, so to speak, were located within all these. The there and here, then, is also made sense of through a set of ideas and interactions with the outside world they know well; whether or not to integrate with that world is a choice they made, and are making, and the actual self-agency (sans mediation, perhaps) comes from making this choice: to remain in the here, which has a definitive qualitative ‘good’-ness compared to the there.

It is in this self-agency, immensely knowledgeable and aware of social and ecological conditions of existence inside/here and outside/there, that the scope for an alternative historiography of a place like Kondamodalu fascinatingly exists. In the history of Kondamodalu, besides resistance, another constant is the idea of a self within a cosmos that – in spite of mediations over time – has meaning for basic survival as a community with a strong sense of identity and esteem of its locale and lived space.

But faced with the brute force of the state and the insidious entry of ideas of ‘resettlement’ (couched in a world-view that looks at compensation for losses in purely material terms or from a mostly urban, class perspective), the Kondamodalu adivasis, too, are forced to give in and reformulate their petitions to the state in post-independence (anti-dam) movement language. Intense socialisation into the caste-based world not far from their spaces, only separated by a river, has led to changes in self-articulations while, at the same time, becoming more conscious of the significance of their world, too, again, separated by a river. Godavari has its own mediation history: with the building of the Godavari anicut by Sir Arthur Cotton in 1852, near Rajahmundry in the Madras Presidency, a new water language entered the space. Here, caste, colonialism and post-colonial ‘developmental economics’ gave rise to a new hunger for land.

As Rami Reddi said, ‘At the time of Andhra Pradesh state formation, 1950s, many non-tribals continued to hold lands here. We used to collect bamboo and earn paltry sums as daily wages.’

 

One of the CPI (ML) publications records the Kondamodalu ‘tribal peasant’ agitation of 1969 as well as an account of the polemical differences within the Communist movement and revolutionaries. I paraphrase:

‘Comrades, the Report we are sending here on the Agency Movement of East Godavari district (AP) is the only Report of Kondamodalu area. The movement of Kondamodalu area reached the level of land seizure. Here, defying the landlords and Government machinery the people rose in waves and seized the lands… The people seized back crops grabbed by the landlords earlier. Lands which were not yet tilled were tilled and sown… In October 1969, the girijans stood organised to put up resistance against the landlords when they sought to destroy the crops raised by the girijans. When the landlords retreated to the background and the police came to the fore, the entire people disappeared into the bushes immediately responding to the suggestion to retreat into hidings. Panicked police had to beg the people at this turn of situation. When police proposed to talk, only 4, 5 elders came out and talked to them. Then the police left from the scene…27

This foreword was drafted by Com. V. Ramalinga Chary on behalf of the State Committee, APRCC… The building of East Godavari Girijana Sangham has begun at a time when the class struggle in the Girijan movement of Parvathipuram Agency Area of Srikakulam district was advancing in the thick of serious class battles… The activities in Kondamodalu area were started in Jan’1969 only after the State Committee has taken the steps with a comprehensive view and as part of building the revolutionary movement. By this time…Com. Simhadri Subba Reddy…was sent to this district as the Organiser for this pocket of Kondamodalu. The report we are publishing here was written by him when he was in Secunderabad Jail in Nov-Dec 1970…’.28

 

A Report of Kondamodalu Tribal Peasant Movement: ‘Harassment by the forest officials, the exploitation by the landlords and money lenders were the main problems in this area… girijans who were hitherto getting frightened even at the sight of forest officials and praying to them offering hens or money not to foist cases against them, have shown the courage with the consciousness gained from the Girjana Sangham and warned the forest officials… On one side, the forest officials were harassing the girijans calling the shifting cultivation as illegal. On the other side, the revenue officials were harassing the people by demanding the payment of tax as per law…’29

In the years following the 1969 agitation, the party had further differences on methods of resistance and there were further changes and schisms.

 

Why would adivasis choose the revolutionary line of protest? The most common arguments, given by different lines of the Left, as well as activists and intellectuals, are built around ideas of causality. Thus, economic ‘disempowerment’, ‘poverty’, ‘expropriation of resources’ as being causes for the adoption of the revolutionary idea. But, as I have argued elsewhere ‘the centralised leadership from outside could not have sustained itself had it not been for these communities, whose own ideas of community-owned land…even before the revolutionary leaders appeared in their midst helped lay the foundation for the movements’.30

Dharna, at ITDA office at Rampachodavaram, Andhra Pradesh, 30 November-1 December 2020. Pic. by special arrangement.

Certain mainstream discourse tends to perceive the communities as somehow permanently ‘vulnerable’ and unable to think of their own modes of protest or resistance, or as being permanently ‘sandwiched’ between the exploitative forces (state) and the radicals (extreme Left), who ‘influence’ them, one way or the other. Meanwhile, the role of the river as active agent in history or the forests, as conduits of revolution and guerrilla resistance against British colonialism and later Indian state in these parts do not figure in the historiography of movements. These spaces and their being amenable to ideas of revolution would be an interesting line of argument to take forward; so, once dammed, that changed topography would alter even their spatial history.

 

When I sought Illa Rami Reddi’s opinion as to why their petitions against the dam and in general political discourse did not mention wildlife and impact on nature on account of the Polavaram project, he said:

‘So far as Kondareddis are concerned, the forests, animals and birds have always been part of our lives; never separate from us. When we protested against the dam we spoke of our lands and lives assuming that animals and birds and trees are part and parcel of all this; the "we", is all of this! These ideas of wildlife and all this as distinct and separate is just a whim of the present-day urban middle classes. Why would we write of them in separate petitions? ... See, we celebrate festivals for every new fruit on the tree, and every new vegetable, including the gourd, is worshipped prior to our first seasonal consumption of the same. Earlier our people, who lived in the forests, used the trees for small purposes, and hunted animals occasionally, but at the same time we respected and worshipped them. Forests and this environment were always part of us, so we never thought of mentioning them specifically...’31

 

Thus, ‘In case of the Kondareddis… and several other tribal/adivasi communities (or in the case of dalits living by the sea or rivers)… the forest/river is both sensual-real and utilitarian (in some cases, utilitarian and hence the feel, the touch, the reverence is both sensual and utilitarian, with no duality there); the utilitarian here, is not extreme consumption…’32

It might be important to rethink ways in which ideologies and perspectives in the course of time have mediated the Kondamodalu space and thereby Kondareddi or Koya language/articulation of a worldview that has changed over the years. Constant interaction with the outside world, upper castes (in some form, even protest), even within the Left movement, and the state, by way of accessing government schemes, or via court battles, have also mediated these ‘worlds’ and hence the mediation histories of these would need to be taken cognisance of.

 

However, Rami Reddi does add that change is inevitable: they depend more on agriculture than forests, unlike in earlier times. Governments have been urging some of them to go for commercial plantations, which are destroying the species native to this region. At another level, the younger generation is relatively more literate and is more engaged with life in urban areas, such as Hyderabad, even by way of employment. Even these younger generations attend protest meetings when called for, against the dam, and retain their link with their ancestral land struggles.

The Kondareddis have accessed the judicial system since long, some cases fought over generations of a single family, too. The Kondamodalu Panchayat has filed the most numerous petitions in courts. People here have also courted arrests at different times. Thus, courts as well as prisons, have been an intrinsic part of their history. On 29 November 1982, police firing resulted in the death of two Kondareddi men and injury to others. By then, Kondamodalu adivasis had reclaimed (and begun cultivating) of 426 acres of land that had been encroached upon by non-tribal upper castes. They also started cultivating the so-called ‘banjar bhoomi’ lands (150 acres) in this space by 1985. They also sought to ‘legalise’ these reclaimed lands for years, but without avail.

 

In the Polavaram dam context, while initially the forms of agitation were processions, protests on the spill-way site of the dam and arrests, gradually, through schisms and political transformations, street level people’s protests in the submergence zone reduced substantially. But Kondamodalu persisted and resisted, through meetings, marches, contesting elections, and their ancient association with the courts. Their petitions at least stalled their displacement, if not totally ended its possibility. The questions they asked were rooted in the very legal jargon that the state utilises to confuse people with. I elucidate this with one of the most recent sequence of petitions filed in this context where legal literacy can be both a tool of oppression as well as resistance to it.33 However, the danger exists in the fact that the state can induce a newer legal conundrum in place of the old, so ultimately even this tool of resistance can become a game of roulette in perpetuity.

 

Upon receiving news about a government notification for land acquisition in Kondamodalu, based upon a fabricated (never held) Gram Sabha resolution of Kondamodalu passed in favour of the Polavaram dam, the Sarpanch of Kondamodalu, Vetla Vijaya (Kathanapally village) sent a letter (dated 15 May 2015), duly attested by the Village Secretary to the Special Collector, Land Acquisition, Indira Sagar project at Rajahmundry, objecting to the false claim and demanding a response.

The long march, 29 November 2016, Kondamodalu.

In his response (in brief here), the Special Collector, in a letter dated 1 June 2015 (vide. Ref. 181/2013, in the context of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013), reminded the Kondamodalu sarpanch that since they had already passed a resolution in their Gram Sabha favouring the dam on 16.07.2013, a report had already appeared to this effect in the Eenadu (Telugu) daily on 15.02.2014 as well as 9.04.2015 (which the Komdamodalu Panchayat had raised objections to). The Special Collector reminded them that the Kondamodalu Panchayat had legally lost the mandatory timeline, viz. 60 days from the date of notification, to raise any objection to the land acquisition process.

 

Following this, Vetla Vijaya, and Tati Bullebbayi (Kokkarigudem village), Secretary, PESA Committee, filed a Writ Petition (WP No. 33452/2015)34 in the High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in 2016 as under:

‘(For) issuing preliminary notification dtd. 29.4.2015 under Section11(1) of Act 30 of 2013 without prior consent of the Gramsabha as per the provisions of Section 49(2) of Act 20 of 2013 and PESA Act (Act 40 of 1996) and without consulting the Mandal parishad as per the procedures laid out in A.P. Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Rules, 2011 and in violation of Land Transfer Regulation 1 of 1959 as amended under 1 of 1970 and not following Act 30 of 2013 and the rules therein under and (b) in issuing declaration under Section 19(1) of Act 30 of 2013 in violation of the Section 11(2) and 11(5) of Act 30 of 2013, is illegal, arbitrary and consequently declare that the preliminary notification B1/125/2015 dated 29.04.2015 and the consequential declaration under Section 19(1) dated 23.09.2015 …is null and void and direct the respondents to initiate the proceedings to obtain the consent of Gramsabha and consult Mandal Parishad Devipatnam afresh while following the procedures laid out in Act 30 of 2013 and the rules and set aside the preliminary notification B1/86/2015 dated 29.04.2015 and subsequent declaration under section 19(1) dated 23.09.2015...’35

 

The petition also recorded that the latest Gram Sabha dated 18.4.2015 had passed a resolution opposing the land acquisition for Polavaram dam. As a result, the High Court issued an interim order to halt the land acquisition process. Consequently, the land acquisition authorities urged the Kondamodalu Sarpanch and others to reach an understanding, and withdraw their petition. A conditional Memorandum of Understanding (dated 22.06.2017) happened between the Sarpanch, Vetla Vijaya, the AP Rythu Coolie Sangham, Illa Rami Reddi and others for the Kondamodalu Panchayat and the Special Deputy Collector, Land Acquisition, the Project Officer, ITDA and the Tahsildar, Devipatnam mandal for the state of AP.

One of the six conditions was: that the ‘Agent to the government’ would purchase 426 acres of (reclaimed) land under the land purchase scheme to provide land in the villages Ozubanda, Jiyyampalem, Jaggampalem, Rajavaram, Neladonelapally of Gangavaram mandal and lands (of their choice) in Fokspeta and Yerrampalem of Rampachodavaram mandal (extent not mentioned though) under the Musurumalli project canal for the 440 displaced people of ten villages of Kondamodalu.

 

In rough math terms, it would still not compensate the entire extent of the adivasi lands lost, excluding these 426 acres, and there is no surety that the compensatory land in the two mandals would be free from legal dispute, considering adivasi experiences in the past in Gangavaram mandal. Also, there is no mention of kondapodu lands (as per the FRA provisions) being compensated for.36

The MoU also adds that two people would be selected (not mentioned how, and who will select them) in the land purchase committee. Besides, people cultivating on government banjar lands would also be compensated for. Following the MoU, an affidavit37 to the same was placed before the High Court by the ITDA Project officer. Kondamodalu’s petition was duly withdrawn and vacated by the High Court in 2017.38 Ultimately, the bureaucrats of the time, and the ruling government, changed and the impasse resumed.

So, on 30 November and 1 December 2020, commemorating the 1982 martyrdom, around 3000 adivasis of Kondamodalu staged a masked dharna in the midst of the pandemic in front of the ITDA office at Rampachodavaram (East Godavari district) reminding the present government to implement the said MoU.39

 

Historicising ‘tribal worlds’ from the vantage point of pure anthropologism (based, to a large extent, on a certain kind of anthropology of the ‘tribal’) denies them a historically present, and political, self within anomalies imposed by systems which wield power (landlordism, exploitation, caste, market, capitalism, etc.) at particular times in history. In some specific cases, the adivasis are not considered capable of opting for themselves a political ideology, or differing political ideologies, be it closer to their own worldview or farther away from it.40

‘Tribal worlds’ (far from a universal category, considering geographical, economic, educational, social and political differences) have been constituted historically by ideas of state, governance, modernity, in the mainstream, and very rarely by their own self-definitions as to who they are (except where they have consciously expressed their identity in political movements and increasingly now in academic discourse and literature) or would like to be seen as.

However, how communities define themselves is a very complex question since their varied selves have undergone phenomenal changes over centuries, and their definition of who they are, or were, is through categories or theories that may not always arise from within. And that is not necessarily a problem always, because history has shown that, at times, an inclusive and expansive ‘without’ may be preferable to an insular or deterministic ‘within’, especially when the latter can be co-opted into insular nationalisms of various kinds.

 

In conclusion, ikkada and akkada would occur in a context of contrasts (of being the adivasi person rooted in a historical location versus becoming a state and market project, or in other words, the sacrificial goat for the bogey of public good). Akkada, or there, is a place of loss and alienation; ikkada, is that of home and of belonging. This is the ikkada they would rather live and die in. The state’s perception of ‘here’ – as I heard over and over again in the officials’ propaganda for the Polavaram project – is both, a colonial legacy and a civilising mission, exemplified in even casual remarks by officials (supervising the dam-building process), such as: ikkada meerem chestaaru?’ (what will you people do here?). But, paradoxically, even for the state, that ikkada has to remain, as a project, for the ‘Scheduled Tribes’ to be ‘emancipated’.

The other manner in which ‘space’ works here is the long walk from the village in Kondamodalu, home, to Rampachodavaram, state/administration. Then there is the division between East and West Godavari, which also defines their routes. The distance between the government and people has remained rather vast, since long.

‘The status quo has generally been one of a ‘great Indian tradition’ … The government, or its agents, had played a game on the bodies and sites of tribal people. The wound, more than physical, was thus cultural – for these would be tribal bodies as ‘sites’ of (cruel) governance and their homes would be sites of constant invasion, physical and structural, by upper caste assertion, or the assertion of machines (literally) and tools of ‘modernity’ couched in legal, constitutional terms to suit purposes of the dominant or dominating...’41

 

Finally, as I walked, in year 2016, photographing/recording42 the Kondamodalu people’s long march through the lush green fields holding red flags of an ideology which, to them, still seemed relevant – with the friendly domesticated dogs, marching alongside their own people, the cattle egrets peacefully watching from a distance, a persistent lapwing flying along, undisturbed – it all seemed to be a continuity from a hoary past. Do ruptures exist in the narratives, mediated by changes the present has brought about? But then, isn’t it also the point of it all, ‘to recognise that these are unfinished histories, not of a victimised past, but of consequential histories of differential futures’?43

 

Footnotes:

1. In an interview I recorded with her in the year 2008. All further references to Muttemma are from this date. A Kondareddi, she was then in her mid-thirties. She hails from the village Kokkarigudem. Madi Muttemma (as she is also addressed) was then the ‘MPTC’, as she introduced herself (‘I am the MPTC for two mandals – Kondamodau and Tunnur...’), i.e. Member of the Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituency, a unit of the Panchayati Raj edifice. Kondamodalu, meanwhile is a village, as also the Panchayat headquarters. I am using the village and Panchayat names interchangeably. In other cases, the names of other villages are given. But Kondamodalu itself has become a historical prefix for all the agitations. The space is a set of hamlets, vast and quite far apart, with forests, hills and smaller streams separating a few of them. So you could cover anywhere between one kilometre to thirty, walking through the entire panchayat. Most community gatherings happen in the Kondamodalu village space. This paper is based on legwork through these villages between years 2006 until 2016, with breaks in between, in a physical sense.

2. Even as I write, I am sadly conscious that these protests – even if they happen in a historically given time (some adivasi protest movements have today assumed ‘heritage’ status, celebrated even by the state, as in the instance of the Gond Komaram Bheem iconisation, or the Koya Sammakka-Saralamma jathra by the Telangana state, even if removed from their original historical context) – are nothing in the face of the ongoing Polavaram dam project, continued through many violations and the current pandemic, as a pathology of our times. Displacement may now seem imminent but there are successes for the indigenous communities elsewhere that raise hopes for the future. A recent case in point being the declaration of ‘ancestor’ (legal personhood) status for the Wanghnui river after 140 years of struggle of the Maoris of New Zealand. I neither romanticise the song, nor the dance, nor even the protest. Yet, I see possibilities for another romanticism to counter the dominant narrative of romanticising a Nation, nationalism (of all shades), and ‘economic growth’.

3. As I had noted, back in year 2008; it remained so, in year 2016. Mutyam passed away into history, without narrating to me his Gandhi story, since he had once mentioned having seen Gandhi at Rajahmundry.

4. F.R. Hemingway (ICS), Madras District Gazetteers: Godavari. Superintendent, Government Press, Madras, 1915. I found partial details of the said law suit in the ‘High Court of Judicature at Madras’ (‘A. No. 26 of 1906’, dated ‘Saturday, 17th December, 1910’) under Justice Krishnaswami Aiyar and Justice Ayling, XJ. of the Appellant(s) ‘Sri Satoda Bihara Martapatra Kondamodalu Linga Reddi alias Sullee Abhoyee versus Respondent(s) Sree Rajah Kocherlakotah Venkata Krishna Row Bahadur Zamindar Garu, Proprietor of Polavaram’. This case was concerning ‘Land Tenure, Permanent intermediate tenure, adverse possession, tenant holding ever Limitation Act, Art.139’. Yet another case (‘Case No. A. 183 of 1905’), under Sir Charles Arnold White, Kt., Chief Justice, and Justice Abdur, mentions Appellant(s) ‘Kondamodalu Linga Reddi minor under the protection of the Court of Wards represented by the Collector of Madras versus Respondent(s) Alluru Sarvarayudu of Annadevarapeta’. This comes under the ‘Limitation Act, S. 19 – Acknowledgment by Court of Wards or by Collector as its Agent – Madras Court of Wards Regulation V of 1804, ss. 17, 32’.

5. Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (ed.), Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival. University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1982, pp. 7-10.

6. Jayprakash Rao, ‘Kondareddis in Transition: Three Case Studies’, in Tribes of India (ed.), von Fürer-Haimendörf, p. 284.

7. M.L.K. Murthy, ‘Costly Mistake!’, in Biksham Gujja, S. Ramakrishna, Vinod Goud and Sivaramakrishna (eds.), Perspectives on Polavaram: A Major Irrigation Project on Godavari. Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 135-37.

8. When some of the Indian currency was demonetised, including the Rs 500 note. Needless to say, there are no ‘ATMs’ in any of these villages, to date.

9. There was once a small soap manufacturing unit here which no longer exists, but people still refer to the bus stop as Singanapally Company.

10. Personal communication, 30 Nov 2016.

11. Writing in today’s political time, it is important to stress that for the marginalised, history is what was usually unjust; the outcome of that is their present suffering and continued marginalisation. However, in the case of societies like those of the Kondareddis, Koyas and others, there is also a blend, of a good and bad past. The good is evoked when they speak of their lives in a natural environment of intimacy (here), and their constant struggle to retain that idea. The bad is almost always the (external) state and the advantaged upper castes who alienate them from that intimate space. In case of the dalit communities, their landless pasts found small concessions in the sixties and early ’70s when they were assigned land ownership; the present is a reversal of their earlier pasts of caste-ridden landlessness in case of the Polavaram dam, with the Scheduled Caste and Backward Caste not entirely equally compensated for among the displaced. Histories need to be constantly located within these smaller stories of people’s own ideas of their negative and positive pasts.

12. In year 2018 the governments at the centre and the state had claimed that by 2019 the dam will be completed. Whether or not the dam is ever completed, thousands of acres of land are in government hands, and many people are yet to receive the compensations even as petitions are still pending on these deals.

13. ‘National’ in today’s times implies ‘nation’s (economic) interests’ and ‘mandatory’ and hence also leads to suppression of dissent.

14. One of the Kondareddi men of Katha-napally I met on every journey.

15. If and when the dam becomes operational.

16. Henry Morris, A Description and Histo-rical Account of the Godavari District in the Presidency of Madras. London, 1878, pp. 327-28.

17. Hemingway, Madras District Gazetteers: Godavari, p. 2.

18. Ibid., pp. 188-89.

19. Incidentally, a Reddy chief minister and a Kapu chief minister have both been responsible for the construction and continuation of the Polavaram project. In that sense, the history is a long and linear one, too.

20. In both cases, their situation is a permanently fixed one, seen through the lens of evolutionary development.

21. During one of my meetings with an official at the Revenue office seeking official statistics on the rural employment guarantee programme in Chegondapally and Ramaiah-peta in the submergence zone in the year 2009.

22. The larger political Left history of this region has seen several permutations and transformations: the Tarimela Nagi Reddy line, evolved out of the Srikakulam movement in 1969; post-1975, the Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India (ML); post-1992, the CPI (ML) Janashakti and; since 2005, CPI (ML), which has retained a small sphere of influence here. But, barring the time when Kondla Gangaraju and Illa Rami Reddi of Kondamodalu contested the elec-tions of 2009 in AP, when CPI (ML) directly supported them, most of the protests and pamphlets of Kondamodalu against the dam have officially been under the banners of the Agency Girijana Sangham and AP Rythu Coolie Sangham.

23. An account of my recording their history (in July 2008): ‘The Last Resistance’ in The Hindu, Sunday magazine, 29 March 2009; R. Umamaheshwari, When Godavari Comes: People’s History of a River (Journeys in the Zones of the Dispossessed). Aakar Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 222-227. All the narratives by Gangaraju and Rami Reddi were recorded in July 2008, unless mentioned otherwise. Hence, I do not give individual references when I paraphrase them.

24. Hemingway, Madras District Gazetteers: Godavari, p. 283.

25. Andhra Pradesh District Gazetteer, 1979, pp. 11-12.

26. In common parlance at Kondamodalu, the plain area refers to the delta, non-V Schedule Area. Reference to Muttemma from personal communication of 13 June 2008, unless otherwise mentioned. Emphasis added.

27. Historical and Polemical Documents of the Communist Movement of India, Vol. II (1964-1972). Tarimela Nagi Reddy Memorial Trust, Vijayawada, 2008, pp. 750-52.

28. Ibid., pp. 752-53.

29. Ibid., p. 754.

30. Umamaheshwari, When Godavari Comes, p. 378.

31. Personal communication, 17 July 2018.

32. R. Umamaheshwari, ‘Nature and Belonging: Distance, Development, and Intimacy’, in Kaustav Chakraborty (ed.), The Politics of Belonging in Contemporary India: Anxiety and Intimacy. Routledge, London and New York, 2020, p. 53.

33. It reminds one of the comic Asterix and the Twelve Tasks (another one of those plans of Julius Caesar) wherein the only task that drives even the brave Asterix and Obelix insane is the twelfth one: to secure a certain ‘Permit Number 838’ through a bureaucratic labyrinth (almost a pictorial rendition of Kafka’s ‘Castle’), of coloured forms, numerous windows and desks of a huge mansion. Finally, Asterix invents a ‘Permit 839’, of a ‘new circular B-65’, thereby driving the system itself into its own madness.

34. Vetla Vijaya (Sarpanch, Kondamodalu) and Tati Bullebbayi (PESA Committee Secretary) as Petitioners versus the State of Andhra Pradesh, represented by the relevant bureaucracy, including, among others, Principal Secretary, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development Department, AP Government and the ITDA Project Officer as Respondents.

35. WPMP 33452/2015 (Writ of Mandamus) at the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad for the State of Telangana and for the State of Andhra Pradesh.

36. The economically poor Konda Kammaras of the same villages mentioned here had filed petitions to the effect that they were losing their lands for the Polavaram R&R land acquisition. I had written of it in detail when I visited them in year 2007. Details in Umamaheshwari, When Godavari Comes, chapter recording the journey of year 2007. The Musurumalli canal project too was not without its anomalies.

37. Affidavit filed (August 2017) by the ITDA Project Officer, Rampachodavaram, East Godavari district, AP, A.S. Dinesh Kumar (attested by the Special Deputy Collector, Land Acquisition, Chintoor unit) at the High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, records the details of the case and the MoU. Acquired from the Kondamodalu Panchayat.

38. WPMP 35597 of 2015 seeking to withdraw; thus, the WPMP 33452 of 2015 was deleted, dated 12/09/2017.

39. Following the dharna, the government sent its revenue officials to survey the 150 acres of banjar land being cultivated by the adivasi farmers. They have apparently promised a renewed possession/‘enjoyment’ survey of the 426 acres of reclaimed land at some point.

40. A case in point (perhaps cliché): the mainstream ideas of the Maoist-State ‘crossfire’ in parts of central India, Odisha and Telangana, where the adivasis are seen as ‘victims’ ‘sandwiched between’ either sides. In most studies, there is acceptance of the circle of exploitation, and violation of rights, but there is as yet not adequate discoursing of the historically-located perspective of the communities who allow for any ideology (of any kind) to exist in their midst, or on the other hand, choose consciously the side, either of the state (and benefits accruing from such a choice), or otherwise, as active agents of any of these decisions. Or, perhaps chalk their own course of action sans any influence outside of their immediate cultural and social context.

41. R. Umamaheshwari, ‘Dislocations, Marginalizations, Past and Present: Pain- experiences of Two Marginalised Communities’, in Siby K. George and P.G. Jung (eds.), Cultural Ontology of the Self in Pain, 2016, pp. 230-235.

42. On 29 November 2016.

43. Ann Laura Stoler (ed.), Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2013, pp. 10-11.

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