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Adieu, Mallu Swarajyam, a Revolutionary Par Excellence!

Swarajyam spoke of herself as a ‘field worker of the movement’ and till the last days of her life this spirit of struggle, despite infirmities, inspired many.
Adieu, Mallu Swarajyam, a Revolutionary Par Excellence!

The fact that Mallu Swarajyam was inspired by Maxim Gorky’s Mother at an early age, rebelled against her semi-feudal household, and later carried a prize of Rs 10,000 (nearing Rs 9 lakh adjusting for inflation today) on her head is telling of her courageous spirit. This spirit was forged in the tumultuous and revolutionary days of the early decades of the 20th century. Even her last name was kept as ‘Swarajyam’ (meaning ‘self-rule’) by her parents who participated in Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha.

Born in 1930-31 in a small landlord family in Karvirala-Kothagudem village in Thungathurthy mandal of Suryapet district, she began her stint in public life at the age of 11 when, in response to a call given by the Andhra Mahasabha to end bonded labour, she defied the family norm and distributed rice to bonded labourers hailing from different castes and communities.

“My own uncles were against my giving rice to bonded labourers. But, I was firm that they deserved their share. And my gesture set a precedent in the entire area where bonded labourers started demanding pay for their work,” she once told a journalist with the Frontline magazine.

The All India Democratic Womens’ Association (AIDWA), of which she was the president of the Andhra Pradesh unit from 1981 to 2011 recalls her early experiences with grassroots political work: “Under the influence of her elder brother she was drawn while still in her early teens into the activities of the Freedom Movement through Andhra Mahila Sabha where apart from physical training she also got her first lessons in politics.

“From 1944, the clashes between the landlords and the peasants were taken to a new height and Swarajyam who was given the membership of the Communist Party in 1946 when she was about 16 years old became fully involved in the Telangana peasants’ movement.”

As the news of her passing away spread, many shared a striking photograph of her guerrilla days. Standing upright with her comrades-in-arms, a young Swarayam balances a musket rifle on her left shoulder. Her face carries the look of a determined fighter. It is no wonder that faced with revolutionaries such as her, the Nizam of Hyderabad and his feudal army of razakars had to bow down to the peoples’ will.

Swarajyam (extreme left) and other members of an armed squad (Dalam) being inspected during the Telangana armed struggle. (Photograph by Sunil Janah/Prajasakti Publishing House)

Swarajyam (extreme left) and other members of an armed squad (Dalam) being inspected during the Telangana armed struggle. (Photograph by Sunil Janah/Prajasakti Publishing House)

Before the Communist Party of India called off the struggle in 1951, Swarajyam remained in the Godavari forest regions with the Koya tribals and led the guerrilla forces as the commander of a dalam or fighting unit. In spite of all the hardships and dangers she faced, she would recall later that, ‘We lived in great joy in the jungle!’

After the split in the party in 1964, Swarajyam joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She was elected twice on a CPI(M) ticket from the Tungathurthy Assembly and served as MLA from 1978 to 1983 and from 1983 to 1984. Swarajyam also served as an editorial board member in Chaitanya Manavi, a magazine published by leftist women.

She was a member of a committee appointed by the NT Rama Rao government for granting of property rights to women, and toured all over the State. She pulled up the government in the Assembly on the lack of toilets for women.

In 2002, she was elected to the central committee of CPI(M) and remained there as a special invitee till her death.

With her passing away, certainly, the progressive movement in India has lost an exemplary figure. What is perhaps more poignant, is that with her the twilight of that era has passed as well. Nonetheless, she will remain a guiding light for the new generation of radicals.

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