India: Armed Peasants Struggle: Srikakulam Movement -50th anniversary

by Harsh Thakor

Frontier| December 08, 2018

50 years ago on November 25th 1968, a new epoch was carved out in the history of India with the birth of the Srikakulam Armed peasant struggle. Similar to the armed struggles of Telengana and Naxalbari it classically followed the Chinese path of protracted peoples was formulated by Chairman Mao. It imbibed the spirit of the martyrdom of Comrade Che Guvera and the Great proletrain Cultural Revolution which strived to create the new Socialist man. The resistance offered was reminiscent to that of the People of Vietnam in a similar period.

The armed struggle had its genesis in the murder of two tribal activists on October 31st in 1967 Koraana and Maganna and in the formation of the Girijan Sangham in 1959 which led a series of agitations. Organized by communist school teachers Vempatapu Satyanarayana and Adibhatala Kailasam the Girijan Sangham launched struggles for the distribution of cultivable banjar lands, abolition of debt-peonage, fair prices for minor forest produce collected by the tribes, lifting of the prohibition on the use of forest timber by girijans, and agency autonomy under local tribal governance. After 1964 with the split of CPI, the Sangh supported the CPM. However Naxalbari was the focal point when the mass movement took a new shape and the landlords demanded further police protection and deployment. Clashes took place subsequently and section 144 was declared of the Criminal procedure code was unlawfully declared. It was in this background that in Levdi on October 31st 1967 two peasants were shot down. In September 1968 the court acquitted those responsible for the murder of the 2 activists. In October 1968 after consulting Charu Mazumdar the Ryotana Sangrama Samiti was formed as a body to seize political power in the villages. The crux of the rise in tempo of the tribals was their heightened understanding of the nature of their opression and the zeal to build a new alternative. It was a combination of the opressive conditions with the elevated political consciousness. With Charu Mazumdar’s consent in October 1968, a decision was adopted by the AICCR to adopt the armed struggle and set up the Ryotanaga Sangrama Samiti as a body to facilitate the seizure of political power. On November 25th the spark was lit with the raiding of the residence of notorious landlord-cum moneylender Teegala Narasimhulu, seizing possession of hoarded paddy and food grains and seizing promissory notes and other legal records related to the debts of peasants had incurred over the years. The anti-landlord vigour was completely revealed here.

The preparation period had great significance from 1959-1967.The mass organization, the Girijan Sangham created the fulcrum for building a broad based peasant movement.

10 demands formed the pivot of the struggles
1. All lands seized illegally from the girijans from non -girijans should be returned.
2. Distribute banjar lands to non -girijans immediately.
3. All debts obtained by illegal methods should be abolished.Credit facilities should be provided sufficiently.
4. Agricultural implements and cattle should be supplied to Girijans to carry on agricultural operations.
5. Forest produce should be purchased from girijan s at reasonable rates.Consumer good sshould be suppplied to them at fair prices.
6. Those who extract labour from girijans should be severely punished.
7. Salaries to Palerla(farm servants) and wage rates for agricultural workers should be fixed in consonance with the cost of living.
8. There should be no restriction on the use of forest timber by Girijan s for their house construction and daily needs.
9. In the new atmosphere that will be created when the above programme is implemented, educational and cultuarl programmes should be organized on a large scale.
10. Girijan areas should be declared as autonomous regions and its adminstartion should be handed over to the representatives of girijans.

The exploitation of the girijans was in the following forms.

1. Money Lending-To clear the debts ,Girijan shad to sell the grain,other crops and forest produce at lower rates to those money lenders.
2. Occupation of Girijan lands .Those who could not clear debts had to mortgae and sell awy their lands to money lenders.
3. Exploiting the agricultural labourers .In lands thus lost to landlords Girijan shad to work as palerlu and daily labour for nominal wages.
4. Purchase of forest produce .Girijan Corporation officers ,sahukars,money lenders were purchasing forest produce from Girijans at nominal rates and selling them outside for huge profits.
5. Exploitation of forest officers.The forest officers wee obstructing the girijans from cultuvating podu in forests and from collecting forest produce.Then they were demanding bribes ,mamuls and forced labour.(Vetti)

The following were the gains of the girijans
1. From 1959 itself Girijans gradually re-occupied lands which were illegally seized by non -girijan sahukars.and landlords from them.Also they began to cultuvae such lands.
2. 1500 acres of forest waste lands were occupied and cultivated by girijans.
3. They refused to clear debts to the tune of about Rs 2 lakhs .
4. They got free timber for their agricultural use.
5. Attained reasonable rates for forest produce at weekly markets.
6. Free labour has been completely abolished.
7. The nominal rates for palerlu and daily labour were increased.Daily wage rates increased upto 12 times.
8. Forest timber has been taken freely for house construction and daily needs.
9. The implementation of this programme brought a big mass upsurge.The cadre utilized this to raise the political consciousness of the Girijan sthrough cultural programmes ,night schols and reading to them the party journals regularly.

Communist revolutionaries on the organizational front constituted girijan comitees and party units. As part of the political education, Girijan cadre as part of the district cadre ,were imparted lessons on Telengana armed struggle and its experiences. Basic political propaganda was carried out that problems like land and constitution of autonomous regions will be solved only by the establishment of people’s democratic rule.

By the beginning of the 1967 rainy season, Girijan movement reached a new stage. Girijans had already occupied some of their lands. They occupied 800 more acres of land in posession of landlords and began cultivation.2500 acres of forest waste land was also cultivated. As a result of acute food shortage the people prevented the landlords and sahukars from exporting their grain to outside they are with a view to realize high rates. They saw that sufficient grains were stocked in girijan areas. Even the rates were decreased and merchants were made to sell rice at 2 sers per rupeee. Thus land distribution and grain distribution were implemented which led to amass revolt with people participating in huge numbers. Thus the girijan strugggle reached a higher stage.

Threatened by the mass upsurge the landlords and their goondas blocked some delegates who were going to the taluk conference and beat them mercilessly. When people protesed supporting the delegates ,the landlords opened fire and asassinated two girijan activists-Koranna and Maganna. All this took place in village Levidi. A public rally to pay homage to the 2 martyrs was staged .Like wildfire protest rallies were launched al over the district like a spark turning into a torch, blazing the flame of resistance.

Tribals and peasants in Srikakulam achieved forms of revolutionary power unattained before since the Telengana armed struggle. The peasnts and tribals formed their own commitees and carried out mass land distribution. Volunteer squads heroically resisted the landlord elements and their goondas as well as the police. A red spark lit had virtually created a prairie fire.Seizure of properties of landlords, traders and money lenders,,taking away grain from their granaries burning the promisory notes and other debt instruments, killing landlords and moneylenders as per the ‘annihilation of the class enemy’ attack on state forces and seizing arms, were the major acivities in this era. The armed struggle encompassed hundreds of villages the movement reached a new height with hundreds of youth volunteering to join armed squads and armed actions in which hundreds of armed and unarmed tribals. Red revolutionary power emerged in around 300 of the 518 villages of Sirikakualm regency area. In areas run by the Ryotanga Sangrami samiti the there was such fortification that no vilage council person or or forest revenue official would dare to enter. The guerilla squads formed the backbone of the peoples revolutionary power to defend their rights and launched raids against big landlords, money-lenders, police informers, army camps.

The struggle was a great boost in the tribal masses in realizing their revolutionary potential to organize and govern as well as confront the police and govt. structures. It sowed the seeds of genuine red army emerging. It also gave a great political education to the progressive and exploited classes in Andhra Pardesh that democracy was only illusory with indepemdence only being a mere transfer of political power. Even if a formal red army was not formed the armed volunteer corpses in Srikakulam resisted the police onslaughts or encirclement with similar tenacity, and tactical mastery as comrades in revolutionary struggles in China and Vietnam.

The state mercilessly retaliated carrying out a series of police combing operations and the repression unleashed in Telengana armed struggle repeated itself. In October 1969, a 12,000 strong armed team of the Cenreal Reserve police force encircled the red zone and launched a brital attack. A series of cold blooded emcounters took place in the state of which the precursor was assassination of the brilliant Panchadri Krishnamurti and 6 of his comrades on May 27,1969. In June 1969 the Agency area of Srikakulam was declared a ‘disturbed are” under the Andhra Pradesh Supression of disturbances act, 1948. Displaying great volumes of bravery the girijans resited the police encirclement.

The government deployed 10000 CRPF forces in Srikakulam forestbeginning with agency area Patapatnam on June 7th to areas of Parvatipuram, Palakonda, Patapatnam, Sompetta, Tekkali and lccha puram taluqs on August 28th. Beisdes hundreds of criminal cases involving thousands of tribals, Parvatipuram Cpnspiracy case was launched in 1970. The case consisted of all the criminal cases against Naxalites booked during 1969 and 1970 and made a large case involving 250 accused and over 500 witnesses. The acused were framed of conspiring to kill policeman. However, after eight long years of prosecution, out of the 250 accused only 15 were convicted which was finally struck down by the high court.

Summing up the Srikakulam experience, Sumnata Banerjee stated -”By the end of 1969, altogether 15 districts of Andhra Pradesh were affected by Communist revolutionary activities. According to government statistics, the Communist revolutionaries killed 48 people, including landlords, moneylenders, merchants, forest officers, and policeman, made 99 attacks on the police and abducted 15 people. In all theabduction cases in the view of the govt. The victims were tried in praja courts, and punishment ranging upto death penalty were awrded to them. Besides a large quantity of guns, ammunition, and explosives were also seized by the rtebels during the raids. Both from its power of sustenance and it’s improvement of organizations, it was evident that the movement in Andhra Pradesh in 1968-69, was more resounding and clear-throated echo of the short-lived thuinder of naxalbari. While Naxalbari branded the words “Armed agrarian revolution”, Srikakulam engraved on it the sign “guerrilla warfare ‘to indicate the turn of the road’.

In the subsequent part after the formation of the C.P.I.(M.L.) several comrades dipped their blood whose names will be written in golden letters. Great credit must be given to the All India co-ordination commmitee of Communist revolutionaries and later the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Sadly because of left deviation the movement subsided and was crushed by the rulers. The mass agrarian revolutionary movement was replaced by mere actions of armed squads following the erroneous line of annihilation of class enemies. Neverthless unlike Naxalbari subsequently it inspired the formation of Virasam and later the Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union. In the late 1970’s a famous report was brought about by the Organization for protection of democratic rights bringing the false police encounters to the book in Srikakulam. In many ways the Srikakulam movement was the precursor to the formation of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee and the Organization for Protection of Democratic Rights.

We have to respect the critique of the mistakes prevailing in Srikakulam movement by comrades like Tarimela Nagi Reddy-D.V.Rao etc leading the Andhra Pradesh Co-ordination Committee. However one can never deny it was a mass movement till 1970. A major rift took place between the district committee of the All India coordination committee of Communist revolutionaries guided by Charu Mazumdar and the Andhra Pradesh Coordination Committee of Communist revolutionaries. These were the criticism of the APCCCR led by NagiReddy-DV Rao.

Here we have explained the developments that came about in the course of revolutionary movement of the Girijan areas of Srikakulam district. After this explanation ,it would be completely baseless and slanderous if anyone says that stae coordination committee was against the armed struggle or tried to weaken it. The State Commitee was never against armed struggle whether in the form of armed resistance or guerrilla struggle. Also in June 1968 itself, it gave the Srikakulam comitee a clear programme for armed resistance or regular guerrilla struggle. It began necessary preparation for guerrilla struggle.

The 6 differences that arose were
1. DC denies ned for general armed resistance which is the starting stage of guerrilla struggle.
2. The DC feels there is no need for minimum training
3. Dc feels there is no need for mass participation.SC feels that guerrilla struggle must begin with mass participation.
4. Armed struggle could be implemented without any relations to issues like land in the agrarian revolution. State Committee fels there is inseparable relationship between agrarian revolution and armed struggle.
5. SC belives in United Front concept which DC rejects.
6. SC feels,there should be unity between DC and SC based on principle of democratic centralism:and the armed struggle could be carried on under centralised leadership. Path taken by DC is to create a rival centre and disunity among revolutionaries.

We have not received any authentic details about the armed raids carried on the beginning of the armed struggled. However there is news that the masses are generally participating in them. They may argue that it is the result of starting armed struggle. This is not correct. There was an indication of this development even in August and September 68.Then we had not started armed struggle.

It is a very complex question but in many respects mass line was followed in the Srikakulam movement till 1969 with mass participation of girijans in armed actions against landlords to seize land .No doubt Charu Mazumadar’s policy of ‘annihialtion of class enemies’ caused considerable harm in replacing mass line but unlike ‘Naxalbari’guerialla squads operated in ‘strategic defensive’ with the movement extended to the forests of the adjoining Koraput and Ganjam districts of Orissa.The landlords had fled ,the guerrilla squads and local militia were protectiung the villagers ,and the Ryotanga Sangrama Samiti was in power ande about to undertake land re-distribution.” (reference from Bernard de Mello) I draw a comparison between the erstwhile C.P.I.(M.L.) Peoples War group’s movement in Karimnagar later to the Movement in Srikakulam led by the AICCR and then the C.P.I.(M.L.) in 1970.Even if left-adventurist errors occurred there was strong mass revolutionary movement in both cases. Today the C.P.I.(Maoist) in Dandakaranya is in many ways rekindling the very spirit of the Srikaulam armed Struggle and its legacy in a much more sophisticated manner.

Many comrades who later joined steams of Communist revolutionaries opposing left adventurist line of ‘annihilation’ of the class enemy participated in these actions like Vasantada Ramalingachari,Nirmalla Krishnamurti, Pyla Vasudeva Rao.The self criticism of the mistakes of the Chau Mazumdar led C.P.I.(M.L.) by the Andhra Pradesh state commitee led by Kondapali Seetharamiah was based greatly on experiences of Srikakulam struggle.The big strides the erstwhile C.P.I.(M.L.)Peoples War group made in Dandkaranya nd North Telegana had a lot to do of their evaluation of Srikalulam experience. The experiences of the struggle in Srikakulam was the breeding ground for the rise of Vasanatada Ramalingachari becoming a protagonist or crusader of the mass line as a Communist revolutionary leader being a central committee member of the Communist Party Re-Organization centre of India (Marxist-Leninist).His experiences of Srikakulam armed struggle played an important role in guiding the Adivasi revolutionary struggle in Malkangiri district of Orissa led by the Adivasi Sangh.

Another most significant development was that of the re-organization of the Srikakulam Girijan Sangham which had it’s 2nd conference in November 1989 and played major role in opposing the scrapping of regulation 70 for the which ensured land rights for the girijan population.It also brought out leaflets highlighting the mass line and critical of certain armed squad actions of erstwhile Peoples War Group.On 28th August 1992 the Srikakulam Girijan Sangh issued a leaflet criticizing the amed assaination of PWG on Yedi Stayam,responsible for muder of important girijan leaders in 1968 like Kornana and Magana.

The Srikakulam Girijan Sangh found it hard to agree with the political aims of the murder. In it’s view or any organization which declares revolutionary politics as its basis of political conduct, it’s every act has to serve revolutionary political purpose. It asked whether this action constituted a part of the revolutionary movement.

“The PWG left a policy statement explaining why they assassinated Yedita Satyam. However did they explain what they would do with the relation to 120 girijans killed and to the assassination of Vempatu Satyam and Adibatla Kailasam during the whole period of the struggle after the martyrdom of Korann and Maganna. Such actions were executed when the struggle was at it’s peak Without people getting prepared for revolutionary action, the landlord atrocities cannot end with warnings alone.

On the otherside, in the plains, in the village of Kassagdaba Valasa the landlords murdered 5 girijans in broad daylight. The landlords control most of the land, exploiting the labour and subjecting the people to all kinds of attacks and atrocities. The people were literally reduced to sheep and made victims of dire poverty, being denied proper food ,dwellings or medical facilities. The people are left with choosing dying of hunger, illness and landlord atrocities or combat the oppression of the feudal system.Only the immortal sacrifices of thousands of girijans who suffered in jails were any fruits attained. When the Girijan sangh was established the obstacles of landlord tyranny were a major obstacle which it boldly confronted.

The atrocities of the landlords will not end without preparing the people for revolutionary mass action in a way that the lands of the landlords are seized and the class foundation of landlords destroyed. Checking the landlord atrocities without dismantling the feudal class structure is like getting rid of mosquito bites by catching and killing each mosquito that flies out of the breeding pits, without clearing the muck and filling the breeding pit, where the mosquitos continuously grow. When we attempt to fill that pit in which the mosquitos breed the mosquitos flare up desperately. Should we divert from attempts to cover up those pits by getting engrossed in killing these mosquito or to start sincerely covering up the pits. We must give importance to cover up the breeding pits.”

SOURCE: http://frontierweekly.com/views/dec-18/8-12-18-Srikakulam%20Movement.html

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