IF there is a whiff of an agitation, can women be far
behind, in Andhra Pradesh that is? In the recent past, the
womenfolk have successfully organised themselves to launch a
vigorous anti-arrack movement, forcing the state government to
ban the sale of the brew. Now, they have declared war against
one of the most dreaded Naxal outfits, the People's War Group
(PWG), in East Godavari district. If it was Rosamma in
Dubagunta (Nellore) who spearheaded the prohibition drive and
drove the then Congress government headed by Kotla
Vijayabhaskara Reddy to ban liquor in 1982, it's Bodeti
Lakshmi of Peddamallapuram who has now stormed into the
limelight with her bold initiative to teach a lesson or two to
Both women's struggles are an offshoot of awareness
campaigns launched by voluntary organisations in the district.
The anti-arrack movement came on the heels of "Operation
Blackboard", where women were inspired to take on their
alcoholic husbands after reading all about it in textbooks;
the decision to fight the PWG's harassment has got a lot to do
with a unique savings scheme which has bettered the economic
lot of women and given them a voice to protest.
Samata, a voluntary organisation, launched the
scheme—thrift cooperative societies—and helped tribal women,
living in about 46 villages in four mandals, Prattipadu,
Sankhavaram, Kotanandur and Yeleshwaram, to mobilise a
whopping Rs 21 lakh, including a Rs 7 lakh aid from the
Girijana Cooperative Society, to see them through their rainy
days. This not only brought some economic stability to their
lives—thus reducing their financial dependence on the men—but
also gave them courage to stand up against the 'Annalu' or big
brother, the PWG. All the four mandals on the foothills of the
Eastern ghats fall in PWG territory where its writ runs.
The cause of the upheaval can be traced to the "misdeeds"
of a nine-member committee, foisted on the region by the PWG
to oversee tribal interests. But from day one itself, the
committee members seemed to be more keen on promoting its own
needs. Alleges Bodeti Lakshmi, mother of three and one of the
many 'sisters' who dared to speak out against the 'Annalu':
"The new committee is dominated by non-tribals and they have
never shown any interest in protecting our rights."
According to her, the committee had taken control of the
20-acre Annavaram Devasthanam, a sacred property hitherto held
collectively by the tribals, and disbursed the land among the
members' kin for ploughing. The landgrab was followed up by
systematic bouts of violence. The committee members beat up
five men of the village for petty reasons; among the thrashed
was the village sarpanch, Jagga Babu. And imposed a fine of Rs
55,000 on all five for allegedly flouting the PWG diktat.
The PWG, which declared the entire Dandakaranya spread
along the Godavari valley as a "guerrilla zone" some six
months ago, had stepped up its activities in the region for
quite sometime. But the blast at the Girijan Cooperative
Society depot at Peddamallapuram on February 16, during the
first phase of polling, was the last straw. The tolerance
levels of the villagers, especially the women, snapped. The
blast couldn't have come at a worse time because the depot is
the only source of monthly rations for the villagers.
This incident and another encounter in which two Naxals and
two policemen were killed forced the state-owned Road
Transport Corporation to stop its services, thus putting the
villagers to further hardship.