Chakali Ailamma Was The Fiery Bahujan Leader

Chakali Ailamma, a Bahujan working-class woman, was instrumental to the 1946-51 Telangana Armed Struggle leading to this liberation.

Chakali Ailamma was the fiery Bahujan Leader Of The 1946-51 Struggle For Hyderabad’s Liberation

17 September 1948 is an important date in Indian history. It was on this day that the Indian armed forces took control of the Hyderabad Deccan region which includes present-day Telangana, parts of Karnataka, and Maharashtra. This meant the end of the oppressive Nizam rule that had gone on for almost 200 years in the region, and while we mark it, let us also speak of Chakali Ailamma, the fiery Bahujan woman who drove some of it.

Dalit and Bahujan women, and from other oppressed communities, formed a huge part of the Telangana Armed Struggle of 1946-51 that led to this. Women came out on the streets to take part in an armed struggle. This was a force instrumental in the integration of the erstwhile Nizam state of Hyderabad into Independent India.

Let’s not forget this while unilaterally giving the Indian armed forces almost all the credit. Let’s not support the erasure of these women from history as it is told.

Here we focus on Chakali Ailamma, the brave woman who played a major role in inspiring oppressed class men and women to participate in this struggle.

Chakali Ailamma, the fiery woman who dared to stand up to caste-based oppression

Chakali Ailamma

Chakali Ailamma was born in Krishnapuram village in 1895[ into a Bahujan family belonging to the Rajaka (washerman) caste. People from the Rajaka caste were made to collect dirty clothes of upper caste feudal landlords from their doorstep and wash them for a living.

Chakali Ailamma was married off to Chityala Narasaiah in Palakurthy at the age of 11. She went on to have 6 children. To support her family’s livelihood, Ailamma, like others in her community, was forced to continue this caste-based occupation and serve the feudal lords who held a lot of power and exploited working-class people like her.

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The lack of income made Chakali Ailamma lease a few acres of wetland in a neighbouring village and take up farming activities. She declared that she would no longer do any unpaid labor or pay unlawful taxes to zamindars, making a bold move against class and caste-based oppressors.

This ‘brazen act of rebellion’ by a ‘lower’ caste woman enraged Visnoor Deshmukh, who was a powerful landlord in the district. He joined forces with the local patwari (a government official who maintains records of the ownership of lands) Seshagiri Rao, and launched an attack on Ailamma, sending henchmen to seize her crops.

Undaunted by systematic oppression, she fought back relentlessly

Ailamma was a prominent member of the Andhra Mahasabha (referred to as Sangham), a socio-cultural forum, and sought their help to defend her land and grains. With the help of the other members of the Sangham, she fought back fiercely, and paid a heavy price for it as one of her sons was killed in the battle.

Ailamma, her husband, and her sons were also jailed in Nalgonda for daring to raise their voices and arms against the Dhoras (a term that landlords used to assert their caste supremacy).

Not being one to give up, Ailamma fought him in a local court and won. This inspired countless peasant farmers to revolt against the slavery they had faced for years, with the phrase “Dhunnevaride Bhoomi” (land belongs to those who plough it) and fight for their right to their land.

Many acres of land were reclaimed, along with large quantities of grains stashed by these zamindars, and redistributed rightfully to the farmers.

Chakali Ailamma inspired countless women to join the armed rebellion

This movement gained momentum in the 1940s, with Ailamma being highly involved in strategizing against the Razakar – who were paramilitary forces of the Muslim Nationalist MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) party, who joined hands with the Nizam to continue suppressing the peasant farmers.

The atrocities of the Razakars are still remembered with rage by the descendants of their victims. They brutally murdered anyone who attempted to call for Hyderabad’s integration into India. They attacked innocent men and women, looted homes, and destroyed property and livestock.

Women were the worst affected by these brutalities. Thousands of women were sexually assaulted in an attempt to scare them into silence, even as their presence in the Telangana Armed Rebellion began to grow quietly.

It is crucial to note here that Ailamma’s voice against Visnoor was instrumental in inspiring countless other women to join in the struggle. Despite the Razakar’s attempts to break their “honour” by violating their bodies, the spirits of these women stood strong, and they continued to revolt against the Razakar with arms.

The assaults against Ailamma were also far from over. Her house was burnt down, her daughter was brutally gang-raped, and she lost her husband to the violence incited by Visnoor and his men. Still refusing to bow down, she fought ferociously in the Telangana Armed Rebellion, leading to the state of Hyderabad finally being liberated from the Nizam rule, becoming a part of Independent India.

Remembering Chakali Ailamma as a feminist icon

Chakali Ailamma Bahujan Leader

She passed away on September 10, 1985, aged 89 in Palakurthy, Warangal district, where her statue was installed to honor her memory. True to what we read of her bravery and grit, the statue holds a weapon and stands defiantly, depicting how she must have stood up to Visnoor and his men.

Chakali Ailamma remains one of the most important voices in Indian history, not just because of her prominent role in the Telangana Armed Rebellion. She paved the way for scores of other men and women to speak up and claim their economic independence, leading an entire working class to break the vicious cycle of poverty that they were systematically kept chained to.

To be the first one to stand up to tyranny requires immense strength and courage. Being a woman from an oppressed caste makes it even more challenging, given how women are often kept at the lowest rungs of the ladder of class, caste, and gender-based segregation. History remembers Ailamma as a feminist icon, as her struggle was much more than her assertion to own land and grains.

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Image source: By Andra tigers – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link and ntnews

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About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

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