Adivasi MLA, who was once a Maoist, treks through Telangana forests to deliver ration to the tribals
Former Maoist-turned MLA Danasari Anasuya is travelling from Telangana’s one adivasi village to another extending a helping hand amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown.
Danasari Anasuya (49), a Congress lawmaker, who represents Telangana’s Mulug assembly constituency, a Scheduled Tribe (ST) reserved seat, tweeted on Tuesday: “When I was crossing this area (Tupakulagudem village, north of Warangal in undivided Andhra Pradesh, near the Godavari river that separates neighbouring Chhattisgarh), it took me back to my old days. That time gun in my hand, now rice and vegetables that I distributed among 12 remote tribal villages.”
Anasuya was a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Jana Sakthi, a splinter group of the present-day outlawed CPI (M-L), in the 1990s. Her name --- she was known as Seethakaka in her dreaded Maoist gun-wielding avatar ---spelled terror for the local feudal lords, but she was popular among the poor tribals in Etur Nagaram forests abutting Chhattisgarh. She laid down her arms to join the mainstream in 1994 and became a politician a decade later.
Now, Anasuya, who is still fondly called Seethakka by her fellow tribals, is travelling from one adivasi village to another extending a helping hand amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown, which was initially enforced on March 25 and then further extended for another 19 days till May 3, to contain the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. She is organising the basic daily necessities for the tribals, who are used to subsistence existence, such as food grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.
“Most of the tribals are oblivious to the goings-on in the outside world. They have no concept about Covid-19. All that they know is that weekly markets and shops are close and they are not allowed to travel to adjoining villages to buy the essential commodities,” Seethakka told Hindustan Times.
She went to Mulug on March 23 before the lockdown was enforced, where she came to know about the deplorable plight of the tribals after some local youth drew her attention to them. “Some of my party colleagues and I quickly pooled in money and bought rice, dal and other commodities and distributed them among 100 tribals. The following day another 100 adivasis sought my help. This made me realise the intensity of the problem. I’ve decided to stay put in my constituency to help these hapless people till the crisis blows over,” she said.
She is travelling to every nook and cranny of the forests for over three weeks on whatever mode of transport is available. “Some villages are accessible, where I could travel by jeeps, cars and even auto-rickshaws. But some are only accessible by tractors and bullock carts,” she added.
The feisty rebel-turned-politician did not hesitate to trek for several kilometres, crossing streams, and rivulets, to reach some of the inaccessible villages while carrying food grains and vegetables for the tribals.
“I made a long trek to Tupakulagudem village, located on the banks of Godavari river, last week,” she said.
Anasuya is adept at negotiating the inhospitable terrain, as her Koya tribal roots stand her in good stead in this moment of reckoning. “I have no problem in locating these tribal hamlets and assessing the villagers’ needs. I don’t take my security personnel along with me on my journey to these villages because I know that the tribals are scared of them,” she said.
Anasuya has also been creating awareness about Covid-19 among the illiterate tribals such as the need for social distancing and wearing masks. “Initially, they fobbed me off and wanted to shake my hands as a mark of gratitude and respect. But I explained to them the need for social distancing. They have understood its importance and are cooperating with us,” she said.
There is a pattern in her daily life since March 23. She travels from one village to another and usually clocks around 60 odd kilometres. “I have lunch with the villagers and return to Mulug by evening. I’ve been to each and every village more than once. I’ve told the villagers to get in touch with me, should they fall short of essential commodities. I’ve promised them that I’d be there the next day with the supplies,” she added.
Anasuya joined the armed rebellion at a tender age of 14 when she a Class IX student in Mulug, which those days used to be part of undivided Andhra Pradesh’s Warangal district. In retrospect, she joined the call of arms because Jana Sakthi was one of the major left-wing extremist groups in the region. She proved her mettle and in two years was elevated as a “dalam” (squad) leader in the party’s ranks and had few narrow brushes with death during close encounters with security forces in the dense forests.
However, she got disillusioned with the extremist movement because of a leadership crisis in Jana Sakthi and surrendered in 1994 while responding to the government’s amnesty plea. Later, she graduated in law from Warangal and became a lawyer. She became active in women’s issues and in 2004 joined the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the presence of the party president, N Chandrababu Naidu.
She became a member of the Andhra Pradesh assembly in 2009 from Mulug constituency but lost from the same seat in 2014 after the formation of the separate state of Telangana. In 2017, she quit the TDP and joined the Congress. She wrested Mulug in 2018 December.