The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) deeply mourns the passing away of one of the stalwarts of the Communist women’s movement in India and a founding leader of our organisation, Comrade Mallu Swarajyam. We dip the AIDWA flag to honour her life-long dedication to the ideal of emancipation of the labouring people, and labouring women in particular.
She was born in 1930-31 in a small landlord family in Suryapet in the Telangana region which was at that time a part of the Nizam-ruled princely state of Hyderabad. Mallu Swarajyam lost her father at an early age and grew up under the tutelage of her mother who named her ‘Swarajyam’ after hearing of Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagraha. 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. The peasant movement against forced labour was starting at that time. The platform of Andhra Mahasabha, formed in opposition to the autocratic, anti-people rule of the Nizam, was activated by the communists and turned into the pivot of peasant struggle against the oppressive feudal practices prevalent under the Nizam’s rule. Andhra Mahila Sabha was a wing of this.
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. In large areas, the movement succeeded in driving out the landlords, in distributing land to the landless and for a period of 12 to 18 months in establishing gram raj in these areas. Swarajyam was made the organizer of this militant movement in 1946 in Suryapet taluka and gave able leadership as guerrilla tactician and commander. Her experience as a militant also brought her face to face with forms of oppression from which peasant women suffered both at home and from class enemies. She and her comrades formed not only women’s fighting units, but also fought against wife-beating, forced marriages and alcoholism.
From 1948 until the Telangana struggle was officially called off by the Communist Party in October 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 said, ‘We lived in great joy in the jungle!’ The Nizam’s government had announced a reward of Rs. 10,000 for her capture, but she managed to evade arrest because of the support of the people among whom she lived.
She joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) when the party split in 1964 and at the behest of the party, fought the assembly elections in 1978 and became MLA. ‘I worked as an MLA with the spirit of a Telangana guerrilla fighter, only this time the channels I used were legal’. She retained this fighting spirit and the sense of commitment till the last days of her life. She with other veteran women leaders in the region continued to build up the women’s organisation, Andhra Pradesh Mahila Sangham and after the formation of AIDWA in 1981 became the President of the Andhra Pradesh unit (1981-2001). She was a state committee member of CPI(M) in Andhra Pradesh and was elected to its central committee in 2002. She spoke of herself as a ‘field worker of the movement’ and till the last days of her life this spirit of struggle shone out through all the bodily infirmity brought on by age. We are proud to think that it is this inheritance she has left for our organisation and hope that we may prove ourselves to be worthy of it.
Long live, comrade Swarajyam! Remain a guiding light to AIDWA!