Telangana Specific Social Issues
Vetti System in Telangana:
The vetti system (forced labour and exactions) is generally taken to be confined to tribal areas or some of the most backward social communities in other areas. But in Telangana vetti system was an all-pervasive social phenomenon affecting all classes of people, in varying degrees. Each harijan family had to send one man from the family to do vetti. In a small hamlet (palle) each house will send one man. Their daily job consisted of household work in the house of the patel, patwari mali-patel or deshmukh, to carry reports to police stations, taluk office (tehsil); keep watch on the village chavadi and the poundage.
Besides these, there used to be more work for them whenever on officer came to the village chavadi. In village Chilukur, daily 16 harijans used to do vetti. They used to collect wood for fuel from the forests and carry post also. For carrying post or supplies they were supposed to get an anna for two and a half miles,which was of course not even honoured in practice.
This system was known as “kosuku visam” in Telugu (i. e., 1/16th of a rupee for a distance of 2½ miles). Further the harijans, who carried on the work of cobblers, tanning of leather and stitching shoes, or preparing leather accessories for agricultural operations, for drawing water from wells or yoke belts for plough cattle, or for draught bullocks, were forced to supply these to the landlords free of cost while the rest of the peasantry used to pay them fixed annuities in grain and other agricultural produce.
Certain other backward communities, like bayalu, bestalu and chakali (washermen) were forced to carry on their shoulders men and women of the landlord families in specially made carriers (pallakis or menas) over long distances from one village to another, whenever they wished to see their relatives or go to festivals. When members of the landlord family travel in their fast bullock carts, they are forced to run before the carts as well as behind them as path clearers and escort. When they ride on horses, the horse servants were to run beside them.
Toddy-tappers had to tap toddy and set apart 5 to 10 trees for exclusively free supply to the landlords’ families, and supply them every day five pots of toddy, and a larger quantity on festive occasions. Weavers had to supply clothes to the landlords’ household servants. The carpenters and blacksmiths were to supply all agricultural implements to the landlords free and also carry out free repairs. Washermen were forced to wash clothes and vessels in the houses of the deshmukhs and village officials. They had to carry cots and beds for officers who camped in the village chavadi and bring all that was necessary for cooking. In the officers’ houses they had to grind turmeric and pound chillies. Potters had to give the necessary pots to the officers and landlords.
Even if the jagirdar or deshmukh was staying in Hyderabad the potter had to walk all the way there and supply him all the pots needed. An officer camping in the village chavadi would get his pots from the potter and the cooking also done. Barbers had to do daily service in the house of the deshmukhs and at night press the feet of the landlord and massage his body. Shepherds were forced to give sheep from each of their herd on every auspicious function in the landlord’s house or on all village festival days.
They were forced to give it whenever landlords demanded it on some pretext or other. The merchants in the villages had to supply by turn all the commodities including good ghee on receipt of a letter from the police patel for any officer who came to the village. If they did not have something or did not give anything or opposed, they were subjected to torture and to various indignities.
Villagers, especially the poor who had not any other goods to supply were forced to supply fowls to them. The peasants were also not spared of this vetti. Whenever any officer came they had to be given a lift in their carts by the peasants, and reach them to their destinations, even at odd times, whether the animals were fed or not. They had to till the lands of the village officials and landlords before they could take up work on their own fields. And till the landlords’ lands were watered, the peasants would not get water for their fields. Agricultural labourers had to work in the fields of the officials and landlords without any remuneration and then only go to other peasants’ work for their livelihood.
These various forms of forced labour and exactions were extracted not only by the landlords but also by all the officials, petty or high, either living in the villages or when they came on tours or on special visits. The worst of all these feudal exactions was the prevalence of keeping girls as “slaves” in landlords’ houses. When landlords gave their daughters in marriage they presented these slave girls and sent them along with their married daughters, to serve them in their new homes. These slave girls were used by the landlords as concubines. Thus the vetti system had made the life of the Telangana people one of utter degradation and of abject serfdom. It had ruined man’s self-respect completely.
The movement for its abolition became widespread. When these feudal lords of various hues tried to intensify their illegal exactions, to evict the cultivating peasants from their lands and lease them to some others, the peasants had fought many a heroic struggle, even earlier. One such heroic struggle was that of a poor Muslim peasant Bandagi, against Visunuri Deshmukh during the twenties, whose martyrdom was immortalised in the popular drama Ma Bhoomi (My Land), during the Telangana days of 1945-46.
Two hundred amateur groups staged this play throughout the whole of Andhra Pradesh and wherever Telugu people lived in the whole of India. Again, it was on this issue that the peasantry came into head-on confrontation with the feudal lords at the beginning of the 1940s. But by that time, the Communist Party had become an organised force, and was able to identify itself with these fighting oppressed tenants and the rural poor. And so the movement took a qualitatively different aspect, compared to past struggles.
Some of these notorious feudal deshmukhs who owned tens of thousands of acres, against whom bitter battles were fought, during 1940, are listed below: – 1. Visunur Deshmukh – 40,000 acres, landlord over 40 villages in Jangaon taluka, Nalgonda district. 2. Suryapet Deshmukh – 20,000 acres. 3. Babasahebpet Deshmukh – 10,000 acres, Miryalagudem taluka. 4. Kalluru Deshmukh – 100,000 acres, Madhira taluka, Khammam district. 5. Jannareddy Pratap Reddy – 150,000 acres, Suryapeta taluka.
Here are a few more examples of the big landlords, who owned more than 5,000 acres, in a few talukas to which the movement spread: Mallapuram Rangareddi, Chandampalli Doralu, Mosangi Doralu of Koppulu, of Devarakonda taluka; Cherukupalli Narasimhareddi of Miryalagudem taluka; Betavolu zamindar, Kapugallu Muttavarapu family, Penubadu Seetaram Rao of Huzurnagar taluka; Chandupatla Sudarshana Rao, Dupalli Venkatarama Reddy of Bhuvanagiri taluka; Musakuri family of Tangadapalli, Alwala family of Polapalli of Ibrahimpatnam taluka; Mandameri Madhava Rao (10,000); Pusukuri family (10-20,000 acres); Narsapur Samsthanam (50-100 thousand acres) of Lakkisattibeta taluka, Adilabad district. The land concentration in Hyderabad state and the Telangana region was tremendous. The administrative report of 1950-51 gave figures to show that in the three districts of Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar and Warangal, the number of pattadars (landlords) owning more than 500 acres were about 550, owning 60 to 70 per cent of the total cultivable land. The extent of exploitation indulged in by these jagirdars, paigas and samsthanams can be imagined from the fact that 110 of them used to collect Rs. 100,000,000 every year in various taxes or exactions from the peasantry. Out of this amount, Rs. 55,000,000 used to be appropriated by 19 of them, while the whole revenue income of the Hyderabad state before 1940 was no more than Rs. 80,000,000. This was only the legally admitted collections. But it was a well-known fact that total collections, legal and illegal, amounted to thrice this amount. When the Nizam issued his firmana banning illegal exactions, it mentioned 82 varieties of illegal exactions! But this firmana remained a mere paper proclamation. The jagirdars, deshmukhs, the big landlords continued their illegal forcible forages with the active connivance of the corrupt officialdom of the Nizam state.
To give one example: Visunur Ramachandra Reddy, the notorious deshmukh in Jana-goon tehsil of Nalgonda district, used to forcibly seize the lands from the tenants and the peasants. He used to force the peasants in his area, of about 40 villages, to do forced labour in his fields, all through the year; pay nazarana (presents in kind or cash) at the birth of a child in the family, marriage or death; (every handicraftsman, artisan, merchant had to pay a certain portion of his products or fixed amounts in cash. The cobblers – shoes and harness; shepherds – blankets and supply of sheep and goats for the feast and free milk; and peasants – grain, vegetables, etc.) He built a house costing Rs. 200,000 in the thirties and forties, out of which nearly half the cost was collected in cash from the forced labour for various construction jobs. A young mother who had delivered a child only three days earlier, was mode to do forced labour in his fields, leaving the infant at home, with nobody to look after it and the child died of lack of milk and care.
He was so notorious that peasants hesitated to give their daughters in marriage to persons living in those villages. It was against such forced labour and illegal exactions and evictions that the Andhra Mahasabha, the cultural organisation of Telugu-speaking Andhra people of the Telangana region of Hyderabad State, waged innumerable struggles. The beginnings of the Telangana armed struggle were against the atrocities of this very same Visunur deshmukh in 1946, when his goondas attacked and murdered Doddi Komarayya, the local Andhra Mahasabha worker, in Kadivendi village on July 4.
Source: Telangana People’s Struggle and its lessons- P. Sundarayya.