The presence of BJP Telangana spokesperson, Raghunandan Rao, has stirred up the heat in a nearly-month-long agitation demanding that a degree college be started in Domakonda in Telangana’s Kamareddy district.
The protest reached its 27th day on Tuesday, and has comprised of daylong dharnas and fasts at the mandal headquarters near Gandhi Chowk, beside the Revenue office.
Rao expressed solidarity with the protesters and demanded that the state government fulfill the promises it made at election time. The TRS government’s ‘KG to PG Free Education’ policy has remained on paper and is not being implemented properly, he said.
The Domakonda agitation is being spearheaded by the Degree College Sadana Samithi (DCSS), comprising of several student bodies such as the ABVP, the SFI and the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU) as well as political parties including the BJP, the Congress and the TDP. It was launched on June 1, which marked the third Formation Day of Telangana.
The demand for a degree college in Domakonda is around a decade old, and has been regularly raised because Domakonda forms a nodal point for the Bibipet mandal and villages like Malkapur and Issanagar that lie on the border of the districts of Karimnagar and Siddipet. The DCSS says that a government college providing subsidised education is vital in the region, which has a high predominance of beedi industry workers.
According to Chintala Rajesh, an executive member of the DCSS, “Every year a significant drop-out rate is recorded. Most of the students are children of beedi industry workers. Given the economic burden, they cannot afford private education. As a result, many are dropping out from pursuing higher education.”
Telangana state President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Siddiramulu, confirms this view. "Out of a population of 45,000 people in Domakonda mandal, around 45%, (20,000 people) are dependent on the beedi industry. Most of their children are quitting education and are slowly being drawn into the industry. These are not signs of Bangaru Telanagana," he declares.
Many of the protesters argue that the mandal also suffers from a lack of adequate transport options, which makes it difficult for students there to travel to existing colleges situated far away. “Due to overloaded buses during peak hours, many students have fallen off from buses, and even lost their lives", says K Mohan Reddy, another DCSS member.
“At times we feel disgusted that Domakonda, which was once the seat of the Kakatiya dynasty has today been reduced to such a state that it does not even have a degree college,” he adds.
A senior lecturer, Umashesha Rao, at the Domakonda Government Junior College says that there is ample demand for a degree college in the mandal, with the Government Junior College alone graduating around 180-200 each year. Added to that, at least 300 students pass out each year from other private colleges in Domakonda and Bibipet. However, he adds, "We don't know if half of them are joining degree courses, as many of them are girl students from beedi-rolling families.”
P Jaipal Reddy, the Principal of the Govt Junior College says that while a government committee had made inquiries regarding the setting up of a degree college, there has been no progress on the issue. “Earlier this year, a search committee had visited our campus. We showed our willingness to allot some space in our building till the degree college gets a pucca campus. But they went back and there has been no development since in the matter,” he tells TNM.
He goes on to add that the degree college is an urgent need since the private colleges in Kamareddy are unaffordable for "most of the students here, who would be from families of beedi workers and agricultural labourers.”
Many students in their second year at the Domakonda Junior College agree with Jaipal’s reading of the situation.
Sandya Rani, whose mother works as in a beedi factory and father is a daily-wage labourer, says that she dreams of pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. But she says, “My parents may ask me to put off my studies if I propose to go to Kamareddy for my degree course, because they know it is very expensive.”
Raja Sree, her classmate, on the other hand, says that it’s the massive time investment that stands in her way. “My mother has been working in the beedi industry for 16 years. I help her after my college hours here, but I don't think that would be possible if I went to Kamareddy, as I will be outside for a minimum of 10-12 hours daily, depending on transport facilities."
She adds that she dreams of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree and getting a government job. "I know some of my seniors, who have quit their studies and are working in beedi kharkanas (factories). I don't want to do the same."
(Sandya and Raja Sree)
Telangana University Registrar, Prof Y Jayaprakash Rao told TNM that there had been no communication from the government about exploring the possibility of setting up a degree college in Domakonda. “As of now, we haven't received any communication from the Department of Collegiate Education. If we get it, we are ready to visit potential sites,” he said.
Jayaprakash, added however, that the government may be holding off on a degree college for the mandal, as the government is considering to earmark a site between Domakonda and Kamareddy, for the women’s degree colleges that it has promised to build across the state. "Since there is already a residential degree college for women sanctioned for Domakonda mandal, the government may be looking for an alternative location," he said.