U Sambasiva Rao's legacy as a revolutionary, a human rights defender, and an anti-caste ideologue will live on, Kancha Ilaiah writes.

A file photo of U Sambasiva Rao He is seen wearing glasses and a half-sleeved blue jacket over a white t-shirt and spectacles He is looking away from the camera and smiling faintly
news Obituary Sunday, July 26, 2020 - 13:46

U Sambasiva Rao (1950-2020) — popularly known as Usaa, passed away in the early hours of July 25, 2020 in a private hospital in Hyderabad while undergoing treatment for the coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken him away suddenly, without notice to his thousands of admirers and followers. This definitely is shocking news to Dalit-Bahujan communities and his admirers from general society.

Having been born in a small village in a barber family near Tenali in Andhra Pradesh, his life as a young student in college in Tenali in the late 1960s started as a rationalist. He was from a lower middle class family which was supported by his elder brother. His writing started quite early in his college days. As a believer in rationalism, science and Buddhism, he was dead against superstition and ignorance.

He turned to Communist revolutionary ideology after the Naxalbari movement broke out and joined the well-known Tarimala Nagireddy faction.

He evolved as a theoretician, writer and singer with multiple talents. As he believed in armed struggle, he took up the cause of tribals in East Godavari’s Kondamodalu area and lived among them till the early 1980s.

As there was a major drought in Telangana, particularly in erstwhile Nalgonda district from 1981, he was assigned the work of organising Motkuru farmers and ensuring they got irrigation and drinking water facilities. He lived in Motkuru for close to five years and contested the MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) election in 1984. Though he got a good number of votes, he still lost the election. By this time, he had mobilised thousands of people over agrarian problems in the entire district.

Meanwhile in 1985, the Karamchedu massacre took place and on that issue, he stood with Dalit Mahasabha and the Dalit movement all along. The Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India (Marxist–Leninist) differed with him and he was later expelled from the party. But he was unshaken, and along with his activist wife, took to social reform and anti-caste struggles. When the Lakshmipet Dalit atrocity took place in Srikakulam district, he had camped there along with senior Communist leader KG Satyamurthy.

Afterwards, he worked with me to help the starving masses of Mahabubnagar district between 1987 and 1989, particularly along villages that dotted the banks of the Krishna river. We started food centres to feed starving people and Usaa lived in those villages along with two other activists — Nagarjuna and Motkuru Ilaiah, for almost two-and-a-half years. He was loved by several locals in Kollapur area.

By this time, the Mandal movement had begun in the country. Ussa was among the most active mobilisers of people in support of OBC (Other Backward Classes) reservation across united Andhra Pradesh. After KG Satyamurthy came out of the Maoist party, he joined hands with Usaa and started Edureetha, a revolutionary magazine which wrote a lot on Marxism and Ambedkarism. Usaa was a major theoretician in both Marxism and Ambedkarism and was a great orator. His writings and speeches influenced revolutionary activists like Maroju Veeranna to re-position the whole ideology of Marxism in the Indian context.

He was the first man in the communist revolutionary movement to understand that the caste-blind approach in the name of class struggles was not allowing the movement to spread in villages. Though the Naxalite movement in united Andhra Pradesh was headed by leaders from the Shudra community like Nagireddy and Kondapally Seetharamaiah, they were basically under a ‘Brahmin communist’ spell, and had no theoretical grip on Indian history.

Even leaders like Puchalapally Sundarayya (Reddy) and Chandra Rajeswar Rao (Kamma) were not accepted as theoreticians by Brahmin leaders at the national level as they were not good writers in English.

In UCCRI (ML), Devulapally Venkateswar Rao (DVR) who had no great theoretical grip used to treat Nagi Reddy as just a follower and not a theoretician. Despite this, Nagi Reddy alone wrote an outstanding theoretical book — India Mortgaged — not DVR.

Usaa understood this role of Brahminism in the revolutionary and communist movement. When Usaa and I were working on a booklet in 1987 — Kula Nirmulana - Oka Marxist Drukpadham (Annihilation of Caste - a Marxist view), he could tell how casteism and brahminism functioned in the communist movement from his experience. Usaa thus, became a thorn in the caste-blind political ranks of the communists.

He also contributed to the second phase of Telangana movement and was a huge supporter of the cause. He organised meetings even in Andhra region in support of Telangana movement. If only he were to die in normal times, thousands would have flocked his dead body.

By conviction, he was Buddhist and desired that his body should be buried.

Usaa became part of the T-MASS and Bahujan Left Front, which came into existence a few months before the last Assembly elections held in 2018, which were started with the support of the CPI(M).

Wherever there was an ideological struggle involving Marxism and Ambedkarism, Usaa was always at the forefront.

Usaa was a great supporter of inter-caste marriages as he himself married a Brahmin party worker and friend (Padma) and also performed several inter caste marriages. Padma worked as a Sales Tax officer after they came out of the revolutionary party. She too died a few years ago. Both of them lived in complete harmony and educated their only daughter very well. Padma and Usaa divided their roles after they came out of the revolutionary party.

Padma started working and supporting her husband and finally she retired as an officer in the state government, which gave him the financial resources to continue doing his political work. He started a Bahujan cultural organisation along with prominent activist and professor, Surepalli Sujatha, and also started Desi-Disa — a YouTube channel for ideological campaigns.

Wherever there was a caste atrocity, he was the first to reach. His commitment to women’s rights and gender equality as a man who suffered caste oppression and discrimination was remarkable. He wrote many articles detailing how women should be liberated from patriarchy.

In about 50 years of his activism, he fought many battles in life. Whether in tribal areas, or in villages like Motkuru and Kollapur, he was always among people who were suffering.

He wrote many books and articles on Phule and Ambedkar. He composed the Rela--Rela ballad during the Kondamodalu struggle, in which hundreds of tribal boys and girls learnt singing and dancing as part of that ballad. Several of them became leaders later to fight for tribal rights.

Usaa was a great human being. He lived in many houses as a leader and a worker in the process of his political and ideological activism and never allowed anybody to feel that his presence was a burden. That is the reason why farmers from Motkur wanted to take his body and bury it in their own fields, even amidst the pandemic, though the situation did not allow for this to happen.

His legacy as revolutionary, as a human rights defender, as an anti-caste ideologue and as a follower of Marx, Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar is unmatching in a way.

A man who wanted to build an egalitarian and scientific society became a victim of underdeveloped medical science that is unable to stop this new virus from killing several lakh people in the world. At the end of the day, Usaa leaves strong footprints on the soil of the two Telugu states, as one who fought for human equality.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a well-known writer, academician and long-time associate of U Sambashiva Rao. A part of this article appeared in Sakshi on July 26, 2020. Views expressed are the author's own.

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