It is September 2020, and politicians in Telangana are flocking to Chakali Ailamma statues to commemorate her legacy, irrespective of the parties and castes they hail from. A freedom fighter and one of the first prominent figures in the Telangana armed rebellion, Ailamma is being celebrated, even 35 years after her death. While the present move seems to be a bid to placate the Dalit-Bahujan population as she is considered a key figure which anti-caste movement activists have associated with, there is no denying that her valiant fight against Visnoor Ramchandra Reddy, a dominant caste landlord, and his henchmen, has inspired generations in Telangana.
Chakali Ailamma is one of the many oppressed caste women who fought against the dominant caste landlords or 'doras' during the Nizam era in Telangana.
Ailamma was born into a family belonging to the washerman caste in Krishnapuram village in Telangana’s Rayaparthy in 1895. She was married off at the age of 11 to Chityala Narsaiah in Palakurthy in the erstwhile Warangal district.
Ailamma had six children and used to wash the clothes of villagers and do free and forced labour for dominant castes, also known as ‘vetti chakiri.’
As she found it difficult to survive due to lack of an income, Ailamma decided to take up farming to support her family by leasing land from a neighbouring village’s landlord family. She stopped doing free labour and declared that she had taken up agriculture. This is when the village ‘Patwari’ (who maintained land records in the village), Viramaneni Sheshagiri Rao took up the issue with Visnoor Ramachandra Reddy.
Infuriated by the assertion of a woman from an oppressed caste, Reddy is said to have instigated his goons to grab Ailamma’s crop. But Ailamma is said to have fought back vehemently with the help of Andhra Mahasabha, a cultural and social organisation, of which she was a prominent member by then. While one of her sons was killed in the fighting with Ramachandra Reddy, two other sons were jailed in Nalgonda, along with her husband.
Despite multiple attempts by Ramachandra Reddy, Ailamma stood her ground and fought for her right to land, even moving a local court and winning a case, according to Bhimreddy Narsimha Reddy, a leader of the Telangana Armed Rebellion.
She didn’t stop there either. She went on to join the Telangana Armed Rebellion in 1947 against landlords and the Nizam’s 'Razakars' army, thereby inspiring thousands of people.
"Undoubtedly, Chakali Ailamma's struggle against dominant caste landlords is inspiring and her fight played a significant role in inspiring masses to join in the movement against exploitation by the 'zamindars.' It is because of her oppressed caste identity that she was subjugated in such a way," said Bheenaveni Ram Sheperd, Assistant Professor in Sociology at Osmania University in Hyderabad.
Ram Sheperd added, "Chakali Ailamma, Shaik Bandagi, Doddi Mallaiah and Doddi Komaraiah were the founding members of the Telangana Armed Rebellion."
It was on September 10, 1985, that the ferocious Ailamma died, at the age of 89. Though she was one of the most inspiring figures in the Telangana agitation for separate statehood, her legacy is being celebrated only recently.