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The Historical And Cultural Context Of The Struggle For Telangana

Posted on February 21, 2014 in Politics, Specials

By Vennela Krishna:

telanganamapHistory will tell us that the word ‘Telangana’ was first used at least as early as 1323. Tilangana, an early variant, was used to describe the land between the Three Lingas, three hills that Lord Shiva was believed to have visited. After centuries of rule by dynasties like the Kakatiya and Vijayanagara, the region came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate upon the fall of Warangal. After a few more centuries of rule by Bahamanis and Qutub Shahis, the area came into the control of Asaf Jahs, the Nizams of Hyderabad.

The Nizams were powerful rulers with strong armies, and the area was never under direct British rule. Consequently, this did not allow an anglicisation of the region. Education was in Urdu, and much of the region was backward in terms of literacy. When India became a sovereign country in 1947, the Nizam refused to cede the Hyderabad State to the newly born country. This led to a series of rebellions, by the natives who were already rebelling against an exploitative feudal system, and finally culminated in the famous Operation Polo by Sardar Patel.

Crowd cheering Operation Polo.
Crowd cheering Operation Polo.

Operation Polo led to the creation of the Hyderabad State in India, the region that was later merged into the larger Visalandhra. When the Indian Army marched in to the State and annexed the territory into India, the Coastal Andhra region, later joined by Rayalaseema region, was still in their struggle for a separate Telugu-speaking state. In 1953, when they finally succeeded, the Andhra state did not include the Telangana region, much against popular misconception. It was only in 1956, with the States Reorganisation, that both the regions became unified, against the wishes of a majority of Telangana and against the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission.

It is said that the Telangana people were apprehensive about the unification because they felt they were backward in education compared to the other regions, and hence would lose out on job opportunities and access to power. One of the earliest protests against the unification was called “Idly Sambar Go Back”, clearly indicating that Telangana did not identify with the Telugu food and culture.

In order to appease the tension, a Gentlemen’s Agreement was signed between four members from Telangana and four from Andhra to safeguard Telangana’s interests. However, the agreement is alleged to have been repeatedly violated, and had remained a major cause for the demand of a separate state.

Taking an example from the agreement will help. It provided that if the Chief Minister was from Andhra Pradesh, the Deputy Chairman would have to be from Telangana, and vice versa. This was not followed since the very first day of the creation of the new state: N Sanjiva Reddy, who belonged to Andhra became the CM, however no one was given the Deputy CM post. Later, Reddy went on to call the Deputy CM post a ‘sixth-finger’, indicating that it was not required. Ironically, Reddy was himself a Deputy CM before he became the Chief Minister. In its entire history, Andhra Pradesh had only four Deputy Chief Ministers.

telanganaquoteFor an exhaustive analysis of the violations, please read this.

The history of Andhra Pradesh is dotted with numerous demands from the Telangana people for a separate state. Out of these, the years 1969, 1972, and 1985 saw some loud and vehement protests. After 2000, however, the movement gained much force, and the entire Telangana region witnessed hundreds of bandhs and rallies.

The Telangana people contend that their area was neglected in terms of development, that their people were denied access to power, and that their culture was always considered inferior to the Telugu culture. They feel that the only way to get a better status for themselves is through a separate state of Telangana.


The demand for a separate state of Telangana is rooted in the inherent sense of separateness in the minds of the Telangana people. And they are right: historically, culturally and linguistically, they are distinct from the Telugus of Andhra. They were never under direct British rule unlike the Madras Presidency, they follow many different festivals, and their dialect is quite different from Telugu, with a lot of its vocabulary borrowed from Urdu.

This is in contrast to the claims of the Samaikhyaandhra enthusiasts. The supporters for a united Andhra Pradesh claim that Telanganas and Andhras are like brothers, and that it is only a political ploy to divide them both. While it may be true that the separation now has been done with a political purpose, the demand for a separate state has been present since the very beginning of the inception of Andhra Pradesh and throughout its history. The people of Telangana have always considered the Andhras and their culture as alien. The Telugus of Andhra have not exactly been very inclusive either.

Consider the example of Tollywood movies. In the black-and-white era, inclusion of Telangana speaking characters in movies was virtually absent. The only language that was used was Telugu, as spoken by educated Andhra people, the language in which books were written.

Fast forward a few decades and you will find the infrequent mushrooming of a few Telangana-speaking characters in a few movies. However, it is extremely important to note that these characters were limited to comedians or villains. Their dialogues were laughed at, and their characters disparaged.

Even today, there are absolutely no Telangana speaking characters in lead roles, and they are still limited to comedians. Maybe the 2008 movie ‘King’ might be an exception: the female protagonist and her brother are Telangana people; except, the female character makes a conscious effort to never speak Telangana in front of the hero, and her brother’s role is limited to being a comedian who brings a few laughs with his supposedly funny dialect.


As a Telugu living in Hyderabad for the past eight years, I know how many times my Telangana speaking friends have been laughed at by the Telugus. Of course, this does not happen everywhere in AP, but in a society where only the comedians speak in Telangana, what more would you expect of young people who draw most inspiration from the movies?

Here it is important to note that even the Rayalaseema or Srikakulam slangs (some of the dialects in AP) do not find place in Tollywood except in their limitations in smaller characters. However, when a movie is set in Rayalaseema or coastal Andhra, characters are found to be talking in the dialects of that region. Compare that with the majority of the other movies set in Hyderabad: there are no characters who speak in Telangana dialect except in deliberate efforts to portray the people, which happens only in cases of comedians and villains as mentioned above. This course of Tollywood has led to a woeful under-representation of Telangana people in popular culture, a community which had already never felt quite one with the Andhras.

When a news channel exclusively in Telangana, T-News, was started; I know many people who tuned in just to hear the language for a few laughs. If this is one end of the spectrum, the other end is equally disturbing; much of the news telecast on the channel is done in Telugu, in the form that is used by most of the educated people and widely hailed as the ‘pure’ form. Has the process of reinforcing this superior nature made them afraid to speak their own language in public?

The direct and obvious implication of this process has been this: the Telugu community has never included the Telangana people under its ambit. If anything, it has time and again reinforced the notion that they are inherently different from them. Their language is funny, and their people too inferior to be included in their mainstream culture. Deliberately or not, the cultural process throughout the sixty years of their union has only more firmly grounded the Telangana sense of separation from the Andhras.

While this dissociation process might have treated the Rayalaseema and the other dialects of AP almost similarly, only the course of Telangana took separatist tendencies because they were a people who never identified with the Andhras right from the very beginning. They were unified against their wishes, the Gentlemen’s Agreement most unceremoniously violated, and their culture insidiously disparaged.

This reinforcement of distinction has taken the form of belittling the Telangana culture, often by attempting to establish a ‘right’ language (the Telugu as spoken by the educated Andhras), and at other times not giving due importance to various Telangana festivals. None of the Telangana festivals like Bonalu, or Bathukamma, find mention in the Public Holidays List of the AP government. You can read a local newspaper report that has just one of the many requests to include Telangana festivals as holidays here.

This essay has been an effort to bring out an often forgotten aspect in the Telanagana struggle for a separate state. The demand for Telangana does not spring out just of a denial of right to their power, but of a right to equality of their culture as well. Whether the creation of Telangana will solve any problems is another debate altogether; the fact is that while the Samaikhyandhra claims talk about brotherhood between the two communities, the feeling is not and has never been, mutual. Subsequently, by the Andhras, there has never been a serious cultural attempt to be inclusive either.

Their recent fierce struggle from the late 2000’s must not be looked at in isolation, whether it was the ‘Idly Sambar Go Back’ protests, or the more recent demands for a separate state, their journey has had its roots in their inherent and incessant feeling of separateness, followed by the Telugu attempts (consciously, or otherwise) at reinforcing the distinction.

Today, sixty one years after they were first unified with Andhra, Telangana finally becomes the 29th state in the Republic of India. The creation of Telangana is a story of a fight for the realization of a people’s identity.

This is the story of a movement that succeeded in its cause – a story that had its roots in political history, and its evolution in culture, a story of a people who never felt one with the state they were forced to join in 1956, and the ultimate victory of their struggle for a separate home.

This has been the story of Telangana.