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Failed by the idea of Telangana: Life of the Dalit artist who died a violent Maoist

 

Prabhakar was among the 28 alleged Maoists who were killed in the recent ‘encounter’ at Andhra-Odisha border.

There is a lull in Kinda Basti at the Yarpal suburb in Hyderabad, the sort that comes after a storm.

Walking through a maze of ever-shrinking lanes, it isn’t easy to find the house. Locals point to one where a few elders are sitting outside, chopping vegetables and preparing lunch.

This is the house where Communist Party of India (Maoist) activist Prabhakar was born and raised. He was one among the 28 killed in an encounter with Indian security forces in the Bejjangi forest in Odisha’s Malkangiri district on Monday.

A day ago, the entire Basti was packed with local TV crews vying for a sound-bite from anyone who claimed to know Prabhakar, and trying to get footage of a mourning family with Prabhakar’s body. Well-known Maoist sympathisers like Varavara Rao, Gaddar and Vimalakka were also present.

The residents of the house are hostile to strangers and demand credentials before uttering a word about Prabhakar. The anger is evident on their faces.

“We don’t want to say anything to our enemy,” they say, hinting that anyone visiting them could be from the police. It takes a call from a trusted activist and lawyer to get them to open up.

“He is not dead for me. He is still alive. He will give nightmares to (Chandrababu) Naidu. His followers will not let this go in vain,” says Suvarna, Prabhakar’s elder sister, as she chokes up.

Prabhakar was born into a poor family of Dalits in this very house which they have been occupying since 1975. His father Anjayya was a mason, and his mother Rathnamma was an agricultural labourer.

“He was a very bright student as a child. Even though we were very poor, he was the only kid in the entire colony who studied in an English medium school (till Class 6). When he came home one day and recited ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, my entire house was proud of him,” Suvarna recalls.

Prabhakar went on to top his class and complete his schooling in a government school at Lal Bazar, and then secured a diploma in engineering, his family say.

Suvarna recollects many emotional moments that she shared with Prabhakar as a child, as she fights back tears. “He was good at math and was very creative. He even won prizes for being the best singer in his school. He participated in weekly debates from a very young age,” she says.

“I knew him since when he was a child. He used to come home and was one of the most intelligent and brightest people I knew,” says Raja Narasimha, his neighbour. Narasimha is also one of the founders of Praja Kala Mandali (PKM), of which Prabhakar was one of the first and longest serving members.

“When we founded it in 1997, we wanted to fight the imperialist and feudal rule with art. Prabhakar was one of the most enthusiastic members, and would pour through books with poetry and folk tales. Soon he started writing his own poems and dramas,” Narasimha narrates.

For the next few years, Narasimha says Prabhakar travelled through the country spreading anti-establishment songs, poetry and dramas, and also organized large cultural workshops in Ongole (Andhra) in 1997 and Delhi in 2000. “He was a gifted musician. He had a great sense of rhythm and would teach people how to play a number of percussion instruments,” Narasimha adds.

By 2002, Prabhakar was the district secretary of the PKM and was later appointed the state secretary for (unified) Andhra Pradesh in 2007. He had actively contributed to the Mandali by compiling books, performing in theatres, making films and documentaries, and releasing audio cassettes. He even started converting these compilations to Mp3 format when technology became available.

By this time, he was well read in political philosophy and could even debate American politics and foreign affairs, says Narasimha, “The fight for justice for the downtrodden was always in him.”

His associates say that Prabhakar was staunchly against casteism and fought for women empowerment all his life. In 2006, he married Devendra, who was also into political activism as a member for the Telangana Praja Front (TPF). The couple had a small ceremony at Ambedkar Bhavan in Hyderabad, in which Vara vara Rao was the chief guest.

It was an inter-caste marriage, and that was not the only social stricture they broke. “They married not for love, but for companionship. After their wedding, they made a conscious choice not to have children, as it would hinder their goal of uplifting the poor,” says E Jaya, Narasimha’s wife, who is also a senior leader of the TPF.

Jaya says she knew Devendra from her college days in the late 90s and was the one who introduced Devendra to Prabhakar. Prabhakar was very active in the Telangana movement, demanding a separate state, she says.

“They were always at the forefront of the protests. Unlike leaders who would watch from afar, they would be the first ones to take beatings during a lathi charge,” Jaya adds.

A new state is born, so is a new Maoist

However, it was after Telangana was granted that Prabhakar decided to go underground and join the CPI (Maoist), his associates say. In 2014, he was disillusioned by the new state government, and told his close associates that he saw no change, especially to the adivasis, after bifurcation.

His relatives say that he was troubled by the way the forest land was being stolen by multi-national corporations and the government’s apathy towards them.

“The first person he told was Devendra. He told her that he was going to change the society, and asked her to continue working at the forefront of the struggle against injustice,” Jaya says, “He could’ve just run away, but instead he sat his entire family down and chose to explain the rationale behind his decision to them.”

At the time, Prabhakar told his mother that if he did not return, she was not supposed to shed a single tear as her son would be a martyr — a sentiment she still holds.

“He said that the ideology was bigger than one person and that she must be happy even when he’s gone,” Jaya adds.

According to reports, soon after he joined the Maoist party, Prabhakar became close to Andhra Orissa Border (AOB) special zonal committee secretary Rama Krishna alias RK, who is also one of the most wanted men in the two Telugu states.

While RK is said to have escaped from the encounter spot, Varavara Rao on Thursday proclaimed at Prabhakar’s residence that he was in police custody as he did not contact his party men since the encounter.

A day after the encounter, the death toll of the Maoists went up to 28 after four more bodies were recovered. Fresh firing on Thursday during a combing operation, has now taken the death toll to 30.

Back home, the memory of Prabhakar’s body is still fresh in the minds of his family members

“His jaw was broken and dislocated like a boot had stepped on it. Half his face wasn’t even recognizable. He had bullet holes in his stomach and other places. The last thing a mother wants is to hug and kiss her child goodbye, but she couldn’t even touch her own son,” Jaya says.

While everyone in the family praises him for being kind, compassionate and caring towards the downtrodden, they also do not deny or seek to justify that he was ready to indulge in violence for his goals. Prabhakar was an outlaw for the government, but for the family he is a martyr, a hero.

“The only reason why he did what he did, was to ensure that no one had to struggle like he had to struggle,” says his sister Suvarna.

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