Andhras keep insisting that the current Telangana Movement is violent. So I ask myself, is it a nonviolent or violent movement? I am of the opinion that it is a nonviolent movement. So, how do you characterize stone pelting and bus burning? I still consider them to be nonviolent, not legal, but still nonviolent. [Purists may not agree with me here]. While the policeman has the legal right to arrest that protestor, that protestor has the inalienable right to fight for freedom defying the authority that has been suppressing him.
A struggle for freedom first tries to explore the available tools – democratic, legal, and electoral. When all such tools fail to deliver, it will turn into a mass movement. A mass movement will invariably use expressions of defiance. The defiance is directed against the authority and the tools of authority which is oppressing or suppressing the protesting people denying their freedoms. People of Telangana express their ire against the state by the defying the first tool of authority that they encounter – the armed forces. The other objects of authority are usually public property, because they are also the symbols of the oppressing authority. Some of the acts of defiance used by Telangana against their authorities are stone pelting and bus burning. As long as you do not hurt a person and cause bodily injury, as long as you do not damage private property, I would consider it to be nonviolent movement (may not be legal, but still nonviolent).
It does not mean that a violent movement is always illegitimate; or that a peaceful movement is always legitimate. For example, a peaceful rally demanding the state to force women to cover their faces, restrict them to home, and deprive them of voting rights could still be an illegitimate movement though a peaceful one.
To understand whether the current Telangana Movement is violent or not one has to look at examples from our histories. One of the most renowned and hailed nonviolent mass movements on the planet is Indian Independence Movement. Indians feel proud to tell the world that they carried out the most nonviolent freedom struggle on the planet. And the world recognizes this and acknowledges it. Many nations, freedom movements and civil rights movements derive strength from our nonviolent Independence Movement. You go to any school or college in India, or you go to any university in the world, and ask them to give an example of a popular nonviolent movement, there is a good chance they may refer to Indian Independence Movement and even talk a thing or two about Gandhi.
So, using our Indian Independence Movement as yardstick, let’s measure ourselves. Since my Andhra friends are really poor in history and also have extremely little capacity to absorb history, I will take tidbits from Indian Independence Movement. These are snapshots from first few weeks of Quit India Movement launched in 1942 under the auspices of Gandhi, the icon of nonviolence worldwide .
- For the first six weeks after 9 August 1942, there was a tremendous mass upsurge all over the country.
- In some places, huge crowds attacked police stations, post offices, courts, railway stations, and other symbols of Government authority.
- Crowds of villagers, often numbering a few hundreds or even a couple of thousand, physically removed railway tracks, and cut telephone and telegraph wires.
- Students went on strike in schools and colleges all over the country and busied themselves taking out processions, writing and distributing illegal news-sheets.
- Students of Banaras Hindu University decided to go to the villages to spread the message of Quit India. They raised slogans of ‘Thana Jalao’ (Burn the police station), ‘Station phoonk do’ (Burn the railway stations), ‘Angrez bhag gaya’ (Englishmen have fled).
- 80% of the police stations were captured or temporarily evacuated in ten districts of North and Central Bihar.
- There were also physical attacks on Europeans. At Fatwa, near Patna, two RAF officers were killed by a crowd at the railway station and their bodies paraded through the town.
- In Monghyr, the crews of two RAF planes that crashed at Pasraha on 18 August and Ruihar on 20 August were killed by villagers.
- According to official estimates, in the first week, 250 railway stations were damaged or destroyed, and over 500 post offices and 150 police stations were attacked.
- By the end of 1942, over 60,000 persons had been arrested. Twenty-six thousand people were convicted and 18,000 detained.
That was one set of incidents from one of the agitations carried out during Indian Independence Movement, considered as the most nonviolent political and mass movement in our history. If that is what happened during a nonviolent movement, Telangana Movement of 2009-10 pales in comparison, making it even more peaceful movement than the Indian Independence Movement. Though we don’t have a Gandhi, it looks like we are more Gandhian than what Gandhi could achieve.
I am NOT trying to justify acts of defiance of 1942 here, nor am I condoning the bus burning carried out by Telangana protestors. Neither am I discussing the events where many buses and even a train was burnt by Seemandhras after Dec 9th statement. Many protestors in India are resorting to this even for illegitimate demands and I do not like this practice. However, we need to understand why in a freedom struggle, the protestors resort to attacking the symbols of the government, the security forces, and properties of the government.
We could learn from our histories and strive to create a state where such stone pelting and bus burning is not required anymore to seek freedoms. In a democratic country, freedom should be easily available. In fact, it should be guaranteed. Such a mature democratic nation is possible only if we become appreciative of people’s aspirations and accommodate them. When we consistently ignore their pleas, demands, and aspirations for freedom, we give way to a mass movement where protestors resort to defying authorities.
My observation over the last ten months is that Andhras are being completely obdurate, antipathetic, callous, and arrogant towards Telangana Movement. Not a single Andhra comes out and says, ‘I understand your plight. I think it is time to make amends’. Instead they keep on provoking Telangana agitators, taunting them, and relishing in the successes of police oppression on Telangana protestors. With this kind of rulers, people of Telangana are left with no choice but defy authority to get their freedoms.
Sources:  India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, K.N. Panikkar, Penguin Books.