On 14th April we commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Student martyr, George Reddy who was slain by ABVP goondas.George virtually carved out a new epoch in the student movement. Today we need a George Reddy to be reborn to challenge our slavish educational system when Hindu Communal fascism, Brahmanical casteism consumerism and imperialism.
We need to introspect the spiritual metamorphosis of George from a student into a full fledged revolutionary. In the manner of Che Guevera..He left no stone unturned in at the very root challenging all the social evils within the University campus. George gave baptism to the revolutionary student movement confronting revisionism.
Significant that George’s political life coincided or was even a product of historic events like the Paris Students Uprising ,the national liberation Struggle in Vietnam, the Black Panmther movement, the Naxalbari and Srikakulam uprisings etc.,which touched the very core of his soul.
Nature of Student Movement
From George we must imbibe how to master the idioms of students and not merely parrot marxist-Leninist slogans. The advent of mechanisation or digital age must be taken into consideration in age of globalisation with methods of work devised in accordance to the changed times. The factor of Upper caste hegemony too has to be synthesised with the student class struggles on the campus.
The student movement was vitiated by different trends after the 1970’s. The first towed the path of revisionism, 2nd imposed Leninist party politics, third upheld revolution but detached the organization from guidance of Leninist parties,fourth towed dalit identity politics while the fifth practiced the massline. Inspite of sacrifices and achievements of unscaled proportion s, the Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union often exhibited powerful vanguardist tendencies ,converting the organisation into a party platform Their were powerful tendencies to propagate slogans incompatible with the student community at large like ‘Naxalbari Zindabad ‘or ‘Long Live Mao Thought. ‘Still I can never forget Progressive Democratic Students Union at its helm in 1975 or the later ascendancy of Radical Students Union.
As a student activist in Mumbai I recall how revolutionary student organizations were turned into front organisations of Communist revolutionary groups. The best examples were of the Vidhyarti Praghati Sanghatana(VPS) with the C.P.I. (M.L)Peoples War Group and the Pragatisheel Vidhyarti Sanghatana (PRAVIS) with the Chandra Pulla Reddy Group. No doubt they made an important contribution to democratic student movement, but their practice was vitiated by not giving proper democratic identity to the mass organisations. In Contrast the Vidhyarti Yuva Jagruti Sanghatana for a period maintained the independence of the mass organisation to practice genuine democratic functioning. An activist from Mumbai left the VPS to form Jagruti Sanghatana, which too distinguished from vanguardist practices and giving student organization genuine autonomy. I can never forget mu discussion with activists on how direct party politics was introduced into student organisations, and the focus of a genuine student movement redressing genuine grievances was lost. For a time even PRAVIS asserted giving a student organisation independent autonomy and not a direct avenue of propagating Marxist Leninist politics or integrating with agrarian revolution. Memories flash in my mind of struggles for basic facilities of students, for admissions and against the New Education policy by the Jagruti Sanghata,the anti-feehike agitation by VPS and for proper facilities for night school students by PRAVIS and it’s students bulletin.
5 decades after George’s death the democratic student movement in India is again at a rudimentary stage or fragmented, with certain trends adhering to Maoist trend, facing mortal blows. It is commendable today that certain trends which had genesis in the Progressive Democratic Students condemn the autocracy of the Indian rulers in Kashmir ,Hindu Communal fascsim at large ,Operation Green Hunt and leave no stone unturned in giving solidarity to the anti-caste movement.
George was born on 15th August 1947in Palakad. His mother Leila played a great role in shaping George’s growth ,who championed simplicity and service .
As a pupil in St Paul’s high school in Hyderabad in 10th class George gave subtle flashes of his resilience or valour when defying conventional norms at the very core. After being repeatedly caned as a punishment from his teacher for assisting a student in his Maths homework George with death defying courage never succumbed or yielded to give an apology, remaining simply unflinched.Once when being bowled when playing cricket, he shouted ‘Declared Not out’, till he reached his house. This was a perfect illustration of George’s resilience not to accept defeat at any costs.
In 1963 George joined the Nizam college in Hyderabad choosing Chemistry, Physics and Biology. With 4 friends Patel,Ramnath,Pratap and Hari his group was called the 5 Musketeers.Inspite of belonging to different castes they interacted with great harmony, eating in each others houses and sharing Tiffin boxes. He fared outstandingly well securing 2nd rank in his 2nd year .However ironically he failed to obtain a seat in a medical college. which had a profound effect on his life. George found out that the reason for his being denied admission was his not being a native or mulki unlike friend Pratap who got admission with lesser credentials. Still with utter humility George displayed no resentment telling Pratap “These things happen, that’s how life rolls out. Considering the manner you guys suffered, you deserve it.”
George faced a rustication period for his political activities on the campus in 1968 which was blessing in disguise, making him read intensely both on the academic and general fronts. The isolation he faced fostered a strong spirit of introspection.
In 1971 George was crowned with a Gold medal in Physics while doing his M.Sc course. And began work as a Physics lecturer.
George displayed great love in travelling around cities and in a most simplistic manner he and his friends took out fake concession forms to travel unreserved on footboards of trains, and staying in the veranda of a distant uncle.
George was champion boxer and gave overtones of the spirit of Muhammad Ali who too was mascot against oppression.
In college he mainly indulged in reading books, watching films, meeting friends, loafing around and cracking jokes. He never pulled peoples legs or made fun of fellow students. Without hesitation he served the vulnerable. He would reprimand bursary clerks to disburse funds to needy students. George was also vehemently critical of a police bandobast when Nehru was arriving.”Ours is a Democracy. Still the Prime Minister is prevented from getting close to the people.”Once in a student feud he protected the victims who were bleeding and forced the attackers to flee, who were sitting in the canteen. Ironically his group had roughed up a lab attender, when he refused to fetch them cigarettes. Once with great courage, George protected a class mate wishing to vote for a friend for post of general secretary.
George instilled the spirit into students of not learning by rote and motivated others to grasp concepts. Fascinatingly his colleagues found him very gentle, even though he would not hesitate to counter violence with violence.
As a student he used to pro actively place many topics for discussion, the war in Vietnam, the Palestine problem, events in the Dominican republic, the 1954 Guatemala Coup.the 1968 French Student revolt, the black panthers of America and the Naxalbari, Srikakulam and Telegana movements. He also referred to Che Guevera, Regis Debray, Jean Paul Sartre and George Habash.His favourite books were those by Che Gueveraon Guerilla Warfare and Bolivian Diary.He also read Friedrich Hegel,Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. It was unforgettable how in a seminar organized by the US counsel ,George in his presentation rebuked the concept of the ‘Great American Democracy’ at the very root ,creating tremors in the camp of the US Counsul.His speech was so earth shaking that it changed the minds of students from going overseas.
After class hours his only topic of discussion was his passion for change and socialism, in which he invested every ounce of his energy.
George organised a debate on the topic of armed revolution in India in Science college, encompassing how colonial values still penetrated the mind of the nation, even after British rule. In the Banda Canteen the impact of a deluge was created with discussions reached full intensity.
I recommend all to read the ‘Life and Times of George Reddy’ by Gita Ramaswamy and the short tributes by P.K.Murthy and Pradeep .in blog ‘George Reddy Amar Rahe.’
Role as Political Activist
The 1969 Telengana agitation played a major role in shaping George’s life with a spark turning into a prairie fire.with the promises of a seperate Telengana betrayed .The agitation resulted in colleges in Telengana and Osmania University closing down from January 1969 and subsequently students with renewed vigour returning to the campuses. It sowed the seeds of George’s mission to build a progressive and democratic student movement encompassing the Osmania University and the other affiliated colleges.1970 witnessed mobilization of students on their basic issues, particularly in engineering college under banner of Osmania University students .The demand was raised for economically backward students to receive scholarships which resulted in most engineering students becoming scholarship holders.
George did not confine his activities only within the boundaries of student work but also reached out to class 4 employees and their bastis and families, He inculcated training to basti students in self defence and boxing and assisted them in their studies. George also waged struggles for minorities and women.
On the campus George lay the breeding ground of a movement germinating challenging the hegemony of the ABVP ,who to the last straw obstructed the emergence of any other force prevailing.George’s group expanded out of the campus supporting anti ABVP panels in Badruka, GMC,Agricultural University,J NTU,Nizam College, VV College,S aifabad Science College,Anwar-ul-loom college,etc.,Most of this had a tactical motive,aiming at boosting candidates in confronting the ABVP.In Science college, Sridhamurthy was set up by George, challenging Senapati Reddy.
George was the architect of the Congress Forum for Socialist Action, Socialist Youth Forum and Progressive Democratic Students., George was in regular touch with left leaning intellectuals. He also attended meeting sof the Marxist educational Society where Mohit Sen used to speak. In a conference in Vijayawada the CFSA was inaugurated, in March 1970.In the 1st all India Conference at Delhi more than 20 of George’s group attended, but George was the only one who seriously participated. Ultimately George’s supporters rebelled against the socialism of the Congress which was confined to paper and speeches.
George changed the name of his group to Progressive Democratic Students. In 1971, it held an anti price meeting at VV College and also held a meeting to express solidarity with the Vietnamese Struggle,in YMCA Narayanguda.After the Indian intervention in Bangladesh ,a meeting in condemnation was held as well as the secret hand of the USSR.
The Gandhi Medical College elections was the turning point in Osmania University elections, Confrontation escalated to it’s pitch between the PDS and the RSS/ABVP.To brand the Left the RSS forces created the myth of an Indian red army scare, threatening the students with facing dire consequences at the GMC,.At the GMC, students were mauled badly, with Pratap Reddy who stood up for post of president, badly intimidated.
A most intense confrontation erupted between Narayan Das and his followers with George’s group.Narayan Das group broke up furniture and sat on the steps in the Arts and Engineering colleges and looted Narayan Raju,George’s supporters’s house. George’s group made a sustained effort to keep the ABVP/RSS supporters at bay, using broken chains to repel a gonad attack .It resulted in George and his partner Yadgiri being inflicted with stab wounds. George’s group then bleeding made a presentation to Chief Minister Narasimha Rao,demanding deterrent action against acts of violence on the campus.Subseqently police arrested both groups and let them off on bail. It is significant that P Narsimha Rao had close proximity with the RSS ,allowing the RSS to feely trample on the campus floors and booking many case of George and his group.
Fights on the campus intensified .On December 4th the ABVP/RSS cadre raided 2 hostels, attacking activist Kulkarni and later Indrakarn Reddy .The RSS was infuriated with the retaliatory action undertaken by George’s Group on Vidyasar Rao and Narayan Das in September earlier..
On the night of February 24th 1972, while returning after canvassing for T.Anjiah ,George was waylaid and brutally assaulted by some persons who later played a prominent part in his murder. It occurred a few hundred yards away from his house .Luckily people from advocate Venugopal Rao pulled him into his house and saved George at the very spur of the moment. In a statement recored at Gandhi Medical hospital Gorge testified the names of his attackers,Surdas Reddy,Lakhan Singh,Stayanarayana Reddy ,Fathu Singh etc.Ironically George told one of his compatriots that he appreciated the skill and science of fighting of his attackers ,inspite of the pain inflicted on him.
On evening of April 14, 1972 George first dropped by Daya Seth canteen He met previous years joint secretary Rameshchandra Reddy .After talking to him George set off on a scooter, heading for Engineering college hostel with Gopinath and Ramesh George warned Tammaredy Bhardwaj about not moving freely in the hostel.,without his brother Cyril.
On his ascending the 4 steps of his hostel before counting Jack Robinson like a tiger coming out of an ambush, his attackers pounced on him. The police did not make a single move, indirectly patronising the attackers.Ramesh and Gopi fled from the spot but George remained undeterred in the manner of a David confronting Goliath.With adrelanin pumping like a fire in a furnace he grappled with his rivals, in the manner of a wrestler..Knives penetrated his kidney, then his abdomen, followed by his abdomen. He lay in a pool of blood on the steps, with his killers fleeing.
The virtual abstaining of the police from confronting the murderers was a perfect illustration of how the police was hand in glove with the ruling class communal elements, which prevails even more today in giving patronage to Saffron goons.
The resultant effect of George’s murder struck the impact of a Tsunami in the hearts of the students, who were denied access to even seeing George’s body after the post-mortem. The government was so shaken by the outpouring of students that it was compelled to suspend a sub-inspector, a head constable and nine constables of the armed reserve police force for inaction.2000 people marched in the funeral procession outpouring with grief, like an army determined to seek vengeance .Slogans were chanted “Learn to battle at every step, learn to die if you want to live. Down with the police-RSS alliance, Long Live George Reddy,Struggle is our clarion cry against every force .Fifteen days after his death anti-communal day was staged in memory of George. with a rally of around 6000 students., converging at Nizam college. Earlier in the condolence meeting a gold medal was inaugurated in George’s name.
George’s death shattered the lives of his family with his mother expiring of grief a few months later. However George’s death gave a new shape to the student movement, in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. A red spark now lit the student campuses with student fury at an unparalleled magnitude against the ruling classes.Women were now treated as equalsof men on the campus. It paved the path for thousands of students to be drawn into the movement and the extinguishing of the rightwing forces .All the revolutionary student organisations of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana trace their origin to George Reddy .It is beyond doubt that George had sacrificed his much loved Physics research to serve the revolution full time. George Reddy became after his death a mascot of the radical student. like an inextinguishable flame. The likes of Jampala Prasad, Srihari, and Surapaneni Janardhan, during emergency and later Madhusudhan Raj, Rangavalli, Veerayya became martyrs,resurrecting George.
Harsh Thakor is a Freelance journalist who has extensively travelled around India particularly Punjab and done research on Indian student movement..In student’s days was a participant in PRAVIS group and participated in agitations.