Yellamma filled water in her old bottle and gathered the old and torn hand towel and a rope to tie up the firewood that they would gather later in the day. She slung the bottle across her shoulder and called out to Suseela who lived in the hut adjacent to theirs, “Come Suseela, it is getting hotter”.

At about the same time Suseela started out of her hut, looking back into it to take in its appearance. She saw her ailing father lying in his old cot, her mother sewing more patches in her already torn saree, her brother lying in his bed frustrated with the ever-elusive job search. She looked at all their old clothes hanging on the cloth-line, their kitchen vessels that had once upon a time been used extensively when there had been no shortage of food. In another corner was a single vessel with drinking water, an earthen stove, and plastic bottles with remnants of salt, turmeric and chilli powder …. the only items that could be considered valuable in their small hut.  ‘The poverty of the entire world is in our hut’ she thought to herself as she came out.

Suseela is eighteen years old. A faded half-saree worn over a torn long skirt, rough hair with no oil and worn-out slippers – this was her appearance. Yet, when one looked at her, one could see a certain quiet intelligence to her.

Suseela and Yellamma’s daily work was to fetch firewood from the forest, a mile away from their village.  At times other girls of their age would join them.

“Why are you looking so weak, with your eyes sunken, and your face looking so gaunt” asked Yellamma.

“There was no food to eat last night” answered Suseela sadly.

“But what about the money we got for the fire-wood yesterday”

“There are so many people in our house, how can that money be sufficient? Unfortunately, they said the firewood I sold yesterday was of low quality. So, I just took whatever amount they gave and bought 2 Kgs of rice and a few other things. After all that, amma and I didn’t have enough food left. Then I told amma that I already ate my share and gave her the remaining food. Now I am really hungry”.

Yellamma sighed in sympathy.

Suseela continued talking while doing her work briskly, “if I don’t take this firewood to the next village by evening and buy some grains, I will have to starve today too”

Yellamma replied, “by the time we gather this firewood, sell and then buy the grains, it will be late in the evening. Take a loan for today. We can sell this firewood tomorrow also”

Suseela thought about the time before her mother fell from a tree and broke her hips. Those were the days when her mother ran the house single-handedly. Suseela thought about her now ailing father, and the younger brother and sister who make a ruckus when they don’t get sufficient food to eat. Inadvertently her eyes filled up and tears flowed over her cheeks.

With a heavy heart Yellamma thought “ours are such pathetic lives …”

“Tie the bundle. Let us go home quickly”, she hurried Suseela.

 Both of them were mature beyond their age.

For some of the families who lived in the mala community, the daily routine was to gather firewood, walk four kilometers to sell it, buy grains with what was earned, cook and eat them that night. The same cycle would begin the next morning.

Suseela lifted the bundle, pushing away the strands of hair falling across her face. As she had no food the previous night and worked in the hot sun through the day, she felt very weak. She pushed herself to walk up to her hut, and as soon as she put down the bundle of firewood, she fell down and fainted.

Kotamma was washing vessels. Seeing Suseela faint, she came running, shouting aloud “what happened”. She quickly sprinkled some water and wiped Suseela’s face with the ends of her saree.

“Oh, someone has cast an evil eye on my child”, she wailed.

Suseela tried hard to open her eyes, but weakness of the body would not allow her eyes to open. She held her mother’s hand and moved her head into her mother’s lap.

“No amma, it is nothing. I was hungry and so I felt dizzy”.

 “See my child’s plight. Curse on these times! There is no work available to earn our living. The little bit we should have got from the tur dal crop, is lost because there was no rain. My husband is bed-ridden. I have never seen this kind of famine; the day has come when I would see my child dying of hunger. Oh, what should I do?” Kotamma lamented wiping her tears.


It was a moon-lit night. One could see the trees and hills very clearly. It was as though the rustling wind was reassuring the comrades, of its everlasting support. The little path in front of them seemed to say, “come along, let me show you the way to our village”. Occasionally a dog was barking, as though to say everything was quite alright.

Sixteen comrades clad in olive green dresses, with kit bags on their backs and big guns hanging over their shoulders entered the village along with twenty members of the militia.

Meanwhile, in the village, in the areas where the Malas, Madigas and Muslims resided, people were closing for the day, after a strenuous long day. Some were cooking their meals while others were arranging their beds ready to sleep.

The squad had a good 10-year long relationship with the village.  It was due to them that the daily wages and the rates for gathering beedi leaves increased.

The common people still depended on the annas and akkas of the squad, to solve their problems. There are many in the village who participated in land struggles and earned land for themselves.  The village landlord Sanjeeva Reddy was one such. He was also the leader of the party in power and there was no one who did not know him. Many were morbidly afraid of him.

The squad had warned him many a time for his anti-people practices and had discussed with the people multiple times about distributing his land among the village folk. Yet Sanjeeva Reddy continued to try and keep his control over the village. He used information from his followers to keep track of the squads’ whereabouts and their work. However, Sanjeeva Reddy himself was very fearful of the squad, as they had substantial power as well as the full support of the people.

The bus stand center of the village was ringing with revolutionary slogans and songs. People in the village knew about the arrival of the squad. The squad reached the godown for rice that is to be distributed as part of the “food for work” government scheme. They broke the locks and opened the doors and found the godown full, with sacks of rice.

“Brothers and Sisters! We, the Chandravanka squad, are here for you. The grain which was meant for the people has been sold by the politicians for their personal gain. People are in distress due to lack of food because of the famine. But this rice belongs to all of you. We are here to help restore your rights. Take your rightful portion to feed your children. There is no point in dying of starvation; rather, fight to better your lives”, the words from Commander Chandana were heard loudly through the hand mike. Chandana went around the main marketplaces along with the militia and brought people together.

As it was not yet 10’o clock in the night, people were still awake. Those with big families and small houses, slept outside their homes on decks or cots. That night they woke up hearing Chandana’s voice.

“Looks like the squad has come. They are talking about the famine ration. It seems the other day they distributed rice in the neighbouring village”, said Bangaramma in a low voice.

“True. They are asking us to come and take the rice without fear” said Mariadasu.

His father Yohan muttered “…these people will tell us and go. After that we must face the wrath of the police. They will beat us up and throw us into jail.”

Yohan’s younger brother Eliah said, “we are already at the end of our tether running after courts for the cases. If we get into any more trouble with the police, then life will be hell. Just keep quiet, let us not take any risk”. He lit a cigar and sat down taking puffs.

Mariadasu intervened angrily,” Are we murdering someone? Since we are starving here and the rice grain was indeed for the likes of us, what is wrong in going and getting it? Is it alright if those rascals sell the grain and build multi-storeyed buildings?! Let the police come. We will go to the police station and run around courts if cases are forced on us. Otherwise, it looks like we will die of starvation first”. In Mariadasu’s voice one could hear both the anger at his father’s words and the agony about the family going without food for days.

Twenty-year-old Mariadasu seemed to have the experience of sixty years! Chandana’s words coming from the mike were hurrying him into action.

Yohan’s 19-year-old daughter Elizabeth had the maturity to think from different dimensions. She had stopped studying after 7th class, due to their financial situation. She went to the fields when there was work, otherwise she was at home. She aspired to learn tailoring. Hearing her brother, she said “nanna, what brother says is right. For the last several days we are eating just once a day and fasting for the rest of the day. This government is neither able to provide us with work nor is it giving us the rice. So, I don’t see anything wrong in taking the rice being distributed by the comrades”.

Yohan grew very anxious hearing his daughter. “Eliza, it is not just about going and bringing the rice. The aftermath must be borne by us. We elders are talking from experience; it would be good if you listen to us”.

Yohan sounded sad that his children did not heed his words and his pride was hurt that they were going against him. Moreover, he was also one of the village servants.

Nanna, if we sit here listening to you, the rice will be finished. We can talk after we return with some rice. Everyone is going and we are going too. Eliza, come”, Mariadasu walked out of the house.

Elizabeth tried to reason with her father, as she was about to leave along with her brother “nanna, we need to change along with the circumstances around us. I don’t see this poverty ever leaving us. We will eat well for a few days at least, why go back and forth and think so much about it?”.


Zarina woke up hearing the words from the mike. The children were still very young, when she lost her husband in a lorry accident. She brought them up alone, working as a coolie in the fields. Now 18-year-old Rameeza and 20-year-old Rafi were both literate and worked in the fields along with her. The one-acre field where they planted millet went dry due to lack of rains. They were not getting any other work either, so they were starving and waiting for help.

This was one among the hundreds of families reeling under famine. Rafi knew Chandana and he understood what she was saying in the mike. Rameeza also heard her words. Rafi got up and sat down. Rameeza woke her mother up and said “I think akkalu from the squad are here. They must be distributing the rice. Why should we die of this starvation, let us go and get some rice. Everyone must be taking, please amma do come along”

Since his sister was also saying the same thing that he wanted to, Rafi got the courage to speak, “mother, let us go immediately. If we get late, then rice might be finished”

Zareena felt anxious and afraid as she thought about the police who would be at her door in the morning if they go and get the rice. “No Rafi. If we bring the rice, there will be an unnecessary squabble with the Police. They might put cases against us. Your father is not there, so we have no anchor to protect in case we get into trouble. So why should we get ourselves into trouble? Nature decides how much we deserve. Even if we must go hungry, let us not go for the rice”.  She was full of anxiety as she spoke.

Rafi was always forthright on subjects that he considered as just and fair. “Amma, why should we really starve? Political leaders are making public statements that the grain is distributed to us and they are cheating us by selling away our grain. Our Annalu from the Squad are stopping such practices and giving us whatever is rightfully ours. At any cost, let us go and fetch our share. It will serve the cheaters right!”, Rafi’s voice sounded very firm.

Young Rameeza spoke up too. “Amma, do you remember that aunt Sharip almost died of starvation when they had no food at all for 3 days. When we are so hard hit by famine, how can you refuse rice? Let police beat us up, we should be able to bear it. Anyway, we are on the verge of death due to the famine”. Hearing these words about the burdens of life experiences, made Zareena helpless. She cursed her own fate, thinking to herself that all problems started when she became a widow, and wiped the tears streaming across her face. She sat holding her head in despair, unable to convince her impulsive and innocent children. She feared what misfortune may befall them tomorrow.

Rafi concluded, “Amma, you stay at home. Rameeza and I will go and bring the rice.” He left in a hurry without looking back for any response. As the children left, Zareena just looked on. She understood that they would not listen to her, even if she tried.


Suseela and Yellamma stayed in adjacent houses. They were sleeping in the verandah along with their parents. Both heard the invitation from the mike. Suseela got up, took some water in a can, and asked “Yelli, will you come”. Yellamma got up and walked along with her.

“I woke up hearing voices from the mike, but I didn’t understand what it was and so I continued to lie down” said Suseela.

“What is it about?” asked Yellamma

“The squad is here, and they are distributing the rice. A lot of rice has been stocked up in our village godown, while so many of us are dying of starvation! Now the squad is taking control and distributing the stock.”

“They are doing the right thing. Let us go. If people in our homes wake up, they will not let us go. I see nothing wrong in getting this rice. That is better than dying of hunger!”

Suseela put the can back in the house, and they tiptoed out.


Yadavula Narsayya woke up and looked around the goat-shed where he was sleeping. Venkatesu from the adjacent house was sitting on a cot and smoking cigar.

“Venkatesa, what is the noise we are hearing over the mike”? asked Narsayya.

Annalu from the Squad have come. They are distributing rice. They are asking all of us in the village to come without fear and take rice. Do you want to go?”

“Don’t you want to go and bring for yourself?”

“I am hesitating because there can be a problem with the Police. In these days of famine, when crops have failed and we already sold our goats, there has been a lot of medical expenditure. There has been no other work to do to earn a living and I am in debt. They are distributing the grains at the right time. Let us take if everyone is taking. Otherwise, we won’t”, Narsayya put a hand towel over his shoulder and started out.

What Narsayya said was true. There was no food to eat regularly, but if this rice was taken, police may come. Venkatesu was thinking back and forth, unable to decide. Then he heard a sound and looked up. He saw Narsayya with a sack of rice over his shoulder. Venkatesu also felt the urge to get it. So many are going to take the rice, what will I lose if I also join? He told himself that it is best to follow the crowd, and he too started out.


Subbayya, a militia member from the adjacent village, was observing all the action since the time the godown locks were broken. He watched with wonder and a mix of surprise and delight, at the participation of people in such a big way!

What started as small drizzle, became a shower and now it was like a heavy rain, as though all streams were flowing across the roads in the form of these crowds of people.

A sixty-year-old man told Chandana, “Akka, I can show you other places where they have hidden the rice”.

“Ok, let us go then”, Chandana said and went along with more people. The crowd streamed in that direction. Sacks hidden in old houses just vanished into thin air.

There was a lot of pushing around and a stampede of sorts. Only those who could push and go forward were able to get some bags. The older people who could not get hold of any sacks were trying to gather the grains fallen on the ground.

“Brother, we are already late. Please help me lift this sack and I will take it”, Rameeza hurried Rafi.

“Eliza, how many sacks could you get to the house”, asked Mariadasu

“I could take three so far. Now with this it will be enough, please help me lift it”, said Eliza.

By the time Suseela and Yellamma reached the godown, it was full of people. They were biding their time to go through the crowd of men when they noticed a thirteen-year-old girl crawling her way through. They made their way, behind the girl, holding their hands together. Both got a rice sack each.

They went inside but coming out was a major challenge. It was suffocating and they felt they might die if they stayed inside there. It was like the situation of Abhimanyu in the war! After a long time, both came out, panting and sweating profusely.

Chandana stopped for a few minutes, absorbing the scene in front of her, of men and women, children and old people alike, without a second thought, trying to find their way through narrow doors, falling over each other, for the sacks of rice. She thought to herself that “in times of acute famine, the poor find no work and no way to quench their thirst and hunger. In such times if they are shown a way to end their hunger, then the poor will follow that path, however difficult it may be“.

The tractors honked, as they started out to the neighbouring villages, with more sacks of rice.

In about two hours the people emptied almost all the two thousand sacks of grain from the godowns. Even the grain which fell on the ground was gathered and picked up.

Chandana addressed the crowd, “Folks! In these times of famine, you all should learn to save up the grain. Police will anyway come to know of this famine raid. You need to be careful and secure it, otherwise the police will again loot from you. The grain can be wasted away in the godowns and eaten up by rodents, but no efforts are made to reach the starving people. This is the sincerity of this government! So, be aware and cautious. Laal Salaam to all!”. As people were jostling one another to shake her hands with joy and speak a few words, Chandana said “we will meet again” and left.

Venkatesu carried the sack of rice home and came back into the crowd of people. He cleared the dust off his body with his towel.

“People knew they could be arrested by police, but still how did they come in such large numbers?” he asked.

Pat came Narsayya’s reply, “The sufferings due to famine become the very reason for any famine struggle”.


Amma – mother

Nanna – father

Akka – elder sister, also used to refer to female Naxalites

Anna – elder brother, also used to refer to male Naxalites

Laal salaam – red salute

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