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Martyred five decades ago, fiery student leader confronted saffron onslaught in Andhra

By Harsh Thakor* 

On April 14 we commemorated the 50th death anniversary of a student martyr, George Reddy. George 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 Hindutva communal fascism has fermented Indian society at a height unparalleled.
We need to introspect the spiritual metamorphosis of George from a student into a full fledged revolutionary. In many ways George reminded us of Che Guevera. He left no stone unturned in at the very root challenging all the social evils within the university campus. He gave baptism to the revolutionary student movement.
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 Power movement, the Naxalbari and Srikakulam uprisings etc., which touched the very core of his soul.
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.
Differing from several trends in the students' movement that existed in 1960s, George fought tooth and nail Sangh Parivar presence in the university campus – for which he is still remembered. A victim of those adhering to the students' organisation of the Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), five decades after his death the democratic student movement in India remains at a rudimentary stage. It remains fragmented, facing mortal blows.
George was born on August 15, 1947 in Palakad. As a pupil in St Paul’s high school, he gave subtle flashes of his resilience when defying the norm of being caned as a punishment from his teacher. His crime was he had assisted a student in his maths homework!
In 1963 George joined the Nizam College choosing chemistry, physics and biology. With four friends Patel, Ramnath, Pratap and Hari his group was called Five Musketeers. In spite of belonging to different castes they interacted with great harmony, eating in each other’s houses and sharing tiffin boxes. He fared outstandingly well securing 2nd rank in his 2nd year.
However, George failed to obtain a seat in a medical college -- the reason was he was not a native or mulki unlike friend Pratap who got admission with lesser credentials. Still with utter humility he displayed no resentment telling Pratap, “These things happen, that’s how life rolls out. Considering the manner you guys suffered, you deserve it.”
In college mainly indulged in reading books, watching films, meeting friends, loafing around and cracking jokes, George displayed courage in being vehemently critical of police bandobast when Jawharlal Nehru was arriving. “Ours is a democracy. Still the Prime Minister is prevented from getting close to the people”, he said.
As a student he used to proactively place many topics for discussion -- the war in Vietnam, the Palestine problem, events in the Dominican republic, the 1954 Guatemala Coup, the 1968 French students’ revolt, the Black Panthers of America and the Naxalbari, Srikakulam and Telegana movements.
One who was inspired by Che Guevera, Regis Debray, Jean Paul Sartre and George Habash, his favourite books were Che Guevera's “Guerrilla Warfare” and “Bolivian Diary”. He also read Friedrich Hegel, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. In a seminar organized by the US counsel, George in his presentation rebuked the concept of the 'Great American Democracy', creating tremors in the camp of the US diplomats.
After class hours his only topic of discussion was his passion for change and socialism, in which he invested every ounce of his energy. He organised a debate on the topic of armed revolution in India in the Science College, encompassing how colonial values still penetrated the mind of the nation, even after British rule.
The 1969 Telengana agitation played a major role in shaping George's life with a spark turning into a prairie fire. 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 affiliated colleges. The year 1970 witnessed mobilization of students on their basic issues, particularly in the Engineering College. 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.
On the campus George lay the breeding ground of a movement challenging the hegemony of ABVP, which obstructed the emergence of any other force prevailing. His group expanded out of the campus supporting anti-ABVP panels in Badruka, GMC, Agricultural University, NTU, Nizam College, VV College, Anwar-ul-loom College, etc.
George was the architect of the Congress Forum for Socialist Action, Socialist Youth Forum and the Progressive Democratic Students. He was in regular touch with left leaning intellectuals like KV Raghunatha Reddy, Justice O Chinnappa Reddy, DR Rajgopala etc. He also attended meetings of the Marxist Educational Society where Mohit Sen used to speak. In a conference in Vijayawada in March 1970, he and his 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 (PDS). In 1971, it held an anti-price rise meeting at VV College and also held a meeting to express solidarity with the Vietnamese struggle in YMCA Narayanguda.
The Gandhi Medical College elections was the turning point in the Osmania University elections. Confrontation escalated to it's pitch between PDS and the RSS/ABVP. To brand the Left the RSS forces created the myth of red army scare, threatening the students with facing dire consequences at GMC. At GMC, students were mauled badly, with Pratap Reddy who stood up for post of president badly intimidated.
On the campus George lay the breeding ground of a movement challenging the hegemony of ABVP
An intense confrontation erupted between Narayan Das and his followers with George’s group. The Narayan Das group broke up furniture and sat on the steps in the Arts and Engineering colleges and looted George’s supporter Narayan Raju's house. George’s group made a sustained effort to keep the ABVP/RSS supporters at bay, using broken chains to repel a goonda attack.
It resulted in George and his partner Yadgiri being inflicted with stab wounds. George’s group 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. Narsimha Rao had close proximity with RSS, allowing the RSS to feely trample on the campus floors and booking many cases against George and his group.
Fights on the campus intensified. On December 4 the ABVP/RSS cadre raided two 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 24,1972, 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.
On evening of April 14, 1972, George, after first dropping a friend, set off on a scooter, heading for the Engineering College hostel with Gopinath and Ramesh. On ascending the four steps of his hostel, his attackers pounced on him. Ramesh and Gopinath fled from the spot but George remained undeterred.
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 police refused to confront the murderers -- a perfect illustration of how the police was hand in glove with the ruling class communal elements.
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. About 2000 people marched in the funeral procession outpouring with grief.
Fifteen days after his death an anti-communal day was staged in memory of George with a rally of around 6,000 students converging at the Nizam College. Earlier in the condolence meeting a gold medal was inaugurated in George’s name.
George’s death gave a new shape to the student movement, crystallising the radical 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. It paved the path for thousands of students to be drawn into the movement and the extinguishing of the rightwing forces.
---
*Freelance journalist

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