Seethakka: A leader who walks with her tribe
We are going through testing times, for sure. Even as migrant labourers are falling down dead while walking back to their native places thousands of kilometres away due to hunger
We are going through testing times, for sure. Even as migrant labourers are falling down dead while walking back to their native places thousands of kilometres away due to hunger, dehydration and fatal fatigue, or mowed down by speeding trains and trucks, a majority of politicians are seen posing for photographs trigger happy, distributing publicity-stamped kits or making vehement statements about the governments' failure in containing the pandemic or claiming their success in preventing the spread of the deadly virus.
They are busy posing their 'philanthropic' photographs and videos on social media as much as they post photos and footages of them inaugurating various establishments including pan shops and salons or cutting birthday cakes only to garner thousands of likes and hundreds of comments by their diehard followers.
But then, there are exceptions. An elected representative from the backwoods of Telangana, a true human being, is silently working for the welfare of tribal people, away from the hullaballoo of publicity blitzkrieg and from self-obsessed politicos.
She is not only feeding poor tribals during tough times of Covid-19, but also proves to be the only one who carries loads of essential goods on her head, trekking through the difficult terrain of forest areas with a small group of workers, keeping aside even her personal security.
During the last 65 days, Danasuri Anasuya who is also known as Seethakka, has visited all mandals of her Assembly constituency and supplied essentials to about 580 villages.
She even went to the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and helped the tribals in areas of East Godavari and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh and Mahbubnagar district of Telangana.
Seethakka, was a gun-wielding Maoist in late 1980s and early 1990s. Those days, she used to have a gun on her shoulders but today she carries essentials for the poor tribals on her shoulders.
She came out of the Naxal movement and joined the mainstream in 1997 and became active in politics. She won on behalf of Congress in 2018 from Mulugu Assembly constituency. When all the legal proceedings were over, she studied to become a lawyer in Hyderabad. It was during this period she got interested in public policy and governance.
She has emerged as real role model and proved that she is no ordinary leader. After joining politics and getting elected as member of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly first in 2009 and then again in 2018 (Telangana), she never distanced herself from her constituents.
She proved to be a real Akka for the poor tribals. She was always available for all the people in her constituency.
She was among the first to reach out to the tribals soon after the lockdown was announced saying, "Serving the people is what gives me happiness. They elected me with a lot of expectations and I just try to live up to those expectations."
Rising early at dawn, every day, she and her team cover nearly seven villages. Nearly 72 of the 650-odd villages that make up the constituency have no road connectivity.
Having served as a former comrade in the Naxal movement for years, however, Seethakka knows her way. Walking is her passion and she extended hand holding to tribals with rice bags, vegetables and other essentials.
At some places she loads her goods on a tractor. Where tractors cannot go, she rides a bike and where even that is not possible, she travels by bullock cart and when even that is not possible, she goes on foot deep into tribal hamlets. She feels pained as the government treats tribes and people of plain areas alike and so carries out relief works.
"I raised the issue of coronavirus during the last Telangana Assembly session earlier in March. But the ruling party (TRS) laughed at me at the time," Seethakka said.
"Today, when governments across the world are taking measures to safeguard its citizens, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government seems totally unsympathetic of Telangana's Adivasi population," she rued.
The 48-year-old Seethakka has virtually put most of the political parties and leaders to shame. Singlehandedly, she distributed over 8,000 kgs of rice so far.
How did she achieve this? It was through the Seethakka Foundation which mobilised some donations and help from farmers who donated rice and vegetables for the noble cause she had taken up.
The idea behind her work was not publicity but to make a difference to the people of her constituency as they love her, trust her and listen to her.
India would be the best country if only all politicians had similar concern for their constituents.
She told The Hans India that she decided to take up this activity as she felt that the relief being announced by the State government 12 KG rice and Rs 1,500 cash assistance did not reach many of the tribals. She said that even rice did not reach those who do not have ration cards.
The MLA said the government did not bother to hold a review meeting on the needs of the tribes. She said that the requirements of the tribes would be different than the people living in plain areas.
It would not be easy to supply ration to Gudems of Koyas and Pentas of Chenchus in the lockdown period. Moved by the plight of tribals who had no income during the past 65 days due to lockdown, she has decided to do whatever she could.
Another amazing factor that needs to be mentioned here is that while even with high voltage campaign starting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the local leaders and film actors, people in urban areas even today say "Lockdown My Foot."
But in tribal areas Seethakka ensured that there was social distancing and never gave up wearing of masks or gloves. What is more interesting is that even the tribals maintain social distancing while receiving the goods.
In contrast, in plain areas and cities and towns in both the Telugu States, we have seen political leaders vying for wide publicity for small works done, violating all conditions of lockdown.
They also failed in making their followers adhere to the rules. Even now if one takes a walk on the roads of Hyderabad, it is clear that people are not following the protocols.
She said that there was no income to the tribals for the past 65 days due to lockdown. They work in the agriculture fields and make money. Due to lockdown all works have been stopped.
Apart from agriculture, the tribes collect Tunikaku or Beedi leaves or Tendu leaves in the forest and make money. However, this has been stopped in many Gudems of the Dandakaranyam. In fact, Tunikaku is like a crop for the tribals.
They buy essentials and cloths after the Tunikaku season. Even they perform marriages with the money earned from the sale of Tunikaku in the State.
However, they have foregone the earning due to the lockdown. Hence Seethakka felt that it was her social responsibility to help these people in time of need. Certainly, she should be an example of what a public representative should be.