Failed by the idea of Telangana: Life of the Dalit artist who died a violent Maoist
Prabhakar was among the 28 alleged Maoists who were killed in the recent ‘encounter’ at Andhra-Odisha border.
| Friday, October 28, 2016 - 18:53
A poster of Prabhakar that reads "People's Leader - Comrade Prabhakar Amar Rahe"
There is a lull in Kinda Basti at the Yarpal suburb in Hyderabad, the sort that comes after a storm.
Walking through a maze of ever-shrinking lanes, it isn’t easy to find
the house. Locals point to one where a few elders are sitting outside,
chopping vegetables and preparing lunch.
This is the house where Communist Party of India (Maoist) activist
Prabhakar was born and raised. He was one among the 28 killed in an
encounter with Indian security forces in the Bejjangi forest in Odisha's
Malkangiri district on Monday.
A day ago, the entire Basti was packed with local TV crews vying for a
sound-bite from anyone who claimed to know Prabhakar, and trying to get
footage of a mourning family with Prabhakar’s body. Well-known Maoist
sympathisers like Varavara Rao, Gaddar and Vimalakka were also present.
The residents of the house are hostile to strangers and demand
credentials before uttering a word about Prabhakar. The anger is evident
on their faces.
"We don't want to say anything to our enemy," they say, hinting that
anyone visiting them could be from the police. It takes a call from a
trusted activist and lawyer to get them to open up.
"He is not dead for me. He is still alive. He will give nightmares to
(Chandrababu) Naidu. His followers will not let this go in vain," says
Suvarna, Prabhakar's elder sister, as she chokes up.
Prabhakar was born into a poor family of Dalits in this very house
which they have been occupying since 1975. His father Anjayya was a
mason, and his mother Rathnamma was an agricultural labourer.
"He was a very bright student as a child. Even though we were very
poor, he was the only kid in the entire colony who studied in an English
medium school (till Class 6). When he came home one day and recited
'Twinkle Twinkle', my entire house was proud of him," Suvarna recalls.
Prabhakar went on to top his class and complete his schooling in a
government school at Lal Bazar, and then secured a diploma in
engineering, his family say.
Suvarna recollects many emotional moments that she shared with
Prabhakar as a child, as she fights back tears. "He was good at math and
was very creative. He even won prizes for being the best singer in his
school. He participated in weekly debates from a very young age," she
(From left: Prabhakar's younger sister, older sister, aunt and mother)
"I knew him since when he was a child. He used to come home and was
one of the most intelligent and brightest people I knew," says Raja
Narasimha, his neighbour. Narasimha is also one of the founders of Praja
Kala Mandali (PKM), of which Prabhakar was one of the first and longest
"When we founded it in 1997, we wanted to fight the imperialist and
feudal rule with art. Prabhakar was one of the most enthusiastic
members, and would pour through books with poetry and folk tales. Soon
he started writing his own poems and dramas," Narasimha narrates.
For the next few years, Narasimha says Prabhakar travelled through
the country spreading anti-establishment songs, poetry and dramas, and
also organized large cultural workshops in Ongole (Andhra) in 1997 and
Delhi in 2000. "He was a gifted musician
. He had a great sense of rhythm and would teach people how to play a number of percussion instruments," Narasimha adds.
By 2002, Prabhakar was the district secretary of the PKM and was
later appointed the state secretary for (unified) Andhra Pradesh in
2007. He had actively contributed to the Mandali by compiling books,
performing in theatres, making films and documentaries, and releasing
audio cassettes. He even started converting these compilations to Mp3
format when technology became available.
By this time, he was well read in political philosophy and could even
debate American politics and foreign affairs, says Narasimha, “The
fight for justice for the downtrodden was always in him.”
His associates say that Prabhakar was staunchly against casteism and
fought for women empowerment all his life. In 2006, he married Devendra,
who was also into political activism as a member for the Telangana
Praja Front (TPF). The couple had a small ceremony at Ambedkar Bhavan in
Hyderabad, in which Vara vara Rao was the chief guest.
It was an inter-caste marriage, and that was not the only social
stricture they broke. "They married not for love, but for companionship.
After their wedding, they made a conscious choice not to have children,
as it would hinder their goal of uplifting the poor," says E Jaya,
Narasimha's wife, who is also a senior leader of the TPF.
(Jaya and Raja Narasimha)
Jaya says she knew Devendra from her college days in the late 90s and
was the one who introduced Devendra to Prabhakar. Prabhakar was very
active in the Telangana movement, demanding a separate state, she says.
"They were always at the forefront of the protests. Unlike leaders
who would watch from afar, they would be the first ones to take beatings
during a lathi charge," Jaya adds.
A new state is born, so is a new Maoist
However, it was after Telangana was granted that Prabhakar decided to
go underground and join the CPI (Maoist), his associates say. In 2014,
he was disillusioned by the new state government, and told his close
associates that he saw no change, especially to the adivasis, after
His relatives say that he was troubled by the way the forest land was
being stolen by multi-national corporations and the government's apathy
“The first person he told was Devendra. He told her that he was going
to change the society, and asked her to continue working at the
forefront of the struggle against injustice," Jaya says, "He could've
just run away, but instead he sat his entire family down and chose to
explain the rationale behind his decision to them."
At the time, Prabhakar told his mother that if he did not return, she
was not supposed to shed a single tear as her son would be a martyr ---
a sentiment she still holds.
"He said that the ideology was bigger than one person and that she must be happy even when he's gone," Jaya adds.
According to reports,
soon after he joined the Maoist party, Prabhakar became close to Andhra
Orissa Border (AOB) special zonal committee secretary Rama Krishna
alias RK, who is also one of the most wanted men in the two Telugu
While RK is said to have escaped from the encounter spot, Varavara
Rao on Thursday proclaimed at Prabhakar's residence that he was in
police custody as he did not contact his party men since the encounter.
A day after the encounter, the death toll of the Maoists went up to 28 after four more bodies were recovered. Fresh firing
on Thursday during a combing operation, has now taken the death toll to 30.
Back home, the memory of Prabhakar's body is still fresh in the minds of his family members.
(Prabhakar's brother, Sudhakar)
"His jaw was broken and dislocated like a boot had stepped on it.
Half his face wasn't even recognizable. He had bullet holes in his
stomach and other places. The last thing a mother wants is to hug and
kiss her child goodbye, but she couldn't even touch her own son," Jaya
While everyone in the family praises him for being kind,
compassionate and caring towards the downtrodden, they also do not deny
or seek to justify that he was ready to indulge in violence for his
goals. Prabhakar was an outlaw for the government, but for the family he
is a martyr, a hero.
"The only reason why he did what he did, was to ensure that no one
had to struggle like he had to struggle," says his sister Suvarna.