Two-time Telangana MLA Danasari Anasuya, popularly known as Seethakka, is not alien to the hills, streams, and forests across her assembly constituency, Mulugu, dominated by tribal population.
Carrying a rifle she had trekked through these terrains in Telangana-Chhattisgarh border for 11 years as a young Maoist commander before her surrender in 1997. In March 2020, when the global pandemic hit the region, Seethakka, now an elected public representative, was more concerned about hunger and malnutrition that was impending on her people.
Weather I am with Gun or With Gunmen, it’s for the sake of weaker sections, food,cloth,shelter is always I wanted for them #MeAt20 @INCIndia @MahilaCongress @RahulGandhi @priyankagandhi @kcvenugopalmp @sushmitadevinc @kumari_selja @jothims @INCTelangana @revanth_anumula @IYC pic.twitter.com/UDEPCOSyZv
— Danasari Anasuya (Seethakka) (@seethakkaMLA) April 19, 2020
A day after the Covid-19-induced lockdown came into force, the MLA was considering writing the theses for her Ph.D. in ‘social exclusion and deprivation of Gothikoya tribals in India’ that she was pursuing from Osmania University. Quitting the armed rebellion at the age of 25, she secured a degree in Law and practiced at the Warangal district court.
But destiny had other plans for her during the lockdown after she offered a few workless and penniless labourers cooked food near her camp office in Mulugu on March 26. Soon, many such hungry people started flocking to her office and she realised poverty and hunger were a bigger threat to people than the pandemic itself.
Reason why I started #GoHungerGo
It’s better we help poor and #MigrantsOntheRoad before they die of hunger. Please Take part in it and support the life’s.#GoHungerGo challenge #COVID #coronavirus #challenge @INCIndia @MahilaCongress @INCTelangana @RahulGandhi @sushmitadevinc pic.twitter.com/7OuqnzHxqx
— Danasari Anasuya (Seethakka) (@seethakkaMLA) April 29, 2020
As of May 14, 50-days after she started distributing food and groceries, the MLA and her team have covered 475 villages in Mulugu district and bordering villages. According to her team, 70,000 kg of rice, 110000 kg of vegetables, 1000 liters of oil, 1000 kg of dal, and 500 kg of salt were supplied to 25,000 families.
The 48-year-old MLA is sometimes seen on a tractor, or a bullock cart, or pillion riding a motorcycle or even trekking carrying bags on her head. A Koya tribal herself, she knew that seven of the total nine mandals in the district were inside forests and 650 villages were cut-off from mainstream social workers in the event of a lockdown. She started ‘GoHungerGo’ challenge on Twitter and Facebook. As this campaign started to receive traction and donors started approaching the MLA’s team, many questioned the MLA and termed it an opportunistic stunt for gaining photo-opportunity.
However, Taslima Mohammed, sub-registrar for Mulugu and Bhupalpally districts, says it is a “sincere attempt to help poor people and those who are genuinely serving the society should not be bullied at this hour”. People in remote villages are the worst-hit by the lockdown and one should not do politics over it, adds the government official.
A few days ago, the sub-registrar accompanied the MLA to Penugolu village, situated on a hillock near the Godavari river on the Chattisgarh border. “It is a 16-km trek through forests to reach this village. It is not even in the Mulugu constituency. Led by the MLA, we all carried ration and vegetables to the 20 families living in this most remote village,” adds Taslima. The village has not had a public representative visit them in all these years.
20 kilometres on bike and walk in forest doesn’t matter me, it only matters how much support n confidence we give to children who are future to Super India @INCIndia @MahilaCongress @RahulGandhi @priyankagandhi @sushmitadevinc @manickamtagore @jothims @kumari_selja #GoHungerGo pic.twitter.com/acRhz6kWV2
— Danasari Anasuya (Seethakka) (@seethakkaMLA) May 5, 2020
According to a follower of the MLA, around 90 villages have no roads as they are 15-20 km inside forests. “We start at around 7 am every day and cover 20 villages a day. We carry the ration to villages in jeeps. It is a very difficult task as we are working 24X7. She (Seethakka) leads us from the front,” says Sujith Reddy, MLA’s aide.
He says most of the people do not know what has happened except that they know something has brought the world to a standstill. The MLA is often welcomed with cheers, and garlands when she visits these tribal hamlets. “They know there is an airborne disease. For those who do not follow the Telugu language, she has chart papers with drawings to explain the ongoing COVID pandemic and social distancing norms,” adds Reddy.
Stating that her past life as a Maoist leader would keep reminding her that the poor should not go hungry, the MLA, who won 2018 Telangana assembly polls on a Congress ticket with a victory margin of 23,500 votes, says people in remote villages, especially Adivasis, are feeling insecure. “They are worried and tensed. They wait for me and feel happy when I visit them. That is my driving force,” the MLA tells indianexpress.com.
“Many of them have not received the government assistance of 12 kg rice and Rs 1500 cash. “I understand that the situation prevails not only in my constituency but all along the Godavari belt from Khammam to Adilabad. I would try to help them too. My GoHungerGo challenge will continue till the lockdown is lifted and normalcy returns,” she adds.
Seethakka was one of the first legislators to speak in the State Assembly about the spread of COVID and the shortage of masks in the State. The MLA has also been at the forefront supporting migrant workers on the road and offering them cooked food. Mulugu constituency has over 4000 migrant workers from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha, and many of them have been walking through the dense forests to reach back their homes.