Why did police fire on Adivasis in Indervelli on April 20, 1981?

Adivasis pay homage at the Martyrs’ Column in Indervelli in Telangana’s Adilabad district on April 20, 2018.

Adivasis pay homage at the Martyrs’ Column in Indervelli in Telangana’s Adilabad district on April 20, 2018.   | Photo Credit: Harpal Singh


The systematic encroachment of lands belonging to ethnic tribes in Adilabad district by non-tribal people had peaked in the 1970s. Adivasis were seething with rage over their exploitation but could do little as they were poor and unresourceful.

The period was also one of upsurge of naxalism in Telangana, and Adilabad had been a hotbed of the movement owing to the prevailing disquiet among the Adivasis. The naxalites formed a frontal organisation called Girijana Rythu Coolie Sangham in the late 1970s to voice the grievances of the Adivasis.


The Sangham organised a public meeting on April 20, 1981 in order to raise their voice against encroachments and exploitation. The police had denied permission for the meeting at a late hour and therefore the news could not reach the Adivasis in the interior and far-flung villages.

The gathering was apparently seething with anger and something went wrong, which had a police constable killed. This incident prompted the police to open fire on the crowd, which was said to be about 5,000-strong.

According to the government, 13 people, all Raj Gonds from surrounding villages, were killed in the firing. However, civil liberties organisations who inquired into the event put the toll at 60.

Martyrs column

A martyrs column was constructed at the site of the police firing in 1983 by the then president of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Coolie Sangham, Ganji Rama Rao, whose organisation had spearheaded the movement for regaining the lands lost by aboriginal farmers through its unit in the agency areas, the GRCS. Rama Rao even travelled to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to study a martyrs memorial column based on which the Indervelli structure was designed.

The Indervelli column built by Rama Rao was demolished allegedly by the police in 1986 in retaliation to a naxalite raid on a police camp at Kadem in the same district, which raised a hue and cry from Advasis. The government then came forward and rebuilt the present day martyrs memorial in 1986.

Homage to martyrs by Adivasis

The Adivasis started paying homage to those who were killed since the first column was built in 1983. However, the police did not allow them anywhere near the memorial on the anniversary day and the event was held a day or two after the anniversary.

It was only in 2002 that the police allowed a restricted number of Raj Gond people to pay their respects to their departed in their traditional fashion on April 20. In due course, the restrictions were eased despite clamping of prohibitory orders and police just maintained a watch on the proceedings connected with the homage.

In 2017, the ongoing differences between the Adivasis and Lambadas surfaced which took a violent turn in November. The former are accusing the latter of cornering all benefits which should have come to the ethnic people.

They are claiming that the process for inclusion of Lambada community in the list of Scheduled Tribes in 1976 was incomplete and hence demanding its expulsion from the list. Under charged circumstances there is scope for emotions getting frayed in such events which is why the police has kept the Indervelli police firing anniversary under close watch.

Significance of event this year

The government is apparently intending to keep tempers of the the Adivasis and the Lambadas under check so as to prevent any violence. The leadership of the Adivasi movement has reiterated its warning that Lambada government employees and officials will not be allowed by Adivasis to report to duty from June 1.

This could become an embarrassment for the government as it celebrates the fourth Telangana formation day on June 2. It can also test the patience of the government which has been lenient while dealing with the impasse.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 1:06:23 PM |

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