book review Land Guns Caste Woman
Why I Picked This Book?

The title of the book Land, Guns, Caste, Woman – The Memoir of a Lapsed Revolutionary drew my attention. I searched about Gita Ramaswamy and found her an interesting personality. A women and poor rights activists while in college, part of the left organisation for a brief period, co-founder of Hyderabad Book Trust and then an activist working in the remote villages of Telangana (Then part of Andhra Pradesh) with the poor landless and bonded labourers.

The Book

The book is a memoir of Gita Ramaswamy. The author takes the readers through her family background and childhood days to give a perspective where her family belongs in the societal hierarchy. The book then takes the readers into the journey of the life of Gita Ramaswamy, her college days and the activism during the college days. Her gradual inclination towards the communist party and later her disillusion with their politics. Her foray into publication, where she co-founded Hyderabad Book Trust and published many books. She was doing fine, but somehow not satisfied with what she was doing, and then happened Ibhrahimpatanam, where she worked with the poor, landless and bonded labourers to help them get their land.

While reading the book the readers will get to know many aspects of Gita’s life, the challenges she faced and how she overcame them. But along with that it is study of the rural society of Telangana, the social and economic structure of the various villages. The conditions of bonded labourers, the conditions of Dalit and poor villagers, the cheating, and atrocities of the rich and powerful landlords in cahoots with the police and local administration.

 It was indeed a great achievement on part of Gita to unite people against the powerful landlords and the system which was against them. It was tough to organise people and instil a confidence in them to fight for their rights. Gita did it successfully and people of the area benefitted from it. For the readers it might or might not be of any significance but to that individual who got a piece of land registered in his name, or who were officially released from being a bonded labourer or whose daily wage is increased as per the law it meant everything.

Due to our efforts, more than fifteen hundred bonded labourers were officially released and rehabilitated, another 1420 released unofficially and their debt repudiated. Agricultural wages rose from a range of eight annas to two rupees to a range of four to five rupees for women; from a range of six to seven rupees to twelve to fifteen rupees for men; monthly wages of farmhands rose from sixty to eighty rupees to 180-300.

The book is an open and honest account of author’s life and work. As I said earlier the book is not only a memoir of Gita, but along with that it tells us so much about the rural Telangana as a society. The composition of various castes and their placement and treatment in the society. The hardships of people at the lower rung of the society and how they deal with it.

The takeaway for me from the book is – action is always greater than thinking. If something is wrong and you are not comfortable about it, then you need to get on the ground to fix it. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change anything unless you “do” something about it.

About The Author

Gita Ramaswamy is best known for her work with Hyderabad Book Trust that has published over four hundred titles since 1980. HBT pioneered low-cost books and translations from across the world—from Alex Haley to Mahasweta Devi. She was earlier associated with the Marxist–Leninist movement in Telangana. Going underground during the Emergency in 1975 with her husband Cyril Reddy, she taught English in a dalit basti in Ghaziabad, near Delhi. Starting in 1984, she worked for a decade with the dalits of Ibrahimpatnam and helped them in their fight against bonded labour and landlessness. Gita has authored several books and has translated extensively from Telugu into English.

Our Verdict

Land, Guns, Caste, Woman – The Memoir of a Lapsed Revolutionary is an honest and wonderful memoir of Gita Ramaswamy. Anyone who is interested in reading non-fiction will surely like this book. For those who don’t like non-fiction it could be a difficult read.

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