by Keith Carey and Kumar James
The Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh remains in turmoil as its citizens search for justice, identity, and light. (Many derivations of the word “Andhra” include the connotation of the word dark, whether relating to its inaccessible dark forests or to the ancient peoples themselves .)
Next month, September 13, marks the first anniversary of the beginning of an indefinite statewide “strike by all sections of the people.” On that day, government employees, lawyers, and health workers were joined by teachers, transportation employees, sanitation employees, electric company employees, and others in a walkout lasting 25 days. The strike shut down the transportation systems, courts, and mining, even throwing swaths of southern India into darkness due to the resulting power shortages.
For many decades there has been unrest in the 10 northwestern districts of the state of Andhra Pradesh known as the Telangana. It has risen to a fevered pitch more recently as their leaders make claims concerning inequitable treatment vis-à-vis their Telugu neighbors in the better-educated and more prosperous coastal districts of the state. The Telangana leaders claim that their area constitutes 41 percent of the population and contributes 76 percent of the state revenues, while receiving less than 10 percent of the state budget for primary schools in this “backward” (meaning comparatively impoverished and undereducated) area.
This sense of disunity has not always existed. Under the Mauryan Dynasty, King Ashoka ruled most of what is now India and beyond from 269 to 232 BC. He propagated Buddhism throughout the region and claimed that Andhra was following the same peaceful non-violent dharma that Ashoka had embraced . The succeeding Satavahana dynasty (230 BC to 220 AD) then successfully defended the area against multiple foreign invasions from the north over the next four centuries. However, the Telugus were later conquered by the Hindu Kannada Chalukyas to the west, and then by the Chola Dynasty from their Hindu Tamil neighbors to the south. At the height of their reign (1000-1200AD), the Chola extended their rule up to the Godavari River in Telugu country.
It is during this time that the first written Telugu poetry was recorded, along with a common Telugu-Kannada script. A source of local pride, the lilt of the spoken Telugu has led outsiders to refer to the language as “The Italian of the East.”
Telugus returned to power over what is largely now Andhra Pradesh in the 11th century during the Kakatiya Dynasty (1083 – 1323 AD), putting an end to the Tamil Cholas’ control. Islam subsequently became the dominant force in the area in the 14th century. A drought led the ruler, Ibrahim Qutub Shah, in 1562 to commission the construction of Hussain Sagar, a reservoir on the Musli River around which he built the new capital of Hyderabad. Eventually, Hyderabad became an independent kingdom, with the (king) Nizam’s reign extending throughout the Telangana and beyond. Unlike coastal Andhra districts, which eventually became part Britain’s Madras Presidency, the Telangana was never British ruled—and as such, it was not a beneficiary of British educational development.
In the 1940s, as the cry for Indian independence began to rise, exploited peasants led by local Marxist elements formed a rebellion against the feudal system that was perpetuated under the Nizam. Unmoved by the cries for freedom, the Nizam tried to keep his lands as a separate and independent princely state. But on September 17, 1948, just one month after independence, the Indian Army annexed Hyderabad into the union and later squelched the uprising. Though peace was restored, organizing the states would prove to be another challenge.
Unlike many parts of northern India that are united under Hindi as the mother tongue, the southern Indian peoples who speak Dravidian languages like Telugu, maintain very strong and distinct identities. Telugus did not want to be a part of a Tamil-language dominated state, then known as Madras. Potti Sreeramulu, an advocate of having a separate Telugu speaking state, actually fasted until he died in 1952, making him an honored martyr for Telugu speakers. There were demonstrations and even riots in the months to come by Telugu speakers who insisted on having their own state. In November of 1953, the Indian government gave in, and Andhra Pradesh—the coastal and southern districts—was granted statehood based on linguistic identity. This had a ripple effect throughout the country. From then on, India’s states were often formed based on language. However, it was not until November 1st, 1956, that Telangana’s concerns about water rights, revenue usage and education could be assuaged, and Telangana was incorporated into what is now the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Today, Telangana’s leadership feels the people’s initial concerns about equality in water rights, education, and representation have not been adequately addressed. Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, head of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), or the Telangana Ruling Party, like Potti Sreeramulu before him, pledged to fast unto death for a separate Telangana state. Union Minister of Home Affairs P. Chidambaram announced on December 9, 2009 that the process of Telangana statehood would begin, and Rao broke his 11-day fast claiming a “true victory of the people of Telangana.” The union government commissioned a study on the issue, but then recommended that the state remain unified. As a result, widespread chaos and animosity in the region continues.
The Telugu-speaking peoples are deeply passionate. They are an enterprising people, leading in social reform. They were among the first people groups in India to emigrate to countries outside of the subcontinent such as Java, Indonesia, Burma, and Assam. Today, the Telugu Diaspora number over two million, residing in various places including Mauritius, Malaysia, South Africa, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
The Telugu people also have international fame through their film and television industry, which has an international reach. “Tollywood,” catering to India’s 77 million Telugu speakers, is second in size only to Bollywood’s Hindi-language movie industry in Mumbai. Telugu television and movie channels are available in the US, UK, and throughout the Middle East, as well as South, East and Southeast Asia.
Visitors and travelers feel a special attraction to the homeland of the Telugu. One of Andhra Pradesh’s main pilgrimage sites is the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, which is visited by 50-100 thousand pilgrims per day; this totals to between 30 and 40 million visitors per year. It is the richest and most visited holy place in the world. No one knows for sure when this temple was first erected, though some think it was in the early 16th century. Devotees of Lord Venkateswara love this temple which houses an eight-foot idol of this Hindu deity considered to be the main source of the temple’s “energy.” Continuing a pattern followed for hundreds of years, Hindu devotees have donated jewels worth millions of Indian rupees as offerings to this deity which is said to symbolize goodness. Andhra Pradesh is also home to Hindu saints of all castes, including the infamous modern day “saints” Sri Sathya Sai Baba and Sri Sivabala Yogi Maharaj.
Islam is also strong in this part of India, particularly in Hyderabad, Andhra’s capital city. Though only nine percent of the state is Islamic, this city is about 40 percent Muslim. Hyderabad is the hub for the 14 million unreached Deccani Muslims.
Hyderabad is also a key center for Christian ministries. More than 200 Christian organizations are housed in this fast-growing city; many of them are focusing on research and strategy. Several new strategic outreaches are at various stages and may soon be launched. Let’s pray that their work will result in multiplying Christ-centered fellowships for every unreached people group in the region.
(Most prayer requests taken from Operation World)
Thank God that many people groups in the Telugu-speaking region are being reached! Tribal peoples are especially receptive.
1—Pray for Andhra Pradesh’s low status Dalits. In recent years there have been large-scale conversions to Christ, but also “re-conversions” back to Hinduism. Pray that new believers will be grounded in Christ and not fall into the trap of making religious adherence a means towards political or social gain.
2—Pray for the unreceptive castes to find their way to the cross.
3—Pray for a massive movement to Christ among the 14 million Deccani Muslims of this region.
4—Pray for a Christ-ward movement among all 16 people groups of over 100,000 that remain unreached.
5—Currently there is a large-scale immigration to Hyderabad from all over India. Pray for the efforts of believers in Hyderabad to reach the many newcomers to this exciting city.
6—Pray that Telugu peoples will find their true identity in Jesus Christ, who alone can provide true peace and justice for all.
7—Pray that the Telugu believers will carry the Lord of Light around the world, and that many expatriates will find Him.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
This might be one of our most controversial GPD issues. Our biography is about a Christian brother who is using Hindu social forums in order to break through cultural barriers and get people together so they can hear about the true Savior. Though it is both controversial and risky, please keep an open mind when you read our biography of Kantha on the first four days. I usually keep mission approaches and tactics out of the GPD so that the readers won’t be distracted from praying. And we are not making a statement for or against any methods of evangelism. Yet we have to ask ourselves, isn’t it better for people to be able to find Christ without first having to go to a church that feels foreign to them? Pray for Kantha and others like him, that they will bring Christ to their Hindu neighbors in a way that honors Him without compromising the truth of the gospel.
I also want to say that I never expected to have a GPD issue featuring the Telugu branch of languages. This is because many who speak this language or its dialects in south India are already reached. But recently I learned that there are still many people groups in this area that have either not responded to the gospel or have not been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. They are as unreached as the Rajasthani and Bengali speakers we will pray for the next two months.
Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD