Bojja Tharakam and his legacy

This is a tribute to activist and artist Bojja Tharakam who left much more in the hearts of people than he did in his many published works.


It is hard to document a life, especially if the “life” in question has affected or improved thousands of other lives during its existence. One such example would be writer, poet, advocate and political activist Bojja Tharakam – an important figure in India’s long list of freedom fighters.

Tharakam had no Wikipedia page to his name on September 16, 2016, when he succumbed to a brain tumor. His legacy was preserved later in the virtual world when those indebted to the revered Telugu figure created a Wiki-page in his honour. Primarily the page records his contributions in the fight against the Tsundur massacre and the Karamchedu massacre in Andhra Pradesh.

These were killings of several Dalit people of Tsundur and Karamchedu villages who lost their lives in caste-violence. Tharakam fought for these massacred lives after quitting his job at the High Court as a form of protest. Thus, it makes sense that these two incidents would be the highlight of his legacy page, especially considering people still remember the man in revered tones.

However, according to close friend and activist Gita Ramaswamy, they hardly did justice to Tharakam’s work as an activist. She remembered even before the Karamchedu massacre of 1985 the advocate had fought for the lives of the marginalised. His work for the marginalised began in the late-1960s when he moved to Nizamabad to start his career as a lawyer. He fought his first case in Kakinada for two farmhands who were attacked by their landlord.

The farmhands’ families approached Tharakam because of his already-formed legacy as the son of an MLA Bojja Appalaswamy and as a leader of the Scheduled Caste Student Federation. Much to the rejoice of the families, he managed to get bail for the two farmhands. From then on, he went on to speak for those marginalised voices that could not speak. He even founded the Dalit Mahasabha in Andhra Pradesh in 1989 and worked to spread the teachings of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar within the community and especially within the youth.

Similarly, a simple search of Tharakam’s name also brings up a video by Dalit Camera wherein he laments the death of Rohith Vemula as a “blow to humanity.” He reminded people that cases like Vemula’s would continue as long as the caste system persisted in Indian society.

Amidst his fight for justice, he also found the time to write books and poems. Many of his works such as ‘Mahad: The March That’s Launched Every Day’, ‘In Quest of Equality: Indian Constitution Since Independence’ and ‘The River Speaks’ are available in English.

“I was always after him to write an autobiography but Tharakam did not think it proper to talk about oneself. This in itself was a novel virtue,” said Ramaswamy.

It seems near impossible to summarise the life of a man whose work helped Dalit and marginalised communities across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The 77-year-old was ahead of his times, not only in terms of activism but considering the attitude with which he faced life.

“If something affected him, he wouldn’t hold back his tears. He did not believe in that masculine ideology,” remembered Gita Ramaswamy when asked about the poet’s most striking memory.

Ramaswamy met Tharakam in the early 80s when NGO activity was growing. She remembered the first time she met the man, he was talking to another person and said, “You haven’t been arrested? And you call yourself an activist?”

His comment had left a deep impression on Ramaswamy but not as much as his deep love for knowledge. She described the man as a combination of “scholarship and activism” who was curious about everything. He even loved classical music despite its implicit relation to Brahminism. This is partly explained by the fact that both his father and grandfather were poets who loved to sing.

Tharakam seemed to have this tendency to appreciate concepts, items regardless of their conflicting nature. Even in terms of ideology, he believed in many Leftist ideas despite being a staunch supporter of Dalits – two social classes that did not seem to go along well then. At the same time, Tharakam did not shy away from criticising either of these social movements any more than he shied away from criticising the BJP regime.

In fact, the writer had written one of a four-part series of writings that criticised the RSS-appropriation of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Firmly against the RSS ideology, he called them anti-Dalit and anti-people.

When asked about how he would feel any bitterness about the current socio-political state of India, Ramaswamy vehemently dismissed the thought.

“He did not die with bitterness in his heart. Bitter people are those who simply sit and do nothing. Tharakam worked all his life. He would never be bitter,” she said.


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