From The Atheist, May-June, 1989
Successful 70 day Unity March in A. P.
by A. Malathi

On December 26, last year, when the local legislator of Vijayawada was murdered, in Vijayawada town and four districts of Andra Pradesh, anti-social behaviour was let loose and nearly 800 crores (8 billion) rupees worth of property was destroyed in loot and arson. Also 60 lives were lost in disturbances and police firings.

Caste politics and power politics are not only responsible for the murder and the disturbances, they also have worsened the situation and created a fear psychosis among the people. The police and administrative machinery broke down. Continuously for 30 days curfew was clamped in Vijayawada town. Many towns and villages in the four districts also were under prolonged curfew. Neither the caste leaders nor the leaders of the political parties dared to go to the people, immediately, to pacify the warring groups and to console the victims.

This was the first time in Adrhra Pradesh such ugly incidents happened, so nakedly exploiting casteism. The slain legislator belonged to the Congress I. The accused is the legislator of the neighbouring constituency belonging to the Telugu Desam party. Telugu Desam party is the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh and the Congress I is in power at the Centre. The deceased belonged to the Kapu community where as the accused belongs to the Kamma caste. Both of them, before joining the respective political parties and getting elected to the state legislature, were leaders of two rival anti-social gangs. Thus party politics, exploitation of casteism and rivalry of gangsterism all got combined in this ugly situation. With the failure of the administration, people got terrorised by the conspiracy of circumstances. This all happened due to the fall of moral values and social obligations in our national life in general and in politics in particular. So, there was an urgent need to educate people on social values besides providing a healing touch and giving them courage and confidence to face the situation.

With such an objective and in such truing conditions the "Unity March" was conducted on foot for 70 days, covering 1400 k.m., passing through 400 villages and towns in Guntur, Krishna, West Godavari and East Fodavari districts. Mr. Lavanam and Mrs. Hemalata Lavanam who led the March are well known to the people not only as atheist leaders, but also as reputed social reformers. They have no caste and they belong to no political party. Along with them 25 men and women wasled all the distance. More than 400 men and women, mostly youth, walked between 2 days and 2 weeks. Thousands of people walked with them for shorter distances that is from village to village. More than 200 public meetings were addressed, and the March came in to contact with more than 400 thousand people. The March was started on January 30, the day of martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi, from Atheist Center Vijayawada and it ended at Kakinada on April 9.

The March was inaugurated by Mrs. Saraswathi Gora. More than 200 men and women participated in the March on the first day. Several well-wishers from all over the state and workers from four districts joined them. The Mayor of Vijayawada, Dr. J. Shankar, also walked with the marchers for some distance. The marchers carried placards "Jai Insaan" (Victory to the Humane Human), "Social outlook only beyond caste", "People's outlook only beyond political parties" and "Humanity only beyond religion".

Dr. Vijayam and Mr. C.T. Sasthry went in advance to make arrangements for lodging, boarding, meetings and publicity. At every place Social organizations like Rotary, Lions, Educational Institutions, Voluntary organisations engaged in development activity, Presidents of the village panchayat or the local body were involved in making arrangements. Persons belonging to different political parties like Congress I, Telugu Desam, Communist Party, Marxist Party, Janata Party and B. J. P. helped in making the arrangements and joined in welcoming the March to their villages.

In West Godavary district Mr. Ch. V.P. Murthy Raju, a Sarvodaya leader and a former Minister in the State Cabinet, took the responsibility of making arrangements throughout his district. He and his co-workers did a commendable job.

Though it was the season of agricultural operation throughout, the Unity March was well received both at the destination of the day and in the villages en route. Village elders and villagers gave a rousing reception at every place. At several places scores of students joined them and followed in the procession through the main streets. At some places women also in large numbers joined. Generally the Mandal Revenue Officer and the Mandal Development Officer received the Marchers on behalf of the District Administrations. At Masulipatnam more than a thousand graduate and post graduate students, including more than 200 girl students, joined by scores of their teaching staff, received the Unity March at the outskirts of the town and followed the procession. At Chilakaluripet, Movva and Bhimavaram also college students in large numbers took part in the procession with banners supporting the March. At Satulur, Pedanandipadu, Chebrolu, Chilumuru, Nagayalanka, Srikakulam, Gudlavalleru, Mudinepalli, Akiveedu, and Kapileswarapuram hundreds of High School students joined the welcome and the procession. On way to Fundugolanu, Pulla and Ungutur hundreds of Harijan women walked with the Marchers. These Students gave slogans and carried placards like, Success to Unity March, We want peace, Death to caste politics, Death to Casteism, Death to anti-social behaviour, All are humans -- All should live in Unity, Let National Integration Grow, and Social outlook is the need of the Hour. Local leaders belonging to all political parties, Mandal Praja Parishad Presidents, ex-legislators, ex-ministers, Freedom fighters and Social workers met Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam at many places and congratulated them for their bold initiative. Thus from the beginning the March was well received and supported by the people. The March roused enthusiasm and interest both among the common people and the intellectual alike.

Besides the public meeting every evening, there were special group meetings for students, teachers and women. Conferences with press persons were also arranged at many places and there was good coverage in the local press everywhere. At Srikakulam (Krishna) and Fanapavaram and Akiveed (West Fodavary) Cosmopolitan Dinners were organized where people belonging to various castes and religions sat and ate together.

Agriculturists and laboureres often greeted the Marchers from either side of the road. They used to run to the Marchers to greet Mr. and Mrs. Lavanam personally and to get pamphlets about the March. In East Godavary when the March was progressing on the canal bunds, people on the other side of the canal were eager to get the pamphlets. Small village boys offered their services. Holding the pamphlets with one hand high above the water they swam to the other side and delivered them. Mr. Malleswara Rao, President of Village Panchayat, Vuyyuruvari Meraka, attended the public meeting at Malikipuram. He was so much impressed that he felt very sorry that his villagers were not getting the benefit fo Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam's visit to that area. So, he persuaded Lavanam and in one hours' notice he organised a public meeting in his village a 9 in the night and 500 villagers gathered to listen to Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam. Likewise the villagers of Chandrampeta organised the public meeting in the afternoon before the evening meeting at Rangampeta. At several places groups of women demanded Mrs. Lavanam that she addressed them.

Generally Mr. Lavanam spoke for about one and half hours at every public meeting giving social and historical analysis of Indian politics during the British rule and after independence. He stressed the role and duties of people's representatives in a democracy as law makers. Hence, he cautioned, unless care was taken in electing the right people in right way the institution of people's representation and the government would be misused. So he appealed to the people to shed their weaknesses of succumbing to casteism, money, liquor and anti-social pressures. At the same time he appealed to political parties and their leaders not to degrade themselves and not to exploit the weaknesses of the people. He dealt with a variety of political, social and economic subjects from different angles in his lectures with a host of examples and stories. Mrs. Lavanam took family approach to discuss the problem and appealed to strengthen the family ties in order to keep the base healthy and strong. Both in rural and urban areas people listened to them with rapt attention and inquisitiveness.

Nagayalanka, Jayapuram and Mopidevi -- the three villages in Krishna district suffered heavily due to caste feuds. Particularly Jayapuram was a victim to large scale arson in which almost every house suffered and three persons were killed. It was a tale of horror. People ran away from the village in fear and for three days took shelter in the near by villages. So, naturally when the politicians belonging to both Congress and Telugu Desam visited the village, they faced a very hostile situation. Even the fact finding missions also were humiliated. So, people were very skeptical and apprehensive of the visit of Unity March to those villages. But the villagers dispelled all suspicions by according a very cordial welcome, narrating their tales of horror in detail showing all the concerned places and listening to Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam with respect and attention. When asked, one of the villagers commented: "What we need today is not mere sympathy nor rubbing on the wong side in the name of fact finding. We need a healing touch of forgive and forget and an opportunity to promote harmonious relations with our neighbours. That is what exactly Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam are doing. So if we don't welcome them whom else we can?" The sobre, gentle, philosophic and humane touch provided by Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam was eagerly grasped by the villagers and it did break the ice.

At another place in West Godavary within a very short distance of half a k.m. two different receptions were organised. Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam went through without raising even an eyebrow. The two receptions were separately organised by the two communities at logger heads. The contempt went to such an extent both of them got even two separate bus stops to their respective areas. After taking hospitality and addressing the first group, quietly the marchers proceeded to the next group. But the marchers saw that the leaders of the first group went with them to the second group. As soon as the second group received the marchers, the leaders of the first group wanted to go back. But they were invited by the leaders of the second group for breakfast with Mr. & Mrs. Lavanam. In such a smooth situation they could not say "no". At the time of the meeting, welcoming the Marchers, the leader of the second group apologised for the two separate receptions and said, had there been a bit of careful planning and a little more time both groups together would have arranged one reception. Responding to this the leader of the first group also apologised to Lavanam and they freely mixed and talked to the leaders of the second group. Lavanam said there was no need for apologies as it was only natural to react in such a way under stress and strain. He was happy that both of them talked of joint reception and that itself was a proof of their genuine feelings and mutual good will.

It is no wonder that the Unity March was compared with the Dandi March and Naukhali March of Mahatma Gandhi, the Bhoodan padayatra of Vinoba Bhave and the Sevagram-Delhi foot march and the Peach March in Nalgonda district of Gora.

In the March Mr. Lavanam carried a bundle of flags of various political parties along with a flagless pole, to drive home the point that government does not belong to any political party alone, but it belongs to all people in the country. Lavanam explains that the flags represent the people in those respective parties and the flagless pole represents the people who do not belong to any political party. Together the flags and the flagless pole represent the whole nation, people and the society. It was a visual demonstration that government belonging to all people and the whole nation none should be excluded. It was a big attraction to the people.

As the March progressed there was a demand from the people for a follow up programme. The seminar of intellectuals and social organisations held on May 21 at Vijayawada was an outcome of those developments.

Mr. Babulal Sarma, a journalist from Delhi spent two weeks with the March and wrote an article in Jana Satta a Hindi Daily. He was happy that the Unity March was an opportunity for the younger generation to participate, to experience, to learn and to emulate an example.

Dr. Sarma Maria, Secretary, India Unity Forum of West Germany, specially came and participated in the March for 20 days in West and East Godavary districts. He hails from Kakinada but got educated and settled down in West Germany. He was so much impressed with the March, he got a video picture made of the progress of the Unity March in West Godavary district for showing it in Europe that, how people are being trained in India in the democratic way to solve their problems and how to respond in difficult situations of that kind.

When the Unity March reached Kakinada on the 70th day on April 9, on the outskirts it was received by the Vice-Chairman of Kakinda Municipal Council and several councillors, besides several doctors, lawyers, social workers, businessmen and interested citizens. Once again, like the inaugural day several well-wishers from all the four districts joined the last day of the March. In the evening a well attended public meeting was held in Rice Millers Association Hall under the chairmanship of Mr. J. Sriramamurthy, Chairman, Kakinada Municipal Council. Those who congratulated the successful completion of the Unity March included Mr. C. V. K. Rao, former Municipal Chairman and ex-M.L.A. and Mohammod Zainul Abe-Din, retired Joint Director of Agriculture. The Marchers were felicitated and presented with mementoes by Mr. M. Narsibabu, and advocate and Secretary of the Reception Committee.

After an hour long speech narrating the experiences of the March, radiating the waves of hope for the future and confidence to make it a better one, amidst thunderous applause, Mr. Lavanam declared that the Unit March was concluded. But he added, it was only the beginning of another step towards the improvement of democracy. He thanked all those who made it a success.

Digitized and proofread by John R. Edwards. Permission to reprint in digital form obtained by Mr. Edwards from Lavanam, Atheist Centre, Vijayawada, India. This article may be reproduced in any form provided the article is not altered, and proper credit is given for publication, digitizing and authorship.