HYDERABAD: Born in a Banjara family in Bhallu Naik Thanda, a small hamlet at Miryalguda Mandal in Nalgonda, Surya Dhananjay lost her father when she was five. She was raised by her mother. She used to walk for five kms from her home in the village to reach her school and had a tough time pursuing her studies as there was no encouragement for the girls’ education. She completed the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam and joined the Intermediate course. At 16, she was married to Dhananjay Naik, the couple shifted to Hyderabad and later she finished her education. Now, with a doctorate in Telugu literature and various awards and honours Prof Surya heads the Telugu Literature department in Osmania University. This year she received the Women Achievers Award from the government of Telangana and as the ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ was celebrated on Sunday, we ask her about her challenges, life trajectory, achievements and more. Excerpts:
You were the ninth daughter in your family, what inspired you to continue your education at a time when most women, especially from the Lambada community, are discouraged to study?
My mother was my inspiration, and my elder siblings used to encourage me as well. Though I was eager to go for higher education, my mother was unable to morally support me as there was no practice of sending girls outside the village. My husband Dr. Dhananjay Naik, Asst. Commissioner of State tax, TS, encouraged me to study further. After completing my PhD, I joined as Asst. Professor of Telugu in Osmania University, in 1999 and now I am a Professor.
Have you ever faced gender-based or community-based discrimination?
There have been many such occasions when I faced discrimination, I faced it boldly without fearing the consequences. I always focused on my goals which gave me strength to go on.
How do young Lambada girls take you as a figure of inspiration?
Many girls from the tribal community take me as a role model and view my trajectory as an inspiration to study. Many home-makers chose to continue their studies after meeting me. I run the NGO to support young people from the tribal community. It’s high time the government came up with schemes of providing compulsory education for tribal girls.
August 9 was ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020’. Do such days bring a difference in the lives of the people from the community?
Such days should not be celebrated just for the namesake. Instead, such a day should be a day of review for the benefits given to the indigenous people. Many from the tribal communities are losing their lands and identities thanks to urban demands for space. But who’s going to protect their languages, culture and traditions? The governments ought to implement realistic and beneficial schemes for the betterment of the communities through social inclusion, while keeping alive their tradition and identity.
What are the challenges that the community faces right now and how can it be fixed?
Banjaras are indigenous people, who were nomadic tribes from ancient times and do not have a documented history. But, they maintain their old language, attire, culture and tradition. Unfortunately, most of their traditions are fading away. As their ‘Gorboli’ language does not have script, their history stays alive through oral traditions. They face discrimination because of this. There is a need to record their history and protect their language and oral traditions. Their language need to be developed by adopting ‘Devanagari’ script and including the same in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution on par with the other languages like Dogri, Konkani, Manipuri and Bodo spoken by a lesser number of people. There should be a separate academy for Banjaras.
What do you think the state should do to ensure that the Lambadas blend in happily with the society while they retain their nativity?
In Telangana, many from the community have been living in plain areas and the schemes implemented to the tribes living in agency areas are not being implemented for their benefit. Whereas, most of the funds are being utilised and expended in the agency areas through ITDAs and Banjaras who constitute about 65% of the total tribal population of the state need more funds. Therefore, there is a need to allocate the Tribal Sub-plan funds for the Banjaras of Telangana State on proportionate to their population and establish a separate Tanda Development Corporation (TDC) for the development of the Banjaras in the lines of Karnataka, where Banjaras are getting benefit through ‘Karnataka Tanda Development Corporation’.
How do you see the future of Telugu language and literature since you hold the position of HOD in OU in the department?
Since Telugu language is now recognised as an ancient language by the Government of India, there is a lot of scope for its development and exploring ancient manuscripts. There is an urgent need for implementation of Telugu language in various levels of education and practice in government organisations as it has a lot of potential of creation of employment in the fields of teaching, journalism, archaeology and many more fields.
In 2019, we celebrated centenary celebrations in commemoration of 100 years of formation of Telugu Department in Osmania University. We are encouraging students and scholars to promote their writing skills in Telugu literature by organising the seminars/workshops every month.
— Saima Afreen