Rachana Reddy Bollu is in the news, but not because she wants to be. The Chief Minister of Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), took her name during the Assembly session accusing her bitterly of “speaking blatant lies in court”, of placing serious barriers in the way of his government’s project which dispossess thousands of already distressed farmers of Telangana from their lands and villages.
In a disturbing new development, some supporters of the Chief Minister have taken to social media and have begun a campaign of calumny and character assassination against Rachana.
Three trolls – Aelikatte Shankar Rao, a former journalist who runs a Facebook page ‘Right Politics’, Srinivas Rao (alias Sawal Reddy) who runs the page ‘Point Blank’, and Sridevi Mantri – who are fans of KCR and support Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) have acquired notoriety for attacking any political dissent.
They have now unleashed a campaign of calumny against Rachana, calling her Surpanakha, Hidimbi, Shikhandi, and also calling her a doll who studied law, who is aligning with forces inimical to the development of Telangana. A Facebook post by Sridevi Mantri that compares Rachana to Silk Smitha and Mumaith Khan, is particularly abusive and utterly derogatory in its tone and what it implies.
Rachana is a practicing human rights lawyer. Hailing from Nizamabad, she studied in Hyderabad, Pune, and in UCLA, USA, where she specialised in Human Rights Law. After practicing for 5 years in USA, she relocated to India, taught for a few years at NALSAR, Hyderabad.
Since 2010, she has been practicing in Hyderabad, mostly taking up human rights cases. She was first in the news when she represented Smitha Sabharwal, the IAS officer posted in Chandrasekhar Rao’s office, against whom Outlook magazine carried derogatory sexist references.
Asked about the reason for being singled out this way, Rachana says it could be because she has taken up several cases of land acquisition for irrigation projects, mining and SEZs in Telangana.
The problems began for the Telangana government when it notified 16,000 acres of land to be acquired for Mallannasagar project, submerging some 14 villages and displacing 20,000 people. Protests began when the villagers came to know that the government has no intention of acquiring land under the Land Acquisition Act 2013 passed by the Parliament, but instead it is proposing to acquire land rapidly within 40 days of notifying GO 123, even before formulating a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the construction of the reservoir or assessing its social impact.
The protests intensified, leading to relay hunger strikes, lathi charges, and the imposition of prohibitory orders under Section 144 for nearly three months. When the process was legally challenged, the High Court struck down GO 123 of the Telangana government. The battle lines are now firmly drawn between the people and the government.
Rachana Reddy is one of the lawyers who is fighting cases on behalf of the farmers. The fact that the Chief Minister of Telangana himself chose to single her out by taking her name on the floor of the Assembly and went on to berate her saying that she spoke blatant lies in court appears to have given a signal to the trolls that Rachana is fair game for attack.
When asked for her reactions about getting trolled, Rachana says that she is not on social media and that she believes in doing her work based on the merits and demerits of each case. She says that, “GO 123 issued for land acquisition by the Telangana government is merely a sale agreement, without providing any benefits or protection for the farmers and others losing their lands and livelihoods, unlike the Land Acquisition Act 2013.” She says, the courts will finally decide.
As a young educated person, Rachana is playing a professional role in the process that appears to be beyond the comprehension of the government and its troll army of supporters. It suits the Chief Minister himself and his supporters to paint the process as a political tug-of-war instead of a human rights issue. They are maligning those who have chosen to seek their rights and justice through a legitimate judicial process, when the state has failed to listen to their problems.
The most distressing aspect of these supporters of the government is that women like Sridevi Mantri, use words like ‘vamp’, and make venomous personal comments about Rachana’s appearance which are possible only because of their deep-seated misogyny and patriarchy. In the middle of her post, Sridevi Mantri does not forget to call KCR her “bapu and God”.
In Telangana districts today, permissions for public meetings are denied routinely. Permissions are also being denied for meetings at the one small corner of Hyderabad city assigned for holding public protest meetings, the Dharna Chowk near Indira Park. This from a party that came to power by defying all rules of political engagement, holding cookouts on highways, stopping trains, and all forms of massive dislocation of normal life for over five years after 2009!
Vimalakka, who was a prominent participant in the state movement for a separate Telangana, is being strong-armed by locking her premises. Seven members of Telangana Democratic Front comprising High Court lawyers, Adivasi leaders, Dalit activists and students who were on a fact-finding visit were allegedly detained in Telangana and handed over to the Chhattisgarh police.
The whereabouts of seven young activists who were opposing the prospecting for diamond mining by DeBeers, the South African Diamond company, in Nallamala forests intruding into the Chenchu communities, ironically also opposed earlier by TRS members when they were fighting for separate Telangana state, are now unknown. They are believed to have been arrested at Vankeswaram.
It is quite clear that the leadership of the current dispensation in Telangana does not believe that democracy or Constitutional rights are for every citizen. Today, even the most legitimate form of exercising rights, seeking justice through a court of law, is criminalised and the law professionals are being intimidated. If the lawyer happens to be a woman, a character assassination campaign follows, dragging public discourse further down.
It is good to remember that India still holds elections every five years and unlike feudal times, the crown is not for keeps.