The Memoir of a Lapsed Revolutionary
1980s. Ibrahimpatnam, Telangana, South India. Landless dalits are caught between a reddy and a hard place. The wealthy reddys are like movie villains, brandishing whips and guns.
Enter Gita Ramaswamy, thirty years old. In her teens, Gita had escaped the brahminical clutches of her family that tried to cure her of Naxalism with shock treatment and sedation. She has endured the horrors of the Emergency. She is disillusioned. But not without hope. Gita starts living with the agricultural labourers. They are in bondage, cheated out of land and all rights. They are in the mood to fight. Together, they take on the tyrannical landlords who brutalized the villages for generations. A revolution without a gun is in the making.
Gita writes with relentless self-reflexivity. This is as much a story of struggles and victories as it is a testimony of personal failings and regrets.
Gita Ramaswamy is best known for her work with Hyderabad Book Trust that has published over four hundred titles since 1980. HBT pioneered low-cost books and translations from across the world—from Alex Haley to Mahasweta Devi. She was earlier associated with the Marxist–Leninist movement in Telangana. Going underground during the Emergency in 1975 with her husband Cyril Reddy, she taught English in a dalit basti in Ghaziabad, near Delhi. Starting in 1984, she worked for a decade with the dalits of Ibrahimpatnam and helped them in their fight against bonded labour and landlessness. Gita has authored several books and has translated extensively from Telugu into English.
In the media
‘Land, Guns, Caste, Woman is both an important book and a deeply pleasurable one’—Scroll
An excerpt from the book was published on Scroll.
‘Before Gita Ramaswamy told her story no other educated Brahmin woman, told us historical facts of Brahmin life’—Counter Currents
‘Gita Ramaswamy’s memoir eshews all formats and frameworks, it celebrates nuance and completely defies pigeonholing’—Business Standard
‘A book like no other … a fierce critique of what is wrong with the Indian Left, what ails the judiciary, and why the poor cannot get justice’—The Hindu
‘Beautiful … the personal and the political are intertwined tightly in Gita Ramaswamy’—The Wire
‘Remarkably clear-eyed. … A story of passion and compassion, of a full and considered life’—India Today
‘Riveting. Essential reading about the complexities of caste and gender relations that make up the intimate life of politics, citizenship, law and violence’—The India Forum
‘Ramaswamy used her privileges not just for the benefit of the underprivileged, but to rip out the accepted norm of extreme exploitation’—Frontline
‘Poignant, deeply moving. … A remarkable book’—Raiot
‘A compelling memoir. … A heady reminder to not give in to despair when confronted with seemingly intractable power’—Hindustan Times
‘A saga of relentless struggle against oppression: of caste, of family, and of feudal lords in Telangana’—The Federal
A conversation with Gita Ramaswamy in Maidaanam.
A report from the launch of the book at Ooty Literature Festival.
An interview with Aatika Singh on the movement and its implications, on TwoCircles.
An interview with Gita on Enquiry with Shoma Chaudhury:
Gita sits down for a conversation with Prof Chaman Lal, on his channel AmbedkarNaama:
The launch of the book in New Delhi at the Press Club, with Nandini Sundar
An interview on NewsClick:
A discussion of the book at the HLF
‘I read this book with a mix of awe, admiration and envy. I was mesmerized’
Naseeruddin Shah, actor
‘No other story of an Indian woman has ever been told like this’
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, thinker
‘Gita has dedicated her whole life to a movement that serves people’
N.V. Ramana, chief justice of India
‘We fought the police, trekked to courts, were even jailed. But we prevailed’
Doonimetla Satyamma, peasant
‘At once personal and intense, a classic for ages to come’
Shantha Sinha, activist
‘Dangerous to your complacency. Read it before they begin to protest its honesty’
Jerry Pinto, writer
‘The story of a restless soul in search of the path towards change’
Bezwada Wilson, activist
‘Brutally honest… Gita unpicks her own position as a savarna involved in dalit activism’
T.M. Krishna, musician
‘A remarkable woman in whom courage is coupled with conviction’
Srinath Reddy, doctor
‘I was captivated. She writes movingly with passion and candour’
Jairam Ramesh, politician
‘In the history of Eliminedu, there is Before Gita Ramaswamy and After’
Gattu Vijayendar, student
‘The dalits are as much at the centre as the memoirist herself’
C. Rammanohar Reddy, editor
‘A must read for every idealistic person in the country’
Suhasini Mulay, actor
‘A heart-wrenching story of Gita and the lives of the people who mattered to her’
Sanjaya Baru, journalist
‘The Sangam transformed our lives. Once a landless labourer, I even contested local-body elections’
Nagati Bacchamma, labourer
‘Deeply self-reflexive… with a lurking humour and enduring hope’
Urvashi Butalia, publisher