When tenant farmer Kura Suresh doused Abdullapurmet tehsildar Vijaya Reddy with petrol and set her ablaze in her office in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district on November 4, he was reportedly driven by anger over her refusal to grant him a pattadar (land owner) passbook. The 34-year-old farmer needed the passbook to ascertain ownership over seven acres of land that he claimed his family had been cultivating since 1956. When he came to confront Reddy, he had with him a copy of a land deed registered in 1996.
Reddy, who was 37, died on the spot. Her driver, who tried to save her, died the next day. Two days later, Suresh, who had sustained 60% burns, also succumbed to his injuries. On Monday, Reddy’s attender K. Chandraiah, who was in a critical state for almost a month, also died, taking the death toll in the incident to four.
The murder was condemned by political leaders and sent shockwaves among Telangana’s revenue officials, who struck work for several days in protest. Revenue office workers in Karimnagar district narrowly averted a repeat of the incident on November 19 when they overpowered a farmer, identified as Kanakaiah, who sprinkled petrol on them and tried to set them on fire. Like Suresh, Kanakaiah reportedly wanted the office to grant him a pattadar passbook. With three other instances of disgruntled farmers laying siege to revenue offices reported in the interim, the government heightened security in some revenue offices.
On closer inspection, Reddy’s murder is not just a grisly incident evoking fear and condemnation. It serves as a window to the disquiet among Telangana’s farmers in the backdrop of the government’s two-year-old “purification” drive to settle land disputes and a coincidental real estate boom in Ranga Reddy district.
The pattadars of Telangana
On November 8, the day after Suresh was cremated, his wife Latha...