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Remembering Osmania University’s Contribution to Public Life

Adapa Satyanarayana (adapas8@gmail.com)retired from the Department of History, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

For over a 100 years Osmania University has been a global centre of learning that served as a mirror and conscience keeper of society. Through its history it has not only educated the young, empowering them to find better employment, but it has also been a space that inculcated radical ideas in students who fought for systemic change and a more equal society. The university remains the most important institution for first-generation students from downtrodden backgrounds in the region. Today, the university is facing significant challenges, which must be addressed to safeguard this historic institution.

The author thanks the referee for comments and suggestions. He is also thankful to Ghanta Chakrapani and K Srinivasulu for their help in writing this article.

The establishment of Osmania University heralded a new era in the field of higher education in the erstwhile Hyderabad state, of which the Telangana region was an integral part. On the 26 April 1917, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam promulgated a farman by which the new university was designed to take full advantage of “all that is best in the ancient and modern systems of physical, intellectual and spiritual culture” (Datla 2013: 50). The Nizam stated,

In the Hyderabad Dominions a University should be established in which the ancient and modern, oriental and occidental arts, sciences are synthesised in such a manner that the defects of the present system of education are rectified. (Datla 2013: 50)

The ideal of imparting higher education through the regional languages of India was a revolt against the dominance of the English language in India under British colonial rule.

The Nizam sought to correct “the defects of the present system” and protect his subjects from Eurocentric intellectual thraldom. He also felt that the founding of a new university was indispensable for imparting education and furthering research through the medium of a vernacular language, that is, Urdu. The justification given for the adoption of Urdu was that “it is the official language of the State and understood by a vast majority of the population of the State.” The farman stated,

The fundamental principal in the working of the university should be that Urdu should form the medium of higher education, but that knowledge of English as a language should at the same time be deemed compulsory for all students. (Datla 2013: 50)

According to the farman, the primary objective of the university was to promote the study of literature, arts, science, philosophy, history, medicine, commerce, law, agriculture, and other branches of knowledge as well as imparting physical, moral, technical and professional training.

To achieve the goals outlined in the farman, Mir Osman Ali Khan sanctioned a scheme for the establishment of a university in Hyderabad whose roots would be firmly based in oriental culture, though they would also derive benefits from Western knowledge. Indeed, the establishment of Osmania University was a continuation of the traditions of Dar-ul-Ulm, the first oriental college established in the mid-19th century by Sir Salar Jung, during the reign of sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, which combined the best elements of Eastern and Western learning.

Non-English Higher Education

By founding an Urdu-medium university, the first of its kind in British India, an attempt was made to democratise and liberate knowledge which was imprisoned in the “treasure-houses” of foreign languages. To popularise the regional language as a medium of higher education, a Bureau of Compilations and Translations was established in August 1917 with Moulvi Abdul Haq as its head. It was a unique institution which contributed to the intellectual enrichment of the university. The bureau had undertaken translation of scientific, technical and medical books in English, Persian, Arabic and other European languages into Urdu. Hundreds of books relating to the faculties of arts and social sciences, the sciences, law, engineering, medicine, and education were translated and made available to students. The commendable work done by the translation bureau of the university was acknowledged by scholars.

Thus, the Osmania University was conceived by intellectuals as a renaissance in the Indian educational system. During the pre-independence period, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, undertook the daring experiment of using one of the regional languages as a medium of instruction in higher education. Rabindranath Tagore observed,

I have long been waiting for the day when, freed from the shackles of a foreign language, our education becomes naturally accessible to all our people. It is a problem for the solution of which we look to our Native States, and it gives me great joy to know that your State proposes to found a university in which instructions are to be given through the medium of Urdu. It is needless to say that your scheme has my fullest appreciation. (Shahane et al nd: 4)

While C Rajagopalachari described that the Osmania University is a “true Vidyapeeth, the Swadeshi University of India” (Telangana Today 2017). One of the basic ideals of the university has been the achievement of an intellectual synthesis of the best oriental and occidental knowledge. The other ideal of the university has been a cultural synthesis—which is also reflected in the architectural style of the university buildings.

Osmania University was the seventh oldest university in India and third oldest in South India and it has significantly contributed to the academic and intellectual development of not only the region but also of the country. The founder of the university envisaged the development of national ethos by the creation of an academic institution in which “national integration” is a noble ideal and a tangible reality. Osman Ali Khan remarked,

It is my earnest desire that the university should cooperate with other Indian Universities in preparing the way for a scientific renaissance which will contribute to the material progress and prosperity of India, and at the same time secure for her an honoured place in the ranks of the nations who lead in enlightenment and culture. (Telangana Today 2017)

Academic and Social Profile

During the reign of the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan (1911–48), there was noticeable growth in higher education. With the founding of Osmania University in 1918, demand for higher education increased in the Telangana region. The budget allocation for education and health in the Nizam’s dominions increased from ₹21.75 lakh in 1911 to ₹428.41 lakh in 1948 (Report on the Administration of H E m the Nizam’s Dominions for the respective years). The Nizam’s government also established several intermediate, degree, and professional colleges, including a separate college for [zanana] women. The first quarter of the 20th century witnessed the establishment of premier educational institutions like the City College, the Medical College, the Engineering College, Teacher Training College, etc. The university first conducted intermediate examinations in 1921, while the first Bachelor of Arts (BA) examinations were held in 1923. Subsequently a law course was launched to provide professional training to graduates and undergraduates. In addition, courses in theology, arts and sciences too were soon introduced. The university held its first Master of Arts (MA) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB>) examinations in 1925 and opened the University College of Medicine in 1927. The university also introduced the departments of chemistry, physics, English, civil engineering, and mathematics, as these courses were a major requirement at that time. Later, the university introduced PhD programme in 1938. With a modest beginning in the early years of its existence with student strength of 225, and 25 staff members, the Osmania University expanded with rapid speed and it made great strides. The University College of Arts began with a modest student strength of 143 in 1919, which grew to 465 by 1922 (Report on the Administration of H E m the Nizam’s Dominions).

The period between 1917 and 1948 witnessed a growth of secondary and higher education in the Hyderabad state. Like all other institutions in the Nizam’s dominion, the University College of Arts witnessed several changes since its inception. Most important of all, it saw the gradual increase in student enrolment and the addition of new departments, and courses of study to those of traditional disciplines. Historical evidence indicates that the faculty of arts in the University College of Arts was started with two professors and comprised 12 departments. The total numbers of colleges under the university’s jurisdiction was 40 and the student strength increased to 17,354 by 1948. In order to maintain academic standards, the Nizam’s government invited a number of scholars of eminence from different parts of India, and also employed European scholars. Among the social sciences, the history department was one of the earliest to be established in the Osmania University and it was headed by eminent historians like Haroon Khan Sherwani. Along with arts and social science disciplines, medical, engineering, science, and law faculties also attracted eminent scholars from all over India.

A unique contribution of Osmania University was towards the development of scientific, vocational, and technical education. Osmania scholars occupied prominent positions in the Nizam’s administration and contributed for the development of the state. The outstanding contribution of Nawab Ali Nawaz Jung through the development of irrigation projects is noteworthy. Likewise, the establishment of scientific laboratories and research institutes like the Nizamiah Observatory became the precursor to the Centre for Advanced Study in Astronomy, and the Industrial Laboratory became the Regional Research Laboratory. During the pre-independence period, eminent educationists such as Nawab Mehdi Yar Jung, Nawab Sir Masood Jung, Nawab Ali Yavar Jung shaped the secular fabric of the university and Urdu became the “Worldly Vernacular” (Datla 2009) and “the Language of Secular Islam” in the Hyderabad state.

Nevertheless, the peculiar socio-economic system prevailing under the Asaf Jahi dynasty facilitated the growth of educated elite predominantly drawn from the feudal/aristocratic families of upper caste Muslims and Hindus. The language policy of the government was advantageous for the Urdu-speaking urban elite from communities like Muslims, Parsis, Kayasthas, and a small elite section of Hindus. Thus besides the urban Muslim elites, rural dominant castes like Brahmins, Velamas and Reddies from the Telangana region also enrolled in Osmania University in pursuit of higher education. In the 1920s,> non-Brahmin castes like Velamas, Reddys, Kapus, Padmashalis and others established hostels in the Hyderabad city and encouraged their fellow caste-men to pursue modern education. For instance, the Reddy Hostel facilitated the growth of education among their community. Some of the occupation-based other backward communities like the Padmashalis (weavers), Goudas (toddy tappers), etc, also formed caste associations and established hostels to encourage education among them. As a result they could be seen entering into services at the lower levels. However, Dalits were conspicuously absent in the echelons of higher education, though Bhagya Reddy Varma, the Adi-Hindu leader, promoted primary education in the Telugu medium.

Post-1956 Scenario

In 1948, after “Police Action,” when the Nizam’s rule was abolished and Hyderabad state was integrated into the Indian Union, Osmania University entered a new phase (Shahane et al nd). In 1949, English replaced Urdu as the medium of instruction. The formation of the Andhra Pradesh in 1956 had a profound impact on the academic structure of Osmania University. In terms of social background of the university teaching community and students, the post-1950 period represented the overwhelming presence of caste Hindu elites and a sharp decline of Urdu-speaking Muslim communities. The university registered a steady growth in student enrolment and the period 1958–68 witnessed tremendous expansion. Under the able administration of vice chancellors like D S Reddy and Suri Bhagavantam, the university responded to the new imperatives of higher education by undertaking many reforms. During the tenure of Reddy, the accelerated pace of academic growth was largely due to his unique personality, which “embodied a sense of the value of past tradition, coupled with an active understanding of the need for innovation” (Shahane et al nd: 4). He invited distinguished scholars from different parts of India as faculty members and thereby enhanced the stature of the university.1 Under the leadership of eminent scholars, several new courses were introduced in the faculty of science such as astronomy, biochemistry, and geophysics; journalism, psychology, and linguistics in the arts, and public administration in the social sciences. There was rapid expansion of postgraduate and doctoral courses, establishment of new chairs, and encouragement given to research institutions.

In the history of Osmania University, the period between the golden jubilee (in 1968) and platinum jubilee (in 1993) witnessed unprecedented transformation in the higher education system in the Telangana region. With the introduction of academic reforms and changes in education policies of the government the number of intermediate and degree colleges registered a sharp increase. In order to improve the academic standards, the university introduced several reforms. In particular, the introduction of an entrance test for admission into postgraduate courses resulted in the growth of quality education. Prior to 1974, admissions into postgraduate courses were given on the basis of marks secured in the graduation courses. Because of mass copying and other malpractices, the marks and the ranks secured in the final examinations did not reflect the merit of a student. Hence, to overcome this anomaly, the entrance examination system was introduced in the Osmania University. Consequently, a large number of students from rural and semi-urban areas of Telangana secured admissions into various postgraduate courses. The entry of first-generation students belonging to the underprivileged groups into the higher education system facilitated some sort of social transformation. With the entry of diverse social, gender, regional, ethnic, and linguistic groups the Osmania University campus became truly cosmopolitan and relatively more inclusive.

The establishment of a number of postgraduate centres in the districts led to the expansion of academic programmes of the university. In order to make university education accessible to large sections of people in the Telangana region, the Distance Education Centre was established. The last two decades of the 20th century witnessed the formation of new centres of academic excellence on the campus. Teaching and research activities in the university also reached new heights since many departments received research funding from national and international agencies. Consequently, the Osmania University emerged as a premier educational institution in the country and in the era of globalisation its alumni spread across the world. Presently, the Osmania University is a preferred destination for higher studies for foreign students, especially from Africa, West Asia and South East Asian countries.

For the last hundred years, Osmania University has remained as a premier educational institution in the Telangana region and a symbol of liberal and secular centre of higher learning. Its alumni included eminent personalities in diverse fields.2 In the beginning, the social composition of the university academic community consisted of urban elite groups. But by the end of 1970, the dominant non-Brahmin Hindu local/mulki groups gained considerable presence in the faculty recruitment and admissions. Although, constitutional safeguards and provision for reservations in university admissions and employment were provided, they were not effectively implemented till about late 1970s. It was the main reason why many of the Dalit Bahujan communities did not gain access to university education and employment. However, compared to the earlier period, in the 1970–80 decade, the social welfare policies of the government and constitutional provisions were of immense help to the students from weaker sections.

The democratic student movements in the university campus, positive and liberal teaching faculty, and a favourable academic ambience also contributed to the educational empowerment of students of my generation, who hailed from rural areas. The introduction of entrance examinations, award of social welfare scholarships and implementation of reservation policy in the university admissions facilitated the entry of quite a good number of lower caste students into the university system, thereby paved the way for some sort of social transformation. The 1980s was a significant period in the history of Osmania University, as it witnessed expansion and diversity in admissions and appointments. The social composition of faculty and student community had undergone a significant change. It was mainly due to the implementation of reservation policy and constitutional safeguards in favour of Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBC) categories. In addition, the social welfare hostels and residential schools produced the best and meritorious students from these backgrounds.

Hotbed of Telangana Movement

The entry of students with diverse backgrounds into the university system had an important bearing on the politicisation of campus (Satyanarayana and Satyanarayana 2016; Prakash 2016; Reddy et al 2016). Historically, as a leading educational institution in the Telangana region, Osmania University also became a centre of student politics and its campus represented divergent ideologies and viewpoints. During the Nizam’s rule, university students participated in the Nizam’s Subjects League which championed the cause of mulkis and also spearheaded the Vandemataram movement in 1938. Later, the university also produced leaders who participated in the communist movement and the Telangana peasant armed struggle. They have played an active role in the formation of Hyderabad Comrades Association and the All Hyderabad Students Association. In 1953, City College students were in the forefront of the mulki movement, which was the forerunner to the Telangana movement in 1969. The Telangana movement of the 1950s> reflected the insider–outsider conflict and articulated the distinct identity of the region and its people: its slogans “Non-Mulkis Go Back,” and “Idli-Sambar Go Back,” also reflected the assertion of the self and the other. Central to the mulki movement was the reiteration of subregional distinctiveness of Telangana, which can be attributed to caste/community, cultural, linguistic, and politico-historical factors. The subregional feelings are historically rooted in the popular imagination, as the Telugus were separated into two distinct political units under the Nizam and British rule.

However, the formation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, disregarding the subregional distinctiveness and patterns of socio-economic transformation caused several problems. The merging of two unequal regions and the subsequent growth of interregional disparities paved the way for the separate Telangana movement. The first two decades of democratic political practice in Andhra Pradesh witnessed the systematic negation of the guarantees and safeguards, as well as the violation of the gentlemen agreement. The blatant display of political dominance by the non-local political leadership and continuous discrimination of the Telangana region led to the growing discontentment among its people. With the spread of higher education, the aspirations of Telangana youth for employment have grown. But first-generation university graduates in Telangana were discriminated and their chances of employment were curtailed due to the domination of people from coastal Andhra. In Osmania University itself, the overwhelming presence of non-local staff members was resented by the locals. The demand for a separate state spread to the university campus after protests in the context of violation of employment rules.

Subsequently, widespread protests took place in Osmania University campus against the employment of Andhra people in Telangana jobs. By 1969, the demand for separate Telangana crystallised among the student community of Osmania University. Student leaders from the university like Pulla Reddy, P Sridhar, M Mallikarjun, etc, played a catalytic role in the mobilisation of students from all over Telangana. Educational institutions became centres of protest, and students led mass demonstrations, hartals, boycotts and the students Joint Action Committee led the movement. The other notable feature of campus politics was the support of university and college teachers to the movement. Prominent teachers who took part in the movement included K Jayashankar, Keshavarav Jhadav, Thota Ananda Rao, Sridhara Swamy, and they organised conferences, meetings and published literature in support of Telangana. The university vice chancellor, R Satyanarayana addressed public meetings, conferences and extended his support to the cause of Telangana. The movement became widespread and the government ruthlessly suppressed it, which led to the death of hundreds of students. Although the sacrifices of the students did not achieve a separate state, yet the idea of Telangana was kept alive in the popular imagination. Indeed, Osmania University became an important place of activity where the idea of a separate state kept simmering in the four decades between 1969 and 2009 through meetings, seminars, and representations.

After the suppression of the Telangana movement in 1970, the university campus became a centre for radical student political movements. The onset of Naxalbari movement attracted the attention of university students and the campus witnessed the formation of socialist-oriented organisations. Progressive organisations were led by prominent student leaders like George Reddy, Jampala Prasad, G Ramani, Madhusudhan Raj, Gaddar (Gummadi Vithal Rao), Kura Rajanna, etc, who fought against the communal forces and feudal elements in the campus and outside. The post-Emergency decade witnessed proliferation of militant student organisations and many students from the campus joined Naxalite parties. Given the social polarisation on the campus, students from Dalit Bahujan communities have played an important role in the radical left movements, while the students with dominant caste background were active in the pro-ruling party organisations and movements. The impact of militant student movement was significant in the growth of democratic, secular, and identity movements in the 1980s> and 1990s>. The first phase of the most recent Telangana movement, which began in the mid-1990s>, was dominated by the militant student organisations and parties.

The growth of second phase of Telangana movement, since the turn of the millennium, was mainly due to the discriminatory policies pursued by the ruling parties (Pingle 2014; Thirumali 2013). In particular, the rise of the Telugu Desam Party to power in 1983 led to a peculiar nexus between caste, region, capital formation, and economic development. As the political leadership under the Congress regimes was dominated by the Reddys, the entrepreneurial Kamma-caste capitalists acquired political power and resorted to accumulation by monopolising the economic resources of Telangana. Under the leadership of Telugu Desam Party the regional capitalist class predominantly consisting of the Kammas had taken advantage of the globalisation policies and resorted to economic aggrandisement; real estate, cinema, hospitals, corporate education, chit funds, information technology, and print and electronic media became the preserve of the Seemandhra (coastal Andhra) capitalists. Economic development under globalisation led to the destruction of the artisanal, service and occupational communities in Telangana and caused resentments among them. The growth of the Telangana movement since the 1990s was a clear manifestation of the destitution of the productive communities in the Telangana region. Long before the establishment of Telangana Rashtra Samithi party in 2001, the growth of autonomous student movement at Osmania University and its role in keeping up the momentum is quite significant. Its importance lies in the fact that it exposed the manipulations of the politicians and consolidated the growing will of the masses.

The university students from the two leading universities in the Telangana region, namely Osmania and Kakatiya, overwhelmingly belonged to the first-generation OBC, SC>, ST, minority and women students. They truly represented the organic linkages with the grass-roots aspirations of the lower castes who were the victims of the globalisation agenda pursued by the dominant-caste leadership. Hence, the slogans of Telangana movement, self-respect and identity, self-rule, regional autonomy, etc, have gained acceptance among the Dalit Bahujans in the rural areas through the mediation of organic leaders belonging to the student community. University-educated lower-caste artists, singers, writers, poets, and scholars have also played a significant role in the mobilisation of masses during the second phase of the Telangana movement since 2001. Though the issue remained alive in the intervening years after 1969, large-scale student protests broke out in 2009. Since 2009, the Osmania University campus witnessed sporadic incidents of violent protests until Telangana finally became a reality in June 2014. The historic Arts College building is the face of the university mobilisation and the room number 57 inside the building will go down in history as the venue for political discussions and meetings. The final phase of the movement was intensified by the activities of student joint action committees founded in all the universities in the Telangana region, but the leading role was played by the Osmania University campus. M Kodandaram, Chairman, Telangana Joint Action Committee, and K Laxman have played a major role in building a united movement consisting of students, and teaching and non-teaching staff in all the universities. 

Retrospect and Prospect

The role of Osmania University in the growth of the academic and intellectual community in the Telangana region is quite significant. As a leading educational institution, it attracted talent from different regions of India and contributed to academic enrichment. However, the impact of liberalisation policies led to the weakening of the university’s institutional structure and academic ambience. In particular, large-scale privatisation of higher education, non-recruitment of qualified faculty, employment of irregular and contract faculty, and budget cuts led to the decline of academic standards and research output. Presently, more than half of the budgeted posts are vacant and in some departments there are no regular faculty members. The university is facing several problems pertaining to the infrastructure, logistics, and facilities. The introduction of self-finance courses led to a casual employment system, and it eroded academic and teaching standards. The examination and evaluation methods have also declined. Lack of adequate financial resources led to deterioration of teaching and research activities, and in recent years funding from national bodies also declined. The neglect of recruitment of regular teachers drastically impacted the quality of classroom teaching in all the disciplines. Growing indiscipline and lack of accountability on the part of the stakeholders of the university system is causing decline of academic standards. Frequent interference by politicians and non-academic considerations in the appointments to key positions, is also an important reason for deterioration of academic autonomy.

In order to revive the past glory and to celebrate the centenary year of the university (in 2017–18) in a befitting manner, it is essential to achieve academic excellence by setting a new agenda. To improve classroom teaching, the appointment of regular teachers must be undertaken once again. Available talent and academic resources need to be utilised to the fullest possible extent. Presently, Osmania University is attracting students from several foreign countries and there is every possibility to augment its resources and face the challenges of globalisation. The intellectual and scholarly inputs of the university alumni can be utilised for undertaking innovative research programmes. The introduction of innovative courses and formulation of cutting-edge research programmes will help achieve academic excellence.

The formation of the new Telangana state has brought forward many issues and challenges before the university. Osmania University has never been isolated from mainstream society and it has been responsive to societal needs. The major challenge before the leading institution in Telangana is to fulfil the aspirations of the student community, which is drawn overwhelmingly from downtrodden communities. In the context of growing privatisation of education, the university must fulfil their aspiration for access to quality higher education, and employment.

Notes

1 Some of the reputed professors of the Osmania University during 1960–70 included the following: Suri Bhagavantam and P S Puranic (Physics), K D Abhayankar (Astronomy), Bhima Shankaram (Geophysics), C Leelanandam (Geology), Madhava Reddy (Genetics), N V Subba Rao (Chemistry), B H Krishnamurthy (Linguistics), E G Parameswaran (Psychology), Raja Chellaiah and Gautham Mathur (Economics), Ram Reddy, M Muttalib and Rasheeduddin Khan (Political Science and Public Administration), Shiv K Kumar (English), V V Ramanandham (Commerce), Ramayanam Narsimha Rao and Saroini Regani (History), Syed Basheeruddin (Journalism), Aryendra Sharma and P Ramachandrudu (Sanskrit), Namvar Singh (Hindi), Manzur Alam (Geography), C Laxmanna (Sociology), Madhusudhan Reddy and Alam Kundumiri (Philosophy).

2 The former Prime Minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao; former Deputy Prime Minister, Y B Chavan; former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil; former Union Minister, S Jaipal Reddy; former Chief Election Commissioner of India, V S Ramadevi; former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India Y Venugopal Reddy; former Chairman, University Grants Commission, and Founder Vice-Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University G Ram Reddy; eminent economist C H Hanumantha Rao; Jnanapeeth Awardee C Narayana Reddy; political scientist Kancha Ilaiah; cosmonaut and first Indian to travel to space Rakesh Sharma; Present chief executive officer of Adobe Systems, Shantanu Narayen; eminent film director and screen writer, Shyam Benegal; former captain Indian cricket team, Mohammed Azharuddin; and cricket commentator, Harsha Bhogle.

References

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— (2013): The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India, New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.

Pingle, G (2014): The Fall and Rise of Telangana, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.

Prakash, V (2016): History of the Telangana Movement, Hyderabad: Jayashankar Telangana Research and Development and GBK Publications.

Reddy, G B and Sumita Roy (2017): Reflections: Osmania University Centenary Commemorative Volume, Hyderabad: Osmania University.

Reddy, Ramakrishna, V E Sudha Rani and G Sudarshan Reddy (2016): Telangana History and Culture, Hyderabad: Telugu Akademi.

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Satyanarayana, A and D Satyanarayana (2016): Telangana Charitra-Samscruti Rashtraavatarana Udyamalu (Telugu), Hyderabad: Sangam Books.

Shahane, V A, M N Siddiqui and B N Joshi (nd): The Osmania University: Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1918–68, Hyderabad: The English Souvenir Committee.

Telangana Today (2017): “Osmania University: In Retrospect,” 25 April.

Thirumali, I (2013): Telangana–Andhra: Castes, Regions and Politics in Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi: Akar Books.

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