Student Spotlight

SIPA Student Wins Award for Gender Sensitivity in South Asian Media

By Brijette “Browne” Brown MIA ’24
Posted Dec 06 2023
Sai Priya Kodidala MPA '24


Editor's note: On February 1, 2024, Columbia’s Office of University Life announced that Sai Priya Kodidala MPA ’24 had received one of its 2023-24 Social Justice Mini-Grants.

Sai Priya Kodidala MPA ’24 won the Laadli Media Award 2023 awarded by Population First for a piece she wrote for India’s Caravan magazine that focuses on the unacknowledged role of women in the Telangana People’s Movement. Population First is an Indian “social impact organization that works toward women empowerment, gender equality, and community mobilization.”

In the 1940s, the Indian region of Telangana was a feudal monarchy that practiced bonded labor and slavery. The Telugu peasants – with help from the Communist Party of India – revolted against landlords’ labor exploitation. Land equity and wealth redistribution were central demands. The Telangana People’s Movement also pushed against the region’s deeply entrenched caste system and patriarchy. 

“There’s been a lot of literature written about the Telangana People’s Movement and its importance, but these narratives are typically centering around upper-caste men and a certain type of storytelling,” Kodidala said. “What [my] piece tries to do is... center women’s narratives and talk about their aspirations, their contributions, and their lives during this particular period.”

For Kodidala, those mainstream narratives about the movement differed from the stories and songs she heard growing up in Hyderabad. She bridged these differing narratives by founding the Telugu Archive, a digital archive that traces Telugu culture from religion, caste, and gender. Kodidala is a social impact professional studying International Finance and Economic Policy. She aspires to work in the sustainable finance space. 

“Having grown up with the stories that I grew up with, centered around those women from the villages who took part in the struggle, who gave shelter, who gave food, who essentially held the fort while the movement was happening,” she said.

Kodidala’s award-winning article, “Words and Bullets,” includes the story of Chityala Ailamma of the Rajaka caste. Society expected her to be a clothes washer, but she wanted to be a landowner and farmer. She fulfilled her dream by taking over leased farmland from a neighboring landlord. Neighboring landowners were so upset about her subverting societal role that they destroyed her crops and killed her husband and sons. The bravery she showed in her fight to defend her land influenced the Telangana People’s Movement.

Ailamma’s story is one of many that Kodidala said are “not reflected in mainstream sort of publications. And definitely not in English.” 

Kodidala’s piece, and subsequent award, help bring this important oral history to light, reclaiming the narrative for the Telangana People’s Movement’s less-documented figures.