Dalit Politics in Contemporary India 113893934X, 9781138939349

This book is a ground-breaking intervention on Dalit politics in India. Challenging received ideas, it uses a comparativ

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Dalit Politics in Contemporary India
 113893934X, 9781138939349

Table of contents :
List of figures
List of maps
List of tables
Glossary of terms
PART I Uttar Pradesh
1 Making claims for power: Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1919–67
2 Mobilising for power: the emergence of the BSP and Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1970–90
3 The Bahujan Samaj Party: social justice and political practices
PART II Andhra Pradesh
4 Making claims for social equality and political representation: Dalit activism in Telugu country, 1917–50
5 From demanding social equality to a quest for power: Dalit politics in AP, 1950–90
6 Social justice and sub-classification of Dalit reservations: the Dandora debate in AP in the 1990s

Citation preview


This book is a ground breaking intervention on Dalit politics in India. Challenging received ideas, it uses a comparative framework to understand Dalit mobilisations for political power, social equality and justice. The monograph traces the emergence of Dalit consciousness and its different strands in north and south India – from colonial to contemporary times – and interrogates key notions and events. These include: • • •

the debate regarding core themes such as the Hindu–Muslim division in the north and caste in the south; the extent to which Dalits and other backward castes (OBCs) base their anti-Brahmanism on similar ideologies; and why Dalits in Uttar Pradesh (north India) succeeded in gaining power while they did not do so in the region of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (south India), where Dalit consciousness is more evolved.

Drawing on archival material, fieldwork and case studies, this volume puts forward an insightful and incisive analysis. It will be of great interest to researchers and scholars of Dalit studies and social exclusion, Indian politics and sociology. Sambaiah Gundimeda is at the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India.

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Sambaiah Gundimeda

First published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2016 Sambaiah Gundimeda The right of Sambaiah Gundimeda to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book. ISBN: 978-1-138-93934-9 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-67506-0 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC


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ix x xi xiii xviii xxv xxvi

List of figures List of maps List of tables Preface Acknowledgements Abbreviations Glossary of terms Introduction



Uttar Pradesh 1 2 3


Making claims for power: Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1919–67


Mobilising for power: the emergence of the BSP and Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1970–90


The Bahujan Samaj Party: social justice and political practices



Andhra Pradesh 4 5


Making claims for social equality and political representation: Dalit activism in Telugu country, 1917–50


From demanding social equality to a quest for power: Dalit politics in AP, 1950–90





Social justice and sub-classification of Dalit reservations: the Dandora debate in AP in the 1990s




Bibliography Index

273 293



2.1 2.2

3.1 3.2 3.3

The Indian social system (a product of Brahmanism) Manyawar Sahib Kanshiram’s bicycle march started on 15 March 1983, covering seven states and a distance of 4,200 kms in 40 days Manyawar Sahib Kanshiram’s demonstration of the Indian social structure Elephant gallery in Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal, Lucknow Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivarthan Sthal, Lucknow



91 114 133 133


1 Map of India 2 Map of Uttar Pradesh 3 Map of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, before its division in 2014


xxxiii xxxiv xxxv


2.1 2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2 3.3 5.1 5.2 5.3

5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 6.1

Performance of the parties in the reserved Scheduled Caste seats in UP Assembly Distribution of Scheduled Castes’ Parliamentary seats by various political parties, 1971–84 Decade-wise trend in publication of popular Dalit booklets Caste and community representation in the UP Assembly, 1952–74 (in %) Caste and community of the BSP MLAs, 1989–2002 (in %) Performance of political parties in the UP reserved constituencies in 2002, 2007 and 2012 Caste backgrounds of chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh Caste-wise break-up of CMs of AP (1956 to 2010) Changing structure of the agrarian economy in Andhra Pradesh: the percentage distribution of operational holdings by size class, 1956–2006 Party performances in Scheduled Caste seats in AP Legislative Assembly (1957–2004) Percentage of Scheduled Caste population in Andhra Pradesh Principal sources of livelihood among the Scheduled Castes in Andhra Pradesh Major incidences of violence against Dalits during 1983–91 Distribution of reserved assembly seats between Madigas and Malas, 1955–94


70 71 95 117 119 136 191 192

194 196 210 211 213 245


6.2 6.3 6.4

Distribution of reserved Lok Sabha seats between Madigas and Malas, 1951–92 Distribution of Lok Sabha seats between the Malas and Madigas since 1996 Representatives of the Malas and Madigas in the total (state-level) SC opportunities


245 246 250


The Dalit struggle for social equality, political power and democratisation of the sociocultural and political spaces in colonial and post-independence India has been shaped by their position in the Brahmanic social order, the chaturvarna vyavastha.1 As the very name clearly suggests, the system is constituted by four varnas: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. Thus, Dalits have neither a designated space nor recognised position within this official body of the social order; this, in turn, forced them to remain outside the system. Some social reformers in the late colonial India, such as Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (1827–90), and some politically oriented caste Hindu reformers, such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (hereafter, Gandhi), tried to rectify this specific condition. Phule, for instance, by calling Dalits Ati Shudras, tried to make them part of the Shudra category, and thereby, incorporate them in the caste order (O’Hanlon 1985: 124–147). Barring the thin boundary of the fact that while the Shudras were inside the system, Dalits were outside it, the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions of both social categories were at the same level. In that respect, bringing them together under a larger umbrella was the opportune thing to do; indeed, their combined strength in the emerging political representative institutions during the colonial era would have had different connotations. To that extent, Phule’s gesture appears to be both revolutionary and pragmatic. But by calling Dalits Ati Shudras, Phule was not placing Dalits on a par with the Shudras inside the caste order, but directly below them, thereby, allowing the Brahmanic socio-hierarchical distinctions between them to flourish. Gandhi also made some efforts at reform, such as trying to incorporate Dalits into the four fold social order by calling them Harijans (children of God). Such an act by Gandhi was somewhat heroic; until then, Dalits, who were treated as Asprushyas (untouchables) and who were kept outside the Hindu community, had become children of God and also part of the Hindu society. Yet, Gandhi’s campaign against untouchability was not xiii


necessarily born out of a genuine concern for the plight of millions of Dalits; it was mainly on account of his concern for Hinduism, as Gandhi was convinced that the practice of untouchability was an ‘ineffable blot’ on Hinduism (Arnold 2001: 174). That is to say, Gandhi’s concern for Dalits and his activities against the practice of untouchability were primarily the result of a desire to remove that ‘blot’ from the face of Hinduism rather than to secure social equality and political opportunities for Dalits. The plausible motivations behind Gandhi’s concern for the untouchables become clear if one asks two pertinent questions with regard to his new nomenclature for them. First, if Gandhi believed in the fundamental equality of human beings, as he always claimed, then why were only Dalits to be treated as ‘the children of God’? Are caste Hindus not children of God? If they are not, are they children of the devil? Second, what is the position of the ‘children of God’ in the chaturvarna vyavastha? Despite describing the Dalits as Harijans and his declaration of their being part of the Hindu society, Gandhi never mentioned in which varna those children of God were to be placed. It was a well-known fact that Gandhi had always been an ardent advocate of the chaturvarna vyavastha and the traditional occupations assigned to the four varnas by that system. The divergences between Gandhi’s preaching and his principles suggest that he wanted the untouchables to be part of the Hindu community, not as part of any of the four existing varnas or as a separate varna with equal respect, dignity and opportunities, but simply as untouchables. This means that nothing would change for the untouchables except the fact that while earlier they were outside the social order, they would now be inside of that order. This argument can be substantiated from other angles as well. Once the Harijans were integrated into the chaturvarna vyavastha, what occupation should they pursue? Each varna, according to Gandhi, had ‘its own dharma, its own rightful modes of livelihood, conduct, and service’ (ibid.: 173). As such, in the name of dharma, Gandhi was asking his Harijans to follow their traditional occupations, such as skinning of dead animals and manual scavenging. Of course, Gandhi claimed that no varna’s occupation, skills or abilities were superior to the dharma of any other varna. For instance, imparting knowledge to society – the dharma of the Brahmins – is not superior to manual scavenging, the dharma of the untouchable Bhangis. But if this is so, then why don’t the Brahmins or any other caste Hindus pursue the manual scavenging occupation of the Bhangis? Certainly, Gandhi did clean toilets and also made some of his young disciples to do the same thing. But these acts were more symbolic than substantive in nature; for none of those who followed Gandhi from upper-caste backgrounds took up scavenging as their occupation. In a way, this clearly xiv


demonstrates that the intended integration of the untouchables into the chaturvarna vyavastha was merely a symbolic gesture, to entrap them into a false belief that they are also part of the Hindu community without either any of the substantive power or benefits that are enjoyed by the other four varnas. Further, the very term ‘Harijan’, for many Dalits, ‘is patronising and condescending, reinforcing and rationalising the hegemony of the upper castes over God’s children’ (ibid.: 180).2 These limitations and criticisms apart, one must truly acknowledge Gandhi’s contribution to the issue of untouchability, in giving it a new political prominence. This apart, whatever the problems of Dalit individuals, their collective situation at the bottom of the social hierarchy led to four fundamental problems: social discrimination, economic exploitation, cultural alienation and political oppression. All those caste Hindu reformers who acted against the appalling conditions of Dalits, either on account of genuine personal concerns or political compulsions, considered the problem of untouchability as a social problem; thus, they tried to ameliorate the situation by initiating various corrective programmes, such as opening up special schools for untouchable children, teaching them cleanliness and urging them to abandon alcohol and meat-eating, and so on. But untouchability, unlike some social problems, such as widow remarriage and dowry, is not a social problem. It is essentially, as most categorically stated by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), a political problem: It is wrong to say that the problem of the Untouchables is a social problem. For, it is quite unlike the problems of dowry, widow remarriage, age of consent, etc., which are illustrations of what are properly called social problems. Essentially, it is a problem of quite a different nature in as much as it is a problem of securing to a minority liberty and equality of opportunity at the hands of a hostile majority which believes in the denial of liberty and equal opportunity to the minority and conspires to enforce its policy on the minority. Viewed in this light, the problem of the Untouchables is fundamentally a political problem. (Ambedkar 1991 [1946]: 190) This was precisely why he consistently urged Dalits to concentrate their energies towards gaining political power: Nobody can remove your grievances as well as you can and you cannot remove them unless you get political power in your hands. (Ambedkar, quoted in Desai 1948: 251) xv


The fundamental issue that this book seeks to address is how the Dalits responded to their conditions and problems. An important point to consider in answering this question is the physical location of the actors: Dalits are not located in one particular geographical region. Although there are concentrations of Dalits in certain regions and a relative absence of them in others, they are spread throughout India. This is what complicates the Dalit question. In one sense, irrespective of their physical location, whether in northern India or southern India, western India or eastern India, their social location throughout the country is the same – the bottom of the Hindu social hierarchy; and so, their problems are same everywhere. Despite this similarity of social position, there are few similarities in their fight against untouchability. For Dalit responses against untouchability are shaped by their geographical locations, and socioeconomic and political conditions and contexts that are specific to their respective geographical regions. Although this complicates the question of untouchability, it also gives an opportunity, especially from a research point of view, to examine and analyse the Dalit response to the question of untouchability comparatively. This book aims to seize the unique opportunity to compare Dalit responses by analysing Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh in northern India and Andhra Pradesh in southern India from an Ambedkarite perspective. By comparing Dalit politics in these two states, it seeks to examine and analyse Dalit mobilisations and assertions against caste-based injustices, sociopolitical and cultural domination of the upper castes and the ideological bases of that assertion. It further seeks to understand the impact of Dalit politics upon the Brahmanical social order and uppercaste-dominated political order. In short, this book seeks to contribute to four major discussions regarding Dalit politics: (a) the debate regarding the master narratives in the politics of north and south India, i.e. the Hindu– Muslim cleavage in the north and caste-based cleavage in the south; (b) the claim that, historically, Dalit consciousness was less developed in the north than in the south; (c) the debate around Dalits and Shudras (OBCs) as an undifferentiated category of people; and (d) why Dalits in UP succeeded in attaining political power while they did not do so in AP.

Notes 1

Dalit, a term that has become synonymous with untouchable, is the name that many ex-untouchables, especially politically aware individuals, have chosen for themselves. The name means ‘oppressed’ and highlights the persecution and




discrimination faced by Dalits on a daily basis. For a discussion of the evolution of the meaning of the term ‘Dalit’, see Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000: 3–4. Also, unless specified, the terms ‘untouchables’, ‘Dalits’ and ‘Scheduled Castes’ are used interchangeably. See also, Ambedkar, B. R. 1991 [1946]. What Congress and Gandhi . . . esp. Chapter X: ‘What Do the Untouchable Say? Beware of Mr. Gandhi’, pp. 226–56.



The present book is part of my PhD thesis at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. During the course of the completion of the present book as well as my PhD, many people and institutions have supported me, and it is a great joy to duly acknowledge this support. I thank Prof. Sudipta Kaviraj for agreeing to be my supervisor at SOAS. Although I was not able to complete my thesis by the time he left for Columbia University, it was only with his support that I was able to plan it systematically and give some order to my material. I must mention here that when I reached London, I was not sure how my relationship with my supervisor would be: I was told that he had never supervised a Dalit student during his JNU years, and hence, I thought he did not like Dalits or did not think much of the abilities of Dalit students. I was afraid that he would treat me as a Dalit and that if that were to happen, there would be no point in my going to the UK to study for my PhD. But nothing of that sort ever happened. He was very cordial and supported me in every way possible. What I really liked about him was his willingness at all times to engage in a dialogue to understand things. Once in a discussion on the disempowerment of Dalit society by the upper castes, I told him that he would not understand it because of his Brahmin background; he said he was not Brahmin, but a Vaidhya. Until then I hadn’t known that he was not a Brahmin. But what did it matter to me, a Dalit? Whether Brahmin, Vaidhya or Vaishya – they all are upper castes. Among the Dalits, there are also several hundred castes. Do they (the upper castes) treat those individual castes as separate castes? The answer is no. Likewise, for us, the Brahmins, Vaidhyas, Kammas, Reddys and so on are all upper castes. That is how I put it to him when he mentioned his caste to me. But his response is something I will never forget; he said that he would leave it to me how I wished to recognise him, but he wanted me to make him understand if I had a point to make, and it did not matter whether I was xviii


a Dalit or someone else. Although years after that conversation, I am still trying to understand the deeper meaning in what Kaviraj told me that day, I think he was suggesting that I should speak without fear of labels if I have a point to make. Also, I must add here that I was surprised that he did not respond angrily when I called him a Brahmin. Although I could not read his mind just then, his non-response could have meant that he saw himself just as a human being or as an intellectual who could not be boxed in with identity tags. Or did the location of our conversation have an effect? The conversation had taken place not in India, but central London. In any case, I knew for sure that I would not have said this to an upper-caste academic in India. None of them, not even those scholars who speak of Marxism and Secularism day in and day out, would have appreciated my observation. They would have taken it personally and would have shut their doors to me. Needless to say, I am proud that I worked under Kaviraj, and I will always be thankful to him. I was horrified when I was told that I should complete my PhD under the supervision of a young female academic who was Indian. From her name, I knew that she was a Brahmin, and on enquiry, I came to know that she had recently got her degree from Oxford University. I thought the association was going to be difficult for both of us. As I had established a good working relationship with Kaviraj, it was not an easy task for me to move to another supervisor. As a Brahmin who grew up in India, it thought it might be hard for her to supervise me, as my thesis also discusses Brahmins, Brahmanism, upper castes and caste discrimination. I asked Kaviraj to either supervise me from Columbia or shift me to another India expert from a different department. He said he could do nothing and that I would be fine with her; contrary to my fears, I was indeed very happy with her. During the supervision sessions, she would listen to me patiently and take down notes of our discussion and then email those points to me for my records. I understood that she was sincere and passionate about her work. Whatever her personal views may be, we laughed together at the idiosyncrasies of Brahmins. I am proud to have been her first PhD student. Thank you, Rochana. Matthew Nelson, my second supervisor, was unbelievably friendly and supportive. Although he didn’t have to do it, he shared the supervision work equally with Rochana. He would read whatever I sent him in no time and give his comments systematically. At times, when I did not understand a point he made, he would take time to explain it to me like a school teacher. My constant discussions with him helped me to sharpen my ideas in the thesis, and later on, in this book. I am fortunate to have had him as one of my supervisors. Thank you, Matt. xix


I thank all the staff in the Politics Department at SOAS, particularly Tat Yong Kong for giving me an opportunity as a Teaching Fellow, and thanks are also due to Laleh Khalili, Lawrence Saez, Werner F. Menski, and David Mosse for their support. I take this opportunity to thank Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot and Dr Jens Lerch for examining my thesis. Their comments, criticism and suggestions have been a great help in revising my thesis and turning it into a book manuscript. I am grateful to both of them. My sincere thanks to the Ford Foundation for instituting the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Programme in India. In 2002, I was one of the first recipients of this fellowship, which facilitated my PhD at School of Oriental and African Studies in London. I thank Vivek Mansukhani, Neera Handa and Akta Sawhney at 12 Hailey Road in New Delhi for their willingness to assist. I thank Prof. Sasheej Hegde, Prof. Santha Sinha, Prof. Dilip Menon and Prof. Mary John for their support of my Ford Foundation Fellowship application. I take the opportunity to thank Sasheej for being friend, guide and philosopher in my life and academics. He not only gave the idea of a comparative study of Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh but also read the first draft of the book. His suggestions in revising the manuscript are valuable and I am grateful to him. Prof. R. Srivatsan at Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hyderabad also taken the burden of reading the draft manuscript. I thank him for his comments and suggestions in improving the draft. My special thanks to Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran, who not only facilitated my trip to London to face my PhD viva, but also provided a congenial atmosphere at CSD, Hyderabad, where the first draft of this book manuscript was prepared. Several individuals and their respective families have extended hugely generous support at various stages of my fieldwork both in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. I sincerely thank all of them from the bottom of my heart. Although I cannot name them all here, there are a few individuals, without whose support the fieldwork had been a difficult task. I thank, Avinash Goutahm and his family in Lucknow; Sri Ram Kishore Varma and family in Atthara; Sri Gaya Charan Dinakar and his family at Baberu, Sri Roshan Singh at Mahoba, Sri Naresh Bhangi at Banda; in Hyderabad: Sri D M Vara Prasad and Emily vadina; Sri Bharat Bhushan and his family, Sri U. Sambasivarao and his family, Sri B S Ramulu, Sri Lalaiah, Sri Krishna Madiga and his family, Sri Krupakar Madiga, Sri Ravela Kishore Babu; Sri Katti Padmarao and family in Ponnur, (late) Sri Devarapalli Mastanrao garu at Ponnuru; Sri Kishore Digumarthi and family in xx


Ramachandrapuram; Prof. Yendluri Sudhakar and family at Rajamundry; Sri Rajnikanth Burri in Guntur; Sri Ravi Kumar Kopuri and family at Nuziveedu; Sri Ramesh Chadalavada and his family in Budwel at Ranga Reddy District; Dr. Nikhila H and family, Prashanth, Radhika, Ramesh Bairy and Maitreyi in Bangalore, for all their support and hospitality. I also thank Dr. Kakani Sudhakar and Shobha Rani, for their encouragement and helping me in compiling the election data for Andhra Pradesh. I also would like to thank Prattipati Navajeevan and his wife for sharing material on the Dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh. I am thankful to, in Hyderabad, Prof. Arun Kumar Patnaik, Prof. Prakash C. Sarangi, Prof. Chitra Panikkar, Prof. Sanjay Palshikar, Prof. Shivaram Padikkal & Mrs. Sudha Padikkal, Prof. Thirumal P., Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, Prof. Muthaiah P., Dr K. Satyanarayana, Prof. K.C. Suri, Prof. K. Srinivasulu, Dr K.Y. Ratnam, Dr. Darla Venkateswara Rao and Dr. Nagaraju Gundemeda; in New Delhi, Prof. Valerian Rodrigues, Prof. Gopal Guru, Prof. Surendra Jodhka and Prof. Vivek Kumar. Quite a good number of people have played several crucial roles at various stages of my life so far. I owe a great deal to them and it is my pleasure to remember at least some of them. My parents - Gundimeda Peda Pamulu and Kristu Rajyam – for teaching me to stand for what I believe and be helpful to others; my grandparents - Gundimeda Peda Venkaiah and Nagabhashanam – despite being illiterates, teaching me my first alphabets and inculcating the idea that ‘education is the master–key’. Although none of them read beyond Telugu alphabets to read this book and sadly none of them lived to have the pleasure of at least holding this book, I am sure they would have been much happier and proud of me; Babai and Chinnamma – Gundimeda China Pamulu and Susheela – for taking up the responsibility of my sister after my parents death; appa – Katari Susheela – for becoming mother to my month–old sister at the age of seven years and for her extraordinary kindness; Ammamma and Nanna (grandfather) – Kolikapudi Nagendram and Elisamma – for their kind–heartedness; Mamayya and Attamma – Kolikapudu Andreiah and Aademma – for taking me under their wings despite having their own six children and reeling under the pressure of poverty; the Jesuit Priests – Rev. Fr. Stanley, Rev. Fr. Xavier Bosco, Rev Fr. Kulandai Raj, Rev.John Joseph and Rev. Fr. Antony – who turned me from a Table–boy to a school–going child and supporting my high school and college education; Prof. Veera Brahmam, Prof. Vijaya Babu, Prof. Ramaraju S.P., Prof. John Peter (Pedananna) and Sri Ravindra Raju – for teaching History, Democracy, Constitution and Social Justice at Andhra Loyola College, Vijayawada; Rev. Fr. Immanuel S.J. – for conscientising me on the question of caste and caste–based violence against xxi


Dalits; Sri Parvathaneni Prabhash, Alankanr Theatre, Vijayawada – for a generous scholarship to complete my Masters Programme at University of Hyderabad. There are no words to thank my friends at HCU – Sharmila Sreekumar, Shashikantha Koudoor, Vijay Kumar Borati and M R Beena. Were it not for their friendship and financial support, I would not be what I am today. I also fondly remember my other friends at HCU – K. C. Bindu, Gurram Srinivas, Kolikapudi Srinivas, Sridhar Modugu, Inugurthi Narasaiah, Parasu Karimbattil, Jilukara Srinivas, Suresh Digumarthi, Eswarappa Kasi, Kattepogu Suresh anna, Prakash Kakani, Chandu Khandare, Vara Lakshmi & Raju garu, Madhuri, Madhavi Latha and Pratima. While at SOAS, I made friends for life. Marie and Richard, Anna Schumann, Dan Large, Simona, Julia and the members of Gallagher family, Manjeet, Dave; Ben and Hilde from Norway; Karuna Mantena, Sarah Beth, Rupa Viswanath and Robert – thank you for your friendship and support. Also, I wish to thank Erin Anastasi, Dhara Anjaria, Pradeep Shinde, Ramya Kumar, Dhivya Janarthan and George Kunnath for their friendship. Thank you, Clarinda, Hazel and Duncan Still for introducing me to English upper middle-class’ mind-set, life and culture. I would like to record my special thanks to Zeba Ghory for her friendship and love. She was an oasis for me in my otherwise miserable life in London. Although I may not have been as good as she expected me to be, I will cherish her affection and love always. Thank you, Babe. I enjoyed working, although for a short period, at Council for Social Development: Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad. The institute is a small one, but has a huge heart. I thank Dr. L. Reddeppa, Dr. S, Surapu Raju, Dr. Sowmya Vinayan, Dr. Sujit Kumar Misra, Dr. Suresh Jagannathan, Dr. Sunkari Satyam, Sri Sanjiva Rao, Sri Satya Nagesh, Sri D Sunder Raj, Sri YSS Prasad, Sri Kumar P., Mrs. K. Mahalakshmi, P. Lalitha Kumari, Sri Uma Maheshwara Rao, Sri Pratap Reddy, Sri Tokala Guravaiah, Sri Mohan Krishna, Sri Sunil, Sri Maria Das, Mrs. Neelamma, Mrs. Prema Latha, Sri. Balaraj, Lata Tai, Vaishali Sonavane for their friendship and support. Thanks also to Jyothi from Rajendranagar for looking after me during the preparation of the first and second drafts of this manuscript. I thank the members of staff at the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh, particularly Prof. Crispin Bates, Prof. Roger Jeffrey, Dr. Radhika Govinda, for selecting me as the Charles Wallace India Trust Visiting Fellow for the academic year 2013. I also would like to thank Prof. Jolyon Mitchell, Mrs Anthea Taylor and Mr Donald Ferguson at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh for their hospitality and readiness to support. xxii


Prof. Crispin Bates and his partner Aya Ikegame are remarkable hosts. During my three-month stay in Edinburgh I stayed with them and had an excellent opportunity to interact with Prof. Bates on daily basis. Those interacting sessions had been life-time learning experiences. I salute Prof. Bates for his exceptional academic endeavours and child-like simplicity. I also would like to record my gratitude to Dr. Hugo Gorringe (University of Edinburgh) for his support and encouragement during my PhD as well as while working for this book. My special thanks to Charlotte Thornton for her help in copy-editing the first draft of the manuscript. I thank SOAS for granting me the School’s Hardship Fund twice. I also thank Amos Trust, CSIS Hardship Fund-Edinburgh and the Inter national Student Services Unit at the British Council for small hardship grants for finishing my PhD. The Charles Wallace India Trust has played a key role in two crucial phases of this book. First, it gave me a generous grant of £1,000 towards completing my PhD, and later, awarded me a three-month visiting fellowship at the penultimate stage of this book. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Alford Richard, Secretary, Charles Wallace India Trust and Mr Solomon Jayasingh at the British Council, Chennai, for their support and friendship. Within few days of joining Azim Premji Univeristy, I felt at home. Thanks due to my colleagues who made that possible: Abhayraj, Aparna, Anurag, Balmurli, Chandan, Dolashree, Giridhar, Jyothsna, Nafis, Narayana, Nilotpal, Rachel, Sharmadip, Srikrishna,Sudhir, and Vishnupad. I would like to thank members of staff at SOAS Library, LSE Library, the British Library, Indira Gandhi Memorial Library, University of Hyderabad; University Library, Osmania University, Hyderabad; Anveshi – Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hyderabad; Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi; Ambedkar Memorial Library; Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur; Father Gordon Library, Andhra Loyola College, Vijayawada; District Library, Guntur; Tagore Library, Vijayawada; Saraswata Niketanam, Vetapalem; Gautami Library, Rajahmundry; Library, Potti Sriramulu University, Hyderabad; UP State Archives, Lucknow; and AP State Archives and Research Institute, Taranaka, Hyderabad. I thank Shamla Medhar – my wife – for being my ardent critic and for giving me two most precious children, Manha Nayana Aanya and Aahil Sam Maaz, who suddenly changed my otherwise a vagabond life and turned it into a worthy one. I am grateful to Ebrahim Medhar, Banu Medhar, Sheeja Medhar, Arif Mohammed, Kamaluddhin, Umaiba, Nisha and Anu for their love and support and for welcoming me into their family. xxiii


Last, but definitely not the least, Routledge team has chased this volume persistently. I thank Shashank Shekhar Sinha, Rimina Mahapatra, Sarah Hudson and Denise File. Special thanks to Gita Mohan for copy-editing the book, Pradip Kumar Bhowal for drawing the required maps, Abha Thapalyal Gandhi for her suggestions to trim the size of the volume, and the anonymous reviewer, whose comments, challenges and suggestions have been tremendous help in sharpening the arguments in this book. Finally, I would like to thank Aakash Chakrabarty, my contact at Routledge, from the bottom of my heart for pursuing this project with unwavering enthusiasm and energy.




All India Scheduled Caste Federation Andhra Pradesh Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha All India Backward (SC/ST/BC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation Backward Castes Bharatiya Janata Party Bahujan Samaj Party Communist Party of India Dalit Maha Sabha Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangarsh Samithi (Struggle Committee of the Oppressed Dalit Society) Explosive Research and Development Laboratory Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (Struggle Committee for the Madiga Reservations Member of Legislative Assembly Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao Other Backward Castes Poor People’s Party Republican Party of India Scheduled Castes Scheduled Castes Federation Samajwadi Party Scheduled Tribe Telugu Desam Party Uttar Pradesh United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation



outcaste or untouchable the original religion original the original people among the Dravidians of south India, used as self-identification by some of the Dalits in Tamil Nadu Adi-Karnataka (Kannada) the original inhabitants of Karnataka, used as self-identification by some of the Dalits in that state Adivasi aboriginal tribe Andhra Kesari literally, ‘Lion of Andhra’, the name given to the legendary Tanguturi Prakasam, leader of a Congress Party faction and founder of the Praja Party Anicuts irrigation system Anna elder brother Arrack distilled liquor Baba Saheb honorific term devised for B. R. Ambedkar Backward Castes the Shudra castes, which are immediately above Dalits in the ritual hierarchy Bahujan literally, ‘majority’; this is the term brought into the Indian political lexicon and popularised by the Bahujan Samaj Party Beedi a thin, Indian cigarette filled with tobacco flake and wrapped in a tendu leaf tied with a string at one end Bhakti a medieval and later revivalist movement of Hindu worship, which stressed devotion rather than learning Achhut Ad Dharm (Adi Dharm) Adi Adi-Dravida



Bhangi Bhumihar Brahmin Brahminwadi


Chappal Crore Dalari Dalit

Dalit Maha Sabha Desam Deshmukh Dharma Dharna Dhobi Diwali Dora Gadi Garibi Hatao Gherao

Goonda Gram Panchayat Gurukul Harijan Harijan Sevak Sangh

sweeper caste within the Dalit category landowning caste in northern India The caste of highest rank in the four fold varna order derogatory term used by the followers of Kanshiram and Mayawati to identify attitudes or behaviour claimed to embody Brahmanical prejudice against Dalits One of the Dalit castes in northern and western India with a traditional occupation connected to leather work leather sandals 10 million broker or middleman a Marathi word for ‘untouchables’, sometimes used for oppressed in general, but now used to identify the Scheduled Castes a sociopolitical organisation of Dalits in AP land, nation revenue collector turned village landlord duty/religion/law sit-in as a form of protest caste of washer-folk, Dalits in northern and western India Hindu New Year, celebrated by the lighting of lamps and associated rituals landlord residence of a landlord literally, ‘banish poverty’; it was Indira Gandhi’s election slogan in 1971 a form of protest in which workers prevent employees leaving a place of work until demands are met goon; thug village Panchayat; the third tier of the Panchayat raj system Arya Samaj monastery People of God, used to identify Dalits by Gandhi and his followers welfare organisation established by Gandhi to persuade caste Hindus to abolish untouchability xxvii


Hartal Holeya Inam Jagirdar Jagirdari System

Jajmani Jatav Jati Kabir panth Kamma Karma

Karnam Kayastha Khatik Kisan Koiri Kshatriya

Kulak Kulhar/Kulhad

closure of shops or other facilities as a form of protest one of the developed Dalit castes in Karnataka land grant made by the state in lieu of free services rendered holder of land grant given for services rendered to the Nizam a type of land revenue system in Mughal India, and later, in the Nizam’s Hyderabad State, in which the jagirdar was technically the holder of an assignment of revenue system of reciprocity of services and goods by different castes a segment of Chamars located in western UP one of the constituents of ‘caste’, also used for nation sect that follows the teachings of the bhakta Kabir a dominant peasant caste in AP a tenet of mainstream Hindu philosophy whereby one’s deeds/condition (including caste) will determine lives yet-to-be lived village officer in-charge of land records in AP one of the upper castes in northern India, it is a highly educated caste one of the Dalit castes in northern India; they are shepherds as well as butchers cultivator one of the peasant castes in the northern region the second highest caste within the four fold varna order, their traditional occupation was to protect state and society by fighting in wartime and governing in peacetime rich peasant a traditional handleless terra-cotta cup from North India and Pakistan that is typically unpainted and unglazed, and meant to be disposable xxviii


Kurmi Lakh Lassi Lathi Lingayat Lok Sabha Madiga Mahanadu Mahar

Mahatma Mala Mali Mandal Mandal praja parishad Mang Mantra Manusmriti Manuwadi

Mela Mazhabi Sikh Mehtar Munsif Musahar


peasant caste in UP and Bihar one hundred thousand buttermilk a long, heavy wooden stick used as a weapon by the Indian police one of the dominant (peasant) castes in Karnataka lower house of Parliament the most deprived Dalit caste in AP and Karnataka the annual conference of the TDP the most advanced Dalit caste in Maharashtra and in entire India. Members of this caste occupied most of the reserved jobs for Dalits at the state and national level literally, ‘great soul’, a term of honour for M. K. Gandhi one of the developed castes among the Dalits in AP peasant caste in northern and western India association or society; also the restructured middle tier of the Panchayat Raj system the middle tier of the Panchayat Raj system in AP a deprived Dalit caste in Maharashtra repetition of words of prayer the laws according to Manu derogatory term used by the members of the Bahujan Samaj Party to identify behaviour claimed to embody upper-caste prejudice against Dalits and other lower castes celebration, festival or gathering sweeper caste within the Dalit category, but converted to Sikhism another word for Bhangi village headmen in Andhra region the third largest (after Chamar and Dusadh) Dalit caste in Bihar, they are one of deprived castes within the Dalit category once untouchable caste in Tamilnadu, but now in the Backward castes list xxix



Nirguna bhakti Nizam Other Backward Castes (OBCs)

Paleru Palle Panch Panchama Panchayat Panchayat Samithi

Panchayati raj


Pasi Paswan Patel Patwari Pettamdar Pettamdari Pradhan Pulaya Raedasi Sikh

Once an Untouchable caste in Tamil Nadu, now it is placed in the list of Backward Castes the more radical branch of bhakti the ruler of the Hyderabad state socially and educationally deprived castes among the upper Shudras to whom the Constitution of India sanctioned reservation facilities farm servant village or rural locality a committee of five elders Sanskrit term suggesting that the Dalits are in the ‘fifth’ category of the varna order village or caste council (panch means five, hence literally, council of five) the middle tier of the pre-Telugu Desam Party Panchayat Raj system; in the place of the Panchayat Samithis, a number of smaller units called mandals were created by the TDP government in AP in the mid-1980s system of rural local government with three ascending tiers, namely, gram Panchayat, Mandal or Panchayat Samithi and Zilla Parishad traditionally refers to a scholar from Brahmin castes, now an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called upon to give their opinions to the public one of the Dalit castes in Bihar, traditionally, they are brewers variant of Dusadh dominant landlord caste of Gujarat junior revenue official landlord and holder of power in traditional village setting in South India economic and social dominance the head of a panchayat or council one of the Dalit castes in Kerala Chamars of Punjab who converted to Sikhism xxx


Rajbhanshi Rajya Sabha Rasta rook Reddy Reddy-raj

Ryot Scheduled Castes Shudras

Suguna bhakti Samaj Sant Sarpanch Sweepers

Taluq Tehsildar Telugu Toddy Twice-born

Varna Vedas Veedi Wada Vyshyas (Vaishyas)


one of the Dalit castes in Bengal the upper house of the Indian Parliament road blockade – a form of protest one of the dominant castes in AP rule by Reddys, a term used to describe the Congress rule in AP from the 1960s to early 1980s cultivator the official name for the Dalits the lowest of the four categories of the varna order, their traditional occupation being to ‘serve’ in a wide variety of manual tasks the less radical stream of bhakti community Hindu saint head of Panchayat occupational term for a number of Dalit castes whose traditional job is to sweep public spaces and collect night-soil and garbage sub-division of a district revenue official the official language of the state of Andhra Pradesh country liquor distilled from coconut and palm trees the first three categories of the varna order, whose males are entitled to wear the ‘sacred thread’ after a ceremony of early manhood; hence, a general term for ‘upper caste’ the four categories (literally, colours) into which classical Hindu texts divide society ancient Hindu texts street locality the third category of the Hindu varna order, their traditional occupation was that of trade and commerce the now usually preferred name for the Bhangis or sweeper community which follows the teachings of the saint Valmiki xxxi


Zamindar Zilla Zilla parishad

revenue intermediaries and landlords under the British district top-tier corresponding to the district in the three-tier Panchayat raj system









Chandigarh Dehradun




New Delhi



















Agartala TRIPURA














Panaji GOA

Yanam (Puducherry)

KARNATAKA International Boundary


pa lk

st ra


RA Thiruvananthapuram

Map 1 Map of India






Port Blair




State Boundary Country Capital

PUDUCHERRY (Pondicherry)



Mahe (Puducherry)

State Capital

Karalkal (Puducherry) it









Bengaluru (Bangalore)

Map not to scale















Map not to scale

Map 2 Map of Uttar Pradesh

LEGEND International boundary State boundary District boundary State capital District headquarter

Robertsganj SONBHADRA


Map 3 Map of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, before its division in 2014

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In a very real sense, the origins of this work go back to two articles I read in 2002. The two pieces of writing provoked me into seriously examining and challenging certain entrenched views that dominate scholarly understanding about caste and politics in India. The first was Ashutosh Varshney’s (2000: 3–25) ‘Is India Becoming More Democratic?’ In this article, Varshney claims a certain ‘Southernization of North India’. He argues that while the politics in northern India had thus far been organised around the Hindu-Muslim axis, in south India, it was organised along caste lines. For him, ‘If the Hindu-Muslim cleavage has been the “master narrative” of the politics in northern India for much of the twentieth century, caste divisions have had the same status in South India’ (ibid.: 5). Two questions that struck me, and which haunted me for a long time, were: Is caste-based politics a contemporary phenomenon in north India, or is caste the main axis around which politics has always been organised in north as well as in south India? And are the lower castes, especially Dalits, challenging the caste-based cultural hegemony and political domination of the caste Hindus for the first time? The second article was ‘Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste’ by Rajni Kothari (1994: 1589–94), which contains two fascinating arguments: first, ‘Casteism in politics . . . is no more and no less than politicisation of caste’ (ibid.: 1590), will lead to transformation of the caste system. Kothari substantiates this position by drawing attention to transformations that have already been happening in India, both structurally and ideologically, as a result of electoral politics. Compelled by the electoral process, the traditional castes have engaged in a whole variety of new alignments, splitting and federating along secular political lines to bargain with political parties. Such engagement is, of course, motivated by the self-interest of these castes, and yet, that engagement has ‘undermined the rigidity of the system’ (ibid.). 1


Kothari also points out a whole range of shifts that are taking place on the ideological front. For instance, while earlier, the status of an individual in society was ordained, now it is negotiable; while the roles and positions of people were ritually defined, now the same roles have civic and political definitions and in the place of hierarchy, there is plurality. Kothari’s second argument is that although caste is oppressive, it can provide a basis for the struggle against oppression; and, in fact, caste facilitates the oppressed to move away from traditional structures to modern spaces. In a way, for him, caste ‘has the potentiality of being a two-pronged catalyst: as purveyor of collective identity and annihilator of the same hierarchical order’ (ibid.). Although I remain extremely sceptical about the second argument, I remain convinced by the first, especially the idea of transformation of the ideology of caste. This conviction was borne out of my experience of the Dandora Movement in Andhra Pradesh (AP). In 1995, the Madigas, one of the four major Dalit castes in AP (the other three being Malas, Adi Andhras and Rellis), mobilised under the banner of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS), which is also popularly known as the Madiga Dandora, for sub-classification of reservations for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the state. Questioning the appropriation of a major share of these reservations by Malas and Adi Andhras, the MRPS demanded the caste-based redistribution/sub-classification of the reservations. Audaciously, the MRPS activists also started the practice of adding their caste title ‘Madiga’ to their names. For instance, Krishna, the main leader of the movement, became ‘Krishna Madiga’, and Krupakar, another prominent leader of the movement, became ‘Krupakar Madiga’. Students of the Indian caste system will be aware that the suffixing of caste titles to individual names had hitherto been an exclusive preserve of the upper castes and some of the upwardly mobile castes within the Shudra category, such as Yadavas and Goudas. Such groups use the caste titles with great pride and insist that others, especially the lower castes, address them with those caste titles in private and in public. In contrast, Dalits never felt confident about suffixing their caste identities to their names; they were afraid of being treated as pichadi log (‘untouchables’) and also because most of their caste titles have for centuries been used as terms of abuse by the caste Hindus, who have thus infused inferiority and shame into the lower-caste identities, in a very real way. But when the Madigas, the so-called lowest of the low, began to use their caste title and insisted that others also should address them with that same title, the cultivated pride and arrogance displayed by the caste Hindus through their caste titles was suddenly ‘punctured’ (Balagopal 2000: 1077). This experience substantiates Kothari’s argument on the transformation of the ideology 2


of caste. However, I was still doubtful of his argument that the politicisation of caste leads to the transformation of the system, and that caste has the potentiality of working as a catalyst or annihilator of the hierarchical order. This doubt generated a host of other questions, which directed me towards the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The BSP, which was started by Kanshiram in 1984 in UP, mobilised Dalits and other lower castes under the broader category of bahujan (majority of the people) for political power. By mobilising people around their caste identities and by distributing its seats to those castes that had hitherto been at the margins of the Hindu social order and political power, the party succeeded in politicising caste in UP. Did that politicisation transform the system? What did the BSP do to transform the lives of Dalits and marginalised sections? These two questions actually pulled me back to AP and forced me to reflect on the Dalit movement and politics in that state. Dalits in AP suffered two major atrocities in the mid-1980s and early 1990s at the hands of the two main dominant castes in the state, the Kammas and the Reddys. These incidents are discussed in detail in Chapter 5 of the book. The first atrocity was organised against the Madigas of Karamchedu village in 1985 by the Kammas; the other was perpetrated by the Reddys against the Malas in Chunduru village in 1991. These two incidents led to the emergence of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha (APDMS), under the leadership of Bojja Tarakam and Katti Padma Rao, with the twin demands of self-respect and annihilation of caste. For nearly a decade, the APDMS mobilised Dalits, Adivasis and Shudras (or the ‘Backward Castes’) against the caste-based violence and socio-economic and political domination of the upper castes. The outcome was the emergence of a strong social consciousness and also political consciousness to an extent among the lower strata in the state, particularly among Dalits. However, this development did not actually result in political power for Dalits in particular, and the bahujans in general, in the state. Why did the Dalits succeed in winning political power in UP and why did they fail in AP? With these questions in mind, I read some key books on the Dalit movement and politics in UP and AP. Among them, two books on UP were, at that time, the most up-to-date, and one book on AP was acclaimed as groundbreaking by critics. Sudha Pai’s Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution: The Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh examines Dalit politics in post-independence UP. By focusing on Dalits, Pai’s work sought to examine three key aspects of the BSP: the origin and trajectory of the party, its mobilisation strategies and its ideology. She also asserted that the northern province of UP did not witness any anti-caste 3


movements by the Dalits prior to independence, like southern and western provinces had (Pai 2002: 27). This claim impelled me to question whether the claim could be true. The second pivotal work was Christophe Jaffrelot’s (2003) India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics. This is an extremely ambitious work that attempts to examine the electoral assertion of the lower castes in contemporary northern India. In order to explain the contemporary caste-based politics of the lower castes, Jaffrelot not only examined their politics in colonial northern India, but also attempted to make sense of all-India politics by comparing the lower-caste politics of northern India with those of southern India. He argued that Dravidian ideology set the tone and content of lower-caste politics in south India, and led the way to their political empowerment (Jaffrelot 2003: 166–80). It is true that the Dravidian ideology set the tone for the politics of the lower castes, but one cannot agree with the later aspect of the claim. If by ‘South India’, Jaffrelot meant only Tamil Nadu, then he was correct. But if he meant all regions and states, then he was mistaken: other regions and states in south India, such as coastal Andhra and Hyderabad, did not witness strong Dravidian movements. Interestingly, if the lower-caste movements, especially the Dalit movement in colonial coastal Andhra and in the Nizam State of Hyderabad, were not based on the Dravidian ideology, then around what ideology were they organised? This question took me to a close reading of Gail Omvedt’s (1994) work, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India. In this fascinating work, Omvedt examined Dalit movements and politics in three regions in colonial India: Maharashtra, the Nizam State of Hyderabad and coastal AP. After a close reading of the book, I felt that it was a one-dimensional reading of the Dalit movements and politics in the Nizam State of Hyderabad and Coastal AP because even prior to the entry of Ambedkar in these two regions, the Dalits mobilised around the ‘Adi’ ideology, and mounted a strong critique of Brahmanism and also demanded their share in the emerging political power. Of course, Omvedt (1994: 114–25) mentions these aspects, but as a passing commentary only. My second problem with this work is with its presentation of Dalits as one homogenous category, organised against Brahmanical ideology and its oppression. One must ask if there was unity among the Dalits. Is ‘Dalit’ a homogenous category? Examining Dalit politics and movements from the vantage point of caste-based movements among the Dalits in contemporary AP, it becomes clear that Dalits have always been divided on the basis of caste. And so, what was happening within the Dalit category? And if there was unity, what led 4


to disunity among the Dalits in contemporary AP? These questions have shaped my research agenda. With these questions in mind, I attempt to understand the contours of Dalit politics along three principal axes: (i) historically, in the context of a history of anti-caste, and especially Dalit, protests from the late 19th century onwards in UP and AP; (ii) thematically, in the context of contemporary debates about enlarging the space of democracy in India; and (iii) comparatively, by making a broad contrast between north India and south India. Analysing Dalit politics historically and thematically is important for understanding the contours shaping contemporary Indian politics as a whole. Undeniably, in the last few years, public–political arguments over the institution of caste have plainly intensified, and, more than ever before, social scientists are studying how it is being reshaped by contradictory and confusing discourses. A comparative regional profile could lend a further dimension to the problem. A hypothesis that requires exploration is whether the politics in north India and south India are based on different trajectories, keeping in mind that the master narrative of politics in north India through much of the late 19th and 20th centuries was Hindu–Muslim cleavage, whereas in southern India, it was caste division. This assertion, while plausible, does require probing, and I propose to do so from an Ambedkarite perspective. In terms of spatial concentration, studies on Indian society and polity either are usually narrowly focused on a particular Indian state or have a broad generalised all-India overview. In recent years, some studies have tried to cover this gap either by making a broad comparative analysis of northern and southern regions of India, or by examining two or more states comparatively. While studies by Atul Kohli (1987), Christophe Jaffrelot (2003) – especially the latter – and others fall into the first category, studies by John Harris (1999), Stuart Corbridge and John Harris (2000), Kanchan Chandra (2004) Rob Jenkins (2004) and others fall in the second category. But these studies mainly examined issues such as political variables that could account for inter-state variations in poverty reduction, policymaking, subaltern politicisation, civic engagement in the democratic process and political leadership. None of these studies look at the lower castes, especially Dalit struggles against caste, either across regions or across states comparatively. One exception has been Gail Omvedt’s (1994) pioneering work on Dr Ambedkar and Dalit movements. But with its concentration on Dalit activities only in colonial India, the work has its own limitations. Therefore, it is expected that the present work which seeks to examine the Dalit mobilisations and politics both in colonial and in postcolonial India comparatively will shed new light in our understanding of contemporary Dalit activities. 5


Dalit category Before we proceed further, we must seek some clarification over the category of Dalits or Scheduled Castes and the fallout of the institutionalisation of reservations. Such a clarification is important both on account of the contemporary debate over the Dalit category (Bharati S Reddy 2002; Shah A.M. 2002; Judge 2003; Marriott 2003) on account of the ongoing movements for sub-classification of the SC reservations in states such as AP, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in southern India, and Punjab and Haryana in northern India. Contrary to conventional understanding, ‘Dalit’ is not a homogenous category. The grouping of heterogeneous castes into one category, first as ‘Depressed Classes’ and later as ‘Scheduled Castes’, was the outcome of British colonial legislation.1 The categories in the domain of politics, as Gopal Guru (2001: 97) argues, ‘are conscious constructions with either a positive or negative agenda as chalked out by their users’. The ‘Scheduled Caste’ category, constructed in the service of the colonial state (Awadhendra 2003: 279), officially came into existence in 1936, when the government listed in one schedule all those castes that were isolated and disadvantaged by the caste Hindu practice of untouchability. These castes were differentiated among themselves in their standing in caste hierarchy, levels of socio-economic and educational progress and levels of political consciousness.2 Yet, as noted by Galanter (1984: 122) ‘their low status in the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy which exposed them to invidious treatment, severe disabilities, and deprivation of economic, social, cultural, and political opportunities’ was accepted as their defining feature, justifying their designation within a single category by the colonial authorities. In other words, the existing description of the Scheduled Castes is not based on the self-representation of the castes in question, but derives from the world view of native elites and colonial ethnographers. The common identity of untouchable castes as Scheduled Castes has, as noted by Sudipta Kaviraj (1997: 9), ‘given rise to a trend which seeks to transfer its grievance from a caste language to class language, highlighting the idea of exploitation associated with social indignity’. That is to say, the idea of a common identity has given the Dalits a new power to resist; while earlier, each individual caste might have suffered in isolation, now they were able to resist together. However, the grouping of the disparate castes under the Scheduled Caste category has eroded the differences and diversities among them. For example, although both Bhangis and Chamars in north India were untouchables, the former is more deeply discriminated against by the caste Hindu society than the latter. While Bhangis were



prohibited from engaging in any form of contact, for the Chamars, physical contact appears not to have inhibited many aspects of daily life (Mahar 1972: 18). Again, in south India, there is no direct indigenous equivalent of the Bhangis, and the Dheds of Gujarat are more akin to Mahars in Maharashtra than to Bhangis. And such social realities of heterogeneity and inequalities not only were typically masked by homogeneity, but also led to a fundamental false perception that ‘there is no difference between them’ (Charsley 1996: 11). Following the legislation, the Scheduled Caste category became the basis for political representation of untouchables in colonial India. Incidentally, the makers of the Constitution of India, instead of addressing this fundamental question, also blindly adopted the colonial category for the distribution of reservations in post-independence India (Galanter 1984: 122–3). But what were the grounds upon which the system of reservations for Dalits was justified? By declaring the Indian state as secular, a status that was justified from the standpoints of three cardinal liberal principles – liberty, equality and neutrality – the Constitution of India prohibits the state from discriminating against any citizen. But against a historical background of entrenched social, economic and political inequalities created and justified by the caste-based hierarchical social order, such principles would remain paper principles. In order to overcome these inequalities, the need was recognised for constitutionally guaranteed special provisions for the backward classes. In a way, the makers of the Indian Constitution were convinced that transition from a rigid hierarchical Hindu order to an egalitarian Indian order required a deliberative departure from formal principles of secularism (Chatterjee 1994: 1768–77). Interestingly, in the Constituent Assembly debates, the Dalit question was considered as a question of minorities (Bajpai 2000 & 2002).3 But what was it that qualified a group for minority status? Part of the answer lies in Ambedkar’s observations. In his draft provisions, which were submitted to the Minorities Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar categorically stated that ‘social discrimination’ constitutes the real test for determining whether a social group is or is not a minority (Shiva Rao 1968: 109). And he justified his case for considering Dalits as minorities from the point of the historical tyranny of caste Hindus and the likelihood that they would monopolise the administration in free India. Indian nationalism, Ambedkar observed, had developed a doctrine called ‘the divine right of the majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism while the monopolizing of the whole power by the majority is called nationalism’ (ibid.: 113). Against such a background, what could 7


swaraj mean to Dalits, who were ‘placed between the Hindu population and the Hindu dominated administration, the one committing wrongs against them and the other protecting the wrongdoer?’ ‘It can only mean one thing’, Ambedkar emphasised, ‘that while today it is only the administration that is in the hands of the Hindus, under swaraj the Legislature and Executive will also be in the hands of the Hindus’ (ibid.: 103). Thus, in such a context, it was essential to enshrine safeguards in the form of reservations for minorities in the Constitution of India. Below, I shall look at the arguments that were put forward in the Constituent Assembly as justification of political representation and reservations in education and employment for Dalits. On the question of political representation for minorities, although separate electorates were demanded by the representatives of various minority groups, that demand was summarily rejected by a majority of members in the Constituent Assembly. Instead, proportional representation was proposed as a mechanism that would facilitate the participation of minorities in legislative bodies. Proponents of proportional representation advanced their arguments mainly on two considerations: representation and democracy. First, it was argued that the mechanism of a ‘first past the post’ electoral system, from the vantage point of democracy, violated the very idea of political equality of individuals, for it disenfranchised the voters who did not vote for the winning candidate. In contrast, proportional representation, it was forcefully argued, was more democratic because it facilitated a more adequate realisation of the right to representation of every individual in a democratic framework.4 Second, the principle of proportional representation was also justified within an ideological framework of democracy. A parliamentary system with the mechanism of the ‘first past the post system’ would lead to a concentration of power in one party, and such tendencies in a democracy would be, at best, undemocratic, and at worst, the tyranny of the majority, and the very system will be in constant danger of degenerating into fascism. In the debates of the Constituent Assembly, justification of the provisions for educational and employment opportunities for Dalits came from different ideological grounds. For our purpose, those grounds can be broadly divided into two categories: fairness and general welfare. Two types of fairness arguments were put forward by the supporters of the reservations. First, reservations were considered as reparation for a history of injustice against Dalits (Galanter 1984: 552). Second, it was argued that without some form of special provisions, it would be impossible for historically disadvantaged groups to actually access educational and employment opportunities and the constitutional provisions of equality 8


of opportunities for all citizens would remain mere paper declarations. Reservations were essential not only to rectify the structural forms of discrimination, but also to overcome persisting practices of discrimination even after such practices were outlawed and equality of opportunity had been formally instituted. Thus, reservations were defended as an extension of the norm of equal treatment of all individuals. Justification for reservations was also found in arguments for improving the welfare of the nation as a whole, not only of the targeted groups. Arguing in favour of the reservations, K. T. Shah observed: any special discrimination in favour of (Scheduled Castes and ‘backward’ tribes) may not be regarded as violating the basic principles of equality for all classes of citizens in the country. They need, and must be given, for some time to come at any rate, special treatment in regard to education, in regard to opportunity for employment and in many other cases where their present inequality, their present backwardness is only hindrance to the rapid development of the country. Any section of the community which is backward must necessarily impede the progress of the rest . . . There are classes of our citizens who may need through no fault of theirs, some special treatment if equality is not to be equality of name only or on paper only but equality of fact. (Constituent Assembly Debates: Official Report, 1967, Vol. VII: 655–6) Thus, in the above argument, justification for reservations as a matter of general welfare was made at two levels: first, the reservation measures were seen as a necessity to reduce the vast socio-economic disparities between groups; and second, although reducing inequalities among groups was in itself a necessity, such tackling of inequalities was an essential precondition both for national integration and for general progress and development of the country.5 From the above, what is significant for our purpose is that the internal differences within the numerous untouchable castes – in terms of each caste’s standing in caste hierarchy, levels of socio-economic and educational progress and levels of political consciousness – were not considered during the making of the Constitution. Also, the eventual institutionalisation of reservation facilities to the hitherto untouchables as the Scheduled Castes has taken place on the basis of their group identity, rather than caste identity. The emergence of caste-based movements for social justice, especially for the redistribution of SC reservations among all the Dalit castes 9


on the basis of each caste’s size of the population in contemporary India, is largely due to this group-based distribution of the reservation facilities. As such, it is important to understand the consequences of the system of reservations that was instituted with a ‘revolutionary gesture’ – to borrow the phrase from Kaviraj (2000: 99) – by the Constituent Assembly of India. The policies of positive discrimination produced mixed results. First, one of the remarkable contributions of political representation for Dalits was that it did provide ‘substantial quantitative presence’ (Galanter 1984: 50), which, in turn, helped to check the monopoly of the Hindu upper castes over legislative bodies. But ultimately, what matters is not simply presence itself, but the quality of that presence. For a long time, Dalit representatives did not actively participate in debates in the legislative bodies, even if the issues concerned Dalits and other marginalised strata. The reason was that a majority of them came from extremely privileged backgrounds. In fact, they were chosen by the mainstream political parties not because they spoke the language of common Dalits, but because they spoke the language of the former in the latter’s tone. Even those Dalits who managed to get elected independently were absorbed by the mainstream political parties ‘offering lucrative and prestigious posts in the establishment’ (Jaffrelot 2007a).6 But even such members were eventually ghettoised in the social welfare departments (Guru 2002: 40–1; Weiner 1989: 151, 175). Second, during the last six decades, if literacy levels among Dalits and their presence in institutions of higher education have witnessed a dramatic rise, it is due to reservations only. Take, for instance, the literacy level of Dalits in comparison to the literacy level of the general population. In 1961, while literacy of the general population was around 24 per cent, it was a mere 10 per cent among Dalits. Thirty years later, in 1991, literacy among Dalits had increased to 37.14 per cent in comparison with 52.10 per cent of the general population (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 141), and the enrolment of Dalits for undergraduate, postgraduate, technical and professional courses within a span of 15 years had almost doubled. While in the academic year 1978–79, only 7.08 per cent of students enrolled in higher educational institutions were Dalits by 1995–96, this had risen to 13.30 per cent.7 Yet, one should not be too complacent with these figures, for the seats earmarked for Dalit students often remained unfilled in universities in general, and in medical and engineering schools in particular (Chitnis 1984: 36–7; Ghosh 1997: 135–72); and of the 239 universities in the country (including 12 central universities), only 2 per cent of the 23 per cent (combined share for Dalits and Adivasis) of the posts were filled (Jogdand 2004: 3345). Further, the IITs even today are not filling the Dalit quota, and continue to remain ‘modern day agraharam[s]’ – Brahmin 10


enclaves (Vinoj Kumar 2007). A statement made by the chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes reflects this dismal condition: ‘These institutions are particularly resistant to Scheduled Caste reservations. Not one of them has filled the quota’ (Vidhya Subramanian in Times of India, 9 August 1997). Third, reservations in employment opportunities facilitated a steady increase in the number of job-holders among Dalits in all the four categories of government employment. For instance, in 1953, only 0.35 per cent of Dalits were in Class I jobs, and by 1994, that figure had risen to 10.25 per cent. Similarly, during the same period, there was a rapid increase from 1.29 per cent to 12.06 per cent in Class II jobs and 4.52 per cent to 15.73 per cent in Class III jobs (Galanter 1984; Ghosh 1996; Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998; Ghosh 1997). Two remarkable consequences of this increase are: first, it secured the presence of Dalits in government institutions and, to that extent, facilitated the breaking of upper-caste hegemony over government institutions. Second, the steady income and enhanced social status that goes along with government jobs led to the emergence of a small but powerful middle class among Dalits, which has been acting as a gate-keeping agency to secure the interests of the Dalit category. However, as many studies have pointed out, it was only in Class III and IV jobs that the Dalit quotas were filled, whereas in Class I and II jobs – the superior administrative and managerial occupations – Dalits were thinly represented. And such a condition, as rightly observed by Takashi Shinoda (2002: 253), is the result of the Hindu upper castes’ prejudice against Dalits even when they have the necessary qualifications. Finally, the opportunities afforded by the quotas have been cornered by the advanced castes within the Dalit category – a phenomenon that resulted in the emergence of both dominant castes and a middle class, largely from these dominant castes in the Dalit category. Chamars in UP, Punjab and Haryana, Mahars in Maharashtra, Holeyas in Karnataka, Parayars and Palars in Tamil Nadu and Malas in AP ‘have nearly monopolized the Dalit quota’ (Pradeep Kumar 2001: 3505). This point of differential access to reservation opportunities by certain Dalit castes has been the focus of much scholarship, which, moreover, confirms the operation of caste patterns. For example, Suma Chitnis, in an empirical study on the distribution of post-metric scholarships among Dalits in Maharashtra, presents evidence to show how caste patterns operate in the use of this facility. She notes that Mahars, who constitute 35.1 per cent of the Dalit population in the state and who are better off within the Dalit category, account for 85.8 per cent of the scholarships disbursed. In contrast, Mangs, who constitute 32.6 per cent and who are backward by 11


any socio-economic standards, account for only 2.2 per cent of the total number of scholarships (Chitnis 1972: 1675–81; Shah and Patel 1977; Wankhade 2001). Kusum Premi (1974) observes a similar pattern among Dalits in Punjab. Ramadasias and Chamars, who, together, constitute 38.6 per cent of the total Dalit population in the state, availed 56.5 per cent of reserved seats in higher education; yet, Mazhabis, who account for 16.1 per cent of population in the Dalit category obtained a mere 4.5 per cent of the reserved seats in higher education (Jodhka and Avinash Kumar 2007). Not surprisingly, the castes that dominate education and employment opportunities have also dominated the political opportunities available to Dalits. For instance, the over-presence of the Chamars of UP, Mahars of Maharashtra and Malas of AP (we shall see this in detail in Chapter 6) in the Scheduled Caste reserved seats, both in parliament and state legislative assemblies, exemplify this point. These investigations suggest that the repeated use of the reservations by the better-situated castes from generation to generation has not only facilitated their advancement on the socio-economic ladder – which is, of course, a positive outcome – but importantly, has indirectly restricted the marginalised castes in accessing welfare measures. The Lokur Committee’s report on the inequalities within the Dalit category requires some discussion at this point. In the late 1960s, one of the major concerns of the Government of India was these inequalities, and in June 1965, it appointed a committee under the chairmanship of B. N. Lokur. The committee found that ‘a lion’s share’ of preferential benefits had been ‘appropriated by the numerically larger and politically well-organized communities’ (‘Department of Social Security’ 1965: 6, cited in Galanter 1984: 136). In order to correct the deleterious effects of the policy, the committee suggested de-scheduling some of the ‘relatively forward’ castes and communities. In addition to 14 tribal communities, this list included 28 SCs, including Chamars (Bihar, UP and Punjab), Mahars (Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh), Malas (AP) and Namasudras and Rajbanshis (West Bengal). This suggestion held out the prospect of redirecting the distributive benefits of the reservation policy to the marginalised castes within the Dalit group. However, politically, such a step would have been a major catastrophe for the group as a whole. For, although it would have left the SCs in the southern part of the country virtually intact (except in AP), it would have almost halved the SC population in north India, and that would have substantially reduced the number of reserved seats for Dalits at all levels in the political arena. Not surprisingly, Dalit leaders reacted angrily to the proposal, and held huge demonstrations in front of parliament, which led to the withdrawal of the government’s support for the 12


proposal. Apparently, the Congress-led government was not serious about the committee’s recommendations as it had been the major beneficiary of the SC reserved seats – at the time of the report of Lokur Committee, the party held 72 out of a total of 114 SC seats – and greatly depended upon votes of the numerically sizeable castes, such as Chamars, Mahars and Namasudras. Thus, the ‘purpose’ of the committee’s report, just a year before the general election in 1967, was ‘to remind them (the SCs) that there was such a possibility and how much they had to be grateful for’ (interview with B. P. Maurya, cited in Galanter 1984: 138).

Caste and democracy in India Understanding caste as a system of social hierarchy and domination is central to understanding the position of Dalits in India today. Why is it that caste continues to persist in modern India? At the time of independence, Nehruvian progressive ideologues and academic theorists expected that institutions of democratic government would exert a destructive influence on the traditional structure of caste. It was also expected that the idea of modern citizenship and economic progress would eliminate all forms of intermediate affiliations of identity and loyalty between the state and the individual. To put this in the words of Kaviraj (1997: 8): ‘the logic of industrial development and the logic of democratic citizenship were both to work as combined logic of individuation, and dissolve primordial identities like caste and religion’. The modernist project, however, did not lessen the relevance and significance of caste (Srinivas 1962; Rudolph and Rudolph 1967 & 1987). Drawing from the experiences of democratic politics, M. N. Srinivas argued that although socially, caste is declining, it has been strengthened in the context of modern politics. This is because ‘the power and activity of caste has increased in proportion, as political power passed increasingly to the people from the rulers’ (Srinivas 1962: 23). In a way, caste has become an important factor in the functioning of democratic institutions. And given this importance of the caste factor in the political process of the country, Rudolph and Rudolph (1967: 97–8) argued that the importance of caste was unlikely to decline because ‘the need for mediating collective and adaptive structures based on birth and integrated by primary group sentiment and interest transcends the imperatives of modernity in politics and society’. Taking a similar line, Kaviraj (1997: 8) argues: [s]ince elections required aggregation of perceived interests and the format of perception of identity was deeply traditional, 13


appeals to caste or occasionally religious identities were more effective in the short term. It was evident that politicians wished to win elections before they modernised their country, and to win elections,‘politicians manipulated the existence of traditional identities in actual electoral practice’. For some scholars, the amalgamation of caste and politics are positive trends. Rajni Kothari, for instance, argues that as long as caste consciousness was the preserve of the Brahmanical caste Hindus, it was respectable, but today, those who suffer from within the system invoke caste identity to break it rather than preserve it. To put the same in Kothari’s (1970: 4–5) words: Caste can be oppressive but it can also provide a basis for struggle against oppression. It can at once be traditionalist and modernist. It has the potential to be a two-pronged catalyst: a preserver of collective identity as well as an inhibitor of the same hierarchical order from which collective identity is drawn. He also insists that caste, far from being an impediment to the creation of a democratic political order, was a structure through which politics must ‘strive to organise’ (ibid.: 225). He maintains that the political mobilisation of castes had made a substantial contribution to the development of democracy. He explains further that ‘it is because “ethnic” identities are openly acknowledged, politically organised, and made explicit bases for bargaining that more open processes of institutional penetration and political integration has been possible in India’ (ibid.: 241). Javeed Alam (1999: 757–61) too debunks one of the myths of modernisation that caste can always be reduced to casteism. He argues that the collective nature of ‘un-freedom’ in India, unlike Europe, has made the struggle for emancipation community based rather than a struggle based on the individual. The present work seeks to deepen these arguments by foregrounding the Dalit view, which has been insufficiently addressed in current debates. It also seeks to demonstrate that a study of Dalit politics will contribute not only to an understanding of the nature of domination, but also about the nature of democracy in the Indian subcontinent. For, as mentioned above, the rise of lower castes and Dalits in northern India and their simultaneous empowerment in southern India have led scholars to argue collectively that India’s democracy has become more inclusive and participatory. Yogendra Yadav (1999), for instance, argues, the ‘[d]emocratic system enjoys greater legitimacy today than in the past. 14


The poor and the deprived defend democracy more vigorously than the elite’. Ashis Nandy (1999) also asserts that ‘socialism, secularism, development, nationalism, security, science and technology have all become debatable, in some cases abrasively so, but not democracy’. He continues that the peace movement in the 1950s and 1960s, environmentalism and the re-emergence of Gandhism in the 1970s and globalisation in the 1990s have all risen and fallen, but only ‘the appeal of democracy has not faded in India. Indeed, it has deepened over the years. It now cuts across parties, educational levels, classes, castes, religion, gender, and ethnic divisions. The poor seem committed to it more than the ultra-rich’ (ibid.). D. L. Sheth (2000: 237) also endorses these views and calls this process the ‘secularisation of Indian politics’. Further, he is of the opinion that the ‘Indian representative democracy is indeed moving closer to the people. They now feel more involved and show greater concern for institutions of local and regional governance’ (ibid.: 243). Such judgements on Indian democracy do not go uncontested. Even those who agree that power has decisively moved down the caste hierarchy are unsure about what this means for the poor and the oppressed. As Niraja Gopal Jayal (2001: 23) argues,‘free and fair elections, freedom of speech and expression, and the rule of law and its protection to all are necessary, but by no means sufficient conditions for a democracy to be meaningful’. The democratic project is incomplete until the meaningful exercise of the equal rights of citizenship has been guaranteed to all. Political equality, she argues, is severely restricted by inequalities that exclude many from having equal opportunities. Arguing on similar lines, Kaviraj (2000: 89–119) also feels that the introduction of the formal principle of political equality has failed to overcome the actual unequal economic structure of Indian society, reinforced by the uneven distribution of gains under a predominantly capitalist economy. Incidentally, despite his criticism of the process of democratic politics, Kaviraj recognises its contributions and the changes it has effected on caste – a process which he theorises as the ‘democratisation of caste’. For him, one unintended consequence of populist politics was that it fundamentally altered the structural properties of caste in the electoral arena. As political parties became concerned more with the spatial concentration of castes than their status within the caste hierarchy, electoral politics resulted in a ‘democracy’ of caste groups in place of a ‘hierarchy’ (ibid.:102). He further argues that, on the one hand, there is considerable decline of caste in traditional arenas of social behaviour, such as commonality and marriages; in political life, on the other hand, caste has been given a powerful new life due to electoral politics, where people started claiming ‘equality on the basis of caste, without giving up their caste identity’ (ibid.: 109). 15


If one were to view caste and politics from a non-Dalit perspective, then the ideas of secularisation and democratisation of caste successfully captures the nuances of the social and political processes in India. However, viewed from the perspective of Dalit sociological and political discourses, the above theorisation has limited significance. Democratic practices are supposed to involve a process of transformation that takes place through the opening up of opportunities to participate, the inclusion of excluded voices, democratising access to the media, politicising the depoliticised, empowering the powerless and reducing political dependency by transforming a passive citizenship into an active one. However, in Indian democracy, historically, it is largely the dominant upper castes that have defined and decided the political agenda of the disempowered, especially of the Dalits, who received token representation and remaining excluded from substantial participation in political life. Further, the denial of access to resources, to participation in political processes, exclusion from the social milieu and subjugation to an ideology of servitude and bondage faced by Dalits have not been tackled sufficiently in academic scholarship. For instance, in recent years, persons from the Shudra category, with their newfound strength in electoral politics, have begun to claim ‘equality’ and started suffixing their caste name to their actual names. Golla and Kurmi are just a few examples of this phenomenon. Writing on this phenomenon, scholars such as Dipankr Gupta have argued that this is because ‘castes are proud of their identity, regardless of where the textual traditions place them on the “purity–pollution” hierarchy. Each caste puts itself in some way, for some reason at the high end of the hierarchy, meaning that there is no one uncontested ranking of castes but rather, there are perhaps as many rankings as there are castes’ (Gupta 2004: xiii). It may be true that some of the socially and politically empowered and upcoming Shudra caste might express their pride in their caste identities. But such theory of caste pride does not hold true when applied to the lowest status groups, such as Dalits and Adivasis.8 Particularly, Dalits, whose caste names have connotations of dirtiness and low status, are seen as intrinsically lower, so much so that even the so-called political equality could not of any help in ending this situation. Moreover, after more than six decades of independence, a large portion of Dalit masses still lives in segregated colonies on the outskirts of villages and urban areas and continues to suffer due to the continued practice of the two-class system – the most obvious sign of this oppression. In stating these, however, I do not mean that I undervalue the changes that have been happening at the grassroots level, particularly the rapid economic transformations in the era of market reforms (Chandra Bhan Prasad et al. 2010: 39–49). While 16


material advancement addresses one layer of the problems suffered by the Dalit constituency, their problems are much larger than simple material deprivation. Indeed, it is not just the uneducated and poor Dalits who are affected by the wider problems; even educated and employed Dalits who have benefited from positive discrimination policies have been victims of caste-based discrimination and segregation. Their educational, economic and cultural development has not helped to disentangle them from caste-based discrimination, cultural segregation and violence. In a word, class mobility has not helped the stigmatised social identity. This reality forms the basis of the Dalit struggle for recognition, equality and political power.

North and South Indian politics – a comparison Two influential claims by Ashutosh Varshney and Christophe Jaffrelot on north and south Indian politics impel the present research. Varshney, as noted earlier, claims that while politics in northern India was organised around the Hindu–Muslim axis, in southern India, it was organised along caste lines. But with the rise of lower-caste politics in today’s north India, what is happening is, Varshney argues, ‘Southernization of North India’. However, the question of whether caste-based politics is only a contemporary phenomenon in north India requires examination? It is true that the ‘Hindu–Muslim cleavage’ had been the main axis around which politics in colonial northern India was organised. But that does not mean that it was the only axis around which people organised their politics. An excellent research catalogue demonstrates that caste is the central fault line of India – precolonial and postcolonial (for instance, Aloysius 1997). However, major scholars have been reluctant in accepting and engaging with the caste question (for example, Varshney 2002), which clearly demonstrates not only their failure to appreciate the politics organised outside the categories of Hindu or Muslim, but essentially, their blindness to an important Indian reality too. In several provinces in colonial north India, caste – rather than religion – was the main rallying point in Dalit mobilisations, especially among Chamars and other Dalit castes in the United Provinces (Khare 1984; Gooptu 2001; Rawat 2011), Ad Dharmis in Punjab (Juergensmeyer 1982 & 1988; Ram 2004) and Namasudras in Bengal (Bandyopadhyay 1997) for dignity, equality and a share in political power. Indeed, these caste-based mobilisations suggest that in the political domain, caste cleavages were as important as religious cleavages. Jaffrelot, in his work on the rise of the lower castes in north India, claims that divergences in the politicisation of the lower castes in north and south India were mainly a result of the divergent caste compositions 17


in those regions. In northern India, the caste system is traditionally the closest to the varna model with its four orders (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) and the untouchables. In the south, in contrast, the twice-born are seldom ‘complete’, since the warrior and merchant castes are often absent or poorly represented, as in Maharashtra and Bengal. By the same token, the upper varnas are more numerous in the north, whereas in the south, the proportion of Brahmins and even of the twice-born is often low.9 Further, the north–south contrast also derives from the kind of land settlement that the British sustained in these two areas. While the zamindari system prevailed in north India, the raiyatwari system was more systematically implemented in the south. These two divergent systems have had dissimilar effects on the social fabric and cultural ethos of the two regions. That is, while the zamindari system solidified the hierarchy of peasant society, the raiyatwari system was more conducive to different forms of social equality. Moreover, in northern India, the ‘demographic weight of the upper castes and their role in the local power structure’ prepared the ground for the development of Gandhian conservative ideologies in politics (Jaffrelot 2003: 9). This development, in turn, led to arresting lower-caste consciousness in the prison of Sanskritisation. On the contrary, the politicisation of the lower-castes in the south, Jaffrelot argues, was due to the absence of a complex middle order. Such absence, in turn, has facilitated a strong lower-caste mobilisation under the banner of Dravidianism against the Brahmanical hegemony and domination. There are two fundamental problems with Jaffrelot’s reading of the politicisation of the lower castes in south India. First, the possible link between the absence of a middle order in the caste hierarchy and the politicisation of the lower castes is seriously unclear. The upper castes discriminated against the lower castes, especially Dalits, irrespective of the presence or absence of a middle order in the caste hierarchy; as victims, it was natural for Dalits to organise against their victimisers. The second problem in Jaffrelot’s argument is his understanding of the idea of lower castes or the non-Brahmin category. It is true that the caste system in the Hindi belt is traditionally organised around the varna model, or, at least, closest to that model with its traditional four varnas and the untouchables. The hold of the first three varnas on the economic resources and their domination in the socio political and cultural domains were so complete that there was very little space available for Shudras and untouchables during the colonial and immediate post-independence periods. Purely from this vantage point, one may include Shudras as well as Dalits within the generic social category of lower castes, both in the Hindi belt and south India. But then, just as there are differences between Shudras 18


and Dalits in terms of their position in the caste hierarchy and the availability of resources, particularly economic resources, there are also differences within the Shudra category itself. The Shudra category in southern India is essentially divided into two layers of castes. The first layer comprises of what are now known as upper castes – for example, Kammas and Reddys in AP; Lingayats, Vokkalingayats and Shettys in Karnataka; Reddiyars, Mudaliars, Chettiyars and Pillais in Tamil Nadu and Nairs in Kerala. These castes are known as Sat-Shudras (Shudras of ‘true being’), and also as clean Shudras, upper Shudras, pure or high-caste Shudras (Velcheru 2001: 176). Historically, these were the land-owning as well as ruling castes in southern India, and thus, enjoyed a social status analogous to the Kshatriyas in northern India. In terms of its social location, the Sat-Shudra category may be placed below the Brahmins, but in terms of its control over economic resources and domination in the social and political spheres, castes in this category are more powerful than the Brahmins or any other castes in the hierarchy (Price 1996: 61–2). The second layer is made up of service castes, such as Yadavas, Kurmis, Gollas, Goudas and others. During the colonial as well as the immediate post-independence periods, there was not much difference between this set of castes and Dalits, particularly in terms of social status and availability of resources for economic and social development. The dynamics of the differences between them have changed since the late 1970s, particularly through land reforms. We shall discuss at length in Chapter 2 in the section on UP and Chapter 5 in the AP section how, in the name of giving land to the person who tills it, Shudras have appropriated the benefits of land reforms. In any case, the point that I am trying to make here is that the castes in the Sat-Shudra category have compensated for the lack of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in south India as they occupied and controlled similar spaces of power to those occupied by Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in the Hindi belt. Further, as the castes within the non-Brahmin category were divided both vertically and horizontally, they were at variance in their responses against Brahmins and Brahmanism. Castes such as Reddys and Kammas, who occupied positions of privilege within the non-Brahmin category, were not against the caste system per se; they were simply against Brahmins, who enjoyed the highest social status and cultural privileges. These castes within the non-Brahmin category, despite holding a major percentage of the agricultural land, did not actually work their fields; they simply enjoyed the fruits of agriculture, and all the agricultural and auxiliary work was done by the lower Shudra and Dalit castes. In other words, but for the imposed caste-based occupations upon the lower castes, the Sat-Shudras 19


could not enjoy their privileges. Hence, they did not want the caste system to disappear, but to be perpetuated. Their only problem concerned the privileges enjoyed by Brahmins. Despite their economic power and social dominance, they were unable to enjoy the same culturally superior status and educational privileges as Brahmins. They nurtured a great resentment against the Brahmins while, at the same time, aspiring to their social status and cultural privilege. Their hatred against Brahmins reached new heights during the early part of the 20th century, when jobs in the British government in India were taken up exclusively by Brahmins. It was against this domination and to stake a claim for a share in the job market that Sat-Shudras launched the non-Brahmin movement.10 Like the Sat-Shudra castes, the lower Shudra and Dalit castes also condemned the Brahmins’ arrogation of cultural superiority and pre-eminence in government employment, and wanted their share in those government jobs. Yet, the aspirations of the lower castes within the non-Brahmin category – especially Dalits – with imposed restrictions were completely different from those of the aspirations of the privileged non-Brahmin castes. For unlike them, Dalits sought to destroy the system that deprived them of everything that a human being aspires for with dignity and honesty. In essence, the Brahmins in AP, unlike their counterparts in UP, were not dominant castes; the intermediate non-Brahmin castes, particularly Reddys and Kammas, were the dominant castes. This was the main reason why Dalits in the Telugu country allied with the Brahmins rather than with the non-Brahmins in their political activism; this was also the main reason for the slower emergence of an independent Dalit movement in the state. Thus, the politics of the lower castes cannot be understood adequately under the rubric of the non-Brahmin category, for the category is not homogenous. There are massive differences among the castes within the non-Brahmin category in terms of social status, the social respect they command, access to economic resources and in terms of their position in the local power structures. In particular, society in both north and south India is pervaded by the Hindu hierarchical caste structure, and Dalits in both places are kept at the bottom. These differences must be taken into consideration while studying the politics of non-Brahmins. It is these nuances that this study attempts to bring forth from an Ambedkarite perspective.

The Ambedkarite perspective11 The term Ambedkarite, or Ambedkarvadi, literally means someone speaking and advocating Ambedkar’s philosophy, akin to the Marxist (Marxvadi) or Liberalist (udaravadi) philosophies, or Ambedkar vicharavadi 20


(subscribing to Ambedkar’s thought). During the late 1950s, especially after Ambedkar’s diksha (initiation) ceremony to Buddhism in October 1956, the term was used somewhat disapprovingly by his critics and opponents, and conversely, with respect by adherents of his philosophy (Jivaka 1959: 352–3). From its inception in 1957, the Republican Party of India made all efforts to popularise the term, and by the early 1960s, the term and its equivalents in regional languages were widely used across India to denote a distinctive mode of beliefs and values, mobilisation, organisation and also religious pursuits (Kshirsagar 1994). Although the term lost its appeal to ‘Dalit’ with the rise of the Dalit Panther Movement in the 1970s, the émigré followers of Ambedkar have always preferred to describe themselves as Ambedkarites rather than Dalits (Hardtmann 2009: 159).That aside, the Ambedkarite perspective quintessentially draws from Ambedkar’s ideas on caste oppression, democracy and the state and so on. Yet, at the same time, an Ambedkarite perspective does not necessarily confine itself to the ideas of Ambedkar – ideas that evolved in particular sociopolitical or economic contexts. Rather, it involves a dynamic and critical reinterpretation of Ambedkar’s ideas in any given context. Such an active reinterpretation of ideas is not retrograde in nature, but rather, seeks to enlarge the spaces of democracy and equality in the society at large. Ambedkar’s ideas and ideology essentially revolve around the individual. That is to say, the well-being of the individual is at the heart of Ambedkar’s ideas and activism, and constitutes the centre of his analysis. But ‘the Hindu social order’, as Ambedkar (1971[1936]: 47) argued, ‘does not recognise the individual as a centre of social purpose . . . there is no room for individual merit and consideration of individual justice . . . The division of labour brought about by the Caste System is not a division based on choice . . . It is based on the dogma of pre-destination’. Thus, by not recognising the individual’s merit and by not allowing an opportunity to exercise individual choice, Hinduism has trapped all individuals through its caste system. A Brahmin individual may enjoy greater freedom, rights, privileges and status compared to a Dalit, but he is also trapped by the social ideology of Hinduism. Since caste does not allow individual merit, effort and choice, what Ambedkar wanted, first and foremost, was to annihilate caste in order to liberate individuals from its clutches. But the question is how to destroy caste; for, as he perceptibly argued, caste was a state of mind, not a physical object: Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which 21


therefore has to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a state of the mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional change. (ibid.,: 68) Caste cannot be destroyed until and unless there is a perceptible change in the way in which one thinks of it, and such notional change is possible only when one destroys his/her ‘belief in the sanctity of the Shastras’; for it is the Shashtras that have been inculcating the notion of caste among Hindus. As such what needs to be done is destruction of the belief in the Shashtras, which is nothing but the replacement of the Hindu belief system that denies liberty, equality and fraternity in favour of separatism and exclusion, with another that recognises liberty, equality and maître (friendship, a feeling of camaraderie) among all people (71). Yet, Ambedkar knew that such a replacement would not be easy because the caste system not only divided people into separate communities, but also placed these communities in a graded order, one above the other. The grading order allowed each and every caste and community, including the Dalits, to claim superiority over other castes and communities. Essentially, it is this grading that is the main reason for the perpetuation of the caste system, generation after generation. In Ambedkar’s (1971: 88) words: Each caste takes its pride and its consolation in the fact that in the scale of castes it is above some other caste. As an outward mark of this gradation, there is also a gradation of social and religious rights, technically spoken of as ashtadhikaras and sanskaras. The higher the grade of a caste, the greater the number of these rights and the lower the grade, the lesser their number. Now this gradation, this scaling of castes, makes it impossible to organise a common front against the Caste System. If a caste claims the right to interdine and intermarry with another caste placed above it, it is frozen, instantly it is told by mischief-mongers, and there are many Brahmins amongst such mischief-mongers, that it will have to concede interdining and intermarriage with castes below it! All are slaves of the Caste System. But all the slaves are not equal in status. . . . Castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and low, which are jealous of their status and which know that if a general dissolution came, some of them stand to lose more of their prestige and power than others do. You cannot, therefore, have a general mobilisation of the Hindus . . . for an attack on the Caste System. 22


All castes may not be equal in status, but are protective of their status, and so are ‘slaves of the Caste System’. And it is simply on account of this slave mentality that a general mobilisation of Hindus against the caste system is an elephantine task, and so is the destruction of the Shashtras. Ambedkar did not want people, especially the Dalits and other marginalised sections of Indian society, to suffer because of caste. He firmly believed that the entrenched social problems could be rectified with better political arrangements. Indeed, as we have noted earlier, unlike other nationalist leaders, such as Gandhi, Ambedkar categorically noted that untouchability was not a social problem, but a political one; and for a political solution, the intervention of the state was a sine qua non, as the state had a responsibility towards the poorest and most underprivileged. One way of fulfilling that responsibility is to provide universal franchise, ‘the inherent right of every individual in the State’ (Ambedkar in Moon 1976: 559); another is positive discrimination in favour of the oppressed, that is to say, providing guaranteed places for Dalits and other similarly placed groups in government and public services. Further, for Ambedkar, while elections, political parties and parliament were important, they were only formal institutions of democracy and could not be effective on their own in an undemocratic atmosphere. Yet, he realised that political parties were indispensable for the working of a democracy. We know that Ambedkar floated two political parties – the Independent Labour Party and the All India Scheduled Castes Federation; the Republican Party of India, which was formally established in October 1957, was, in fact, the brainchild of Ambedkar and floated a short while after his death in 1956 (Jaffrelot 2005: 86). Ambedkar also viewed democracy as a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people could be brought about without bloodshed (Das 1963: 61). In a way, at the heart of Ambedkar’s approach to the question of democracy was the space available to the marginalised sections to bargain for adequate protection – in terms of their presence in political parties and in the government, access to opportunities in education and employment and opportunities to earn respect and live a dignified life. It, thus, becomes clear that Ambedkar’s ideas and idealism were diametrically opposite to Gandhi’s, who, in the name of dharma, did not allow individuals to have freedom and choice. Ambedkar, in contrast, insisted upon the freedom and choice of individuals. In conclusion, while there are certain core ideas attached to being Ambedkarite, its substantive meanings vary widely. In one sense of the term, an Ambedkarite is one who argues that untouchability is a distinct social phenomenon and must be addressed in the political domain rather 23


than through social reform, as emphasised by Gandhi. It calls for the political mobilisation of Dalits and other similarly placed groups at all levels, which – among other things – would demand preferential consideration and affirmative action for them as a means of democratic inclusion. In another sense, an Ambedkarite accuses the rest of society, particularly Brahmins and the upper castes, of being responsible for the degradation of the lower castes and for not being predisposed to extending special considerations to the latter. Moreover, the upper castes are said to speak the language of equal rights or that of class mobilisation to ward off their culpability. From this perspective, the Brahmin becomes the Dalits’ other, and traditional authority, including culture, is rendered deeply suspect.

Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh as case studies In order to map the contours of Dalit mobilisation for social equality and political power through democratic politics in India, I have taken Uttar Pradesh/UP (literally, ‘Northern State’) in northern India and Andhra Pradesh/AP in southern India as case studies by setting up a contrast between them. Uttar Pradesh is often described as the ‘Hindispeaking heartland’ of India. It was created on 1 April 1937 as the United Provinces, and was renamed ‘Uttar Pradesh’ in 1950. While Lucknow is the state’s capital, Kanpur is the commercial capital and the largest city in the state. On 9 November 2009, a new state, Uttarakhand, was carved from the mountainous Himalayan region of UP. Presently, UP is spread over an area of 236,286 sq. km. equal to 6.88 per cent of the total area of India, and is the fifth largest Indian state by area. It is also the most populous states in India, and as per 2011 Census the total population of the state was 199,812,341 of which male and female were 104,480,510 and 95,331,831, respectively. Nearly 80 per cent of the population of the state resides in rural areas, spread over 97,942 inhabited villages. Its 75 administrative districts are divided into four economic regions: western region, central region, eastern region and Bundelkhand. The first three regions fall in the Gangetic plains, while Bundelkhand forms part of the southern plateau. Economically, the state is one of the most backward in the country, ‘giving its citizens less than some of the worst performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa’ (Hasan 2000: 148). However, it contributes 80 out of the 545 members of the Lok Sabha. This makes it politically the most crucial region in terms of determining the formation of the central government in New Delhi. It is also the chief locale for the transition to a post-Congress polity and is the pivotal site of contest among non-Congress groups. Inter-caste conflict, assertive 24


lower castes and Hindutva politics, all manifest themselves in UP. Potentially, the most radical challenge to upper-caste hegemony is taking place in UP today, the outcome of which would affect the overall structure of social inequality. As Hasan (ibid.: 148) has rightly pointed out, the way in which conflicts between castes and communities are played out in UP will influence the course of democratic politics in northern India and alter the means of wresting and sustaining political power at the national level. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh, which is located in the southern region of India, was formed on 1 November 1956 under the state’s reorganisation scheme. It is the fourth largest state with an area of 276,754 sq. km., accounting for 8.4 per cent of India’s territory. The total population of the state as per the 2011 Census is 84,580,777. Geographically, the state is divided into three regions: coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana, which are, on account of historical reasons, region-specific resource bases, and in terms of socio-economic characteristics, distinct from one another. Of the 23 districts, 9 are in coastal Andhra, 10 are in Telangana and 4 are in Rayalaseema. In recent years, the people of Telangana led a protracted struggle for a separate Telangana state, and the Parliament of India, in response to that struggle, has bifurcated the state into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (consisting of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) through the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, commonly called the Telangana Bill. The Telangana state, which became the 29th state of the Indian Union, came into existence on 2 June 2014. For our purpose, however, Telangana is considered as part of the undivided state of AP. Andhra Pradesh, despite developments in urban sectors, is still largely agricultural in terms of population and employment. Although the share of agriculture in GDP has declined from above 60 per cent in the 1950s to around 22 per cent recently, it continues to be the primary source of income for around 60 per cent of the population in the state. This complex and semi-feudal economic scenario has also decisively influenced the power structure in the state. The agriculture land has been monopolised by the upper-caste landowners, specifically by the two dominant castes, Reddys and Kammas, on whom the landless and indigent Dalits are dependent. Since the late 1970s, the state has witnessed a massive mobilisation of different sections of society – women, the rural poor and Dalits in particular – marking a new phase in its grassroots politics. After the Telugu Desam Party’s assumption of power in 1983, tension grew between the upper-caste peasant communities and Dalits in the villages. The two major attacks on Dalits in 1985 and 1991, by Kammas and Reddys, respectively, caused a great upheaval in the state; consequently, Dalits 25


were organised by people from within the community in a protracted struggle for justice. Today, the political potency of Dalits is increasing. There is an unprecedented politicisation of caste taking place, which has significantly taken the form of both segmentation and mobilisation of Dalits. The MRPS, a separate Madiga organisation, demanded the sub-classification or subcategorisation of reservations in education, employment and governmental benefits, in tune with the numerical strength of the 60 castes within the Dalit category. However, Malas, who have been enjoying a greater presence in the education, employment and political spaces that are reserved for the Dalit category as a whole, objected to this demand and formed the Mala Mahanadu (MMN) as a counter-movement. As such, with the emergence of the MRPS as a major force and MMN in opposition, the crisis in the Dalit movement and politics in the state has reached a different level. Such segmented, and yet comprehensive, assertion may have a significant impact on the course of politics in AP and signal the shape of Dalit mobilisation in the future. To sum up, this book aims to examine Dalit politics comparatively in UP in northern India and AP in southern India. It seeks both to challenge the dominant thinking on politics in northern India and southern India and to fill the gaps in our understanding of Dalit mobilisations for political power and social equality and justice in the two states. It makes four main arguments: first, politics in northern India was not organised only around the axis of the ‘Hindu–Muslim cleavage’, but also around the axis of caste. Second, Dalit consciousness in the northern region was not underdeveloped in comparison with the southern region. Dalits in UP were among the first to make a claim for political power, while their counterparts in other regions were seeking social equality. Third, in seeking to transform the Brahmanical social order and upper-caste-dominated political power, Dalit politics was ideologically distinct both from uppercaste activism on behalf of downtrodden castes and the politics of other lower castes, such as Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Finally, Dalits in UP succeeded in gaining political power due to both the foundations laid by the Adi Hindu movement and the Dalit mobilisations for political power through the United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation (UPSCF) in colonial India and Republican Party of India (RPI) in postindependence UP, and the continuation of that tradition of mobilisation for political power in the contemporary period under the leadership of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Dalits in AP, however, could not acquire political power due to their overemphasis on the idea of social equality during the colonial and the post-independence periods, and also due to 26


their incarceration in caste-based activism on the question of the subcategorisation of the Scheduled Castes reservations in the state. Research Methods: To carry out a comparative study of Dalit politics in north and south India, I carried out intensive research in UP and AP in three phases over a two-year period: (between December 1999 and May 2000; October 2003 and October 2004; December 2006 and May 2007). I might add here that I am a Telugu-speaking Dalit from AP, and so, bring to this research first-hand experience of the issues examined. As an individual who grew up in a Dalit community and experienced discrimination and dominance along caste lines, I have particular biases and views. I hope to bring some of the richness of personal experience to my research endeavour. This project mainly used three research methods. First, the informal interview technique was employed, which was useful in garnering the attitudes and values and obtaining a deep and personal understanding of the Dalit critique of caste and caste-based politics. During the period of field research, I interacted with many people and interviewed more than 100 individuals, both in UP and AP. Second, I used participant observation among political leaders, Dalit leaders, activists and villagers. Third, I have also collected a whole range of documents and primary material, including pamphlets, newspaper articles and other published articles from various Dalit political parties as well as social organisations that have been working for the development of Dalit communities in UP and AP. Fieldwork in UP: Before I began my fieldwork in UP, I did not know anyone in that state. I landed in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the first week of October 2003 and contacted Dr Vivek Kumar, known for his sympathies towards the BSP and its activities. He introduced me to Avinash Goutham, one of the MPhil students in the Centre for Studies of Social Systems (CSSS). I spent nearly a week on the JNU campus, interacting with political sociologists such as Prof. Valerian Rodrigues, Prof. Gopal Guru, Prof. Surendra Jodhka and Prof. Mary John and also with Dalit students from various parts of India. In the second week of October, I moved to Lucknow, and with the help of Goutham, who also hails from Lucknow, I visited the offices of all the main political parties – particularly, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Congress (I) and Samajwadi Party. I spent about a week talking to the office-bearers and activists from various political parties and another week talking to BSP workers, office-bearers and sympathisers. In my interaction, I focused mainly on their association with the BSP, asking them when and why they joined the party, what the party’s achievements were while in power and what the party did to improve the 27


socio-economic conditions of Dalits and other marginalised communities in the state. In the last week of October 2003, Goutham and I left for Banda in Bundelkhand region. This region comprises seven districts: Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot. In Banda, we met Mr Ram Kishore Varma, who was BSP’s divisional coordinator. With his help, we met BSP MLAs – both from Dalit and non-Dalit backgrounds – in all the seven districts and conducted extensive interviews. We also met Bahujan Samaj Party workers and leaders in all the district headquarters in the region. The party workers took us to their villages and helped us to interact with the Dalits as well as with the non-Dalits. In addition to this, in October 2004, I travelled to other district headquarters in the state – especially, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Aligarh, Agra and Kanpur to interact with Dalit activists and the BSP leaders. During my fieldwork in UP, the national elections were announced. As I had previously visited party offices and made a wide range of contacts among the upper echelons of the local political parties, I was invited by BSP, BJP and SP party leaders to observe their campaigns. It was during this time that I managed to obtain the most informative and complex data. I also collected information pertaining to voting practices as well as ethnographic material relating to the national elections. By the end of March 2004, through intensive interviews and interactions, I had collected in-depth information pertaining to Dalit politics in UP, and recorded the observations. Fieldwork in AP: Conducting fieldwork in AP was easier as it is my home state. My fieldwork there began a long time before I began my work in UP. Between December 1999 and December 2000, I had conducted a year-long fieldwork project in AP on the Dandora movement for sub-classification of the SC reservations, as part of my MPhil dissertation at the Department of Politics in the University of Hyderabad. During that period, I interacted with and interviewed the Dandora as well as Mala Mahanadu leaders and activists. I undertook another round of fieldwork in AP for a period of six months between April and September 2004. Initially, I stayed in Guntur district to observe the national as well as state election campaigns. That gave me an excellent opportunity to observe and understand not only the machinations of Dalit politics, but also the caste-inflected nature of mainstream politics at a crucial time in the state, and indeed, national history. Post-elections, I travelled across the state, particularly to the district headquarters, to meet Dalit leaders and activists. I made three trips to Karamchedu and Chunduru villages, where violence against Dalits was orchestrated by upper-caste Kammas and Reddys. 28


After spending three months (April–June 2004) observing the elections, interacting with district-level Dalit activists and leaders and meeting with the victims of violence, I moved to Hyderabad, the capital city of AP. I spent three months (July–August 2004) in the city, gathering information on Dalit movements and politics in the state. I also interacted with leaders belonging to organisations, including Madiga Dandora; Mala Mahanadu; SC, ST, BC and Minorities Employees’ Welfare Associations. Leaders and activists belonging to Dalit political parties such as Mahajana Sangarshana Samithi (MSS), Republican Party of India and BSP were also interviewed. In December 2006, I returned to Hyderabad to access AP State Archives and library in Vetapalem (Prakasam district). During this trip, I spent six months (December–May 2006) gathering materials from various libraries in AP and interacting with Dalit activists and intellectuals. It was during this period that I spent a month at Lumbinivanam in Ponnur, the residence of Dr Katti Padmarao, one of the founders of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha. Katti built a library on the top floor of Lumbinivanam, which contains a range of resources, including Telugu Dalit writings, pamphlets that were released during the Karamchedu and Chundur struggles and archives of various journals that have been launched by Dalits in the state. I was given free access to this personal library, and such access proved to be invaluable to my research on Dalit movements and politics in Andhra Pradesh. Structure of the Study: This work comprises six chapters, excluding the introductory and concluding parts. These chapters are divided into two main sections: while Chapters 1, 2 and 3 concern UP Dalit politics, Chapters 4, 5 and 6 discuss Dalit politics in AP. In this introductory section, I have discussed the claims made by Ashutosh Varshney and Christophe Jaffrelot and the limitations of these claims, as well as the limitations in existing literature on caste politics and democracy, and have noted the objectives of the study I undertook. Chapter 1 examines Dalit politics in UP, both during the colonial and the immediate post-independence periods. It concentrates on the mobilisation of Dalits for their share of political power in the wake of the introduction of the Montague and Chelmsford Reforms in 1919. It also focuses on Dalit politics under the banner of the Republication Party of India. This chapter primarily focuses on two themes: first, how caste, rather than religion, had been the rallying point in Dalit activism during the colonial era; and second, the main demands and activities of Dalits in UP under the influence of the RPI during the period immediately postindependence. The aim of the chapter is to challenge the north–south contrast, as observed by Varshney and Pai’s arguments of delayed development of Dalit consciousness in UP. 29


Chapter 2 examines Dalit politics in post-independence UP, particularly from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. This chapter focuses mainly on the relationship of Dalits with the Congress Party, as well as the context in which the BSP emerged. It will address the following questions: What was the so-called special relationship between the Congress and Dalits? Did this empower Dalits? What kind of socio-economic conditions provided the context for Dalit mobilisation around BAMCEF, and, later on, under the banner of the BSP? How did the BSP mobilise the Dalits and other lower castes for political power? The chapter also aims to examine the history of the BSP, especially the wider socio-economic context and the ideological features of Dalit politics in the state. Chapter 3 examines the BSP’s electoral politics for power and addresses the following questions: Why was the political alliance between the SP and BSP short-lived? Were there major differences between the BSP and SP’s ideological visions? What was the BSP’s idea of social justice, and how did it try to achieve it? The chapter aims to show the contradictions between the politics of Shudras and Dalits, to present an analysis of the BSP’s concept of ‘social justice’, and the programmes of the BSP government. Chapter 4 examines Dalit mobilisations and their politics in the Madras Presidency, particularly in the Telugu region during the colonial era. The chapter concentrates mainly on the ideologies adopted by the two major Dalit groups in the British-ruled Andhra region and the Nizam’s Hyderabad State. The main argument in this chapter is that Dalits in the state were organised around the ideology of Adi Hindu, rather than that of the Dravida. It also argues that, unlike UP, in AP, the social agenda, rather than the political agenda, dominated the Dalit movement, which led to their ‘domestication’ in post-independent AP politics by the Congress and the communists. Chapter 5 concentrates on three aspects of Dalit politics in postindependence AP: (a) Dalit politics under the Congress and Communist parties; (b) Dalit mobilisation under the banner of the APDMS; and (c) the rise and fall of the BSP in the state. This examination will address the following questions: How did the Congress and Communist parties address the Dalit question? What was the context that led to the formation of the APDMS? What was the ideology of the APDMS and what were its programmes and activities? What were the reasons for the emergence of the Dalit movement under the banner of the APDMS? And, why did the BSP fail at electoral politics in AP? The chapter will show how the upper-castebased leadership of the Congress and Communist parties used their power to strengthen the domination of the upper castes in the political and social 30


domains, and how the result was the marginalisation of the lower castes, particularly the Dalit constituency in the state. It also shows how casteism among the Dalits and other lower castes resulted in the failure of the BSP in electoral politics. Chapter 6 examines the emergence of the MRPS and Mala Mahanadu in AP during the early 1990s. The chapter’s main focus is on the arguments and counter-arguments concerning the classification of SC reservations in the debate between Madigas and Malas in the state. The examination will address the following questions: What were the arguments forwarded by the MRPS in support of its demand for caste-based classification of the SC reservations? How were these arguments countered by the Mala Mahanadu? And, what were the main challenges thrown up as a result of the marginalisation within the Dalit castes in the context of the larger Dalit politics? The chapter shows that, contrary to Omvedt, there were differences within the Dalit category. The Dandora movement best captures the distinctiveness of an Ambedkarite Dalit ideology with respect to social transformation.

Notes 1 A number of scholars have investigated the discourses surrounding the practice of untouchability, colonial constructions of social identities of ‘untouchables’ and the category of Scheduled Castes (for instance, see: Cohn 1987; Charsley 1996; Deliege 2001; Dirks 2001). 2 N. Sudhakar Rao’s (2001: 74–96) study of rural AP systematically shows that it is the proximity of a Dalit caste to the high/dominant castes that determines the status of the former in the village caste structure as well as within Dalit castes. All Dalit castes are not treated equally by the dominant castes, which is the reason why some Dalit castes not only take part in agricultural labour for the dominant castes, but also take part in the village rituals, albeit performing ‘low roles’. 3 See, also, Galanter 1984: 27; Jha 2004: 4356–60. 4 For instance, Z. H. Lari, one of most consistent supporters of the principle of proportional representation argued: ‘The twin principles of democracy are that everybody has a right of representation and the majority has the right of govern [sic]. The electoral system must be such as to ensure representation to everybody. This is the significance of adult franchise but the method adopted really amounts to the disenfranchisement of 49 per cent of the voters . . . I am talking of political minority. Even political minorities are entitled to be represented in representative institutions . . . It is better for us to adopt this principle (Proportional representation by single transferable or cumulative voting) which is more progressive in instinct and which is really democratic . . .’ (in Constituent Assembly Debates: Official Report,Vol.VII, p. 209). 5 For further analysis on the questions of political representation and reservations in employment for minorities in the debates of Constituent Assembly, see Bajpai 2000, 2002; Jha 2002, 2004.



6 http://casi.ssc.upenn.edu/india/iit_Jaffrelot.html (accessed on 10 October 2007). 7 National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, annual reports: 1996–97 & 1997–98 (New Delhi: Government of India, 1997 and 1998). 8 In AP, members of the Lambada group in the Adivasi category have been suffixing ‘Naik’ – their caste name – to their proper names, but other groups, such as Yanadi and Erukula, do not want to follow this due to the stigma of being seen as ‘tribal’ that is attached to these groups. 9 According to the 1931 Census, the last one which enumerated castes, the upper varnas represent from 13.6 (Bihar) up to 24.2 per cent (Rajasthan) of the population. In AP, for instance, Brahmins and Kshatriyas represent 3 and 1.2 per cent of the population, respectively. 10 Brahmanism is an ideology which believes in the idea of caste and hierarchy-based occupations and relations. Although Brahmins were the first to believe in the caste – hence the term ‘Brahmanism’ – they were (are) not the only people who believe in caste. Those castes of people who are placed below Brahmins but above Dalits enjoy certain social, economic, political and cultural privileges, and hence, desire the caste system to continue. Thus, Brahmanism is not specific to Brahmins; whichever castes believe in the caste system, hierarchy and inequality are followers of Brahmanism. 11 I thank Prof. Valerian Rodrigues (JNU, New Delhi) and Dr K. Satyanarayana (EFLU, Hyderabad) for clarifying my understanding on the Ambedkarite perspective.



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1 MAKING CLAIMS FOR POWER Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1919–671

The Indian national movement was not only a struggle for freedom from colonial rule. It was, as forcefully argued by Aloysius (1997: 93), essentially a struggle for power among diverse castes and communities. These diverse communities could broadly be categorised into two groups: Brahmin communities that include the first three castes/communities in the varna order and the subaltern or non-Brahmin communities, which include Dalits, Shudras, Adivasis and Muslims (ibid.). As these categories represent different layers in the hierarchical social order, the social discourse of each group was also largely shaped by their social standing. Not surprisingly, the same social discourse was reproduced in their political consciousness and agenda. By the early 20th century, the dichotomies between those two social forces – the Brahmin and non-Brahmin communities – were more obvious. Both were demanding the transfer of political power from the coloniser into the hands of the colonised. Yet, for each group, the intentions behind this demand were in direct contradiction to one another. While the Brahmin group was demanding transfer of power to retain its dominance in the social structure, as well as to gain a hold in the emerging power structure, the non-Brahmins, whose position within the sociopolitical structure until recently had appeared to be immutably fixed at the bottom rung through the formidable doctrines of karma and dharma, were aspiring for the homogenisation or equitable distribution of power within society. While these disparate social forces engaged simultaneously in collaboration with each other against the coloniser and in competition with each other for power, two events in the 1920s changed not only the nature and course of the national movement for freedom, but also the discourse of power. The proposal for further devolution of power to Indians by the colonial government was one event; the entry of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (hereafter, Gandhi) into the Indian national movement was the 35


other (Brown 1969; Parekh 1989 and 1989a; Arnold 2001; Hardiman 2003).2 Dalits in the United Provinces (UP) responded to these events, first by launching the Adi Hindu movement, and later, through the activities of the United Provinces Scheduled Caste Federation (UPSCF). They made two claims: that they were Mula Bharatvasi (original inhabitants of India) and that they wanted separate representation for themselves on the lines of Muslims in the political institutions. Through these claims, Dalits sought both social equality and their due share in the emerging political power. The greatest significance of these organisations was that, until they came into being, Dalit struggles had been concentrated on gaining social respectability and acceptability by caste Hindus. The Adi Hindu movement and the UPSCF redirected the energies of Dalits towards gaining their share of power in the emerging democratic representative institutions. As suggested in the introduction, the claims regarding Dalit politics made by some well-known scholars, especially those made by Ashutosh Varshney (2000), Sudha Pai (2002) and Christophe Jaffrelot (2003), are inexplicable. In his attempt to capture much of 20th-century politics in northern India through the framework of religious cleavages between Hindus and Muslims, Varshney turns a blind eye to those politics that organised around other cleavages. In a similar vein, Pai claims that unlike the western and southern parts of India, the northern province of UP did not witness any anti-Brahmanical movements by Dalits prior to independence. Her assertion that there was ‘delayed development of Dalit consciousness in the United Provinces’ (Pai 2002: 27) was based on false assumptions. Finally, Jaffrelot, who studied the rise of lowercaste politics, argues that with its four orders (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) and untouchables, north Indian society comes closer to the varna model. As such, he asserts that ‘the demographic weight of the upper castes and their role in the local power structure prepared the ground for the development of conservative ideologies and the establishment of the Congress’s clientelistic politics’ (2003: 8). He even went to the extent of claiming that since Congress was the sole political force among them until the 1960s, Dalits ‘remained not only prisoners of Sanskritisation but also of bhakti’ (ibid.: 185). Therefore, the main objectives in this chapter are twofold: first, to establish how, in reality, caste was the main axis around which lower-caste, particularly Dalit, politics was organised in colonial UP. It is also intended to show that Dalit consciousness in UP was far more developed than in other parts of India during the colonial era. The second objective is to explore Dalit politics in immediate postcolonial UP through the Republican Party of India (RPI). 36


From claiming Kshatriya status to taking Shuddhi: Dalits in U P at the dawn of the 20th century The Dalits in northern India, like their counterparts in other parts of the country, were deeply discriminated against and prevented from entering public places by caste Hindus. By the 1920s, these caste-based exclusions and discrimination had become so pervasive that Dalits were prevented from engaging in any form of economic or public activity. Such exclusions were not confined to rural areas; even urban-based Dalits were victims. For instance, other than menial jobs, such as sweeping, scavenging and leather work, there were very few economic avenues available for Dalits in urban areas (Gooptu 2001: 143–84)3; the upper-caste Hindu employers preferred Shudras for unskilled manual labour. In addition to this religious and tradition-based discrimination, the urban local policies of the colonial government added insult to the injuries suffered by Dalits. Nandini Gooptu mentions three problems: first, after World War I, through its municipal sanitary by-laws and licensing regulations, the government began to put tremendous restrictions on the occupational activities of Dalits, particularly on those who handled dead animals, hides and skins or engaged in pig-rearing; second, the government’s new scheme of the Improvement Trusts for sanitary improvement; and finally, the development of non-reclaimed lands. The effect of such government policies was to displace Dalits from residential areas and dispose them of their sources of livelihood (ibid.: 153). In addition, Dalits were also excluded from the available intellectual spaces at that time. For instance, some educated Dalits – despite being few in number – aspired to participate in the burgeoning Hindi public sphere. But they came to experience exclusion from those public debates, simply on account of their low caste status, as well as their social concerns (Wilkerson 2006: 31). Indeed, as Francesca Orsini’s study on the Hindi public sphere in the early decades of the 20th century demonstrates, educated Dalits were almost entirely neglected by the participants of the mainstream Hindi literary field. For the mainstream participants, who were invariably drawn from Brahmanical communities, ‘only matters which appeared under the jatiy or “national” guise were fit to be discussed. Anything which appeared particular or heterogeneous was, as a consequence, not part of the “public” ’ (Orsini 2002: 12). Thus, the Dalits were sandwiched between the Brahmanical communities, who practised untouchability in the name of caste and religious sanctions, and the colonial government which, in the name of developmental activities, dispossessed them by placing restrictions on their only economic activities.



Against these sanctions and restrictions, Dalits began to actively seek ways and means to achieve educational and employment opportunities. It may be noted that at the dawn of the 20th century, there was a mushrooming of caste associations throughout India. At the bottom of this phenomenon lay the introduction of a caste-based census by the British colonial government. Except Brahmins, all the other upper castes and lower-caste Shudras claimed Kshatriya status. Drawing from the preexisting Hindu cultural traditions that relied upon itihas-puranic sources (i.e. treating Puranas as historical sources), a number of caste-based histories were written in support of claims for Kshatriya status. Dalits, particularly Chamars in UP, also established their caste-specific associations, such as Jatav Mahasabha of Agra, Jatiya Chamar Sabha of Meerut and All-India Jatav Youth League of Aligarh. Ramnarayan Rawat notes that a series of Dalit histories were written and published during the first half of the 20th century. Four important books from this series were: U. B. S. Raghuvanshi’s Shree Chanvar Purana (1910–16), the Jaiswar Mahasabha’s Suryavansh Kshatriya Jaiswar Sabha (1926), Pandit Sunderlal Sagar’s Yadav Jivan (1929) and Ramnarayan Yadvendu’s Yaduvansh ka Aitihas (1942) (Rawat 2011: 123). One notable feature of these writings that appeared in the first two decades of 20th century is that the Dalits, contrary to the assumptions of many historians,4 were not critiquing Hindu religion. Instead, they were placing a strong claim for Kshatriya status. Interestingly, in their narratives, the Dalit writers relied upon the puranic sources, just as the colonial and caste Hindu authors did. For instance, claiming that Chamars were originally known as ‘Chanvar’, Raghuvanshi in his Chanvar Purana argued that the present-day Chamars, who belonged to the suryavanshi lineage (the lineage of the Lord Sun, who is the God of Kshatriyas), were powerful rulers during the pious age (dwija kula). But the Chanvars, whose dynasty is mentioned in the anushasan parva (section) of the Mahabharata, lost their status because of the failure of their members to respect ‘Brahmanical knowledge’. In order to give authenticity to his claim, Raghuvanshi argues that the Chanvar Purana was discovered by a sage (rishi), who lived in a cave in the Himalayas. The narrator of this purana, the author further argues, was none other than Shri Narada Bhagavan, who was also the narrator of the Garuda Purana of the caste Hindus. It is interesting to note that in order to achieve legitimacy and create some sort of mythological aura to the text he had written, Raghvanshi was deploying the same strategies as those employed by caste Hindu authors, who always claimed that their puranas came from the mouth of Lord Narada. As such, questioning the authenticity of those texts amounted to sacrilege against the Hindu faith (dharma). Since the narrator of the caste Hindu puranas 38


and the Chanvar Purana was the same, i.e. Lord Narada, Raghuvanshi knew that caste Hindu writers would not dare to question the legitimacy of the Chanvar Purana. He went to the extent of offering a reward to anyone ‘who can prove that Charvar Purana is false’ (quoted in ibid.: 124). In order to sustain their claim for Kshatriya status and remove their ‘untouchable’ stigma, a number of reform measures were initiated by Dalit associations across UP. For instance, they adopted the so-called pure Hindu rites and practices, such as vegetarianism, and abandoned ‘impure’ practices such as eating beef and doing leatherwork. In July 1926, Chamars in and around Benares passed a number of resolutions and urged their members to abandon the impure and defiling occupation of leatherwork and the practices of removing carcasses, skinning and tanning; in Moradabad, they refused to skin dead animals and repair shoes (ibid.: 133–4). In addition to these activities, Dalits also channelled their energies into improving education among their children. Sunderlal Sagar and Ramnarayan Yadvendu were of the opinion that education was the best way to improve the position of their community, and encouraged fellow Dalits to send their children to school. In all their public gatherings, the leaders of various Dalit caste associations insisted on the right of Dalit children to attend the municipal schools, and urged the government to open schools for their children in their localities. Of course, it should be noted here that due to their obsession with pure Hindu practices, Dalits went as far as levying fines against those Dalits who did not comply with their new rules of purity. They also redefined their relationship with Muslims by ceasing to take food (cooked or uncooked) from them and refusing to dine with them (ibid.: 136). It was at the height of their clamour for Kshatriya status that the Arya Samaj made inroads into Dalit mohallas (neighbourhoods) (Kenneth 1976; Jordens 1978; Van der Veer 1994). A brief examination of the relationship between Dalits and the Arya Samaj will show how ‘the immediate impetus’ for the emergence of Adi Hinduism, as observed by Gooptu (2001: 155), came from shifts in the activities of the Arya Samaj.5 As caste discrimination against Dalits in social and economic activities increased, some converted to Christianity as it offered opportunities for education as well as material benefits; others, especially educated young Dalits, began to take an active interest in the activities of the Arya Samaj. The Samaj, through its doctrinal position of ‘Brahmin by merit, not birth’, or ‘varna on the basis of individuals’ merits, actions, and temperaments’ (Dayananda, cited in Jaffrelot 2003: 191) and through its social activities, such as the setting up of schools, hostels and scholarships for the children from the lower castes, attracted many young Dalits. Dayananda Saraswati’s 39


position against Brahmins should also be mentioned, for it catapulted Dalits into the Samaj. Using very strong words against the ‘vicious’ and ‘hypocritical’ Brahmins, Saraswati in his Sathyartha Prakash (The Light of Truth), observes: ‘the sectarian and selfish Brahmins . . . these ignorant, sensual, hypocritical, irresponsible, and vicious people . . . (who) often dissuade persons from learning and ensnare them (the lower castes) into their evil ways with the result that they lose health, peace of mind, and wealth’ (in Jaffrelot 2003: 90). The Arya Samaj, although instituted to serve the interests of the caste Hindus, initially appeared to be serving the interests of Dalits, and for that matter, other lower castes as well. For instance, in the early 1920s, the Samaj responded to the Dalit demand for access to temples and public wells (Rawat 2011: 136). Illiteracy among Dalits was falsely considered to be the cause of their social domination by the educated upper castes, and of their exclusion from better jobs and opportunities (Dinakar in Gooptu 2001: 154). Education had become a highly valued qualification, and naturally, Dalits began to appreciate the efforts of the Arya Samaj. They enrolled their sons in schools run by the Samaj; indeed, they themselves joined these schools. For instance, Manikchand Jatavaveer (1897–1956), one of the founders of the Jatav Mahasabha in 1917, was a teacher in a school run by the Samaj in Agra. Sunderlal Sagar (1886–1952), another co-founder of the Mahasabha was so well-versed in Sanskrit that he was called ‘Pundit’ (Kshirsagar 1994: 230–1). Some Dalit members even became Arya Samaji preachers. For instance, Swami Achhutanand (1879–1933),6 whose given name was Harihar and who was to found the Adi Hindu movement in later years, became its upadeshik (itinerary preacher) under the name of Hariharananda, and preached moral reform, vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol as a means of achieving a purer status (ibid.: 321; Jigyasu 1968). Importantly, the Samaj’s advocacy of the nonhereditary nature of varna was a significant departure from Brahmanical Hinduism, according to which, caste was hereditary and sacrosanct. Such advocacy led Dalits to believe that the Hindu religion was capable of change and of accepting individuals as equal human agents. Moreover, until the establishment of the Samaj, no upper-caste Hindu organisation had ever suggested that an individual’s varna could be improved; all the arguments against the belief in the sacrosanct nature of varna had come from the lower castes, the victims of the system, not from the upper castes, the beneficiaries. Quite naturally, the Samaj’s advocacy of the non-hereditary nature of varna made Dalits and other lower castes believe that by acquiring merit, they could surmount caste divisions, and thereby, enter the Hindu caste hierarchy (Gooptu 2001: 155). 40


Compared with that of the Brahmanical stance, the doctrinal position of the Samaj was a liberal one. Unlike the varna of Brahmanical Hinduism, the varna in the Hinduism professed by the Arya Samaj was not based on the inheritance of an individual, but upon an individual’s good conduct and actions of merit, not in the previous birth, but in the present. Yet, the doctrinal stance of the Samaj was more a semantic change than a major substantive change of position on the varna. That is to say, although the Samaj condemned the inherited nature of the varna, it upheld the caste system, a system that produces divisions (varnas) among the people. This implies that the Samaj did not intend to bring about equality either of varnas or of individuals. Further, the proposed upgradation of the lower varnas to the upper varnas is dubious for two reasons: first, Arya Samajis were ready to give Kshatriya status to both Shudras and Dalits, but not Brahmin status, the highest varna in the hierarchy. This means that the prescribed good conduct and actions of merit take the lower varnas up to a certain level in the hierarchy, but not to the highest level – in effect, creating a glass ceiling for Dalits and Shudras. Moreover, endogamy has always been the central pillar of the varna/caste system. By insisting on the strict enforcement of endogamy, the Arya Samajis were simply upholding the caste system. An upgrade to the Kshatriya varna, combined with a strict adherence to the practice of endogamy, means that a Dalit who acquired merit by swimming against currents could be promoted to the Kshatriya status; yet, he would still not be worthy to marry a woman from the upper varnas, and so, he would still have to marry a woman from his own caste. Thus, had the ideas of the Arya Samaj been put into practice or followed, the Hindu social structure would have ended up with three layers, where the top and bottom of the hierarchy would be represented by Brahmins and Vaishyas, respectively, and rest of the castes and varnas would be accommodated in the middle layer. This would mean that in the middle layer, there would be Kshatriyas, Shudra Kshatriyas and Dalit Kshatriyas. These larger categories would be further sub-classified by caste. For instance, there would be Thakur Kshatriyas, Yadav Kshatriyas, Chamar Kshatriyas and so on down the line. In addition to the above theoretical positions of the Samaj, some of its political activities, particularly after the introduction of communal representation, led to Dalits becoming disenchanted with its activities of social uplift, and eventually led to the alienation of Dalits from the Samaj. In 1919, the British colonial government introduced communal representation on the principle of the relative numerical strength of various religious groups. The Arya Samajis and other Hindu nationalists were increasingly troubled by this introduction, not only because of its basis or the principle 41


behind it, but more importantly, for the accentuated religious activism it provoked among Muslims in response to the Khilafat movement. To contain the religious ‘ferment’ among Muslims and to expand and strengthen the Hindu community, the Samaj intensified its shuddhi activities for the inclusion of the lower castes and Hindu converts to Islam and Christianity, especially the former (Kenneth 1976).7 A large number of Shudras, who aspired to acquire Kshatriya status within the caste structure, were drawn into the Samaj only to become its ‘foot soldiers’ (Veena Das 1992; Gooptu 2001; Menon 2006). Of course, the shuddhi activities of the Samaj were not confined to the converted Muslims or Christians alone. At times, the shuddhi programme was extended to Dalits as well. For instance, in 1923, a shuddhi society exclusively for Dalits was inaugurated by the Arya Samaj in Benaras and Allahabad (Gootpu 2001: 223). As Jordens (1975: 380) observes, such conversion programmes among Dalits implicitly suggest that the condition of Dalits prior to being purified was sinful, for the idea of shuddhi evolved from the Hindu ritual of prayaschit. Moreover, as seen above, the Dalits who had joined the Samaj were not accorded equality of status. They were continually distinguished from the other Samajis because of their ‘untouchable’ status. Not surprisingly, the Dalits in the Arya Samaj became disillusioned with the lack of social equality observed between ‘purified’ members of the lower castes and upper castes, even among members of the Arya Samaj. Achhutanand’s biographer notes feelings of ‘disillusionment’ as he questioned the ulterior motives of the Hindu reformers, who he now believed had no intention of instituting true social equality among the castes, but simply desired to strengthen the Hindu community, whose numbers had dropped in successive colonial censuses (Jigyasu 1968 in Gooptu 2001: 157). Thus, the Dalits were convinced that ‘the Samaj acted as the “army of high caste Hindus”, whose only intention was to rally the Hindu community against the Muslims, and that the Samaj’s attempt to uplift the lower castes was merely a part of this strategy . . . the Samaj did not aim to eradicate untouchability and that shuddhi was a cunning ploy to perpetuate the hold of the higher castes over the untouchables’ (ibid.: 156–7). This was also a period in which Dalits were compelled to realise the importance of having representation in local political bodies. For, apart from the colonial government’s local policies, it was the Indian local authorities – read upper-caste individuals – who entered the colonial bureaucracy that restricted Dalits’ access to municipal schools. Dalits began to realise the importance of the political institutions; had they had access to these institutions, they would have argued against such 42


caste-biased restrictions against the marginalised. They were determined to ‘find avenues for engagement with institutional politics and to organise themselves to contend with local policies’ (Gooptu 2001: 153). The opportunity to realise access to public institutions came in the form of Montague and Chelmsford reforms or ‘Minto–Morley reforms’ in 1909, which introduced the concept of communal representation for Muslims. The Minto–Morley reforms, as noted by Mendelsohn and Vicziany (2000: 99), had dual relevance for Dalits: first, the Dalit demand for communal representation along the lines of that given to Muslims was actively supported by the Muslim League. Such support, of course, was born out of the self-interest of the League; the number of Hindus was exaggerated because of the ‘false identification of the “degraded castes” as Hindus’, an identification that would fetch more representative positions for Hindus. This meant an undue advantage for Hindus against Muslims in representative bodies. Second, the concept of representation for Muslims successfully established a precedent for political representation for other communities. While these political developments had their bearing in the concerns and activities of Dalits and Hindu nationalists of various ideological stances, the instance of the reforms provided an occasion for Dalits to reflect on their relationship with the upper castes and the latter’s efforts at religious reform through the Arya Samaj (Kenneth 1976; Jordens 1978; Van der Veer 1994). In fact, the intention behind the Samaj’s intensification of shuddhi after the 1919 political reforms was very sharply criticised by Dalits. Ram Charan, for instance, argued that ‘in 1919 reforms came . . . and representation was given according to population; those religious groups who were more populous would get more places; and what else but achhutuddhar [uplift of untouchables] conferences everywhere’ (Chaudhury 1973 in Gooptu 2001: 47). It was at this crucial juncture that Dalits evolved the new ideology of Adi Hinduism in order to repudiate Vedic Hinduism and the caste system, and, more importantly, to construct a new and positive Dalit identity and, thereby, demand their share in the emerging political power.

Adi Hinduism and Dalit claims for power Since the early 1920s, Dalits in UP in particular, and northern India in general, saw themselves radically departing from the fold of Arya Samaj and its reform agenda to found their own organisation to chalk out their future agenda and course of action. By becoming part of the Adi Hindu movement that was launched by Swami Achhutanand, in association with the other ex-Arya Samaj Dalits, particularly Ram Charan,8 and by 43


rejecting the hitherto stigmatised social identities, Dalits in UP fashioned a new achhut identity. Indeed, the new identity marked the beginning of a new era in their ideology and sociopolitical activities (Kshirsagar 1994; Gooptu 2001: 160; Rawat 2011: 159). In their first meeting at Etawah in December 1923, which was attended by 20,000 Dalits, Achhutanand declared that ‘the present-day “untouchables” were the original stock of India, and Hindus and Muslims were the upstarts’ (Jatav 1997: 14). This ‘golden age’, however, came to an end when the invading Aryans overpowered the peace-loving Adi Hindus with their brute force and treachery. Once conquered, the Adi Hindus were turned into slaves and forced to perform ‘low’ jobs. What is more, Brahmanical Hinduism, with its hierarchical caste system, was imposed upon them. In the same meeting, he asked the government to employ Dalits in the army and police forces and provide them opportunities to become members of the panchayats (Rawat 2011: 147). On 27–28 December 1927, three years after their first meeting, the Adi Hindu leaders organised the first All-India Adi Hindu Mahasabha conference in Allahabad. This conference was an important event in the history of the Dalit movement, not only because it was attended by 25,000 Dalits from UP and some 350 Dalit delegates from various parts of India – especially from Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madhya Pradesh, Poona and Punjab – but also because of its declaration of new ideological strands that laid out the new achhut agenda. The three important ideological strands from the conference were: first, the Adi Hindu leaders claimed that achhuts were the descendants of the dasas, asurs and dasyus, who are mentioned in the Hindu texts, and therefore, were the original inhabitants of India (Mula Bharatvasi). As Adi Hinduism developed in the social and economic contexts of exclusions encountered by Dalits, and in the political context of communal representation, the aims of claiming achhut identity became obvious: it was an attempt to challenge the ritually imposed low social status and menial occupations that were crosses for Dalits to bear; and it was also an attempt to demand social equality on the basis of their pre-Aryan ancestry as the original rulers of India, as well as the followers of egalitarian religious systems. Second, describing their movement as the movement of all achhuts – Chamars, Pasi, Dhor, Mang, Mehtar, Pariah, Pancham, Dom, Dhobi, Dharkar and so on – the Adi Hindu leaders declared that all achhuts were separate from the Hindu community. They pointed out rather categorically that despite arguments that achhuts were also part of the Hindu community, Hindus had never attempted to treat them as equals. Unless the caste Hindus ‘treat us equally in religious and social matters’, the Adi Hindu leaders asserted, ‘to give 44


Swaraj to India would mean nothing short of tightening the bonds of our slavery’ (Rawat 2011: 160). Further, defining their movement’s struggle against social injustice as achhut nationalism, social uplift as their religion and self-respect as their home rule, the Adi Hindu leaders advised the audience to ignore Hindus who called them traitors. Third, as the achhuts were inadequately represented in the legislative institutions and government services, the delegates of the conference demanded proportional representation in the central and provincial legislatures, and special provisions in educational institutions and government services. Apart from these important ideological strands, the Adi Hindu ideologues also claimed bhakti as their original religion,9 and urged Dalits to adopt the introspective dimension of bhakti (atmavad) (Kenneth 1976: 150–1; Gooptu 2001: 158) for bhakti is a form of worship of God through devotion, meditation, self-introspection and direct communion. Spiritual knowledge, they argued, was the only way to arrive at true knowledge (satyagyan) and evolve one’s world view. Introspection would lead to selfrealisation or self-knowledge (atmagyan), which, in turn, would facilitate the follower to articulate an autonomous value system that was not derived from or imposed by the upper castes. It is clear that the Adi Hindu leaders’ emphasis on spiritual introspection was not only to stimulate ‘thinking for oneself ’ without reference to received notions and religious prescription of the upper castes, but also to bypass the Brahmin as the middle man ( pujari) between God and worshipper: Do not follow any ideology [mat] because you have been hearing it for a long time, or because it is held by some great [bade, literally big, implies a socially superior person of upper class or caste] person or because it is the view held by any cult or sect. Accept only an ideology that you have arrived at yourself. ( Jigyasu 1968 in Gooptu 2001: 162) The Adi Hindus’ radical reinterpretation of the theory of the Aryan invasion was significant for three reasons. First, it offered a historical explanation for the origin of untouchability and forced imposition of menial occupations. ‘They [Dalits] were made to do the most insulting and demeaning jobs, such as cleaning excreta and dirty clothes. They were repeatedly told that you are shudras and your only work is to serve [ gulami]. Those who were thus made to serve [ gulam or dasa] were then called untouchables’ (extract from a speech by Ram Charan in 1927, cited in Gooptu 2001: 162). Second, it explained how the upper castes, in the name of religion, came to occupy higher positions in society. The leaders 45


of Adi Hinduism argued that the Aryans assumed the higher status of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in order to make education, political power and wealth their exclusive preserve. ‘The rule of making shudras was not a religious one. It was naked politics’ (ibid.: 164). Third, the Adi Hindu ideology, by stretching the ‘beginning’ of ancient Indian history further back in time, prepared the ground for Dalits to stake a claim for the powerful category of ‘indigenes’, i.e. the original inhabitants of India. It is interesting to note here that this claim of being the ‘rulers of India’ by the Adi Hindus has striking similarity to the claims for Kshatriya status made by Dalits under the Arya Samaj. Commenting on the Adi Hindus’ claim of being the original inhabitants of India, Jaffrelot (2003: 204) observes: ‘Far from establishing a separate identity that would pull the Dalits out of the caste system, the Adi Hindu movement used their so-called original identity as a means of promoting their status within the system. Thus, the bhakti resurgence did not imply a radical questioning of their belonging to Hinduism’. Jaffrelot seems to have misjudged the importance of the Adi Movement and its shifts. The Dalit question is invariably entangled in the problem of caste, which, in turn, is linked with the ideology of Brahmanical Hinduism. In their assertion of the pre-Aryan origin of Dalits, Shudras and Adivasis – the ideologues of Adi Hinduism – found an effective means to disentangle themselves from Brahmins and other upper castes that began to claim the Aryan origin. Interestingly, this self-projection of the upper castes was powerfully employed by the Adi Hindus to buttress their own claim in the sense that they could not only project Brahmins and other upper castes as outsiders, but also effectively unite all the other marginalised communities as the descendants of the original inhabitants and rulers of India. In other words, rather than working within the upper-caste paradigm, where to be an ancient ruler necessitated Kshatriya lineage, the Adi Hindu ideologues put forward a powerful historical narrative, which enabled them to claim that the upper castes were actually foreigners to the subcontinent and that Adi Hindus had ruled India until their invasion. It is, indeed, a strong moral claim to ‘autochthonous being’ over Kshatriya status as the new authority to govern, an idiom increasingly valued at a time of growing upper-caste Hindu (Indian) nationalism. Thus, one can confidently point out that Dalit consciousness in UP was not delayed. In fact, by organising an all-India Dalit conference – for the first time in the entire country – and bringing all the regional Dalit leaders under one umbrella for the purpose of uniting the entire Dalit community in the country, the Adi Hindu leaders in UP became national leaders during the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, their demand for 46


adequate safeguards for the achhuts in legislative institutions set the Dalit agenda in later years. In order to propagate their ideology and demands, the Adi Hindu leaders initiated a number of activities. To begin with, a number of Adi Hindu sabhas (associations) were opened in the main cities of UP, particularly in Agra, Allahabad, Benares, Dehradun, Etah, Fatehpur, Kanpur, Lucknow and Meerut (Rawat 2011: 149). Each sabha had its pracharaks (advocates) and upadeshiks (preachers), who regularly visited Dalit neighbourhoods to preach the Adi Hindu ideology. Interestingly, apart from elaborating the ideas of Adi Hinduism, one of the central focuses of these preachers was to denounce Hindu religious rituals and ceremonies and ask their audience to refrain from observing those ceremonies. They argued that the elaborate and expensive modes of observance of religious rituals and festivals were prescribed by Brahmanical Hinduism not only to impose the superiority of Brahmins over them (since in Brahmanical Hinduism, Brahmins alone are authorised to conduct the religious rituals), but also to impoverish them, which, in turn, would ensure that the lower castes remained in a constant state of economic dependence upon the upper castes. Dalits were asked to achieve economic self-sufficiency, occupational diversification and educational advancement. The meetings addressed by the Adi Hindu leaders were occasions for Dalits of different caste groups and bhakti sects to come together and exchange their views. Throughout the 1920s, UP witnessed an unprecedented rise in Dalit socio-religious activities. For instance, the Ravidas Chamars of Kanpur and Allahabad attended a number of meetings organised by the Adi Hindu sabhas. Almost all those meetings were mainly addressed by Achhutanand. In 1925, Mehtars (sweepers) in Kanpur organised several meetings for the social upliftment of their caste group, and Achhutanand, in his capacity as the leader of the Adi Hindu movement, was invited to preside over some of these meetings. In Lucknow, in April 1927, a number of Chamar caste groups convened a joint meeting to pledge their support to the Adi Hindu movement and resolved to form a volunteer corps. Achhutanand’s constant appeals to all the Dalit castes resulted in their becoming part of the Adi Hindu movement. Indeed, the participants in the Adi Hindu conferences in the 1930s included individuals from the Chamar, Dhobi, Pasi, Bhangi/Valmiki, Kureel, Dhusia and Kori castes. In other words, by the early 1930s, the Adi Hindu movement, which was initiated by a few ex-Arya Samajis in the early 1920s, succeeded in bringing divergent Dalit castes under its umbrella. The Adi Hindu identity became the Dalit identity and the ideology of the Adi Hindu movement became the ideology of Dalits in the province. 47


Two other initiatives undertaken by the Adi Hindu leaders to propagate their ideas were literary works and street theatre. In the year 1917, Achhutanand first expressed his Adi Hindu philosophy through poetry.10 His poems, including Ghazal Chetavani (Warning in the Form of a Ghazal), Itihas Gyan (Knowledge of History) and Adi Vams Astak (The Original Lineage in Eight Stanzas), outlined a basic history of the original inhabitants of India and their oppression by the invading Aryans. His poems provided a graphic description through which his audience was able to visualise the greatness of their lineage and their subsequent ‘fall’ due to an Aryan conspiracy. Through these poems, he consciously called upon members of all the lower castes to ‘remember’ their past as ‘Adi Hindus’ (original inhabitants) and rise to reclaim their true heritage as the descendants of the ancient rulers. In addition to these literary works, Achhutanand established a press, which initiated a new field of radical literature on Adi Hindu philosophy in the form of pamphlets written by Dalits for the consumption of Dalits (Wilkerson 2006: 27). Further, he published a monthly newspaper, Achut, from the early 1920s (which later became a daily and changed its name to Adi Hindu, and was in print until 1932) and monthly journal, called Usha (Dawn), published from 1928 (Narayan 2004: 19). Achhutanand’s literary production through his press, as observed by Sarah Wilkerson, inspired many Dalit literati to set up publication houses; one of these was Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu’s ‘Bahujan Kalyan Prakashan’ (Bahujan Welfare Press) in Lucknow. The growth of several independently owned Dalit presses ‘brought about a proliferation of small, inexpensive Dalit literary pamphlets in Hindi which began to circulate at untouchables’ meetings, community gatherings, and local melas (festivals) and spread a new political consciousness among various “untouchable” communities’ (Wilkerson 2006: 33). Achhutanand also adopted street theatre as a means of transmitting his Adi Hindu ideology to an audience who were largely illiterate. One of his plays that gained tremendous popularity among Dalits was Ram-rajya nyaya (The Justice of Ram’s Rule). The death of Shambuk, a member of the lower caste, in the hands of the Hindu ruler, Ram, who kills him on the advice of a Brahmin, and the slavery of the original inhabitants of India, i.e. the Adi Hindus under the Brahmins’ ideology, were the two main themes of the play. Ramrajya (the kingdom of Ram) has been portrayed by caste Hindus as golden age of Hindu rule under the ideal King, Ram.11 Dalits, in opposition to the dominant Hindu narrative, characterise Ramrajya as a time of injustice, misrule and severe oppression of Dalits. They epitomise the injustice of Ramrajya against them in the story of Shambuk, 48


who was wrongly condemned to death for practising asceticism against the dictates of the Vedas on account of his lower-caste origins. Drawing from the Dalit narratives of Ram katha (Ram’s story) in his play, Achhutanand highlights the true meaning of slavery and freedom. When a charge was levelled against one of his subjects, Ram, in his position as the king of the state, should have enquired into the charge; instead, he simply followed the ill advice of a Brahmin and killed an innocent, but intelligent citizen. In other words, Achhutanand was showing how an issue was manipulated by Brahmins to monopolise knowledge, and how the King, who lacked intellectual prowess, was enslaved by them. In contrast to Ram, the slave of the Brahmins, Shambuk was depicted as an embodiment of true freedom; by refusing to obey the dictates of the Brahmins and their ideology, he stood for his freedom. In fact, he chose death to protect his freedom. Thus, Achhutanand, in his play, shifts the basic meaning of slavery and freedom to emphasise the core of his ideology – ‘that freedom for Dalits lies in the ideological rejection of Hindu philosophy and the “remembering” of one’s glorious past as the indigenous inhabitants of India’ (Wilkerson 2006: 84). It should be noted that when the Adi Hindu movement was at its height in popularising the concept of the original inhabitants of India, Buddhism also gained considerable attention among the lower castes in UP, particularly in Lucknow and Kanpur.12 While Swamy Bodhanand Mahasthvir (1874–1952) was instrumental in popularising Buddhism in Lucknow, Acharya Ishvardatt Medharthi (1900–71) was preaching the message of the Buddha in Kanpur. What is significant for our understanding is that, in their preaching of Buddhism, they combined the ideological arguments put forward by Achhutanand. For instance, Bodhanand, who was also active in the Adi Hindu movement, powerfully articulated the Adi ideology in three books: Moola Bharatavasi Aur Arya (Original Inhabitants and Aryans), Bhagavan Gautam Buddh (God Gautam Buddh) and Bauddha Charya Paddati (Buddhist way of living). He wrote these books with Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu.13 Through these books, he argued powerfully that Shudras and Dalits were the original inhabitants of India, and had been deprived of their land and enslaved by the Aryans because they had been defenceless and peace-loving. Bodhanand’s disciples carried out his message with the propagation of self-respect among the lower castes. In 1916, Bodhanand founded the Bharatiya Buddh Samiti, and in 1925, he set up the Buddh Vihara in Risaldar Park in Lucknow. Through these monastery-like centres, he gathered a circle of young and educated Dalit and Shudras, who were to become the torchbearers of the Dalit movement and politics in later years. For instance, Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu, 49


who was a disciple of Bodhanand, founded the Bahujan Kalyan Prakashan, and through this press, he published a number of books pertaining to Dalit history and politics. He even brought out a number of booklets, which were famous as ‘two-anna’ editions. These editions, which were short and concise, covered all major Dalit topics. Further, Jigyasu is well remembered for his book, Bharat ke Adi Nivasiyon Ki Sabhayata (The Civilisation of India’s Original Inhabitants), published in 1937. The significance of this book was its passionate and elaborate discussion of the vision of an Indian nation and democracy – a Dalit vision – that was different from the one preached by the then mainstream nationalist organisations such as the Congress (Rawat 2006).14 In this way, Jigyasu, as an author and a publisher, contributed immensely to the growth of Dalit consciousness in UP. Chedi Lal Sathi, another disciple of Bodhanand, rose to become the founding president of the UP branch of the Republican Party of India. Similarly, Ishvardatt Medharthi, a Dalit by birth, was one of the great Sanskrit scholars and prolific writers of his time. In 1933, he wrote The Caste System Exposed, in which he was forthcoming in propagating the idea of the original inhabitants of India. In one of his booklets, The Primitives and Ancestors of India and the Sant Religion, published in 1939, he considered the Vedas as the unjust oppressive religious vision of Aryan invaders. He asserted that the 150 million Shudras, Dalits and primitive people of India (Adivasis), whom he called the purva janas, were the ancient rulers of the country. They had been trapped into slavery by the invading Aryans. What is important to recognise here is that Swami Achhutanand’s Adi Hindus and Swami Bodhanand’s mula nivasi were purva janas for him. Further, using his knowledge of Sanskrit and equating the purva janas with asuras, Medharthi claims that the asuras had actually been named as such by the Aryans, for the purva janas did not drink sura (wine), whereas the Aryans ate meat and drank wine. He even tried to give a new etymological meaning to the word raksas, the word with which Dalits were identified. He argued that raksas were the ones who saved others – raksa karna. The purva janas lived an egalitarian life – there was no varna order among them, and all were equal (Bellwinkel-Schempp 2004: 233–4). Thus, in claiming that achhuts were the original inhabitants of India and descendants of the dasas, asurs and dasyus, which were recurrent themes in the Brahmanical Hindu texts, Dalits were challenging both colonial and Hindu interpretations of their identity. Through both Adi Hindu and Buddhist traditions, ideological assertions and sociopolitical activities, the Dalit leadership in UP succeeded in uniting the disparate Dalit castes through achhut identity. It was on the basis of their separate identity, as noted by Rawat (2011), that the 50


Dalit leaders put forward a charter of demands, or a Dalit agenda, which included: proportionate representation in legislative bodies, reservations in government jobs, adequate Dalit representation in the Congress ministry, permanent rights over land by changing the Tenancy Acts, fixed wages for agricultural labour and for the removal and skinning of dead animals, the right to use public wells, the abolition of begari, the right to convert to any religion and the rejection of the term ‘Harijan’. Thus, the ideologues of Adi Hinduism, as observed by Khare (1984: 78), provided not only ‘an ideology of radical equality’ and a ‘strategy for doing better in everyday life’, but also ‘a political culture for civil rights and organised protest’. In other words, the Adi Hindu and Buddhist movements among Dalits not only reconstituted a positive identity, but also prepared them for the future political struggles.

Mobilising under the leadership of Ambedkar Two trends became clearly visible during the late 1930s and early 1940s in colonial India. First, national concerns came to dominate, and, in fact, take precedence over regional and local concerns. As a result, Dalit activities and politics in colonial UP (and in other parts of the country) were shaped by national trends and concerns during that period. Second, communities increasingly began to rely on political organisations, such as the Congress Party and Muslim League, to express their social and political concerns, as a result of which the national leaders came to be accepted by local communities (Bose and Jalal 1998). For instance, Gandhi had firmly established himself as the leader of the Congress Party for life. In fact, despite the presence of many prominent leaders, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi became synonymous with the Congress. A majority of Muslims lent their support to the Muslim League and came to accept Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1948) as their leader. Similarly, a majority of Dalits saw in Ambedkar their leader, who could fight for them and secure their interests. Ambedkar, with his religious and social agitations against Brahmanical Hinduism, and given his firm confrontation with Gandhi himself at the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931, and later during the Poona Pact deliberations, earned great respect and recognition from Dalit communities throughout India. Such respect and recognition, in turn, established him as a legitimate spokesperson for Dalits at national and international forums (Lynch 1969; Zelliot 1972, 1979, 1998). Further, the formation of the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) by Ambedkar caused enormous changes in Dalit activism in north India. 51


This formation had become a platform to consolidate the disparate Dalit castes, and thereby, further strengthen the politicised identity of Dalits. In fact, the SCF became a political institution for Dalits through which they could articulate their social and political concerns. In UP, a branch of the party, the United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation (UPSCF), was set up in 1944, two years after the formation of the SCF in Maharashtra. It was through this political body that Dalit political energies were most effectively channelled into political mobilisations for political power. Dalits in UP were also drawn into national concerns. The two particularly significant political events that catapulted the Adi Hindu Mahasabha into heightened political activism were the visit of the Indian Statutory Commission or Simon Commission to Lucknow in 1928 and the deliberations of the Round Table Conferences in 1931–32. These events were important because they further sharpened the questions of separate Dalit identity and Hindu unity (Gould 2005: 845–60). That is to say, while Dalits put forward their claim for separate representation on the basis of their separate identity; the caste Hindus opposed such representation on the grounds that a separate representation for Dalits threatened Hindu unity. As soon as the decision to set up the Simon Commission was announced on 7 November 1927, Achhutanand organised several meetings in various urban centres in UP, particularly in Agra, Allahabad, Basti, Etawah, Farrukhabad, Fatehgarh and Mainpuri. During his meetings, he told his audience that the achhuts should use the commission’s visit as an opportunity to make the British government aware of their problems and demands. Under the leadership of Ram Charan and Shiv Dayal Singh Chaurasia – leaders from the Adi Hindu Mahasabha – a mammoth mass demonstration was organised on the eve of the commission’s visit to Lucknow on 28 November 1928. In a memorandum to the commission, the Adi Hindu leaders demanded political rights as well as preferential treatment. They argued that ‘owing to their “low” and “depressed” status, they continued to be confined to low-paid, menial jobs, and failed to obtain education, better employment, and a voice in the representative institutions’ (Gooptu 2001: 174). The Adi Hindu Mahasabha was not alone in demanding separate representation for Dalits on the basis of their separate identity. The Simon Commission received similar petitions from Dalit organisations across UP, including the Adi Dharmis from Dehradun, the Kumaon Shilpakar Sabha of Almora, the Jatav Mahasabha of Agra, the Dom Sudhar Sabha of Garhwal and the Chamar Sabha of Kanpur (Rawat 2011: 163–5). Thus, unanimity in claiming a separate achhut identity had become a marked feature of Dalit politics of the time.



Although a majority of the Dalit organisations, as noted by Eleanor Zelliot (1969: 168), ‘came out in full force to express their grievances’ to the Simon Commission and to demand a constitutionally defined affirmative action programme for the achhuts, the unanimous boycott of the commission by all the political parties, especially the Congress, resulted in its failure. This failure, in turn, resulted in the British government’s initiation of constitutional negotiations. The government invited Indian leaders of various parties and communities to the Round Table Conference in London in 1930. Ambedkar and Rao Bahadur Srinivasan from the Madras Presidency were invited as the representatives of Dalits (Keer 1971: 144). A number of public demonstrations, agitations and meetings were organised and addressed by the Adi Hindu leaders as well as other Dalit groups during the Round Table Conferences over the issue of separate/joint electorates for Dalits. For instance, during the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931, a ‘wire’ was sent by a group of Jatavs from Agra, in which they insisted that ‘Ambedkar, not Gandhi’ was their leader (Lynch 1969: 81). Again, when Gandhi undertook a fast against the Communal Award of 1932, which sanctioned separate electorates for Dalits, the Congress and Gandhi’s project of Harijan uplift was subjected to severe criticisms by the Adi Hindu leaders. They pointed out rather sharply that, unlike the rest of Indian society, Dalits were the victims of ‘double servitude’ (Dinakar 1986: 81)15 – first, to the caste Hindus, and, second, to foreign rule. And they rightly asked, after the foreigners left, who would rule in independent India? (Gooptu 2001: 175). It is pertinent to briefly discuss the question of separate electorates for Dalits, the subsequent Poona Pact and Gandhi’s programme of harijanuddhar (uplifting untouchables). The Indian leaders failed to arrive at a harmonious agreement over the question of representation for various communities in the second Round Table Conference in 1931 in London. Such a failure was, as argued by Aloysius (1997: 199), primarily due to disagreements between Ambedkar and Gandhi, especially the latter’s obsession with self: He (Gandhi) was concerned more with being the sole recipient of the power settlement rather than the terms of the settlement itself. He obsessively claimed that he, in his person, represented everybody in India and no other representatives were required to bargain for power. Gandhi’s main purpose for attending the Round Table Conference appeared to be to gain monopoly of power, or otherwise to let power remain in alien hands. On no



count could power be shared with those who had the temerity to sit as equals with the traditionally elevated and privileged. Following that failure, it was decided that the representatives would abide by the decision of the British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who presided over the conference. On 16 August 1932, MacDonald announced the Communal Award, by which a total of 71 seats in the Indian legislatures were to be set aside for Dalits. The prime minister, however, also promised to respect any alternative arrangement that the representatives of various communities might agree to. But what did the award entail? For Dalits, the award meant that: (a) only they would choose their representatives, and (b) they would be able to cast a second vote to choose who among the caste Hindus was best suited to represent their interests in a legislative body. Such a safeguard was necessary, Ambedkar argued, since not only were Dalits outnumbered by savarnas, but they were also vulnerable to physical attacks by caste Hindus during the elections. In other words, Ambedkar believed that the political severance of Dalits from the rest of the Hindu community was supremely necessary if the former were to escape their subjugation either in colonial or in independent India. For Gandhi, who claimed to ‘represent the vast majority of the Untouchables’, Ambedkar’s argument was complete anathema. Ironically, he could understand the arguments advanced by other minorities, but the claim advanced on behalf of Dalits was ‘the unkindest cut of all’ (quoted in Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 104). Further, despite room for negotiations on the provisions of the Communal Award, Gandhi saw the award as something that would divide the Hindu community, and he undertook a ‘fast unto death’ on 20 September 1932 to register his protest against it and also to persuade Dalits and caste Hindus to unite in rejecting it. Although Ambedkar, at first, opposed any negotiation – ‘I do not care for political stunts’, he stated rather boldly (quoted in Kumar 1987: 95) – he did not want to have to take responsibility for Gandhi’s death. Moreover, his position was undermined by the willingness of the other important Dalit leader, M. C. Rajah, to support a joint rather than a separate electorate. Thus, Ambedkar was forced to sign the Poona Pact on 24 September 1932, which stripped the Dalits of the unique ‘double vote’ as well as the separate electorate for which Ambedkar had so long campaigned. The impact of the Poona Pact on Dalit politics was tremendous. Dalits had to pay a heavy price, in the sense that it was the caste Hindu majority who would decide which of the Dalit candidates – faceless and pliant – would win. The Congress, following the controversy over separate electorates and the solid support rendered to Ambedkar by the Dalit community during 54


the deliberations of the Poona Pact, had restarted its Harijan upliftment programme to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of Dalits (Ambedkar 1945; Prashad 1995). In this endeavour, the Congress, following Gandhi’s coinage of the term ‘Harijan’ (children of God), sought to give Dalits an alternative identity as Harijans, in contrast to the Adi Hindu movement’s achhut identity, and the earlier achhutuddhar now became Harijanuddhar. The Congress, guided by the twin ideas of ‘acculturation and integration’ of Harijans into the Hindu community, and thereby, their integration into Indian nationalism (Gooptu 2001: 175), sought to uplift Dalits by emphasising familiar programmes, such as temple entry, access to public wells and communal dining. Interestingly, despite the Congress’s nonrejection of caste hierarchy, the harijanuddhar programme’s emphasis on equality of castes through temple entry satyagrahas, which were organised by the Congress, appealed to Dalits. For instance, it was felt by Dalits that ‘being part of the Congress meant breaking the barrier between castes’. Hazari, a Dalit writer, recounting his sense of liberation, writes ‘if I wore a Gandhi cap no one would ask who I was’ (Hazari in 1935 in Rawat 2003: 590). However, such a sense of liberation was a dubious one. For, as Gandhian Harijan ideology with its emphasis on varnashramadharma did not liberate Dalits from their economic and social bondage under the caste Hindus, the Gandhian cap could not liberate them either. At best, the Gandhian cap facilitated the concealment of their caste identity and allowed them to be somebody; as long as they were hidden behind the veil of that cap, they might feel safe and liberated. But once the reality hidden behind the cap was revealed, they would be made to feel ashamed for pretending to be somebody else. Moreover, the Gandhian programme of harijanuddhar, as argued by Menon (1994: 85), identified ‘the problem in terms of an opposition between cleanliness and the lack of it, locating the whole issue not in terms of economic or social realities but in a physical state’. In addition to the dubiousness of the harijanuddhar programme, the conservative Hindus from all the major cities and towns of UP stood against the entry of Dalits into the temples. Although they agreed to Dalits’ entry when a Congress leader, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, intervened, they restricted them from entering the inner sanctum of the temples. The leaders of the harijanuddhar programme, such as Jamunalal Bajaj and Pandit Malaviya, sought to find the solution in a new policy of opening separate temples and separate wells for Dalits; apparently, Rameshwar Das Biral contributed INR 10,000 for these new initiatives (Rawat 2011: 168). This new policy was perhaps one of the most cunning and hypocritical initiatives of the caste Hindus. 55


For the integration of Dalits into the larger Hindu community would never take place by constructing separate temples and wells. Through these new initiatives, what the caste Hindus were saying to Dalits was, ‘You stay in your location, and we stay in our location’. This means that Dalits would remain as Dalits and the caste Hindus as caste Hindus, and so, the caste system would persist. Although the harijanuddhar programme did not uplift Dalits in any manner, it, as observed by Rawat, at least made one fact clear to Dalits: ‘that the orthodox sections of Hindu society would never accept their demand to be treated as equals’ (ibid.). One question that loomed particularly large in the 1940s, which had been a minor concern during the Adi Hindu movement in the 1920s and 1930s, was that, with a history of oppression, what would be the place of Dalits in independent India? The context of this question was the results of the elections that were conducted in the aftermath of the Poona Pact, in which most of the reserved constituencies were won by the Congress Party. The Communal Award had reserved 20 seats for the Dalits in UP. But under the terms of the Poona Pact, those 20 seats were converted into double-member seats. According to this revised system, each voter in a reserved constituency was allowed to cast two votes. This was done in two stages. In the first stage, which is called the primary stage, Dalits would vote exclusively for Dalit candidates. An election in the first stage became obligatory only when more than four candidates contested. The two candidates who secure the largest majorities in the primary stage were entitled to contest in the second stage. In the second stage, or the general election, the reserved seats became general seats, by virtue of which the general candidates were also entitled to contest in the elections. Two votes per voter allowed each to exercise his preference to vote either for two general candidates or for two Dalit candidates, or for one of each. Rawat notes Shankar Shastri’s explication of the rationale of the two-vote mechanism that was put forward by the caste Hindu signatories of the Poona Pact. ‘The Dalits had two votes, one because of their achhut identity and the other because they were Hindus. Similarly, Hindus exercised two votes, one because of their Hindu identity and the other because achhuts were Hindus’ (Shastri in 1946 cited in Rawat 2003: 607). This blatant politics played by the caste Hindus during the Poona Pact sabotaged Dalit interests. In addition to the system of two votes, the electoral franchise, which was defined on the basis of property and education, also worked in favour of the caste Hindus, which, in turn, benefited the Congress Party. Of course, Ambedkar was clearly aware of this brazen politics. But with Gandhi’s life at stake, he did not have 56


a choice but to accept the dictates of the caste Hindus (Aloysius 1997: 170–213; Jaffrelot 2005: 59–67). The distortions inherent in the electoral system, a consequence of the Poona Pact, were revealed particularly in the 1946 elections in UP. The 20 reserved seats for the Scheduled Castes in UP included four urban constituencies, which were the only seats that SCF contested. In the primaries, nine SCF candidates were successful as against four from the Congress Party. However, in the general election, or the second round, the Congress won all the seats, thanks to the support of non-Dalit votes. A most striking result occurred in Agra, where four SCF candidates polled 47.39 per cent of valid votes as against 27.1 per cent by four Congress candidates (Reeves 1971). In a way, the Congress swept away all the seats reserved for Dalits. Thus, Dalits continued their demand for separate electorates even after the Poona Pact, and the result of the 1946 elections justified this demand. They plunged into accentuated political action with a demand to remove the ‘evil Pact’ when they realised that the Cripps Mission or Cabinet Mission formula was influenced by the outcome of the 1946 elections. On 24 March 1946, the British government dispatched a team of three cabinet ministers to India to seek an agreement on how to enact selfdetermination and independence with the Indian political leaders.16 Two issues of major concern for the Cripps Mission were the formation of an interim government, and principles and procedures for framing a new constitution for independent India. Dalits expected some kind of constitutional safeguards from the mission. In fact, since its formation in 1942, one of the major demands of the SCF had been separate representation by recognising the Dalits as a separate community (Jaffrelot 2005: 80). Despite initial assurances and commitments made by the viceroys (for instance, Lord Wavell unwaveringly stated in a letter to Gandhi that, ‘Scheduled Castes are one of the important and separate elements in the national life of India. That their consent is a necessary condition for the transfer of power . . . [sic]’ [Moon 1991: 346–7]), the Cabinet Mission, in its final award on 16 May 1946, failed to provide any specific safeguards for Dalits. By lumping Dalits under the general category, the mission recognised three main communities in India for representation in the Constituent Assembly: Generals, Muslims and Sikhs. The failure of the SCF and the success of the Congress in the reserved seats was sufficient reason for the Cabinet Mission to recognise Dalits not as separate entities, but as part of the Hindu community. The sense of betrayal and anger felt by Dalits against the colonial government and especially towards the Congress, having been fermenting since the Poona Pact, provided the context for widespread political 57


agitations as well as a strong critique against the mission’s award. Ambedkar (1991[1945]: 339), for instance, felt: It is quite obvious that the proposal for a Constituent Assembly is intended to win over the Congress, while the proposal for Pakistan is designed to win over the Muslim League. How do the proposals deal with the Depressed Classes? To put it shortly, they are bound hand and foot and handed over to the caste Hindus. They offer them nothing: stone instead of bread. For the Constituent Assembly is nothing but a betrayal of the Depressed Classes [. . .] If they are there, they cannot have a free, independent decisive vote. In the first place, the representative of the Depresses Classes will be in a hopeless minority. In the second place, all decisions of the Constituent Assembly are not required by a unanimous vote. The SCF organised peaceful protests against the mission award throughout India. In these agitations, while Dalits continued to put forward the demand for separate electorates, they called for an immediate abrogation of Poona Pact – ‘a political fraud of the Congress and caste Hindus against them’ (Rawat 2003: 598). In UP, from July through November 1946, two rounds of satyagrahas in 23 districts (including rural areas near Eta, Etawa, Raizabad, Gorakhpur, Fatehgarh, Ferozabad, Agra, Azamgarh and Farrukhabad) were organised by the UPSCF leadership. In the first round, on 16 July 1946 in Lucknow, a huge demonstration with thousands of Dalit protesters, led by T. C. Kureel, the president of the UPSCF, marched to the Legislative Assembly. In addition to these demonstrations, the UPSCF leadership, including Manikchand, Faqirchand, T. C. Kureel and Swami Chamanand travelled throughout UP. While continuing to call for separate electorates for Dalits, they asked the Congress rather emphatically to define the Dalits’ future position in independent India. They argued that ‘Independence would not mean freedom for Dalits, but simply replacing one tyrant (the British) with another (the Brahmans)’ (Hunt 2014: 44). The second round of satyagraha was largely concentrated in western UP, especially in Agra. Apart from taking part in the Lucknow agitation, the leaders of the UPSCF’s Agra unit presented 11 demands to the provincial government in Lucknow, which included a demand for reservations of government jobs for Dalits. They also organised a massive parade through the streets of Agra against the Poona Pact, which was seen by the upper castes as ‘an act of defiance’ (Lynch 1969: 88). Severe criticism of the Congress leaders – Gandhi, Nehru and Jagjivan Ram – especially Ram, also became part of these agitations. Gandhi and Jagjivan 58


Ram were branded as ‘traitors and cheats’ to the Dalit cause. And not surprisingly, they used the occasion to repose their faith in Ambedkar and his leadership. Ambedkar was compared favourably to Ram, and Dalits were exhorted to worship him as ‘Bhim’ (Pai 2002: 61). Bowing down to the satyagraha pressure built by the UPSCF, the provincial government awarded 17 per cent reservations for Dalits in government jobs as well as legislative bodies. A new department – the Harijan Sahayak Shakha (the Harijan Welfare Department) – was also established by the government (Lynch 1969: 133). In post-independent India, the UPSCF continued to be an important political force through which Dalits in the state articulated their demands and aspirations. In one of its final conferences in Lucknow on 24–25 April 1948, the UPSCF has emphasised the importance of continuing its struggle for power. Ambedkar, who delivered the inaugural speech of the conference, also equally stressed on the significance of political power: ‘What I want is power – political power for my people – for if we have power we have social status’ (National Herald 26 April 1948). This statement by Ambedkar reflects the fears of Dalits in post-independent India. The revolutionary gestures enshrined in the Constitution of India to emancipate Dalits, such as the abolition of untouchability, promises of citizenship and facilities of protective discrimination, did not convince the Dalits. They were apprehensive about the genuineness on the part of the caste Hindus in allowing the constitutional promises to be realised. Until then, the Dalit struggle for political power had been to secure a place for their voice in the legislative bodies and to gain economic facilities. But now, they continued their struggle for political power in order to ensure the actualisation of those constitutional promises. The deliberations at the conference injected a new vigour into the delegates and inspired them to re-dedicate themselves to the Dalit cause. Unfortunately, Dalits in general, and the UPSCF in particular, could not sustain this vigour, and it gradually petered out, mainly on account of the Congress’s tricks of enticing the Dalit leaders with power. On the occasion of the first general elections in 1951–52, many of the UPSCF leaders migrated to the Congress Party. At the end of 1952, UPSCF more or less crumbled and was gradually erased from public memory. Another reason for the failure of UPSCF in the elections was the inherent drawbacks of identity politics in a democratic framework, where the support of other communities is essential to win power. For instance, apart from Muslims in a few pockets of western UP, no other community or caste supported the UPSCF. Moreover, except those in urban areas in western UP, almost all the Dalit castes, including the Chamars, supported the Congress rather than 59


the UPSCF (Lynch 1969: 136). It may be said that the party’s true significance lay in the mobilisation and channelling of Dalit political energies for securing rights and power for Dalits, particularly in a period of transition marked by enthusiasm, but also confusion. If not for the work of the party, the interests of the Dalits would have simply been washed away by the sea of independence. In any case, the failure of the UPSCF was not the end of the Dalit movement and its struggle for power. Lessons had been learnt from failure, and Dalits began to look for ways to plug the limitations of identity politics. It was this search that resulted in the formation of the RPI in October 1957.

Republican Party of India (RPI): Prelude to future Dalit politics17 Ambedkar, in his retrospection and analysis of the setback of the SCF in the 1951–52 elections, arrived at two conclusions.18 First, the system of reserved seats for Dalits was neither an alternative nor a substitute for the system of separate electorates. But in view of the unanimous rejection by the Congress members in the Constituent Assembly, entertaining the idea of separate electorates for Dalits in post-independent India would be a fruitless exercise. Since the system of reserved seats singles out the Dalit electorates and hampers their efforts to reach other social groups, the system should be abolished. Agreeing with Ambedkar, the executive committee of the SCF passed a resolution asking for the dissolution of the system of reserved seats (Duncan 1979: 236). Second, any Dalit-based (or for that matter, any caste-based) political party had less chance of success at the electoral level. As such, it was necessary to form alliances with other political parties as well as with other social groups. Towards this end, the existing SCF had to be abandoned and a new political party with a broader mandate than that of the SCF had to be formed (Keer 1971: 487). Ambedkar, in order to set this new plan into action, encouraged Dalit activists to work with the leaders of other communities. In fact, he personally began to consult various socialist leaders – particularly Ram Manohar Lohia, P. K. Atre, and S. M. Joshi – so as to seek their support for forming a new political party, to be called the Republican Party of India (RPI). The choice for the name of the new party reflects Ambedkar’s long search for a viable political platform for the oppressed masses. As Gail Omvedt (2000: 139–40) points out, ‘Ambedkar’s political career was devoted to finding forms through which Dalits could exert themselves in an autonomous fashion, and at the same time, build an enduring alliance with non-Brahmans, Shudras, workers, and peasants’. Thus, one of the 60


main aims of the new party was to mobilise the lower-caste groups as a ‘federation of oppressed populations’, discriminated against on account of their ascribed social status (Jaffrelot 2005: 87). The RPI was established on 22 April 1958,19 and a branch was immediately formed in UP, whose leadership was mainly drawn from the erstwhile UPSCF. With the establishment of the RPI, leaders such as T. C. Kureel – the founding president of the party in UP from 1958 to 1960 – Chedilal Saathi, and B. P. Maurya, revived Dalit politics in UP, especially in the western part of the state. Among the three, the latter two leaders played a significant part in the revitalisation of the Dalit activism in UP. Saathi was, as Jaffrelot (2003: 107) points out, the main architect of the RPI in the state. He was born in a poor Kewat (fishing caste) family. As a young boy, he was attracted to Gandhi and the Congress Party. For some time, he worked as a typist in the UP Congress office, from where he went on to become secretary to Lal Bahadur Shastri and to G. V. Pant, when the latter became chief minister of the state. Ambedkar appears to have attracted him into the SCF in 1952, and from then, he stayed loyal to Ambedkar and his political activism. In 1960, after Kureel, he became the president of the RPI and continued in that position until 1964. After Saathi, the man who stood at the forefront and who popularised the RPI was B. P. Maurya. He was born into a poor Jathav family in Khair, a tehsil in Aligarh district. During his childhood, he was taught by a Catholic priest to read and write. Just like Saathi, the young Maurya was also influenced by Gandhi and the Congress’s slogan of swaraj. He joined Congress in 1941 when Gandhi visited Khair, but soon left for Agra to pursue his studies. It was during his stay in the city that he was involved in the Jathav movement. In other words, his association with Congress proved to be a temporary infatuation. Later on, in Delhi, he met Dr Ambedkar and realised that ‘he was the real leader because he knew our problems’ (ibid.: 108). In 1948, he resigned from the Congress and joined SCF. After this development, he returned to Aligarh, where he completed the LLM from Aligarh Muslim University, and in 1960, became Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law in the same university. Throughout the period when he pursued his legal studies, and even after joining the university as a teacher, he remained actively engaged with Dalit issues as well as the problems of landless labourers. He mobilised the landless labourers in Aligarh on the issues of land and minimum wages. In April 1957, he organised a conversion meeting, where nearly 100,000 Jathavs converted to Buddhism (Hasan 1989: 116–17). The party’s 1962 election manifesto, which articulated Ambedkar’s aims, helps us understand the main concerns and issues of the RPI. The 61


manifesto was later placed before Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in the form of ‘a charter of ten demands’: 1. The portrait of Babasaheb Dr B. R. Ambedkar,‘the Father of the Indian Constitution’, must be displayed in the Central Hall of Parliament. 2. Let land go to the actual tiller of that land. 3. Let idle and waste land go to the landless labourers. 4. Adequate distribution of food grains and control over the rising prices. 5. The lot of slum dwellers must be improved. 6. Full implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948. 7. Extension of all privileges guaranteed by the Constitution to the SCs who have embraced Buddhism. 8. Harassment of the depressed classes should cease forthwith. 9. Full justice for them under the Untouchability (Offences) Act. 10. Reservation in the services to SCs and STs be completed as soon as possible, not later than 1970 (Lynch 1969: 104). In addition to the above 10 resolutions, two other significant demands of the UP branch of the RPI were that Urdu should be made the official language of the state and measures be taken to teach Urdu on par with Hindi in schools and that taxes on shoe-makers should be withdrawn. The specific significance of these two demands is not difficult to understand. While the first owes its origin to the RPI’s electoral alliance with the Muslims in the state, especially in the city of Aligarh, the second is on account of the prominence of Jatavas/Chamars, who were involved in leather business, in the party (ibid.). Apart from these two particular demands, one could see in the RPI’s manifesto a range of issues concerned not only with Dalits, but also with the socially and economically marginalised communities generally. The party organised a number of mass mobilisation and protest movements to demand that the ruling Congress implement these measures. When the government failed to do so, the RPI’s activists made several attempts to occupy fallow land, and in 1964, as many as 30,000 people were arrested in connection with that action. Clearly, the RPI’s concerns and activities were in direct confrontation with those of the Congress. While the Congress, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, considered discussions of caste distinctions to be a traditionalist discourse, the RPI fought to place the realities of discrimination against the lower castes at the heart of the national debate. While the Congress sought to direct the nation towards



increasing industrialisation in the 1950s, the RPI argued for radical land redistribution and agricultural reform to improve the economic position of the lower castes (Brass 1985: 224). Through its activities and confrontations, the RPI was able to establish itself, albeit for a brief period, for the lower castes and other oppressed masses in the state as a strong alternative to the Congress. Indeed, the RPI’s greatest moments were the 1962 and 1967 elections, where it made inroads into political power. While in the 1962 election, the RPI won one Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) seat from Aligarh district and two Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assembly) seats, in the 1967 elections, it won two Lok Sabha seats.20 Despite the fact that the state and entire country were still under the influence of the Congress Party, which won the nation her independence, the success of the RPI was no minor event. It reflected the determination of the Dalits to take power into their own hands and, thereby, change their wretched socio-economic conditions. Of course, it must be mentioned here that it was neither the sheer determination of Dalits to win power nor their activism that led to their success in Aligarh district. Chamars, who were the main supporters of the party, constituted 22 per cent of the UP population, and the Aligarh district had the highest concentration of Chamars. Besides, Muslims – the other largest community in the state – felt alienated after the bifurcation of the country into India and Pakistan. Their sense of alienation turned into one of betrayal after the Hindu–Muslim riots in Aligarh in 1961. The Congress leaders, who had promised security for those Muslims who were to remain in India after partition, did not provide any form of security, particularly during the riots. Most horrifically, after the riots, the government was lenient towards the Hindu thugs and it did not even punish them. It was this sense of alienation and betrayal by the Congress government that pulled the Muslim population in the state, especially in western UP, towards the RPI.21 It was this coalition of Jatavs and Muslims that resulted in the success of the RPI in electoral politics. Ian Duncan (1979: 253) captures the politics of the RPI success in the following terms: The important factor in many of the seats won by the RPI in UP was the informal alliances which the party was able to form with the Muslims in some areas of the State, which had been affected by communal disturbances shortly before the elections. Three of the successful candidates for the Legislative Assembly were Muslims as was one of the successful candidates for the Lok Sabha.



That said, it was not the idea of Dalit–Muslim brotherhood, but the creation of informal alliances with Muslims and giving the party’s tickets to Muslim candidates that led to RPI’s success in the elections. The electoral success of the RPI, however, was short-lived, and it did not win in any election after the 1967 assembly elections, and thus, never became, as initially hoped, either the political platform for the oppressed masses or an alternative to the Congress. The reasons for the failure of the RPI experiment are many: first, the briefly successful local coalition between Dalits and Muslims, engineered by B. P. Maurya, in the city and district of Aligarh was driven by political opportunism rather than historical sympathy between the two groups. Predictably, the partnership did not last beyond the 1967 and 1969 state assembly elections (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000: 213). Second, the RPI’s claim of being both a party of the poor and the party of ‘Ambedkarites’ caused confusion among its workers and supporters. One of the primary aims of the party was to ‘organise the peasantry, the landless labourers, workers in factories and other wage earners’. As such for those who were wedded to class-based politics, the party was supposed to be organising the labourers and workers alone. Contrary to this expectation, the party’s manifesto also described itself as an Ambedkarite party and its pledge was to ‘engage itself in organising the downtrodden masses of India, particularly the Buddhists, SCs, STs, and OBCs’ (Duncan 1979: 236). Thus, there appears to have been a void in communication between the leadership and the workers and supporters, a gap which led to disappointment and the departure of those people who were interested in class-based politics. Third, a section among the middle-class Dalits were content with the new opportunities thrown up by the Constitution of India, such as abolition of untouchability, reserved seats and promises of economic betterment. By pursuing these opportunities, they wanted to enter the power structure and improve their socio-economic conditions rather than lead a movement to challenge the established social and political orders. Owen Lynch, in his research on Agra Chamars, observes two Dalit groups with contrasting interests and ideals. One group of Dalits, whom Lynch calls ‘the Congress conservatives’, were mostly businessmen who wanted to support the ruling party in order to gain patronage in the form of subsidies and licenses. The second group, mostly RPI leaders and workers, were ‘keen to maintain a separate party, based on distinct lower caste identity’ (Lynch 1969: 111). Fourth, despite its avowed aim of combining caste and class categories and reaching out to many socially deprived communities, the RPI could not reach out beyond the Chamar/Jatav caste. The reason for such a narrow concentration of the party was the attitude 64


of Jatavs towards the party, as well as other Dalit castes. For Jatavs, the party belonged to them and not to any other group. They hindered many attempts to expand party membership and were even unwilling to give party offices to non-Jatavs (Prashad 2000: 122). While confirming this attitude of the Jatavs, Zoya Hasan comments, ‘[the] RPI’s activities came to be restricted because of its identification with the Jatavs, a fact which helped Congress wean away other Scheduled Castes from the RPI’s influence’ (1989: 119).22 In addition to these factors, the Congress Party’s methods of co-option and accommodation also largely contributed to the end of the Dalit RPI initiative in UP, which is one of the points of discussion in the next chapter.

Notes 1 The title of this chapter is inspired by an article by R. S. Rawat (2003: 585–612). 2 In treating Gandhi and his activities as an event, I follow Aloysius’s line of thinking. For him understanding Gandhi as an event meant ‘the unearthing of Gandhi that had a determining role on the course of the nationalist movement’ (Aloysius 1997: 170–213). 3 The first generation of Dalits that migrated to the growing urban centres, such as Allahabad, Benaras, Kanpur and Lucknow, in the late 19th century were absorbed as scavengers, sweepers and conservancy workers in the army cantonments, civil stations and municipalities, and as leather workers in the leather industries. But at the turn of the century, despite population growth, the urban expansion slowed down. As a result the second-generation Dalits were forced to look for new jobs other than their traditional jobs (Gooptu 2001: 143–84). 4 See, for instance, Gooptu (2001: 97–100). 5 The Arya Samaj was established as a socio-religious reform movement by Swami Dayananda Saraswati in Bombay in 1875. The Samaj sought to revise Hinduism, which was based on the Vedas, and the revitalisation of Hindu society, based on the golden age of the Vedic Aryans. In order to strengthen Hindu society, it urged the lower castes who had converted to Christianity and Islam to return to the Hindu fold through the process of shuddhi. 6 Swami Achhutanand was born to a Chamar family in Umari village in Mainpuri district, UP. As his father was employed in a military cantonment area, Achhutanand had a relatively privileged childhood. He received his early education at the cantonment school run by Christian missionaries, where he learned to read Urdu, English, Hindi and Gurumukhi. Between the ages of 14 and 24, Achhutanand travelled across north India with mendicant saints. He associated himself with Swami Sachidaananda, from whom he learned Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi and Sanskrit. According to Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu, who penned Achhutanand’s biography, Achhutanand was extremely well-versed in religious ideology, having studied Guru Granth Saheb, the Bijak of Kabir as well as works by other bhakti sant poets, including






10 11

Dadu Dayal, Ravidas and Namdev. Achhutanand also read R. C. Dutt’s Bengali translation of the Rig Vedas, and engaged in lengthy discussions with the missionaries of the Theosophical Society and with Jain and Buddhist sadhus. After his disassociation with the Arya Samaj, Achhutanand launched the All India Achhut Caste Reform Sabha in 1919 (Gooptu 2001: 154–8). Many Arya Samajists in the early 20th century were concerned about the growing ‘census mentality’, which suggested a declining strength of the Hindu community based on population statistics. Shuddhi campaigns were originally used as a defensive tool by the Arya Samaj against the conversion of Indians to other ‘foreign’ religions, namely Christianity and Islam, and were performed on uppercaste religious converts. After 1900, ceremonies were done to ‘purify’ members of the lower castes in order to bring them back into the Hindu fold. According to Kenneth (1976), the Shuddhi campaign drastically altered the internal social composition of the Arya Samaj by increasing the number of untouchable Samajists. These campaigns also instigated increasing tensions both within the Arya Samaj and within the larger Hindu community, since none could agree on how to position ‘purified’ untouchables within a casteist society, particularly since Arya Samaj’s untouchables and uplift activities directly threatened upper-caste domination at the local level. Ram Charan was born in a slum in Gwaltoli in Kanpur. Eking out their livelihood as casual labourers, Ram Charan’s parents still sent him to a local municipal school. As an adult, he moved to Lucknow, where he worked in the Railway Audit Office to earn a living and continued his studies at night school. After earning a degree in law, Ram Charan became widely known for using his legal knowledge to defend Dalits in their court cases and organising local Adi Hindu organisations across U P (Chaudhury, A. P. 1973). In making these claims, the Adi Hindu ideologues relied upon two sources, other than the existing bhakti traditions among Shudras and Dalits. First, one of the Arya Samaj’s arguments in favour of the shuddhi was that the Muslim rulers had forcibly converted Hindus, and those converted would be reconverted and brought back into the Hindu fold through the process of shuddhi. Achhutanand adopted the explanatory concept of ‘forcible imposition of religion’ and ‘projected it backwards to the Vedic age to argue that the Aryan invaders had subjugated and imposed Vedic Hinduism on the original Indians, the Adi Hindus, and deprived them of their bhakti (religion)’ (Gooptu 2001: 158) Second, the colonial government in its ethnographical classifications propagated the notion that the caste system originated through encounters between the Dravidian and Aryan races. While these ideas gained publicity through census records, the Dalits in U P became acquainted with them through the Christian missionaries. This was five years before the Adi Hindu movement formally began its agitations in 1922 (Jaffrelot 2003: 201–5). Romila Thapar (2000), in one of her excellent essays, asserts that the narrative of Ram rajya, known as Rama katha (Ram’s story) was neither sacred text nor history (itihasa), but kavya (a poetic composition). It was only in the 19th-century context, where Indian intellectuals experienced a sudden urge to know India’s



12 13 14 15 16







ancient history through the texts, that the Ramayana itself came to be viewed as a source of history rather than a myth. I have drawn my material on Buddhism among the lower castes in UP from Maren Bellwinkel-Schempp (2004: 221–44). ‘Jigyasu’ was Chandrika Prasad’s pen name; it means one who is curious or one who enquires. http://www.india-seminar.com/semframe.html (accessed on 15 April 2007). The term was used by Ambedkar in his memorandum to the Simon Commission (Gooptu 2001: 175). The Mission consisted of Lord Pethwick-Lawrence – the Secretary of State for India; Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade; and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. The information on the UP branch of RPI and its activities was drawn from several sources (for example, Lynch 1969; Brass 1985; Hasan 1989; Prashad 2000; Pai 2002; Jaffrelot 2003; Vivek Kumar 2006). Despite the SCF’s worst performance in the elections, it did manage to win two Lok Sabha seats, one in Hyderabad and the other in Bombay Presidency. It even, for the first time, secured representation in legislative assemblies of Madras, Hyderabad, the State of Mysore, PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab State Union) and Himachal Pradesh. Although the preparation for the formation of the new party started as early as 1954, several unforeseen events, such as untimely demise of Ambedkar on 6 December 1956, delayed the process. While the Congress managed to win all the reserved seats in the 1952 and 1957 elections, in 1962, the RPI defeated candidates in two important constituencies and four rebel leaders of the Congress won with the support of the RPI (Hasan 1989: 114). Ian Duncan (1979: 286) notes some of the slogans coined by the Dalits during this time not only to strengthen their unity with the Muslims, but also to express their anger against the upper castes: Jatav–Muslim bhai bhai, Hindu kaun, kjahan se aye? ( Jatavs and Muslims are brothers, where do the Hindus come from?); ‘Thakurs, Brahmans, and Banyas – make their face black’. This is not specific to UP; even in Maharashtra, the party was largely dominated by Mahars. And the party leadership made few attempts to reach out to the other Dalit castes in the state, such as Chambhars and Mangs. A remark made by Namdeo Vhatkar, a Chambhar politician, mirrors the domination of the Mahars: ‘Even though the name [the Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF)] stood for all the Scheduled Castes, in reality this party was only the party of the Mahars. For this reason the Chambhars, Dhors, Mangs, Bhagi and all other castes considered to be Harijans joined the Congress party. The SCF later became the RPI. After the Mahars’ conversion it remained a party of one caste only’ (Gokhale-Turner and Jayashree B. 1979: 81).


2 MOBILISING FOR POWER The emergence of the BSP and Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh, 1970–90

Kanchan Chandra (2004), in her Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India, attributes the BSP’s electoral success in UP to (a) greater representation accorded to the Scheduled Caste (SC) elites, especially those of the Chamar caste, who constitute the majority among the SCs in the state; and (b) a series of electoral alliances that the party entered into with the other political parties. She substantiates this argument using evidence drawn from the BSP’s electoral failure in Punjab and Karnataka. The BSP’s failure in Punjab’s electoral politics, she argues, was due to the greater representation accorded to Chamar elites, although Chamars constitute a minority among the SCs in Punjab. Apart from this undue representation of one particular caste, the limited representation given to non-Chamar elites among the SCs and the party’s failure to negotiate electoral alliances with other political parties led to its failure in the state. In Karnataka, contrary to the political situation either in UP or in Punjab, the SC elites enjoy a high degree of representation in the mainstream political parties. As a result, the SC voters, Chandra claims, had no incentive to vote for the BSP. In relation to her attribution to the BSP’s electoral success in UP to the opportunity it opened up for Dalit elites, particularly the Chamar elite, Chandra claims that the educated SCs sought ‘careers that would give them better economic opportunities and higher status than their parents’ and that they could secure such a status only by ‘obtaining control of the state’, for such control ‘presented them with more opportunities than the private sector’ (Chandra 2004: 174). It is precisely for this reason, she argues, that the educated SCs supported the BSP. Similarly, the SC elite ‘required political clout to ensure favourable posts and promotions. Access to political clout, in turn, depended on having members of their own ethnic category in elective offices’ (ibid.: 176). It was true that the BSP has given greater representation to the elite section from among 68


the Chamars in UP. Such representation might have provided both the material and psychological incentives to the non-elite Chamars in the state. But that does not explain the reasons for the support extended by the other Dalit castes to the BSP. In fact, a lack of representation should have driven them away from the party rather than remain within it. One must ask here, if the BSP’s electoral politics and success revolved around the educated Dalits and Dalit elites, what was the role played by the ordinary Dalits in the BSP’s success? To put it differently, why did the non-elite Chamars and other Dalit castes also support the BSP? Here, one must note that the BSP was not born out of struggles of Dalits at the grassroots, but sprang up from activities undertaken by the All India Backward (SC/ST/OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) as well as the support of Dalits as people of one social category. By the early 1970s, there was, in UP, a noticeable economic change among Dalits. Much of this improvement was, obviously, due to the compensatory discriminatory provisions as well as the welfare measures undertaken by the state for the empowerment of Dalits. With new assurances gained through the constitutional provisions, and economic advancements through cottage industries, such as leather-making and sandal-making, Dalits began to assert themselves in both urban and rural areas. Such an assertion by the ‘untouchables’, unsurprisingly, became a cause for hatred and fear among the upper castes. The new assertiveness, political awareness and educational advancement of Dalits were seen by the upper castes as a breach of tradition. For them, ‘the Jatavs, as untouchables are getting not only out of place but also out of hand’ (Lynch 1981: 1952). To show them their place in society, the upper castes resorted to the practice of discrimination in urban centres and orchestrated mindless violent attacks against Dalits in rural areas during the 1970s and early 1980s. Although the Dalits were terrified by the brutality and cruelty of the upper castes, such cruelties, in turn, provided the necessary impetus for them not only to raise their voice against the caste-based violence against them, but more importantly, to lend their support to the BSP. This chapter examines the history of the BSP, especially in the wider socio-economic context, and the ideological features of Dalit politics that Chandra’s account leaves out.

Dalits and Congress: a difficult relationship By the late 1960s, it was apparent that the various Dalit mobilisations for social equality and political power in colonial and immediate postcolonial UP had not led to any major or lasting success in electoral politics. One of the key reasons was the Congress Party’s co-option politics that had 69


brought the Dalit leadership as well as Dalit voters securely into its hands; and that that independent political activities of Dalits shifted from a tragedy to a catastrophe. But how did the Congress manage to bring the Dalit leadership into its fold? Did the Congress do anything substantially to improve the lot of Dalits? Did it actively put an end to the independent political activities among them? Until 1961, most of the reserved seats were in double-member constituencies, in which one of the seats could be filled only by a member of either the Dalit or the Adivasi category, and the other was open to general competition. But in 1961, single-member constituencies were brought into force in their place (Dushkin 1972: 189).1 A cursory look at the election results in seven assembly elections from 1962 to 1985 in the reserved seats (Table 2.1) reveals that Dalits mainly supported the Congress Party in UP.2 Incidentally, this pattern was not confined to UP alone. As shown in Table 2.2, the Congress was able to secure most of the reserved seats for Dalits all over India, particularly in the 1962, 1967 and 1971 parliamentary elections. In 1962, the Congress won 82 per cent of Dalit seats in UP, while its national average of all seats was 54 per cent; in 1967, the contrast was 61 to 52 per cent; and again, in 1971, the contrast was Table 2.1 Performance of the parties in the reserved Scheduled Caste seats in UP Assembly Party









– 6 – 55 – – – 8 4 1 5 – 5 4 88

– 1 – 45 – – – 24 1 2 – 10 3 2 88

22 – 1 45 – – – 12 – – – 5 1 2 88

23 2 – 48 – – – 13 – – – – – 2 88

– – – 8 – 79 – – – – – – – 1 88

– 2 – 72+1∗ 9 – – 3 – – – – – 1 88

– – – 71 – – 12 3 – – – – – 2 88

Source: Election Commission of India. ∗One seat was won by the Indian National Congress (U).



66 10 11 8 5

64 7 9 4 16

15 45 9 4 5

19 58 12 5 6

28 55 5 4 8

46 14 7 4 5

60 18 9 5 7

67 16 8 3 6

52 1 4 9 3

75 1 6 13 4

79 3 5 8 5

Sources: Election Commission reports for 1971–80 and provisional tables for 1984. This table is taken from Rudolph and Rudolph 1987: 189. Notes: The figures are for the 17 large states only; in 1980, there were 79 scheduled caste constituencies in all; in 1984, because there were no elections in Assam and Punjab, it was reduced. ‘Congress’ refers to Congress® in 1971, Congress in 1977, and Congress-I in 1980 and 1984. ‘Janata’ refers to the component units that united in 1977; to the premerger components in 1971; to the Janata, Lok Dal and Congress-U in 1980; and to the Janata and the DMKP in 1984.

Congress 48 Janata 7 Communist parties 8 DMK, AIADMK & TDP 6 Others 4

No. of % of % of No. of % of % of No. of % of % of No. of % of % of All Seats SC Seats SC Seats All Seats SC Seats SC Seats All Seats SC Seats SC Seats All Seats SC Seats SC Seats





Election Year

Table 2.2 Distribution of Scheduled Castes’ Parliamentary seats by various political parties, 1971–84


66 to 64 per cent (Rudolph and Rudolph 1987: 188). In all these three elections, the Congress’s proportion of the Dalit seats topped its proportion of all seats. However, there was a general decline in the Congress’s proportion of Dalit seats, particularly after 1984. On the basis of the electoral success of the Congress in the reserved seats and the declarations of the Congress in its various electoral manifestos and campaigns, two kinds of political commentaries can be distinguished during this time. First, the Rudolphs (1987: 187) attribute the disproportionate electoral support of Dalits for the Congress both during the Nehruvian era and Indira Gandhi’s regime to ‘a special relationship’ between the party and Dalits. Second, labelling Dalits as a ‘vote bank’ for the Congress, Mendelsohn and Vicziany (1998: 2014) argue that Dalits voted for the Congress because of its commitment to ‘a plan of action on untouchability and poverty’.3 It was true that the Dalits have disproportionately voted for the Congress. But two questions must be summarily posed here: How did the Congress manage to turn Dalits into its ‘vote bank’? What did that ‘special relationship’ do to them? In the following paragraphs, I have made an effort to answer these questions by examining two specific aspects: (A) Congress and Dalit representation, and (B) the Zamindari Abolition Act and Land Reforms. (A) Congress and Dalit representation4: From the very beginning, as noted earlier, political representation for Dalits was plagued with controversy and criticism. To begin with, one of the remarkable contributions of political representation for Dalits was that it provided for their ‘substantial quantitative presence’ in representative bodies (Galanter 1984: 50). Such presence led the Dalit legislators, who were elected under various national and regional political parties, to be of the opinion that representation for Dalits had been a great success. They claimed that their presence in legislative bodies not only safeguarded Dalit interests, but also helped to check the monopoly of the upper castes over legislative bodies. Interestingly, such a view was not shared by all Dalits. The educated and poorer sections, in particular, felt that Dalit representation had become a weapon in the hands of the upper castes, which was used to destroy the independent Dalit leadership.5 What ultimately mattered was not simply the presence, but the quality of that presence. For a long time, Dalit representatives did not participate in debates in the legislative bodies, even if the issues concerned Dalits and other marginalised strata (Galanter 1979: 443). It was not just the individual Dalit representatives who were responsible for this state of affairs; the upper castes and political parties shared equal responsibility. As noted above, double-member constituencies were replaced by single-member constituencies in 1961. It has been said that 72


the reason for the abolition of those constituencies was primarily on account of the politicians’ concern over the expenses involved in campaigns in double-sized districts. The reality, however, was the infrequent but well-publicised resentment expressed by the upper castes that in several locations, the unreserved ‘general’ seats as well as the reserved seats were won by Dalit candidates (and Adivasis candidates in ST doublemember constituencies) (Galanter 1979: 438). Further, in the design of the single-member constituencies for the 1962 elections, it appears that care was taken to reserve constituencies where the Dalit population was only a small percentage of the total.6 For instance, of the 76 constituencies reserved for Dalits in the 1962 elections in the state, not a single one had a Dalit majority. At the most, the Dalit population was only 10–30 per cent of the total, which means that 75 per cent of the population in the reserved constituency comprised non-Dalits. The result was that even if the entire Dalit population voted en masse for a particular Dalit candidate in any given constituency, he or she would not win the election; candidates who were chosen by the non-Dalit population would win the seat. In other words, the change of double-member constituencies to single-member constituencies put the candidates in the reserved constituencies at the mercy of the nonDalit population and upper-caste-based political parties. It is extremely important to understand how the non-Dalit public chooses between two Dalit candidates – one who speaks the language of the Dalits, and another who speaks the language of the upper-castebased mainstream political party. G. Narayana, who studied Dalit political elites, gives an example. During the 1967 elections in the Sasani reserved constituency, Congress’s candidate was challenged by another Dalit candidate representing RPI. The upper castes supported the Congress’s Dalit candidate because: ‘He lives simply, talks softly, and above all, he had not forgotten his caste status. He pays due regard to all Brahmins and does not sit with them on the same cot’ (Narayan 1974: 216). On similar lines, Galanter (1979: 446) notes that the representatives for the reserved constituencies were selected on grounds of ‘acceptability to others rather than by virtue of forceful representation of interests of the preferred groups’. Further, as the selection of candidates was always in the hands of political parties, which are always controlled by leaders from upper-caste backgrounds, the Dalit candidates generally never argued against their respective parties or against the upper-caste-based leadership. Jagjivan Ram, one of the most prominent Dalit leaders of his time, admitting the reality of the reserved constituencies observed: ‘Since one had to depend on the non-Scheduled Caste votes, one went along with the fortunes of the party’ (interview with Jagjivan Ram, cited in Frankel 1989: 83). Thus, it 73


is clear that in order to get elected from the reserved constituencies, Dalit candidates had to remember that their social status was below the nonDalit public and that they should strictly comply with the caste-based values and expected norms, such as paying due respect to Brahmins and not aspiring to sit alongside the upper castes. This was precisely the reason why Dalit candidates were never regarded either as leaders or as representatives by the members, particularly the non-Dalit public, of their respective constituencies. But, how did the Congress manage to co-opt the Dalit leadership into its fold and turn the Dalits into its ‘vote bank’? As Table 2.1 indicates, except in the post-Emergency elections in 1977, the Congress Party consistently secured Dalit reserved seats until 1985, and two factors seem to have been instrumental in that success. First, after the decline of the RPI, most of the leaders were co-opted by the Congress. For instance, Chedilal Saathi, who had been an active member of lower-caste politics and the Ambedkarite movement both in colonial and in post-independence India, joined the Congress Party in 1970. While recounting the incident that led to his shift, where apparently Indira Gandhi herself went to persuade him, he said: ‘Mrs. Gandhi came (to him) and said – “We are in trouble; we are asking for socialism, so you join us, otherwise upper castes and the rich people will come” ’ (interview with Saathi, quoted in Jaffrelot 2003: 113). Similarly, B. P. Maurya, who was one of the main leaders of the RPI, joined the Congress after his defeat in the 1967 elections. The rationale behind this shift is a telling story: I joined Congress because by the time there was no great opposition leader. No socialists. I joined Indira Gandhi against certain conditions which she fulfilled later: the preamble of the Constitution should refer to socialism; agricultural labourers should be guaranteed minimum wages; land reform should be implemented. She agreed and I joined. She wanted me to become more civilised. I was very rough and tough so she sent me to the United States. When I came back she made me a Minister. I became close to her. And she has been very kind to me. (interview with B. P. Maurya, quoted in Jaffrelot 2003: 112) Three aspects are clear from Maurya’s statement. First, since there was no ‘great’ opposition leader to challenge the Congress, it would be futile on his part, as the leader of a small political party, to fight against the Congress. This is an indication of the emergence of the weak leadership that was willing to make compromises with the strong political party and, 74


thereby, go against the interests of their own community. Second, just like the Congress leaders of his generation, Maurya reduced the Dalit question to an economic issue. For him, ‘There is nothing like Dalit politics. This is a most confusing approach because Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are part and parcel of the entire society’ (ibid.: 113). Such words echo Gandhi’s analysis of the caste system, but essentially indicate a lack of clarity among the Dalit leadership on the specific nature of the Dalit question. Third, it can be discerned that material inducements and positions of power were thrown at the Dalit leadership by the Congress. For instance, Maurya was made Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Industry in 1974 and Saathi became general secretary of the UP Congress in 1973. Soon, other Dalit leaders also followed Maurya and Saathi as a way of survival in competitive politics.7 Owen Lynch, in his study of Agra Jatavs, observes: ‘The conservatives consider membership in the Congress Party a matter of survival. The Congress controls to some extent the financial resources and licensing offices upon which they (Dalits) depend . . . The conservatives’ main strategy can be summed up in one phrase, “why bite the hand that feeds you?” ’ (1969: 111). The question is, did Congress’s Dalit leaders do anything for their constituents, the Dalits? The Dalit masses were persuaded into the Congress fold by the establishment of a special league, the Dalit Varg Sangh (‘The League of the Dalits’) as well as the extension of reservations and other facilities. For instance, during the early 1970s, Indira Gandhi, with the 1971 general election in mind, took many significant steps that brought a large number of Dalits into the Congress fold. Some of the more notable decisions were taken in the autumn of 1969: Buddhists were made eligible for the post-metric scholarships given to SCs; the Constitution of India was amended to extend reservations in representative bodies for another 10 years; the Untouchability (Offences) Act was proposed to be toughened; and the percentage of reservations in direct recruitment to the central services was raised from 12.5 to 15 per cent for Dalits. Further, between 1971 and 1977, a number of new policies and programmes, such as digging of new wells for drinking water and distribution of agricultural land and house sites, were designed exclusively for the rural poor, the landless and small farmers and Dalits in the state. Interestingly, many of these schemes were not operated by the state government, but carried out under the direct supervision of the central government to bring about a ‘total rural regeneration’. Through these policies and programmes, the Congress succeeded in gaining the confidence of Dalits to the extent that it could secure three-quarters of the reserved seats at any given time and 75


in any given election (Pai 1993: 44–5). Yet, beyond small measures such as housing sites and wells, the Congress’s measures did not benefit the larger Dalit population.8 Moreover, the co-option of the Dalit leadership into the Congress effectively destroyed the space for the emergence of a strong and independent Dalit leadership in post-independent India, at least for the three decades following independence. Dalit MPs and MLAs in the Congress, having no support base within the community, found their hands tied insofar as addressing the causes of their community, i.e. they were not elected exclusively by Dalit voters, but by voters from all castes and communities. In fact, there was not a single reserved constituency with a majority of Dalit voters. This absence of a majority Dalit constituency compelled the Dalit leaders to seek the support of the upper castes as well as other lower castes.9 Such practical inconsistencies in Dalit representation led one Dalit to comment: This system does the Scheduled Castes no good because the people in the reserved seats belong to the party in power and are often incapable persons. Although they are educated, they dare not speak out against the party in power. They do not represent their people to the party and the government, but represent the party in power to the people. (cited in Shah 2002: 244) Thus, political representation for Dalits, instead of providing independent voice for Dalits in legislative bodies, assisted the upper castes, as forcefully observed by Kanshiram (1997: 93), in creating ‘a bunch of Dalit leaders’ who became their stooges (chamchas) at the expense of poor Dalits. This is one of the reasons why leaders such as Ambedkar, who ventured into a long fight against the Congress to obtain the reserved seats, called for their abolition as early as 1955 itself. B. Zamindari Abolition Act and Land Reforms: In UP, like in any other state in India, social discrimination and economic oppression by caste and class go hand in hand for Dalits.10 That is, their positional location in the hierarchy corresponds with their state of landlessness (Hasan 1989; Gould 1990; Ahmed and Saxena 1994; Leiten 1994). For instance, in UP at the time of independence, while Thakurs and Brahmins together owned 57 per cent of the agricultural land, the intermediate castes owned another 32 per cent, the Muslims 11 per cent and Dalits a mere 1 per cent (Singh and Misra 1965: 259). The Zamindari Abolition Act and the subsequent land reforms were two watershed events in the immediate post-independence period that not only brought substantial changes to 76


this existing pattern of land ownership, but also set for structural changes in UP society. In fact, these events were important for their role in the dislocation (although not completely) of the upper-caste Brahmins and Thakurs from their dominant positions of social, economic and political power. Those events were also important for placing Shudras on the path to economic empowerment. As Hasan (1998: 138) rightly points out, the act, with all its limitations, ‘reduced the relative economic gap between upper castes and OBC land-owners’. For instance, the intermediate castes such as Jats, to a greater extent, and the Shudra castes such as Yadavs and Kurmis, to a lesser extent, were the major beneficiaries of the Zamindari Abolition Act. Along with these intermediate castes, it was expected that the Dalits, a majority of whom were the landless and agricultural labour, would benefit by the act. Strangely, the Dalits, by their exclusion from the entire process of land distribution, remained more or less untouched by the act, and so, the economic changes that have had a decisive impact on future politics in the state. Following the act, the land was distributed among the tenant farmers and sharecroppers only, for in the government’s understanding Dalits, who worked as agricultural labour, were neither farmers nor sharecroppers, and hence, were not qualified for land distribution. This exclusion of the Dalits was a clear and blatant cunning ploy on the part of the intermediate castes and state government – led by the Congress at large – for, the act did not contain such phraseology as ‘landless’ or ‘agricultural labour’. This plainly shows that the entire scheme was designed to establish a system of peasant proprietorship rather than a system that would have ended landlessness in the state (Duncan 1979; Terence 1993).11 Moreover, Charan Singh, who was the minister in charge of overseeing the whole distribution process, was not keen on distributing land to the landless and agricultural labourers, especially to Dalits. An observation made by Terence (1993: 286–7) on Charan Singh discloses the latter’s attitude: In Charan Singh’s universe the vast majority of Harijans are not members of the ‘farming community’ at all. They are, for the most part, landless agricultural labourers or very poor peasants . . . When asked, ‘What about those with no land at all, the landless peasants?’, the reply from Charan Singh was chilling and uncompromising: Well, landless – if a man is landless he cannot be called a farmer or peasant. Then he’s a labourer. If you want to give land to the labourer – well, there is no land to give to the labourer. 77


Strictly speaking, after the abolition of the zamindari system, the land taken from the zamindars should have been distributed among the landless and agricultural labourers. But that did not happen. In fact, the man in charge of the distribution did not even consider Dalits. It is one of the examples where social power, in combination with political power, results in economic power and, thereby, reproduces the power of the socially dominant classes and castes at the expense of the marginalised classes and castes (Frankel 1989). One can further substantiate this point from a field study completed in 1960 by Baljit Singh and Sridhar Misra. According to them, while in the 10 years after reforms began in 1951, only 6 per cent of Dalit families had been able to take advantage of the reforms by purchasing land, 55 per cent of the higher caste Hindus and 61 per cent of intermediate caste Hindus and Muslims purchased land (1965: 259). Dalits and other marginalised sections could not buy the land as they did not have the purchasing capacity. Although lack of purchasing power seemed to be one of the reasons that prevented Dalits from benefiting from the land reforms, it was more a matter of deprivation of entitlement. Daniel Thorner (1956: 25) aptly summed up this new development: [T]he U.P. Zamindari Abolition Act has provided for a new hierarchy of tenure-holders in place of the old one; but the two are all too recognizably similar. At the top are bhumidhars, below them Sirdars, and still further down the asamis. At the bottom of the heap remain the mass of crop sharers and landless labourers. The Zamindars have disappeared but these same persons have been confirmed as landholders, often of very substantial tracts of best quality of land . . . For the great bulk of the peasantry, who were classified as Sirdars, the tenure remained substantially the same, the rent remains exactly the same, and the most important new feature is that the rent is collected by government rather than by the Zamindar. The subsequent developments in the agricultural arena, such as the Green Revolution, have also substantially benefited the beneficiaries of the Zamindari Abolition Act and land reforms rather than the landless Dalits (Frankel 1971). Some of the later initiatives, such as Small Farmers Development Agency (SFDA) and the Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labourers Programme (MFAL), intended to rectify the limitations and class bias of land reforms, and the Green Revolution, also failed to make any inroads to eliminate rural inequities between castes and classes, as 78


recipients of aid under these programmes were selected by local agencies that were normally dominated by the existing rural elites ( Joshi 1982). Of course, one cannot underestimate the overall impact and consequences of these reforms for they changed the face of rural UP forever. As the land was transferred from the upper castes to the middle castes, particularly to Shudras, it corroded the domination of the upper castes at the grassroots. It also ended the patron–client relationships between the upper castes and lower castes. Yet, these developments did not mean the end of domination of one caste(s) over other castes. In fact, since Dalits were kept away from the land distribution, the abolition of the zamindari system made little difference to their existing economic woes. The only notable change was that while earlier Dalits worked for Brahmins and Thakurs, they now worked for Shudras – Jats, Tyagis, Kurmis and Yadavs – the new owners of the land. In other words, the land reforms and the consequent empowerment of Shudras only served to add one more constituency to the list of oppressors. The Shudras, who came to own lands, became exploiters of Dalits. Yet again, the economic changes that were triggered by the Zamindari Abolition Act and land reforms in the rural economy led the rural dominant and propertied castes and classes to invest in urban areas. Although this slowed down agriculture in rural areas, it hastened development in urban centres. From the point of view of the rural Dalits, this was an important shift, as developments in urban areas increased employment opportunities for them in farms, brick kilns, construction activities and rickshaw-pulling. This shift was nothing but a disentanglement of the rural Dalits from their upper-caste patrons, which in the words of Mendelsohn (1993: 807) was a ‘historic, non-revolutionary transformation’. One may conclude that the Congress Party’s special relationship with the Dalits did not lead to fundamental changes at the ground level. A few welfare measures strengthened the Congress’s position among Dalits, and ultimately turned them into its vote bank. Despite benefiting from the measure of political representation for Dalits and the Dalit vote bank, the Congress did little precious to improve their socio-economic miseries. Instead, it sided with the upper castes and other dominant sections in keeping Dalits away from the benefits of land distribution and measures of SFDA and MFAL. In a way, the Congress succeeded not just in weakening the Dalit leadership, but more importantly, the larger Dalit masses were also now at its mercy for any form of socio-economic benefits. But how did the BSP mobilise Dalits for political power? In the first place, what was the context in which a Dalit-based political party emerged in the political arena of UP? We shall examine these questions in the next section. 79


From BAMCEF to Bahujan Samaj Party

What led the divergent castes within the larger Dalit category to come together and render their support to the BSP? What made Dalits launch a political party in the first instance? And how did the party mobilise support and how did it construct the Dalit identity, which ensured its success in electoral politics? The main aim in this section is to examine the historical trajectory of the emergence of the BSP from BAMCEF and analyse its strategies that led to Dalit mobilisation, both at the grassroots and in urban centres. Violence against the Dalits in UP – Social context of Dalit mobilisations: The social context that compelled Dalits to unite under the rubric of Dalit social category, and eventually to support the BSP, was the increased incidents of violence against them at the hands of the upper castes. Though violence perpetrated by the socially powerful against Dalits is an age-old phenomenon, in the 1970s and 1980s, it acquired a different kind of focus. Mendelsohn and Vicziany (1998: 44–76) divide the incidents of violence suffered by Dalits into two broad categories, based on the actual nature of the violence. First, there is ‘traditional violence’, some examples being demanding sexual favours from Dalit women in return for some inducements, or raping Dalit women and violence against Dalits on the basis of their association with what the caste Hindu mind would interpret as the dark forces of life. Second, there is violence on account of resistance of Dalits against caste-based discrimination or the caste Hindu response to Dalits. The Dalits’ objection to discrimination against the practice of ritual untouchability and claims to social respect, agricultural land, housing sites and payment of statutory minimum wages are a few examples of the resistance that would inspire violence in this category (ibid.: 45). During the 1970s and 1980s, this category of violence was unleashed against Dalits in UP and also in other parts of India (Human Rights Watch 1998). The violence and social oppression faced by Dalits were not new experiences in their everyday lives. Yet, by the early 1970s, there was a new twist in the execution and forms of oppression. That is to say, earlier, the upper castes targeted individual Dalits for any ‘wrongdoing’, i.e. breaching the customs imposed on them by the caste society; from the 1970s, Dalits began to be targeted as a group even when the transgression was committed by an individual. There was a similar phenomenon in AP during the same period (see Chapter 5). In other words, violence against Dalits occurred not because of their collective wrongdoing, but simply because of their collective identity. Since suffering was a collective phenomenon, principally resulting from a collective identity, a majority of the Dalit



castes put their individual caste identities aside, claimed the Dalit identity and stood behind the BSP for their collective freedom. The remaining sub-section provides two cases of caste Hindus’ responses to Dalit claims for social respect as well as their claim to citizenship rights. Case 1: ‘Serve us in glass tumblers’ – Refusing to be untouchables12: Hathras is a small town situated close to Aligarh town in western UP. On 18 May 1980, at about 3:00 p.m. on a hot summer day, four young men entered the cool drinks shop of Kaushal Chandra Gaud. Gaud belonged to the toddy tappers caste within the Shudra category. They asked for four glasses of lassi (buttermilk). As the young men in question belonged to the Bhangi caste, the shop owner served their drinks in kulhads (earthen cups). The men, who were in their twenties, were frustrated and angry at constantly being treated as untouchables, even by someone such as Gaud, whose economic situation and social status was akin to theirs. They asked him to serve the lassi in glass tumblers rather than in kulhads. Gaud responded by saying that would not be possible as they were untouchables. Seething with anger, the young men said, ‘[B]ut we also pay the same price for the lassi as everyone else. So serve us in glass tumblers just like you do for your other customers’.13Although the young men did not raise their voice against him, Gaud could sense their anger; without further discussion, he served them the cold drink in glass tumblers. The faces of the young men lit up; they felt as if they had conquered the world. When they had finished, they complimented Gaud for making such a delicious drink. They handed him the money and, after thanking him profusely, were about to leave the shop. It was at this point that Brahmanical casteism once again reared its head in the Shudra’s mind, and he insisted that the men clean their glasses before they leave the shop. This made the men angry again. ‘Do you ask the savarnas log (upper castes) to wash their glasses? If you don’t ask them, then why are you asking us’, they asked, controlling their anger. Gaud was dismissive: ‘Because you are untouchables and they are the upper castes’. The word ‘untouchable’ hurt the youths and they refused to clean the glasses. There followed an angry exchange between Gaud and the Dalit men, which escalated into physical violence. Other shopkeepers and Dalits gathered in the shop, and a full-blown fight broke out between the shopkeepers (upper castes as well as Shudras) and the Dalits (mostly Bhangis). Eventually, the situation was brought under control after the arrival of a police contingent. Although both the parties stopped fighting after the police arrived on the scene, they renewed the violence the next day. The Bhangis, who worked as safai karmcharis (sweepers and cleaners) for the municipality, gathered in front of the municipal office to demand protection from the 81


Shudras as well as the upper castes. The shopkeepers, who were joined by Shudras and upper castes, went to the main streets and pulled down the shutters of all the shops. From there, they moved to Seeal Mohalla, a neighbourhood mostly populated by Dalits. The caste Hindu mob demanded the closure of all the shops in that area as well, triggering fresh violence when the Dalits objected to this demand. The violence spread to the Dalit neighbourhood of Nagla Balansha Mohalla. Questioning the audacity of the Dalits, who had insisted on being served lassi in glass tumblers, the caste Hindus looted Dalit houses and shops by way of revenge. Further, they set huts on fire by dousing them in kerosene, and went on a rampage, even killing the Dalit-owned cattle. Case 2: Riots in Agra14: On 14 April 1978, the residents of Jatav basti (neighbourhood) in Agra gathered to celebrate the birthday of their hero, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, just as they did every year. One important part of the celebrations was a seven-hour-long parade. The procession started at Jatav basti after sunset and continued late into the night as it wound its way through Dalit as well as upper-caste neighbourhoods. The two main attractions of the parade were imaginatively decorated tableaux depicting scenes from the lives of the Buddha and Ambedkar, and an elephant carrying a life-sized portrait of Ambedkar. A brass band kept pace and provided music for the procession. At about 11:00 p.m., as the parade was passing through the upper-caste neighbourhoods of Pipal Mandi and Rawat Para, bricks and stones suddenly rained down on the crowd. As they had faced similar incidents earlier on, the Jatav marchers were ready to strike back. They retaliated by throwing the bricks and stones back at their attackers and, in the process, damaged a house and some shops before the police could arrive on the scene. The next day, the upper-caste shopkeepers, along with their leaders, wore black armbands to protest against the ‘attack by the untouchables’ (Amar Ujala 16 April 1978). They went to Chhatta police station to lodge a case against the Jatavs, and on their way to the police station, they shouted slogans such as, ‘Change the route of the parade’, ‘Death to Ambedkar’, and ‘Doom to the Jatavs’ (Lynch 1981: 1952). The Jatav leaders and leaders of the other Dalit castes, however, called for peace between all castes. Further, a decision was taken to hold a peace march on 23 April against the upper castes’ insult to Ambedkar by wearing black arm bands, and to pass through Rawat Para once again. Those in the peace march shouted slogans such as, ‘Gandhism is false’, and ‘Hail Ambedkar’ (ibid.: 1953). As the parade approached Rawat Para, the upper castes clashed with the Dalit marchers by throwing hot water at those in the procession. As always, the police appeared on the scene too late and tried to disperse the crowd with 82


lathis and tear gas. In the bedlam that followed, women and children were severely injured by the lathi charge and blood was shed in the streets. The police, instead of arresting the upper castes for throwing hot water on the marchers, arrested some of the important Jatav leaders. Five aspects are clear from the above incidents of violence. First, having separate glasses for caste Hindus and Dalits was a blatant practice of caste discrimination against Dalits. By asking the shopkeeper to serve them in the same glasses used for caste Hindus, the Dalit youths were making a point that they should be treated as equals. Second, the caste Hindus responded with violence to the Dalits’ demand for equality. Note here that although the initial incident was between four Dalit men and a shopkeeper, a large number of caste Hindus voluntarily pitched in to teach the Dalits a lesson for demanding equal treatment. In the violence that ensued, the caste Hindu mob targeted not just the four Dalit men, but their entire caste. Another aspect of the violence against Dalits was destruction of property, such as houses and cattle. ‘Focussing on the physical properties of the Dalits was a careful act by the savarnas log. They knew that reconstructing houses and getting new livestock would be next to impossible for the Dalits. And in the process of rebuilding their houses and lives, the Dalits would not dare to question the savarna log’.15 Thus, it is clear that the violence was not a spontaneous act, but a carefully studied and planned one. Third, public roads being open for use by the general public, Dalits, as part of the of the country’s population, have every right to use them. But the upper castes did not want Dalits to use the roads, which was why they lodged a police complaint against them. By using the public roads, Dalits were claiming their civil rights just like any other citizen, as enshrined in the Constitution of India. The upper castes’ objection was to obstruct the rights of Dalits. Finally, the role of the police: while in the first incident, they, for the most part, remained mute spectators to the caste Hindus’ violence against Dalits, in the second incident, they actively took the side of the upper castes by beating up Dalit protesters and arresting their leaders. In this way, state and society aligned in the oppression and suppression of Dalits. It was in such a social context that Dalits were looking for a political party that would take up their problems and fight for them, and they found it in the BSP.

Formation of the BAMCEF and its activities The BSP, which emerged from the BAMCEF and the DS-4, was the brainchild of Kanshiram, who was responding to the institutional discrimination meted out against fellow Dalit employees by upper-caste 83


employees. Kanshiram, whose followers addressed him fondly as Saheb or Manyawar, and who was also generally considered to be ‘the messiah of the oppressed’ and the embodiment of Ambedkar himself,16 was born on 15 March 1934 in a humble Raidasi Sikh (Dalit) family in Khawaspur village of Ropar district in Punjab (Teltumbde 2006: 4531). He was fortunate enough to get an education and, later, employment in the government sector. In 1958, after his degree, Kanshiram took up a job as researcher in the Explosive Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL), an ammunitions factory in Pune. Kanshiram, who grew up in a protected military environment and as a follower of Sikhism, a religion that preaches egalitarianism, had little experience of the oppressive nature of the caste system and the suffering of Dalits as untouchables. It was in Pune that he was exposed for the first time to the stark realities of caste, which shocked young Kanshiram: I was first exposed to the miseries of the Mahars and Mangs and then I read Annihilation of Caste and What Gandhi and the Congress Have Done to the Untouchables. These are the two books, which have influenced me most. Later I came to know about Mahatma Jotirao Phule. (interview with Kanshiram, cited in Jaffrelot 1998: 35). A common criticism of Dalits against the Nehruvian institutions is that they had become ‘Brahmin agraharams’ (Brahmin residential areas) in post-independent India. Considering the presence of both Dalits and non-Dalits in those institutions, such criticism against Brahmins is unfair. But this does not mean that these institutions were non-discriminatory. In fact, they were both Brahmanised and Hinduvised by Brahmins and other upper castes, who constituted the majority in those institutions. Dalits, who were constitutionally entitled to a representation of 15 per cent, had always remained in a minority in government institutions on account of this prescribed percentage, as well as the unwillingness on the part of upper-caste executives to fill up even the prescribed percentage of posts. Such a gap in spatial presence between Dalits and the upper castes allowed the latter to take control and impose their ‘raj’ in these institutions. Kanshiram, who was working in the ERDL, encountered one such instance of the cultural hegemony of the upper castes. It is said that this incident changed not only his life and work, but also the entire course of the Dalit movement and politics in contemporary India. In 1965, the ERDL cancelled two holidays meant to celebrate the birthdays of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Gautama Buddha, and instead 84


sanctioned a holiday on the birthday of Tilak and added one more day to the Diwali holidays (Pai 2002: 87). Although Dalits were in the minority in the ERDL, they had the courage to question the cultural hegemony of the upper castes. Moreover, in Pune, where the ERDL was located, young Dalits were continuously engaged in discussing the ideas of Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar. Dinabhana, a Dalit employee in the laboratory, was enraged by the list of holidays and protested against the decision, leading to his suspension from the ERDL. Incidentally, Ambedkarite organisations had a strong presence in Pune; yet, no Dalit organisation took up the issue. After Ambedkar’s death, particularly in the early 1960s, both the Dalit movement and politics in Maharashtra were highly fragmented, and Dalit leaders were busy fighting against each other. So much so that the cancellation of the two holidays appeared to be a non-issue for them. But young Kanshiram was enraged. He supported Dinabhana and organised a protest against the decision of the management. Moreover, he filed a case against Dinabhana’s suspension in a district court of law, despite intimidation by the management. Although the case took two years, the court verdict not only revoked Dinabhana’s suspension, but, more importantly, also restored the two holidays. This incident seems to have had a lasting impact on Kanshiram as well as other Dalit employees in the laboratory. They felt the need for a strong Dalit organisation that would fight the arrogance of the upper-caste authorities in the organisation, and with that intention, they began associating with various Dalit organisations in Maharashtra, such as People’s Education Society, Buddha Club and so on. Interestingly, during this period, radical Dalit movements were emerging in Maharashtra (Dalit Panthers) and neighbouring Karnataka (Dalit Sangharsha Samiti – DSS). Although Kanshiram and his colleagues at the ERDL appear to have been aware of these movements, they were not attracted to them. Instead, they chose RPI, as they, especially Kanshiram, had been deeply influenced by Ambedkar’s call for political power – a call that was given to Dalits and other marginalised sections in Madras on 24 September 1944. Ambedkar declared: ‘Understand our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to become the rulers of this country. Write this goal on the walls of your houses so that you will never forget. Our struggle is not for the few jobs and concessions but we have a larger goal to achieve. That goal is to become the rulers of the land’ (quoted in Crossette 1990). Ambedkar called upon Dalits to become rulers of India within the parliamentary framework rather than through acts of insurgency; Kanshiram too, it appears, decided to work within the parliamentary framework rather than outside of it. Hence, he did not associate with the emerging radical Dalit movements in Maharashtra or Karnataka. 85


At this stage, the Dalit movement and politics in Maharashtra were dominated and controlled by the self-styled Ambedkarites, who were divided into two large groups: one group consisted of the RPI leaders, who came exclusively from the Mahar caste, and the other, Congress Dalit leaders who came from various Dalit castes, especially non-Mahars. While the former splintered into many factions, the latter group was more or less domesticated by upper-caste Congress leaders such as Y. B. Chavan (Pai 2002: 88). Although Kanshiram appeared to have been disillusioned with the state of Dalit politics, especially with the RPI brand of politics, he worked for the party for nearly eight years, particularly during the initial phase of his activism. Working for the party was a learning experience for the young Kanshiram, for most of his ideas and arguments took shape during this stage. He felt that the idea of true democracy under the varna-based social order was impossible. ‘The Indian democracy’, for Kanshiram, ’was rule by the upper castes, based upon manuvadi or the Brahmanic order’ (ibid.: 89). Further, his close observation of RPI leaders and Congress’ Dalit leaders and the treatment meted out to these two groups by upper-caste Congress leaders, led Kanshiram to see them as chamchas (stooges) of the Congress. These ideas were later developed in his book, The Chamcha Age (An Era of the Stooges). But Kanshiram’s dream of political power for the oppressed masses was completely shattered when Dadasaheb Gaikwad, a committed and much respected RPI Dalit leader, joined the Congress for a Lok Sabha reserved seat. This act of Gaikwad had a tremendous impact on Kanshiram. He was disillusioned with the ability of the Maharashtrian Dalit leadership to achieve political power for Dalits, which, in turn, resulted in his disassociation with the RPI. BAMCEF: Disenchanted with the chamcha politics of the RPI and the Congress’s Dalit leaders, Kanshiram and his close associates at the ERDL decided to develop an organisation that would spread the ideas and ideals of Ambedkar and Phule. During this time, Kanshiram was joined by Kaparde, a committed Dalit employee, and together, they began to formulate ideas for an organisation to be built up by educated employees from the lower castes. A BSP activist recollected that the idea of an organisation for Dalits was passionately taken up by Kanshiram and his colleague as if it was their life mission.17 On 6 December 1973, they established BAMCEF (although it was not officially inaugurated until 1978) with the object of fighting caste discrimination against the lower castes within the civil service (Kumar and Sinha 2001: 58)18; and its motto, ‘Educate, Organise, and Agitate’, was adopted from Ambedkar’s



teachings. Through this association, the Dalit leadership managed to establish a network of Dalit employees in various government services throughout Maharashtra and in the adjacent regions. In 1976, a functioning office of the BAMCEF was established in Delhi. The base in Delhi seemed to be a good move as it facilitated the spread of the organisation in Punjab, Haryana, UP and Madhya Pradesh (MP). BAMCEF’s first unit in UP was started in 1978 in Agra, and later relaunched in Lucknow with Raj Bahadur, a government employee at the Central Telephone Office, as its convenor. It may be noted here that, principally, the BAMCEF was an organisation for marginalised and oppressed sections. But most of its members were from the Dalit background, and of course, Kanshiram tried to accommodate people from the OBC background, although he did not succeed in that endeavour. A significant feature of BAMCEF was that, unlike other Dalit sociopolitical organisations, it was relatively free from monetary constraints. Almost all the members were government employees, and those salaried jobs enabled them to support the organisation’s activities with generous monetary contributions. In the early 1980s, the BAMCEF claimed to have almost 200,000 members, among whom were 15,000 scientists and 3,000 MBBS graduates, 500 PhDs and 7,000 other graduates and postgraduates (Jaffrelot 1998: 36; Singh 2011: 23). The presence of educated and employed people enabled the organisation to undertake activities in a much bigger way. But then, as an organisation of government employees, its focus was mainly confined to two activities: disseminating information among the educated Dalits and organising public demonstrations against injustices meted out to their fellow Dalits. The main aim of these activities was to raise the consciousness of Dalits about their plight and press for social action. The BAMCEF tried to raise social consciousness among Dalits through various forms of literary and cultural events, such as launching the journal, Oppressed Indian; celebrating the anniversaries of Ambedkar’s birth and death; restarting the Ambedkar Memorial Football Tournament and felicitations for Dalit poets (kavi sammelana) on Ambedkar Jayanti. As for social action, it was carried out through public awareness programmes. One such programme was ‘Ambedkar Mela on Wheels’. This was an audiovisual account of Ambedkar’s life and views, together with contemporary material on the oppression, atrocities and poverty faced by Dalits. Apparently, this ‘Mela’ was one of the biggest mobilising campaigns undertaken by BAMCEF, taking place across nine north Indian states, which spread from Jabalpur to Jammu and Allahabad to Jaipur. Apart



from this Mela, the other important activity undertaken by BAMCEF was popularising the ‘Ambedkar calendar’, which contained information on efforts and events connected with the leader’s life and mission (Atey 1997: 35).19 It is said that between 1977 and 1980, more than 250,000 calendars were distributed in north India, a reflection on how the organisation was spreading its wings. The BAMCEF’s greatest contribution, it should be noted, was the funding of its monthly magazine and newspaper. Kanshiram and his colleagues were more than convinced by the fact that mass media, which was dominated by the upper castes/classes, did not highlight issues relating to Dalits. Hence, it was important for the movement to have its own media, not only to highlight the plight of the oppressed, but also to conscientise the oppressed. In the words of Kanshiram: ‘All the efforts by the oppressed Indians throughout the length and breadth of the country could have resulted in the building of a solid organisation by these people, but the blacking out of news keeps them isolated and in the dark. An efficient news service owned and operated by the oppressed Indians would bring things out into the light’ (The Oppressed India April 1979). Towards this end, BAMCEF sponsored The Oppressed Indian, a monthly magazine in English. Kanshiram himself wrote the editorials. From its establishment in 1973, until the formation of the BSP in 1984, and to an extent, even in the later years, BAMCEF remained the principal resource body in terms of men and material help, especially monetary assistance. Two other most important achievements of BAMCEF were, first, the organisation succeeded in bringing a majority of the lower-caste government employees, especially Dalits in UP and other north Indian states, under its umbrella; and second, through print media, it was able to spread the ideology of Ambedkar and Phule among the educated Dalits. An important outcome of BAMCEF’s activities was the growing popularity of Kanshiram among the educated Dalit youth in the state. They looked up to him as ‘the messiah of the Dalits’ and began to rally around him. In fact, it was this youth who helped to popularise DS-4 when the BAMCEF initiated it in 1981.

From DS-4 to Bahujan Samaj Party The BAMCEF, under the leadership of Kanshiram, had always nurtured the idea of political power for the oppressed Indian. But Kanshiram could not have achieved his ambition by confining BAMCEF’s activities to middleclass and educated Dalits alone. There had to be a wider scope for its



activities, particularly its political activities, to reach out to rural Dalits, who bore caste-based oppression in their everyday lives. Towards achieving this end, the leadership wished to set up a parallel political organisation that would not only address the problems of Dalits and other oppressed masses, but also stand up against the Congress’s politics of ‘domestication’. In other words, the new political organisation would be the agitational wing of BAMCEF. With these aims in mind, the Dalit leadership established the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsha Samiti (Committee to fight for the Exploited and the Oppressed) on 6 December 1981, which came to be known as DS-4.20 If the BSP was an instant success among the lower castes, it was because of its strategies of mobilisation and criticism levelled against the castebased social system. A metaphor that Kanshiram and his followers often repeated was his analysis of the Indian social system in terms of a ballpoint pen: the top of the pen represented the upper castes, which constitute only 15 per cent of the population, the rulers of the country; while the pen itself represents the remaining 85 per cent of the total population. Despite their numerical strength, this section of the people continued to be the ruled. The sketch of the Indian social system given by Kanshiram was as follows: The Indian social system (a product of Brahmanism)

Beneficiaries of the system 10–15%





Vaishyas Intermediary Castes Victims of the system 85–90%

6% 10.5%

Other Backward Castes (OBCs – 3,743 castes )


Scheduled Castes (SCs – 1,500 castes)


Scheduled Tribes (STs – 1,000 castes)


Figure 2.1 The Indian social system (a product of Brahmanism) Source: Oppressed Indian, February/March 1986. Courtesy of the author



Kanshiram’s articulations metamorphosed into slogans, which were often extremely aggressive and easily caught the attention of Dalits and non-Dalits alike. Some of the slogans were: •

• •

Tilak, taraju aur talwar inko maro joote char (The tilak [Brahmin], the scales [representing the merchant caste, the Vaishya] and sword [represents Kshatriya – the warrior caste], hit them with shoes [representing Chamars]).21 Vote hamara, raj tumhara, nahin chalega, nahin chalega (We [lower castes] have the vote, you [upper castes] have the power, this will not last, this will not last). 85 par 15 ka raj nahin chalega, nahin chalega (85 per cent living under the rule of 15 per cent, this will not last, this will not last). Jiski jitni samkhya bhari uski utni bhagidari (Power should be distributed to each caste in accordance with its strength in the population).

Through the analysis of the Indian social system based on the analogy of a ballpoint pen and through various slogans, the BSP’s message to Dalits and other lower castes was clear: Brahmins, by controlling education and occupying the highest position in the traditional social structure’ Kshatriyas, by controlling the land and dominating temporal power and the Vaishyas, by controlling trade; had kept Dalits and other lower castes away from knowledge, economic resources and political power. Such control was not confined to the traditional society. Even in post-independence India, where the country had established a democratic form of government, the upper castes succeeded in re-establishing their dominance by controlling political power. In normal circumstances, in a democratic framework, it is the majority that rules, but the upper castes, who made up a mere 15 per cent of the total population of the country, were able to hog political power. The lower castes, who constituted 85 per cent of the population, continued to be ruled, by casting their votes for candidates belonging to the upper castes. Such a state of blatant injustice against the lower castes could not be tolerated any more. Lower castes should become aware of their fate and numerical strength and they should ensure that political power in the country was distributed among all the castes in proportion to their population size.22 In this way, DS-4 activists were able to show the caste-based divisions within society, the differences between upper-caste and lower-caste society and the power and domination of the former at the cost of the latter. Not surprisingly, this message pervaded the ‘mind and body’ of those belonging to the lower castes, who had been victims of upper-caste domination and power, and it led to unity among the lower castes. 90


Figure 2.2 Manyawar Sahib Kanshiram’s bicycle march started on 15 March 1983, covering seven states and a distance of 4,200 kms in 40 days Courtesy of www.ambedkartimes.com (accessed on 19 September 2012).

The DS-4 soon began to take up community-specific problems by organising Dalits, Shudras and minority groups through ‘cadre camps’, ‘awakening squads and ‘bicycle marches’. Two important programmes under the DS-4 were (a) the cycle march and (b) the denunciation of the Poona Pact. In the year 1983, between 15 March and 23 April, the DS-4 organised a 42,000 km cycle march, nicknamed the ‘miracle of two feet and two wheels’, which covered seven states in north India. The main purpose of this march was to mobilise Dalits and other oppressed groups ‘to educate the oppressed and the exploited . . . to build their own organisation and independent movement’ ( The Oppressed Indian April 1983, quoted in Jaffrelot 1998: 38). An anti-liquor campaign was also organised in UP, in which volunteers from the DS-4 cycled all over the state to protest against shops being opened in localities that were predominantly inhabited by the marginalised sections. This campaign seemed to be a success, as a large number of people from the villages joined the march, and in several locations, the liquor shops were shifted out of Dalit localities.23The march was also to point out the weaknesses of the 91


oppressed and to explain to the Dalits how they were being exploited by the upper castes. To quote Kanshiram: 85 percent of the oppressed and exploited people that Dr. B. R. Ambedkar nourished for years have today become tools in the hands of the ruling class, to the extent that they never feel shame when others use them. Whenever rallies are organised by political parties to show their strength, the poor SC/ST, OBC, and minority people rush there and are paid for it. They are happy to go and strengthen the hands of their oppressors and exploiters. They neither feel shame nor do they think of the harm they are doing to themselves. (quoted in Joshi 1986: 110) DS-4’s message to the lower castes was clear: the upper castes were enjoying political power at their expense. The lower castes, for their part, instead of putting an end to such exploitation, were strengthening it by attending their political rallies and meetings. Worse, the lower castes did not feel ashamed about it; they cared only for the few rupees thrown at them by the political parties comprising of the upper castes. The pittance thrown at them would give them temporary relief, but they were only harming themselves as it distanced them further from political power. Denunciation of the Poona Pact: The second major programme conducted under the banner of DS-4 was ‘Denunciation of the Poona Pact’. The pact was briefly discussed in Chapter 1. The month-long programme, which started in Poona on 24 September 1982 and ended in Jhalundhur (in Punjab) on 24 October 1982, was undertaken by the DS-4.24 It should be noted here that this programme was organised against the Congress Party’s Golden Jubilee celebrations during the same period. Kanshiram, apart from writing numerous articles for the Oppressed Indian, devoted 27 pages in his only major work, ‘An Era of the Stooges’ (The Chamcha Age) to denouncing the pact. One of the major criticisms levelled against the pact was that it was ‘making the Dalits stooges in the mainstream political parties, especially the Congress’. According to Kanshiram, ‘the worst evil effect of the Poona Pact was when their leader Dr. Ambedkar was taking them to the Bright Age from centuries of living in the Dark Age, the efforts of their leader was being derailed by pushing the Scheduled Castes into the Chamcha Age (An Era of the Stooges)’ (1997: 93–4). Incidentally, despite deprecating the Poona Pact, neither Kanshiram nor the other DS-4 leaders were in favour of separate electorates for Dalits. The denunciation, they argued, was to conscientise Dalits on the historical 92


injustice meted out to them by Gandhi and his Congress. They wanted ‘to make common cause with the other oppressed and exploited’ for their political representation (The Oppressed Indian November 1982). In the above, it was noted that the DS-4 was formed as an activist wing of BAMCEF which would spread the ideals of Ambedkar among the oppressed, particularly Dalits, and work to unite all the oppressed groups in Indian society for political power. But it was only a quasi-political party working under BAMCEF, an organisation comprising government employees who were forbidden from undertaking any form of political activity, especially involving electoral politics. Moreover, since the formation of DS-4, there had been differences among the members of BAMCEF. They split into two groups: one group supporting the DS-4 and its activities, the other group wanting BAMCEF to remain as an organisation for the welfare of government employees. Interestingly, many members in the latter group were loyal to several strands of the RPI, and they did not want another political party for Dalits. In addition to these differences, there were also financial difficulties on account of DS-4’s thrust for political power. The RPI loyalists in BAMCEF were unwilling to provide additional funds on account of the differences between the two groups within BAMCEF. Kanshiram, who was annoyed with these differences within the organisation, took the plunge and announced the creation of a new political party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, in 1984. With the formation of a new organisation, the focus of BAMCEF and the Dalit leaders shifted from organising the Dalits to obtaining political power. Indeed ‘political power’ became the explicit goal of the BSP, a goal which was compared to a ‘master-key’ by Kanshiram: ‘Political power is the master-key with which one can open any lock, whether it is social, educational, or a cultural lock’ (in Rajan 1994: 32). BSP’s strategies of mobilisation

Through the BAMCEF, Kanshiram had succeeded in establishing a network of Dalit employees and educated youth throughout India, particularly in northern states such as Haryana, MP, Maharashtra, Punjab and UP. With the help this network, he attempted to strengthen the presence of the BSP in all these states, particularly in MP, Punjab and UP. While in MP, the BSP benefited from local traditions of Dalit militancy ( Jaffrelot 1998), in Punjab, the party built upon the previous attempts of Dalit mobilisations through Ad Dharm movement, SCF and the RPI (Chandra 2000, 2004). As seen in the previous chapter, UP also has a rich tradition of Dalit mobilisations for equality and 93


political power through the Adi Hindu movement, SCF and RPI. In addition, the BSP leadership in UP had several assets at its disposal: the size of the Dalit population in the state, whose combined support could determine the electoral outcome in several constituencies; a good number of salaried employees, who were willing to contribute ‘money and mind’ generously for the growth of the party and a large number of educated but unemployed youth, committed to taking the BSP’s message to the grassroots.25 Indeed, the BSP’s electoral presence had been felt ever since its formation in 1984. In the by-elections that were held during the mid- and late 1980s, the party secured second place in most of the constituencies. In 1985, Mayawati contested in Bijnor against the Congress candidate, Meira Kumar (daughter of Jagjivan Ram). Although she lost this election, she managed to get 65,000 votes. Again, in 1987, she contested in Haridwar against a Congress candidate. Although she lost in this election too, she came second by securing more votes than Ram Vilas Paswan, an established Dalit leader who could not save his deposit. In the following year, Kanshiram challenged V. P. Singh in Allahabad constituency. Although Kanshiram lost the election, he succeeded in making an impact in the electoral arena (Jaffrelot 1998: 40). From 1989 onwards, the BSP emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the UP electoral arena, where it polled 9.3 per cent during the ninth General Elections. But how did the BSP mobilise the support of the oppressed, especially Dalits, and what strategies did it employ? Two strategies of the BSP that played a pivotal role in mobilising Dalits and other marginalised sections were: use of the print media and the Dalit mela. We noted in the previous chapter that the Adi Hindu leadership used print media to propagate their ideas and ideologies. Mahatma Jyotibha Phule was the first person to initiate this tradition in Maharashtra, starting Deenabandhu on 1 January 1877.26 In UP, Swami Achhutanand followed this tradition of printing to propagate the ideology of the Adi Hindu movement. After Achhutanand, many educated Dalits in colonial and postcolonial UP followed this tradition by publishing mainly booklets on a range of issues that pertained to their socio-economic, political and cultural conditions. It may be mentioned that in their writings, the Dalit authors adopted their own interpretation, an interpretation that has been termed ‘a view from below’ by Vivek Kumar.27 And one of the main objectives of behind these writings is ‘to make Dalits aware about their rights and duties and to make them politically conscious’ (Narayan 2006: 54). The Dalit booklets became a ready reference for the BSP in its mobilisations. That is, while addressing the Dalit public and other lower castes, 94


the party has made use of the discourse available in those booklets. Indeed, it went to the extent of appealing to Dalit writers to work on more booklets, highlighting the problems of the Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities. Dalit writers appear to have been inspired by that appeal and, between 1991 and 2000, produced a large number of booklets. Table 2.3 provides information on this trend: Table 2.3 Decade-wise trend of publication of popular Dalit booklets Decade

Number of booklets

1931–40 1941–50 1951–60 1961–70 1971–80 1981–90 1991–2000 2001–2006 Total

2 2 7 56 13 26 114 69 289

Source: Dalit Resource Centre, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad (cited in Narayan 2006: 55).

As the above table clearly demonstrates, from the 1960s onwards, the number of Dalit booklets began to increase, peaking in the years 1991– 2000. This was due to two simple reasons. First, contrary to the promises it made at the time of independence, the Nehruvian state did not include Dalits in its developmental initiatives. By excluding Dalit society, the upper-caste Hindu society appropriated for itself the majority of the developmental facilities. On realising their exclusion, Dalit were no longer enchanted either by the Nehruvian state or by its promises; and they documented their disenchantment in their booklets. Second, Dalit writers, who were encouraged by the BSP’s political mobilisations for the assumption of power, began to question their place in society as well as in the political sphere. Such questioning, in turn, led to publication of a plethora of booklets, newspapers and magazines, in which Dalits produced alternative narratives about the place and role of Dalits and other lower castes in society and in the nationalist movement. Thus, the importance of publications by the Dalits should be clearly recognised here. First, most of those booklets, newspapers and magazines carried the Dalit literate section’s criticism against the limitations of the policies pursued by the governments (in both colonial and postcolonial India) in bettering their conditions, and the economic oppression and social discrimination against 95


the Dalits by the upper-caste Hindu society in their everyday lives. As a result, these booklets helped not only to sensitise the Dalit masses, but also to make them conscious of their problems. This, in turn, facilitated the mobilisation of the Dalit masses against caste Hindu oppression and injustices (Schwartz 1997: 179). In a way, the Dalit booklets, newspapers and magazines became agents of information that propelled them to work for transformation in their conditions. Second, as Dalits were both producers and consumers, the process of production and consumption of literature in the print media led to the formation of a literary group among them, to continue the tradition of writing on Dalit issues. But which of the key issues and criticisms found in these booklets and pamphlets were used by the BSP in its mobilisations? The BSP picked from these publications the stories, themes and issues that spoke of the treachery of the upper-caste Hindus, especially Brahmins and Kshatriyas, against Dalits in the socio cultural domain and narratives that claimed a respectable and valiant position for the Dalits in the freedom struggle. Among them, five themes were noteworthy: (1) The story of Shambhuk vadh (The Killing of Shambhuk); (2) the story of Ekalavya’s tyaag (The Sacrifice of Ekalavya); (3) Sacrifices of the Dalits in the 1857 Rebellion; (4) Veer Naari Jhalkaribai (Jhalkaribai, the Valiant Lady,); and (5) Dalitki Beti Udadevi (The Daughter of Dalits/The Champion of the Dalits). Badri Narayan (2006) in his Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics (Cultural Subordination and the Dalit Challenge) discussed in detail the narratives of these stories. Instead of re-telling them here, the cultural importance of these narratives will be noted through the story, Shambhuk vadh. Shambhuk, who was a lower-caste person, had a great desire to learn and read the Vedas. He approached the Brahmin gurus, who were the sole preachers of the Vedas, and appealed them to teach him the Vedas. On learning Shambhuk’s caste, the gurus not only rejected his request, they also humiliated him on account of his ‘lowly’ birth. As if this was not enough, they threw him out of the premises of the ashram (the school). Undeterred by the rejection of the Brahmin gurus and determined to act against the humiliation meted out to him, Shambhuk began to meditate on the banks of the river Godavari in Dandakaranya (Dandaka Forest). Meditation, it should be noted, was considered the highest form of attainment for the human mind. But that act was patented by Brahmins under the caste system. Shambhuk, by the power of his meditation, acquired the skill to read and learned the 96


Vedas on his own. But unlike the Brahmin gurus, he did not keep the knowledge to himself. He began to share his newly acquired knowledge with his fellowmen in the lower castes. Angered and horrified by Shambhuk’s deeds, the Brahmins used all the skills at their disposal to stop him from preaching the Vedas to the lower castes, but in vain. So they waited for the right moment to take revenge on him. Once there was severe famine in the kingdom of Rama. People were dying with no food and water. On learning about the calamity, King Rama asked Sage Vashishta about the cause of the famine. Sage Vashishta was, in fact, the Brahmin guru who, along with his Brahmin tribe, was waiting to take revenge on Shambhuk; he saw this as the right moment to strike. He informed Rama that the famine was caused by a lower-caste person, Shambhuk, who against the rules of the caste system was not merely reading the Vedas but also imparting that knowledge to other lowercaste persons. The kingdom, he told the king, would come out of the famine and prosper again only if Shambhuk was killed. King Rama, on hearing the words of Sage Vashishta, went to Shambhuk’s ashram along with his brother Laxman. There they questioned Shambhuk’s activities of learning and teaching the Vedas. Shambhuk, who by then had become a gnani, calmly replied that he did not commit any crime but was only imparting the knowledge of the Vedas to the people who had been kept in the dark from time immemorial. But the King harshly told him that by the law of the Varnashrama Dharma, the lower castes existed only to serve the people from the higher castes and were not entitled to receive the knowledge of the Vedas, a knowledge that was the exclusive preserve of the upper castes. He added that Shambhuk, by his learning and teaching of the Vedas, had committed the worst crime and deserved death as punishment. Saying this, Rama killed Shambhuk and thus avenged the Brahmin gurus. (Fieldnotes, Lucknow and Banda during the months of February and March 2004. See also, Badri Narayan 2006: 65–6.) From the above story, the Dalit writers and the BSP wanted the Dalit constituency to understand three things. First, they wanted Dalits to understand how, historically, the Brahmins controlled education and how the lower castes were barred from learning and writing and, thereby, from the entire system of acquiring and producing knowledge. Second, the 97


story portrayed the heroism of Shambhuk as he endured all the difficulties imposed on him by the Brahmins; and finally, how Brahmins and Kshatriyas joined hands to dispossess the lower castes. Apart from the cultural reinterpretation and establishment of Dalit heroes, some of the booklets also re-examined the Dalit cultural histories. Two booklets that are useful examples of such reinterpretations are Mul-vansha Katha by Dr G. P. Prashant, published in 1994 in Lucknow and Vichitra Parivartan by Umesh Kumar. Prashant, directly addressing his fellow Dalits in his Mul-vansha Katha, put forward a compelling argument: ‘Your history has been demolished to belittle you. Your asuras, rakshasas, and daityas are now synonymous with hatred. Who knows that asuras were vehement opponents of liquor consumption, that rakshas were those who opposed sacrifices in the yajna and guarded the rights of the people, and that daityas were the children of Diti’ (Prashant 1994 cited in Narayan and Misra 2004: 74). Similarly, Umesh Kumar (1996) also reinterprets the Dalit history, which spans from 6000 BC to AD 1995, as the history of the original inhabitants of India. For him, Dalits had a golden age of peace and prosperity before they were enslaved by the invading Aryans. In a chapter entitled Bharatiye Achambha, Umesh Kumar challenges the dominant narratives of mythology by a re-reading of Brahmanical scriptures and asserts his new reading as true ‘history’. As argued by Narayan and Misra (2004: 75), such a ‘process of re-writing and reading this new kind of history becomes an alternative education for members of the Dalit community about their own Dalit heroes, their status as the original inhabitants of India and their past golden age which ended in a fall from glory following the violent Aryan invasions’. But how did the BSP take the stories that had been reinterpreted by the Dalit writers in their booklets and pamphlets to its intended audience? The BSP initially employed melas (gatherings/fairs) and the Jagriti Dasta (Cultural Squad) to take the stories of Dalit heroes to the lower-caste public and spread the message of the BSP among the rural folk, especially Dalits. Mela is a form of social gathering, generally organised annually for celebrations and for exchanges in northern India. Although these melas are supposed to be neutral in terms of caste and community; in reality, they are caste- and community-specific in the sense that, while Hindus organise their own melas, such as Dushera, Muslims have their own, such as Bakr Id and Muharam, so do the Dalits. In a way, the space of mela, as observed by Sarah Beth (2005: 397–410), ‘raises questions of participation and access, since it is an activity occurring in the so-called “public sphere”, open to everyone, but whose participants are in actuality defined by their caste (and communal) identities, where cultural codes of decorum, i.e. 98


beliefs of purity and pollution exclude the participation of the upper castes from the lower-caste melas and vice-versa’. In UP, the history of the Dalit mela goes back to colonial times, when the space of the mela was used by Dalits to celebrate their own festivals, such as the anniversaries of the births of Kabir and Raidas (Narayan 2001).28 In postcolonial UP, they added to this list of festivals the jayanti/birth anniversary of Ambedkar in 1957, after the death of their beloved leader.29 Since then, the occasion has been celebrated with great pride by Dalits, especially the Jatavs of Agra, with a day of feasting, games, political speeches and other festivities, which generally culminate in taking out processions with Ambedkar’s statue or portraits to the main streets and localities. The BSP has used this space of the mela to mobilise the Dalit constituency for political power and as the site for Dalit identity construction. This construction was done through various forms. First, the BSP has added Shahuji Maharaj Mela, Periyar Mela and Buddha Jayanti Mela to the traditional list of Dalit melas. With these additions, throughout the year, one mela or the other regularly brings the Dalits together and facilitates their exchanges. Second, it has also brought Dalit leela or Dalit folk drama into the melas. The narratives of the Dalit leelas were positioned in direct opposition to the narratives of the upper-caste Hindu leelas. For instance, Dalit folk dramas include Kansleela in place of the Krishnaleela, Shambhukleela in the place of the Ram leela and Jhalkaribaileela in place of the Rani of Jhansi leela. In Kansleela, the story is retold as the fall of a noble and humane king, Kans, through the greedy desire of the Yadava king, Krishna, to expand the latter’s empire. Similarly, in the Shambhukleela, Shambhuk is idolised as an ascetic, and king Ram depicted as a villain, as he killed Shambhuk. In a way, through such narratives, the Dalit leelas were not only subverting the leelas of the upper castes, but also recasting the characters of ‘a meta-narrative, idealising previously demonised characters such as Ravana or Kans, and exposing the immoral nature of traditional heroes like Ram or Krishna’ (Wilkerson 2006: 80–92). Further, while the melas became the site for Dalit gatherings and celebration of the memories, achievements and heroic deeds of the Dalit heroes, it essentially facilitated the dissemination of the BSP’s ideology. The party used a number of other cultural platforms, such as theatre, to take its ideology to the grassroots. For this purpose, the party set up the Jagriti Dasta, which consists of writers, dramatists, poets, artists and others. The main job of this group is to write songs, poems and plays that contain the BSP’s message, and to paint pictures of Dalit heroes, and then, transmit them among rural Dalits through various cultural performances. During the 1990s, the Jagriti Dasta toured UP, especially the rural 99


areas. In their performances, the members of the Dasta normally picked up folk songs and popular ballads that were specific to particular regions and recomposed them with words carrying the message of the BSP. In all their public performances, they made sure that they included narratives that glorified the Dalit icons mentioned above. A number of Dalit theatre groups, such as Apna Theatre and Mandali, are active in the regions of Bundelkhand and eastern areas of UP, especially in Kanpur, Banaras, Allahabad, Lucknow, Bareli and Jhansi. During my field work in Kanpur, I met Dev Kumar, a Dalit social activist and the director of Apna Theatre (Our Theatre). His first play was Dastaan, which narrates the story of the cruelties of the Aryans (the Brahmanical upper castes) against the indigenous people (Dalits and other lowercaste groups). Other plays from this group include Bhadra Angulimaal, Chakradhari, Sudarshan, Kapat, Agya Etihass (based on the Udadevi Pasi), Amar Shaheed Matadin Bhangi, and Jamadaar-ka-Kurta.30 Dev Kumar proudly informed me that, through their plays, his theatre helped the BSP mobilise the support of Dalits and other lower castes. Thus, through the booklets, cultural activities and political campaigns, the BSP sought to make the Dalit community realise its condition – how they were exploited by the upper castes, and how they could gain their lost respect and social power by winning political power. As it has always emphasised, the idea of ‘them’ versus ‘us’ or the upper castes (savarna log) versus us (bahujans), the party could project the upper castes as the ‘other’, and thereby, construct a broad Dalit identity for the Dalit castes and a larger bahujan identity for all the lower castes and other oppressed groups, and mobilise the bahujans for political power. Thus, the BSP succeeded in bringing the hitherto divided Dalit castes under its umbrella. Despite failure in its earlier phase of electoral politics, the BSP began to win a good number of seats in both the State Assembly and Parliament from 1995 onwards, which enabled it to form a government in UP on four occasions. But what did it do with that political power? This question is the subject of the next chapter.

Notes 1 In 1952, all of the Dalit seats and half of the Adivasi seats in the Lok Sabha were in double-member constituencies. In 1957, 467 out of 470 Dalit seats in the Vidhan Sabha and 115 of the 221 seats reserved for Adivasis were also in doublemember constituencies. 2 In the mid-1960s, a few Dalits were also mobilised by the socialists. But that did not last beyond the 1967 State Assembly elections. 3 See also, Corbridge and Harris (2000: 213).



4 Apart from my own primary sources, some of my information in this section comes from Jaffrelot 2003: 89–114. 5 Interviews with Ram Kishore Varma, and Shyam Sunder on 15–16 December 2004 at Banda; Bojja Tarakam on 17 June 2005 in Hyderabad and Katti Padmarao on 12 August 2005. 6 Unlike Dalits, Adivasis are generally concentrated in specific areas. Because of this, the Adivasis’ constituencies comprise nearly 70 per cent of their population. 7 The other prominent Dalit leaders co-opted by the Congress were Ram Dhan, Ganpat Ram, Jai Prasad, Ram Pyare Suman, Baddal Ram, Mata Prasad, Dharamveer and Mahasay Masuriya Din from eastern UP; Kanhaiyalal Sonkar, Ram Kinkar, Gaya Prasad Prashant, Tilak Chand Kureel, Chaudhury Buddha Dev, Bhagauti Prasad Kurel and Mewalal Sonkar in central UP and S. P. Gautam, Ram Lal Rahi, H. L. Azad, Kamal Dariyabadi, Chaudhury Dharam Singh from western UP (Vivek Kumar 2002: 162). 8 My interview with Bablu Choudhari, Lucknow, 24 February 2005. 9 Satish Saberwal (1972: 71), in his analysis of reserved constituencies in Punjab, draws the same conclusion: ‘A constituency at the state-level [. . .] would have a large majority of high caste voters, making the candidates less dependent upon – and therefore less responsive to – the Harijan vote. Support from high caste leaders is, therefore, crucial for success at this level [as well as at the level of the parliamentary constituency, one might argue]’. 10 This is not true in the case of Shudras. Social discrimination against them is not duplicated in economic oppression. In fact, the economic prosperity of the upper layers of Shudras, such as Jats, Yadavs, Kurmis, had led to their political mobilisation (Brass 1980a and 1980b). 11 Charan Singh, a Jat by caste, pioneered the Zamindari Abolition Act and the subsequent land reforms and the Uttar Pradesh Consolidation of Holdings Act of 1953. His ‘social background’ ( Jats are located in the middle of the Brahmanical social order), as many scholars emphasised (see, for instance Terence 1993), was deeply entrenched in his ‘ways, views and attitudes’. He, like many of his caste fellows, nursed a strange hatred for Brahmins and Dalits – the two castes/communities that were placed at the top and bottom of the social hierarchy. Charan Singh, despite holding many important political positions – both in the state and central governments – sustained this hatred for these two rungs of the social order until his death. In fact, throughout his political career, he stood as champion and spokesman for the rich peasants, an association that led many commentators to describe him as a representative of rich and middle peasantry. 12 This case is taken from Vijay Joshi (1980: 1211). During my field work interviews, I realised a few facts of the incident were hidden by the author, especially in that he claimed the young men that entered the cool drinks shop arrived having consumed arrack in a nearby shop, which is utterly untrue. For other gruesome attacks against the Dalits in UP, see Akbar 1988. 13 My interview with Naresh Bhangi in Hatharrah on 18 February 2004. NareshBhangi is a social activist and one of the leaders of the Bhangis in THE Bundelkhand region.



14 The case is taken from Lynch 1981: 1951–56. 15 My interview with Narendra Gautam, a sociology graduate from Allahabad University, 10 March 2004. 16 Some of the slogans of the BSP cadre testify their identification of Kanshiram with Ambedkar: (a) Baba tera Mission adhura Kanshiram karega pura (Baba, referring to Ambedkar, Kanshiram will complete your unfulfilled Mission); (b) Baba Saheb ka doosara naam Kanshiram, Kanshiram (Kanshiram is the second name of Baba Saheb). 17 Interview with Narayan Bablu, a BSP activist in Mahoba, on 25 March 2005. 18 Prior to the establishment of BAMCEF, Kanshiram and his colleagues had established the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities Employees Welfare Association in 1971 (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 220). 19 Some of the quotations from Ambedkar are very well chosen to awake and inspire the Dalits. For instance, one of the famous quotes of Ambedkar in BAMCEF’s calendar that was chosen by Kanshiram is: ‘You must have a firm belief in the sacredness of your goal. Noble is your aim and sublime and glorious is your mission. Blessed are those who are awakened to their duty to those among whom they are born. Glory to those who devote their time, talents and their all to the annihilation of slavery. Glory to those who would keep on their struggle for the liberation of the enslaved in spite of heavy odds, carping humiliation, storms and dangers till the downtrodden secure their human rights’ (Ambedkar, quoted by Kanshiram in Atey 1997: 35). 20 For a brief description of the need for the formation of the DS-4, see Kanshiram’s ‘DS-4 For Limited Political Action’, in Atey 1997: 85. 21 Ian Duncan has an interesting commentary to offer. According to him, DS-4 and BSP inherited the tradition of chanting slogans during demonstrations and processions from the Republican Party of India, the main vehicle for Ambedkarite politics in the 1960s. Some of the election campaigns of the RPI were contested in the court of law, particularly the Allahabad High Court, as the campaigners were seeking to win votes on the basis of caste and religion. One such slogan was Thakur, Brahman aur Lala/Kardoinkamunhakala (Thakur, Brahmin and Banias, make their faces black). Two things are clear from this statement. First, it was a statement to disgrace the Hindu upper castes. And second, it was a statement to show the Jatavs’ objection to the upper castes labelling them as black. This is emphasised by rhyming Lala/kala, where ‘kala’ means black and ‘lala’ is a vernacular representation of the Banias (see, Duncan 1999: 35–60, here p. 57, passim 8). 22 Various interviews with the BAMCEF members in Lucknow between January and February in 2005 and BSP activists in Banda, Mahoba, Jhansi, Jalaun between March and April 2005. 23 Interview with Babulal Kushwa, a BSP activist in Chitrakut, on 15 March 2005. 24 The denunciation programme became so successful that the organisers had to add an extra 30 locations from the initially planned 30 places. See The Oppressed Indian, November 1982. 25 Various interviews with BSP leaders and workers in 2005.



26 Many Dalits were inspired by this initiative, and between 1910 and 1930, nearly 50 newspapers were published in Maharashtra alone. Of these, Bital Vidhwansham, Son Vanshiya Mitra, Nirashrit, Hind, and Nagrika are well known (Narayan 2006: 51). 27 Interview with Dr Vivek Kumar (12 October 2004). Dr Kumar is a sociologist and teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. 28 Apparently, the Dalit mela, according to Badri Narayan (2001), originated in Bihar in 1935, when Dusadhs (one of the most numerous Dalit castes in Bihar after the Chamars), began to celebrate the heroic life of Chuharmal. Chuharmal, who belonged to the Dusadh caste, was known for his strength and morality. He fell in love with Rani Reshma, a princess of the Bhumihars, one of the upper-caste landed communities in Bihar. Every year, during the month of Chitya, the Dusadhs gather in thousands in a village called Mor, 10–12 km south of the Mokama station, where a large statue of Chuharmal has been erected. The celebration of the Chuharmal mela includes 4–5 days of singing, dancing and wrestling, as well as the recitation and theatrical performance of the love tale of princess Reshma and Chuharmal. 29 Owen Lynch describes how Ambedkar jayanti came to be added to the list of Dalit Melas. Before 1957, the Jatavs of Kaji Para locality in Agra had celebrated Kans Mela in honour of Krishna’s defeat at the hands of his wicked uncle Kans. However, in 1957, after the death of Ambedkar, ‘fourteen young men from Kaji Para decided that since Ambedkar was their acknowledged leader and saviour, he should replace Krishna and the date of fair should be changed to 14 April, Ambedkar’s birthday’ (Lynch 2002: 116). 30 Field notes, Kanpur, April, 2005.


3 THE BAHUJAN SAMAJ PARTY Social justice and political practices

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was formally floated in 1984.1 Since then, its journey through Uttar Pradesh’s volatile political terrain has been dramatic and even tortuous. Yet, raising the slogan of ‘Social justice for the Bahujan Samaj’,2 it ultimately did achieve the Ambedkarites’ longcherished goal of attaining political power. What is most distinctive and fascinating in this history is the emergence of Ms Mayawati, a Dalit woman in a male-dominated political world, as the leader who brought the party to the seat of power. She became chief minister of UP four times – a record in the Indian Union.3 Nevertheless, two prominent questions remain to be answered: Does the BSP have an ideology? What has it done to improve the condition of the oppressed? Many commentators have criticised the basis of BSP’s appeal and political mobilisation around the caste axis rather than around class orientation, as well as its admitted primary aim of acquiring political power. Two criticisms seem to be particularly relevant. First, commenting upon the early activities of the party, Jagpal Singh (1993: 109) remarked that ‘mobilisation of the rural poor is seldom done based on issues emanating from the capitalists’ agriculture’. Looking at the BSP through the same lens, Dreze and Gazdar (1998: 104) noted that the BSP is another example of ‘unprincipled factionalism’, a characteristic in UP politics of not going beyond ‘relatively narrow objectives such as caste-based reservation in public sector employment’. Second, it has been claimed that, aside from its overwhelming emphasis on ‘political power’, the party has neither a concrete programme of action nor an ideology for the emancipation of the Dalits (Vivek Kumar 2003: 3869). In the view of these commentators, the BSP is the party that epitomises growth in Dalit consciousness, and yet, one that also increasingly politicises caste. However, the reality is that political parties such as the BSP cannot afford to ignore the class factor. The people whom it claims to be 104


mobilising are not merely victims of caste discrimination, but also victims of the prevailing material inequalities. That is, those who suffer under the caste system in most cases also suffer because of class. The reverse is not necessarily true for when it comes to social spaces, the upper castes, irrespective of their material standing, dominate the lower castes.4 The attention of scholars who are sympathetic to progressive and lowercaste-based politics alike has also been caught by the difficult relationship between the two lower-caste-based political parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and BSP. Despite using the language of social justice for their mobilisation work, the political alliance between SP and BSP was not long-lasting. The logical question that arises is: are there contradictions between the political ideals and political practices of the SP and BSP and between Shudras and Dalits themselves? This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section very briefly examines the political ideal of the SP – ‘social justice’ – and points out the inherent contradictions between the Shudras and Dalits. The second analyses the BSP’s idea of ‘social justice’; and the third critically examines some of the programmes pursued by the BSP while in power, and the reasons for its failure in the 2012 assembly elections.

Dalits and Shudras: natural allies or incompatible partners? In his now famous work, Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Shudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy, Kancha Ilaiah (1996) offers a strong epistemological critique of the bahujans’ stand against the Hindutva philosophy and Brahmanical culture. However, the fundamental limitation to Kancha’s work is that although he claims a non-Hindu identity, he does not offer his critique from the perspective of a non-Hindu. As the title of his work itself indicates, he offers it as a Shudra, i.e. as someone still inside the caste system. Kancha has used the term ‘bahujan’ as an equivalent for the terms ‘Shudra’ and ‘Other Backward Castes’ (OBCs). It must be pointed out that one of the fundamental differences between the critiques of the Dalits and Shudras against the Hindu or the Brahmanical Social Order (BSO)5 relates to their respective locations in that vertical social order. That is to say, the Shudras may occupy the fourth place in the caste hierarchy, but they are still part of the system. On the contrary, Dalits do not have a place inside the caste system; they are kept outside of it. Of course, it has sometimes been claimed that the Dalits form the fifth varna, but in the official social order, there is no fifth varna. As such, a Shudra’s critique against Brahmanism is an insider’s view of the 105


system, and a Dalit’s is that of an outsider. In other words, there cannot be a Dalit–bahujan critique. A critique can only be either Dalit or Shudra. As shown in the previous chapter, there has been a long history of conflict between the Shudras and Dalits because of the harsh competition for agricultural work and cultivable land. Therefore, projecting them as a single undifferentiated category of oppressed people results in those differences being glossed over and a distorted picture created. So the question is, can the politics and political ends of the Shudras and Dalits be similar? Also why did the SP–BSP combine fall apart? From the point of view of historical marginalisation, the Shudras and Dalits have similar political interests – representation and political power. From a caste perspective, however, their interests are divergent: one stands for upward mobility within the caste structure – the claiming of Kshatriya status by the Shudras is a clear evidence of this position; the other, for the annihilation of the structure itself. Of course, the Dalits, particularly the Chamars in UP during their Arya Samaj days in the colonial period, also claimed Kshatriya status, but that was the outcome of the dubious strategy of the Arya Samaj. Ultimately, the Arya Samaj’s insistence on strict adherence to endogamy prevented entry of the Chamars into the varna system as Kshatriyas. On the contrary, for Shudras, especially for castes such as the Yadavas, the figures of Hindu mythology, such as Srikrishna and the symbol of the cow, facilitate their claim for Kshatriyahood (Jaffrelot 2003: 187–96; Michelutti 2008). It should also be noted that there is no homogeneity within the Dalits or the Shudras either. As there is a caste-based hierarchy in the overall caste structure, there is a similar hierarchy within these caste groups. Interestingly, what differentiates the upper castes from the lower castes within the same social category of people is class rather than caste. That is to say, the higher positions within the Shudra category were the result of access to wealth and resources, such as land. The lack of such access resulted in the lowering of the caste status. Undoubtedly, despite this class-based difference, all the castes within the Shudra category share a similar social world view, shaped by their location in the caste structure. For instance, they all claim Kshatriya lineage and compete against each other and also against the upper castes in treating Dalits as untouchables. During political rallies organised by the SP, Mulayam Singh Yadav proudly calls himself a ‘Sanatani Hindu’ and his caste followers take much pride in slogans such as ‘Jai Srikrishna’.6 In other words, the Shudras were more than willing to inhabit the Hindu caste order. In addition to these positional incongruities, the divergent ideological orientations of the SP and BSP, especially on the idea of ‘social justice’, are what make the Dalits and Shudras 106


incompatible partners. The SP sought political power in the form of social justice in order to replace the upper castes in positions of power and privilege, while the BSP sought political power in order to democratise the social and political systems. The previous chapter noted that for the BSP, the bahujan Samaj comprised Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs (and also the religious minorities), and all those other castes and communities that have been the victims of the Brahmanical varna order. It has been said that at the heart of this assumption was Ambedkar’s idea of an ‘autonomous Dalit movement with a constantly attempted alliance of the socially and economically exploited (Dalits and Shudras, ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’ in class terms)’ sections of the Indian society (Omvedt 1994: 224). According to Kanshiram, although the OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis have all been victims of similar socio-economic deprivations, governments have taken measures, such as reservations and welfare schemes, to alleviate the problems of the last two groups only. They paid scant attention to the OBC population, either in terms of welfare schemes or in educational and employment opportunities. Delivering a speech during an election campaign in Haryana in 1987, he noted: The other limb of the bahujan samaj (in addition to the Dalit constituency) which we call OBCs, needs this Party (i.e., the BSP) badly. Thirty-nine years after Independence, these people has neither been recognised nor have they obtained any rights. Improvements have been made for the SCs and the STs, but nothing similar has happened for these people. The reports of both these Commissions (Kalelkar and Mandal) were thrown in the waste-paper basket on the pretext that there are 3,743 castes that can be called OBCs. (cited in Pai 2002: 122, italics supplied) Kanshiram was more vocal in his criticism of the central government’s position on OBCs. In his opinion, the central government’s non-action on reports concerning the OBCs revealed its unwillingness to take up the problems of the OBC population. Thus, this position of the BSP clearly helps us to understand its stand over the OBCs as ‘natural allies’. Surely, it was this stand that facilitated an electoral alliance with the SP on the eve of the 1993 elections. The State Legislative Assembly elections in UP in 1993 witnessed an unprecedented political amalgamation, when the Dalits and Shudras joined hands to fight the electoral battle jointly.7 The BSP, whose support base chiefly comes from Dalits, and the SP, whose support mainly consisted of Shudras, fought the election together around the twin notions of 107


social justice and opposition to communal mobilisation. This extraordinary alliance was exalted and received with much enthusiasm by the lower castes, Muslims and progressive political observers alike, as if the dreams and political strategies of social revolutionaries and political reformers such as Jotiba Phule, Ambedkar, Ram Manohar Lohia and others had been realised. It was also thought that the alliance was a fitting response to the BJP and its Hindutva ideology, which relies ‘on an organic view of society where castes are seen as the harmonious limbs of the same body’ (Hansen 1999: 60), and which thus neglects social oppression, economic exploitation and political suppression of the lower castes and the Dalits. The SP–BSP alliance was also viewed as an appropriate response to the Indian National Congress’s paternal and pseudo-secular politics. It was even claimed that the alliance was the beginning of ‘real secular’ politics and the unity of the oppressed within the state. For instance, Mulayam Singh Yadav declared: ‘Secular unity has been achieved with the formation of the SP–BSP combine’ (Frontline 27 August 1995: 35). The wider social and political implications apart, if one were to look at the alliance between the two lower-caste- based political parties from the point of electoral gains, it did serve to improving their electoral tallies. While the SP won 109 seats and secured a share of 25.83 per cent of the votes, the BSP won 67 seats and secured 11.11 per cent of the votes in the total percentage of votes polled in 1993. The union also succeeded in forming a coalition government, in which the SP’s chief, Mulayam, became the chief minister, and the BSP obtained 11 out of 27 ministerial portfolios. Despite the political gain and the initial show of great comradeship, the coalition between the SP and BSP lasted for a mere 16 months, from November 1993 to June 1995. Although the split or failure of the coalition government was said to be caused by personality clashes and political rivalries between the two parties, the reasons are more deep-rooted. During the early 1990s, both the BSP and SP were in their formative years (Mulayam had left the Samajwadi Janata Party to form his Samajwadi Party only in 1993, just before the election to the State Assembly). As such, each party wanted to gain maximum leverage out of the coalition for their future politics. Mulayam, in order to strengthen his hold over the administration and party, used his position as chief minister to favour people from his own Yadava caste in recruitment and promotions in the district administration. For instance, out of 900 teachers appointed in Kumaon and Garhwal districts, 720 teachers belonged to Yadava caste, and in the police force, out of 3,151 newly selected candidates, 1,223 were Yadavas (India Today, 15 October 1994). The BSP and the Scheduled 108


Castes Officers’ Forum criticised such acts of the SP as the Yadavisation of the administration, which led to major tensions between the BSP and SP. Mulayam also made attempts to erode the support base of the BSP and to strengthen his own party. He tried wooing into the SP’s fold, especially Muslims and lower castes. He even encouraged the BSP’s MLAs from an OBC background to defect to the SP in the hope of increasing his chances of forming an independent government (Times of India, 21 February 1995). An instance that testifies to the politics of Mulayam was the defection of 13 BSP’s OBC legislators to the SP under the leadership of Raj Bahadur. This defection took place immediately after the BSP decided to withdraw its support to the coalition government (Hindustan Times, 3 June 1995). Further to these tactics, the infamous ‘state guest house incident’ in early June 1995, orchestrated by Mulayam, scarred the SP–BSP relations and caused an unbridgeable schism between the two. Midway through the coalition term, Mulayam tried to break the BSP by buying its legislators. Anticipating such a move, the BSP leadership staged a counter-coup, backed by the BJP. After informing the governor about her party’s withdrawal of support for the coalition government on 1 June 1995, Mayawati moved along with the BSP’s MLAs to the state guesthouse in Lucknow. There, she waited to be called by the governor for the floor test. When Mulayam learnt of this development, he sent over 200 SP legislators and workers to storm the guesthouse and hijack the BSP’s MLAs. What followed was violence, ‘humiliation and utter mayhem’ (Shoma Chaudhury 2009). Even as the police watched, the SP men rampaged through the guesthouse, banging on Mayawati’s door and shouting vicious caste abuses. They even cut off the water and power supply. For its part, the BSP had also tried to make the most of its newly acquired power by interfering in the everyday functioning of the government. Within months of forming the coalition, Mayawati had earned herself the sobriquet ‘super chief minister’. Masud, one of the BSP ministers in the coalition government, resigned on the grounds of Mayawati’s dictatorial leadership style. Also, in order to fortify its hold among the Dalit civil servants, the BSP lobbied both for higher posts and transfers for Dalit bureaucrats (Mishra 1994: 1907–08). Of course, making the most out of political office is not unique either to the BSP or SP, or to the individuals heading these parties. However, the substantive differences between the two social groups, the Shudras and Dalits, who support the SP and BSP, respectively, must be recognised. There have always been conflicts between Dalits and the OBCs in the countryside. A useful example is provided by the land reforms and benefits 109


of the Green Revolution, which resulted in the creation of a class of small farmers from the Yadava and Kurmi castes within the OBC category in several parts of UP, especially in the eastern part of the state (Lerche 1998). Some Dalits in this region also enjoyed agricultural prosperity, which led to their taking a stand against the domination of the upper castes and OBCs. Although, as Sudha Pai points out, the upper-caste Rajputs were worried about the increasing assertiveness of the Dalits, it was the OBCs, particularly the Yadavas and Kurmis, who were responsible for most of the atrocities against the Dalits. The backward classes ‘were keen to keep the Dalits under them’ (Pai 2002: 167). In a report, The Times of India (2 March 1994) observed that in the first five months of the SP–BSP coalition government’s tenure, about 60 clashes took place between Dalits and OBCs, in which 21 Dalits and 3 OBCs were killed. The killing of Dalit youths who attempted to question the Shudras’ social dominance, abduction of Dalit girls and occupation of Dalit-owned agricultural land were some of the brutalities that Shudras committed against Dalits on a daily basis.8 Even the SP’s concept of social justice, which centres on the idea of equality, demonstrates its hunger for domination. In order to understand SP’s concept of social justice, we need to examine some of the arguments put forward by the proponents of reservations for OBCs during the Mandal debate. Students of the Indian politics are aware that in order to take measures to better the conditions of the socially and educationally backward classes, the president of India had appointed the first Backward Classes Commission under the chairmanship of Kala Kalelkar in 1953. Identifying the backwardness mainly around the principle of caste, the commission, in its report, presented a list of 2,399 backward castes and recommended various measures for their advancement. But the report, which was submitted by the commission in 1955, did not see the light of the day until 1965, mainly due to the negative evaluation of the home minister, who thought that the commission’s emphasis on the caste criteria presented ‘the dangers of separatism’. Finally, when the report was presented in the Indian Parliament for discussion, it was dropped due to the vehement opposition by the spokesman of the central government, who argued that emphasis on caste in identifying the backwardness is ‘contrary to the Constitution, would perpetuate caste, and would create in the recipients both vested interests and a sense of helplessness’ (quoted in Galanter 1984: 178). Thereafter, in 1978, the second Backward Classes Commission, under the chairmanship of B. P. Mandal, was appointed by the then prime minister, Morarji Desai. The commission submitted its report in 1980 by placing 52 per cent of the country’s population in the OBC category. It recommended 27 per cent of quota for this group of 110


people in the government’s employment and higher educational opportunities. But by the time the Mandal Commission submitted its report, the Janata Party lost power and the Congress Party, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, was reinstated at the centre. Despite this power shift, the Mandal report was discussed in parliament on few occasions and it appears that the report was broadly endorsed by both the houses of the parliament. Yet, the report was kept in cold storage for a decade. It was in 1989, when another Janata coalition government came into power, the then prime minister, V. P. Singh announced the implementation of the recommendation of 27 per cent quotas in government employment for OBCs, an announcement that attracted massive student protests and strident debate (Dirks 2001: 284–96; Jaffrelot 2003: 344–7). One important feature of the Mandal debate was that reservations were demanded not as a means of rectifying economic inequalities suffered by the OBCs,9 but as a means of obtaining social status and power (Mustafa 1995).10 Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, one of the chief advocates of reservations for the OBCs and one of the leaders of the Janata Dal, argued: ‘Far more important than economic well-being is status and honour in society. When a Harijan becomes a government officer he is recognised by society. But even if he has money but does not hold a government job, no one is prepared to even sit with him’ (Sunday Observer 2 September 1990). It is important to understand here that the idea of ‘holding a government job’ does not exclusively relate to securing employment in the government sector; it also means, ‘acquiring state power’, thus enhancing an individual’s as well as a community’s social status and honour. Thus, it is clear that caste mobilisation and its deployment in the political arena by the Shudras is designed to secure a share in the institutions – political, economic and educational – in which they have been under-represented. Dalits have also been debating under-representation in the institutional spaces, and from that standpoint, there is little difference between the Shudras and Dalits. An important point of difference between the two groups, however, is that of ending the caste system (Atey 1997: 155–68). For Dalits, annihilating the caste system is important as it would lead to equality in social status among individuals. In fact, the policies for compensatory measures for Dalits are justified not on the grounds of their educational and economic backwardness, but on account of the extreme social discrimination they have suffered for centuries.11 However, the caste-based mobilisations of the Shudras are not intended to put an end to the caste structure, as has been emphatically observed by Zoya Hasan (1998: 122)12: ‘The main purpose in the politicisation of caste and its employment in the competitive 111


politics of democracy by the OBCs is not the abolition of the caste system, but the establishment of a political practice committed to the removal of upper castes from power and provisions’. Such a removal of the upper castes from positions of power and their replacement by Shudras would be nothing but the substitution of one group by another. The result would be not the end of structural inequalities, but rather, their perpetuation. One must also note that the Yadavas, Kurmis and Lodhs, and numerous other upper- and middle-caste groups within the Shudra category, were neither socially discriminated against nor economically exploited. They were only deprived of political power. Hence, from the beginning, the target of these Shudra groups was political power. Consequently, their aspirations were channelled through electoral and party politics.13 To summarise our discussion on the Shudras and Dalits in UP, three points are critical. First, the break-up of the alliance between the Shudrabased SP and Dalit-based BSP was due to opportunistic politics practised by both partners while in power. Second, the social outlook of the Shudras, especially their attitude towards caste, is different from that of the Dalits. Finally, political power in the form of social justice is sought by the Shudras in order to remove the upper castes from positions of power and privilege, while the Dalits sought to democratise the social and political system itself. So, how did the BSP propose to achieve democratisation in the social and political arenas?

The BSP’s idea of social justice14 On 13 March 2004, Sunil Kumar, a resident of Jhalu, a small town in Bijnor district, travelled to Lucknow, covering a distance of 398 km, to attend a rally organised by the BSP. After the rally, while he was waiting for the return train in Charbagh railway station, I asked Kumar why he travelled all that way to attend a half-day meeting in Lucknow. He responded to my question in just three words: ijjat keliye, maryaada keliye and samaanat keliye (for respect, dignity and equality).15 These are the same three words that came up in all my interviews with BSP supporters, most of whom were Dalits. One cannot help noticing that Ambedkar also used the same words in his discussion on the ‘annihilation of caste’ in 1936. In 2004, almost 70 years later, for Dalits, continuing victimisation and non-recognition of the human agency of Dalits on account of their caste remained a painful reality. The BSP, which claimed to restore respect, dignity and equality for Dalits, had presumably drawn its ideology from the writings, speeches and activities of B. R. Ambedkar. In its election manifesto of 1993, the party 112


announced two specific programmes pertaining to the social and political fields, which are caste-ridden and dominated by the savarnas (upper castes). According to the party, these programmes were guidelines for achieving social justice. It mapped out the following as its objectives: Five fold struggle for social transformation 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Restoration of human dignity and respect for individuals To build a humane culture Strive to achieve dignity of labour To achieve genuine pluralism To eradicate inequalities among castes and communities so as to promote bhaichara (brotherhood) and, thereby, horizontalise the vertical social order.

Five fold programme for political power 1. To unite and organise the fragmented Bahujan Samaj for political power 2. To strengthen political democracy 3. To provide freedom and security to religious minorities 4. To protect the votes of the oppressed 5. To attack and eradicate corruption (Atey 1997: 155–68). The BSP’s essential goals can be summed up as: to horizontalise the vertical social order and democratise the undemocratic political order. Horizontalisation of the Vertical Social Order: The BSP’s idea of ‘horizontalisation of the vertical social order’ can be explicated in Kanshiram’s pen demonstration, which he gave in all his public meetings. First, he would hold a pen vertically, comparing it to the Hindu social order; he would then turn the pen so it was horizontal, stating that just as he had moved the pen from a vertical to a horizontal position, the BSP’s mission was to reposition the vertical social order horizontally, thereby achieving equality among the castes.16 That is to say, placing the castes on an equal footing was one of the BSP’s primary social objectives. But what did the BSP do to horizontalise the vertical social order? The BSP and its Dalit constituency employ three strategies to achieve the stated objective. The first is to publicly showcase Dalit caste identities with great pride. For instance, at all her public meetings, Mayawati began her address by introducing herself in this way: Mai Chamar ki beti hoon, mai Dalit ki beti hoon (I am the daughter of Chamars; I am the daughter 113


Figure 3.1 Manyawar Sahib Kanshiram’s demonstration of the Indian social structure Courtesy of Mr Prem K. Chumber17

of the Dalits). After that, she would call out the names of several Dalit castes – such as the Mahashahs, the Satnamis, the Balmikis, the Pasis, the Dhobis, the Koris, the Muzhabis and the Mujhwars – as a means of salutation, welcoming them to the meeting.18 As Mayawati reeled off these names in public, the audience at the meetings would be filled with pride and applaud in acknowledgement, experiencing similar feelings about their own caste identities to those expressed by upper-caste Hindus. The second strategy was that of inculcating pride in one’s history and caste by encouraging the adoption of individual caste titles to proper names. For instance, Soma Sunder becomes Soma Sunder Jatav or Soma Sunder Chamar, and Naresh becomes Naresh Balmiki. Attaching caste titles/ identities to proper names has been practised by members of the upper castes and Shudras for a long time; however, the lower castes, especially the Dalits, never did. ‘That may be true, but when the savarna-log and Shudras can claim their caste, why can’t we? (hum kyo nahi?)’, asks Ajay Kumar.19 The third and final strategy was that of puncturing upper-caste pride through the Dalit adoption of the former’s caste titles – historically, the exclusive preserve of the caste Hindus. For instance, titles and caste identities such as Choudhury, Singh, Varma, Pandey and Shukla have been 114


adopted by Dalits, especially those who were educated and/or middle class. Such measures were justified on two grounds. First, the moment they disclosed their (original) names, which do not contain the caste tags, they are immediately recognised as people belonging to the lower caste and are treated as inferior. The use of these titles is, thus, a strategy to avoid the ‘pain of ill-treatment’ by others, especially the upper castes.20 Second, when Dalits use their ‘real’ titles, they are routinely subjected to humiliation, mistreatment and exploitation by the upper castes. But when the Dalits adopt upper-caste titles, members of the upper castes have no choice but to address them with respect. Laughing at this lack of choice, Raj Bhupal, a Pasi from Jhansi, notes: ‘Now that we have adopted their caste titles, they (the caste Hindus) have to address us with respect. Otherwise, they would be disrespecting their own castes’.21But the question is, when they adopted upper-caste names, did Dalits end up endorsing the caste system? Further, would caste-based assertions and claiming equality of castes actually result in the horizontalisation of the vertical social order? To answer these questions, we must begin by asking what caste labels entail and why it is that only the upper castes attach such labels to their names. Identification of an individual’s caste is complex and manylayered. Most specifically, it shows clearly where an individual stands in the hierarchical social order. The ‘location’ is crucial because, as Ambedkar (1971[1936]: 25) put it, caste hierarchy is ‘an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt’. And that is precisely why members of the upper castes flaunt their caste by tagging it onto their names with such self-assurance. Sharma, Mukharji, Pandey, Thakur, Gupta, Choudary, Reddy are some of the upper-caste tags that we are all familiar with. The upper castes guard these titles with utmost care as the idea of their being ‘special’ is expressed through them. The proponents of the caste system justify it on account of the karma theory, according to which the birth of a person into a particular varna depends on good or bad deeds done in the previous birth. If an individual has done much good in his previous birth, it is believed that he will be reborn as a Brahmin. If he has done less good, he will be reborn into the Shudra and Panchama categories, lower down the rungs. The implication that the lower castes, particularly the Dalits, have done only bad things in their previous births is obvious. It is precisely the chosen people label flaunted by the upper castes that makes them feel superior to others. What does it meant for the Dalits though? It is undeniable that caste tags ascribed to the Dalits were used by the caste Hindus as words of abuse, to demean the former. For instance, clearly demonstrating their attitude, caste Hindus used the words ‘Chamar’ and ‘animal’ interchangeably as if they were synonymous: ‘The upper castes 115


do not recognise any difference between Chamars and animals’ (savarnalog Chamar ko janvar samasthe).22 On account of such attitudes, as well as the public insults heaped on them on a daily basis, no Chamar (for that matter, no Dalit) wishes to publicly disclose his/her caste. The shame of being a Dalit is internalised and affects all aspects of life; the humiliation heaped on people because of their caste bruises their psyche. Pride in one’s own identity and respect earned from others are basic psychological factors that contribute to making a person confident and positive. Dalits, who are treated with contempt by the upper castes, face disrespect and hatred from others on a daily basis and, as a result, suffer mental agonies and a lack of self-worth. So, the question before us is, could laying claim to such humiliated identities earn respect for the Chamars and lead to equality of castes? Is such a strategy in tune with Ambedkar’s idea of the ‘annihilation of caste’?23 Gaya Charan Dinakar, a BSP MLA from the Baberu assembly segment in the Banda district of UP, points out that the BSP’s idea of caste equalisation should not be treated as the party shifting from the Ambedkar ideology.24 The party’s call for equality of castes, according to Dinakar, gels with Ambedkar’s vision. However, he goes on to explain that although Ambedkar’s vision of a casteless society is theoretically flawless, the strategy he proposed for realisation of the vision was flawed: ‘If individuals are part of castes and if castes are part of a hierarchically organised social order, then the first step towards the realisation of an individual-based society would be equalisation of castes rather than annihilation of castes’ (interview with G. C. Dinakar). Dinakar’s argument is that caste, whether one accepts it or not, is a reality in India, and in order to realise Ambedkar’s vision of equality of individuals, one must work from within the caste structure rather than try to annihilate it. He argues that we should face up to the fact that a Dalit is discriminated against and humiliated by the caste Hindu society because of his caste and not because of his personality or behaviour. ‘And we are using caste to weaken the caste mind-set’, claims Dinakar. It has been further argued by the BSP’s leadership that although the Dalit movement all over India has focused on annihilating caste, caste has not disappeared; rather, it has gained strength. The upper castes have been using that strength to continue their social domination and political control and also to oppress the lower castes, especially Dalits. Given the big picture, the BSP leadership argued that a change in strategy against caste was needed. Before working for the annihilation of caste, it is necessary to achieve equality among castes. It should be recognised here that when the BSP leadership says ‘equality of castes’, they mean ‘notional equality’ rather than substantive equality. Making the Chamars and other Dalit castes identify themselves with their caste identity and forcing non-Dalits 116


to address them with their caste name is a means of teasing out the negative notions to achieve the positive. Ultimately, the positive will replace the negative. Thus, it is here that we witness an interesting use of caste by the BSP and Dalits, whereby they are not merely turning the tables on their oppressors, but also subverting caste hierarchy and its ideology. Democratisation of the Undemocratic Political Order: For the BSP, the Indian political order is undemocratic for one simple reason: it denies ‘equality of political opportunity for all’. The denial, however, is not an inherent characteristic of the order; rather, the Indian system has acquired that character on account of the control and dominance exerted by the upper castes. By virtue of such control, the upper castes have not only been appropriating the national resources for their own benefit, but also been controlling the opportunities of the bahujans (read as ‘the lower castes’). And, as has been argued by the leadership of the BSP, it is only through the realisation of political power by the marginalised sections of society that the upper castes’ political control can be wiped out and social equilibrium be achieved – that is, to ‘restore to the majority the power to decide, and by doing so the BSP will democratise the political order’.25 To put it in the words of Kanshiram: ‘Political power is the guru-killi (master-key), which enables its wielders to open every lock, whether social, political, economic or cultural’ (quoted in Dubey 2001: 288–9). But, how does the BSP propose to acquire political power and democratise the political order? Before we examine this question, the political situation in UP prior to the emergence of the lower-caste-based political parties needs to be mentioned. After India won its independence, for more than three decades, political power in UP was controlled by the upper castes, as Table 3.1 illustrates:

Table 3.1 Caste and community representation in the UP Assembly, 1952–74 (in %) Castes and communities

1952 1957

Upper castes 58 Intermediate castes 3 OBCs 9 SCs 20 Muslims 10 Total 100

55 3 12 21 9 100





58 2 13 22 7 100

45.3∗ – 29.2 –# 5.6 100

43.9∗ – 26.8 20.9 8.2 100

45.8∗ – 28.4 16.3 9.6 100

Source: (Meyer 1969 in Jaffrelot 2007). ∗ Includes Bhumihar, Tyagi, Vaishya, Kayasth and Khatri; # Data is unavailable.



From the early 1950s and until the mid-1970s, the upper castes had control over political power, to the exclusion of the lower castes. But this situation began to change in the early 1980s, especially with the emergence of the lower-caste-based political parties – BSP and the SP. These parties facilitated an increase in the lower castes’ share in the political power structures of UP. Indeed, the BSP’s idea of homogenisation of power or democratisation of the undemocratic order is summed up in one of its political slogans: Jiski jitni sankhya bhari – uski utni bhagedari (more power for those with bigger numbers, meaning that political representation and share in power must correspond to the number of voters from each caste). The party believes that political power should be distributed among all the castes on the basis of each caste’s weight in the total population. To that extent, the BSP’s politics are not aimed at reversing the earlier situation, but at infusing equality into it through caste-based distribution of the seats in representative bodies. This method ensures the presence not only of the lower castes, but also the upper castes in the power structure. According to Kanshiram, restoring power to the powerless is a two-stage process. In the first stage, the bahujans, in the vanguard of the BSP, would capture state power by means of the ‘ballot box’, not violence. In the second stage, the party, by making use of the state, would initiate programmes such as the provision of better wages and good working conditions, which would empower the marginalised, thereby leading to a social transformation (Pai 2002: 121–6). The BSP, despite being wedded to the idea of sharing of political power across all castes and communities, did not embrace the idea when it originally appeared in the political arena of UP in the early 1980s. It attempted to mobilise the Dalits and other marginalised sections to the exclusion of the three major upper castes in the state – the Brahmins, Thakurs and Banias. But by the late 1990s, it began to soften its exclusivist policy, opening its doors to the hitherto excluded upper castes, and now, in the early 2010s, the doors of the party are completely open; it is no longer an exclusively Dalit party, it is the party of sarvajan (literally, all castes and communities). Some of the mobilisational and electoral slogans of the BSP reflect this social trajectory: 1989: Tilak, tarazu aur talwar, joote maro inke char (tilak, a symbol for the Brahmans; tarazu, or scales, a symbol for the Baniyas; and talwar, a symbol for the Kshatriyas; ‘Beat them up four times with shoes’)26 1996: Kshatriya Brahman Baniya chhod, baki sab hain DS-4. (Except Kshatriyas, Brahmans and Baniyas, everyone else is DS-4) 2002: Brahmin saaf, Thakur half, Bania maaf (Finish off the Brahmins, Thakurs could be pardoned and Banias are forgiven) 118


2007: Hathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma,Vishnu, Mahesh hai (It is not just an elephant; it is the symbol of Ganesh, Brahmha, Vishnu and Mahesh) 2009: Sarva jan hitaya, sarva jan sukhaya (In the interest of all and happiness of all)

Table 3.2 Caste and community of the BSP MLAs, 1989–2002 (in %) Caste and community Upper Castes Brahmin Rajput Banya Bhumihar Kayasth Intermediate Castes Jat OBCs Yadav Kurmi Lodhi Koeri Shakya Rajbhar Saini Pal/Gadaria Kashyap Kushwaha Muraon/Maurya Nishad Bhagel Gujar Other Scheduled Castes Jatav Pasi Khatik Other Muslim Non-identified






1.5 1.5

13.5 4.5 6

16.6 6.8 6.8 1.3 1.3



7.6 7.6

16.6 16.6

44.7 14.9 7.5 1.5

1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 42 1.5 12 1.5



1.5 3 6

1.5 8.3


7.6 38.4


14.9 34.3



16.4 2.9

6 3 4.5 1.5 1.5 27.2 16.6 7.6 1.5 1.5 16.6

Source: Centre of South Asian Studies: Occasional Paper No. 2, University of Cambridge.


1.3 1.3 39.7 2.7 10.9 4.1 1.3 1.3 1.3 2.7 2.7 1.3 2.7 2.7 1.3 1.3 1.3 2.7 25.9 20.5 4.1 1.3 10.9


The trajectory of BSP’s political inclusion is not confined to political slogans, but is also reflected in the distribution of its seats. Table 3.2 illustrates this aspect. Distribution of party seats on the basis of the numerical strength of castes and communities in the political process as well as in political power shows that the party’s earlier criticism of the manuvadis (upper castes that were wedded to the ideology of caste hierarchy) and its slogans against them are no longer voiced. Inviting the upper castes into the BSP’s fold, Mayawati observes: ‘BSP is no more a caste-based party because it has adopted the policy of sarvajan hita (welfare of all) . . . the Party now wants to take the help of all to remove the disparities prevailing in society’ (The Pioneer 20 February 1998). Starting from the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the party began to nominate candidates in proportion to the caste and community breakdown in society. Out of 85 candidates, the BSP fielded 17 Muslims (20 per cent), 20 Dalits (23.5 per cent), 38 OBCs (45 per cent) and 10 upper castes (12 per cent) – five Brahmins and five Rajputs.27 Caste-based distribution of the party’s tickets was further crystallised in the state legislative elections in 2007. Out of 403 assembly seats, the BSP allocated 139 seats to upper castes (89 Brahmins, 38 Thakurs, 14 Vaishyas and 1 Kayastha), 110 to OBCs, 93 to Dalits and 61 to Muslims. This form of allocation of tickets actually led to the BSP’s success in the 2007 assembly elections and helped it to form a government on its own strength for the first time. The BSP adhered to the same sarvajan formula even during the 2012 assembly elections. In this election, it gave 88 seats to the Dalits, 85 to Muslims and religious minorities, 74 to Brahmins, 33 to Thakurs and as many as 113 seats were given to candidates from backward communities. (The outcome of 2012 elections is dealt with in the next section.) Thus, it is clear that despite campaigning for the inclusion of all castes and communities in the power structure of the state, the BSP did not practice what it preached until at least the mid-1990s. It was only during the late 1990s that it began to transform itself from an exclusive Dalit-based party to a sarvajan-based party. But what led to such transformation? During its initial phase, which one may call the bahujan phase, the BSP focused its energies on mobilising the bahujans, particularly Dalits, Muslims and the OBCs against the political domination of the upper castes. It argued that the savarnas, by controlling the spaces of opportunities and by excluding the bahujans, had been the major beneficiaries of the caste system: the Brahmins, by controlling education and occupying the highest position in the traditional social structure; the Kshatriyas, by controlling the land and dominating temporal power; and the Vaishyas, by controlling trade. Even in post-independence India, the savarnas have 120


re-established themselves by controlling political power. In normal circumstances, in a democratic framework, it is the majority that rules. But the upper castes, who make up a mere 15 per cent of the total population of the country, are able to monopolise political power. In casting their votes for candidates belonging to the upper castes, members of the lower castes, who constitute 85 per cent of the population, continue to remain the ruled. This is the reason why, during the 1980s and early 1990s, we did not see the presence of the upper castes in the party structure. Indeed, Kanshiram was categorical about not including the savarnas: ‘There are lots of other parties which accommodate upper caste people, but they should avoid us’ (Akela 2006). Interestingly, unlike the other Dalit parties – especially the Republican Party of India in Maharashtra, which works exclusively with the Dalits – the BSP did not want to confine itself to Dalits. For the BSP, as noted above, the OBCs and religious minorities were part of the bahujan samaj. This was the reason why it considered the Yadav-based Samajwadi Party as a friend in its mission of ‘political power for the bahujans’ and, thus, entered into an electoral alliance with it during the assembly elections in 1993. The reasons for the failure of the SP–BSP coalition government were noted above. In addition to this failure, political compulsion played a role in turning away the BSP from its bahujan ideology towards the sarvajan approach. During the late 1990s, some of the OBC leaders of the BSP deserted the party and formed their own political groups. For instance, Raj Bahadur and Jung Bahadur – the two Kurmi leaders – orchestrated a split in the BSP to form the BSP (R) and the Bahujan Samaj Dal, respectively. Another Kurmi leader from the BSP, Sone Lal Patel, also deserted the party to float his Apna Dal (Jaffrelot 2007). With these splits and desertions by the OBCs, the party became uncertain of their support and began to look for other social categories to widen its support base. The BSP might have moved away from its earlier ideology of bahujan to sarvajan out of political necessity, but such a move was certainly a step towards enlargement of the democratic space. Although India had formally adopted the system of democracy, on account of the presence of the caste system, it functioned in an undemocratic fashion for several decades after independence. The caste and community backgrounds of the representatives in the UP Assembly from 1952 to 1974 given in Figure 3.1 clearly show the dominance of the upper castes, which constituted a minority in the overall population. This phenomenon, as pointed out by Kanshiram, is nothing but the rule of the minority over the majority under the veil of democracy. By adopting the method of a caste-based distribution of seats in political representation, the BSP has shown a means 121


by which to bring the hitherto neglected and excluded castes into the process of democracy, thereby laying a path for the democratisation of the undemocratic order. Of course, it is important to recognise that this method of distribution also leads to the exclusion from the democratic process of castes with small populations. For instance, in UP, there are 66 Dalit castes, constituting 21 per cent of the total population of the state. According to the 2001 Census, the Chamars/Jatavs made up 56 per cent of the Dalit population. The Pasis constituted 16 per cent, while the third rung comprising Dhobis, Koris and Balmikis made up another 15 per cent. The fourth rung comprising Gonds, Dhanuks and Khatiks constituted about 5 per cent. Of these four groups of castes, the BSP has generally distributed its Dalit reserved seats in the State Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha mainly between the Chamars and Pasis. There is hardly any representation for Gonds, Dhanuks and Khatiks. Nevertheless, one may conclude that the strategies adopted by the BSP for the horizontalisation of the social order and the democratisation of the political order surely instilled social confidence among the lower castes and secured their political representation.

BSP an agent of social transformation? What did the BSP do for Dalits while in power? Did the BSP’s rule lead to social transformation in UP society, which is known for its caste rigidity and caste-based patterns of socio-economic and political relations? These questions are important for two reasons. First, UP, just like any other state in the Indian Union, has always suffered from a dearth of resources. Despite working with increasingly limited resources, up until the early 1990s, all the ruling parties managed ‘within the limited resources’. But these resources were used not to aid the underdeveloped lower castes, but to further develop the developed upper castes. That is to say, the state in India did function as an instrument of change. But those changes did not alter the existing power equations as they were prompted by the state’s need for a veneer of legitimacy among the subalterns. This means that changes were allowed by the dominating castes and classes that controlled the state, but only to the extent that those changes did not alter the existing power equations (Joshi 1982a). One crucial point of this ‘management of development’ was the prioritisation and diversion of resources, which resulted in the reproduction of inequalities, further marginalising the Dalits. Did the BSP try to rectify this developmental bias while in power? 122


The BSP has always claimed to be an agent of social transformation. Electoral victory, for the BSP leadership, was a first step, following which social change could be introduced from the above (Kanshiram in Lal, A.K. 2002: 63). However, the BSP’s use of power and some of the programmes and policies pursued by the party while it was in power were questionable and have become subjects of intense criticism. Two issues have attracted maximum criticism: the BSP’s lack of a concrete economic policy, and its state funding for parks and statues of Ambedkar. On the second issue, scholars such as Sudipta Kaviraj (2000: 113) felt that aside from giving some political prestige, the installation of statues of Ambedkar ‘does nothing to alter the structural bases of privilege in education, health and other opportunities which serve to reproduce the inequalities against which the politics of the lower castes is directed’.28 This author is sympathetic towards this argument, but stresses that the importance of Ambedkar statues lies not in their being symbols of Dalits’ political prestige, but in their use for the democratisation of public space. As for the BSP’s lack of a guiding economic philosophy, unsurprisingly, that deficiency became one of the most potent weapons for its political opponents, academia and the media. For instance, Sudha Pai (2003: 35–54) in her ‘Deprivation and Development in UP: The Economic Agenda of the BSP’ took a firm stand against the party and criticised its lack of an economic agenda. One of her major points of criticism was that despite the BSP’s claim to be an Ambedkarite party, it neither followed Ambedkar’s economic philosophy of ‘State Socialism’29 nor did it devise a comprehensive alternative economic agenda for the Dalits. However, it must be observed that though the BSP did not have a comprehensive alternative economic plan for Dalits, the BSP government made concerted efforts to improve the economic conditions of Dalits in the state through its focus on programmes such as the Ambedkar Village Development Programme and land distribution. The BSP also broke the nexus between the socially dominant and the state by using state power for the greater benefit of the people. In the rest of the section, we shall examine some of the programmes and activities pursued by the BSP while in power. A. Rural poverty and the BSP’s measures: Rural poverty and its elimination had been the central concern of all the political parties and governments since independence. Apart from initiating a number of empowerment programmes, the issue of land distribution to the landless had been taken up both by the Congress and by the non-Congress governments in UP on a massive scale. During the 1970s, the Congress Party, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, initiated a number of anti-poverty programmes in order to corner the support of the lower castes, especially Dalits and 123


Shudras (Kaviraj 2000). Garibi Hatao (remove poverty) and the ‘20-Point Programme’ were the two main anti-poverty initiatives. Under the latter programme, land titles for some one million acres were supposed to have been distributed to the rural poor in UP. But out of those one million acres, it was said that only 11.6 per cent of the land was effectively distributed. The remaining land, although it was distributed to the poor on paper, was under the control of ‘village councils’ (gaon sabha), which were generally controlled by the upper castes or OBCs. Scholars such as Atul Kohli (1987: 189–222) attribute such an outcome to inertia in the administration. But, as my Dalit informants pointed out, it was the caste attitude of the upper-caste bureaucrats against the Dalits that resulted in the ineffective distribution of the land.30 Moreover, as noted in the previous chapter, in the name of land to the tiller, Dalits were excluded from the land distribution process. The point here is that the dominant upper castes have used state resources to their advantage by using the machinery of the state itself. Did this situation change during the BSP’s regime? During its formative years, the BSP orchestrated grassroots campaigns for the occupation of government land by marginalised sections in the state. One slogan from this campaign was: Jo zameen sarkari hai, wo zameen hamara hai (The government’s land belongs to us). When it assumed power – both in 1995 and in 1997 – one of its key concerns was land redistribution in the favour of Dalits, OBCs and the Most Backward Castes (MBCs). Under a special drive, it distributed some 52,379 acres of land among 81,500 MBCs; 15,000 acres of Gaon Sabha land among 20,000 Dalits; and all tenants of more than 10 years standing were granted bhumidhaari (ownership of land) rights, a scheme which benefited many small-scale farmers from the Dalit and OBC categories (Pai 2004: 1145). Further, the BSP government acquired about 1,052,000 acres of land, from which 1,020,000 acres were distributed among the MBCs and Dalits. Further, around 20,000 more Dalits benefited when 15,000 irregular land nominations were regularised (Akhtar 1999; Vivek Kumar 2003: 3870). This pattern of land distribution shows that the BSP made an effort to improve the economic conditions of marginalised sections of society. Yet, oddly, it did not distribute any land when it was in power for the fourth time, between 2007 and 2012. A programme of the BSP government that yielded better social and economic results than the land redistribution programmes was the Ambedkar Gram Vikas Yojana (the Ambedkar Village Development Programme – AVDP). Although this programme was initiated by the Mulayam government in 1991, when the BSP assumed power for the first time 124


in 1995, it re-energised the programme, whose key aim was all-round development of the villages. Interestingly, AVDP is not a particularly innovative programme; it is a basic welfare initiative that any government in power is expected to undertake, and at least on paper, many governments in the state appear to have been implementing such programmes since the early 1960s. For instance, the Congress government in the late 1960s, as a way of dealing with the rural discontent that had set in due to the increased inequalities in the post-Green Revolution period, implemented similar measures under the Anti-Poverty Programme. The novelty of the AVDP was its emphasis on Dalits. Originally, the scheme was meant for the allotment of special funds for socio-economic development for one year to villages with a Dalit population of 50 per cent or higher. When Mayawati formed the government in 1995, she extended this programme to those villages with a 22–30 per cent Dalit population. In total, 25,434 villages were included in the programme (Government of Uttar Pradesh 1999). With an average allocation of INR 30.5 million per village, the main focus of the AVDP had been on infrastructure and the social sphere, including pensions for widows and the elderly. Initially, some 36 developmental programmes were listed under the AVDP. But they seemed to concentrate predominantly on six programmes, which dealt with issues including drinking water, electricity, housing, schools, primary health centres, public toilets and link roads. The BSP government was very keen on the proper implementation of the AVDP and instructed secretarylevel officials to inspect villages to check the progress of the programme. In whichever villages the programme was implemented, it has certainly brought enormous changes into these villages. Mohammadpur in Barabanki district is one such villages: now it has concrete link roads connected with brick by-lanes, and houses built under the Indira Awas Yojana; most households have toilets and uninterrupted power supply; there are primary schools, a Panchayat building and India Mark-II hand pumps. In a news report, Shailvee Sharda notes the satisfaction of the Dalit population in Mohammadpur with the AVDP. Naunilal and Maya Devi, a 70-year-old Dalit couple who sell corn and rice puff, say they are grateful to Mayawati: ‘Constant water-logging near my house was finally resolved when a pucca (durable) road was built . . . An electricity pole has also come up near our house’ (Shailvee Sharda in Times of India, 27 January 2012).Commenting on the impact of this scheme, Vivek Kumar (2003: 3870) observes: Today Dalits do not need schools, hospitals, and sources of water or roads used by the ‘upper castes’ which has thus broken the 125


traditional shackles of caste relations. The whole process has saved the Dalits from facing the perpetual humiliation inflicted by the upper castes whenever they became angry and put restrictions on the use of these facilities by the Dalits. Viewing the scheme through a similar lens, Manini Chatterjee (2003) observes: In Lucknow and Delhi politicians may scoff at Mayawati’s dalit-ki-beti histrionics, but spend a day in these Ambedkar village – settlements with more than 50 percent Dalit populace were declared as such and promised development schemes. The most visible sign of change is the enthusiasm for education. In the cluster of four villages in this area [western–central UP] – Abbasganj, Hasanpur, Kaneri, Chatauni (on Rae Bareli-Lucknow border) there are four primary schools, two junior schools and one high school. Almost every Dalit parent sends their sons and daughters to schools. Two points thus become clear: prior to the implementation of the AVDP, basic civic facilities such as drinking water, primary health care and schools were under the control of the upper castes, who were thus able to control the Dalits and other marginalised groups. It is important to recognise here that these essential resources were not merely instruments of domination. They were also means of actively humiliating Dalits, particularly Dalit women. Whenever Dalit women went out to fetch drinking water from the wells and hand-pumps located in the upper-caste areas, they were subjected to the lustful gazes of upper-caste men and, at times, abuse. Having these basic facilities in their own areas meant the Dalits and their women were no longer subjected to such humiliation. It also instilled a sense of confidence and self-respect. Second, under the AVDP, overall development of villages also took place. Although some basic facilities were located within Dalit areas, some other amenities such as roads, high schools and junior colleges were for the use of the entire village, and so for the common good. Most of the upper castes, despite their complaints against the BSP government for the special treatment meted out to the Dalits, were happy to see a road for the first time in their lives.31 Some of the achievements and failures of the BSP government in the social sector should also be mentioned here.32 For years, UP notoriously neglected the issue of housing security for its people. According to the National Sample Survey Organization data, while 23 per cent of the 126


households in rural UP live in pucca houses, in urban slums, mere 12 per cent households live in pucca houses. This means that 77 per cent of the households in rural UP and 88 per cent of households in urban slums are living in kutcha (mud or makeshift) houses. The BSP government took some bold steps towards improving housing security. During 2007–10, it initiated three major housing schemes: Mahamaya Awaas Yojana (MAY – Great Maya Housing Scheme), Kanshiram Sahari Gareeb Awaas Yojana (KSGAY – Kanshiram Housing Scheme for Urban Poor) and Sarvajana Hitay Sahari Garib Awas Malikana Haq Yojana (Well-being of All People Urban Poor Housing Ownership Rights Scheme) to benefit various sections of the population, both in rural and urban locations. The KSGAY targets families in urban areas that live below the poverty line (BPL). Under this scheme, while 23 per cent and 27 per cent of the benefits go to the OBCs and SCs, respectively, 50 per cent of the benefits go to poor people in the general category. With the KSGAY, the BSP government managed to construct 96,418 houses in urban areas. For the benefit of the rural poor, in addition to proper implementation of the already existing Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY – Indira Housing Scheme),33 the BSP initiated two more schemes: Mahamaya Awaas Yojana (MAY), and Mahamaya Sarvajan Awaas Yojana (MSAY). While the former provides housing security exclusively for the SC/ST communities in rural areas, the latter targets the non-SC/ST poor families. Under MAY, about 3,60,000 SC/ST families benefited at a cost of INR 94.9 million during 2007–10. During the same period, the government succeeded in constructing 1.3 million houses by expending INR 331.6 million under the scheme Indian Awaas Yojana. In addition to the above, certain other noteworthy schemes and initiatives of the BSP government, during the period 2007–10, in the areas of social security, welfare, health, education and employment are noted below: •

• • •

In 2007, the government started Mukhyamantri Mahamaya Garib Aarthik Madad Yojana (Chief Minister Great Maya’s Support Scheme for Poor People). This scheme was to give INR 300 per month to those poor families excluded from the BPL list. The amount of old-age pension was increased from INR 150 to INR 300 per month. Financial assistance for the marriage of SC/ST girls from the Bundelkhand region was increased from INR 10,000 to INR 20,000. Financial assistance for medical treatment for the poor was increased from INR 2,000 to INR 5,000.



For people with physical disabilities: A. Financial assistance to purchase artificial limbs or other auxiliary equipment was increased from INR 3,500 to INR 6,000. B. INR 20 million was earmarked to provide financial assistance for the purpose of marriages. C. Financial assistance to those people who are studying or undergoing training was augmented from INR 550 to INR 850 per month.

• •

• •

Mahamaya Gharib Balika Ashirvad Yojana (Great Maya Blessing Scheme for Poor Girls) was initiated in 2009 to benefit girls born in BPL families. Under this, every girl child was to receive INR 100,000 when she turned 18. Some 101,705 girls had benefited from this scheme by 2010. Each widow was to get INR 11,000 should she remarry. While the previous Mulayam Singh government had spent INR 224.65 per head in 2006–7 on health-related measures, the BSP government spent an average of INR 290.82 per head per year on health. In addition to a bicycle, a sum of INR 25,000 in two instalments was given to each girl student of intermediate (plus two) classes. Under the Scheduled Castes Special Component Plan, a certain amount of money was allocated in the budget for the exclusive benefit of SCs. For instance, INR 5,329.2 million was allocated for the financial year 2007–8. This amount was 45.7 per cent higher than the previous Mulayam Singh government’s contribution in 2006–7. In 2008–9, an amount of INR 7,700.52 million was allocated under the same plan, a 44.5 per cent increase on the previous year’s budget.

Despite the initiatives mentioned above, in other social security areas, the BSP government paid scant attention. For instance, on the health front, UP remained in rather a miserable state; the BSP government did not take any measures – not even a single health security scheme – to improve health conditions in UP. In the field of education too, UP lagged behind in comparison with many states in the country, but the BSP government did not take any noteworthy measures to improve education in UP. Moreover, the developmental programmes that were undertaken by the BSP government in the name of Dalits did not in practice reach large sections of the Dalit population. The benefits, in fact, tended to be



grabbed by one particular caste within the Dalit category, the Jatavs/ Chamars (Pai 2003; Chandra 2004; Jeffrey and Jeffrey 2008). B. Using the state to protect the vulnerable sections of society: From various government orders and acts, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 (PoA Act), it appears that the state fulfilled its responsibility to protect Dalits and other vulnerable groups. Yet, evidence of growing incidences of atrocities against Dalits is a marked indication that such attempts were being thwarted by upper castes and others with the help of the police (Human Rights Watch 1998).34 There were worse occasions wherein the state, in addition to not taking action against the culprits, even failed to condemn violence against Dalits. For instance, in 2001, when the BJP was in power under the leadership of Rajnath Singh, Dalits were brutally murdered by Thakurs in western UP in two separate incidents (Rajalakshmi 2001: 38).35 Neither Chief Minister Rajanth Singh, himself a Thakur, nor the local MLA or the State Law Minister Radhey Shyam Gupta, a Bania, condemned the incidents or visited the victims. The biased attitude of the state, however, was counteracted to a degree when the BSP assumed power in UP. The party showed how state laws and agencies could be employed effectively in the service of socially oppressed communities. For instance, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 (PoA Act), which came to be termed the Dalit Act in UP, assumed some ‘meaning whenever the Mayawati-led BSP was in power’ (S. Anand 2006). Indeed, under BSP’s rule, UP became the only state where it was not possible to casually insult a Dalit and get away with it. To refer to a Dalit with contempt – which caste Hindus did as a matter of convention and traditional right – became a crime that could result in an FIR and booking under Section 3 (I) X of the act. Police officers were given instructions to fearlessly implement the Act, which was unprecedented in any other state under any other regime. Although the implementation of the act was seen by the caste Hindu society and the media – both accustomed to the routine humiliation of Dalits – as a means of registering false blackmail cases,36 it went a long way in recognising and restoring a sense of self-respect and dignity among the Dalits of UP. Interestingly, the police, apart from being ‘true servants of the state’ during BSP rule, also became intolerant, ‘in contrast to their traditional tolerance’ to the upper castes’ exploitation of Dalits. For instance, Craig Jeffrey and Jens Lerche recount an incident in Jaunpur, where police forced Thakurs to accept a proposed 33 per cent wage rise for Dalits (Jeffrey and Lerche 2001: 91–114).



Dalits were not the only group that was protected by the BSP government. By arresting several notorious criminals, it attempted to secure peace and order in the state. For instance, Raghuraj Pratap Singh (alias Raja Bhaiyya or king of Kunda) was an independent MLA and ran a kind of parallel government in Pratapgarh district. In December 2002, he was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) by the Mayawati government and jailed for more than 18 months. The charges against Pratap Singh, as reported in a national newspaper, demonstrate the extent of his grip over the local economy: A FIR was lodged at Jethwara police station against Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya and his father for extorting money from the business community and traders of Derwa Bazar. Another criminal case of grabbing 170 bighas of government land and misusing public property has been lodged against Raja Bhaiyya, Uday Pratap, former Kunda SDM Jalil Ahmad Siddiqui and former Kunda tahsildar Ashok Kumar Srivastava at Hathiganwa police station under sections 386, 420, 466, 467, 468 of the IPC, sections 12, 13, 14 of the Anti-Corruption Act and section 3 of the Public Property Act. (The Times of India 26 January 2003) Despite the numerous charges, none of the previous governments in the state had arrested Pratap Singh, simply because all the political parties, especially the BJP and SP, benefited in various ways from his presence. The fear that Pratap Singh evoked in Kunda was evident: people would not even whisper a word against him, even in private conversations. ‘Raja Bhaiyya will get to know: he has moles all over the place. Why invite trouble?’ was the common refrain. After his arrest, a Brahmin in Kunda expressed his feelings thus: ‘Now we will vote freely according to our will, all these years we could not even see the ballot box or paper’ (The Indian Express 26 January 2003). Despite these improvements, the BSP was not always fully committed to the protection of marginalised groups, especially Dalits. At times, it used crimes against Dalits to politicise the issue and thereby gain political mileage; and at other times, it simply maintained silence despite the evidence of caste-based crimes against Dalits. For instance, Raju Pal, a BSP legislator from the Dhumanganj assembly seat in Allahabad, was murdered in January 2005. Atiq Ahmed, a Member of Parliament for the SP and his brother, Mohammad Ashraf, were arrested for the murder and later released on bail. Since Raju Pal’s murder, there have been further murders 130


of BSP functionaries in Allahabad. The BSP tried its best to gain political mileage by drawing the attention of the state. It staged dharnas and walkouts in the Legislative Assembly in Lucknow. But the BSP, as reported by Shivam Vij (2007), did not take up the case of Om Prakash with same zeal. Prakash ran a street corner shop in a village in Jaunpur district. Most of his customers bought groceries on a monthly loan. When Prakash asked a Brahmin school teacher to clear his dues, it seems the latter was offended that a ‘Chamar’ had dared to ‘insult’ him. The Brahmin beat the Chamar to pulp and then took him to his house, from where the latter disappeared. Despite several request from Prakash’s family members, the BSP activists in the village and district never bothered to investigate. The case was taken up by a local NGO, Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Sangharsh Morcha, which staged a demonstration at the district headquarters. It also approached the National Human Rights Commission. But nothing came of these efforts. Further, while in power for the fourth time during 1997–2012, the BSP did little to prevent atrocities against its core support base, the Dalits. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, during the year 2009, the number of crimes committed against Dalits nationally was 33,594. Accounting for 22.4 per cent of these crimes, the UP was first on the list of crimes by state. In the same year, a total of 11,143 cases were reported under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Again, UP has topped the list by accounting for 2,554 cases (22.9 per cent). Also, a number of rape cases against Dalit women were reported in UP during Mayawati’s regime. For instance, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rape cases involving Dalit women in the state was 375 in 2008, the highest in the country. One should note here that these are official figures; numerous cases never made it to the police register. According to Darapuri (2011), a retired IPS officer, Mayawati’s determination to show a decrease in crime against Dalits gave leverage to the police for the non-registration of cases. It was also said that in the name of checking for the misuse and proper implementation of the SC/ST Act, the Mayawati government had directed the police to apply the act in murder and rape cases only. It appears that the BSP government issued this direction in order to please their ‘sarvajan supporters’. Clearly, it shows that Dalits had to pay a great price for political power. C. Ambedkar statues – the democratisation of public space: The caste Hindu world’s denial of human dignity to Dalits manifests itself in various forms. One form this took was the prevention of Dalits from using public spaces, such as roads, parks or other land. Thus, it is clear that in India, public represents caste Hindus and not the Dalit public. Refusing to share 131


public space with Dalits and preventing them from using public spaces signified a rejection of human rights as well as a denial of their rights as citizens. While Dalits, both in colonial and in postcolonial India, fought for their legitimate rights, caste Hindus were able to suppress such fights, and thereby dominate the public spaces with the help of the state. This nexus between the upper castes and the state was not merely challenged by the Dalits in UP through the BSP, but was destroyed to the extent that the Dalits gained their right to use public space alongside the rest of the citizens of India. In previous decades, the Dalit struggle for equal use of public spaces was manifested through having Dalit bridegrooms sit on palanquins during marriage celebrations (this being a ‘right’ reserved for the upper castes) and organising processions on 14 April (the anniversary of the birth of their leader, Dr B. R. Ambedkar) every year. From the early 1980s, the Dalit claim to public spaces was manifested through the installation of statues of Ambedkar in such locations. When the BSP came to power, apart from installing a number of Ambedkar statues throughout the state, particularly in the main centres of each district and tehshil, it also constructed a massive park in the state capital of Lucknow. The park, which is called Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal (The Ambedkar Symbol for Social Transformation Place), is the site of a gigantic bronze statue of Ambedkar, sitting in the same way as the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The 20 million rupee park was dedicated to the public on 15 January 2003. The BSP even issued a government order, assigning half an acre of communal land in each village for the construction of an ‘Ambedkar Park’. But what is the symbolic significance of the installation of Ambedkar statues or ‘the Ambedkarisation of UP’ – a phrase euphemistically used by the upper-caste-dominated English-language media? The ‘Ambedkarisation’ of UP attracted criticisms from different quarters and on various counts. Most of the rural upper castes were outraged and did not mince their words in their verbal attacks on the project. For instance, the project was condemned as nothing but ‘chamarisation’ of UP (woh chamar logonka party, ham ko bhi chamar banara ha hai!).37 If this type of attack represents a blatant and unsophisticated rural upper caste who are threatened by the prospect of losing their traditional domination and control of the lower castes, especially the Dalits, the urban upper castes – who also happen to fall in the elite and middle-class categories – also came up with similar criticisms, but in a slightly more nuanced and sophisticated fashion. One central criticism levelled against the statues of Ambedkar is that the BSP and Dalits should not have used public places either to promote Ambedkar and his ‘ism’ or to popularise 132

Figure 3.2 Elephant gallery in Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal, Lucknow Courtesy of Mr Ranjith Sutari

Figure 3.3 Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivarthan Sthal, Lucknow Courtesy of http://images-photos-lucknow.blogspot.com/ (accessed on 20 September 2012)


the BSP; public places belonged to ‘everyone’. Further, using indirect language, it was said that since they (Dalits and the BSP) were ‘encroaching’ upon public places, they would have to bear the ‘consequences’.38 Two aspects are clear in this criticism. First, Dalits were not recognised as part of the ‘public’ or ‘everyone’. Had their position as part of the public been recognised, then there would have been no objections to the Dalits’ use of public spaces. Second, the Dalits, ‘use’ of the public space was viewed as ‘encroaching’, as if an outsider were occupying territory belonging to others. Further, the word ‘consequences’ denotes a kind of warning to Dalits (Nicolas 2006). Those people who did not want to seem as blatant as the rural upper castes or as hypocritical as the urban upper castes put forward their criticism on the basis of the cost of the Ambedkar statues and argued that they were a waste of tax-payers’ money. It was argued that such a project did not benefit the Dalits in any tangible fashion (India Today, 28 July 1997). The rationality of this criticism cannot be dismissed, but this narrow understanding of the significance of the Ambedkar statues must be questioned. In any case, the upper castes were blind to the Dalits’ demand for equality, respect and dignity, and also blind to their civic rights to share and enjoy public space alongside other citizens. Irrespective of the above attacks by the upper castes, what must be recognised here is the actualisation of citizenship rights by the Dalits. Theoretically, public spaces belong to all the citizens of the country, yet domination of such spaces by the upper castes through setting up statues of their caste and community leaders resulted in the exclusion of Dalits from that space. When the Dalit-based BSP came to power, it set up statues of Ambedkar, a Dalit leader, in public places. Such an act not only resulted in the breaking up of upper-caste domination in public spaces, but more importantly, it also gave Dalits the right to represent themselves in those spaces. In other words, it was an act of democratisation of public spaces by the Dalits through the BSP. On the issue of Ambedkarisation of public space, the overall attitude of the upper castes against Dalits in UP may be inimical, yet one should not underestimate the impact of Dalit politics upon social relations. As noted above, UP society is a highly Brahmanical society, where discrimination against Dalits was rampant; the upper castes treated Dalits even worse than animals. Some 20 years ago, Dalits were not allowed to enter the houses of Brahmins and other upper castes. Earlier, Dalits were not invited to the marriage functions of the upper



castes, and they would not dare to sit beside an upper-caste person. They were forced to take up jobs that came with a stigma attached to them, such as attending to dead animals. But today, all those caste-based social relations appear to be somewhat antiquated. Both the upper castes and Dalits, especially those who are associated with the BSP, enter each other’s houses freely and sit on the same charpai (bench-like arrangement). Invitations are exchanged for weddings and other social gatherings. Separate seating and dining arrangements for weddings were beginning to fade by 1990 and had been substantially eliminated by 2007 (Chandrabhan Prasad et al. 2010: 39–49). By engaging in politics, Dalits, who had been denied recognition and respect, acquired political power, which in turn, resulted in a new self-confidence and, importantly, recognition from the caste Hindu society. This brings us to the results of the UP Assembly elections of 2012. If the BSP had a better formula for the inclusion of all the castes and communities in the power structure, why did it fail in the UP Assembly elections in 2012? D. The BSP’s failure in UP Assembly elections in 2012: Prior to its electoral victory in the UP Assembly elections in 2007, the BSP had ruled the state three times, but on none of those occasions did it win a sufficient number of seats to form a government on its own. As such, it had to depend upon other political parties for its survival in the seat of power. But in 2007, the party formed a government on its own strength for the first time, by winning a majority of seats in the State Assembly elections. Despite following the same sarvajan formula that it used in 2007, the party lost the 2012 election miserably, winning a mere 80 seats. Why did the party fail in the 2012 elections? Many arguments have been put forward by critics and scholars about this failure. Three noteworthy ones are: one, that the BSP government was embroiled in corruption and scams, such as the Taj Corridor case; two, that the BSP government incurred the wrath of the public by wasting huge amounts of money on constructing the Ambedkar memorials and installing statues of Dalit bahujan pioneers in the public domain (Vaidya 2012) and finally, Dalits, who constitute 21 per cent of the population of the state, and who had constituted the BSP’s solid support base since its inception, deserted the party (Heath and Kumar 2012: 41–9), tilting the balance in favour of the other political parties, especially the SP. This author does not subscribe to these arguments, but does not completely reject them either. In my view, it is the shifting of Muslim loyalties from the BSP to the SP that is the reason for the 2012 debacle.



It is unlikely that the corruption charges against the BSP government would have had such a great effect on the voting behaviour of the UP public. In contemporary India, every political party and outfit is involved in various corruption charges and scams. In that context, it is not surprising to see the same pattern in the BSP. Of course, this is neither to suggest that since every political party is involved in corruption, the BSP should follow the same path, nor to support any corruption under the BSP regime. It is only to say that there is no sense in pointing the finger at the BSP alone. And with regard to the second argument, it may be that the vehemence of the non-Dalit public against the Dalit bahujan memorials resulted in their turning against the BSP during the assembly elections. But then, the percentage of this category of non-supporters cannot be so big as to upset the winning possibilities of the BSP. Critics who put forward the third argument, that the abandonment of the BSP by the Dalits led to its downfall in the assembly elections, justified it on account of the failure of the BSP to secure a majority of the seats in reserved constituencies. However, the figures from the last three assembly elections provided in Table 3.3 show that it was only during the 2007 elections that the BSP secured the maximum number of seats in reserved constituencies. Otherwise, the BSP has always had a poor track record in securing reserved seats. An important question at this juncture is: Why is a Dalit-based party not winning in these reserved constituencies? This chapter will not go into the details of this question; it is sufficient to mention here that the main problem lies in the very notion of a reserved constituency. A constituency is reserved for the Dalits or Adivasis on account of the fact that a majority of the population in that constituency belongs to the reserved category of people. But there is a possibility that the combined population strength of the non-Dalits/Adivasis may be greater than that of the reserved category population. In such a constituency, it is easy for any political party Table 3.3 Performance of political parties in the UP reserved constituencies in 2002, 2007 and 2012 Year and party








2012 2007 2002

17 62 25

54 13 35

3 7 18

4 5 –

2 1 –

8 1 11

84 89 89

Source: Election Commission of India: http://eci.nic.in (accessed on 8 May 2013).



to win in any election if it manages to secure the support of two or three castes or communities; and that is how the non-Dalit-based political parties have been winning in the reserved constituencies in UP. If one looks at the BSP’s failure to win the majority of the reserved seats from this vantage point, such a failure does not really mean that Dalits have deserted that party. If this is so, what really went wrong for the BSP in the 2012 elections? Although the BSP considered Muslims as part of the bahujan samaj from its BAMCEF days onwards, their presence in the party, especially in its earlier phase, was considerably marginal. But that situation began to change in 1993. Partly inspired by its own bahujan ideology and partly compelled by electoral politics, the BSP began to allocate a good number of seats to Muslims – both in the State Legislative Assembly and in the Parliamentary elections. UP has 18.5 per cent Muslim voters, who play a decisive role in at least 130 assembly seats. The importance of Muslims in the party began to increase further when, following its sarvajan formula, the party gave them 61 seats during the 2007 elections, and again, 85 seats in the 2012 elections. Of course, it was not just the BSP that had been eyeing the Muslim vote bank. The SP was also one of the prime contenders in the competition for Muslim support. Indeed, after the Yadavs, Muslims constituted a major support base for the SP. Just like the BSP, the SP also began to allot a good number of seats to Muslims. For instance, during the 2012 assembly elections, the SP allotted them 78 seats (43 of which were won). And when the elections for the UP State Legislative Assembly were announced, just like the SP, the BSP was also quite confident that it would come back to power on account of the support it enjoyed from the Brahmins and Muslims, in addition to its traditional Dalit support base. But then Rahul Gandhi’s appeasement of the Muslims, in the form of a sub-quota of 4.5 per cent within the 27 per cent quota for the OBCs, changed the politics of the assembly elections as well as the winning chances of the BSP. During an election rally on 15 December 2011, in Badaun town, Rahul Gandhi announced that the central government, led by the Congress Party, would soon announce reservations for Muslims in government jobs. Following this announcement, on 22 December 2011, the Union Cabinet cleared a 4.5 per cent sub-quota for minorities, which was to be carved out of the 27 per cent quota for the OBCs in central government jobs and central educational institutions (The Hindu, 23 December 2011). It does not require much effort to work



out the intentions of the union government since this announcement came just before the assembly elections in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. In the 2009 general elections, the Congress had won 21 Lok Sabha seats in UP, thanks to a shift in the Muslim vote away from the SP. But with the gradual return of that vote to the BSP and SP, the Congress needed to do something, knowing fully well that if it succeeded in winning the support of Muslims, it could easily weaken both the BSP and SP. This line of thinking became obvious in the speeches of Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders during their election campaigns. For instance, questioning Mulayam Singh Yadav’s intentions of providing reservations to Muslims, Gandhi remarked that although the Yadav had promised an 18 per cent quota for Muslims, he had never taken any action, even though his party had been in power in UP three times (Atiq Khan 2012a). The intention behind Gandhi’s criticism of Yadav became clear through the words of Beni Prasad Varma, a union minister in the UPA government. Describing the quota decision as a ‘gift from the UPA government’, Varma said it would ‘make the Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Singh irrelevant [in the coming Assembly elections]’ (ibid.). Once the hornet’s nest was stirred in the guise of a sub-quota, other political parties were left with no choice but to respond either in favour or against it. The SP dismissed the UPA government’s decision, and instead, demanded reservations for the minority as per their population, while the BSP supported it. But, it also demanded a national reservation policy and an increase in the 27 per cent quota for the OBCs for giving reservations to backward religious minorities (ibid.). And, as expected, the BJP, which had been looking for some issue on which to mobilise its upper-caste constituency, opposed the sub-quota as the ‘dirty game plan’ of the Congress to destroy the unity and integrity of the nation (The Hindu, 11 January 2012). Indeed, the BJP saw the sub-quota debate as a good opportunity to boost its prospects in the assembly elections. For, as there was no chance of the BJP getting Muslim votes, it had nothing to lose by opposing the quota for minorities, which would essentially benefit the backward Muslims. Moreover, the party believed that quota politics could help it to consolidate its voter base among the upper castes, who traditionally sided with either the BJP or the Congress (The Hindu 13 January 2012). Interestingly, the Muslims were not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the decision. For instance, the Peace Party, a new entrant in the political horizon of UP which posed a potential threat to the SP,



BSP and the Congress with respect to Muslim votes, described the decision as the ‘biggest betrayal of Muslims since Independence’ (The Hindu 23 December 2012). The stance of the Peace Party appeared to reflect the position of a large number of Muslim voters in UP. While they rejected the Congress, regarding the sub-quota as its ‘political gimmick’, they also moved away from the BSP. It has been alleged that Mayawati government let loose a wave of harassment against Muslim youth by the Hindutva forces in the state. A section of the Muslim population also feared that the BJP might attempt to capture power by exploiting the sub-quota issue in order to prompt the mobilisation of the upper castes and the OBCs. They somehow came to believe that SP would protect their interests, and this resulted in the shifting of loyalties by a good percentage of Muslim voters from the BSP and Congress to the SP. Unmistakably, it was this shift that led to the BSP’s debacle and the victory of the SP in the elections. The BSP’s chief, Mayawati, had more clarity on this shift and its impact on the outcome of the assembly elections than anyone else. She agreed that ‘About 70 per cent of the Muslim vote was transferred to the SP, which also gained from the support of the OBCs and upper castes’, this in turn, ‘led to the victory of Muslim candidates entered by the SP in constituencies where the minority community exercised a domineering influence over the poll outcome’ (Atik Khan 2012a). To sum up, it may be said that the history of the BSP in UP is complex, but it must also be accepted that political power in Dalit hands changed the social fabric of UP forever. While in government, the BSP managed to implement programmes for village betterment and empowerment that ultimately benefited not only Dalits, but all communities. It took strong action against known anti-social elements aligned to powerful political forces. Despite media and upper-caste criticism and even hostility, it went through with its creation of ‘Ambedkar Parks’ on public land along with the installation of statues of Ambdekar and BSP leaders. Whatever may be said about excess expenditure and use of taxpayer money, the parks have led to a democratisation of public places. For the first time in the long history of India, the country has public monuments dedicated exclusively to the Dalit struggle and achievements, thus helping to instil a sense of pride in the Dalit population. The BSP succeeded to a significant extent in destroying the ideologies and structures of caste and also in democratising the upper-caste-centred public spaces and political power.



Overview of Dalit politics in UP

As a general conclusion to the UP section of this volume, it may be legitimately said that Dalit social and political activities revolved around the caste axis and consciousness even during the colonial period, as the Adi Hindu movement amply proves, rather than a Hindu–Muslim cleavage. As part of that movement Dalits not only demanded social equality, but also claimed a share in the emerging political power structure. Remarkable as it may seem, it was the Dalits in UP that first demanded a share in political power. Sudha Pai’s argument that Dalit consciousness in colonial UP was delayed due to a lack of sociopolitical activities on a par with Dalits in other parts of India must be dismissed as being without basis. As established in the second chapter, in the post-independence period, the continuing of brutal discriminatory practices and violence against the Dalits by the upper castes provided the context for Dalits to take up politics by floating a political party that could fight for the causes of the oppressed communities. Succeeding Congress governments have been at the forefront in taking advantage of the Dalit political reservation, both in the states and in parliament, but they have not used their power for the emancipation of Dalits from their appalling socio-economic conditions. Dalits’ support for the BSP did not come about on account of disproportional representation, but on the grounds of programmes and activities initiated by the party to secure equality, respect and dignity for the Dalit constituency. The BSP, as it developed its strategic thinking in the face of electoral politics, realised the need for alliances. The Shudra-based SP appeared at first to be the natural ally for the Dalit-based BSP. The two even formed a coalition government in 1993. However, the alliance between the two parties lasted only about a year and a half. While there may have been personality clashes between the leadership of the parties, the fundamental reasons for the break-up go far deeper. The sociopolitical agenda, social domination and exclusive political power of the Shudra led SP go against the social justice agenda – horizontalisation of vertical social order and democratisation of undemocratic political order – of the BSP. When the BSP came to power on its own in 2009, it took some significant measures to actualise that agenda and to improve the socio-economic conditions of Dalits as well as other citizens. Various BSP programmes showed that a Dalitbased party actually acts differently, not just for the emancipation of its constituency, but also for the improvement of the general public. In the next section of the book, we will turn to the Dalit experiences 140


and activities in AP and assess whether they are different from those of Dalits in UP.

Notes 1 On the BSP’s history, see Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 218–37; Pai 2002: 72–111; Jaffrelot 2003: 387–425. 2 The term ‘bahujan’, literally, ‘the many’, or ‘majority of people’, means the masses ‘who have been devoid of humanity for centuries’ in contrast to ‘a handful who take their pleasure for granted, call themselves superior and live at the cost of the masses’. The term arose in 1906 in the context of the Satya Shodhak movement in Maharashtra. Excluded from bahujans are ‘not merely the Brahmins, but also the educationally advanced castes as well as the merchant castes’. The concept has a class content as it ‘tends to exclude the aristocratic and wealthy among non-Brahmins’, though if the upper classes come from a primarily peasant or poor non-Brahmin castes, they may identify themselves ‘in terms of their social roots’ and a culture of sentiments as part of the Bahujan Samaj (Omvedt 1976: 4). Although I do not have any problems with this broad definition of the term, I wanted to use it in the popularly and academically agreed or understood definition of the term. In recent years, the term has come to be equated with either the Shudra category or the OBC category. 3 Mayawati assumed the position of Chief Minister of UP for the first time in 1995, and in 2007, she attained that position again, for the fourth time. The details of the tenures of the BSP under Mayawati’s leadership are: (1) 3 June 1995 to 18 October 1995; (2) 21 March 1997 to 21 September 1997; (3) 3 May 2002 to 29 August 2003; and (4) 13 May 2007 to 7 March 2012. 4 A number of scholars clearly demonstrated the substantial entanglement of caste and class. For an analysis on this congruence, see Sharma, K. L. (ed.), 1994. 5 For a range of discussions and debates on the nature of BSO and Dalit intellectual arguments, see Dalit Voice: The Voice of the Persecuted Nationalities Denied Human Rights. A fortnightly magazine, published from Bangalore and New Delhi since 1981, see http://www.dalitvoice.org. 6 Researcher’s observations during the SP political rally in Banda, 20 March 2004; also see, Pradeep Kumar 1999: 822–6. 7 In writing about the political alliance between the SP and BSP and subsequent failure of their coalition government, I have relied upon the work of Pai 2002: 162–9, and also upon my interviews among the Muslims in Banda city in March 2005. 8 While examining the contemporary conflicts between the Backward Castes and Dalits, especially in south India, many observers have stressed the economic factor as the chief reason behind such conflicts. For instance, a sympathetic commentator observes: ‘Shrinking opportunities for even agricultural work in the rural areas and the restricted opportunities in the urban or service sectors may yet mean that the cleavages along castes lines will still be deployed in the struggle for altogether slim



9 10

11 12



15 16

pickings’. Although the economic factor is an important factor in the conflicts between Shudras and Dalits, one cannot simply underestimate the caste element in such conflicts. For instance, a Shudra agricultural labourer might resort to fighting a Dalit agricultural labourer without hesitation, but he would think twice about engaging in a fight with either a Brahmin agricultural farmer or a Thakur farmer. My interviews in Mohaba with Dalit and Shudra labourers during my field work in UP in 2004 and 2005. I borrowed this aspect of the debate from Bajpai 2006: 326–39. Leaders of the Janata Dal ( JD) repeatedly reiterated that quotas in government jobs were a means neither of securing basic material needs nor for improving economic wellbeing. For instance, V. P. Singh, the leading ideologue and architect of the politics of social justice, saw in reservations the potential for ‘changing the social order’ and creating a ‘constituency of the backward, poor and vulnerable sections’ to reverse the ‘adverse bias in the socio-economic and political system against the weaker sections’ (see Bajpai 2006: 327). For a discussion on the differences in reservations for the Dalits and OBCs, see Kondaveeti 1995: 236–7. It must be established here that many so-called backward and middle castes, especially Jats and Yadavs, do not consider themselves socially inferior to any other castes. In fact, these groups assert their superior social status vis-à-vis Dalits, and simultaneously used their backwardness in relation to upper castes in order to gain the facilities and benefits of reservations. Ram Manohar Lohia, one of the towering personalities of the Indian socialist movement, proposed 60 per cent of administrative jobs to be reserved for the lower castes. With this proposal, he also advocated the idea of dislodging the upper castes from positions of power and administration. ‘I think that the dwijas, in special conditions, should not get government services’ (Lohia in Jadha 1982: 37–8). Although Ram Manohar Lohia’s proposal of dislodging the upper castes from positions of power was informed by certain strategic calculations, such as empowerment of the lower castes, and was the result of the nature of caste system and inequalities, the notion of social justice for the OBCs appears to be informed by Lohia’s advocacy. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the first politician to advocate the empowerment of the OBCs on the principle of the exclusion of upper castes, and inclusion of Muslims and Dalits in a coalition to fight the upper castes (Hasan 1998: 172). Since its formation in 1984, the BSP has been claiming ‘Ambedkarism’ as its ideology and ‘social justice’ as its ideological vision. From this claim, one would understand that social justice forms part of Ambedkarism. However, the party has been using both terms interchangeably. Until and unless specified, I shall also be using the two terms in similar fashion. Interview with Sunil Kumar, 13 March 2004, Charbagh, Lucknow. Kanshiram was not the first person to theorise on the horizontal mobilisation and horizontal social order. Earlier, Ram Manohar Lohia, a renowned socialist leader, spoke about horizontal mobilisation of the lower castes. In his The Caste System,




18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27


29 30 31



34 35

he argued for the mobilisation of the lower castes on issues of social justice (Lohia 1964; Sheth 1999, passim 10, p. 2510). http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view= article&id=3894:new-delhi-journal-a-call-to-the-downtrodden-break-downthe-door&catid=124:research&Itemid=140 (accessed on 13 January 2013). Based on the presence of this researcher at several rallies and public meetings of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh during 2004–05. Interview with Ajay Kumar, Lucknow, 13 March 2004. Interview with Surendar Singh, a Chamar by caste and manager of a computer centre in Lucknow, 16 December 2004. Interview with Raj Bhupal, Jhansi, 20 March 2004. Interview with Pradeep Gautham, a BSP worker, Banda, 18 December 2004. For Ambedkar’s arguments against caste system and his ideas on the annihilation of caste, see Ambedkar 1971 [1936]. Interview with Gaya Charan Dinakar at his residence in Baberu, 21–23 March 2004. Author’s interview with Ram Kishore Varma, 14 March 2004, Lucknow. See, Duncan I. 1999: 35–60. The total number of Lok Sabha seats prior to the bifurcation of UP into Uttaranchal (later on, Uttarakhand) and Uttar Pradesh was 85; after the bifurcation, while the Uttarakhand got 5 Lok Sabha seats, the rest remained with UP. I am surprised at the sudden urge on the part of caste Hindu academics, working under the veil of left-wing intellectualism, to comment on the installation of Ambedkar statues. I wonder why they did not write anything earlier when Ambedkar statues were being demolished and humiliated by the caste Hindu mob. For a critical assessment of Ambedkar’s ‘State Socialism’, see Omvedt 1994: 231–40. Interviews with Ram Kishore Varma at Atarra (Banda district) on 15 March 2004 and with Surendra Pal in Chitrakoot on 17 March 2004. Susheel Kumar Misra, a 65-year-old Brahmin, told me that he always thought that he would die without seeing a road in his village. Now, he is happy that Behenji built a daambar (tar) road. Interview with Mishra on 23 March 2004 at Mahoba. Until and unless cited separately, my information on the BSP government’s achievements and failures comes from The Hindu, 13 May 2010, Bangalore, p. 25; Singh, Shyam. 2010: 77–81. IAY is funded jointly by the central and state governments. While the former covers 75 per cent of the total expenditure, the latter covers the remaining 25 per cent. Of course, this is not true in all cases of caste Hindu violence against Dalits. There are incidences where the police stood firmly to protect Dalits. While in Jehrana village, two Dalit families were murdered, in Hasanpur village, three children and two women of Dalit background were murdered in broad daylight (see, Rajalakshmi, T.K. ‘Castes and Killings’. Frontline, Vol. 18(14), 2001).



36 However, none of my interviewees, especially the Dalit activists and Dalit lawyers in Lucknow and Banda, agree with this allegation. They insist that a majority (more than 85 per cent) of the complaints are genuine. Field interviews in November 2004. 37 Interviews with Raghuvamsi Tripathi and Sushil Kumar Thakur in Jalaun on 10–11 June 2005. 38 Interviews with Ravi Ranjan in Banda on 5 June 2005.



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4 MAKING CLAIMS FOR SOCIAL EQUALITY AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION Dalit activism in Telugu country, 1917–50 In the early part of the 20th century, Dalits in Telugu country were united in terms of their demand for respect, social equality and political power under the banners of the Adi Andhra Mahajana Sabha in coastal Andhra districts of the Madras Presidency, and the Adi Hindu Social Service League in the Nizam’s Hyderabad State. Through these associations, they rejected imposed social identities, including the one introduced by the Panchama or fifth caste concept. By claiming the Adi identity, they not only contested Brahmanical Hinduism, and thereby, the caste-based social system, but more importantly, sought to reconstruct a society based on social equality, dignity and respect for individuals. Later in the century, Telugu Dalits found themselves dragged into divergent national and regional political forces, especially into the politics of Gandhi and his Congress, the Communist Party and also the activism of Ambedkar from the late 1930s. As seen in Chapter 1, during this time, Dalits in Uttar Pradesh (UP) also organised themselves around the ideology of Adi Hinduism. Through that ideology, they critiqued Brahmanical Hinduism and discrimination against them in the socio-economic spheres in UP. Although Dalit activism in both the United Provinces and the Telugu belts expressed similar concerns – social equality, respect and opportunities in the economic and political domains – there was a subtle difference between the two. The Adi Hindus of UP were not eager to be part of the Hindu fold; in fact, their ideology, activism and politics were based on and revolved around their being separate from the caste Hindus and they continued to insist upon their own distinctive identity and interests. Dalits in the Telugu country, on the contrary, always wished to be part of the Hindu fold; the result was that they followed the Harijan path laid down by Gandhi and his Congress, in both colonial and postcolonial Andhra Pradesh (AP).



The present chapter has been divided into three main sections. The first section examines Dalit politics from 1917 to the early 1930s in the coastal Andhra region; the second focuses on the princely state of Hyderabad during the same period. This examination tries to show how Dalits contested the idea of nationalism by conceptualising a society and a nation based on equality, dignity and self-respect. A comparative analysis of Dalit activism in both these regions is carried out in the third section of this chapter. Before proceeding further, some clarifications regarding political and geographic boundaries of the Telugu country would be in order. During the colonial era, the Telugu country was divided between the British-ruled Madras Presidency and the Nizam-ruled princely state of Hyderabad. The Telugu-speaking areas in Madras Presidency comprised seven districts of coastal Andhra region (Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Ongole, Guntur and Nellore) and four districts of Rayalaseema region (Kurnool, Cuddapah, Chittoor and Ananthapur). These were (and are) two disparate regions. The Rayalaseema region was (and is) known for its continuous droughts and the resultant backwardness, which has rightly earned the region the epithet, kshamaseema, ‘the stalking ground of famines’. Coastal Andhra, however, was a picture in contrast, with heightened economic energy because of major irrigation schemes across the Krishna and Godavari rivers and the subsequent commercialisation of agriculture; it was primarily in this economically dynamic region, as well as in the Nizam-ruled Hyderabad state that Dalit activism took place.

For respect and equality: Dalit activism in coastal Andhra As noted in Chapter 1, at the conjuncture of the ebbing of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th century, while Brahmins and other upper-caste Hindus were ‘inventing’ an India with the Aryan theme as a tool to claim their superiority over the rest of the Indians, Dalits and other lower castes were using a similar theme for claiming an authenticity and legitimacy for ruling over the country. For them, the golden age of the subcontinent was the pre-Aryan epoch, in which ‘social equality was presumed to have flourished and society on the whole was organised on fraternal and democratic lines’ (Aloysius 1997: 164). In the southern part of India, the pre-Aryan era was conceptualised as the Dravidian and Adi Dravidian civilisation. For instance, considering the Sangam Age as pre-Aryan, Tamils believed that in that era there was no caste/ varna system and the present lower castes and untouchables were free 148


men, owners of land and rulers of the people. The ideology of the Adi Dravida extended throughout the southern peninsula into Adi Kerala, Adi Andhra and Adi Kannadiga. It has been noted that during the same period in northern India, particularly in the United Provinces and Punjab, pre-Aryanism was expressed as Adi Hinduism and Adi Dharmism, respectively. Interestingly, despite expressing Dalit concerns in both the regions through the Adi movements, Dalits differed from each other in one fundamental aspect. While the Dalits in northern India claimed a separate origin and identity and insisted upon their separateness from the caste Hindu society, the Dalits in south India, especially in coastal Andhra, despite claiming a separate origin and social identity, did not assert their separateness. Rather, they always insisted upon being part of Hindu society. Such insistence, in turn, decided not only the tone, but also the trajectory of Dalit activism and politics in coastal Andhra. Education and the growth of Dalit consciousness: Prior to the introduction of Western education by colonial rulers, every region in India had its own system of indigenous education. The system of pathasaala was prevalent in Telugu-speaking areas, in which the schools were generally located in agraharams (Brahmin localities) and the students were taught by Brahmin gurus. Education in these schools was nothing but the recitation of Vedas, Upanishads and other Brahmanical Hindu texts. Moreover, access to them was strictly confined to the Brahmins and other upper-caste Hindu children. The children of lower-caste Shudras, Adivasi communities and Dalits were barred even from entering them. The monopoly of the Brahmins as well as the exclusion of Dalits from pathasaalas is confirmed by a survey ordered by Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras Presidency (1820–1827). According to this survey, there were as many as 12,488 schools and 188,000 students in a population of 12,850,941 – roughly 1 school per 1,000 persons and 1 student per 67 persons (Dharampal 1983: 248–51). Further, it was also found that education was completely under the control of the Brahmin teachers. Even among the students, Brahmins comprised 60 to 75 per cent, far outnumbering the non-Brahmin castes (Frykenberg 1986: 44). The books used in these institutions were either directly derived from the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas or other epic literature (Yagati 2007: 47, passim 23).1 One of the most striking findings of the survey was the complete exclusion of Dalits and lower-caste Shudras. However, this situation changed with the efforts of the Christian missionaries, the colonial state and Hindu social reformers. A number of schools for Dalit boys and girls were opened throughout the province. Education not only raised the consciousness of the Dalits about their inhuman social conditions and appalling economic 149


situation, but also provided them with new ideas, hopes, employment opportunities and, thus, new possibilities. (a) The Christian missionaries’ association with Telugu-speaking areas goes back to the 15th century, when two Jesuit priests began working for the emancipation of Dalits in Chandragiri in Chittoor district (Ramaswamy 1974a: 1958–64). From the early 19th century onwards, missionaries started schools for the Dalits throughout Madras Presidency.2 And it was Alexander Duff of the Church of Scotland Mission who spearheaded education among the Dalits in the Telugu-speaking areas. He was primarily interested in evangelism and believed that Western education and values imparted by the missionaries through their schools could be used as an effective instrument for conversion (Richter 1908: 192–3, cited in Yagati 2003: 67). Yet, it must be noted that the missionaries did not practise any form of discrimination in the matter of admission to the schools. As a result, while Dalits availed of this opportunity by sending their children to these schools, the upper castes did not send their children when they found that Duff was against caste-based segregation of pupils in his classrooms (Dirks 2001: 131). Interestingly, the consequent exclusion of upper-caste children from the schools was an advantage for the lower-caste children, especially Dalits. Such children could better focus on their lessons without interference from Brahmins and other upper-caste pupils and their hurtful casteist behaviour. By the end of 19th century, nearly 20 mission societies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, were working for the cause of the Dalits in the Telugu districts. Dalits, who were discriminated against by the upper castes, were naturally attracted to the educational initiatives of the Christian missionaries, and in due course of time, a large number of them converted to Christianity (Fishman 1941; Manor 1971: 27–41; Dirks 2001: 127–48). The Brahmins and other upper-caste Hindus were alarmed by this trend: Dalits getting educated and also converting to Christianity. Although they could not come up with any substantial arguments against education for Dalits, they did question the conversion. Sneering at converts as the ‘rice Christians’, they claimed that conversions were motivated by material interests rather than the ideals of Christianity. They even launched the Crescent newspaper in 1844 to defend, ‘rights and privileges of the Hindu community’ (Suntharalingam 1967: 237). Interestingly, the missionaries did not deny that the Dalits converted to Christianity out of material considerations. For instance, Robert Caldwell of Tinnevelly mission admitted that the lower castes initially came to Christianity for protection and aid. Laying bare his views about Dalits, he asserted: 150


I cannot imagine any person who has lived and worked amongst uneducated heathens in the rural districts believing them to be influenced by high motives in anything they do. If they place themselves under Christian instructions, the motive power is not theirs, but ours . . . They will learn what good motives mean, I trust, in time – and perhaps high motives too – if they remain long enough under Christian teaching and discipline; but till they discard heathenism, with its debasing idolatries and superstitions, and place themselves under the wings of the Church, there is not the slightest chance, as it appears to me, of their motives becoming better than they are. (Reminiscences of Bishop Caldwell, quoted in Dirks 2001: 135) Given the motives of the missionaries as well as the converted Dalits, there can be no denying that the work of the former among the latter was indeed commendable. For instance, during 1876–79, when the Madras Presidency was struck with famine, missionaries rendered extraordinary services among the Dalits who were the worst-hit. It was during such times that the Dalits could truly perceive the contrast in the way that caste Hindus and the missionaries treated them. While the former dealt with them as if they were a grade lower than animals, the missionaries treated them with dignity, kindness and, most importantly, as equals. Not surprisingly, many Dalits were overwhelmed by the material help and the human dignity accorded to them, and eventually embraced Christianity. According to one estimate, nearly 20 per cent of the Dalits in West Godavari, 32 per cent in Krishna and 57 per cent in Guntur districts had converted to Christianity in 1931 (Forrester 1991: 65–93). The work of Christian missionaries changed the Dalits in three fundamental ways. First, they became aware of the injustice of their social and economic conditions and of the inequalities in the ritual hierarchy of the Hindus. Second, conversion helped them to reject their lowly place in Hindu society and, thus, to shed imposed social identities. As Christians, they affirmed a new social and religious identity, which did not depend on acceptance and recognition by the caste Hindus and led to significant alterations in behaviour, occupations and enhancement of status (Pickett 1933: 128–9). Finally, those Dalits that remained within the fold of Hinduism began to realise that the dogma of untouchability, which had been used to justify their miserable condition, was false and was not upheld by the missionaries or the British government (Farquhar 1914: 368). Moreover, the work of the missionaries among the Dalits shamed the colonial 151


rulers as well as the upper castes and focussed their attention on the problems of the Dalits. (b) The Colonial State: The Brahmin monopoly over the education system in India began to break down when the colonial rulers introduced Western education through the medium of English, in which the right of every individual to education was officially promoted. In their dispatch of 5 May 1854, the Board of Directors argued that ‘no boy be refused admission to a Government college or school merely on the grounds of caste’ (Frykenberg 1986: 45). However, even though the principle of equal access to education was reiterated by the colonial government on several occasions, such affirmations remained mostly confined to official files. In reality, the old dominant sections of society managed to monopolise the new opportunities generated (Seal 1968: 11, 38–97; Brown 1984: 77), and thus, Dalits continued to be excluded from the schools. Moreover, the colonial government succumbed to the pressures of the upper castes and made compromises under the pretext that no principle, however sound, could be forced upon an unwilling society in defiance of social and religious sentiments. At the same time, when Christian missionaries voiced strong criticism against the government’s apathy towards the downtrodden, the colonial government initiated a few measures for the education of Dalits. For instance, following the recommendations of the Hunter Commission of 1882, the government initiated separate schools (popularly referred to as the Panchama schools) for the Dalits. It offered financial assistance in the form of grants-in-aid, scholarships for the children and allotment of public land to construct proper schools (Vaikuntam 1982: 181). Further, in 1893, the Madras government came up with a series of proposals, which were hailed as the Magna Carta of Panchama education. Some of the important measures recommended by the government were: establishment of special schools by local boards and municipalities for Dalits in all villages where they were in considerable number; allotment of government wastelands for Dalit schools; opening of night schools for Dalit labourers, special scholarships and provision for slates, books, and furniture in grant-in-aid schools, and so on. Educational opportunities for Dalits were further opened up by the colonial government in 1918–19, when it issued instructions that the schools be shifted from agraharams (Brahmin localities) to other places which the Dalits could easily gain access and that new schools were to be constructed only in localities certified as being accessible to the Dalits (Yagati 2003: 73–74). The results of these efforts were tremendous. Between 1919–20 and 1936–37, schools for the Dalits increased by 42.2 per cent, while the 152


strength of the students went up by 180 per cent. This was an impressive change, and yet, it must be noted that, compared to the total population, only 7.52 per cent among Dalit boys and 1.65 per cent among the Dalit girls benefited from school education (figures were cited in Satyanarayana 2005: 63–4). Whatever the limitations of the colonial state’s efforts in promoting education among Dalits, these efforts significantly changed the lives of the Dalits forever. First, the Dalits were introduced to the letter, which was denied to them by the local state operating on the principles of the caste system. Second, for the first time, Dalits were introduced to the language of rights (for instance, access to education as a basic right of every individual) and the principles of equality, such as equality before the law. Thus, it legitimised their status as human beings and their entitlement to social respect and dignity in society. (c) Caste Hindu Reforms: From the late 19th century onwards, the caste Hindu society, especially the Brahmins in the Telugu belt, began to respond to the criticisms of the Christian missionaries against the Hindu religion and social practices of caste Hindus. Those who responded can broadly be divided into two groups: conservatives and social reformers. The conservatives stood for the preservation of the caste system, including the practice of untouchability, as ancient tradition sanctioned by the holy scriptures and by divine dispensation. The reformers, who were influenced by Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj, urged their fellow caste Hindus to do away with the practice of untouchability and discrimination against the Dalits. They did not, however, advocate annihilation of the caste system – the system that was the root cause for differential treatment and the practice of untouchability. It may be noted here that, while in UP, the source of criticism against the practice of untouchability was mainly the Arya Samaj, in the Telugu belt, besides the Arya Samaj, a number of social reformers from caste Hindu backgrounds persistently attacked the practice of untouchability and caste-based discrimination. They also opened several schools and hostels exclusively for Dalit boys and girls. Precisely on account of this engagement of caste Hindu reformers with the Dalit issue, the Dalits’ critique against upper-caste discrimination against them in AP was not as intense as in UP. Importantly, with the upper caste going soft, the Dalits were also co-opted into the Congress and Communist parties as Harijans, indirectly setting the ground for the dependent politics of the Dalits in later years. Two people who worked for education of the Dalits in coastal Andhra during the early part of the 19th century were Kandukuri 153


Veeresalingam (1848–1919)3 and Raghupathi Venkata Ratnam Naidu (1862–1939) (Kesava Narayana 1976; Vakulabharanam 1993). While Naidu concentrated his efforts in Kakinada and Machilipatnam areas, Veerasalingam centred his activities in Rajahmundry and northern Circar districts. The Maharaja of Pithapuram financially supported Veeresalingam’s efforts, and so, a high school and two separate hostels for Dalit boys and girls could be established in Rajahmundry. The Maharaja also sponsored the Ram Manohar Roy Hostel in Kakinada for college-going Dalit students. It was from these educational institutions that the first-generation Dalit intellectuals of coastal Andhra emerged (Pamu 1976; Abbasayulu 1978: 51–2). Eventually, the foundation for the education of the Dalits laid by Veeresalingam and Naidu was further strengthened, and, in fact, effectively developed by a number of other reformers, particularly in the early 1900s. For instance, in 1907, the Andhra Deenajana Sangam was founded in Machilipatnam for the socio-economic and spiritual development of the Dalits through education. By 1924, through this organisation, 12 night schools and 9 day schools and 1 part-time school for girls in and around Machilipatnam were established. Guduru Ramachandrarao started Sevashram for Dalit children at Gudivada in 1912. S. V. Ramjirao established the Arundhati ashram for Dalit girls and Nandhanar ashram for the Dalit boys at Machilipatnam in 1912 to spread education among them (Krishna Patrika 23 March 1918: 4). Further, in 1918, under his own editorship Ramjirao launched Deenabandhu, a Telugu weekly that exclusively addressed the problem of untouchability and the issue of socio-economic development of the Dalits. Nallapati Hanumantharao established Srikrishna Ashramam in Pedapalem, Guntur district, in 1913. The main intention behind this ashramam was to reconvert those Dalits who had converted to Christianity back to Hinduism (Krishna Patrika 14 June 1924: 3). Some of the caste Hindu reformers were so committed in their efforts to ameliorate the sufferings of the Dalits that they were ready to fight with their own caste people for this cause. To take one example, Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao set up a school in Yalakurru Agraharam, his native village in Krishna district. When he began to admit Dalit children into this school, the entire Agraharam, including people who were sympathetic to the Dalit cause, opposed his action. Kasinadhuni, however, did not back down. Indeed, he stood firm for the Dalits’ education. Vemula Kurmaiah, who later went on to become one of the prominent Adi Andhra leaders, and eventually, the Congress’s Harijan leader, received his early education in this school.4 154


With this background in mind, it is important to question why the Brahmins in coastal Andhra were at the forefront in ‘reforming’ the Dalits. It was during this time, anti-Brahmin movements were being organised in western India and parts of south India, that is, in Mysore state as well as in the Tamil area of the Madras Presidency. In coastal Andhra, as a fallout of the reformer Brahmins’ concern for Dalits’ education and untouchability, the Reddys and Kammas also took up an anti-Brahmin stance. Since the Reddys and Kammas were landlords and peasants who owned thousands of acres of cultivated land in the villages, their interests lay in perpetuating the caste hierarchy, coupled with economic benefits for themselves. In effect, they were diametrically opposed to views that expressed concern for the well-being or the upliftment of the Dalits. This enmity proved to be a significant factor and explains why the Dalits distanced themselves from the non-Brahmin leaders in coastal Andhra. Further, the non-Brahmin leaders also did not evolve any cultural or ideological agenda to enlist and assimilate Dalits into their politics. On the other hand, the Brahmins, who were disengaging themselves from agricultural activities, did not have any direct conflict with the Dalits. Thus, the trajectory of caste dynamics made the Dalits get closer to the reformist Brahmins rather than the antiBrahmin, landholding Kammas, Reddys and Velamas. Certain critical developments that resulted from the British presence affected the face of rural-based traditional India forever, particularly from the late 19th century onwards. The construction of railways and canals allowed the free movement of people and goods from one locality to another; the spread of literacy and the growth of the press allowed ideas to be exchanged over greater distances; the emergence and expansion of towns as major economic, administrative and educational centres helped to integrate previously scattered localities (Srinivas 1962: 16). Dalits in coastal Andhra were also, along with other castes and communities in Madras Presidency, beneficiaries of these changes and consequent new consciousness. Moreover, as seen above, they had also benefited from the special measures undertaken by various agencies. But towards the end of the 19th century, they found themselves being left out and increasingly falling behind because of new administrative measures introduced by the colonial government and the response of the upper castes to those new initiatives. They felt the need to organise themselves as a group. Two specific events that compelled Dalits in coastal Andhra react in this way were: (a) the multiplication of caste associations and (b) the emergence of the non-Brahmin movement. From the early 1900s, the Madras Presidency witnessed the mushrooming of caste-based associations and mobilisation by the upper castes 155


and lower castes alike. At the heart of the rise of these caste associations was the introduction of the census, the growth of Western education and the recruitment of the natives to fill up bureaucratic jobs in the colonial government. First, in 1901, following the British practice of arranging whole caste clusters in the Brahmanical varna order, a number of the castes felt that they were denied their ‘rightful’ status. For instance, the wealthier Komatis were outraged by the fact that they were denied Vaishya status. In 1907, they founded the Arya Vaishya Mahasabha and organised many agitations against the decision of the Census Commissioner (Washbrook 1975: 154). Second, the political leadership of the Brahmins was, as argued by Arnold (1977: 18), based on their ‘near-monopoly of western education and profession’, as well as being supported by their landed wealth and traditional social authority. The non-Brahmin landlords, farmers and traders, who were previously disinterested in Western education and the government professions, were beginning to realise their economic as well as political advantages. Of course, it was not easy for the educated non-Brahmins to intrude into these professions. ‘To succeed in these, they needed to develop the broader patterns of social linkages which could provide investment for education and contact for preferment . . . Young educated Kammas or Reddys required boosts of patronage and support if they were to get into the professions and senior administration’ (Washbrook 1975: 176). One way of obtaining the required patronage and support was ‘by appealing back to caste myths and identities and by trying to strengthen their ritual connection with their caste’ (ibid.). Thus, we find the emergence of the Kamma Mahajana Sabha under the leadership of Oxford-educated N. G. Ranga in 1910. This association was financed by the zamindars of Chellapalle and Muktiala, both of whom belonged to the Kamma caste. Reddys also, under the leadership of Cambridge-educated Ramalinga Reddy and London-educated Koti Reddy, found the Reddy Mahajana Sabha in 1914. This association was funded by Reddy zamindars from Wanaparthy and Munagala (Sudarshan Reddy 1986).5 Thus, the whole idea behind the mobilisation of the non-Brahmins around caste identities was to transform themselves into pressure groups and, thereby, ‘win from the government educational concessions, public appointments and nomination to local boards and legislatures’ (Arnold 1977: 19). Second, in Chapter 1, following Aloysius, I argued that for the Brahmins and the non-Brahmin landed gentry, the struggle for independence was about the transfer of political power from the colonial rulers to the natives, but also for achieving greater power within the caste Hindu group. In south India, particularly in Madras Presidency, while Brahmins 156


were mobilising around the ideology of nationalism, non-Brahmins were mobilising around the ideology of Dravidianism and non-Brahmanism. In Telugu districts, the non-Brahmin landed castes, particularly Reddys, Kammas, Velamas and Rajus – despite differences among them – united under the ideology of Telugu nationalism against the domination of the Brahmins (Harrison 1960). One event that animated all communities, Brahmins, non-Brahmins, including Dalits, and Muslim masses across the country, was the British government’s announcement on 20 August 1917 of its intention to increase Indian participation in the governance of the country, just before the end of World War I. It was made clear that representation would be sought from groups at all levels in the social and caste hierarchy. Following this announcement, both Brahmins and the non-Brahmin upper castes competed against each other to win Dalits’ support, and as part of this support-seeking gimmick, they began to condemn the practice of untouchability and initiated a number of measures to uplift Dalits socially and economically. Specifically, the South Indian Liberal Federation, better known as the Justice Party, which was formed in 1916 in Madras, claimed to represent the interests of all non-Brahmins in the presidency, including Muslims, Christians and Dalits. They also demanded representation for non-Brahmins, including Dalits, in all representative bodies and public appointments. These relatively radical ideas and assertions of the Justice Party in the Brahmin-dominated polity and society attracted many nonBrahmin castes and communities into its fold. Dalit leaders such as M. C. Rajah from Madras initially extended their supported to the Justice Party. After its success in the 1920 municipal elections, the Justice Party used its position in the legislative council in Madras to bring a series of resolutions that aimed to give non-Brahmins a greater proportion of government jobs. Dirks discusses two government orders that were promulgated in 1921 and 1922. While the first order directed district collectors and other local officials to be attentive to the subject of the distribution of appointments among various castes and communities, the second order echoed the attitude of the government in its resolve to give preference to non-Brahmin and other ‘backward’ communities in its recruitments (Dirks 2001: 241). Undoubtedly, the government orders opened spaces for employment and representation in legislative bodies for non-Brahmins, a space that had hitherto been occupied and controlled by Brahmins. In practice, what happened was that the dominant non-Brahmin upper castes, such as Pillais, Mudaliars, Reddys, Kammas, Chettiyars – next to the Brahmins in the traditional caste hierarchy – appropriated the positions in 157


government recruitment and in legislative bodies. Further, despite public support for representation of Dalits and condemnation of the practice of untouchability, the leadership of the Justice Party was not genuinely concerned about Dalit issues. In October 1917, when the Adi Dravidas requested the Justice Party to support social reform and treat them as equals, it did not show much interest in mitigating the grievances of the ‘Untouchables’ (Irschik 1969: 71). The Justice Party was clearly exposed after it gained power in the Madras Legislative Council in 1921, when it abolished the labour department and refused to support antiuntouchability laws (Saraswathi 1974: 117–18). Criticising the attitude of the party leaders, M. C. Rajah observed: ‘Considered from the stand point of the depressed classes, this (Justice Party) Ministry which seemed to have begun well has been moving backwards under the influence of leaders (who are) more responsible to the vested interests, social pride and aristocratic affectation than to the principles of justice and democratic progress’.6 Thus, the Justice Party took up those issues of justice not for the uplift of the socially and politically marginalised sections, but to strengthen its own claim for communal representation and to justify its demands against Brahmins. Gradually, Dalits and other marginalised sections within the non-Brahmin category realised that the Justice Party’s call for a homogenous non-Brahmin bloc would not be of much benefit to them, for their interests were not always the same as those of the other non-Brahmin communities (Arnold 1977; V. Geeta and Rajadurai 1998). It was with this realisation that the Dalit leadership began to insist upon their choice of the appellation Adi Dravida rather than Dravida and to demand separate electorates. Dalits were clearly determined to maintain their distinct political identity rather than settle for a composite non-Brahmin persona. The inevitable result was a major rift between the oppressed and upper castes within the non-Brahmin category, and subsequently, a split in the non-Brahmin coalition. Ultimately, Dalits from both Telugu and Tamil districts in the Madras Presidency rejected the non-Brahmin leadership and its Dravidian ideology and began to articulate their concerns independently around the Adi ideology. They began to demand separate representation in the legislative council and local bodies on the basis of their distinct Adi identity. This united stand shows that the Dalit leaders in both regions were in touch with each other.7 In fact, M. C. Rajah, the secretary of the Adi Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1916, writes about the Malas and Madigas of Telugu country, particularly of East Godavari district, in his The Oppressed Hindus, published in 1925. 158


The Adi Andhra Mahajana Sabha

The year 1917 saw mobilisation of Dalits in the coastal Andhra districts under the banner of the Adi Andhra Mahajana Sabha. A statement issued just two months before the first provincial-level conference of the Depressed Classes Association, organised by Venkatapathiraju and Gangaraju Panthulu, testifies to the Dalits’ intention of organising independently on par with the other castes in the region. [A]s the feeling of nationalism is spreading, it is producing diverse movements like Sanathan Dharm movement, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Kapu, Velama and Kamma caste movements; and the recent nonBrahman movements were reflection of that consciousness. It is the same feeling which is urging us to organise Panchama Mahasabha. (Krishna Patrika, 29 September 1917: 6) Clearly, the formation of the caste-based associations and movements was equated with nationalism, and since every caste was organising, Dalits did not want to be left behind; hence, the idea of Panchama Mahasabha. Interestingly, the Panchama Mahasabha was not initiated by the Dalits in coastal Andhra. It was the brainchild of Guduru Ramachandrarao, a Brahmin social reformer from Krishna district. In association with likeminded people from the caste Hindu background, and the Dalits who were trained in the Sevashram School, Guduru called for a Dalit conference in Bezawada (the present Vijayawada), the commercial and cultural capital of coastal Andhra. While Bhagya Reddy Varma, a Dalit leader from Hyderabad, was specially invited to preside over the conference, Sunduru Venkaiah, a Dalit protégé of Guduru, chaired the reception committee of the conference. To be sure, despite the support rendered by the caste Hindu reformers, organising a Dalit conference in a society where Dalits were treated worse than animals was not an easy task. On the day of the conference, the famous Kanaka Durga temple in Bezawada was closed down, for it was feared that the Panchamas might pollute the temple by forcing their way into it. Even the hotel owners refused to provide lodging to nearly 300 delegates, comprising both Dalits and caste Hindus. The management of the town hall, which had earlier agreed to rent the hall out for the conference, refused to open the doors for the meet. Eventually, they did open the doors, following the intervention of Ayyadevara Kaleswararao, an influential Brahmin and Congress leader. Thus, despite all 159


these difficulties, the organisers of the conference succeeded in conducting their meeting (Poornachand 2000: 26). Interestingly, the conference, which was attended by 300 delegates consisting of Dalits and caste Hindu sympathisers from across the Telugu country, was a big success on account of what was expressed by the Dalits, and also because the issues raised at the conference were discussed in mainstream newspapers such as Krishna Patrika and The Hindu.8 The direction of Dalit activism under the leadership of the Adi Andhra Mahasabha could be gauged when Sundru Venkaiah, from Krishna district, spoke at the conference in Vijayawada: [W]hen the whole nation is awakening; we must come out of our slumber and assert that we are also human beings. Like everyone else, we also have a soul and body. Like other Hindus, we are also sons of this country. Many organisations are striving for the rights and self-respect of this nation like Deshiya Mahajanasabha and Andhra Mahajanasabha. Along with these organisations, it is our bounden duty to fight for self-respect and development of the Hindu country and also the Andhra belt. (ibid.: 9) In the above statement, one can see an internal as well as an external message. Internally, it is a call for Dalits to realise their selfhood; that Dalits, just like caste Hindus, are human beings, and that right to equal human selfhood should be asserted. For the caste Hindus, Dalits may have been ‘Untouchables’, but that did not mean that they were not part of India. As sons of the soil, they also bore the responsibility of protecting the self-respect and dignity of the country. The statement also contained a message for the caste Hindus: that the Dalits were no longer willing to be treated as non-humans by a casteist Hindu society, and their rights as human beings had to be respected. It also demolished the prevalent assumption that caste Hindus were the true sons of bharat mata, shouldering the responsibility of fighting for her independence, and that Dalits and other marginalised communities were primarily concerned only about themselves. The claims and assertions on the part of the Dalits amply demonstrate that, despite organising the conference at the insistence of the caste Hindu reformers, the Dalits were not acting on their behalf; rather, they were exercising their collective independent mind. But what were the main concerns and demands that came up in the conference? What were the main activities of Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha? Dalit activism and politics 160


from the early 1920s and until the early 1940s revolved mainly around two themes: identity and political representation. Adi-Andhrulu – The original inhabitants of the Telugu country: The conference was originally called ‘the First Provincial Panchama Mahajanasabha’ (Pradhamaandhra – desa Panchama Mahajanasabha). But Bhagya Reddy, who presided over the meeting, rejected the Panchama identity and argued that the term in question did not appear in either the puranas or other Hindu scriptures. The delegates agreed with Bhagya Reddy and unanimously rejected the Panchama term to embrace the term ‘Adi Andhra’. Further, on Bhagya Reddy’s suggestion, the conference was renamed the ‘First Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha’ (Abbasayulu 1979: 8). Chapter 1 discussed how, during the early part of the 1920s, Dalits from all over India were influenced by the Aryan and non-Aryan debates, and mobilised around the Adi identities. Dalits in coastal Andhra mobilised on the same ideological grounds by asserting that ‘the so called Panchamas were the original sons of the soil and rulers of the country’ (Omvedt 1994: 117–18). Tracing their origin to the pre-Aryan epoch Sundru Venkaiah claimed: ‘Once upon a time, in this country’s history, our ancestors held a great position. There were great devotees, wise men, writers, rulers, chivalrous men, and chaste virtuous women were born in our community’ (Krishna Patrika, 10 November 1917: 9). In their everyday lives, while Dalit men were treated as cowardly, Dalit women were branded as characterless. Through such mistreatment and negative characterisation, the caste Hindu society criminalised and assassinated the Dalit character on a daily basis. This, in turn, deprived Dalits of a moral character, an essential ingredient in the development of any community. In such a situation, the claiming of the Adi Andhra identity by Dalits should be seen as an act towards equipping the Dalit community with a positive identity and fortifying that identity with most sought-after high values, such as chivalry and virtuousness. Interestingly, despite claiming a separate identity, the Adi Andhra leadership was not seeking to remain outside the Hindu fold. It simply wanted to be part of it as equals, and so, sought assimilation within the Hindu social and cultural frameworks. For instance, Bhagya Reddy Varma, in his presidential address, reminded the caste Hindu society of the names of Dalit heroes of the ancient Hindu puranic traditions: Oh Hindu country! Oh Hindu dharma! You have sheltered even foreigners and treated them kindly. Oh goddess, we were born to you as elder children, why have you got us to this degrading condition? Thirty-two crores of people are living in your lap, 161


among them lakhs are running towards other religions but we are patiently looking forward to the sacred Hindu tradition. Mother, you did not get polluted in uplifting Mlechas; but in bearing your own children like us, will you get polluted? If that is true, people who were born to you such as Valmiki, Vashishta, Kapila, Matanga, Vyasa, Arundhati, . . . , many other devotees and chivalrous men, how did you make them auspicious? (Krishna Patrika, 10 November 1917: 9) Although the bharat mata (Hindu country) was kind enough to give shelter to outsiders and uplift the most barbarous Mlechas, she has been unkind towards her own elder children (Dalits) by pushing them into a condition of wretchedness due to fear of pollution. Dalits were perplexed, as some among them, such as Valmiki (a Shudra by caste, but he is revered as the Adi Kavi (the first poet) and the author of the Hindu epic, Ramayana) and Arundhati (a Dalit by caste, but revered as the faithful wife by all Hindus), were considered as heroes and revered as most auspicious people, while other Dalits were considered to be abominable. In succeeding years, the wish for assimilation continued to be expressed at the annual Adi Andhra conferences that followed the first one in Vijayawada and also in writings that appeared in the early 1930s. For instance, in his Antarani-varevvaro (Who Are the Untouchables?), published in 1930,9 Jala Rangaswamy insists upon Dalits being part of the Hindu fold, despite tracing their origins to the pre-Aryan days and claiming that the Adi Andhras were the original inhabitants and rulers of the country: [T]hink of our history! How glorious it was, we stood with Aryans and helped them, take out and read the Hindu shashtras; Oh great men and devotees, great men in puranas belongs to our community, caste Hindus are still performing pujas for them. Read ancient puranas, you will understand. (Jala 1930: 5, cited in Jangam 2005: 183) There is an obvious inconsistency in Jala’s argument. On the one hand, he says that Dalits are the rulers of the country, and on the other hand, he says that the Dalits stood with the Aryans and helped them. How one could help one’s enemy to conquer one’s own lands? Jala does not offer any explanation for the reasons behind Dalits’ helping Aryans to defeat them. This contradictory argument apart, one can see that Jala, just like Bhagya Reddy Varma at the first Adi Andhra conference some 13 years 162


ago, was invoking the Hindu puranic traditions in his appeal to the caste Hindus to take Dalits into their fold and treat them as equals. After the first Adi Andhra conference, the Adi identity gained popularity among Dalits. In fact, in 1922, the Madras government issued an order to the effect that the Dalit caste names ‘Pariah’ and ‘Pallar’ in the Tamil districts be replaced with the name Adi Dravida, and the names of ‘Mala’ and ‘Madiga’ with the name Adi Andhra in the Telugu districts.10 This order mainly owes its existence to M. C. Rajah’s activism in the Madras Legislative Council. Rajah was the first Dalit leader to be nominated to the Madras Legislative Council. Partly on account of the government’s direction and partly in their own interest, some of the educated Dalits and those Dalits who were part of Adi movements in the presidency adopted Adi identities, leaving behind their traditional castes names, such as ‘Pariah’ and ‘Madiga’. Between 1921 and 1931, in the Telugu districts, there was a striking change in the number of Malas and Madigas. The Madigas, who were around 1,493,000 in 1921 were reduced to 839,000 in the 1931 Census; similarly, the Malas, who were around 737,000 in 1921, were reduced to 612,000 in 1931.11 The claiming of Adi identity by Dalits, was not only to construct a positive self-image for Dalits but also to negotiate equality and respect from the caste Hindus, so as to be part of the larger Hindu community. Dalits somehow came to believe that the main reason for their deplorable conditions and the stigma of untouchability against them was their own social and cultural practices. So, self-reforming was the only way to overcome their situation. Dalit groups even attempted to initiate a number of internal reforms by abstaining from the habits that were considered repellent by the caste Hindus, particularly the Brahmins. The caste Hindu reformers identified alcohol consumption, eating meat (particularly beef), animal sacrifice and unhygienic habits such as not bathing or not keeping houses clean, the use of obscene language, smoking and illiteracy as the primary evils that Dalits were steeped in. The Adi Andhra leadership preached about the Arya Samaj’s Shuddhi programme among their fellow Dalits. For instance, Rayudu Gangaiah, who was a Mala by caste and influenced by the teachings of the Arya Samaj, started Eluru Nimna jatiyoddharana (Eluru Society for the Upliftment of the Untouchables). Through this organisation, Rayudu tried to spread education among Dalits and also attempted to reconvert Dalit Christians to Hinduism. Incidentally, Rayudu, along with Athili Suryanarayana, was elected secretary to the second state-level Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha that was organised on 20 March 1921 in Eluru (Jangam 2004: 161). 163


The Adi Andhra leadership also produced a great body of literature in the form of poetry, songs, bhajans, pamphlets and essays in order to condemn the bad habits and practices and also to urge Dalits to renounce such habits as beef-eating and animal sacrifice (Kusuma 1930, 1933; Nakka 1935). Indeed, the Dalit leadership was so obsessed with internal reforms so as to gain acceptance from the caste Hindu society that it went to the extent of arguing that renouncing beef would be a precondition for asking for rights and equality with others in Hindu society. For instance, Jala Rangaswamy, who wrote Mala Shuddi (Cleanliness of Malas), stated: Let us first abolish all evil practices and ask for rights. In the morning you go out for work and come back and ask for food. You do not even wash your hands and feet but will sit to eat. Before eating you do not even pray to God. You come out smoking tobacco and exhale smoke like a machine amidst people. Otherwise, you will eat and swallow same tobacco. You never take bath; once a year you will bathe. How long will you lead such an ignorant life? At least now you get awakened. (Jala 1930a: 6–7, quoted in Jangam 2005: 180) For Rangaswamy, whose ideas and ideals originally came from the Rajahmundry ashrams, not bathing daily, not combing one’s hair, smoking and chewing tobacco, eating beef, consuming alcohol and sleeping late into the day were degenerative practices among Dalits. But he did not realise that in his assumptions on so-called good or bad habits, he was influenced by the Brahmanical notions of purity and pollution. He also did not realise that some of the cultural habits of his people were shaped by their work culture, and by demeaning them, he was actually humiliating his own people. Of course, despite such self-deprecating arguments, the Adi Andhra leadership clearly saw how the caste Hindus, in the name of nationalism, were trying to appropriate the emerging political power for themselves alone. The Dalit leadership rejected the nationalism preached by the upper castes and placed a firm demand for their share of political power. As noted earlier, the publication of the Montague–Chelmsford Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms on 2 July 1918 stirred a debate throughout India on the question of representation (Irschick 1969; Baker 1976). Although Dalits in the Tamil-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency were actively involved in the debate for Dalit representation, the Dalits in coastal Andhra were silent about political reforms. It may be that they 164


were under the assumption that their caste Hindu patrons, who were also the leaders of the Congress Party, would take care of their political needs. However, during the first Adi Andhra conference, they urged the government to nominate the Adi Andhras to the Legislative Council and other representative bodies of the government (Abbasayulu 1978: 37). Similarly, of the several resolutions that were passed on 11 May 1921 during the district-level convention of the Krishna district branch of Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha, two were important: (a) urging the government not to appoint ‘non-panchamas’(non-Dalits), particularly Christians and nonBrahmins, as representatives of the Adi Andhras; (b) not to take into account education and property while selecting representatives for the legislative council, taluk and labour boards. Generally, such criteria proved to be a major stumbling block for the illiterate Adi Andhras. So, they urged the government to make a special provision that would allow the entry of Dalits into representative bodies without financial standing (Krishna Patrika 24 May 1921: 9–10). The first resolution seeking the exclusion of Dalits who had converted to Christianity from the representative bodies reflected the emerging confrontations between the Dalits who continued to adhere the broader Hindu social and religious framework and those who had turned their backs to it. In turn, this attitude, of course, reflected the Adi Andhra leadership’s close ties with the caste Hindus, who opposed Christianity and Dalit Christian converts. At the same time their rejection of non-Brahmin representation of Dalits pointed to a radical assertion by Dalits: that they were capable of representing themselves. Another aspect that the Dalits were concerned about was the question of nationalism. From the numerous Dalit writings between the 1920s and 1940s, it was clear that they preferred social equality to political freedom; for real freedom for them was freedom from caste oppression, the elimination of untouchability and freedom from economic exploitation. Freedom also meant social dignity, respect and equal citizenship. The ideology of nationalism that was espoused by the caste Hindus, particularly from platforms such as the Congress Party, with its anti-colonial rhetoric, did not take cognizance of the Dalit understanding of freedom. Moreover, the caste Hindus’ imagined notion of nationalism, was, for Dalits, ‘a peremptory call to reinforce and re-establish the Varna ideology of discrimination against the lower classes’ (Aloysius 1997: 164). Kusuma Dharmanna was the first Dalit intellectual in the Telugu region to challenge the nationalism of the caste Hindus and advocate an alternative notion of nationalism from a Dalit perspective. Interestingly, unlike many of his contemporary Dalit activists, Kusuma was not a product of the Brahmin reformers’ sponsored ashrama schools, and so, 165


he was very sharp in his critique of Brahmanical Hinduism and nationalism. In 1922, Garimella Satyanarayana, a Brahmin by caste, wrote the famous song Maakoddee tella doratanam (We do not want this white man’s rule), which denounced British rule in India. In response to this song, Kusuma wrote a song: Maakoddee nalla doratanamu (We do not want these black men’s [upper castes’] rule), which became popular among Dalits. To quote him: Fighting the English for self-rule, they ask for independence. But they will not give us independence, they will not allow us into the temples and shrines, they will not allow us stay in choultries. they will not allow us draw water from public wells, they say, malas have no rights. Oh god! if we don’t have rights, how will they get independence? (Kusuma 1933: 10, translated by Purushotham, K. 2013: 10) By questioning the hypocritical stand of the caste Hindus, Kusuma laid the foundation for a Dalit vision of freedom. For Dalits, liberation from Brahmanical subjugation was the precondition for independence. Vagiri Amosu, another Dalit writer, viewed the Gandhi-led Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 as no more than a movement to bring back caste Hindu domination of marginalised oppressed classes: [T]hey (caste Hindus) have no ethical principle of respecting a fellow human being. We have no guarantee that we will get respect in future from such unkind people. There are many educated people in our community, how many of them will have a chance to govern the country along with caste Hindus as equals? The national movement will not offer anything for the deprived like us except wishful thinking. (Vagiri 1930: 5, quoted in Jangam 2005: 2004) As people who had suffered severe hardship at the hands of the caste Hindus for centuries, Dalits knew that their lives would not be transformed if power went to the caste Hindus in Independent India. Vagiri, in this powerful statement, was expressing their deeply felt apprehensions and concerns. 166


Yet, the questioning of Brahmanical Hinduism and the political domination of the upper castes was not as strong as that of the Adi Hindu leaders in UP, and gradually petered out. By the end of the 1920s, the ground was laid open, only to be appropriated by Gandhi’s Congress and the communists. We shall see these developments later, after examining Dalit activism in the Nizam’s Hyderabad.

For social equality and political representation: Adi Hindu activism in Hyderabad The Nizam-ruled Hyderabad State was the largest princely state in the Indian subcontinent. It consisted of nine Telugu-speaking Telangana districts (Adilababad, Hyderabad, Karimnagar, Khammam, Nalgonda, Warangal, Mehboobnagar, Medak and Nizamabad); five of Marathwada (Beed, Aurgangabad, Parbhani, Nanded and Osmanabad); and three Kannada-speaking districts (Gulbarga, Bidar and Bijapur). Of these, the Telugu-speaking districts made up 47 per cent of the total state’s population and represented the largest linguistic unit. Despite its vastness, the Hyderabad state was economically one of the most backward regions in the subcontinent, and until after World War I, the region had witnessed little development either of commercial agricultural or of industrial in nature (Omvedt 1994: 119). The backwardness of the state was mainly because of its political structure and relations with its subjects. For instance, the Nizam’s support base – ‘a class of landed gentry’ – consisted of Muslim jagirdars and Hindu deshmukhs and deshpandes belonging to the Reddy, Velama and Brahmin castes (Karli 2002: 6). This class of landed gentry inflicted untold sufferings upon the rural population, such as illegal eviction of farmers from their fields and the extraction of free goods and labour, which was known as vetti, mainly from the Dalits. While such feudal rule was repressive for all the subjects, the worst hit were the Dalits. In that respect, they were caught between traditional caste and feudal forms of subordination and ‘had little opportunities to move into freer forms of industrial or agricultural wage labour’ (ibid.: 120). As a response to these conditions, Dalits in Hyderabad and Secunderabad launched a small but vigorous movement for social equality and political representation by adopting the Adi Hindu identity since the early 1990s. The specific context in which Dalit activism in this form emerged was the complete repression of political activity in Nizam-ruled areas Although by the early 1920s, the entire Indian subcontinent was occupied in the movement for freedom from British colonial rule, the state of Hyderabad stood aloof. Even the Congress and communists could not get a toehold in the state until the late 1930s. Yet, people (particularly the 167


non-Muslims), who were charged up politically, found alternative ways of organising through religious and linguistic movements and became part of the anti-colonial struggle, a struggle that had both anti-Nizam and anti-Muslim undertones in the state. For instance, what started as the preservation and promotion of Hindu religion and culture by the Arya Samaj in Hyderabad took on a political colour and fed into the Congress movement to give it a ‘Hindu’ nationalist tenor (ibid.:120). The Muslims, who were threatened by such activities of the Arya Samaj, sought to promote an orthodox Islamic culture. The clamour, among both the Muslims and the Hindus, to promote their versions of culture, which had religious overtones, resulted in tearing down the fabric of communal harmony, and by the late 1920s, Hyderabad was witnessing frenzied communal polarisation. It was in this communal context from the early 1900s onwards that Hyderabad and Secunderabad witnessed small-scale but vigorous Dalit activity, initially for social recognition and social equality, and later on, especially since the early 1930s, for political representation. Three men at the centre of this activity were: Madari Bhagya Reddy Varma (1888– 1939), Arigay Ramaswamy (1875–1973) and B. S. Venkatrao, all of whom belonged to the Mala caste of Dalits. Bhagya Reddy Varma provided leadership between 1917 and 1930; the other two were at the forefront after 1930. Bhagya Reddy Varma, who was educated in Secunderabad with help from Francis Xavier Dos Santos, a Roman Catholic barrister, began his career as a Dalit social activist by associating with the Jagan Mitra Mandali, a Dalit cultural organisation (Madari 1991).12 The main function of this organisation was to organise the performance of bhajan (devotional songs) and harikatha (folk tales), mainly for the benefit of Dalits, as they were prevented from attending these activities in Hindu temples. In 1911, Jagan Mitra Mandali was renamed first as Manya Sangam, and later as the Central Adi Hindu Social Service League (the Adi Hindu League) (ibid.: 2–3). Between 29 and 31 March 1922, the Adi Hindu League organised the first All India Adi Hindu Conference in Hyderabad. While Rau Saab T. J. Papanna presided over the conference, M. L. Audaiah, an engineer by profession, acted as the chairman of the reception committee. The conference was attended by Dalit delegates from various parts of India, especially Bombay, Pune, Karachi, Nagpur, Yavatmal, Raipur, Vijayawada, Machilipatnam, Rajahmundry and Eluru (Vadlakonda 1923: 170). This all-India-level participation indicated both an expansion of Dalit activities in Hyderabad and the growing influence of Bhagya Reddy as a nationallevel Dalit activist. Under his leadership, Dalit activism in Hyderabad 168


revolved mainly around the question of identity, social reforms and the integration of Dalits into the Hindu fold. Claiming Adi Hindu Identity: Ever since his association with the Jagan Mitra Mandali, Bhagya Reddy followed the contemporary debates on the themes of Aryan, non-Aryan and Dravidian. In addition to these debates, the everyday practices of discrimination against Dalits, and their extremely disabling socio-economic conditions forced him to conclude that Dalits were a separate entity from the caste Hindu society. They were the original inhabitants of India (the Adi Hindus) and ruled the country before the advent of the Aryans (the present upper-caste Hindus). In his Purana Charitramu: Bharatha Kanda Pracheena Jathulu (Original Communities in Ancient India: A History), which was published by the Jagan Mitra Mandali, Bhagya Reddy traced the history of Dalits to pre-Aryan times and built a royal lineage for them (Abbasayulu 1979: 8). Earlier, it was noted that during the ‘First Provincial Panchama Mahajanasabha’ in Vijayawada, while standing amidst caste Hindu reformers, particularly among Brahmins, Bhagya Reddy boldly rejected the Panchama identity and insisted on the Adi Hindu identity for Dalits. When Bhagya Reddy organised the All India Adi Hindu Conference in Hyderabad, the Adi Hindu identity was once again claimed by the delegates of the conference. One of the resolutions of the conference describes Dalits as, ‘the descendants of the original inhabitants of this country who were rulers and owners of this land of their birth before the advent of Aryans to the country’ (Omvedt 1994: 122). Following the conference, the Adi Hindu leadership campaigned for Dalits to identify themselves as Adi Hindus rather than by their individual caste names, such as Madigas and Malas. They also submitted memoranda to the Nizam of Hyderabad on various occasions to consolidate all the Dalit castes into one broad class, the Adi Hindus. Interestingly, the Nizam responded positively to this request, and subsequently ordered the census commissioner to record Dalits as Adi Hindus. From the census records of 1931, it was clear that the campaigns of the Adi Hindu leaders were successful, as a total of 2,473,230 Dalits were identified as Adi Hindus.13 The main objectives behind the adaptation of the Adi Hindu identity by Dalits in Hyderabad were not fundamentally different from the Adi claims elsewhere in India during that time. Yet, it is important to note here that the Dalits in Hyderabad – just as the Dalits in coastal Andhra of the Madras Presidency – differed fundamentally from the rest of the Dalit population. What lay beneath the claim of Adi Hindu identity was not a claim of a separate racial and religious identity, but a claim for a respectable, dignified and equitable identity for Dalits, within the caste 169


structure. Bhagya Reddy Varma, a Mala by caste, but with an upper-caste identity, is a case in point. He was originally Madari Bhagaiah, but he took the name ‘Bhagya Reddy Varma’ in order to claim a higher status, ‘Varma’ being Brahmanic and ‘Reddy’ indicating a high-status non-Brahmin (Venkataswamy 1955: 3).14 In other words, the assumption of the Adi Hindu identity by Dalits was an effort to become part of Hindu society rather than to remain outside of it. Social Reforms: Bhagya Reddy and his associates, who were involved with and influenced by the ideology of the Brahmo Samaj (Ashala 2010) came to believe that the socio-economic problems suffered by Dalits, including poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and the stigma of untouchability were a result of their own bad practices. If these customs were corrected, then the caste Hindus would treat Dalits with respect and dignity and, above all, as equals. Four conditions were identified as the main aspects of the ‘bad practices of the Dalits’: (1) child marriages, (2) alcohol and meat consumption, (3) the devadasi custom and (4) not seeking education. Some of the resolutions that were passed during the All India Adi Hindu conference reflect the stand of the Adi Hindu leadership on these aspects. To note four resolutions, for instance: 1. The Adi Hindus should educate their children and take full advantage of the facilities given to them by the native States and British Government; 2. Marriages at very early age should be prevented; in a marriageable couple, the bride’s age should not be below 14 years and bridegroom’s below 19 years; 3. In marriages and other auspicious functions, liquor and meat (nonvegetarian food) should not be served and expenditure on pomp and show should be avoided; 4. Dedication of girls to deities as devadasis – known as Jogins, Murlis, and by other names in different parts of India should be declared immoral and such a custom must be abolished altogether (Madari 1991: 50–1; Jangam 2005: 129). Following these resolutions, a number of activities were initiated by the Adi Hindu leadership in order to reform their community. For instance, Bhagya Reddy wrote songs against the consumption of alcohol (Madhyapaana Nishedha Keertanalu [Songs on prevention of alcohol consumption]), which were dramatised and performed in Dalit localities by Adi Hindu League activists. In 1925, Bhagya Reddy started a Telugu fortnightly called Bhagyanagar Patrika, through which he addressed Dalits to 170


abstain from intoxicants and give up child marriages and the practice of animal sacrifice (Ramesan 1966: 79).15 In addition, Bhagya Reddy and his associates focused their energies on spreading education. Education, for them, was an important tool in the social and moral upliftment of their brethren. In 1910, Bhagya Reddy, with active support from the Manya Sangam, set up three lower primary schools in three Dalit localities – Eesamaiah Bazar, Lingampally and Boggulakunta. Inspired by the success of these schools, more schools were opened in different parts of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Gradually, the number of schools started by the Adi Hindu League in and around Hyderabad and Secunderabad rose to 26, and about 2,500 students studied in them. These schools were funded mainly by the Jeeva Raskhsa Pracharak Mandali or the Deccan Humanitarian League, and also by donations from the wider public (Jangam 2005: 132).16 Deeply concerned with the integration of Dalits into wider Hindu society, Bhagya Reddy evolved a two-pronged strategy: first, he involved some of the key public persons – drawn mainly from upper caste and class backgrounds – in the Adi Hindu League by offering them important positions within the organisation. For instance, Justice Rai Balmukund, a retired High Court judge, was made president of the league; N. G. Wellinker, Justice Keshavrao and Vaman Ramachandra Naik – all eminent public persons in Hyderabad, were made vice-presidents of the league. In addition to this, the league had an executive committee as well as an advisory board. While the former consisted of 12 Dalit members, who were drawn from various Dalit castes, especially from the Mala caste, the latter was constituted by members drawn from various religious groups. For instance, during the league’s initial years, the Advisory Board had thirtyfour upper-caste Hindus, one Muslim, one Christian, one Parsee and two Jains (Venkataswamy 1955: 39). Such involvement of distinguished public persons and diversified caste and religious backgrounds had its own benefits. For instance, the presence of the powerful and illustrious members from Hyderabad not only gained social recognition and respect for the League, but also secured financial benefits for the continuation of the organisation’s activities. For instance, Rai Balmukund not only supported the league financially, but also used his position to secure grants-in-aid to the Adi Hindu schools from the Nizam.17 Second, Bhagya Reddy advocated inter-caste marriages between Dalits and upper-caste Hindus through his writings in the form of pamphlets and essays in his newspaper. One of the prominent works of this advocacy was his Veera Suratha Manjari: Mala Pillanu Raakumarudu Pendliyaduta (The Marriage of a Royal Prince and a Mala Girl), a short novel. Acquiring 171


power, material benefits or social elevation by means of marriage, especially by offering daughters to powerful people such as kings and feudal lords, was not unknown in Indian history and literature. So far, however, those articulations were confined exclusively to the upper castes and the literature created by them. But Bhagya Reddy, through his fictional work, was breaking the stereotype of marriages at that time by effectively asserting that a royal prince could even marry a Mala girl; and that Mala girls were as beautiful as any upper-caste girls and equally capable of attracting the attention of a royal prince. However, it must be pointed out that despite Bhagya Reddy’s claiming of Adi Hindu identity for Dalits, his use of Mala identity rather than the Adi Hindu identity, and making a Mala girl the heroine of the story, reflects his preference for his own caste. As a Mala himself, he always believed that Malas were better than the other Dalit castes. The lack of a Madiga presence in Bhagya Reddy’s initiatives is noticeable. There were mainly two reasons why, despite significant contributions, Dalit activism under the leadership of Bhagya Reddy Varma in Hyderabad could not transform the socio-economic conditions of the Dalits, First, both the ideas and activities of the Adi Hindu leaders suffered from numerous contradictions. Most notably, the very purpose of claiming an Adi Hindu identity was to move away from the Brahmanical social structure, claim a respectable social identity, and, on its basis construct a strong and united Adi Hindu community. But Bhagya Reddy Varma, the main ideologue of the Adi ideology in Hyderabad, did not argue for the separation of Dalits from broader Brahmanical social and religious life. Moreover, he was critical of Dalits and falsely argued that, ‘the degeneration leading to social ostracism was due to their [Dalits’] own apathy and ignorance’ (Krishnaswamy cited in Jangam 2005: 145). Second, despite his preaching of doing away with Dalit caste identities, such as Malas and Madigas and calling for the unity of Dalits under the banner of the Adi Hindu appellation, Bhagya Reddy Varma was obsessed with Mala identity. Moreover, he was not even in favour of inter-dining and inter-caste marriages among Dalits. Bhagya Reddy’s caste bias went to the extent of opposing a marriage between a Madiga boy and a Mala girl, who was rescued from the devadasi custom. Arigay Ramaswamy, a Mala by caste but a true Dalit leader, stood against Bhagya Reddy and assisted the marriage. Apparently the Adi Hindu Social Service League under the leadership of caste-blind Bhagya Reddy excommunicated all those leaders who attended the marriage. Bhagya Reddy justified his act by stating that ‘Mala tradition does not accept a marriage between Malas 172


and Madigas as the Madigas are inferior to them in social hierarchy’ (Muthaiah 2004: 185). Bhagya Reddy also did not allow Madiga children to study in any of the 32 schools that were established by the league. In a research article, Muthaiah notes how the Adi Hindu bhavan had become a bone of contention between Madigas and Malas. The bhavan was constructed in the early 1920s with donations made by various philanthropists in Hyderabad State for the educational purposes of the entire Dalit community. But Bhagya Reddy did not allow Madigas into the bhavan, arguing that it was the exclusive property of the Malas. On account of Bhagya Reddy’s partisan attitude, the Madigas left the Adi Hindu League and formed their own organisation, the Arundatiya Mahasabha, in 1931 (ibid.: 186). Seshagirirao and S. Babaiah were two prominent Madiga leaders of this association. By the 1950s, the Arundatiya Mahasabha had become a defunct organisation, as most of its members joined Hyderabad State Dalit Jateeya Sangh, under the patronage of Jagjivanram (Venkataswamy 1955: 60).

Dalit activism in Telugu Country, 1930–50 During the 1930s and 1940s, political developments at the national level, particularly peasant resistance, Congress’s pro-Hindu inclinations, the growth of the Communist Party and the rise of Ambedkar as the sole leader of the Dalits, were all finding a dramatic resonance in the politics of the coastal Andhra region as well as in the Nizam’s Hyderabad. Chapter 1 noted that following the entry of M. K. Gandhi on the political scene of the country, new contestants entered the struggle for power. While earlier, the struggle had been confined to the elite and middle classes, now the masses were also drawn into the game. The force of such mass mobilisation as well as political unity between the two major religious groups against colonial rule certainly had far-reaching consequences. The British, who were already caught up in a web of economic constraints due to World War I, felt further threatened. They began to initiate a few measures in order to assuage Indian public opinion. To recapitulate the context of the Dalit mobilisations in the early 1930s, on 20 August 1917, Edwin Montague famously declared that the British government’s objective was to bring about ‘the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration, and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressively realise a responsible government in India as an integral part of the Empire’ (Metcalf 1995: 225). This declaration was followed by the Montague– Chelmsford reforms of 1919. These reforms did not make provision for a 173


separate electorate for Dalits, although they did provide a few nominated seats for them in legislative bodies and, thus, raised the curtain for intense political activity by Dalits across the country (Galanter 1984: 29). For the first time, the Dalit spokesmen were heard in political assemblies and the legislatures took an interest in the problems faced by Dalits. The government, on its part, began to provide land, housing, schooling and government posts to Dalits, which resulted in an increase of Dalit children in schools and the entry of a few educated Dalits in government services. Thus, by the close of the 1920s, as Eleanor Zelliot observed, ‘the principle of special attention (for the Dalits) was firmly established’ (Zelliot 1969 quoted in Galanter 1984: 28). One particular event that animated all the castes, communities and political parties for heightened political activity at the end of 1920s was the visit of the Simon Commission in 1928. The commission was empowered to make recommendations for round table conferences to create a new constitutional framework for India. While all the upper-caste and class-based political outfits, including the Congress, Muslim League and the Justice Party boycotted the commission, ostensibly on account of lack of ‘Indian representation’, Dalits all over India welcomed the commission by organising meetings in its support. By this time, Ambedkar had emerged as a powerful voice for the Dalits. As a member of the Bombay Legislative Council, he introduced the Mahar Watan Bill against the forced performance of all forms of free labour – earlier for the so-called gram pramukhs (village elders) and now for the British bureaucrats. Ambedkar appeared before the commission and submitted a long memorandum, since then often described as the ‘manifesto of untouchable rights’ (Omvedt 2004: 36), in which he demanded reserved seats for Dalits in legislative bodies, special educational concessions and recruitment to government jobs; and the commission, in its report, accepted the majority of the demands in the memorandum (Galanter 1984: 30). But the report was ultimately rejected by all the major contenders, including the Congress, Muslim League, the Justice Party and Dalits. In 1930, the British government, in order to arrive at a possible way out, convened a round table conference in London and invited delegates of all parties and prominent interest groups. It was precisely at this time that Dalits, both in Hyderabad and in coastal Andhra, turned their attention from their earlier focus of respect and social equality to the question of political representation. But they were not united in their demand. They were, in fact, being pulled in various directions by the major forces in Telugu politics, either into the communist movement or into a pro-Hindu Congress or pro-Muslim politics of patronage (Omvedt 1994: 281), in addition to weak but sustained 174


independent activity. The following section attempts to examine Dalit politics and activities, both in Hyderabad and in coastal Andhra. Pro-Ambedkarite politics: Although Dalit leadership in the coastal Andhra region did not show any keen interest in Ambedkar’s Depressed Classes Conference of 1930 and issues surrounding the First Round Table Conference, some Dalit leaders from Hyderabad did take part in a special session of the Ninth All India Adi Hindu Conference in Lucknow in 1931. The conference, which was held on the eve of the Second Round Table Conference, was presided over by Bhagya Reddy. One of the most significant and unanimous resolutions of the conference was the recognition of Ambedkar as the sole and true representative of 90 million Dalits (Madari 1991: 32). In addition, Dalits in Hyderabad submitted numerous memoranda to the Nizam, demanding political representation. Subsequently, on 22 September 1937, the Nizam announced the formation of a Constitutional Reforms Committee under the chairmanship of Aravamudu Aiyangar. But the committee was made up of members drawn exclusively from Muslim and caste Hindu backgrounds. The Dalits, who constituted 18 per cent of the total population of the state, were not included. Angered by such blatant exclusion, the Dalits took to the streets and demanded the statutory confirmation of the fundamental rights of citizenship by the legislature, and special protection of the rights of Dalits and other minorities in the state. On 19 December 1937, Bhagya Reddy called for a meeting to discuss the political demands of all the Dalits in the state. By this time, the conflict between the Madigas and Malas had reached a stage where the Madigas were no longer willing to accept the leadership of the Malas. They summarily objected to the self-proclaimed leadership of Bhagya Reddy and boycotted his meeting. Given that Bhagya Reddy and his caste’s dictatorial way of assumption of the Dalit leadership, despite a clear opposition to such leadership; and the despotic way Bhagya Reddy kept the Adi Hindu bhavan for an exclusive use of the Malas by preventing the Madigas from using it, despite the fact that the bhavan was constructed from the funds collected in the name of all the Dalit castes, the Madigas were truly apprehensive about the undifferentiated political representation commonly for all the castes. For they were in no doubt that in the event of political representation for Dalits a reality, all those opportunities will be cornered by the Malas, a genuine concern that was to become a reality both in the post-Poona Pact and post-Independence India. We shall examine in detail how the Malas cornered the opportunities that are due to all the Dalit castes commonly in Chapter 6. Despite the Madigas’ objection, Bhagya Reddy submitted a memorandum to the Nizam on behalf of all the Dalit castes (Venkataswamy 1955: 128).Emphasising proportional representation, 175


the memorandum stated that since Dalits constituted 18 per cent of the state’s population, 18 per cent of seats should be reserved for them in all the representative bodies in the state. In addition, special representation for Dalits should be given in municipal councils, district and taluk boards and other organs of the government. Further, in the event of adoption of separate electorates by the state, the memorandum stated, there should be separate electorates for Dalits. Although the Aiyangar Committee rejected the Dalits’ demand for separate electorates by equating the notion of separate electors with communal representation, it did take note of their concerns: A demand has been made on behalf of Harijans that seats should be reserved and separate electorates formed for them. We cannot endorse the principle, which generally underlies communal representation. But in the social, educational and economic interests of the Harijans, we nevertheless consider it necessary that they should be granted representation in the Legislature. (Report of the Reforms Committee 1938, cited in Yagati 2003: 147) Accordingly, it recommended one elected representative in municipal committees and town committees, one for the district boards, and, finally, two elected representatives for the legislature. The next round of Dalit activity took place when Ambedkar declared his decision on conversion. In 1935, at a Bombay Presidency Depressed Classes conference in Yeola, he put forward the idea of moving away from Hinduism and declared, ‘I was born a Hindu and have suffered the consequences of untouchability. I will not die a Hindu’ (Omvedt 2004: 61). This declaration, described as a ‘veritable bombshell’, triggered a great debate on the conversion question throughout India. In the Telugu region also, some young Dalits were energised by Ambedkar’s declaration; among them was Eali Vedappalli (1911–71), organising secretary of Adi Andhra conferences in East Godavari, and Geddada Brahmaiah (1912–50), who edited the Adi Andhra Patrika between 1938 and 1940 and who was secretary of an Adi Andhra Sangham in 1935 (Madari 1976: 71). They were joined by Kusuma Dharmanna, who was, as mentioned in the above, an important Dalit leader and poet of his time. Dharmanna was also the publisher of the Jayabheri newspaper. This paper became ‘a sort of mouthpiece for the Ambedkarite group’ in coastal Andhra (Omvedt 1994: 289). The 10th conference of the Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha was organised at Rajahmundry, East Godavari district, in 1935. While Kusuma Venkataramayya was the president of the conference, Kusuma Dharmanna was its reception committee 176


chairman; the conference was inaugurated by M. C. Rajah. After this conference, several district-level and two provincial-level conferences were organised in 1936 and 1938, under the leadership of Dharmanna. The 12th provincial-level conference that was organised in 1938 was presided over by Bhagya Reddy. The discussions and debates in all these conferences focused on the demand for reserved seats for Adi Andhras in all representative bodies, sanctions against those opposing the presence of the Dalit children in schools, job reservations and a demand for waste land. But the Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha could not sustain its activism for long, and not beyond the boundaries of East Godavari district. It may be further noted here that after Ambedkar’s visit to Krishna district in 1944, a branch of the Scheduled Caste Federation was formed under the leadership of Buldas. Beyond fighting against atrocities and celebrating Ambedkar’s jayanti, this branch, however, could not affect events in any manner, for, as Omvedt (1994: 291) observes, ‘In that period of turmoil, with an aroused mass of Dalits, this (SCF) could not compete with the hard organising and real economic issues being taken up by the Communists or the patronage and co-opting facilities offered by the Congress’. As the popularity of Gandhi and his Congress began to increase in the Telugu districts, a majority of Dalits drifted into the Harijan fold of Gandhi and the Congress; and thus, Adi Andhra activism could not make a significant impact upon the Dalits in the province. In short, pro-Ambedkarite Dalit activity in coastal Andhra was almost dead even before the transfer of power from the British. Dalits in Hyderabad, just as their counterparts in coastal Andhra, were also electrified by Ambedkar’s 1935 declaration that he would not die a Hindu. Given the growing communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims, which were manifested through the dominance of the Arya Samaj over the nationalist Hindus, and in the rise of the Majlis-i-Ittehad-ulMussalman, which politicised ordinary Muslims, the excitement among the Dalits was not surprising. It gave them an opportunity to carve out a separate space for themselves, separate from Hindus and Muslims. But not all of them were eager to grab this new opportunity. They were divided into two major groups, opposing each other on Ambedkar’s declaration. The pro-Ambedkarite group, which was organised by B. S. Venkatrao and Arigay Ramaswamy, was constituted mainly of young Dalits. The other group, which was led by Bhagya Reddy, continued to believe in internal as well as external reforms. In 1936, the pro-Ambedkarites were invited to attend the Maharashtra Untouchable Youth Conference in Poona. As Omvedt notes, they were impressed by the ‘fire-eating speeches of the Maharashtra leaders’ (ibid.: 296), and on their return to Hyderabad, they organised a Youth League of Ambedkarites with Venkatrao as president 177


and Venkataswamy as secretary. As the very name suggested, the league focused mainly on organising Dalit youth; yet, at the same time, its aims went beyond the concerns of the young. For instance, it has organised a number of vigorous campaigns against the socio-economic disabilities of Dalits. The league was also highly concerned with the question of conversion. It decided to launch a campaign both to awaken its people on the evils of Hinduism and to prepare the ground for Ambedkar in leading the Dalits out of the Hindu fold (Venkataswamy 1955: 122). Unfortunately the Youth League, even before undertaking any activity towards the fulfilment of its avowed aims, suffered crisis after crisis on account of conflict among its leaders. At the heart of this conflict was Venkatarao’s pro-Muslim stand. After Ambedkar’s declaration of leaving Hinduism, Muslims in Hyderabad began to persuade Dalits to convert to Islam. Some of the Dalit leaders in Telugu country, including Dharmanna from coastal Andhra and Venkatarao from Hyderabad, responded positively to such persuasion. In 1938, in a context of intensified conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims in Hyderabad over the questions of constitutional reforms, civil and religious liberties (Benichou 2000: 55–87), Venkatarao took the initiative of forming the Hyderabad State Depressed Classes Association (DCA). This association was politically oriented towards the Nizam’s regime (Omvedt 1994: 297). In any case, Venkatrao’s pro-Islam choice was rather surprising. Until 1938, he had never shown any such inclination. Indeed, he never showed any interest in religious issues. Perhaps his choice was influenced by his concern for the empowerment of Dalits and his belief in the ability of the Hyderabad State to rescue Dalits from the clutches of the caste Hindus and also to provide material benefits to Dalits. For instance, after Ambedkar’s declaration on conversion, the Hyderabad State took several initiatives aimed at attracting Dalits into the Islamic fold, such as employing full-time paid Islamic preachers and supporting the Majlis in their conversion campaigns among the Dalits. In addition to these measures, the state also provided Dalits with government jobs. It also made anti-veth begar legislation, which rescued a great number of Dalits from the virtual slavery of the caste Hindus. Undoubtedly, all these measures provided the basis for a pro-Islam stance among Dalits and their leaders in Hyderabad (Omvedt 1994: 292). But others opposed the pro-Islam approach rallied behind Arigay Ramaswamy in reviving the Hyderabad State Adi Hindu Mahasabha. Despite this polarised opinion around the question of religion, both groups attended the founding meeting of the Scheduled Caste Federation in Nagpur in 1942. During the meeting, Ambedkar advised them to compromise and organise as the Scheduled Caste Federation without any official affiliation 178


to the all-India body. But Venkatrao refused to work with the Adi Hindu group, which was led by Arigay Ramaswamy, Subbaiah and Venkataswamy. On their return, the Dalit leaders of the Adi Hindu faction convened a general body meeting, in which they changed the name of their organisation to the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) and selected Subbaiah as its president and Venkataswamy as its general secretary. Beyond condemning the Dalits’ conversion to Islam, the SCF of Hyderabad could do nothing on account of both the presence of personality-based factions and caste-based divisions between Madigas and Malas (Charsley 2003). It should be noted here that from Bhagya Reddy Varma to Venkatrao and Arigay Ramaswamy in Hyderabad, and from Kusuma Dharmanna to Vemula Kurmaiah in coastal Andhra – all the important Dalit leaders came from the Mala caste and most focused their activism exclusively on Malas. One exception was Arigay Ramaswamy. He not only addressed the inter-caste differences among Dalits, especially between Madigas and Malas, but also encouraged inter-caste marriages between them. He even adopted a Madiga girl and actively worked for unity between the two castes (Venkataswamy 1955: 26).18 Pro-Gandhian Politics: What was fascinating about the relationship between Dalits and the Congress in the Telugu region was how the oppressor (the Brahmin) himself came to the rescue of the oppressed (the Dalit). While doing so, the former was able to retain his social hegemony and political domination, and, in turn, subordinate the latter further. Brahmin-initiated social reforms among the Dalits and schools for Dalit children undoubtedly benefited a section of the Dalit population. Those Dalits who studied in these schools rose to become leaders of the Adi Andhra movement and literary figures who enriched Dalit literature, and, thereby, Telugu literature. Yet, it was equally true that the schools became powerful entities to contain the force of the emerging Dalit anger against the Brahmin sociocultural hegemony. In a sense, it was through these schools that Brahmins were able to capture talented young Dalits and mould them for their own interests. In its domestication of the Dalit leaders, the Congress, under Brahmin leadership, followed a two-pronged strategy: (1) using the ashrama-educated Dalits to marginalise the Ambedkarites and (2) diverting the Dalits’ attention from important issues, such as their share in power, towards more trivial issues, such as temple entry. By the late 1920s, Ambedkar had established himself as a strong Dalit leader at the national level. Yet, his influence was mostly confined to western India. Dalits in Telugu districts were unaware of his activities, at least until his conflict with Gandhi over the issue of separate electorates for Dalits. When some of the younger members of the Adi Andhra movement came to know about Ambedkar’s arguments and Gandhi’s counter-arguments 179


and stubborn resort to fasting in the Yeravada prison, they began to shift their loyalties towards Ambedkar. It was during this political heat at the national level that the 7th regional conference of the Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha was organised in Bezwada in August 1932, under the leadership of Vemula Kurmayya – another protégé of the Brahmins. The conference became a battleground between the Ambedkarites and Gandhians. In essence, the clashing views were not about separate or joint electorates, but rather, about the leadership of Gandhi and Ambedkar and the arguments that these leaders represented. The conflict was also about the legitimacy of caste Hindu–led nationalism. Ambedkar had always maintained that Dalits were a separate element within Indian society and, hence, entitled to separate electorates. Gandhi refuted the argument, insisting instead that Dalits were part of Hindu society, and the demand for separate electorates was nothing but an attempt to divide the Hindu family. Vemula’s presidential address was mostly devoted to the issue of Gandhi’s fast. He praised Gandhi for sensitising the caste Hindu society on the deplorable conditions of Dalits, and for putting the abolition of untouchability on the Congress agenda. As expected, he vehemently opposed Ambedkar’s move for separate electorates, for such a move would alienate Dalits from the caste Hindu society. Ironically, he justified his stand on the basis of the earlier Adi Andhra conferences, in which Dalits conceived themselves as an integral part of Hindu society. He urged the delegates to trust the good judgement of the caste Hindus, particularly Gandhi, on joint electorates, and asked them to join the Congress in its fight against the British to liberate the country. Despite protests from young Dalits, the conference ended by declaring Gandhi as their leader and voting in favour of the joint electorate (Krishna Patrika 23 August 1932: 16–17). Once the question of a share in political power was successfully submerged, the next step for the Congress was to initiate activities to divert Dalit energies towards non-material issues. One main programme in this direction was Gandhi’s ‘Harijan upliftment programme’. As soon as the Harijan Sevak Sangh was floated by Gandhi, an Andhra branch of the Sangh, Andhra Rashtriya Harijan Sevak Sangh, was established in Vijayawada in 1932. The branch had an interesting social representation. While Kasinadhuni Nageswararao and M. Bapineedu – both Brahmins by caste – were appointed as president and general secretary, respectively, Vemula Kurmaiah and Naralasetti Devendrudu (both of whom were Malas [Dalits]) were recruited as the joint secretaries. The activities of the Sangh were mostly confined to cleaning streets and roads in Dalit localities, digging wells for drinking water and establishing separate schools and hostels for Dalit students. One of the important programmes that were taken up by the Congress leaders was temple entry for Dalits. In the name of Gandhi, 180


they organised satyagrahas in several districts and secured entry for Dalits into the temples. Gandhi also made a visit to coastal Andhra to promote this programme in 1933. He personally led Dalits into two temples in Siddhantam village in Krishna district (Krishna Patrika, 23 December 1933). Given the enthusiasm and activism generated by the Andhra Harijan Sevak Sangh and on the basis of press reports, the temple entry programme appeared to be a success. But that was only on the surface. In reality, the fate of the Andhra Sangh was no different from that of other Sanghs in other parts of the country, and the entire programme of Harijan upliftment was ‘hollow’,19 to use an evocative phrase from Sripada Subrahmanya Shastri, a famous Telugu short-story writer. The temples that were opened to Dalits were either already abandoned by caste Hindus or in a dilapidated condition. Not only those temples that were opened for Dalits during Gandhi’s visit were closed soon after he left, but also purification ceremonies were conducted to cleanse them after the event. Moreover, the Sangh activities were concentrated mainly in urban areas, and little was done in rural areas, where untouchability and discrimination against Dalits were practised as a matter of right by the caste Hindus. Further, what was most astonishing about the whole temple entry facade was that it was not just the ordinary caste Hindus that opposed the entry of Dalits into temples. Even some Congress leaders, who were at the forefront of the programme, opposed the Dalits’ entry into their local temples. To cite one example, Kasinadhuni Nageswararao, the president of the Andhra Harijan Sevak Sangh, did not allow Dalits into the temple at Yalakarru Agraharam, his native place, where members of his family managed the temple (Krishna Patrika 30 December 1935). Thus, the pomp and show of the Sangh did not necessarily result in any change of heart among the caste Hindus, but greatly helped the Congress to attract Dalits into its fold and to prevent the growth of support for the Ambedkarites. Pro-Communist politics: From the late 1930s, some Dalits both in Hyderabad and coastal Andhra regions began to be drawn into the communist movements. They were attracted by the communists’ slogans, especially of the idea of ‘a classless society’. However, in practice, the movement facilitated the continued domination of the upper castes, especially the two already powerful Reddys and Kammas. All the prominent leaders of the communist movement in the Telugu country, such as P. Sundarayya, Ravi Narayan Reddy and Baddam Yella Reddy, were all Reddys; M. Basavapunnaiah, Chandra Rajeswararao and C. Vasudevarao were Kammas. More specifically, in Telangana, it was the Reddys who dominated the peasant struggles; whereas in coastal Andhra, it was the Kammas who led and controlled the communist movement for land distribution and minimum wages for agricultural labour. Interestingly, despite their social rivalry and 181


competition for political power, the coming together of the Kammas and Reddys under the communist umbrella should be understood from the vantage point of the domination of Brahmins in the Congress. In any case, one significant outcome of the domination of the Communist Party by these non-Brahmin upper castes was that it secured and safeguarded not only their material interests, but also those of the rest of the upper castes in the Telugu region (Harrison 1956, 1960). In the period when the Hyderabad State did not allow any form of political activity on its soil, the politically conscious upper castes organised against the Nizam and the British behind the veil of a cultural organisation for the promotion of the Telugu language and culture, the Andhra Jana Sangam. This organisation was established in 1928 under the leadership of Madapati Hanumantharao. Later, in 1930, it was renamed as the Andhra Mahasabha (Pucchalapalli 2007[1972]: 12). Although the Mahasabha was originally started to provide an alternative to Muslim cultural hegemony, it acquired a national character when members of the Indian National Congress and the Congress Socialist Party joined (Kannabiran and Kannabiran 2002: 28–9). In the early 1940s, the Mahasabha split into two movements, one led by Congress and the other by the communists (Gray 1968: 405–6). When the group led by the communists began to take up issues such as the abolition of vetti, protection of tenants and the demands of ‘land to the tiller’, Dalits, along with the other lower castes, were attracted to its activities and accepted the leadership of Ravi Narayana Reddy and Baddam Yella Reddy. In the 1940s, the Andhra Mahasabha, under the leadership of the communists, mobilised the rural peasants and landless labourers against the Nizam and against dora (feudal lords). This struggle was, by far, the largest peasant and landless revolt in Indian history. Mao Tse Tung’s On the Protracted War and Guerrilla Warfare became popular references in the Telangana struggle. Mao’s slogan ‘land to the tiller’ became the slogan of Telangana (Sheshadri 1967: 391). During the Telangana struggle, the communists established a parallel government in the rural areas of the Nalgonda and Warangal districts. They also organised people’s courts, which decided cases and punished ‘enemies of people’, including landlords, patels and patwaris, informants and government spies (ibid.). A great amount of land that was under the control of the upper-caste – Karanam, Reddy and Velama – doras was occupied by the communists for redistribution among the peasants and landless labourers. The communists had a historic opportunity to close the gap between rich and poor, and to actually reach their long-cherished goal of a ‘classless society’. But the casteist mindset of the communist leaders got in their way, as argued by U. Sambasivarao.20 It was in the redistribution of the 182


land that the upper-caste bias of the communists was clearly revealed. The panch committees established in each village to carry out the redistribution were primarily manned by members of the Reddy and Kapu castes. Dalits were completely denied any role either in the formation of the panch committees or in the redistribution of the land. The result was that ‘While the lands of the doras were distributed among the Reddy and Kapu farmers and tenants, the common pastures and wastelands became the lot of the landless Dalits and other lower castes’ (Karli 2002: 6). The Dalit experience with the communists in coastal Andhra was not so different from that of their counterparts in the Hyderabad State. By the late 1920s, the Kammas in coastal Andhra found themselves at loggerheads with the Brahmins for social equality and political power. Interestingly, in their confrontation with the Brahmins, the Kammas were divided into three groups. The first group consisted largely of rich zamindars, who fought against the Brahmins, first as part of the non-Brahmin movement, and later on, by dominating the Justice Party.21 In the second group were Kamma ryots and peasants, who associated themselves with N. G. Ranga and struggled for dominance in the Congress. The activities of the N. G. Ranga group among Dalits were inspired by the Gandhian idea of Harijans and social upliftment. In 1934, Ranga formed the Harijan Seva Dal with the active support of his wife as well as notable social reformers from among Brahmins, especially Unnava Lakshminarayana, the author of Mala palli (Mala village), and Guduru Ramachandrarao. The third group made up of educated Kamma youth, inspired by Marxism and the Russian Revolution, was at the forefront in the formation of a Communist Party unit in coastal Andhra. Although the landless Dalits never supported the anti-Brahmin movement, they oscillated between the Congress-based N. G. Ranga group and communists led by B. Basavapunniah, C. Rajeshwararao and others. Both groups competed against each other for control of the peasant movement and to organise landless labourers and Dalits (Sheshadri 1967: 396–7). By the late 1930s, many young Dalits, such as Guntur Bapaiah, K. Surya Prakashrao and Nutakki Kotayya, were becoming increasingly impatient with the Congress-led Harijan activities. They were inspired by the communists’ mobilisation of the agricultural labourers for minimum wages and their slogan of the distribution of the non-cultivated land (wasteland) for the coolies. They joined the communists and actively participated in the mobilisation of the rural landless and agricultural labour. When the Agricultural Labour Union was formed, Guntur Bapaiah and Surya Prakashrao were elected as the union’s general secretary and president, respectively. While the issue of minimum wages pertained to all the 183


agricultural labour, the communists initiated certain specific programmes for Dalits, which differed from Congress’s tokenism towards Dalits. For instance, they initiated anti-untouchability measures in rural areas and even supported temple entry for Dalits. Undoubtedly, Dalits, along with the other landless agricultural labourers, were the main beneficiaries of the communists’ struggle for minimum wages. Yet, their association with the communists did not liberate them from the clutches of caste. Significantly, the communists did not even provide an ‘ideological alternative’ to the Congress (Omvedt 1994: 291). By accepting the term Harijan for Dalits, despite strong opposition to it from Ambedkar and other Dalit leaders, they showed a clear unwillingness to accept any kind of alternative path or autonomy for the Dalits. Their anti-Ambedkar stance ultimately alienated some dedicated Dalit supporters. For instance, in 1944, when, in one of its resolutions, the Agricultural Labour Union, described the Muslim League as a ‘political party’, but called the Scheduled Caste Federation a ‘communal organisation’, Surya Prakashrao left the organisation. He circulated a dissenting note against the resolution, arguing that for the Dalits, social upliftment was even more important than economic betterment. Thus, one may conclude that there was a significant amount of Dalit activism in the Telugu region from the early 1920s onwards, but two factors made it very different from the experience of Dalits in the United Provinces. While Telugu Dalits claimed their share of power in the political structure that emerged after the end of World War I, their efforts towards that goal were less consistent than their demands for social equality and respect within the caste Hindu social structure. Further, they were never able to move away from the shadow of the caste Hindus, and so, could not formulate a clear and forward-looking ideology. As a result, unlike their counterparts in the United Provinces, they could never give vent through political activity to their ire against the Brahmanical caste society and oppression by the upper castes.

Notes 1 For instance, in schools and colleges in Rajahmundry, the texts used were, in addition to the Vedas and Shastras, the Bala Ramayanam, Rukmini Kalyanam, Krishna Satakam, Sumati Satakam, Vasu Charitra, Manucharitra, Bhagavatam, Gajedramoksham and so on. For details, see the Report of the Collector, Rajahmundry, submitted to the Board of Revenue, 19 September 1823, cited in Yagati 2007.



2 It should be recognised here that conversion of natives into Christian faith had been the main motive of all the missionaries in India. In fact, initially, the missionaries aimed at Brahmins, who were supposed to be ‘educated and intelligent’. But to their horror, they soon realised the ‘insincerity of Brahmins’, an insincerity that also extended to their religious beliefs (Dirks 2001: 137). 3 For a detailed biographical sketch and his activities, see Vakulabharanam 1983. 4 Vemula Kurmaiah, after completing his secondary education from National High School in Machilipatnam with a generous scholarship from Ayyadevara Kalaswara Rao, a Brahmin Congress leader, spent two years in Gandhi’s Sabaramathi Ashramam before joining Benaras Hindu University. Apparently, he was the first Dalit to graduate from that university and Jagjivanram was the second to do so. 5 Some of the other notable caste associations of this time were: The Agnikula Kshatriya Sangam of fishermen in 1900; The All Madras Viswakarma Kuloddharana Sangam (1903) – this was an amalgamation of five artisan castes, which were also known as Panchalas: The Rajaputra Sangam of Rajus (1905); The Gouda Mahajana Sabha (1907); The Adi Velama Mahajana Sabha (1914); and The Telaga Sangam of Telagas (1914) (Sudarshan Reddy 1986). 6 Madras Legislative Council Proceedings, Vol. II, 1922: 2600, Madras: Government of Madras. 7 Interestingly, the communication between the Telugu Dalits and their Tamil counterparts was established not during the emergence of the Adi movements in the Madras Presidency. It was established way back in the late 19th century on account of their Burma connection (Dirks 2001: 240–1; Adapa 2002). 8 After the success of the first conference in 1917, annual conferences were held practically every year until the late 1930s. 9 Another notable work that tried to rebuild a respectable past for Dalits was Kusuma Dharmanna’s Harijana Shatakamu, published in 1933. 10 Madras Legislative Council Proceedings, Vol. IV, 1922: 2047. 11 Census of India, 1931, vol. XIV, Madras Part-I, Report, p. 343. 12 The Jagan Mitra Mandali appears to be one of the earliest organisations founded by the Dalits. Gautam, the son of Bhagya Reddy Varma, claims that the organisation was founded by his father. But it appears, from an account of P. R. Venkataswamy, Varma was merely involved with the organisation’s activities since its inception (Venkataswamy 1955). 13 Census of India, 1931, Vol. 23, H.E.H. The Nizam’s Dominions (Hyderabad State), Part – I, Report, pp. 225–48. 14 A Dalit using the Reddy title was vehemently resented and fiercely contested by the caste Hindus. For instance, Suravaram Pratapa Reddy, a prominent Telugu literary activist, but nevertheless a Reddy by caste, questioned the act of Bhagya Reddy Varma: ‘if everyone called himself a Reddy, what would happen to the original Reddys?’ (Venkataswamy1955: 3). 15 Bhagya Reddy could not run this newspaper continuously. After two years, the paper had to be closed down as he had fallen sick and gone to Mysore for medical treatment. He managed to revive the paper after his return to Hyderabad in 1930.



16 In 1933, when maintaining this elaborate network of schools became difficult, the Nizam came to the rescue by taking them over and merging them into government-run chain of schools. 17 The presence of Rai Bahadur Venkatarami Reddy, the Hyderabad city police commissioner, in the league also secured financial help from numerous business people in the city (Suravaram 1939). 18 My interview with D. V. S. Nayarayana, Hyderabad, 22 February 2005. 19 Sreepada Subrahamanya Shastri, in one of his famous short stories, observes that Harijan activities of the caste Hindus were in practice nothing but ‘hollow’ (cited in Gundimeda, 2009a: 33). 20 My interview with U. Sambasivarao, Hyderabad, 20 July 2005. 21 The non-Brahmin movement and Justice Party were not exclusively dominated by the Kammas. Some other zamindars and rich landlords from the other upper castes, especially the Reddys and Rajus, were also part of these forums.


5 FROM DEMANDING SOCIAL EQUALITY TO A QUEST FOR POWER Dalit politics in AP, 1950–90 The entry of Gandhi and Ambedkar into national Dalit politics reconfigured Dalit politics and activism irretrievably and had far-reaching consequences at the national as well as the regional levels. Those regional Dalit forces that agreed with Gandhi and his ‘ism’ became moderate in their outlook, and thus, posed no real threat either to the caste system or to the socio-economic and political domination of the upper castes. But those regional Dalit forces that agreed with Ambedkar and his ideas rejuvenated their activism. They demanded social equality and a share in political power with renewed vigour and determination, obviously posing a real threat to the domination of the upper castes and the very survival of caste system. Yet, the Dalit leaders in the Telugu region, unlike their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh (UP), were groomed by upper-caste social reformers, and so, Gandhi’s Congress and his Harijan Sevak Sangh became their natural destinations, as their benefactors were already part of those organisations. These Dalit leaders followed in the path of moderation unquestioningly and ended up missing a historical opportunity that presented itself in the form of Ambedkar: the chance of moving away from the shadow of the upper castes and emerging as an independent political force. This missed opportunity led to their domestication and marginalisation in the political realm by the upper castes in post-independence Andhra Pradesh (AP). This chapter seeks to: (a) understand the Dalit relationship with the two dominant political parties in the state, the Congress and the Communist Party of India; (b) examine Dalit activism under the leadership of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha (APDMS); and (c) analyse Dalit activities in electoral politics through the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The Dalit leaders in AP, unlike their counterparts in UP, did not concentrate on the idea of political power and could not prepare the ground for the independent political mobilisation of the Dalit constituency in the state. Also, in AP, a lack



of unity not just between the Dalits and other lower castes, but also within the Dalit segment resulted in the failure of the Dalit-based political parties in the electoral arena, unlike in UP, where there was unity within the Dalit social constituency and between Dalits and other lower castes. The chapter is divided chronologically. It examines Dalit activities since the formation of the state of AP in 1956 until the late 1970s; it critically analyses the formation, ideology and activities of the APDMS in the 1980s; and finally, Dalit mobilisation through the BSP for political power in the mid-1990s. Formation of Andhra Pradesh: Owing to the Tamil Congress leaders’ practice of discrimination against Telugu Congress leaders, there was a growing demand for a separate Andhra state comprising the Teluguspeaking regions of the Madras Presidency. After India’s Independence, the demand for a separate state intensified, and a majority of the Teluguspeaking people in the Madras State took part in the large-scale agitations that became ‘a mass expression of the regional patriotism of all Telugus’ (Harrison 1960: 110). Yet, the central government under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru did not concede, and instead, appointed a commission under the chairmanship of S. K. Dar. The commission did not favour the creation of states on a linguistic basis. Following an adverse reaction in Andhra and in order to assuage the ruffled feelings of the Telugus, in 1949, the Congress leadership appointed an unofficial committee consisting of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Seetaramayya, popularly known as the JVP Committee. The committee did not favour the creation of states on linguistic lines, but it did suggest the formation of the Andhra state, provided that the Telugus give up their claim over the city of Madras (Chennai). This suggestion provoked a violent reaction in Andhra and the Telugus continued their agitation for a separate state. Meanwhile, on 19 October 1952, Potti Sriramulu from Nellore took up a fast unto death in Madras for a separate Andhra state. Although the fast led to unprecedented violence, the Congress leadership at the centre did not pay much attention either to the condition of Potti or to the situation in the Telugu districts. Owing to this utter negligence on the part of the Congress, on 15 December 1952 – on the 58th day of his fast – Potti died, following which violence escalated in all the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras state. The Nehru government was taken aback at this turn of the events. On 19 December 1952, it finally announced a separate Andhra state, consisting of seven districts of coastal Andhra and four districts of Rayalaseema. Eventually, on 1 October 1953, the Andhra state, with Kurnool as its capital city, came into existence. During this time, the Hyderabad state had also been undergoing rapid political changes. After India became independent, the last Nizam of 188


Hyderabad resisted the Indian government’s efforts to merge Hyderabad State into the Union of India. He wanted an independent Hyderabad State. He even approached the United Nations for its recognition as a separate country. The Nizam was supported in this ambition by the Majlis-i-Ittehad-ul-Mussalman (MIM – Association for Muslim Unity), which began to advocate the establishment of permanent Muslim dominion in Hyderabad. The Nizam’s paramilitary wing, the Razakars, joined the state army and police and unleashed a reign of terror against those people, organisations and parties, especially communists, who were fighting for the accession of Hyderabad into the Union of India. Communists in the Telangana region took to armed struggle and established a parallel government, popularly known as raat–ki–sarkar (rule at night), in parts of the territory. Ultimately, in September 1948, the Government of India launched a ‘Police Action’ against the Nizam, and within five days and with little effort, the Indian military captured Hyderabad State. Although this capture led to the merging of Hyderabad State into the Indian Union, it actually raised the curtain for a different demand. There had been a demand by the Telugus, particularly from coastal Andhra, for the creation of Vishaalandhra (Greater Andhra) that would comprise seven districts of coastal Andhra, four districts of Rayalaseema, nine districts in Telangana region and Telugu areas in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Mysore. In December 1953, the Government of India set up the States Reorganisation Commission, with Syed Fazl Ali as the chairman. Although the Commission was convinced of the advantages of Vishaalandhra, it preferred the formation of a separate Telangana state.1 The Congress High Command, however, favoured the idea of Vishaalandhra and prevailed upon the leaders of Andhra State and Telangana. Eventually, in 1956, the Andhra State (comprising of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions) and the Telangana region were politically integrated on a linguistic basis in order to create the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Struggling for space: Dalit activities in A P, 1956–82 In the period immediately after India’s independence and during the process of the formation of AP, politics in the Telugu region underwent massive changes. Indeed, a majority of the sociopolitical tendencies and issues that are unfolding in today’s AP politics can be seen in embryonic form in the early 1950s. The emergence of four major trends maybe noted: first, the emergence of the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India as the two major political parties in the state, and of the two, the emergence of Congress as the single dominant party; 189


second, the end of the domination of Brahmins, and the emergence of Reddys as the dominant caste group inside the Congress Party; third, caste-based competition for political power through political parties, i.e. Reddys and Kammas began to compete for political power through the Congress and the Communist Party, respectively. Three other uppercaste groups – Kapus, Velamas and Goudas – also joined this competition, more notably from the 1980s onwards; and finally, the marginalisation of Dalits in the political arena, which issue we will now examine. Dalits and the Congress (1957–82): After the formation of the state of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress Party remained dominant in state politics for more than two decades. The Congress won all the elections held for the Parliament and the Legislative Assembly in the state; and AP remained as the ‘citadel’ of the party, even during the 1960s, when the Congress ‘system’ began to break down elsewhere (Gaddam 1976), especially in 1967 when non-Congress parties were forming governments in several states (Kothari 1964). One particular reason that helped the Congress to dominate the political scene in Andhra Pradesh was the presence of Reddys and Dalits in the Congress Party. The Reddys acted as the wielders of the Congress steering wheel and Dalits as its vote bank. Reddys, who belong to the Sat-Shudra category in the traditional Hindu social structure, constitute about 8 to 10 per cent of the state’s population and are spread throughout the three regions of AP: Telangana, Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra. The integration of Andhra and Telangana regions led to a preponderance of Reddys in the power structure of the party and of the state. Bejawada Gopal Reddy and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy were the two main Reddy leaders who built the political strength of Reddys in the state. In the early 1950s, Reddys found themselves in fierce competition for the top positions in the Congress Party against the Brahmins, who were in a dominant position both in the party and the government earlier (Karli 2002: 9). The elections to the office of the president of the Andhra Provincial Congress Committee (APCC) at the time of independence provide an instance of a trial of strength between the two rival groups. One group was led by Tanguturi Prakasam, a Brahmin by caste, popularly known as Andhra Kesari – the Lion of Andhra. He supported the candidature of N. G. Ranga, a Kamma by caste, for the post. The other group was led by Pattabhi Sitharamayya, another senior Brahmin Congress leader, who supported Sanjeeva Reddy for the post. In the fight, Ranga was defeated by Sanjeeva Reddy, leading to the exit of Tanguturi and Ranga from the Congress. The exit was seen as the end of Brahmin dominance in the party and also as a turning point in the Reddy–Kamma rivalry that was emerging in AP 190


(Suri 2002: 13). On 1 November 1956, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy became the first chief minister of the enlarged state. Thus, by the mid-1950s, the Reddys had succeeded in wresting the reins of the Congress Party from the hands of the Brahmins. Since then, they have continued to steer the wheel of political power in the state through the Congress Party. Not surprisingly, the Reddy domination led critics to view the Congress as ‘Reddy Raj’ (Bernstorff 1973: 979); Table 5.1 substantiates this argument: Table 5.1 Caste backgrounds of chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh S.No. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

N. Sanjeeva Reddy D. Sanjeevaiah N. Sanjeeva Reddy K. Brahmananda Reddy P. V. Narasimha Rao President’s Rule J. Vengala Rao M. Chenna Reddy T. Anjaiah B. Venktram Reddy K. Vijay Bhaskar Reddy N. T. Rama Rao N. Bhaskararao N. T. Rama Rao M. Chenna Reddy N. Janardhan Reddy K. Vijay Bhaskar Reddy N. T. Rama Rao N. Chandra Babu Naidu N. Chandra Babu Naidu Y. S. Raja Sekhara Reddy K. Rosaiah N. Kiran Kumar Reddy




Congress Congress Congress Congress Congress

01-11-1956–10-01-1960 11-01-1960–11-03-1962 12-03-1962–28-02-1964 29-02-1964–29-09-1971 30-09-1971–18-01-1973 18-07-1973–10-12-1973 11-12-1973–05-03-1978 06-03-1978–10-10-1980 11-10-1980–24-02-1982 24-02-1982–20-09-1982 20-09-1982–08-01-1983 09-01-1983–16-08-1984 16-08-1984–15-09-1984 16-09-1984–02-12-1989 03-12-1989–17-12-1990 17-12-1990–08-10-1992 09-10-1992–12-12-1994 12-12-1994–31-08-1995 01-09-1995–11-10-1999 11-10-1999–14-05-2004 14-05-2004–02-09-2009 03-09-2009–24-10-2010 25-10-2010–01-03-2014

Reddy Dalit – Mala Reddy Reddy Brahmin

Congress Congress Congress Congress Congress TDP TDP TDP Congress Congress Congress TDP TDP TDP Congress Congress Congress

Velama Reddy BC Reddy Reddy Kamma Kamma Kamma Reddy Reddy Reddy Kamma Kamma Kamma Reddy Vaishya Reddy

Source: Srinivasarao, K. 2002; Telugu Verdict 1952–2002: Fifty Years Political Analysis (in Telugu), Hyderabad: Prajasakthi Book House; Gundimeda 2009.

As Tables 5.1 and 5.2 show, since the state was formed in 1956, political power in AP has largely been controlled by the elite classes belonging to the Reddy and Kamma castes through the two main parties in the state, Congress (I) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), respectively. We shall discuss Kamma politics through the TDP in the next section. But how 191


Table 5.2 Caste-wise break-up of CMs of AP (1956 to 2010) S.No.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Reddy – 8 Kamma – 3 SC-(Mala) – 1 Brahmin – 1 Velama – 1 BC – 1 Vaishya – 1 Total – 16

did the Reddys consolidate political power and how did they continue to hold on to that power? An examination of this question helps us to understand not only the domination of the Reddys through the Congress, but also the relational effect of such domination over the marginalised sections, especially the Dalits in the state. This, in turn, helps us to understand the Dalits relationship with the Congress at large. Political power, the creation of new institutional structures and some of the techniques they adopt while in power – especially the technique of accommodation – are said to be the forces that worked in their favour and helped to consolidate power, a consolidation that, in turn, facilitated their continuous domination in the political sphere. In other words, the possession of political power through the Congress Party was the key factor that facilitated the Reddys’ dominance and the perpetuation of this dominance in the political domain. And of all the policies and programmes undertaken by the Congress Party in post-independence India, the most important policy was land reforms. In addition to land reforms, another programme specific to AP in this period was the introduction of the Panchayati Raj (village committee rule) system towards decentralisation of governance at the grassroots under the leadership of Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy in 1957. It was by using both the land reform policies and the new administrative structures that Reddys succeeded in consolidating their power in the political firmament of the state. One of the most crucial aspects of the entire process of consolidation was the preservation of the socio-economic and political powers of the dominant castes. The Andhra Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1961 came into force on 1 June 1961. The act’s two main objectives were: to reduce the concentration of land and to redistribute land among agricultural 192


labourers. But it was never implemented with any seriousness. Through administrative machinery at the grassroots level, and with the help of Karanams, the Congress leadership defeated the proper implementation of the Bill. Despite possessing hundreds of acres of waste lands, the upper castes never maintained proper land records. They kept the land under their control through fictitious title deeds. When Dalits and other marginalised sections tried to benefit from the government’s policy of encouraging the cultivation of waste lands, the upper castes, with the help of the police, not only evicted them forcibly, but also got them arrested. For instance, at the end of the 1960s, thousands of Dalits and other landless labourers were reported to have been arrested for cultivating waste lands in Guntur, Krishna, Nellore, Warangal, Cuddapha, Adilabad, Medak and Nalgonda districts. Vemula Kurmaiah, a Dalit MLA from Krishna district, raised the issue of the arrest of Dalit agricultural labourers in the State Legislative Assembly. According to Kurmaiah, 174 Dalits in Adilabad, 502 in Krishna, 1,044 in Guntur, 1,818 in Warangal and another 450 from Addagudem village in Nalgonda district were arrested by the police (Konda 2008: 37, passim 2). Interestingly, it was not just the upper castes who carried out such actions; in the name of rehabilitation and development, even the state forcibly evicted Dalits from 300 acres of cultivable land (Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly Debates 14 December 1970). Note that it is always the lands of Dalits and other marginalised people that are deemed suitable for the state’s developmental activities. Dalits faced similar problems even in the implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Land Reforms Act of 1972. In 1972, the state government passed the Land Reforms Act, in which it was stated rather emphatically that the maximum land allowed per family was 10 acres of cultivable land and 25 acres of uncultivable land. It was estimated by the government that the act would enable it to procure nearly 1 million acre of surplus land for redistribution among Dalits and landless sections from the marginalised categories. Interestingly, by 1978, it had emerged that there were more than 1.5 million acres (1,562,000 acres, to be precise) in excess of the prescribed ceiling. Yet, a mere 594,000 acres of land was actually distributed to Dalits, Adivasis and Backward Classes (Rangarao 1996). Even this figure does not appear to be genuine, for what was distributed was not actual land, but the title deeds (pattas) to the land. The fact was that the distributed lands were still controlled by the upper castes (Konda 2008: 7–8). Further, whatever little land was distributed among the marginalised sections was unproductive and unsuitable for cultivation. The land in the possession of small, semi-medium and medium farmers during 1955–71 (as shown in Table 5.3) had decreased, while the number 193

2 38.6 46.0 46.6 49.3 54.2 56.0 60.9 61.6

3 18.3 18.5 20.3 20.9 20.8 21.2 21.8 21.9

4 17.7 17.4 17.4 16.0 15.2 14.5 12.4 12.0

5 16.7 12.7 12.2 9.1 8.0 6.9 4.3 40

Medium 6 8.7 4.3 3.4 2.1 1.8 1.3 0.6 0.5

Large 7 7.9 8.0 9.3 13.1 14.5 16.4 21.6 22.7

8 9.7 11.3 12.8 16.2 17.3 19.6 24.8 25.8






Share in operated area

Share in number of holdings

9 16.1 19.2 20.8 23.3 24.0 25.2 26.4 26.5

SemiMedium 10 28.1 30.8 32.3 28.7 27.3 26.1 19.8 19.0


11 38.2 30.7 24.8 18.7 16.3 12.8 7.5 6.1


12 2.43 2.51 – 1.94 – 1.50 1.25 1.20

Avg. Size

Note: 1. Marginal: 0–1 hectares; Small: 1–2 hectares; Semi-Medium: 2–4 hectares; Medium: 4–10 hectares; and Large: 10 hectares and above. 2. Avg – Average size of the holding in given hectares.

Source: Human Development Report 2007: Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, p. 64. (See also Mangala Gowri and Venkata Ramanaiah 2008; Sambi Reddy et al., 2012.)

1 1955–56 1970–71 1977–77 1980–81 1985–86 1990–91 2000–01 2005–06


Table 5.3 Changing structure of the agrarian economy in Andhra Pradesh: the percentage distribution of operational holdings by size class, 1956–2006


of medium and large farmers had increased. This decrease of the land and increase in the number of small and medium farmers clearly indicate two things. First, the beneficiaries of land reforms in the state, as elsewhere in India, were farmers or peasantry, but not the landless labourers. It is important to recognise here that ‘farmers’ refers to members of the nonBrahmin upper castes, particularly the Reddy, Kamma and Kapu castes. The majority of the lower castes, especially those that come under the current category of Most Backward Castes (MBCs), and almost the entire Dalit category, were landless labourers, particularly in the duration of the land reform process (Gaddam 1989: 293–4). It should also be specifically mentioned here that the upper castes have been allowed to appropriate thousands of acres of cultivable and uncultivable land by the Congress government under the leadership of Reddys. According to the Agricultural Census of 1988, there were 2,000 upper-caste farmers in AP who held 100 or more acres. Second, land reform through the removal of the gross and wide differences between the landed gentry and the peasantry brought about a certain ‘homogenisation of agrarian propertied classes’ (Karli 2002: 8); and it was this homogenisation that led the other rich peasantry, particularly the Kamma and Kapu castes, to become the core supporters of the Congress Party under Reddy leadership. Further, the Panchayati Raj system paved the way for the penetration of Reddy power into the grassroots. This system has a three-tier structure, consisting of the village Panchayat at the bottom, the Panchayat samithi in the middle (the block/taluk level) and the Zilla Parishad at the top (district level). This system is, for our purpose, significant for two main reasons. First, it became a fresh means of acquiring power and prestige for the upper castes in general, and Reddys in particular. The political aspirants from the Reddy castes were accommodated through it. In the first three Panchayati Raj elections conducted in 1959, 1964 and 1970, the Congress Party captured the chairmanship in all zilla parishads (except that of Nalgonda in 1964, which went to the CPI) and most of the panchayat samithis. It is notable that all the chairmen of the zilla parishads were handpicked by the chief ministers, thus perpetuating the Reddy domination (A. Narasimha Reddy 1979: 210). A study on the social backgrounds of the leadership at the level of panchayat samithis in the Telangana region indicates that 92.4 per cent of 112 Samithi presidents during 1970–76 were from the upper castes, particularly the Reddys and Kammas (Gaddam 1989: 307). Second, as the system had become a crucial mechanism for providing access to funds for development and control over their distribution, the Reddys (and other upper castes) utilised government machinery, resources and patronage in exercising control and gaining the loyalty of 195


the lower castes, eventually turning them into ‘traditional vote banks’ for the Reddy-dominated Congress Party (Gray 1968). It is, thus, critical to examine what Dalits inside the Congress were doing. What has the Dalit relationship with the Congress Party been like in post-independence AP? As described in the previous chapter, Gandhi and the Congress succeeded in diverting the energies of the Harijan leaders towards nonmaterial issues, such as temple entry, and thus, succeeded in marginalising the emerging force of the Ambedkarites. Vemula Kurmayya, Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, Raghavulu, Kota Punnaiah, Goka Ramaswamy and B. S. Murthy were some of the Congress’s Harijan leaders (Konda 1998: 3). After India’s independence and following the formation of a separate AP, these leaders became the natural choice for the Congress in the reserved constituencies. In addition to Congress’s Harijan leaders, some leaders of the Scheduled Castes Federation, such as Arigay Ramaswamy and Butti Rajaram, were co-opted by the Congress, thus improving its list of Harijan leaders. A cursory look at the performance of the party in the reserved seats for Dalits in the AP State Legislative Assembly, as shown in Table 5.4, clearly demonstrates that the Congress won more than half of these seats in any given election.

Table 5.4 Party performances in Scheduled Caste seats in the AP Legislative Assembly (1957–2004) Year/Party INC RPI PDF SWA CPI CPM JNP STS TDP BJP TRS IND Total 1957 1962 1967 1972 1978 1983 1985 1989 1994 1999 2004

13 33 24 36 30+2 09 02 25 02 08 24

01 – 02 – – – – – – –

03 – – – – – – – – – –

– 01 07 – – – – – – – –

– 08 02 – – 02 03 – 03 – –

– – 01 – – – 02 03 05 – 02

– – – – 06 – 01 – – – –

– – – 01 01 – – – – – –

– – – – – 28 30 08 28 29 07

– – – – – – 01 01 – 01 –

– – – – – – – – – – 06

01 01 04 03 – – – 02 01 01 –

18 43 40 40 39 39 39 39 39 39 39

Source: Statistical Reports of Assembly Elections for AP, Election Commission of India, New Delhi. INC: Indian National Congress; RPI: Republican Party of India; PDF: Peoples Democratic Front; CPI: Communist Party of India; CPI (M): Communist Party of India (Marxist); JNP: Janata Party; STS: Sampurna Telangana Praja Samithi; TDP: Telugu Desam Party; BJP: Bharatiya Janata Party; TRS: Telangana Rashtra Samithi; IND: Independent.



One of the main outcomes of the Congress’s co-option of Dalit leadership is that it led to the destruction of an independent Dalit voice. For nearly three decades, there was almost no Dalit leader that represented Dalit issues outside the Congress’s framework (or for that matter, outside the Communist Party’s class framework). Yet, scholars such as Konda (1998: 4) argued that Dalits’ association and their co-option by the Congress not only resulted in their awareness of the government’s developmental programmes, but also provided an avenue through which Dalit leadership could work for the betterment of the Dalit community. In order to stabilise and strengthen their own position in their respective constituencies, the Congress’s Dalit leaders consistently informed the Dalit public about the state administration, its policies and programmes, thus helping Dalits to take part and benefit. Further, those Dalit ministers bargained effectively for better allotment in budgetary allocations, and persistently pressurised the government to take measures for education, housing and employment facilities for Dalits. Ultimately, however, such efforts helped the Congress more than they did Dalits. The party transformed Dalits into its vote bank, and used that vote bank to dominate and control politics in the state for nearly three decades. AP became ‘the citadel of the Congress’, largely due to this solid support base (Gaddam 1976). The Congress also used its Harijan leaders to contain factionalism within the party, which emerged because of the domination of the Reddys themselves. One instance deserves mention here. By the early 1960s, of the two factions that emerged as strong contenders for power, one was led by Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and the other by Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, who were the two most powerful Congress leaders that the state had ever seen. In 1960, when they were both competing for the chief ministership, as a matter of prestige, the Congress leadership in Delhi brought in Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, a Mala (SC), for the top job rather than powerful leaders from the other upper castes (Bernstorff 1973). Although the selection of Damodaram as CM of AP (the first Dalit chief minister of any Indian state) was a great surprise, such a selection was not without reasons. He was chosen as a consensus candidate in order to avert an impending power conflict between the two powerful Reddy contenders – Neelam and Kasu (Elliot 1970: 152). Also, a Harijan CM would bring the numerically large social groups of the marginalised sections, especially Malas and Madigas, into the Congress fold, and thereby, erode the influence of the communists among these groups (Kondaveeti 2002: 18).



Interestingly, although the intention of the Congress in installing Damodaram as the CM was to use him until the dust settled in the power conflict between the two Reddy candidates, Damodaram used the opportunity for a different purpose. Soon after getting into office, he tried to consolidate the representatives of the marginalised sections within the Congress Party, especially Dalits, reli gious minorities (Muslims and Christians) and Backward Castes. He instructed the Department of Development to earmark 15 per cent of funds exclusively for the welfare of these communities. He also issued a government order that until suitable persons from the Dalit and Adivasi groups were found, the positions that were reserved for them should be kept vacant. Further, he tried to extend the reservation benefits to many Shudra castes by including more Shudras in the state list of Backward Castes (Gaddam and Sharma 1979; Innaiah 1986). However, those welfare policies and programmes favouring Dalits and marginalised sections were vehemently opposed by the Reddys and other upper castes inside the Congress Party. What the upper caste-dominated Congress wanted, as Konda (1998: 6) argued, was not the actual empowerment of Dalits, which would ultimately lead to their questioning upper-caste domination, but rather, continued subordination and further marginalisation so as to perpetuate the domination enjoyed by the upper castes. A majority of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who came from upper-caste backgrounds, irrespective of their caste and faction within the party, rebelled against Sanjeevaiah and agitated until he was removed from the position of chief minister in 1962. Thus, in post-independence AP, while Dalits were used as vote banks by the Congress, their leaders were used as facilitators for upper-caste political power games. At the same time, a rosy, but false, impression was created that the Dalit community in AP was genuinely gaining economic and political power because of the Congress Party and government. Dalits and the Communists: In both Telangana and coastal Andhra regions, Dalits were attracted to the Communist Party slogans of ‘classless society’ and ‘social equality’. In practice, however, those slogans remained empty promises. The communist movement, under the leadership of Reddys and Kammas, not only sidelined the caste question, but also marginalised Dalits within the rank and file of the party organisations. Even in the post-independence period, the attitude of the communists to the Dalits and their specific problems did not change. Just like the Congress, the communists also used Dalits to swell their own position in the State Legislative Assembly. 198


One of the significant aspects of the leadership of the two main political parties in the state – the Congress Party and the Communist Party of India – is that of polarisation along caste lines. While the Reddys, as observed by Harrison (1956: 384), ‘gravitating almost by default, had cornered the market (the leadership of the Congress) on the bulk of the (Congress) party’s non-Brahmin patronage’, in the left-wing parties, Kammas have outnumbered others, especially the Reddys.2 An interesting but important characteristic of the communist leadership in the state was that a majority of the Kammas that occupied the party leadership were either rich landlords themselves or sons of rich landlords. It was estimated that Kammas owned 80 per cent of the fertile delta land in the coastal Andhra region (ibid.: 381). It was precisely this caste and class position or, in the words of B. T. Ranadive, the ‘wrong social base’ of the party leadership that decisively shaped the party’s direction in the state. Interestingly, the communist leadership, as observed by Harrison (ibid.: 391), ‘had made no secret of their “rich peasant” policy within the party’. In fact, the leadership explicitly wrote on this point in a 1948 programme report for the Indian Communist Politburo, which stressed two major tactical rules of thumb: 1. In delta areas the pressure of population would be heavy, and as such slogans should be raised for the distribution of lands belonging to rich ryots among poor peasants and labourers . . . 2. Propaganda should be carried on to convince the ryots about the just demands of the workers, and we should also affect compromises with such of those ryots who would follow us. Assurance should be given that we should not touch the lands of rich ryots. (Source: Self-Critical Report of the Andhra Communist Committee, January 1948–1952, a party document not intended for publication, quoted in ibid.: 391; see also, passim 46) Two aspects of the mentality behind these tactics are clear: first, they illustrate the devious means adopted by the Communist Party to mobilise poor peasants and labourers. One might argue that such means were adopted in order to achieve the party’s ultimate goal: the establishment of a classless society. But, nowhere is there a discussion about the distribution of land to the landless, even after the seizure of power. Second, on the pretext of their being ‘sympathisers of the communists’, the communists were not going to seize the land that belonged to ‘the rich ryots’. So two questions must be posed here: first, could those rich ryots be called communists, especially after they decided to retain their land, and yet, joined 199


the struggle to establish ‘a classless society’? Second, how could the communists achieve their goal without transforming the structures at the root of class-based inequalities? One may conclude that the upper castes used the Communist Party only to pacify the angry landless poor while continuing their dominance over those structures. Unfortunately, the landless believed the communist leadership’s empty promises about land distribution to the landless, despite the fact that both the perpetuators of the feudal system and the party leaders who were talking about ending that system were one and the same. In the early 1950s, coastal Andhra had a high population density compared to other parts of the state; it had a particularly high percentage of landless labourers. The population density ranged from 900 to 1,200 persons per square mile in coastal Andhra, as compared with 316 in the rest of the state; and more than 37 per cent of the total agricultural population in coastal Andhra were landless labourers, a majority of whom were Dalits. As mentioned above, the communists began successfully organising Dalits, especially Madigas, Malas and Adi Andhras in coastal Andhra. This development explains the electoral successes of the communists in both the 1946 and 1951 assembly elections, especially in the latter. In the 1951 assembly elections, 6 of the 31 seats won by the communists in coastal Andhra were reserved for Dalits (Harrison 1956: 386–7). Despite taking advantage of Dalits in the reserved constituencies in the name of the landless labourers, the communists did not address the caste problem faced by Dalits even though they did discuss them. A number of communist leaders examined and wrote about the socio-economic condition of Dalits. Some notable contributions were: T. Nagireddy’s Takattulo Bharatadesam (India mortgaged); Pucchalapalli Sundarayya’s Telangana People’s Struggle and Its Lesson and D. Venkateswararao’s Telangana Porata Charitra (History of Telangana struggle). In these writings as well as others, the communists recognised the existence of caste and had their own views as to its significance and power in society. Devulapalli Venkateswararao, one of the important communist ideologues in the state, observed: In every county we see the existence of religion and old customs and traditions in public life. In addition to these, we have caste in our country. Caste is a vestige of feudalism, and caste will wither away as soon as we destroy feudalism, which is possible through the revolution. (cited in May Seventeenth Comrades 2001: 8) 200


Clearly, for the communists, caste was almost insignificant, and, hence, not worthy of being struggled against. In order to avoid the caste question, they raised several arguments. Three important ones were: (1) unity of the proletariat/workers, (2) land distribution and (3) automatic withering away of caste in the capitalist economy.3 (1) Unity of the proletariat/workers: It was argued by the communists that the caste question should not be taken up before the revolution (i.e. the achievement of political power by the communists), for such an undertaking would destroy the unity of the proletariat/workers. For instance, Vemulapalli Venkatramayya argues: [I]n our country the proletariat is constituted both by the upper castes as well as lower castes. And if we have to wage the struggle against the caste before the revolution, then that would lead to disunity among the proletariat, especially the upper castes would move out of the (Communist) party. (quoted in May Seventeenth Comrades 2001: 45) Venkatramayya seems to be mainly concerned with the upper-caste proletariat. It may be correct that the struggle against caste would result in the exit of the upper castes from the party. But could the lower-caste proletariat remain in the party if the party did not take up the caste question? How would the party unite the proletariat that was divided along caste and class lines? Devulapalli Venakateswararao’s response to the second question is: [A]lthough people (the proletariat) are divided on caste lines; they could be united on the basis of their common problems . . . Caste divisions on their own are not dangerous, but casteism is very dangerous and this has grown to unprecedented levels in the last 35 years. (cited in May Seventeenth Comrades 2001: 7) Two important elements in this argument are: first, irrespective of their position in the caste hierarchy, all the proletariat are victims of class inequalities and can be brought together on the basis of this common suffering. Second, by arguing that caste divisions are, on their own, not dangerous, Devulapalli seems to be separating casteism from the issue of caste divisions. In reality, casteism is the end-product of caste divisions. In any case, even if we agree with Devulapalli, the big question would be 201


how the communists could unite the proletariat, who were the embodiment of casteism? Could unity be achieved without eliminating casteism? (2) Land distribution: Equating the caste problem with the class problem, the communists argued that the caste problem of the Dalits would disappear with the redistribution of land. In his ‘Agrarian Revolution’, Pucchalapalli Sundarayya argues: What is the main problem of the Harijans and Backward Castes? In reality, their main problem is that of lack of land . . . Without uprooting feudalism and without achieving the agrarian revolution on the principle of ‘land to the tiller’, it is almost impossible to provide justice to them (the Harijans and the BCs). (cited in May Seventeenth Comrades 2001: 8) Arguing along similar lines, Devulapalli Venkateswararao also states: There is an organic interconnection between the destruction of feudalism and annihilation of the caste system. The section of people that have been perpetuating the caste system will be automatically uprooted once we uproot feudalism, and such uprooting is possible only through an agrarian revolution. (cited in ibid.: 10) Although stated differently, the essence of these two arguments is the same. They link the caste problem with the economic problem, i.e. land, and posit that as soon as that economic problem was sorted out, the caste problem would disappear on its own. This is, however, what Bojja Tarakam (1996: 77) termed a ‘baseless’ argument. The poverty of Dalits is definitely on account of their impoverished minds, the result of the Brahmanical caste system. But economic empowerment itself does not solve the caste problem, for even the economically well-off Dalits have been the victims of the caste-based discrimination by the upper castes – not just the upper class, but even the lower-class upper castes. Certainly, land redistribution would empower the landless Dalits economically, but the solution to caste does not lie in the distribution of land. (3) Automatic withering away of caste in the capitalist economy: Arguing that caste will automatically wither away in a capitalist economy, Devulapalli observes:‘Once we enter into a capitalist economy there won’t be any room for a Brahmin to remain as Brahmin and a Kamma as a Kamma’ (Andhra Jyothi 3 June 1984). What Devulapalli was suggesting was that there was no need for a separate struggle against caste, as India would certainly enter 202


into the capitalist economy phase, which, by its nature, forces people from their traditional enclaves and caste-based identities to embrace professionalism. Thus, people would be known by their professions (what they do) and not by their caste-based identities (who they are). This line of reasoning of the communists clearly demonstrates not just the escapist arguments, but more importantly, their gross misreading of the social trends, their overestimation of capitalist forces and underestimation of the Brahmanical forces and the casteist mindset of Indian society, especially among the upper castes. The capitalist economy may allow people to become professionals, but that does not necessarily mean that they will grow out of their casteist mindset – their values, beliefs, habits and prejudices. For instance, Ramoji Rao, a Kamma by caste, is one of the biggest capitalists in AP. To his name, he has a film studio in Hyderabad which is spread over 5,000 acres, Eenadu – the largest newspaper in the state, TV channels in 13 Indian languages and various other businesses. According to one estimation, he and his family alone command nearly 25 to 30 per cent of businesses in AP.4 To run such a vast business empire, he should employ talented professionals, irrespective of the caste identities of those professionals. But apparently, it is Ramoji Rao’s personal policy that 80–90 per cent of the employees in his outfits should be drawn exclusively from the Kamma caste, a policy that is strictly adhered to.5 Further, one of the main pillars of the caste system is marriage within the caste. It may be true that inter-caste marriages take place, but the vast majority of marriages are formalised within castes, even in today’s India, which has more or less entered a capitalist economy. The Republican Party of India (RPI) in AP: The previous chapter noted that some Dalits – in both Hyderabad and coastal Andhra – accepted Ambedkar as their national leader and followed his activities from the early 1930s. When Ambedkar established the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1942, they also opened branches of SCF in their respective regions and organised Dalits to claim their share in the emerging political power equations. Although prior to the first general election in 1951–52 none of the branches managed to win in any election, they did voice Dalit concerns during the twilight of colonial rule. Interestingly, in the first general elections, the SCF won five assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat in Hyderabad State.6 The success of the party was not on account of any increased political activity by Dalits; rather, they felt threatened and alienated after the annexation of Nizam’s Hyderabad State by the Indian Union in 1948. They also could trust neither the communists – who, during the Telangana revolt, raised the slogan of ‘land to the tiller’ to the Dalits, but actually distributed land among the upper-caste Reddys and 203


Shudras, especially the Gouda, Kapu, Kurmi, Padmashali and Yadava castes – nor the Congress, which sent the Indian Army into Hyderabad State. The army saw Dalits as sympathisers both of the Razakars and of the communists, and wrecked their lives by killing Dalit men and children, raping Dalit women and burning down their huts.7 After the formation of RPI in 1957 in Nagpur, the two SCF branches in AP decided to merge into one. Under the chairmanship of Eali Vadapalli, a state-level conference was organised in Secunderabad in 1958, where the merger was formalised. The new party was named the Andhra Pradesh Republican Party of India. In the same conference, B. V. Ramanaiah from East Godavari and J. Eswaribai from Hyderabad were elected as the party president and general secretary, respectively. Some of the prominent Dalit leaders who took part in the conference were Bojja Appala Swamy, Subbarao, Lakshmi Narayana and Konda Surya Prakasarao (Narasimharao 1994: 30). It may be recalled from Chapter 1 that, during the early 1960s, the RPI initiated nationwide demonstrations with 10 demands, including land to the tiller, the distribution of waste and idle land to the landless labourer and the full implementation of the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. The RPI branch in AP also organised a number of demonstrations in front of the Legislative Assembly and offices of the district collectors (magistrates); party workers and supporters courted police arrests during those demonstrations. The Congress-led government in the state did not concede to any of the RPI’s demands. Yet, the RPI gained respect in the political domain; the Dalit constituency, in particular, recognised it as the party with ‘some substance’ and a ‘committed leadership for the welfare of the downtrodden’.8 The successful organisation of mass demonstrations resulted in newfound confidence among the RPI leadership, as the result of which, they contested 11 reserved seats in the 1967 assembly elections. Although many of the candidates lost their deposits, the two main leaders of the party, Ramanaiah and Eswaribai, won from an Amalapuram reserved constituency in East Godavari district and a Yellareddy reserved constituency in Nizamabad district, respectively.9 Despite 40 Dalit MLAs in the 1967–1972 assembly (Indian National Congress [INC] – 24; Swatantra Party – 7; RPI – 2; CPI – 2; CPI [M] – 2; Independents – 4), the two RPI MLAs were the only ones assertive in voicing Dalits’ concerns in the assembly. Some of the demands placed by them were: an increase in the wages of agricultural labourers, housing facilities and employment opportunities for Dalits and other marginalised sections and declaration of Ambedkar’s birthday as a state holiday (Bhaskararao 1968: 60–4). On a number of occasions, the RPI leaders also questioned the 204


government on its indifference to the mounting atrocities against Dalits, and its lack of sincerity in the distribution of land to the landless. To give one such example, challenging the government for its apathy in the distribution of government land to Dalits and backward classes, Eswaribai asked in July 1968: Thousands of acres of banjaar (waste) lands were available in every village. Once in a while the Honourable Minister for Revenue announces that the government is distributing those lands to the Harijans and other poor people. But so far he has never informed the assembly the details of the distribution. Whenever we raise the issue, the Minister always finds something or the other excuse to not to reveal the details. We demand that the government should immediately release the details of land distribution in every Taluq . . . for most of the lands that were distributed among the Harijans were unsuitable for cultivation. (cited in Narasimharao 1994: 46–7) Besides political activity, the RPI leadership also started a newspaper and a fortnightly in order to spread the ideas and ideals of Ambedkar. In 1972, Ramanaiah started Republican Jyothi – a fortnightly, and Jai Bheem Patrika under the editorship of B. H. Tirupathi. They also established the Ambedkar Memorial Society in Hyderabad. The society sponsored translation of some of the major works of Ambedkar, including the ‘Annihilation of Caste’ into Telugu. Despite an impressive beginning, there was steep decline in activism within the RPI, and by the mid-1970s, the party became almost nonfunctional in the state. The party’s decline was partly to do with the functioning of the RPI in Maharashtra as well as a change in the interests of local leaders. First, much to the chagrin of the Dalits, the RPI in Maharashtra entered into an electoral alliance with the Congress in the 1976 elections, which was the starting point for future splits within RPI. Some of the Dalits who were not in favour of the alliance with the Congress organised themselves under the leadership of B. D. Khobragade; the AP branch rejected the RPI–Congress alliance and declared Khobragade as its national leader (ibid.: 30–1). But the Dalit supporters in the state were disappointed not just with RPI’s alliance with the Congress (their main enemy both in national and state politics), but also with the constant splits within the party. Second, the Congress government used every possible means to dissolve the RPI in the state. For instance, during the early 1970s, it consistently used police force against the RPI leadership and its activists (Konda 2008: 16). Finally, Eswaribai was attracted to the agitation 205


for a separate Telangana statehood in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and diverted her attention from RPI to the activities of the ‘Telangana Praja Samithi’. With her departure, the party lost its credibility among Dalits in the Telangana region, and by the mid-1970s, the party workers began to join other political outfits, especially the CPI (ML), and some others, including Dalit youth, began to mobilise under the banner of the Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangam (Ambedkar’s Youth Association). D. The Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangams10 :After the decline of the RPI, its activists, especially the young Dalits, rallied around the leadership of Bojja Tarakam, an advocate in the AP High Court with a political background. His father, Bojja Appalaswamy, was one of the SCF leaders in coastal Andhra and was elected twice to the Legislative Assembly from Amalapuram constituency in East Godavari district, in 1951 and 1955. Tarakam was ‘disappointed and annoyed’ with the functioning of the RPI in Maharashtra and the decline of the party in the state, and did not want the consequence to be the end of Ambedkarism and related activities. He wanted to address the concerns of Dalits and also spread Ambedkarism, particularly among Dalit youth. Towards the realisation of those objectives, he started the Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangam in Nizamabad district, in Telangana region, in 1971.11 One of the initial activities of the Sangam was to organise the beedi (tobacco leaf cigarette) workers for minimum wages in Nizamabad district. A majority of the Dalits and other marginalised sections in Nizamabad were beedi workers, and despite consistent demands from the workers, the upper-caste owners of the beedi factories denied minimum wages. The Sangam organised a month-long demonstration in front of the government offices at the Talooq/Mandal and district levels for an increase in wages for the beedi workers. The government was forced to concede their demands and also agree to take measures for proper implementation of the ‘Beedi and Cigar Workers Act’. Soon, news of the success of the Sangam spread to other districts in the state, and Dalit youth invited Tarakam to launch branches of the Sangam in their districts; by the beginning of the 1980s, every district in the state had a branch. In A P, as elsewhere in India, the 1980s started with increased incidents of violence against Dalits by the upper castes. Dalits were also subjected to caste-based discrimination and humiliation as never before. It was not just the ordinary Dalits who were subjected to upper-caste violence and humiliation’ even Dalit politicians were subjected to the same treatment. For instance, M. Veeranna, a Congress Dalit MLA, was denied entry into a Hindu temple (Konda 2008: 17). Dalits were furious and the Sangam plunged into action by organising demonstrations against 206


both the upper-caste Congress leaders and the police for their inaction. Although the demonstrations ended with the usual promises by the Congress’s upper-caste leadership that there would be strict enforcement of the law against the culprits, the incident and the demonstration were eye-opening: for they established for the public, especially the Dalits, the casteist and undemocratic attitude of the upper-caste politicians and the nexus between them and the police. Following these demonstrations, in 1982, the Sangam observed the two national days, Independence Day and Republic Day, as Black Days. On the eve of these two occasions, the Sangam organised the hoisting of black flags, instead of the tricolour national flag, throughout the state. Some 50,000 Sangam supporters wearing black shirts gathered at Ambedkar’s statue near Tankbund in Hyderabad to protest against the growing incidents of caste-based discrimination against Dalits (Eenadu 27 January 1982). Apart from these activities, the Sangam worked to spread Ambedkarite ideas and ideals among Dalits in the state. First, along with the Scheduled Castes Employees’ Welfare Association, the Sangam started night schools for the slum dwellers in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. According to J. B. Raju, a member of the Sangam, over a period of five years, nearly 220 people benefited from the night schools.12 They also restarted Jai Bheem Patrika. P. V. Rao, who later on became the president of the Mala Mahanadu, was its editor. Under a new column called Raktaasruvulu (Tears of blood), he chronicled the atrocities committed against Dalits. Bojja Tarakam contributed several articles, in which he exposed how the upper castes and their politicians had been using the state machinery both to perpetuate their domination and to marginalise Dalits. Further, the Sangam also initiated the installation of Ambedkar statues in every village, town and district headquarters. While in the villages and towns, the statues were installed in Dalit localities, in the district headquarters. they were installed in the main centres. These statues were, as Konda (2008: 17) pointed out, ‘intended to create a strong effect not only on the Dalits but on every onlooker, reminding them of Ambedkar’s three mottos: “educate, agitate, and organise” ’. The installation of the statues also signified the growing consciousness of Dalits about their right to share public space alongside the caste Hindus. Thus, it may be concluded that through the RPI, and later, the Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangam, the Dalit leadership tried to voice Dalit concerns and problems, and in the initial stages, seemed to make a mark. However, in the long run, they could not sustain their activism because of strong opposition by the ruling Congress Party, and also due to a lack of material resources. But what were the concerns and activities of Dalits in the state’s 207


political arena as the 1980s progressed, particularly after the emergence of the Telugu Desam Party?

Against Brahmanism and domination: the APDMS Two significant events that took place in the early 1980s in AP were the formation of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the emergence of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha (APDMS). The TDP emerged from among Kammas and the APDMS came from among Dalits. While the former questioned the political domination of the Reddys,13 the latter questioned the socio-economic and political domination of the upper castes as a whole. These entities not only defined the politics and Dalit activism in the state during the 1980s and 1990s, but continue to shape them even today. Although caste biases and the question of domination are at the base of these two formations, they neither represented one social base nor belonged to one stream of thought. Indeed, they represented two opposing social bases – upper and lower layers in the hierarchical social structure – and two ever-conflicting and never converging streams of thought, Brahmanism and Ambedkarism. In Chapter 2, we noted that at the heart of the emergence of Dalit activism in UP in the 1970s and 1980s lay the increased incidents of violence against Dalits. However, it was not the only state affected. A similar phenomenon is visible throughout India, particularly in states such as Bihar in northern India, Maharashtra in western India and Tamil Nadu in southern India. Everywhere the motive behind organised violence was the same: ‘the Harijans are getting above themselves, they should be taught a lesson to show them their “right place”’. The upper castes, habituated to the meek submissiveness of the Dalit masses for centuries, could not stomach being questioned by them. They saw violence as the only means by which to restore those traditional relationships. In AP, two brutal massacres of Dalits were perpetrated in Karamchedu and Chunduru in the 1980s and 1990s. The Dalit masses responded by organising themselves under the leadership of APDMS, and by using caste as the rallying point in their mobilisation, they led a protracted struggle for justice and social equality. During the course of the struggle, they rejected their caste identities, imposed upon them by the Brahmanical social structure and the state in post-independence India. The emergence of TDP and carnage in Karamchedu: As mentioned above, one of the significant developments in the state’s political theatre was the formation of the TDP in March 1982. It was founded by Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR), a Kamma by caste and film actor by 208


profession. Although Kammas, along with Reddys, were the main beneficiaries of the land reforms in the state and more or less equally represented in the Legislative Assembly, they always resented the fact that they were not offered the highest political position in the state – that of chief minister.14 But in other avenues, Kammas proved to be more enterprising than Reddys. They were at the forefront in utilising the ‘Green Revolution’ facilities. By using a high-yielding variety of seeds, chemical fertiliser and the easy availability of capital for agriculture through the nationalised banks, Kammas amassed great wealth. They reinvested their agricultural wealth into commercial activities such as rice mills, tobacco and sugar production, the film industry, hotels and newspapers. This changing economic base strengthened their social status and political power at the grassroots and also helped them gain additional ministerial positions in the Reddy-led Congress governments. Yet, the Kammas continued to resent the failure of Indira Gandhi to appoint a Kamma chief minister in the state. Of the nine chief ministers before NTR, six were from the Reddy community and none from the Kammas. ‘The growing disjuncture’, as observed by Atul Kohli (1988: 996), ‘between economic power and the failure to capture the highest political office – with all its symbolic and the real gains – alienated the Kammas (from the Congress)’. When NTR made his move from the silver screen to the political stage, a majority of Kammas, irrespective of party affiliations, ideological differences and class positions, rallied behind him and wrested political power from the hands of the Reddys (Gundimeda 2009: 53). The TDP’s assumption of political power had far-reaching effects on all aspects of social life, particularly on the way in which Kammas saw themselves and their relations with Dalits. Their newly assumed political power added to their pre-existing social dominance and economic power. In fact, as observed by Katti Padmarao (2005: 2), it strengthened the caste arrogance of Kammas, and ‘almost every Kamma in the state virtually felt that “the Kamma state” (Kamma rajyam) had been established’. With state power in their hands, Kammas in the rural areas began to harass Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised groups. The Kamma youth, in particular, pestered young Dalit girls and women for sexual favours. If they were rejected, the youth would go to the extent of going directly to the houses of the girls and raping them in front of their parents or husbands. For instance, in Karamchedu village, prior to the Kamma massacre of Madigas, Venkatesh, a Kamma man, went to the house of Tirupataiah, a member of the Erukula (Adivasi) community, and raped his young daughter. When Tirupataiah went to lodge a case against the Kamma man, the 209


police refused to file it.15 It was in the context of such amalgamation of social and political power that the Kammas organised the massacre in Karamchedu village. Karamchedu is a very prosperous village, located 7 km from the busy commercial town of Chirala in Prakasam district. In the 1980s, the total population of the village was around 13,600 – of which Kammas comprised 6,000. The two Dalit castes, Madigas and Malas, constituted the next largest castes in the village, with populations of 1,100 and 900, respectively. Among the rest, Upparas, Dasus and Muslims were quite significant in number. The total cultivable land in the village was 9,000 acres. Most of this land was owned and controlled by Kammas, who also owned a further 2,000 acres in neighbouring villages. Benefiting from the paddy and tobacco cultivation, from the early 1970s, the Kammas diversified their wealth into business, rice mills, contracts, transport operation and film production. A significant proportion of the Kamma farmers regularly migrated to far-off districts in the state and even to neighbouring states. They had a significant presence in Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts in Telangana region and Bellary district in Karnataka, where they cultivated tobacco, cotton and other commercial crops on leased or purchased land (K. Murali 1995). The economic condition of the Dalits, who comprised the bulk of the agricultural labour force, contrasted sharply with that of the Kammas. Indeed, this was not just the case for the Dalits in Karamchedu. As reflected in Tables 5.5. and 5.6, more than 60 per cent of Dalits in the state had been agricultural labourers. While the annual payment for a paleru (farm servant) was just INR 2,000, the daily wages paid to male and female agricultural labourers were INR 10–12 and INR 6–8, respectively. These wages were much lower than the minimum wage rates legally prescribed. Table 5.5 Percentage of Scheduled Caste population in Andhra Pradesh Year

Population (in M)

Percentage in total population

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

4.9 5.8 7.9 10.6 12.3

13.8 13.3 14.9 15.9 16.2

Source: Human Development Report 2007: Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, p. 132.



Table 5.6 Principal sources of livelihood among the Scheduled Castes in Andhra Pradesh Sector

HH Type




SENA AL OL SEA Others Total SE RW/SE CL Others Total

5.9 69.1 9.2 11.8 4.0 100 20.0 48.6 26.8 4.7 100

7.5 60.7 11.5 11.6 7.5 100 24.5 40.1 28.9 6.5 100


Source: Human Development Report 2007: Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, p. 136. Note: SENA – Self-employed in non-agriculture; AL – Agriculture labour; OL – Other labour; SEA – Self-employed in agriculture; SE – Self-employed; RW/SE – Regular wage or salaried; CL – Casual labour.

Over the course of time, some Dalits, especially Madigas, improved their economic condition by cultivating the land of Kammas as tenants. Their changed economic situation allowed them to send their children to schools, and by the early 1980s, some of the youth had acquired jobs outside the agricultural sector. The changed economic circumstances and education among Madigas enhanced their self-esteem and made them socially conscious.16 They began to question the practice of untouchability and sexual exploitation of their women by Kammas. In the circumstances, the emergence of the TDP was seen as an opportunity by both Madigas and Kammas. The former saw it as ‘the party of the Kammas’,17 and felt the need to stand against the emerging political power of the Kammas, and the latter saw it as the harbinger of their political domination, in addition to their already existing social dominance. Interestingly, until the formation of TDP, the political contest in Karamchedu had been organised within the Congress Party. But with the birth of the TDP, the Kammas in the village as elsewhere in the state, shifted their loyalties to it, while the Madigas continued to support the Congress. The Kammas were taken aback for they had thought the Madigas, whose economic survival depended on them, would simply support their TDP. Although such defiance on the part of the Madigas did not escalate into a major conflict, yet, as observed by Karli Srinivasulu, ‘it caused sufficient injury 211


to the cultivated pride of the dominant Kamma caste’ (2002: 38). After the 1983 assembly election, the Kammas in the village were waiting for an excuse to teach the Madigas a lesson, and that excuse came in the form of a trivial incident that happened on 16 July 1985. On 16 July 1985, at about 15:30 p.m., two Kamma youths, Potina Seenu and Rayineedu Prasad, were washing their buffalos on the steps of the water tank that belonged to the Dalits. They dirtied the water in the tank, which was the only source of drinking water for Dalits in the village. Watching this, Katti Chandraiah, a young, but lame, Madiga boy objected to the action of the Kamma youths, who reacted angrily by whipping him with a cattle leash. A young Madiga woman, Munnangi Suvaratha, who had come to fetch water from the tank, protested against this act. When the arrogant Kammas turned to beat her as well, she lifted her water pot in self-defence. Suvartha’s act reminds us of Rosa Park’s defiance in refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Alabama on 1 December 1955. The Kammas became furious at this unexpected courage shown by a woman, particularly a Madiga woman, but they could not do anything as another Madiga man intervened (Karamchedu Fact Finding Team 1985: 5). The Kammas in the village, instead of chiding the young men for showing their muscle power against a lame boy and a woman, turned their ire against the Madigas for taking on their youth. ‘How could a Madiga woman lift a water pot against the Kammas? What is the meaning of our caste power if we do not teach these Madigas a lesson and show them their place?’ (Katti 2005: 4) – such was the reaction of the rest of the Kammas in the village. The humiliation heaped upon the Kammas by the Madigas was immediately reported to Kammas in neighbouring villages. They were asked to join in avenging the humiliation: ‘If only you (the Kammas) were born to the Kamma penis (kammodi madda)’.18 More than 200 Kammas gathered from seven neighbourhood villages, and an attack was meticulously planned and executed on the morning of 17 July. It was stated that the attack was planned by Daggubati Chenchu Ramaiah, the father of NTR’s son-in-law, Daggubati Venkateswararao.19 Armed with axes, crowbars, spears and clubs, the Kamma mob attacked the Madigapalle (Madiga locality) from all directions. The Kammas’ message was conveyed in the most brutal form possible – smashing the skulls of the Madigas with axes, breaking their limbs, digging spears into their groins. Pregnant women, women with babies in their arms, young girls, and old women – no one was spared. At least three women were raped and six men were killed in the mayhem.20 Apart from the bloodshed at Karamchedu, several other assaults were organised by the upper castes against Dalits in the state in the 1980s and 212

Table 5.7 Major incidences of violence against Dalits during 1983–91 Place of occurrence

Date of occurrence

Nature of the incident

Padirikuppam (Chittor)

5 January 1983

Karamchedu (Prakasam)

17 July 1985

Hasnanpur (Adilabad)

13 June 1985, 8 July 1985

Avdhapur (Medak Neerukonda (Guntur) Gudiada (Vizianagaram)

17 January 1986

Chirala (Prakasam)

13 August 1987

Dontali (Nellore)

27 August 1987

Bandilapalli (Nellore) Kodavatikallu Beernakallu (Nellore) Gokarajupalli Tangutur (Prakasham) Jabbergudem (Ranga Reddy) Pippara (West Godavari)

27 August 1987

Four Dalits killed and 80 families rendered homeless following an attack by upper-caste TDP supporters Six Dalits killed and three Dalit women raped in a mass assault by hundreds of upper-caste men of the Kamma caste Reddy landlords, closely related to the Adilabad MLA, killed two youths of the Dhobi and Barber castes on two separate days, for refusing to procure a prostitute on their demand Landlords belonging to the TDP set fire to 30 Dalit houses One elderly Dalit man murdered in a mob attack by men of the Kamma caste One Dalit labourer killed in a dispute over a small patch of tank-bed land by a mob of backward caste farmers led by upper-caste (Rajus) Congress party leader A principal witness in the Karamchedu violence was murdered by the Karamchedu killers One person of a backward caste was killed in an assault by a gang of uppercaste men Four Dalits beaten and stabbed to death in an assault by a group of upper-caste men Dalit labourer murdered by a landlord A Dalit deputy president of the village killed by TDP landlord A Dalit labourer killed by a landlord A Dalit woman raped and burnt to death by an upper-caste TDP strongman One Dalit killed in a mass assault by the henchmen of a TDP landlord One Dalit killed in a mass assault by upper-caste men led by village deputy president Dalit farm servant killed by youths from a landlord’s family Two Dalits killed in a mass assault by forward-caste men

Kanchikacherla (Krishna) Gutlapadu (West Godavari)

15 July 1987 15 July 1987

2 February 1988 19 January 1989 16 January 1989 3 March 1989 27 April 1989 4 June 1989

19 March 1990 19 May 1990



Table 5.7 (Continued) Place of occurrence

Date of occurrence

Nature of the incident

Kothapulavandla Palli (Ananthapur) Chillakallu (Krishna)

6 June 1990

A Dalit burnt alive by upper-caste men

28 November 1990

Moodurallapalli (Karnool) Timmasamudram (Prakasham)

18 March 1991

Chundur (Guntur)

6 August 1991

Gokarajupalli (Krishna)

3 August 1991

A Dalit Superintendent of Police shot himself dead due to casteist harassment from the CI A Dalit labourer beaten and stabbed to death by a mob of upper-caste men Dalits driven out of the village by an attack from forward-caste men owing allegiance to a TDP leader Between 8 and 20 Dalits killed in a mass assault by forward-caste men from six villages Dalit labourer killed by upper castes

January 1991

Source: Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, 1991, cited in Karli 2002: 43; also see Balagopal 1991.

1990s. In fact, the period 1983–91, for which there is detailed information, saw regular attacks on the Dalits, as illustrated in Table 5.7: The Dalits’ response against the unprecedented ferocity of the Karamchedu massacre was spontaneous. Thousands of Dalits from all over the state gathered in nearby Chirala town, to which the victims of the bloodshed had fled. There, the ‘All-India Dalits Co-ordination Committee on Karamchedu’ was constituted under the leadership of two well-known leaders, Katti Padmarao and Bojja Tarakam. Katti, a Mala by caste, was a Sanskrit lecturer in a college in Guntur district. He belonged to the tradition of organised rationalism that had long been a significant movement in South India. Katti was one of the leading rationalists in coastal Andhra and a spokesman for the Marxist approach to religion. Bojja, as mentioned earlier, was a government lawyer and was the founder of the Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangam. Earlier, he had been closely associated with the communist movement, and for some time, he was an activist in Virasam (the Revolutionary Writers’ Association of AP). Soon after the massacre, Bojja resigned his job as a lawyer and Katti suspended his teaching activities. They organised the victims of the carnage, who refused to go back to their village, and built a colony for them in Chirala. Gradually, the protest against the attack turned into a movement that led to the formation of the APDMS in Chirala on 1 September 1985. 214


The inauguration was attended by about 300,000 Dalits and sympathisers (Balagopal 1987: 1378). In the first APDMS convention at Tenali between 16 and 17 February1986, Katti and Bojja were elected as general secretary and president, respectively. It may be mentioned here that the stage on the APDMS’s formation day was kept exclusively for Dalits. No one from an uppercaste background, however sympathetic to the Dalits, was allowed to share it. They did not want any upper-caste person to speak on their behalf (Konda 2008: 21); they were afraid that the entry of non-Dalits would water down their struggle. The leaders mounted a strong criticism against the sociopolitical domination of the upper castes and the ideology of Brahmanism, which facilitates such domination. Following the first convention, the leadership of the APDMS tried to mobilise not only Dalits, but also the other marginalised sections, especially Adivasis, the lower Shudra castes (the Most Backward Castes [MBCs]) and women of all castes and communities, against caste-based violence and discrimination. Also drawing from the philosophies of Charvakas, Buddhist Sangha dharma and indigenous sociocultural movements such as the Bhakti movements, and by synthesising ideologies of Marxism and Ambedkarism, the APDMS offered alternatives in the sociocultural domain. Ideology of the APDMS: The APDMS launched ‘the Dalit Manifesto’ at its first state-level conference in Tenali, Guntur district, in February 1986, which took issues with various political parties, especially with the Congress and communists, for their evasion of the caste question. It also spelled out the objectives of the Dalit struggle and the strategies for achieving them. Since then, the manifesto has been an ideological bible for the movement, and a guiding light for Dalit activism in the state. Three major aspects of the manifesto deserve examination: (1) Dalits and political parties, (2) Identity and (3) Objectives of the Dalit movement. (a) Dalits and political parties: The two main political parties targeted in the manifesto were Congress and communists. The manifesto observed that during the colonial period, the sudden concern of the Congress for Dalits or ‘Harijans’ was the result of Ambedkar’s demand for political power for the Dalits. Instead of giving their due share, ‘Gandhi’s Congress transformed them from being social servants to political servants through the Poona Pact’ (U. Sambasivarao 2005: 13). By forcing Ambedkar to concur with the Poona Pact, it has been argued, the Congress cunningly evaded questions of caste and, thereby, destroyed the emerging independent Dalit leadership. The manifesto further pointed out that the socioeconomic betterment measures espoused by the Congress for Dalits were undertaken, not with the intention of transforming their socio-economic conditions, but with a view to grabbing votes. Further, ‘Disregarding the aims of those measures, especially land distribution, land reforms Act, 215


minimum wages Act and abolition of Untouchability – all remained paper tigers and were never implemented with any honesty’ (ibid.: 13–14). The communists were also criticised for their negligence of the caste question and the social inequalities suffered by Dalits: ‘For them (the Communists) the class is the base. Changes in the economic structure automatically result in changes in the social structure’ (ibid.: 14). This argument, the manifesto stated, could be true when applied to Western society, but was not applicable to the Indian context, where caste was the foundation. ‘The sheer negligence of the caste factor by the Communists was simply because its leadership came from the upper castes’ (ibid.). If the communists, the Manifesto argued, wanted to bring any changes to the economic structure, then they should have started with the social structure. (b) Identity: Since its formation, the leadership of the ‘All-India Dalits’ Co-ordination Committee on Karamchedu’ urged all Dalits to give up their caste-based identities, such as Madiga, Mala and Relli, and other imposed identities such as Harijan and Scheduled Castes, and to take up the Dalit identity. The uniform Dalit identity was intended not only to forge unity among the lower castes as a people that belonged to one community; it was also to reject the identities that were imposed on them by the Brahmanical society and its ideologues, especially Gandhi. ‘The claiming of Dalit identity’, as stated by Katti, ‘was a symbolic rejection of the upper castes’ authority over them’.21 Although at the time of the Chirala Shibiram (a hut or place of gathering), where the victims of the Karamchedu massacre was temporarily accommodated, the term ‘Dalit’ was narrowly defined to refer exclusively to the Scheduled Castes, by its first state-level Dalit conference, the APDMS leadership had expanded the boundaries to welcome all the marginalised sections under the Dalit nomenclature, as reflected in the redefinition of the term ‘Dalit’ in the manifesto: All those people who have been victims of social oppression for centuries are Dalits. Dalits are not those people that belonged to one particular caste or religion . . . The slaves who were oppressed by their masters in slavery, the agricultural labourer and landless labourer oppressed by their feudal lords, the workers oppressed by the capitalists, and those people who are victims of social oppression in the caste system – all are Dalits.22 The manifesto reflected the influence of Marxism, while also striking a balance between the Marxist and Dalit perspectives. Interestingly, it made ‘caste’, rather than ‘class’, the central focus of the movement. Of course, 216


that does not mean that the APDMS was not going to take the class factor into account. The manifesto emphasised that in Indian society, there was both class-based and caste-based oppression, and that the fight against injustice could not ignore either. Reflecting on the manifesto’s effort to merge the questions of caste and class, Katti observes: If the Dalit movement has a caste perspective, it would instead of doing well . . . do harm. The movement should bring about a social revolution and end casteism. In the process of resolving social contradictions, we must formulate a class-based perspective; those who want to destroy caste would not hang on to caste. [In any case] . . . to annihilate caste, the existence of caste should be recognised. (Katti quoted in Karli 2002: 46) In conformity with this position, the manifesto argued that the Dalit movement was a movement for land and livelihood (boomi kosam, bhukthi kosam), and should learn from the history of struggles waged by oppressed people. Thus, the manifesto said: ‘the theories, struggles and practice of Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Dr B. R. Ambedkar must be breathed into the movement. At the same time the class struggle theory which has emancipated the oppressed of the world must be balanced with’ (Dalit Manifesto, p. 7). (c) Objectives of the Dalit movement: The blending of the Marxist and Ambedkarite perspectives is further reflected in the APDMS objectives, spelled out in the manifesto: • • • • • • • • •

Annihilation of casteism Removal of untouchability Ending caste contradictions within the oppressed classes Preparing the oppressed classes for social revolution Making the cultural revolution a success Continuing the struggle for nationalisation of land and property Enlightening people about the exploitative policies of the ruling classes so as to advance people’s struggle Making social revolution a success, and Striving for Dalit and human rights.

A cursory look at the above objectives makes it clear that the Dalit leadership was greatly influenced by the arguments in Ambedkar’s fundamental work, Annihilation of Caste. By placing the annihilation of casteism at the top of their list of objectives, the Dalit leaders argued in clear terms 217


that no revolution would be possible in India until and unless caste was rooted out from the social system. But how did they propose to annihilate caste? How did they propose to prepare the oppressed for a social revolution? We find victims of class across the caste hierarchy. Yet, they do not unite to fight against class oppression. In fact, the opposite often occurs, and when they belong to the same caste, victims of class-based oppression join hands with the oppressor in further victimising the oppressed. The carnage in Karamchedu amply demonstrates this point. In other words, what prevented the oppressed from forging a united front against the oppressor was the caste factor, and if caste were to be removed, then the way would be paved for unity among the class-based oppressed (Bojja 1996: 31–6). But how can caste be removed? The Dalit leadership reiterated what Ambedkar (1971[1936]: 68) had said: Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a state of mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional change. The ideas of purity, pollution, upper, lower and so on are pillars upon which the caste system has been built, and if those pillars are destroyed, then the system automatically crumbles. Further, since it was the Shastras of Hinduism that brought about ideas of caste, ‘[T]he real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the Shastras’ (ibid.). But how does one destroy the Hindus’ faith in the Shastras? Ambedkar showed the way by converting to Buddhism. He also urged his fellow Dalits to do likewise, for, ‘If the new world has to be realised that is very different from the old, it must have a religion and if the new world needs a religion far more than the old world does, then it can only be the religion of Buddha’ (Sangarakshita 1986, quoted in Omvedt 2004: 148).The APDMS leaders, following Ambedkar, also converted to Buddhism. Interestingly, they did not stress the conversion aspect to the wider Dalit population. A majority of Dalits in the state, particularly in coastal Andhra, were Christians. Since Christianity also preaches the idea of equality, they did not see any reason to convert to Buddhism; they focused on the idea of constructing an alternative culture. Katti was convinced that violence against and inhumane treatment meted out to Dalits and other marginalised sections in Indian society were the result of the hegemony of Hindu culture. And that culture could be 218


changed by replacing it with an alternative Dalit culture, one which drew from Charvaka’s materialism, Buddhist humanism and its Sangha philosophy, which recognised the fundamental principles of ‘human equality, fraternity and dignity’ (Katti 1995: 143). Activism under the APDMS: Prior to the formation of the BSP in UP, there had been uninterrupted Dalit activism, first under the leadership of the BAMCEF and later through the DS-4. Dalit activism in AP, on the contrary, came in waves, primarily in response to the atrocities against Dalits, especially in Karamchedu and Chunduru, as well as to the casteism so apparent in the anti-reservation agitations in the early 1990s. One of the main reasons why the Dalit movement in AP, in contrast to that in UP, failed to transform itself into a political party, was the lack of sustained activity, leading to the eventual failure of Dalit politics in the electoral arena. The first wave of Dalit activism took place after the killings in Karamchedu. Immediately after the carnage, a majority of the Madigas from Karamchedu fled to the nearby town of Chirala. A church in Chirala opened its gates to the victims, but as sympathisers began pouring in, the victims were relocated to a different place, famously called Shibiram. One of the key developments of this period was that other Dalit castes, especially the Malas, offered moral support to the victims. As soon as they came to know about the attack, the Malas – joined by Madigas and other Dalits in and around Chirala town – came to the Chirala Shibiram. One Mala visitor stated emotionally, ‘[t]his brutality of the Kammas is not just upon the Madigas alone, it is upon the entire Scheduled Caste community’.23 This identification of the victims as part of the entire SC community eventually resulted in the consolidation of all the individual castes as one group and their assertion as Dalits. When the ‘All-India Dalits Co-ordination Committee on Karamchedu’ was constituted, one of the first things that this committee did was to refuse to accept charity in any form either from the upper castes or the government. Every time the upper castes kill our people or rape our women, the government comes up with the offer of money as the solution . . . The government of the upper caste vultures has put a price for our lives and for our bodies. For the murder they give us 10,000 rupees and for the rape 2000 rupees. No, not this time . . . We will not allow the upper caste-led government to put a price tag on our men and women. (Bojja 1990: 9) 219


There is a common assumption among the politicians, bureaucrats and upper castes alike that with the Dalits there is a price for everything and that they can be bought–up just as animals or products even after murdering or raping them. Precisely this is the reason why that whenever there is brutality against Dalits, the first and foremost promise made by the politicians or bureaucrats is not the promise of justice but promise of monetary and material benefits. Interestingly the economic value of those benefits depends upon the degree of crime, i.e., the lesser the degree of crime the lower the value of benefits, and the higher the degree of crime the higher the value of benefits. What is astounding in all this is that of fixing of price for victims. There is a price for victim of rape and there is price for family members of the murdered person/s. As committing of atrocities against Dalits had become a routine aspect in the everyday life of the upper castes, fixing of prices for the Dalit victims of crimes had also become a normal aspect for politicians and the bureaucrats. It is precisely this routine and normalcy that the Karamchedu Dalit leadership tried to breakdown by not accepting any charity from the upper castes and by not allowing the government price the self-respect of their women and life of their murdered men. Learning about the decision of the Karamchedu leadership, the Dalits in Chirala town and the nearby villages came forward with food and other assistance both for the victims and activists. The Karamchedu Co-ordination Committee, in addition to its immediate assistance in terms of food, shelter and moral courage, organised several mass protest rallies, dharnas and road blocks, demanding the immediate arrest of the perpetrators of the atrocity and justice for the victims. Second, it prevented politicians, including Dalit politicians, whom they called ‘Dalit brokers’ (Dalita dalarulu), of any party from entering the Shibiram. They even refused to meet chief minister, NTR, who at the time of assembly elections, declared himself as the ‘Harijan among Harijans’. Refusing to accept a basket full of oranges offered by NTR, Viramma, a Madiga woman, said, ‘Ever since you became the chief minister of the state, every Kamma in the village (Karamchedu) is behaving as if he is the chief minister. Your relatives raped our women and your relatives killed our men; and you came to offer us fruits! Don’t you have any shame offering us fruits? . . . We do not want your fruits. What we need is not fruits but justice . . . justice that is what we want’ (Karamchedu 1985: 3). As a result of the massive agitations organised by the Karamchedu Coordination Committee, the state government of Andhra Pradesh filed a case in the district court, but it did not bring the culprits in front of the Court of Justice; for the prime perpetrator in the bloodshed was Daggubati Chenchu Ramaiah, a close relative of the chief minister, NTR, and the remaining culprits were members of the Kamma caste. In response to this gross 220


injustice, the APDMS filed a private case against 165 Kammas, including Chenchu Ramaiah. After Alisamma, a Madiga woman from Karamchedu, gave a deposition before the court, detailing how her son (Duddu Vandanam) was axed to death by the Kamma mob right in front of her eyes, the APDMS and the victims of the atrocity were almost certain that justice would be done. But Alisamma was dramatically murdered by ‘unknown’ people in Chirala. The court, after dragging the case for some more time, acquitted all the accused. The Judicial Inquiry Commission, headed by Justice Desai, stated that it could not find any clear motive behind Alisamma’s killing – another classic example of how the state and state institutions go even as far as killing witnesses to deny justice to Dalits.24 The second wave of Dalit activism took place in 1989–90, when the Janata Dal government, under Prime Minister V. P. Singh, announced its plans to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations of reservations for OBCs, Other Backward Castes, in education and public service (Bayly 1999: 266–305). Inspired by the upper caste-based anti-reservation movement in northern India, the students from uppercaste groups such as Kammas, Reddys, Velamas, Brahmins, Komatis and Rajus, among others, organised themselves against the reservations under the banner of the ‘Anti-Reservations Front’ (Nalupu 1990: 3). Arguing that reservations would destroy the role of merit, the upper-caste students destroyed public property and burned buses, trains and government offices. They also expressed their protest through acts that humiliated the lower castes and their professions. For instance, the upper-caste students sat in buses and railway stations and polished the shoes of passengers, swept public roads and symbolically acted out a funeral procession for the concept of ‘merit’, conducting its last rites in a public place. Through these acts, the upper-caste students were making the point that: first, the lower castes were fit only to polish the shoes of the upper castes and clean public roads and toilets. Second, if the lower castes take the place of the chosen people (the upper castes) in education and employment, then the upper castes will have no choice but to do the lower-caste jobs. Third, ‘merit’ is the ‘inherited property’ of the upper castes, which the government was destroying by giving education and employment opportunities to the lower castes. In response, the lower-caste (backward castes) students mobilised in favour of reservations. Dalits and Adivasis, under the leadership of the APDMS, also joined. The lower castes, unlike the upper-caste students, did not destroy buses or burn trains. They simply organised pubic hartals and dharnas. When the media refused to report on the protests and arguments put out by the pro-reservationists, lower-caste intellectuals, 221


especially Devarapalli Mastanrao, Katti Padmarao, Bojja Tarakam, U. Sambasivarao, Ghanta Chakrapani, B. S. Ramulu and Kancha Ilaiah and others, wrote extensively on reservations in journals such as Dalit Rajyam (Rule of Dalits), Edureeta (Swimming against currents) and Nalupu (Black).25 Kancha Ilaiah (1990: 6–9), in a brilliant essay,‘Struggles of Reservations – Student Movement’ (Rijarveshan la Poratam – Vidhyarthi Udyamam), challenged the ‘merit’ and ‘national unity’ in danger argument by conducting a comparative examination of the students’ struggles over reservations. First, he analysed the intentions of the upper-caste students and argued that what they were saying was ‘if the reservations were to be implemented then they will have to polish the shoes, broom the streets and clean the toilets’ (ibid.: 6). Second, he wrote that what the lower-caste students were saying was that, ‘hereafter they are not going to simply stick to the caste-based occupations imposed on them by the Brahmanical Hinduism’. Without a doubt, one of the main reasons for the continuation of the caste system was the continuation of caste-based occupations. While the upper-caste students were trying to preserve that system, the lower-caste students were determined to break it. In Kancha’s words: ‘As long as the Brahmins continue to teach and as long as the Madigas continue to sew a sandal, the caste system will survive and only perpetuate itself. The caste system can be annihilated only when the Madigas give up their needles for the pen’ (ibid.: 7). The Mandal agitation was the one period in which all the lower castes, irrespective of their status within their own hierarchies, came together as one and raised their voices against upper-caste domination in education and employment. Although the massive and united mobilisation of Dalits, Adivasis and Backward Castes provided a glimmer of hope for the growth of progressive politics in the state, it was soon destroyed by the strategies of the upper-caste-based political parties and Brahmanism among the lower castes. The third and final wave of Dalit activism under the APDMS took place when the Reddys organised a massacre of Malas in a village in Prakasam district in coastal Andhra. On 6 August 1991, a mob of about 400 persons belonging to the Reddy caste attacked Malapalle (the locality of the Malas) in the most brutal manner. The incident that triggered this attack was trivial – as was that which triggered the attack on Madigas in Karamchedu. It was a minor altercation between some youths in a cinema hall. A Mala boy’s feet accidentally touched the shoulder of a Reddy youth, sitting in the lower row in front and an argument started. The Reddys, who were holding political power in the state at that time, took offence. The 222


result was that 10 Malas were hacked to death and the dead bodies thrown into the Tungabhadra Canal (Fact Finding Report on Chunduru, 1991).26 Once again, the APDMS leaders leapt into action, and were joined by two former leaders of the People’s War Group (PWG) – K. G. Satyamurthy and U. Sambasivarao. Some of the civil and revolutionary organisations, such as the CPI (M–L) Liberation, CPI (M–L) Praja Pantha, UCCRI (M–L) Jana Shakti, Marxist–Leninist Centre, Indian People’s Front and Organization for the Rural Poor also joined the APDMS. Together, they formed a committee called Andhra Pradesh Chundur Porata Samithi (APCPS – the Andhra Pradesh Chundur Struggle Committee). This united Dalit leadership did not want the victims to leave the village and launched the struggle for justice from the place in which their people were hacked to death (Kranthi 1992: 12–13). Most audaciously, they buried the 10 dead people in the centre of the Chunduru village and named the place Raktakshetram (Land of Blood). The grave would serve as ‘a grim reminder of the barbarity of the attack in the village – to those who lived through the violence, the generations that followed and to all the visitors’ (Kannabiran 2007: 3915). Second, through a determined campaign, they made the government of AP not only set up a Special Sessions Court under the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, but more importantly, they made it shift the venue for the court proceedings from the AP High Court to Chunduru village. For, as Kannabiran (ibid.: 3916) observes: For people who have undergone enormous suffering and loss, when required by the court to recount the loss in accordance with norms that are completely alien to them, norms that do not make space for trauma of the experience or the retelling of that experience, the physical location of the court becomes vital in reassuring survivors. Another significant aspect of the Chunduru massacre was that Dalits understood the nexus between social dominance and political power and how forms of social injustice were perpetuated with the help of political tools. When Kammas in Karamchedu village organised a brutal attack against the Madigas, it was the Kamma-led TDP that was ruling the state, and again, when Reddys killed the Malas in Chunduru, it was the Reddyled Congress that was in power. In both the incidents, the state organs, especially the police, were used by the ruling castes not only to harass the victims,27 but also to protect the aggressors. Further, it must be recognised here that what provoked the upper castes to unleash violence of such a brutal nature against the Dalits was not the traditional demand of the 223


economically exploited for higher wages, but the voicing by the socially subjugated of the ‘demand to live with dignity and honour, and the assertion of their rights to be treated as social equals’ (Karli 1994: 2583). This recognition of the connection between political power, social dominance and social subjugation led the APDMS to shift its focus from culture to the realm of political power.

Questioning the domination: Dalit politics through the BSP in the 1990s It may be recollected that in UP, from the formation of BAMCEF until the emergence of the BSP, the idea of political power and the limitations in the existing political representation for Dalits had been convincingly communicated to them by the BAMCEF missionaries, and later on, by the DS-4 activists. These exhortations resulted in furthering political consciousness among Dalits and other marginalised sections in UP and set the ground for the future success of the lower-caste-based political parties in the state. By contrast, since the formation of the APDMS, Dalit activism in AP had revolved around issues of ‘social equality’ and ‘cultural revolution’. The idea of political power remained outside the boundary of ‘the Dalit Manifesto’, at least, until the Chunduru massacre in the 1991. It was only after experiencing the way in which the upper castes used political power to their own advantage and also to further intimidate the victims of the Karamchedu and Chunduru massacres that the Dalit leadership began to focus on the idea of political power. They were also obviously inspired by the political activism of the BSP, which can be said to have sowed the seeds of political ambitions among certain sections of the Dalit leadership. Kanshiram’s visits to AP in 1987–88 had a significant impact on Dalit politics in the state.28 Further, the electoral success of the SP–BSP combination in the UP Assembly elections in 1993 energised the marginalised sections in AP (as elsewhere in India) and rekindled their faith in democratic politics. When the BSP entered the political arena of AP during the 1994 assembly elections, the lower castes were almost certain that the BSP would repeat its electoral success in AP as well. Even some political commentators predicted the BSP’s success in the elections. However, the results were otherwise and the BSP failed rather miserably in the electoral arena. Therefore, the main question is why did it happen the way it did? The question of participation in electoral politics came up at the second state-level conference of the APDMS, in Chirala in 1988. There was a consensus on the need to shift the movement’s focus from building a 224


social and cultural movement to political power. Bojja and Katti were the facilitators of this shift. Following Ambedkar’s ideas, Kanshiram’s activism, its outcome in UP, and the lessons learned from caste-based atrocities against Dalits in the state, they agreed that the Dalit problem was political in nature and that political power was the master key that could open any lock. However, they differed with each other on the subject of the entry of the BSP, a north Indian party, into AP’s political domain. Bojja welcomed Kanshiram and his BSP into AP. Some notable Dalit organisations that supported his position were the Dalit Kala Mandir; Dalit Writers, Artists and Intellectuals United Front (DWAIUF) and Ambedkar Youth Association (Gudavarthy 2005: 5412). Katti, however, boycotted the BSP by characterising it as a dalita dalari (Dalit broker or middleman). He argued that the Dalit movement needed to remain autonomous from all political organisations and work as a front for ‘social revolution’ through agitations rather than transforming itself into a political party and taking part in parliamentary elections (Konda 1998: 111, 117–19). But Katti eventually changed tack, and on the eve of the state assembly elections in 1989, he formed the Poor People’s Party (PPP), whose electoral defeat compelled him to shift his allegiance to the BSP in the early 1990s. Regardless of differing views of individual leaders, the entry of the BSP into the electoral arena on the eve of state assembly elections in 1994, and the ‘wave’ it appeared to create was a crucial phase in the history of the decade-old Dalit movement. As soon as it decided to contest the 1994 elections, the BSP organised a number of rallies and meetings in all the main cities and towns in AP (Manda 1999). Kanshiram, who had been the chief attraction as well as the key speaker in those rallies and meetings, was astonished at the response of the people of AP. He could see that in AP the BSP was starting with a dual advantage: first, the APDMS, through its decade-long activism, had already constructed and strengthened the Dalit identity. And so, the party had simply to build on the mobilisation work already done. Second, in the 1993 UP Assembly elections, the party had succeeded as the party of the bahujans, and this success enabled it to claim or identify itself outside UP more as the party of the bahujans and less as a Dalit-based party. When the BSP entered into the electoral arena in AP, it was completely aware of the double advantage.29 In AP, the BSP deployed some of the strategies that it had adopted in the UP context. For instance, in AP, the BSP’s strategy of mobilisation revolved around two main identities: the savarnas and bahujans, or the oppressor and the oppressed. The party, in its narration of Indian history and society, identified the three upper castes or varnas – Brahmins, 225


Kshatriyas and Vaishyas – as the oppressors, and the rest of the Indian society as the oppressed. This division of Indian society into two clear-cut groups was not defined in terms of sociocultural and economic standing, but primarily on the basis of the ‘humiliation’ suffered by the bahujans at the hands of the savarnas, both historically and in the contemporary period. Karli (2002: 54) observes that such a division of society into two groups is ‘presumed to be a feasible and practically workable strategy, given the fact that the bahujans cannot be united on any other plank because of the absence of commonality or uniformity in their socioeconomic profile or cultural identity, which is further compounded by linguistic variations in India’. Second, in Kanshiram’s argument of political power as ‘the master key with which any lock can be opened’, the concept of political power is seen as a control over the means of production.30 From that perspective, the affluence of the upper castes was the result of the political power they possessed, and the economic deprivation of the lower castes was on account of their lack of such power, and so, their problems could only be addressed by capturing it (Devarapalli 2001). One particular slogan that was particularly well received by the Dalit and lower castes in AP was: vote hamara, seat tumhara – nahin chalenge, nahi chalenge. While in UP, Brahmins and Thakurs had been Kanshiram’s target groups, in AP, his target groups were Kammas and Reddys. He drew a parallel between political power in the state and the game of football, with Kammas and Reddys as the two teams, while the rest of the population was confined to the role of spectators. The political power rested in either the Kamma court or that of the Reddys, and no other community or caste was allowed to participate. He insisted that political power should be distributed among all sections of society and that caste should be the basis for such a distribution. The rationale behind the use of caste, it was stressed, was not only to annihilate the caste system, but also to contain the onward march of Hindutva (Katti 1994: 4–6). Besides its mobilisation strategies and political slogans, the BSP’s distribution of assembly tickets on the basis of caste also attracted considerable attention in the state. As the Backward Castes constituted nearly half of state’s population, the party allotted them more than 50 per cent of the tickets, numbering around 150, thereby covering more or less all castes in the BC category. Some 80 tickets were given to Dalits and Adivasis; Muslims and Christians together were given 45 seats, and 20 seats were left to the SP. Because of the dominance of the upper castes in the power structure, they were allotted no tickets. As noted by Shatrugna (1994: 2958–9), huge turnouts at BSP gatherings, and its ticket distribution system, sent jitters among the mainstream political parties 226


and forced them to emulate the BSP’s political tactics. For instance, the Congress undertook certain unprecedented measures and activities. The Kapus, a middle caste between the dominant upper castes (Kammas and Reddys) and the backward castes, such as Goudas and Padmashalis, had been demanding for over 20 years that the government should include them in the state’s list of backward castes. Although the demand was never even acknowledged by the previous governments, the Congress Party, as if waking up from a deep slumber, suddenly conferred the ‘backward caste’ tag on Kapus and Muslims. Of course, that this act by the Congress was summarily rejected by the High Court of AP was a different matter altogether. Further, contrary to its earlier pattern of ticket distribution, the party chose 50 per cent of its candidates from the combined group of BCs, Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities. The social base of the TDP candidates was also interesting. Of the 200 candidates (for whom details are available), the break-down was: Reddys – 38; BCs – 35; Kammas – 27; Dalits – 25; Kapus – 9; Velemas – 9 and Adivasis – 8.31 Such distribution clearly shows that the hitherto pretentious political parties had been forced to explicitly acknowledge the presence of caste in politics and in the power structure. The political leaders were also made to give up their earlier pretence that they had been dominating politics through merit alone. The BSP’s presence also made the Dalit and Backward Caste leaders in the ruling Congress and opposition TDP talk openly about the injustices done to the lower castes. Interestingly, Brahmins held meetings in three main cities in the state, Vijayawada, Nellore and Hyderabad, and one of their main demands was that they should be given tickets in certain constituencies in which there was a sizeable Brahmin population. The Kammas in Congress, who had always felt overwhelmed by the dominance of Reddys in that party, held a meeting and resolved that all castes should be given tickets in proportion to their ‘importance’ rather than on the strength of their population. Translated, the word ‘importance’ meant ‘economic power’. Such significant changes in the political fabric of the state led Balagopal (1995: 136) to comment, ‘Bahujana politics had achieved the first victory that any rebel movement aspires for; to force the dominant groups to dump their myths and acknowledge the hidden aspects of reality’. Thus, the BSP, through its caste-based mobilisations and distribution of tickets, was able successfully to create a kind of euphoria in the political arena that forced the uppercaste-led mainstream political parties to give up their earlier patterns of ticket distribution and include more candidates from the marginalised 227


groups. Yet, the BSP did not win any of the seats that it contested. There are four main reasons for this failure: First, when Bojja tried to initiate a debate on the issue of converting the APDMS into the BSP, the leadership at the local level was not properly organised. And at the time of the BSP’s entry into the state’s political arena there was no proper assessment of the situation of various deprived communities, the political potential of the Dalit movement and the way in which various castes and communities were entrenched in mainstream political parties. As the APDMS leadership was completely distracted by internal squabbles and differences, it could not work out how the valuable work done by them so far could be used for converting the APDMS into a mass base political party, the BSP. Second, the BSP’s ideology that had evolved in the UP context was simply transferred to AP, without any effort to modify it to suit the consciousness of the various social groups that had emerged as part of the Dalit movement in the state. On their part, the social groups also did not engage critically with the party’s ideology. For instance, Bojja had his roots in Ambedkarite thought and activism in civil liberties and was a sympathiser of the radical Left movement. K. G. Satyamurthy, another leader of the BSP, was a prominent member of the People’s War Group (PWG). When he came out of the group, he, along with U. Sambasiva Rao, another prominent member of radical Left, formed the Marxist– Leninist Centre. It was at the centre that both these individuals tried to combine the ideologies of Marx and Lenin with that of Ambedkar so as to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of Indian society with a view towards social transformation. Another prominent leader of the BSP, Kolluri Chiranjeevi, had a Naxalite background, and Katti Padma rao, who was at the forefront of the APDMS, was a prominent member in the Andhra Pradesh Rationalist Organisation. Thus, the leadership of the BSP, though hailing from a common social background, joined the party while working in organisations that had different ideologies. The lack of coordination among these leaders was at the core of BSP’s failure in the elections. Further, despite their incorporation into the party, none of these leaders were accommodated in its official structure, nor were they given any clear-cut responsibilities (ibid.: 137). Third, the livelihood resources of the majority of the people that explicitly or implicitly formed the support base for the BSP were still controlled by the two dominant castes in the state. Undoubtedly, there was an upsurge in Dalit consciousness, but because of large-scale dependency upon the upper-caste-controlled resources, such consciousness could not be channelled towards freedom from the clutches of the upper 228


castes. Of course, a small section among the marginalised enjoyed education and access to modern jobs in urban areas, and were able to remove themselves from the bondage of the upper castes. It was this section that constituted the voting base of the BSP, and not the mass workforce in the countryside. Finally, there was one factor that was at the heart of the electoral debacle of the BSP: the dark reality of casteism among its own victims. Unlike in UP, the BCs in AP did not become part of the BSP because joining a Dalit party and working under the leadership of Malas was seen as lowering their caste status (Manda 1999: 86). Even Dalits, whose supposed social mission was to establish a casteless society, were caught up in caste competitions and antagonisms. The state leadership was predominantly drawn from the coastal Andhra region, neglecting the other two regions of the state. Even in the coastal region the leadership was given to Malas, excluding another major Dalit caste, Madigas. Interestingly, despite the presence of Malas in the BSP’s leadership structure in the state, the majority of Malas did not join the party. They saw it as a party for Madigas and not for Malas (Madigas, whose traditional occupation was leather-making, were equated with Chamars, engaged in the same work in north India) (ibid.: 100). Interestingly, Madigas, who were kept away from the party’s leadership slots, also stayed away from the party. Thus, the BSP’s poor show in the 1994 elections had a dramatic impact on the Dalit movement. The stepping away from the earlier approach of the Dalit movement, for which social transformation without involvement in electoral politics was the priority, ended up doing enormous damage to the movement. The direct participation of Dalit activists in political campaigns led the Dalit masses to believe that their social leaders were being absorbed into electoral politics. This, in turn, led to a credibility crisis for wellknown Dalit leaders. The Dalit leadership in UP did not experience any such credibility crisis, because, unlike the AP Dalit leadership, the Dalit leaders in UP had focused on the idea of political power from the beginning. In other words, the debacle of the Dalits in electoral politics was due to the failure of the social movement to transform itself into a movement for political power. The Dalit leadership in AP neither succeeded in bringing the marginalised sections under one umbrella, nor in drawing them into electoral politics, and thus, Dalit activism in the state entered into a state of crisis. This crisis and the resulting impasse in the movement led ultimately to another development: a caste-specific movement for SC classification, for the purpose of reservations. 229


Notes 1 The Commission opined that the ‘Advantages of a larger Andhra State including Telangana are that it will bring into existence a state of about 32 million, with large water and power resources, adequate mineral wealth and valuable raw materials. This will also solve the difficult and vexing problem of finding a permanent capital for Andhra, for the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad are very well-suited to be capital of Vishalandhra’. 2 It may be interesting to note here that of the two main left-wing groups in the state, while the group that chose the parliamentary path was dominated by Kammas (Chandrasekhara Rao, Chandra Rajeswara Rao, Makineni Basavapunniah, Ch. Hanumantha Rao were notables in this group), the other group which chose the revolutionary path was dominated by the Reddys (Puchhalapalli Sundaraiah, Kondapalli Seetharamayya, Tarimela Nagireddy were notables in this group). 3 For the communists’ response on the caste question, see Nageswararao, Edpuganti et al. 1992. 4 Interview with B. S. Ramulu, social activist and writer, Hyderabad, 4 February 2005. 5 Interview with S. V. Subbarao, reporter, Eenadu newspaper, Hyderabad, 23 February 2005. 6 http://eci.nic.in/StatisticalReports/SE_1951/StatRep_51_HBD.pdf (accessed 19 December, 2007). ‘Statistical Report on General Election, 1951 to the Legislative Assembly of Hyderabad, Election Commission of India, New Delhi. 7 Interview with Ganumala Gnaneswar, General Secretary, RPI, Hyderabad, 26 February 2005. 8 Interview with Bojja Tarakam, President, RPI, Hyderabad, 27 February 2005. 9 See Statistical Reports of Assembly Elections (Andhra Pradesh for 1962, 1967 and 1972 elections). The RPI lost all the 18 seats it contested in 1962 assembly elections, and again, all the 9 seats in 1972 assembly elections. Election Commission of India. http:// eci.nic.in/StatisticalReports/ElectionStatistics.asp (accessed 19 December, 2007). 10 Some of the information in this section is, apart from other sources, also drawn from Tukaram, Bhakta 1992: 4–7. 11 Interview with Bojja Tarakam, Hyderabad, 26 February 2005. 12 My interview with J. B. Raju, Hyderabad, 22 December 2005. 13 Neither NTR, the founder of the TDP, nor any other leader of the TDP used the language of ‘Reddy domination’. It had been articulated as ‘Congress Rule’, ‘Congress Domination’ (Prasanna 1994). 14 Representation of Reddys and Kammas in the Assembly and the ministry before and after TDP came to power (in percentages) Year Representation in Assembly Composition of Ministries ———————————— —————————— Reddys Kammas Reddys Kammas 1978 1983

24.1 25.9

14.6 16.0

27.3 26.7

Source: Vaugier-Chatterjee, 2009: 293.


15.2 20.0


15 Interview with Koti James, a Dalit leader in Chirala, 13 January 2005. 16 Interview with D. Ramesh, Vijayanagar colony in Chirala, 15 January 2005. 17 My interviews with the survivors of Karamchedu massacre, Chirala, 23 January 2005. 18 Interview with Padmarao, Venkatasubbaiah, Ponnuru, 26 January 2005. 19 Daggubati Chenchu Ramaiah was one of the key accused in the massacre, and subsequent to the massacre, he was killed by People’s War Group. See ‘SC convicts 31 in Karamchedu Dalit massacre’, Times of India (Hyderabad), 20 December 2008. 20 My interview with Koti James, Dalit activist, Chirala, 24 January 2005; see also, Balagopal 1987: 1378–81. 21 Interview with Katti Padmarao, Ponnuru, 22 January 2005. 22 ‘Dalita Maha Sabha Dalita Manifesto’, p.11. 23 Interview with Subbaiah, a Mala from Ponnuru, on 13 December 2005. He was one of the first Malas from Ponnuru, along with Katti Padmarao, to visit the victims in Chirala. 24 In December 2008, the Supreme Court of India, after 23 long years, delivered its final verdict on the Karamchedu massacre case. It awarded life sentences to the main accused and three years of imprisonment to 30 others. See, ‘SC convicts 31 in Karamchedu Dalit massacre’, Times of India (Hyderabad), 20 December 2008. 25 Some of the progressive people from the upper castes, particularly K. Balagopal, D. Narasimha Reddy, Cyril Reddy and others, also joined the lower castes and contributed positively to the reservation debate (Gundimeda 2006). 26 The reality of the violence was so ghastly that the doctor who performed the post-mortem committed suicide soon after (Indian Express, 28 August 1991). 27 The political power of Reddys through the Congress Party was symbolically demonstrated when Anil Kumar, a key witness in the incident, was shot dead by the police within days of the massacre. 28 Interview with Mandapati Ramarao, a BSP activist, in Vijayawada, 20 June 2004. 29 Interview with U. Sambasivarao, editor, Edureeta, February 2005. 30 ‘BSP Evarikosam, endukosam’ (BSP, For Whom and Why), pamphlet released by APDMS on the eve of 1994 AP assembly elections. 31 39 seats were left to the alliance partners, with CPI and CPI (M) sharing 37 seats and the Janata Dal getting 2. And there was no major shift in the social base of the CPI and CPI (M) candidates.


6 SOCIAL JUSTICE AND SUB-CLASSIFICATION OF DALIT RESERVATIONS The Dandora debate in AP in the 1990s On the rainy, windy and chilly morning of 2 September 1996, more than 40,000 people set out on a massive rally from Indira Park to the Babu Jagjivan Ram statue in Basheerbagh, Hyderabad. All Madigas, the most populous Dalit caste in AP, men, women and children, braved the difficult weather conditions and stood firm in front of the statue to listen to the speakers. The Babukhan estate, with its gigantic building – the biggest in the whole area – resonated with the slogans of the Dandora activists1: ‘Social justice for the Madigas’; ‘Madigas’ share in the SC reservations’; ‘Categorisation of reservations is a way of social justice for the most disadvantaged among the disadvantaged’; ‘We are ready even to sacrifice our lives for our reservation rights’; ‘Madiga Dandora – long live, long live’; ‘Ambedkar ideology – long live, long live’; ‘Dalit unity – long live, long live’ (Indian Express, 3 September 1996). ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ On 10 May 1997, nearly 30,000 Malas, the second largest Dalit caste in the state, gathered in front of the Ambedkar statue, near Tummalapalli Kalakshetram in Vijayawada, a prominent commercial urban centre in coastal Andha. After pouring milk over the statue and garlanding it, they began to shout slogans against the demand of the Madiga Dandora for categorisation: ‘Down with the Madigas’ categorisation demand’; ‘Oh Madiga! If you have brain, fight with us in the competition’; ‘Madiga leaders – Pawns in the hands of the upper caste politicians’; ‘Mala – Mahanadu – long live, long live’; ‘Ambedkar ideology – long live, long live’; ‘Dalit unity – long live, long live’ (Andhra Bhoomi, 10 May 1997). ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗


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After the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) electoral defeat in the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Assembly elections in 1994, Dalit activism there took a completely different path. Unlike in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where political power had been deployed to transform the socio-economic conditions of the Dalit constituency, the Dalits in AP were caught in the web of the movements for and against the sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes (SCs) for the purpose of reservations in the state. The background to this demand was the gulf in terms of educational and economic levels of different groups within the SC category. Castes such as the Mala and Adi Andhra had historically benefited from the educational efforts of the Christian missionaries, social reforms initiated by the Hindus, the welfare efforts of the government – both in colonial and in postcolonial India, as well as their proximity to the upper castes. They had acquired education, become socially and politically conscious and gained employment opportunities in the formal economy (Ramaswamy 1984, 1985, 1986). It is this group of castes that had been availing most of the reservation facilities for Dalits in the state and becoming increasingly dominant among the Dalits. However, Dalit castes such as the Madigas, Rellis and others had never got the same opportunities and advantages as the Malas and Adi Andhras and were too poorly equipped to take advantage even of facilities extended through the policy of reservation. The result was that the Madigas and certain others remained confined within the traditional, caste-based socio-economic relations and occupations. In the mid–1990s, the Madigas, joined by the Rellis and other marginalised Dalit castes in the state, organised under the banner of the Madiga Reservations Porata Samithi ([MRPS] – Madiga Committee for Reservations Struggle), which is also popular as the Dandora or Madiga Dandora. Through the MRPS, they questioned the overrepresentation of the dominant Dalit castes in the quota for SC reservations and demanded a caste-based redistribution or sub-classification of that quota so as to enable every Dalit category to access what they called their ‘due share’. But the Malas and the Adi Andhras rejected this demand outright on grounds that raised fundamental concerns: they argued, first, that the Madigas lacked the merit to compete against the Malas; and second, that the classification would destroy the unity of the Dalit community. They even formed Mala Mahanadu, a countercaste association, and organised a ‘no holds barred’ campaign against the MRPS (Balagopal 2000: 1078).



Caught in a tangled web: caste-based movements and challenges to Dalit activism in A P With the emergence of the Madigas’ movement and the Malas’ countermovement, the Dalit category was polarised into conflicting groups, and Dalit activism in the state came to a standstill. Meanwhile, in 2000, the government of AP, following the recommendations of the Justice Ramachandra Raju Commission, which was appointed to inquire into the sub-categorisation demand, came up with a new law: ‘The A.P. Scheduled Castes (Rationalisation of Reservations) Act, 2000’. Questioning the constitutionality of this act, Mala Mahanadu challenged the AP government in the court of law. Although the High Court of Andhra Pradesh dispensed its judgement in favour of the act, the Supreme Court of India struck it down. In this section, we shall examine these activities and counter-activities around the demand for sub-categorisation. This section is divided into two sub-sections. The first sub-section explores some of the main reasons for the advantage of the Malas over the Madigas; the second sub-section briefly outlines the context, emergence and activities of the MRPS and Mala Mahanadu and their activities concerning the question of sub-categorisation. Advantages of the Malas over the Madigas: There are 60 Dalit castes in AP. On the basis of traditional caste occupations and affiliations, these 60 castes can be broadly divided into four major groups: Malas, Adi Andhras, Madigas and Rellis. The success of the first two castes, in comparison with the latter two, in utilising opportunities for reservations is largely attributable to their traditional occupations and geographical spread (Kondaveeti 2001; Siva Reddy 2002). AP is divided into three distinct geographical regions: coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema. While overall AP is one of the developed states in India, there are great differences within its three regions, and the socio-economic progress of communities is invariably determined by their location within them. This particularly applies to the Dalits, who were dependent on the landed castes. Rayalaseema, where 6 per cent of the Madigas and 5 per cent of the Malas live, is a zone of precarious rainfall, the annual average being 69 cm. The Reddys are the most dominant caste in this region; they control virtually all walks of life in the region. Both the Madigas and Malas used to earn their livelihood, at least until the early 1980s, by working for the Reddys as agricultural labourers and tenants. Coastal Andhra, where the Malas and Adi Andhras are predominant, has historically been prosperous as well as culturally and politically active. The region was under British rule for nearly two centuries, during which


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period, major irrigation projects were constructed on the Krishna and Godavari rivers. As a result of these projects, the region witnessed enormous development in the agricultural sector, which led to developments in other areas, particularly in the field of education (Omvedt 1994: 114– 18). As detailed in Chapter 4, significant educational and employment opportunities became available throughout the region to Dalits in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th centuries through the reform movements launched by sympathetic Brahmins, the efforts of Christian missionaries and the policies of the colonial government itself. Slowly, variations began to appear in the conditions of the Dalits as small numbers of Dalits acquired educational qualifications, and thus, new sources of livelihoods such as government or teaching jobs and began to move away from their traditional caste-based and restrictive social framework. What also became noticeable, however, was that it was the Malas and Adi Andhras who were the first to reap the benefits of the unprecedented opportunities in relation to schooling and employment. Inevitably, these castes grew in economic status and social standing. The Rellis, the most marginalised Dalits in the state, are, in addition to the Malas and Adi Andhras, also concentrated in the coastal region, particularly in the two underdeveloped districts, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram. Unlike the other Dalit castes, the Rellis did not have an assigned caste occupation. They took to selling fruit for a livelihood and moved to various urban centres. In the absence of north India’s Bhangilike caste in the state, some of the Rellis have settled in as sweepers and cleaners in public and private organisations ( Justice Mehra 2008: 37). It may be noted here that although nothing had prevented Rellis from accessing educational institutions, the idea of education as the facilitator of change, both social and economic, is simply absent among a large majority of them. The worst victims of the socio-economic and political dynamics of the region have been the Madigas, who are situated at the bottom of the Hindu hierarchy. It was these dynamics that were largely responsible for the disadvantages the Madigas faced, in comparison with the Malas and Adi Andhras. The Telangana region, where the Madigas predominate in terms of population (Ramaswamy 1974: 1158), was a part of the erstwhile Nizam’s Hyderabad State. Given the historical specifics of Nizam’s rule, the nature of socio-economic change and political trajectory in the region took a different turn. In sharp contrast to the Presidency areas (coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema), the people in this region hardly enjoyed any civil or political rights during Nizam’s rule. The landed gentry inflicted suffering on the rural masses through the illegal eviction of farmers, the 235


extraction of free goods and services (known as vetti), and even more significantly, the denial of dignity and self-respect (Karli 2002: 17–19). In addition to these regional variations, the traditional occupations followed by the Madigas and Malas also resulted in differential development between them. The customary occupation of the Madigas had been leather goods work, removal of carcasses from the village, grave-digging, making footwear and drum-beating. Thus, though they were in a subordinate position, they were integrated into village life. The Malas, on the contrary, mostly engaged in weaving and agricultural labour, and were not as much part of the ‘patron–client’ relations as the Madigas. The decline of weaving as an occupation forced sections of the Malas to look out for alternative sources of employment, such as agricultural labour, even during British rule. Further, as pointed out by Uma Ramaswamy (1974: 1158), faced with the uncertainties inherent in the field of agriculture, as well as stiff competition from the other lower castes, the Malas ‘took more readily to formal education than the Madigas who were secure in leather work’. In contrast to the Malas, the Madigas were secure in their source of livelihood, due to both the specialised nature of their occupation and the ritual pollution involved in leather work; and if one may hazard a generalisation, ‘it is the very existence of a secure source of livelihood, for which other castes cannot compete even if low in the hierarchy, that is a factor inhibiting the exploitation of secular opportunities for mobility’ (Balagopal 2000: 1078). The emergence of the MRPS and Mala Mahanadu: The demand for subcategorisation of the SC reservations did not appear suddenly on the AP public sphere in the mid-1990s. Its initial expression can be traced back to the efforts of Madiga research scholars at Andhra University, Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh Madiga Sangham (APMS) and Arundhati Bandhu Seva Mandali in Hyderabad in the early 1980s.2 By the time some of the first generation of educated Madigas, mainly from coastal Andhra districts, joined the Andhra University in Vishakhapatnam in the early 1970s, almost all the SC reserved positions – both teaching and non-teaching – had been filled by the Malas and Adi Andhras. As the first generation in a higher education institution, the Madiga students had to suffer untold brutalities at the hands of the staff who belonged to the upper castes, as well as the lower-caste Malas and Adi Andhras. For instance, the Madiga students were made to suffer for the first five months of every academic year by not being allocated hostel accommodation and by being forced to sit separately in hostel dining halls. They were also victims of unfair marking in exams, and were rarely admitted into research courses. The SC quota of seats for MPhil and 236

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PhD courses was mostly filled by students belonging to the Mala and Adi Andhra.3 By the early 1980s, some of the Madiga students had become research scholars and began to see how students of their caste were victimised and discriminated against not only by the upper-caste staff, but also – even principally – by the staff who belonged to Mala and Adi Andhra castes. Some of the Madiga research scholars, such as Mallipudi Nageswararao and George Victor, began to organise students of their caste in and around Vishakhapatnam against the domination of Malas and Adi Andhras in relation to the SC reserved positions. In a meeting that was attended by nearly 1,000 people, on 2 June 1982, at Paidimetta village in West Godavari district, these leaders wrote a memorandum with a demand for setting aside 8 per cent of the SC quota for the Madigas. Copies of the memorandum with 1,000 signatures were sent to the key office-bearers of the governments of India and AP. The details of the meeting and memorandum were published in the Hindu newspaper.4 They also wrote a number of letters to the editors of various newspapers – both in Telugu and English – about the inequitable distribution of the SC reservations among the Dalits and need for dividing the SC quota for the benefit of marginalised Dalit castes. Although they could not extend their activities beyond some of the coastal Andhra towns, especially Vishakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Kakinada, Vijayawada and Guntur, they were the first people to point out to the public the domination of the Malas and Adi Andhras and the corresponding injustices done to the Madigas and other Dalit castes in the SC reservations. Also, in the early 1980s, similar efforts were made by the educated Madiga in the Telangana region. Two organisations at the forefront of the expression of this demand were Andhra Pradesh Madiga Sangam (APMS) and Arundhati Bandhu Seva Mandali (ABSM). The APMS was the first Dalit association in the state that carried caste identity in its name. It was established by a medical doctor, Vidhya Kumar, with a single-point agenda: division of the SC quota. Kumar gathered the educated and employed Madigas in and around the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, and through them, he put forward the main demand of his association. He also demanded the appointment of a commission to inquire into the problems of the Madigas. The Sangam gave a number of representations to the government of AP for equal shares between the Madigas and Malas in the SC quota. In 1982, some of the activists of the Sangam entered the State Legislative Assembly and threw pamphlets on the ‘separate reservations for the Madigas’ into the session. The activists were taken into custody and had to face police brutality. After this 237


incident, the Sangam could not sustain its activism, due to both the fear of police and their apprehensions about the authority of state government on matters in the jurisdiction of the central government (Muthaiah 2004). After the Sangam, the efforts of Arundhateeya Bandu Seva Mandali on the division of SC quota are noteworthy. The Mandali is a cultural organisation of Madigas and was established in 1981 in Hyderabad. Its founding president was Dr Kishanlal, who practices medicine in the United Kingdom. As a cultural organisation, the Mandali organises gatherings of Madigas during Hindu festivals, such as Dussehra, in order to forge caste bonds among the Madigas in the state, particularly in the twin cities. But the Mandali was also interested in the SC quota, and in 1982, it published a booklet titled, ‘Status of Arundhateeyas in A.P and need for review of reservations’. The booklet contained detailed statistics that showed the dominance of the Malas and Adi Andhra in the SC quota. Armed with these statistics, the Mandali made the demand for dividing the Dalits in the state into four categories (A, B, C and D) and distributing the SC quota among the four groups in accordance with their population proportionalities. Although the Mandali did not bring the SC quota issue to the Madiga public, it brought the idea to life by representing the issue to successive governments (ibid.). But what was the context in which the Madigas placed their demand for classification of the SC reservations? Since the early 1990s, India has aggressively pursued a new path of liberalisation in the economic sphere.5 In what started as India’s response to the ‘balance of payments’ crisis, the state has pursued a number of policies with ‘single-minded determination’ in reforming trade, financial and industrial investment sectors (Varshney1999: 249). Conspicuously, no attempts have been made to revive and improve sectors such as the rural economy, agriculture, non-agricultural employment and social security.6 Such a biased focus has led commentators to describe the process variously, for instance, as a ‘revolt of the elite’ (Kaviraj 1997a) and ‘elite politics’ (Varshney 1999: 248). Christophe Jaffrelot, for example, sees liberalisation as part of an ongoing conflict between upper castes and Dalits in the political and social realms, and notes how the former saw in liberalisation a new opportunity where they alone could succeed: The upper castes are losing ground in the political sphere and in the administration but liberalisation of the economy – which coincided with the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report – has opened new opportunities for the upper castes in 238

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the private sector, and hence they may no longer regret their traditional monopoly over the bureaucracy being challenged. ( Jaffrelot 2003: 494) Though there is no clear evidence to suggest that the upper castes have opted for the course of liberalisation, especially after the Mandal episode, it clearly provided them with a new avenue to maintain their economic dominance. In a way, the policy of liberalisation marks a significant departure from the past. As P. G. Jogdand (2000: 1) observes: ‘The much cherished principles of growth with justice, social responsibility and accountability, equity and self-reliance have been rendered obsolete with the new slogans of “liberalisation”, “efficiency” and “competitiveness” ’. Prevailing social prejudices, the absence of reservation quotas in the private sector and the state’s sudden departure from its old path all caused great apprehension among educated Dalits (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 2000: 267– 8), who equated the liberalisation of India’s economy with ‘the retreat of the state’ from the constitutional promise of affirmative action (Shyam Babu 2004: 11). It was during this time that AP witnessed lower-caste mobilisations under the banner of the Pratyamnyaya Upaadhi Udyamam (Movement for Alternative Sources of Livelihood), demanding that the government provide alternative livelihoods, as it had destroyed their traditional ones with its liberalisation policies.7 One of the significant aspects of these mobilisations was that demands were made around individual caste identities. For instance, Gollas and Kurumas (the sheep-rearing castes) within Shudra category mobilised under ‘Golla–Kuruma Dolu Debba’ (The drum beat of Golla and Kurumas). One of their demands was to develop ‘sheeprearing’ as a separate industry, which should be kept exclusively under the control of the Gollas and Kurumas. Among the Adivasis, the Ghond and Koya communities launched Thudum Debba (the beat of Thudum – a musical instrument similar to drum) with the twin demands of self-rule, and forest land and its produce for the forest dwellers only. At the heart of these community and caste-based assertions and demands lies the consciousness brought by the Mandal debate on reservations for the OBCs. One of the arguments was that caste should be the basis for the distribution of public goods, including public offices and resources; the numerical strengths of castes should be taken into account in such distribution. The Madigas, under the leadership of the Arundhateeya Bandhu Seva Mandali, renewed their discussion on a separate quota for the Madigas within the SC reservations and began to organise around 239


their demand. But the real turn for a massive mobilisation around the issue of separate quota came in 1994, when the BSP entered the political arena of AP. The BSP’s slogans, such as, vote hamara – raj tumhara, nahi chalega – nahi chalega; jiksi jitni sankhya bhari – uski utni bhagedari were tantalising for the Dalits in AP. Yet, contrary to the expectations of many political commentators, the party failed miserably in the 1994 state assembly elections. As noted earlier, one fundamental factor that led to this result was the inescapable reality of casteism among its victims. It cost the BSP dearly that it was seen in AP as the party of Madigas, not of Malas. The Madigas were forced to rethink the very idea of ‘the Dalit share’ in the political power of the country. They became convinced that progress could only be made if internal equality within the Dalit category was achieved first. Moreover, such equality would be realised only when there was equitable distribution of reservations among all the Dalit castes on the basis of the classification principle.8 Ultimately, Madiga youth in Edumudi village in Prakasam district launched the MRPS for Sub-classification of SC reservations on 7 July 1994, under the leadership of Krishna Madiga and Krupakar Madiga. One of the first and foremost acts of its leadership was suffixing of their caste title, Madiga, to their proper names. Krishna became Krishna Madiga, Krupakar became Krupakar Madiga and so on down the line. The term ‘Madiga’ has been used as a term of abuse by caste Hindus and numerous derogatory attitudes constructed around the Madiga identity.9 For instance, it is said that the brain of a Madiga is located in his knees, meaning they are brainless and fit for manual labour only. To chide a cow or buffalo, both beasts sacred to Hinduism, they would say, ‘Madigas will slay you! Madigas will eat you!’(Ninnu Madigodu koyya! Ninnu Madigodu tina!), a reference to the Madiga community’s historical occupation of leather-work and their customary beef-eating. If a caste Hindu is angry with the woman in his house, the most hurtful abuse he could hurl at her was to tell her to go and live with a Madiga man; and if caste Hindu parents are annoyed with an unmarried daughter, they would threaten her saying they would marry her off to a Madiga man (Ninnu Madigodiki itchi pelli cheyya). Because such social abuse was attached to it, the assertion of the Madiga self-identity caused a huge tumult and awkwardness, not only among the caste Hindus, but among the other Dalit castes as well. A society habituated to addressing any caste Hindu as Krishna Shashtri, Dipankar Gupta, Sekhar Sinha or Sujata Patel suddenly felt discomfort and embarrassment at the prospect of having to address someone as Krishna Madiga. And when people confessed that they found it embarrassingly absurd to think 240

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of someone as Krishna Madiga, they were forced to ask themselves why they did not find it absurd to think of someone as Shastri, Sinha or Patel. ‘Since true victory’, as Balgopal (2000: 1077) comments, ‘over an oppressor lies not in putting a bullet through his head but in making him a selfcritical eye towards his own pretensions to superiority, it must be said that this deliberately chosen tactic of the Madiga movement did as much as anything has ever done to puncture upper caste arrogance’. Similarly, the MRPS leadership also tried to create a sense of pride among the Madigas by highlighting the traditional occupational skills and cultural forms of the Madigas, which are almost forgotten or erased from the public memories. The traditional occupations of the Madigas: sandal-making, Dandora (announcement) and Chindu (a dance form) were incorporated as the symbols of Madiga pride. For instance, although the movement was officially known as the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS), it popularly came to be known as the Dandora. Madigas, by the assignment of Brahmanical caste order, became the announcers in the village. In the past, Madigas made announcements for others; but now, with the MRPS movement, they are using their Dappu (drum) for the first time to tell the public and the government about injustices forced upon them. Dappu had been elevated to the symbol of the Dandora movement’s flag, which has been hoisted at all public gatherings. Chindu, the traditional dance form of the Madigas was revived by establishing Madiga Kala Mandir (MKM) (Madiga Art Association); every public gathering now began with a procession, led by artists belonging to the MKM dancing to the beat of the Dappu. Further, sandal-making was reconstructed as a work of fine skill and talent that could be done only by gifted Madigas. Thus, by transforming the hitherto humiliated caste identity and reclaiming their traditional occupations and culture, the MRPS leadership tried not only to raise the self-esteem of the Madigas, but also to change the way in which they were perceived by other Dalit castes, and importantly, by the upper castes. By the late 1990s, the majority of Madigas had become part of the MRPS and claimed the Madiga identity with pride.10 In order to make their demand public and press the government for action, the MRPS leadership organised several hundred public meetings in almost all the villages, towns and cities in the state. The MRPS activists staged demonstrations in front of the State Legislative Assembly, government offices and every district headquarters. Madiga youth courted arrests and filled a large proportion of prison cells in the state. There were several separate demonstrations for the sub-categorisation of SC reservations by the Madiga children (Bala Dandora), Madiga women (Madiga Mahila 241


Dandora), Madiga employees (Madiga Employees Dandora) and Madiga students and youth (Madiga Youth and Vidhyardhi Dandora). Several Madiga youth also committed suicide, leaving notes that stated ‘subcategorisation of SC reservations’ as their last wish (The Indian Express, 20 June 1998). Krishna Madiga, leader of the MRPS, launched Madiga Maha Paadayatra (Madigas’ Long March) from Naravari Palle (native village of the then chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu) to Hyderabad, the capital city of the state, covering a distance of 10,053 km and mobilising Madigas in every village to fight for their ‘constitutional rights’ (The Hindu, 6 May 1997). Thus, through these diversified forms of mobilisations and protests, the MRPS succeeded in putting pressure on political parties and other organisations in the public arena to support its demand. Since they could not find any argument against the sub-categorisation demand, most of the political parties and organisations extended verbal support to the MRPS. The State Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution supporting the demand (Balagopal 2000: 1078). The state government, which was led by the TDP, saw political mileage to be drawn, and on 17 September 1996, set up the Justice Ramachandra Raju Commission of enquiry, to enquire into the allegation of ‘a few Scheduled Castes securing disproportionate benefit from reservations to the detriment of the others’ (ibid.). After eight months of inquiry, the Raju Commission reported that there was ‘disproportionate distribution of reservation benefits in favour of the Mala group and the Adi Andhra group of Scheduled Castes compared to their respective population’ (Justice Ramachandra Raju 1997: 121). The commission favoured the division of the SCs into four (A, B, C and D) categories for redistribution of reservations. It categorised Rellis as A, with 1 per cent reservation, Madigas as B with 7 per cent, Malas as C with 6 per cent and Adi Andhras as D with 1 per cent reservation. Following the recommendations of the Raju Commission, the state government issued a government order (GO) on 6 June 1997, sub-dividing the 15 per cent SC quota of reservations into four categories. It placed the Rellis and 12 other related castes, which are most disadvantaged among the SCs in the state and whose members are scavengers by occupation, as Group A, allotting them 1 per cent and placing them in the first of the roster slots allotted to SCs. Madigas and other related castes were placed as Group B and were given 7 per cent; the Malas and 25 other related castes were placed as Group C and allotted 6 per cent; the Adi Andhras and four related castes were identified as those who had benefited most from the SC reservations and were given 1 per cent of reservations (Balagopal 2000: 1078–9). It was precisely at this point that the Malas and Adi Andhras, the two castes 242

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that had disproportionately benefited from the SC reservations, launched Mala Mahanadu to counter the Madigas’ demand. The Malas and the Adi Andhras, who had been observing the MRPS mobilisations for sub-categorisation of the SC reservations, did not respond to it in any systematic way, barring a few individuals’ objections to the demand. However, they broke their silence by launching Mala Mahanadu on 10 May 1997, at the initiative of P. V. Rao, a Mala government servant. Through Mala Mahanadu, the Malas and the Adi Andhras put forward most objectionable arguments against the subcategorisation. Most of these arguments go against the arguments put forward by Ambedkar in favour of reservations for the Dalits in and outside the Constituent Assembly and, to a large extent, are akin to arguments made by upper castes against the reservations for Dalits. These arguments will be examined below. It is interesting to note here that Mala Mahanadu did not emerge either from Telangana or from Rayalaseema, the two backward regions of the state. Rather surprisingly, it was initiated by the Malas from East and West Godavari districts, the two highly developed districts in the state. There are two reasons for this: first, Malas outnumber the Madigas in these two districts; and second, both the Malas and the Adi Andhras of these two districts are the major beneficiaries of Dalit reservations in comparison with any other Dalit caste in any district or region in the state. According to an MRPS supporter,11 the threat of losing domination over the reservation opportunities, led them to such a counter-initiative. After the formation of Mala Mahanadu, there were media reports that Mala activists had participated in the destruction of houses and properties belonging to Madigas (Vaartha, a Telugu newspaper, 3 June 1997). One Madiga youth, Chelluru Mira Sayabu, of Chintala cheruvu in East Godavari district, was clubbed to death by youths of Mala Mahanadu (Balagopal 2000: 1080). Apart from carrying out these physical attacks the Mala Mahanadu supporters challenged the GO on sub-categorisation in writ petitions at the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Incidentally, the High Court nullified the GO on procedural grounds, pointing out that the state government had not consulted the National Commission for Scheduled Castes before issuing its GO (Balagopal 2005: 3128). Following this, the government went to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, which questioned the validity of the report of Justice Raju Commission. Eventually, on 31 May 2000, the government introduced a new ordinance, which became ‘The A.P. Scheduled Castes (Rationalisation of Reservations) Act, 2000’. Mala Mahanadu again went to the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, only to be rebuffed by the latter. The High Court 243


rejected the petitioners’ objections and upheld the AP government’s act. The Mala Mahanadu then successfully appealed in the Supreme Court of India, which rejected the AP government’s act in its judgement reported as E.V. Chinnaiah vs State of Andhra Pradesh and Others, 2005. The Supreme Court’s decision was based on two main grounds: (1) Apportionment of the reservations made to SCs or STs to subgroups within these categories cannot be carried out by state legislature. (2) Even the parliament does not have the power to do so, since the Constitution states that the SCs and STs are an indivisible, homogenous entity.12 Although the Supreme Court’s verdict ended the legal battle, it did not end the demand for sub-categorisation.

Sub-categorisation of SC reservations: the Dandora debate13 The key argument of the MRPS had been that Dalit reservations were not distributed equitably among all the castes within the Dalit group; the majority of opportunities were taken up by castes that were already advanced, especially the Malas and Adi Andhras. Thus, this injustice against marginalised Dalit castes should be rectified by breaking up the Dalits into four sub-divisions and apportioning reservations in proportion to each group’s population. Mala Mahanadu vehemently opposed this demand on the basis of arguments surprisingly similar to those used by the upper castes to oppose reservations. 1. Representation versus Merit: The MRPS argued that although reservation opportunities had been provided for the Dalits as a matter of representation, the Madigas were noticeably under-represented. In all their pamphlets and political speeches, data pertaining to opportunities in education, employment and political sectors utilised by the Madigas and Malas were presented to establish the point. Although the accuracy of the data in the field of education and employment is questionable, the data on political opportunities, especially in reserved seats in the state assembly as well as parliament, as this researcher verifies, clearly establish the overrepresentation of the Malas. A pamphlet distributed by the MRPS in 1995 at one of its mass mobilisation gatherings in Ongole, a town in a coastal region of Andhra, presents the following statistics relating to reservations in the political sphere: The statistics in Table 6.1 were taken from the total number of Dalits elected to the first 10 state legislative assemblies over a period of 45 years. Of the 39 reserved seats, the Malas have been represented in 26 seats, while the Madigas have held a mere 12 seats. ‘If these seats were to be 244

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Table 6.1 Distribution of reserved assembly seats between Madigas and Malas, 1955–94 Total SC seats


Total number of SC seats in the first 10 assembly elections


As per population, Madigas’s share of seats



Number of seats that Madigas were actually allotted Malas’s share in seats as per their population Number of seats Malas were actually allotted


Madigas’s share in the total number of SC members in the State Legislative Assembly Number of seats that Madigas actually got Malas’s share in seats as per their population Number of seats Malas actually got

15 27

120 150 270

Source: Madiga Rights – pamphlet distributed by the MRPS, Ongole, 31 May1995.

Table 6.2 Distribution of reserved Lok Sabha seats between Madigas and Malas, 1951–92 Total SC seats


Total SC seats in the first nine Parliaments


Madigas’s share in the total seats The number of seats Madigas were actually allotted Malas’s share in the total seats The number of seats Malas were actually allotted


Madigas’s share in the total seats The number of seats Madigas actually got allotted Malas’s share in the total seats The number of seats actually gained by the Malas


2 2 4

18 18 36

Source: Madiga Rights – pamphlet distributed by the MRPS, Ongole, 31 May 1995.

distributed between the Madigas and Malas on the basis of each caste’s demographic weight’, the pamphlet argued, ‘the Malas would get 15 seats and the Madigas would obtain 24 seats. Injustice had been done to the Madigas in the last forty-five years to the tune of 120 assembly seats’. Table 6.2 presents the number of available reserved seats in the Lok Sabha for the Dalits in the state and their distribution. Of the 54 seats (during the nine general elections between 1951 and 1995), while the Madigas represented 18 seats, the Malas succeeded in obtaining 36 seats. But, had these seats been distributed proportionally, the share of the Madigas and Malas would have been 36 and 18, respectively. In recent years, particularly with the emergence of the MRPS, the Madigas’ share of seats has been improved. For instance, in 2004, out of 39 reserved seats for the Dalits, while the Malas won in 21 seats, the Madigas succeeded in 18 seats. 245


Table 6.3 Distribution of Lok Sabha seats between the Malas and Madigas since 1996 Year




1996 1998 1999 2004 2009

4 4 2 4 4

2 2 4 2 2

6 6 6 6 6

Source: Election Commission of India.

Similarly, in 2009, out of 48 reserved seats, while the Malas won 23 seats, the Madigas won 25 seats. But we do not find any improvement with regard to the distribution of the Lok Sabha seats between the Malas and the Madigas. Out of six Lok Sabha seats, while the Malas have been dominating in four seats, the Madigas have had to satisfy themselves with a mere two seats. Table 6.3 reflects the seats distribution between the Madigas and Malas in five general elections since 1996. ‘The under-representation of the Madigas’, the pamphlet claimed, ‘is gross injustice against the Madigas and other similarly placed Dalit castes, an injustice that is against the equality principle of democracy’ (‘Madiga Rights’, 31 May 1995). In a similar argument, Krishna Madiga, one of the two main leaders of the MRPS, observed: Of the 59 Dalit castes in the state, only the Malas, with their population of 45 percentage in the total Dalit population have appropriated 75 percent of the reservations, whereas the Madigas, whose percentage of population among the Dalits is 55 percent, did not even get 25 percent of reservations. This is gross injustice against the Madigas and other unrepresented Dalit castes. When would we get our share in the reservations? We want our representation in the reservations. (Krishna Madiga in Vaartha 10 October 1997) Two aspects are clear from this. First, injustice has been conceived in terms of under-representation of Madigas. Second, proportional representation has been associated with democratic equality, which, in turn, is envisioned as social justice.14 Mala Mahanadu’s response against the argument of under-representation was grounded on the notion of merit. First, it was argued by the Mala 246

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youth that ‘the Madigas eat beef, drink and loaf around, whereas we work hard’ (quoted in Balagopal 2000: 1081).15 Second, C. R. Sekhar, writer and a staunch Mala Mahanadu activist, justifies the over-representation of the Malas as follows: The dominant presence of the Malas in the SC reservations is because of their self-respect and social conscience [. . .] The Madigas were under-represented in the reservations because they neither have self-respect nor social conscience. This in turn endowed the Malas with intellectual ability and power not merely to recognise the social injustices but gave them the required courage to fight against those injustices . . . We have developed merit and power as part of our on-going struggle against social injustices. (Sekhar 2005: 22) In the context of being beneficiaries of reservations, the Malas’ assertion about merit is most astounding. As Satish Desphpande succinctly argues, the claim of merit is a moral claim on society. ‘It is simultaneously a claim in the sense of an assertion about myself (my capabilities, my competence, and at the broadest level my moral worth); and a claim in the sense of an expectation or demand addressed to the rest of the world’ (Deshpande 2006: 2442). As a moral claim, the merit argument of the Mala Mahanadu provides sufficient justification for their over-representation. But how does one acquire merit and how do we measure it? Deshpande, drawing from Marc Galanter, points out three indicators of merit: (a) economic resources (education, training, materials, freedom from work, etc.); (b) social and cultural resources (networks of contacts, confidence, guidance and advice, information, etc.); and (c) intrinsic ability and hard work. It is the combination of these conditions that allows people to acquire merit (ibid.: 2443). Thus, the arguments of the Malas fail to recognise that both ability and disability are determined by availability or non-availability of and access to economic and cultural resources. Interestingly, what the Malas also did not recognise is that their merit claim can actually provide a strong case against themselves for it has the potential to exclude them completely from the purview of reservations.16 For one of the considerations in the institutionalisation of reservation opportunities for Dalits is that apart from compensating for historical inequalities, they would help to eliminate inequalities by improving their socio-economic conditions in relation to the upper castes. Whether or not the Malas have improved their socio-economic conditions so as to be 247


on a par with caste Hindus, their very claim of merit implies that they already have improved themselves in comparison with the other members in the Dalit category. This means that the difference is not in merit, but in educational access, and principally, this should take away the reverse discriminatory advantage that Malas receive. Otherwise, they will remain entrenched in the reservation system and continue to benefit while minimising the opportunities available for the marginalised castes.17 As for the MRPS’s argument, the issue of ‘under-representation of certain categories of people’, according to Anne Phillips (1995: 21), ‘is often so stark that its injustice seems beyond question’.18 However, if one were to disaggregate injustice from under-representation and examine the latter on its own terms, the general claim that a lack of equal or proportionate caste presence in the administration constitutes an injustice could be refuted on three grounds, as Rochana Bajpai (2004: 182–229) argues. First, it might be argued that a certain group of people in comparison with some other group of people is under-represented in the administration because its members lack the education and required skills for particular jobs. Second, it may be argued that the claim that a group’s representation in the administration must be commensurate with that group’s demographic weight is based on the assumption that members of the group share an equal desire for bureaucratic jobs. It is possible, however, that a group’s members do not share a preference for the same jobs. In such a situation, ‘disproportionalities in group presence in the bureaucracy would reflect the diversity in preference between groups, rather than any injustice’ (ibid.: 194–5). Third, it might be argued that since administrative jobs comprise mainly middle-class jobs, a group’s underrepresentation in those jobs does not constitute injustices against that group. The bureaucracy would mirror the demographic profiles of the social groups, as suggested by Rosenbloom, ‘only if all major social groups are distributed equally, in proportional terms, along the social stratification system’ (Rosenbloom 1977: 38–9). These three arguments, however, could be contested from the point of view of both social justice and democracy. To begin with, if one section or group of people lacks the requisite education or skills for administrative jobs in comparison with other groups or sections of people, that in itself constitutes structural injustice. In order to remedy such injustice, a structural solution, which ensures the presence of the disadvantaged group(s) in administrative jobs, is necessary. Second, an individual’s choice or preference in any given society is always formed both on account of ‘what has been set as a norm’ (Sunstein 1991: 44), and in consonance with the opportunities available to him or her. By conferring inferior 248

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occupations on the lower castes, as well as by making their culture seem inferior, the caste Hindu society not merely misrecognises the human agency of the lower castes, but also damages the confidence that lower caste members acquire through their culture.19 Furthermore, outside the boundaries of reservations, the opportunities available for the lower castes are so meagre that occupations beyond their traditional for caste occupations are hard to imagine. It is the combination of structurally confined opportunities and a socially moulded inferiority complex that destroys the motivation and confidence needed for lower castes to aspire to prestigious positions in employment and education. Moreover, ‘to take preference as given’, as Bajpai (2004: 195) observes, ‘would be to ignore the possibility that differences in preferences along group lines might be reflective of patterns of structural inequality, patterns that are themselves the product of the interaction of cultural and economic injustices, of the injustice of recognition and injustices of distribution’.20 Third, while the number of prestigious positions in any administrative set-up is limited, the dominant presence of members of certain groups and a lack of presence of the members of other social groups is clear evidence of injustice against the latter.21 In any case, what must be recognised here is that the system of reservation is a ‘representational mechanism’ to mirror the proportion of Dalits and Adivasis in society in the domains of educational and employment opportunities and legislative bodies (Tharu et al., 2007: 40). And sub-classification of that representation is simply extending this concept of mirror representation within the Dalit category. 2. Caste-based versus Group-based Justice: The second key theme of the Dandora debate is what is referred to as the ‘unit of justice’. MRPS demanded sub-classification of the Dalit reservations, taking caste as the main qualification, to ensure that every caste in the Dalit category got an opportunity to access its legitimate share. MRPS argued that although quotas were provided for Dalits as a group, Malas had been ‘monopolising’ those opportunities. As a consequence, marginalised castes such as Madigas and Rellis were deprived of their legitimate share, resulting in their further marginalisation. For instance, Dr Muthaiah, a member of the Madiga Intellectuals Forum, argued: Educationally, the Madiga caste is far behind the Mala [. . .] First generation educated [Madiga] youth will find it difficult to make a mark in the competition for reserved posts. It is time that this issue is considered in all its aspects and entry of the less advanced among SCs and STs should be enabled through a policy of Special Discrimination in their favour.22 249


Table 6.4 Representation of the Malas and Madigas in the total (state-level) SC opportunities Item



Population State public sector undertakings Educational institutions AP state secretariat IPS officers in the state IPS officers in other states Office of deputy collector Magistrates

5.1 million 61.8% 57.2% 59.5% 76.92% 86.21% 78.13% 86.21%

6.7 million 31.0% 38.18% 34.4% 23.0% 13.79% 21.18% 13.79%

Source: Justice Mehra, Usha. 2008.

Mala Mahanadu put forward two arguments in its opposition to castebased reservations. First, as Venkatarao Mallela, justifying Mala Mahanadu’s position on the grounds of ‘distributional dynamics’ of social justice, argues: Social justice operates in stages. In the first stage, justice in the form of social equality, wealth and power must be distributed between the exploiter castes and proletariat castes; and the second stage is that of distribution among the oppressed castes. This is also a stage in which the internal inequalities of the oppressed will be sorted out. (Mallela in Andhra Jyothi, 19 December 2004) It is clear that in order to ignore inequalities and differences within the Dalit group and to evade MRPS’s claim of caste-based justice, Mallela rather cleverly employs the idea of class-based groups and does not even acknowledge the existence of caste. Such an approach is nothing more than a strategy designed to reinforce the dominance of the Malas in reservation opportunities.23 Second, P. V. Rao, President of Mala Mahanadu, rejects the caste-based redistribution of reservation opportunities as an erroneous and dangerous trend, arguing: One, after sub-classification, the fruits of the reservations will be snatched away by the ‘developed castes in each group’. Two, since the developed castes anyway would grab the reservations, differences within the same group are bound to occur, and this, in turn, 250

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would compel the under-developed castes to demand yet another categorisation. Once we begin the sub-classification process we would have to continue this process until the end of human race. Therefore, sub-classification is not only an erroneous principle but also a dangerous trend.24 Interestingly, this argument was also made during the constituent assembly debates,25 and later on, during the Mandal debate.26 Anyway, the argument that the fruits of sub-classification will be appropriated by the advanced sections within the marginalised castes applies equally to the Malas’ own case. Clearly, it was on account of their advanced position that they were able to take the lead in appropriating the common opportunities of the Dalit group for themselves. Undoubtedly, this pattern of usurpation of opportunities by the advanced will be repeated even after categorisation; for as there are advanced castes within the Dalit category, there are advanced sections or classes within every caste. But this cannot be the justification for the continuation of the existing, category-based distribution of reservations, which prevents even advanced sections of marginalised castes from accessing employment opportunities available through the reserved quotas.27 Arguably, Mala Mahanadu’s claim that sub-classification would only result in reproducing similar injustices is a valid argument, since the immediate beneficiaries from sub-classification would almost certainly not be the most disadvantaged among the marginalised. This is, in fact, one of the main concerns of the Madigas themselves. For instance, the Madigas of Telangana region have been expressing concern over the disproportionate advantage taken by the Madigas from coastal Andhra in the event of categorisation, since the latter already enjoy better educational opportunities.28 Similar concerns are also expressed by the Madiga women, who face ‘triple discrimination’ and have demanded sub-classification on the basis of gender.29 This is neither the first nor the last time that we encounter such a demand from the marginalised sections, for, as Iris Young (1998: 262) observes, ‘we live in a society with deep group oppressions the complete elimination of which is only a remote possibility’. To find a way out of this impasse, we have two options. We could simply follow the advice of Mala Mahanadu and not take any action. If oppression of groups is a permanent phenomenon, any initiative to redress those injustices would result in further injustices, and thus, in either case, we will continue to live with injustice. On the contrary, we could continue to engage in finding ways to redress injustices, and thus, strive to 251


construct a just society. How is justice for the marginalised to be ensured, however? There is no need to labour the point, since it has already been accepted that if the basis of discrimination is caste, then the ‘basis of preferential policy in favour of the lower castes needs to be based on caste’ (Thorat 2006: 2435). The Mala Mahanadu argument that the present demand for sub-classification will lead to several other such demands requires to be examined. If categorisation of the SC reservations were actualised, the Madigas would, on the basis of their population proportionality within the Dalit group in AP, secure 7 per cent of the Dalit opportunities. As the state is divided into three regions (coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema), to ensure that Madigas in each of these regions get their share of opportunities, the total Madiga share of 7 per cent would have to be divided into three shares. While coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions would be given 2 per cent each, the Telangana region would get 3 per cent, simply because a majority of Madigas live in this region. We need to combine the gender aspect in the regional distribution itself, that is, the share of the regions should be divided into two equal shares between Madiga men and women. Such distribution means that we have taken three aspects of backwardness into account: caste, region and gender. In future, if rural Madigas, who are disadvantaged by lack of opportunities (educational and employment) in comparison with their counterparts in urban areas, demand further categorisation, then each region’s share of opportunities would be divided into two equal shares. Thus, a further sub-classification of existing opportunities means dividing the share into four shares, where 1 per cent of opportunities would be equally divided between Madiga men and women in urban areas and the remaining 1 per cent to be distributed equally between the Madiga men and women in rural areas. In the future, even after such distribution, if some Madigas were to make a demand for sub-classification on the basis of a just cause, unequivocally, that cause should be taken into account and further subclassifications executed. If one were to add a fifth element of difference or backwardness to the already existing four elements – that is, caste, region, gender, rural and urban differences – the 0.5 per cent of opportunities would be divided into two quarters, a further addition in the existing list of differences means dividing the quarter share of opportunities into two equal shares. Thus, each additional element would reduce the share of opportunities, and finally, we would arrive at a stage where group differences would be replaced by individual differences, and this means each person will stand for his/her opportunities. Thus, the argument that one sub-classification sets the norm for other categorisations in future is 252

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logically valid. But unlike the Mala Mahanadu, this author views such an action as a path towards a solution for tackling inequalities among Dalits more as a barrier.30 3. Modern Opportunities versus Traditional Occupations: The third key theme in the Dandora debate concerns opportunities for economic empowerment. While the MRPS grounded its demand for sub-classification on the idea of accessing modern opportunities, the Mala Mahanadu countered such a claim by suggesting that Madigas should be given economic assistance in order to develop their traditional occupations, especially sandal-making. Vara Prasad, a MRPS campaigner, reflecting the concerns of a historically disadvantaged people, maintains: Just like the Malas or any other caste in society we also want to send our children to schools, colleges and universities. [. . .] Unlike most of the Madigas, who toil throughout the year as agricultural labourers or sandal repairers, at least some of our children would have the opportunity to go to colleges, become educated and get some jobs.31 The response of Mala Mahanadu is typical. ‘Since the Madigas were into leather-making’, argues C. R. Sekhar (2005: 22), ‘the best way for their empowerment was to give them help so as to develop their traditional occupations, especially the leather work’. On the surface, this is an argument for economic assistance. But deep down, there is a casteist argument as well. First, it is true that leather-making was the caste occupation of the Madigas in the pre-independence period, when society was heavily dependent on agriculture. The Madigas developed the making of leather goods required for agricultural work as a cottage industry. With the development of modern agricultural practices and leather technologies, demand for the Madigas’s products began to dry up and the Madiga leather workers had to join the other Dalits and lower castes as agricultural labourers. Second, although some of the Madigas have survived by skinning dead cattle, tanning and repairing footwear (sandals), this has not liberated them from the clutches of poverty. In fact, other developments have further pushed them away from leather work. Recognising the potential profit in the footwear business, the Kammas in the state and Marvadis from Rajasthan and Gujarat have set up huge leather industries throughout the state, especially in coastal Andhra districts. As these industries were able to produce fashionable sandals cheaply, consumers turned to these factory-made sandals; this led to the Madigas completely losing their traditional occupation. Interestingly, 253


despite leather-making being their caste’s occupation, it was not the Madigas who were employed in these factories, but the Malas.32 This was due to the socio-economic development of the latter. As the Malas had been the first among the Dalits in the state to take up education and move to urban centres, they became aware of the opportunities available through these factories. It can be said that the Madigas lost their cottage industry to the upper-caste capitalists and lost their traditional occupation to the advanced Malas. Second, according to Venkatesh Madiga, of the eight million Madigas in the state, only 1 per cent engage in their caste occupation. That does not mean that they own footwear shops; they are just cobblers, earning small sums by repairing old or broken sandals. If the government assists the Madigas in developing their caste-based occupation, only this 1 per cent of Madigas will benefit from it. By implication, the remaining 99 per cent of the Madigas, who are not engaged in the caste’s occupation, are left out of this economic assistance, thus resulting in the further marginalisation of the entire caste. Finally, making footwear manually is definitely a skill and an art. Yet, there is no due recognition accorded to it in a society whose attitude towards work in general, and leather work in particular, is derived from the Brahmanical notions of purity and pollution. Thus, the Madigas’s skill in making footwear carries a stigma. Further, it must be recognised here that the economic assistance argument is one of the most potent casteist arguments. ‘Uplift them from their poverty and give them economic assistance to improve their traditional occupations [. . .] but do not breach our preserve of expanding knowledge and the status and opportunities it carries’ (Balagopal 2000: 1078). The Madigas’ argument for sub-classification of SC reservation in order to access modern opportunities can also be justified on the basis of the Constituent Assembly debates.33 I have made this point in the Introduction. However, for greater clarity and on account of the context of the debate, I would like to repeat that point again here. The provision of reservations in educational and employment opportunities for the Dalits and others was justified on the grounds of fairness and welfare, which are based on the notion of equality. On fairness, it was argued that without some form of special provisions, it would be impossible for historically disadvantaged groups to access educational and employment opportunities. Without their participation in these opportunities, the constitutional provisions of equality of opportunities for all citizens would remain mere paper declarations. Here, a distinction was drawn between formal and substantive equality of opportunity, between ‘paper’ and ‘real’ equality. Reservations were essential not only to rectify the structural forms of discrimination, 254

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but also to overcome persisting discriminatory practices, even after such practices were outlawed and equality of opportunity formally instituted. The welfare type of argument was found in K. T. Shah’s (CAD, vol. VII: 655–6) observation: [A]ny special discrimination in favour of (Scheduled Castes and ‘backward’ tribes) may not be regarded as violating the basic principles of equality for all classes of citizens in the country. They need, and must be given, for some time to come at any rate, special treatment in regard to education, in regard to opportunity for employment and in many other cases where their present inequality, their present backwardness is only hindrance to the rapid development of the country.34 Reducing inequalities among groups was, in itself, considered a necessity by the members of the Constituent Assembly, but further, it was believed to be an essential precondition for national integration as well as general progress and development of the country. Both the Malas and the Madigas are part of the larger Dalit category, but there is a huge gap between the two castes in terms of socio-economic conditions and access to modern education, employment and political opportunities. One should not label the Malas villains for taking advantage of the reservation opportunities earmarked for Dalits as a group, as their advantage was initially determined by both historical factors and the occupations imposed on them by the caste system. Similarly, the present disadvantage of the Madigas was determined by an initial disadvantage in the form of their physical location in the Telangana region and the occupations they pursued on account of their social location in the caste hierarchy. Historical and socio-structural factors came to determine the present abilities and inabilities of the two castes in terms of access to opportunities for reservation. Hence, it is necessary to take these factors into account, and in this respect, the Madigas’ demand for sub-classification to access modern opportunities is justified. 4. Unity versus Uniformity: While, on the one hand, Mala Mahanadu rejected the sub-classification from the point of view of Dalit unity, MRPS, on the other hand, built its demand for sub-classification upon the idea of the uniformity of the Dalit group. The Mala Mahanadu, in its rejection of categorisation, conceived four arguments around the notion of Dalit unity: 1. Malas and Madigas are all Dalits; all are oppressed and exploited in the Brahmanical caste system. The Manuvadis (the upper castes) are jealous of our unity, and sub-classification is their political conspiracy to divide and rule Ambedkar’s family. (Gutam Swamy, a Mala Mahanadu activist)35 255


2. [A]t present, whenever there is any incident of atrocities against any caste among the Dalit community, all the Dalit castes together face the tyranny of the upper castes and agitate against such incidents united. However, after the castes are divided into groups, members of other castes or groups will not come forward to protect the victims if the latter do not belong either to the caste or group of the former. (Mala Mahanadu in a memorandum to the National Commission for SCs and STs, 1998) 3. [A]fter sub-classification people would give their vote to their caste’s candidates only . . . there will be unprecedented political competitions, which will lead to social animosities among Dalits as every Dalit caste would field its own candidate in the reserved constituencies. (Suryarao Gollapalli, a Congress MLA) 4. Fighting for sub-classification is a sheer waste of energy. Madigas, Malas, Rellis, Adi Andhras and other Dalit castes should join together to demand reservations in the private sector. ( Jupudi Prabhakara Rao, in Andhra Jyothi, 14 April 2005) Interestingly, the MRPS also used the language of family and Dalit unity. For them, however, unity will be achieved only when the reservation opportunities are equally (i.e. proportionately) distributed among all the ‘children’ of Ambedkar.36 The MRPS put forward three arguments on the notion of uniformity among the Dalits: 1. Ambedkar, a father-figure to both Madigas and Malas, advocated that property should be equally distributed between two sons rather than appropriated by one son. (Krishna Madiga)37 2. First and foremost, distributive justice must be done to the Madigas and their sub-castes, Rellis and their sub-castes. Distributive justice among all the castes is an indispensable step before we join other Dalit castes for political power. We recognise the importance of Dalit unity to fight against social and political Hindutva ideologies; and Madigas would certainly join the Malas and the other Dalit castes in that fight, provided the Malas support the sub-classification demand. (Krupakar Madigas)38 3. How is it possible for a person at the ground level to join hands with another person standing on the terrace to forge friendship, unity, or work together or even fight against the Manu dharma? Is unity possible between two unequal individuals? [. . .] Unity is possible between equals and not between unequals. ( Jupaka Subhadra)39 In his argument, Krupakar Madiga unequivocally recognises the importance of Dalit unity in the fight against the forces of Hindutva, 256

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both in the social and in the political realms.40 But for him, such a fight needs to be preceded by justice for all castes in the Dalit group. Jupaka’s argument has similar elements. Thus, it is apparent that both the Mala Mahanadu and Madiga Dandora have sought Dalit unity on much the similar grounds, to fight the common enemy and to secure common interests through political power. The one crucial difference between them is that, while the latter asks for the resolution of any internal problems before taking common action, the former sees such action as unnecessary. For them, the enormity of the threat posed by the enemy is sufficient condition for seeking unity. Now, let us analyse the normal claims involved in concepts of family and unity. First of all, we need to recognise that what is being claimed in the concepts of the Ambedkar family and Dalit unity is in the selfinterest of both the Malas and Madigas. This can be explained from two perspectives. First, both the Madigas and Malas, being situated at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, are vulnerable to caste-based atrocities and discrimination against them by the caste Hindus. No caste can fight against the upper castes on its own strength, and the support of the other Dalit castes is sine qua non. Interestingly, it may be mentioned here that whenever the upper castes commit atrocities against Dalits, it is always strategically against an individual Dalit caste rather than Dalits as a group. For instance, in Karamchedu village, despite the presence of the Malas and Madigas, the Kammas organised a massacre against the Madigas alone; and in Chunduru, it was against Malas alone. Thus, unity between both castes serves the interests of each caste. Second, on the political front also, unity is in the common interest of all Dalit castes. As Anne Phillips (1993: 23) points out, ‘partly this is no more than efficiency: to change the world we need the weight of numbers’. No individual Dalit caste can win elections on its demographic weight alone. Third, it is difficult to see any rationale in the Mala Mahanadu’s argument that sub-classification leads to competition, inter-caste rivalry and animosity among Dalits. In fact, the prevailing inter-caste animosities are due to the domination of one caste or few castes over the reservation opportunities provided to the group as a whole. Subclassification should lead to amity in the group rather than competition or animosity.41 Finally, on the question of reservations in the private sector: with the economic liberalisation, there was a shift in emphasis from the public to the private sector, which has vastly reduced employment opportunities in the public sector. This has, in turn, reduced the employment opportunities for the Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Castes 257


(OBCs).42 Obviously, this condition forced the Dalits and other marginalised castes and communities to demand reservations in the private sector. Two principles upon which this demand was grounded are: part of the whole and discrimination. The Dalit nation is part of the larger Indian nation, and as part of the whole they are, like anybody else, entitled to equal opportunities (education, employment), resources and political power. But on account of discrimination against them by the upper castes, the Dalits are unable to access the common resources. This could be rectified by carving out a portion in proportion to the demographic weight of the Dalit nation from the nation’s common portion, i.e resources (Thorat and Newman 2007: 4121–4). While the entire Dalit community is eager to take part in the new movement and gain reservations in the private sector, the majority of them are simultaneously concerned about what will happen to the Dalit portion once that portion is realised. On this issue, we come across two types of response. On the one hand, we have self-proclaimed Ambedkarites without an understanding of what Ambedkar stood for, and Dalit associations such as Mala Mahanadu that completely ignore the internal differences and inequalities within the Ambedkar family and who oppose any measure aimed at rectifying these inequalities. On the other hand, we have the Dalit middle class, a class that is essentially constituted by the elites of the dominant Dalit castes. This class, which has amassed a great amount of wealth primarily through reservation opportunities, arrogantly thinks that it has a ‘larger vision’ than the grass root Dalits, who have a ‘limited view of things’, and hence, will turn out to be ‘a liability for the Dalit movement’ (Chandrabhan Prasad in The Pioneer, 7 March 2004). Members of this elite group, eager to become capitalists, want to become commanders-in-chief of the Dalit movement so as to demand a share in the private sector. Now, whatever the pretensions of this class, can it mobilise all the Dalit castes for reservations in the private sector, especially the marginalised, without a prior understanding of what would eventually happen to that Dalit share? Would that share be divided equally among all the Dalit castes or would it be appropriated by the dominant Dalit castes? Answers to these questions do not require any research. Our experience with the present reservations in the public sector is enough to justify the conclusion that reservation opportunities in the private sector will be monopolised by the dominant Dalit castes, and thus, the marginalised Dalit castes will be left out even from the opportunities in the private sector. The significance of the emergence of the caste-based movements and the debate on the sub-categorisation must be properly recognised here. 258

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The advent of the MRPS indicates a growing consciousness of rights and a consequent political activism among the hitherto marginalised Dalit castes. In fact, it has infused such great courage and confidence in them that they now stand up for their rights and their legitimate share, not merely in the Dalit quota of reservations, but also in the opportunities, resources and wealth of the nation – a further indication of the unfolding process of the new democratic revolution at the bottom of the social hierarchy. If the arrival of MRPS signifies a welcome growing political consciousness, the coming of Mala Mahanadu, however, clearly represents its reversal. By its adamant insistence on the continuation of the groupbased distribution of the Dalit reservations, Mala Mahanadu has not just been seeking to perpetuate the domination of the Malas and the Adi Andhras in reserved domains. It has also been forcing the marginalised Dalit castes to remain in their caste-based boundaries and occupations. By implication, it has stepped into the shoes of the upper castes and become an overseer of the caste system (Gundimeda 2006). Three consequences of the caste-based mobilisations by both the Madigas and Malas around the question of sub-categorisation must be clearly recognised here. First, as the economic gap is continuing to grow between the dominant and marginalised Dalit castes (Malas and Madigas in our case), the former is continuing to become more dominant among the Dalits, while the latter is further marginalised. Second, as every Dalit caste is affected by the categorisation issue, for the past 18 years, the social community of Dalits has been divided within itself, and the precious energies of the community wasted – both human and material. And third, politically, the caste-based conflicts have been a great blow to Dalit unity. Caste-based rivalries have fragmented Dalit politics, which has, in effect, ‘delivered’ the Dalits more clearly into the hands of the upper-caste-led political parties. While the TDP absorbed the Madigas by extending its support to the categorisation demand, Congress has absorbed the Malas by accommodating them in positions of power. For example, Jupudi Prabhakararao, leader of Mala Mahanadu, was made a member of the legislative council of the state. These developments lead one to argue that such incorporation and accommodation have taken Dalit politics back to its pre-1980s’ phase and turned the Dalits, once again, into vote banks for the upper-caste-led political parties. The developments analysed in this chapter should help not only to build some understanding of Dalit activities in AP, but also to put us in a better position for appreciating the current Dalit engagement in AP and UP comparatively, even more perhaps for assessing the importance and consequences of a marginalised social category such as the Dalits having, and not having, political power. 259


Notes 1 Dandora, which is literally ‘announcing’ in Telugu, was one of the traditional occupations of the Madigas. Before the entry of modern forms of communication, the Madigas were employed to make announcements either about new governmental policies or programmes, or any kind of new activity in the villages. Madigas make announcements by going around the village while simultaneously beating their drum and shouting out the announcements. 2 Prior to the establishment of University of Hyderabad in Hyderabad in 1974 and Acharya Nagarjuna University in Guntur in 1976, the AP state had just two universities: Osmania University and Andhra University. While Osmania University was founded by Nawab Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad in 1918, Andhra University was founded by Sir C. R. Reddy in 1926. 3 Interview with Bulla Rajarao, a Dalit leader in Mangalagiri on 6 July 2004. 4 http://www.mrps.info/movement.html (accessed on 9 May 2008). 5 A number of theories have been put forward by scholars on why and what compelled the Indian state to abandon its old path, a path that was influenced by the ideology of the makers of the Constitution of India, and jump onto a new path – one laid out by the Bretton Woods institutions and endorsed by indigenous business houses (see, for instance Bhagwati 1993). 6 For a different view point on liberalisation see, Prasad, Chandra Banu et al., 2010: 39–49. 7 Interviews with U. Sambasivarao and B. S. Ramulu in Hyderabad on 4–5 April 2004; Bhangya Bhukya in Warwick, UK on 7 August 2005. 8 Interviews with Krishna Madiga on 22 August 2005 in Hyderabad; and Krupakar Madiga on 12 July 2005 in Guntur. 9 Interviews with Katti Kalyan, Kolikapudi Srinivas and Gurram Srinivas, research scholars in Hyderabad Central University, 12–15 August 2005. 10 Interview with Krupakar Madiga in Hyderabad on 19 June 2004. 11 Interview with Kishore Digumarthi in Ramachandrapuram (East Godavari) on 15 September 2003. 12 http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgs1.aspx?filename=30895 (accessed on 3 January 2008). For a critical evaluation of the judgement, see Balagopal 2005: 3128–33. 13 For an extended discussion on this, see Gundimeda 2006. 14 During the Mandal debate, a similar argument was put forward by the supporters of the reservations for the OBCs. For details, see Bajpai 2004: 182–229. 15 From the point of sociology of caste, it may be interesting to note here that while the caste Hindus sometimes justified their discrimination against the Dalits on the basis of the latter’s practice of ‘beef eating’, the same argument has been put forward by the upwardly mobile Dalit castes to claim their superiority over the marginalised Dalit castes. 16 Khasim, a researcher from Osmania University, Hyderabad, makes an interesting observation against the merit argument of the Malas: ‘While the upper castes have been chanting the merit mantra for the last fifty to sixty years, today the Malas have joined this congregation . . . . According to this meritorious people (both the caste


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18 19 20 21

22 23

24 25 26

27 28 29


Hindus and the Malas), whoever have merit will have seat and employment. Then what is the need for the reservations at all? Let’s discontinue with the reservation system, and let’s allow the meritorious to get the seat and employment. Are the Malas ready for this?’ (Khasim in Panthukala’s film, Dandora). Personally, I do not suggest the idea of blocking of the Malas from availing reservation facilities. Barring a small percentage, most Malas are equally as poor as the Madigas. On this, see also Pitkin 1967; George Kateb 1981; Will Kymlicka 1996. For an excellent theoretical discussion on the politics of recognition and misrecognition, see Taylor 1994. Also, see Williams 1999: 16–17. Incidentally, Amitabh Kundu (2008) who chaired the second expert group to ‘examine and determine the structure of an Equal Opportunity Commission’ argues that if a community (even if a minority) is already over represented in a given institution, it cannot claim any benefits. My interview with Dr Muthaiah in Hyderabad on 23 October 2006. This argument is simply similar to the grounds of objections made by the Brahmins and other Hindu upper castes both in colonial and post-independence India. A great body of literature is available on this. For a representative sample, see Irschick 1969; for a compelling discussion on the Mandal debate, see Dirks 2001: 275–302. My interview with P. V. Rao, President of Mala Mahanadu, in Hyderabad on 4 May 2004. See, CSD, Vols. VIII: 516 & IX: 629. Responding to Rajni Kothari’s defence of the caste-based reservations for the OBCs during the Mandal debate, M. N. Srinivas, A. M. Shah and B. S. Bavaskar (1990) argued that caste-based quotas for OBCs would provide new avenues of exploitation for the elites: ‘the ploy of caste-based reservations, encouraging castebased politicisation, is not the solution [. . .] For all we know, this will benefit only the rich and the influential in all the castes and leave the poor and weak where they are’. For Kothari’s arguments, see Kothari 1990. My conversations with Gurram Srinivas, a research scholar in University of Hyderabad, 1 January 2004. Interviews conducted by Pantukala Srinivas in his Dandora – a documentary film on sub-classification of the SC reservations. Mary Madiga, president of the Madiga Mahila Samakya (Association for Madiga Women), argued: ‘Madiga women constitute half of the Madiga population. We do not get even one percentage of the reservation opportunities that are accrue to our community. As women we face triple discrimination against us, and we demand that those factors of discrimination should be taken into consideration in the distribution of reservations [ . . . ] we demand sub-classification of reservations on the basis of caste and we also demand sub-classification on the basis of gender’ (My interview with Mary Madiga in Hyderabad on 4 May 2006). A similar proposal has also been made by Justice Sachar Committee in 2006; also, see Khaitan 2008: 8–12.



31 My interview with D. M. Vara Prasad, a Congress (I) MLA – Tadikonda constituency, Guntur district, on 13 July 2006. 32 My field interviews with some leather workers in those factories in Vijayawada, 26–29 October 2004. 33 I have drawn these arguments from Bajpai 2002: 179–97. 34 For further analysis on the questions of political representation and reservations in employment for minorities in the debates of Constituent Assembly, see Jha 2002: 3175–80; Jha 2004: 4357–60. 35 Dr B. R. Ambedkar, who was a Dalit himself, was at the forefront in fighting against caste discrimination against the Dalits in modern India; and as the chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, he was instrumental in getting reservations for the Dalits. As such, Dalits all over India, irrespective of their caste affiliations, regard him as ‘the Father of the Dalit jati (nation)’. 36 In the Dandora debate, the words ‘proportionality’ and ‘equality’ have been used inter-changeably. Although conceptually, they are two different terms, nevertheless, I shall use them interchangeably. 37 Krishna Madiga, in his address to the Dandora activists in Ambedkar Bhavan, Hyderabad on 20 February 1999 – Participant observation of the researcher. 38 Krupakar Madiga’s interview in Pantukala Srinivas’s (2006) Dandora – a documentary film. 39 Interview with Jupaka Subhadra, in Pantukala Srinivas’s Dandora. 40 Although there is a great difference between Hindutva and Manu Dharma, most Dalits tend to equate one with the other. While Hindutva does not recognise caste identity and, thus, caste occupations, the Manu Dharma wants people to observe caste strictly and practice the occupations assigned to them. 41 I am aware that the initiation of sub-classification seals the inter-caste competitions on one level, but opens up the intra-caste competitions and rivalries among them. But this cannot be sufficient justification for the rejection of categorisation. In future, if there is going to be intra-caste competitions as a result of categorisation, we need to find a way to work this out. 42 According to the Report of the Working Group on the Empowering SCs drawn up by the National Commission on SCs, the Dalits lost about 1,13,430 job opportunities in the central government during the period 1992–97, constituting a decline of 10.07 per cent; see Louis, 2004: 3691–2.



The quest of Dalits for social equality and political power has forced them to brave a historic journey through a rough sociopolitical terrain, the end of which seems to be nowhere near. Certainly, from the politics of claiming separate identities to the politics of claiming caste-based identities, their journey – both social as well as political, in the colonial and postcolonial periods – has reached a momentous stage in the contemporary period. The Dalits’ use of caste as a weapon in their struggle against caste and caste-based dominance in order to attain equality and power has major implications, for it has the potential to transform not only the body politic of the Dalits, but the caste system itself and democratic politics in the country as a whole. A brief examination of those implications is in order. Dalit politics, both in colonial and in post-independence India, have been shaped by their position in the Brahmanic hierarchical social system, which legitimises their systemic exclusion. Such systemic exclusion means that Dalits have to live at the margins or outside the boundaries of the varna order, and this, in turn, has resulted in their exploitation in the economic arena, oppression in the political arena and a lack of recognition of their humanness in the cultural arena. The Dalit response to these systemic exclusions in both colonial and post-independence India is precisely what this work set out to examine. That is to say, this book has attempted to examine and analyse the contours of Dalit politics for social equality and political power in both colonial and contemporary India. It has set for itself three principal axes of enquiry: (i) comparatively, by looking at the situation in both north and south India, (ii) historically, by looking at the anti-caste movements and Dalit protests from the late 19th century onwards and (iii) thematically, focusing on caste, domination and democracy. On the basis of the trajectories of Dalit mobilisations, this work has recognised three stages in Dalit politics, and in order to capture 263


the nuances in those three stages cross-regionally, it has examined Dalits’s politics from an Ambedkarite perspective by taking Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Andhra Pradesh (AP) as case studies.

Claiming Adi identity for representation and political power The British colonial government’s proposal for the devolution of power to Indians triggered unprecedented mobilisations around caste, community and religious identities. Despite the prevalence of caste and communal politics, the political scientist Varshney was blind to the significance of caste in north Indian politics when he argued that politics in northern India was exclusively organised around religious identities or the master narrative of what he calls ‘the Hindu–Muslim cleavage’. As in the politics of the southern and western parts of India, in the politics of north India as well, the role and position of caste were, and still remain, very important. The politics of the lower castes, especially Dalits, was mostly organised around their caste identities, and any study on the politics of north India that does not take the ‘caste’ factor into account in its analysis will be inadequate. At the turn of the 20th century, when Brahmins and other upper castes were claiming their right to political power through the Indian National Congress on the basis of their Aryan origin, Dalits in northern and southern (and western) India were organising themselves with twin demands – recognition and representation. While the upper castes were trying to exclude Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis by embracing the Aryan ideology, the Dalits’ invention of the Adi Hindu ideology is a fascinating moment in the history of Dalit assertions. By claiming the Adi identity of mula bharatavasi, Dalits sought not merely to project Brahmins and other upper castes as ‘outsiders’ – thereby disqualifying them from ruling the country – but importantly, they put forward their own strong claim for ruling the country. The Dalits’ claim of achhut identity in colonial UP, Adi Hindu in Nizam’s Hyderabad and Adi Andhra in the Telugu districts of the Madras Presidency signifies the emergence and embracing of the Adi ideology by Dalits across the regions. It also signals the similarities in their demands for recognition and social equality. But the demand for recognition is not simply a demand for social equality or for recognition of their selfworth; rather, it is a demand for recognition of their difference from others, particularly from the other castes or from the ‘Hindu community’. Demanding recognition of their difference is an important milestone in the Dalit politics, for claiming a difference was the only way by which 264


they could claim their share of representation in the emerging configurations of political power. However, that situation changed with the entry of Gandhi and his formation of Harijan Sevak Sangh, which placed Dalit activism and demands in the above two regions on two separate tracks. It was not that Ambedkar’s ideas and his struggle for separate Dalit representation in the emerging political institutions and power did not influence the course of Dalit activism in the two states. But between Ambedkar and Gandhi, whom did the Dalits in those respective states choose? This decided and set the agenda of their activism and laid the foundation for the future course of Dalit politics in UP and AP. From the beginning, Dalit activism in UP was shaped by the idea of political power in the form of representation. While Achhutanand’s Adi Hindu movement laid the foundations for political power, the entry of Ambedkar and his debate with Gandhi during the Round Table Conferences and Poona Pact engraved that idea onto the hearts and minds of the Dalits in UP. In AP, however, although some educated Dalits were influenced by Ambedkar and his activism, they were handicapped by the fact that they were few in number. A majority of the Dalit leaders in the state were operating under the shadow of Brahmins, who had earlier sponsored their education. It was as if Brahmins would look after them forever and sort out everything on their behalf. The patronage of Congress Brahmins resulted in the induction of Dalits and their leaders into the Harijan Sevak Sangh and turned them into activists of the temple-entry campaigns. Due to their preoccupation with the idea of integration with the wider Hindu society, they could not place a strong demand for political power. In other words, the different importance given to the idea of political power by Dalit leaders in UP and AP led them on to different paths in the postindependence period.

Negotiating power for political accommodation and opportunities With India’s independence, Dalit politics and activism entered into the second phase. In comparison with the previous phase, this one started in a positive atmosphere wherein the country’s independence from British colonial rule, and a new constitution that enshrined rights, representation and opportunities for empowerment, gave Dalits a new hope for transformation. However, soon they realised that they had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Such a situation was the result of the dominance of caste Hindus in the realm of political power. In the colonial era, despite the fact that the British worked for their own selfish economic 265


and political interests, at times, the British – as outsiders – acted neutrally whenever there was a clash of interests between Dalits and caste Hindus. In fact, on numerous occasions, for example, in the issuing of Communal Awards, the British stood on the side of the Dalits and other marginalised castes in their struggle for a legitimate share in the emerging political power structure. However, with independence, Dalits no longer had the luxury of a neutral arbitrator, for the political power was now held by the very same people who also happened to be their victimisers for centuries. From the country’s independence until the early 1980s, caste Hindus, operating under the umbrella of the Congress Party, dominated political power at both the national and provincial levels. During that period, the Congress Party, as the holder of political power, became the country’s arbitrator; as such, Dalits were forced to negotiate with it. Successive Congress governments used power to the advantage of the upper castes, and thus managed to successfully widen the gaps in the socio-economic and political realms between the upper and lower castes. The Congress primarily followed two strategies in the appropriation and marginalisation of Dalits and their leadership. First, for the reserved constituencies, it selected those Dalit candidates who did not speak their mind, or who simply parroted the language of the Congress. In fact, they were ‘nonmilitant and had no power in the local or state Congress organisations’ (Brass 1965: 105). Second, it appropriated the Dalit leadership from the RPI by providing material benefits, such as sending B. P. Maurya to the United States. In doing so, the Congress did not merely weaken the independent Dalit leadership, but also made the ‘numerous organisations in Uttar Pradesh for the advancement of the Scheduled Castes and “depressed classes” . . . content to serve as agencies for the distribution of Congress patronage’ (ibid.). During the 1950s and 1960s, the socio-economic arena, as well as, inter-caste and inter-community relations in rural locations underwent tremendous changes. To a large extent, those changes were the result of the developmental activities undertaken by the state. Two of the most important activities that effected a permanent change in rural India in general and rural UP in particular were: (a) the Zamindari Abolition Act and subsequent land reforms and (b) the Green Revolution. The Zamindari Abolition Act took away a large proportion of agricultural land hitherto held by zamindars, who primarily came from among the Brahmins, Thakurs and Ashraf Muslims, and distributed it mainly among the peasant communities. That is to say, the beneficiary communities were predominantly drawn from the upper castes within the larger Shudra category. Similarly, 266


the activities undertaken through the Green Revolution brought about commercialisation of agriculture by encouraging facilities such as better irrigation, high-yielding varieties of seeds, subsidised fertilisers and market accessibility. As a result of these developmental activities of the state, we have witnessed the emergence of a class of ‘rural capitalist farmers’ (Hasan 1998: 17–120; Lietan and Srivastava 1999: 38–82) from among the traditional upper castes as well as from among the rural dominant castes that have come to constitute the upper layers in the Shudra category. Interestingly, despite being poor and landless, Dalits were not included in the land reforms. In the name of ‘land to the tiller’, they were excluded from the entire process of land distribution. Dalits, however, certainly benefited from the land distribution as well as other programmes and policies. For instance, government-owned land was distributed among Dalits for housing, as was a small proportion of surplus agricultural land under the land ceiling laws. Also, the reservation facilities not only produced a class of political leaders, but more importantly resulted in the emergence of a small section of educated and employed people among them, who, in turn, constituted the Dalit middle class. It is true that a vast majority of the Dalit masses benefited neither from the developmental activities of the state, nor from the reservations, but the schemes generated tremendous awareness among them. They are now, to give two examples, able to question both the social discrimination against them by Brahmins and their social domination and economic exploitation by Thakurs. It is, indeed, this Dalit questioning of traditional as well as of modern caste power, which has been acquired by the upper castes through the augmentation of their class position, that has led to social conflict in UP since the early 1970s. Some of the incidents of violence against the Dalits and their response to such violence have been noted. It was at the height of those incidences of violence that the BAMCEF and, later, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) entered into the lives of Dalits in the state. During the same period, the Dalit leadership in AP was completely domesticated by the Congress’s upper-caste leadership, especially the Reddys. Of course, there was one exception in Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, a Congress Dalit leader who became the chief minister of AP. But Damodaram’s elevation was more an attempt to pacify the infighting among factions of the Congress’s Reddys than born from a real zeal to give the reins of power to a Dalit. Except in the political arena, Dalit politics and their activism in AP simply followed the path of UP, particularly in the programmes of land distribution and the Green Revolution. Just as in UP, in AP, the non-Brahmin upper castes – particularly Kammas, Reddys 267


and Kapus – benefited from those programmes. An important outcome of these programmes was the consolidation of socio-economic power in Telugu society by these non-Brahmin upper castes, particularly Reddys and Kammas, the two dominant upper castes, who already dominated the political sphere of AP. As Dalits were more or less excluded from these developmental activities, they rarely felt the impact of these programmes. However, they benefited from some of the exclusive programmes undertaken for their development, such as the distribution of waste lands and housing sites for rural Dalits and so on. A section among the Dalits also benefited from the reservation policy. By the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Telugu society was able to witness the changes brought about by the developmental activities, both at the top and bottom of the social hierarchy. While the upper castes managed to consolidate their power and domination in the socio-economic and political spheres, among Dalits, there was a tremendous surge of consciousness of their oppression and exploitation. Dalits began to question wherever and whenever there was upper-caste oppression and discrimination against them. The upper castes that were habituated to oppressing and discriminating against Dalits could not digest this new questioning. ‘The Malas and Madigas are forgetting their position, they needed to be taught a lesson’ was the attitude of the upper castes towards Dalits. This attitude led to increased incidents of upper-caste violence against Dalits in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Interestingly, these incidents of violence, instead of resulting in the suppression of Dalit consciousness – as hoped by the upper castes – resulted in a stronger determination among the Dalits to question and fight against the sociopolitical domination and casteism of the upper castes. Such determination led to the formation of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha, under the leadership of Bojja Tarakam and Katti Padmarao. There are similarities between the two Dalit organisations, BAMCEF in UP and the APDMS in AP. They both emerged in the context of severe oppression and violence by the upper castes against Dalits; the leadership for both organisations was provided by middle-class Dalits; and both organisations rose against the domination and hegemony of the upper castes over the socio-economic, political and cultural spheres in their respective states. Yet, qualitative differences between these two organisations are noticeable in terms of their activities and the ideas generated from those activities. For instance, BAMCEF’s two most important activities, ‘Ambedkar Mela on Wheels’ and ‘Denunciation of the Poona Pact’, were intended not only to awaken the Dalit public against the injustices done to them by Gandhi and Congress through the Poona 268


Pact, but more importantly to propagate the ideas and ideals of Ambedkar, especially the importance of political power for the oppressed. This actually led to a major exodus of the Dalit masses from the fold of the Congress to form a support base for the BSP. Dalit activism under the leadership of the APDMS in AP took a completely different route. In AP, Dalits confined themselves to the social and cultural spheres by focusing their activism around the old demands: social equality and annihilation of caste. At times, they also sought to fight for land and livelihood (boomi kosam, bhukti kosam) opportunities for Dalits and other marginalised communities. Undoubtedly, these are all important issues that aimed at gaining equality, respect and economic opportunities for Dalits. But such objectives could not be achieved without political power. That is to say, any groundbreaking changes in the socio-economic and cultural spheres are possible only when those changes are supported by political power. The upper castes have actively resisted Dalit demands; for if they were to concede to the demands of the Dalits, then they would have to forgo their control and dominance over those spheres. In other words, political power is the sine qua non even to strengthen the socio-economic condition of Dalits. Thus, we saw that there is a qualitative difference in the approaches adopted by the Dalit leadership in the two states, i.e. Dalits in UP took the route of revolution from above, that is, gaining political power and then pursuing those policies and programmes that would transform the socio-economic conditions that produce the oppressor and the oppressed. In contrast, Dalits in AP followed the path of revolution from below, i.e. they sought to empower Dalits and other oppressed masses so as to prepare them for political power. Of course, it is not that the Dalit leadership in AP did not emphasise the need for political power at all. They did, by forming the Poor People’s Party, renewing the Republican Party of India and also by supporting the BSP on the eve of the 1994 State Legislative Assembly elections. But disunity among Dalits, particularly between the Madigas and Malas, and the inability on the part of the Dalit leadership to reach other sections of the Telugu society ultimately led to the failure of all those efforts at acquiring political power.

Divergent routes: assuming power for sociopolitical transformations versus mobilising for justice Since the mid-1990s, Dalit politics and social activism both in UP and AP have revolved around the question of social justice. Interestingly, despite the seeming sameness of the idea, its meaning differs in each state. 269


While for the Dalits in UP, the idea of social justice means horizontalisation of vertical order and democratisation of the political order, for Dalits in AP, it means recognition and representation. The idea of recognition contains two broad elements: recognising Dalits as equal human beings (i.e. social equality) and the annihilation of caste. The idea of representation also contains two components: first, the representation for Dalits at all levels in the structures of political power – this aspect is pursued by all Dalits – and second, the distribution of Dalit reservations among all the Dalit castes. The latter aspect is pursued by the marginalised Dalit castes, particularly Madigas and Rellis. After years of considerable study in understanding the caste system and attitudes of the upper castes, the BSP leadership came to realise that before the annihilation of caste, there is a greater need for the horizontalisation of the vertical order and achieving equality among castes. It believed that equality of castes would not just result in changing the casteist mind of the upper castes, but more importantly, would help in rooting out caste itself. Towards the realisation of this objective, Dalits and the BSP leadership took to acknowledging and adopting Dalit titles. This was one way of positivising hitherto abused identities and forcing certain others to recognise that positivity and, consequently, treat them with respect and dignity. Madigas in AP followed a similar strategy and succeeded in easing out the humiliation contained in that identity. Of course, whether adoption of such caste-based identities by the Dalit castes leads to annihilation of caste is something that cannot be answered just yet. However, Dalits are certainly no longer ashamed of their caste-based identities. Indeed, they are as proud of their caste identities as the upper castes. From that point of view, one can confidently claim the arrival of social equality among castes. At this point, it may be recognised that while a majority of Dalit castes in UP have adopted their caste names, in AP, it is principally Madigas who have taken up this strategy; other Dalit castes, particularly Malas and Adi Andhras, are not in favour of adopting caste identities. Until the late 1980s, the Indian political arena had witnessed the dominance of upper castes through various political parties. The BSP’s objective of democratisation of the undemocratic political order was intended to change such dominance of the upper castes by increasing the presence of the lower castes in the representative bodies. That is to say, with an avowed aim to bring more and more hitherto-marginalised castes into the political arena, the party employed the strategy of caste-based distribution of the representative seats. Although this method of distribution certainly did result in the inclusion of the hitherto marginalised castes and communities in the democratic process and political power, it also marginalised 270


those castes that did not have a sufficient percentage of population, for it was not just caste, but weight in terms of the population of castes that became the yardstick in the distribution of representative seats. In any case, it is important to recognise the differences that Dalits brought into the upper-caste-dominated polity and society as a result of their political engagement through the BSP. There have been tremendous changes in the relations between Dalits and non-Dalits in UP. The old forms and patterns of discrimination against Dalits have become somewhat antiquated, and invitations are exchanged between Dalits and others, particularly the upper castes, on occasions such as marriages and social gatherings. Separate seating and separate dining during such occasions have also been substantially eroded; in fact, they have become a thing of past. In a word, Dalits, who were denied recognition and respect, have acquired political power, which, in turn, has resulted in a new selfconfidence, and, more importantly, respectful recognition from the caste Hindu society. Interestingly, the two elements of social justice for Dalits in AP are not fundamentally different from those ideas advocated by the BSP. For instance, the idea of recognition is nothing but recognition of their difference from others in the Dalit category. Such recognition of differences makes provisions for a share within the Dalit quota of reservations on the basis of their proportional percentage within the total Dalit population. Although there are no differences in the principles of social justice as advocated by the BSP and the Dandora, the BSP’s rejection of the Dandora’s demand for classification of Dalit reservations at the national level, and by the Mala Mahanadu at the state level, has placed Dalit politics and activism in a tangled web from which they are yet to emerge.


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Reports Broken People: Caste Violence against India’s ‘Untouchables’. 1998. New York: Human Rights Watch. Census of India, 1931, Vol. XIV, Madras Part I. Report by M.W.M. Yeatts, of the Indian Civil Service, Superintendent of Census Operations, Madras. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch. Census of India, 1931, Vol. XXIII, H.E.H. the Nizam’s Dominions (Hyderabad State), Part I, Report, by Gulam Ahmad Khan. Hyderabad: Government Central Press, 1933. Constituent Assembly Debates: Official Report (CAD). 1946–50. New Delhi: The Government of India, Vols. III, VII & IX. Fact Finding Report on Chunduru. Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Council, 1991. Human Development Report, 2007: Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh. Justice P. Ramachandra Raju. 1997. One Man Commission of Enquiry into Certain Demands by a Section of Scheduled Castes. Hyderabad: Secretariat, Government of Andhra Pradesh. Justice Usha Mehra. 2008. National Commission to examine the issue of sub-classification of Scheduled Castes in Andhra Pradesh: A Report. New Delhi: Government of India. Justice Rajendra Sachar. 2006. Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India: A Report. New Delhi: Government of India. Karamchedu (Report on Karamchedu Carnage by Salaha). 1985. Hyderabad: Hyderabad Book Trust. Kundu, Amitabh. 2008. Report of the Expert Group on Diversity Index. New Delhi: Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India. National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, 1998. 4th Annual Report 1996–97 and 1997–98,Volume I. New Delhi: Government of India. Report of the Reforms Committee–1938 (1347F [Aiyangar Committee]). 1938. Hyderabad: Government of Central Press.



Theses and Working Papers Adapa, Satyanarayana. 2002. ‘Migration of Telugu Coolies to Colonial Burma, 1871– 1947’. Dr. Garigipati Rudrayya Chowdary Endowment Lecture – 9. 25 February. Ramachandrapuram, East Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. Bajpai, Rochana. 2004. ‘The Legitimating of Group Rights in Contemporary India’. Unpublished D.Phil. dissertation. Oxford: University of Oxford. Ian, Duncan. 1979. ‘Levels, the communication programmes, and sectional strategies in Indian politics, with reference to the Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the Republican Party of India in Uttar Pradesh State and Aligarh district (U.P.)’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Sussex: University of Sussex. Jaffrelot, Christophe. 2005. ‘The BSP in Uttar Pradesh: Party of the Dalits or of the Bahujans – Or Catch-all-party?’ Occasional Paper No. 2. Cambridge: Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge. Jangam, Chinnaiah. 2005. ‘Contesting Hinduism: Emergence of Dalit Paradigms in Telugu Country 1900–1950’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. London: SOAS, University of London. Karli, Srinivasulu. 2002. ‘Caste, Class and Social Articulation in Andhra Pradesh: Mapping Differential Regional Trajectories’. Working paper No. 179. London: Overseas Development Institute. Konda, Y. Ratnam. 1998. ‘Dalit Movement in AP: A Study of Political Consciousness and Identity’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru University. Konda, Y. Ratnam. 2008. ‘The Dalit Movement and Democratization in Andhra Pradesh’. Working Paper No. 13. Washington, DC: East-West Centre. Kondaveeti, C. Suri. 2002. ‘Democratic Process and Electoral Politics in Andhra Pradesh, India’. Working paper No. 180. London: Overseas Development Institute. Manda, Janaiah. 1999. ‘Dalit Politics in Andhra Pradesh: A Case Study of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’. Unpublished M.Phil. dissertation. Hyderabad: University of Hyderabad. Mangala Gowri, C and Venkata Ramanaiah V. 2008. ‘Land Reforms and Agrarian Conditions in Andhra Pradesh during Post Independence Era’. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1304527 (accessed on 20 March 2009). Meyer, Richard. 1969. ‘The Political Elite in an Under-Developed Society: The Case of Uttar Pradesh in India’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania. Murali, K. 1995. ‘Upper Caste Violence on Dalits: Case Studies of Karamchedu and Chundur Massacres’. Unpublished M.Phil. dissertation. Hyderabad: University of Hyderabad. Rangarao, S. P. 1996. ‘Land Reforms and Scheduled Castes’. Paper presented at the Indian Social Institute, National Seminar on Land Reforms and Dalits. New Delhi, 16 December. Rodrigues, Edward. 2007. ‘Neo-Buddhism in Maharashtra: Observations and Reflections’. Paper presented at the seminar on Caste and Religious Identity in



India, South Asian Studies in the North (SASIN). Manchester: University of Manchester, 16 May. Shyam Babu, D. 2004. ‘India’s Liberalization and Dalits’. Asia Programme Working Paper. London: Chatham House. Singh, Shyam. 2011. ‘Political Regimes and Social Security: A Study of BSP Regime in Uttar Pradesh’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Mysore: University of Mysore. Sudarshan Reddy, G. 1986. ‘Caste Associations and Social Change in Andhra’. Unpublished M.Phil. dissertation. Hyderabad: Osmania University. Wilkerson, B. Sarah. 2006. ‘Hindi Dalit Literature and the Politics of Representation’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Zelliot, Eleanor. 1969. ‘Dr. Ambedkar and the Mahar Movement’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.

Articles in Newspapers/Magazines Crosette, Barbara. 1990. ‘Call to the Downtrodden: Break Down the Door’. The New York Times, 18 April. Kothari, Rajni. 1990. ‘Caste and Politics: The Great Secular Upsurge’. Times of India, op-ed. piece, 28 September. Srinivas, M.N., A.M. Shah and B.S. Bavaskar. 1990. ‘Kothari’s Illusions of Secular Upsurge’. Times of India, letter to editor, 17 October. Subrahmaniam, Vidhya. 1997. ‘Reality of Dalit Power: Condemned Before’. Times of India, 9 August. Chatterjee, Manini. 2003. ‘Maya’s Gone but in These Dalit Homes the Change’s for Real’. The Indian Express, 1 September. Prasad, Chandrabhan. 2004. ‘Berwa at C-K-P-I Party’. The Pioneer, 29 February. Prasad, Chandra Bhan. 2004. ‘Problems over Roots’. The Pioneer, 7 March. Venkatarao, Mallela. 2004. Vargeekaranato dakkeadi vatti-vistari (Empty Plate with Categorization). Andhra Jyothi, 10 December. Anand, S. 2006. ‘Fusing Phule and Ambedkar’. Outlook, 14 October. Vij, Shivam. 2007. ‘BSP’s Silence on Atrocities’. Tehelka (Shivam Vij), http://archive. tehelka.com/story_main28.asp?filename=Ne240307The_big_bout3.asp (accessed on 4 June 2007). Kumar, Vinoj P. C. 2007. ‘Caste in Campus: Dalits Not Welcome in IIT Madras’. Tehelka. http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main31.asp?filename=Ne160607Dalits_ not.asp (accessed on 14 October, 2007). Jaffrelot, Christophe. 2007a. ‘Reservations and the Dalits at the Crossroad’. University of Pennsylvania, http://casi.ssc.upenn.edu/india/iit_Jaffrelot.html (accessed on 10 October 2007). Chaudhury, Shoma. 2009. ‘Trust Votes and Knife Play’. Tehelka, Vol. 6 (18), 9 May. http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main41.asp?filename=Ne090509coverstory.asp (accessed on 17 August 2010). Darapuri, S. R. 2011. ‘UP Tops in Atrocities against Dalits’. Counter Currents, http:// www.countercurrents.org/darapuri100211.htm (accessed on 11 February 2011).



Sharda, Shailvee. 2012. ‘D Factor: Ambedkar Village Scheme in UP Has Improved Lives Where Work Was Done’. Times of India (Lucknow edition), 27 January. Vaidya, Abhay. 2012. ‘In Mayawati’s Defeat, There’s Hope for Dalits’, First Post, http:// www.firstpost.com/politics/in-mayawatis-defeat-theres-hope-for-dalits-237841. html (accessed on 7 May 2012). Khan, Atik. 2012a. ‘Mulayam Prevaricating on Quota: Rahul’. The Hindu, 12 January. Khan, Atik. 2012b. ‘Swing of Muslim Votes Did Us In: Mayawati’. The Hindu, 7 March.

Books, Journal Articles, Chapters in Books and Articles in Newspapers Abbasayulu,Y. B. 1978. Scheduled Caste Elite: A Study of Scheduled Castes Elite in Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Osmania University. Abbasayulu, Y. B. 1979. Sociology of Depressed Classes. Hyderabad: Osmania University. Adapa, Satyanarayana. 2005. Dalits and Upper Castes: Essays in Social History. New Delhi: Kanishka Publishers. Ahmed, Imtiaz and Saxena N. C. 1994. ‘Caste, Land and Political Power in Uttar Pradesh’, in K. L. Sharma (ed.), Caste and Class in India, pp. 171–208. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. Akbar, M. J. 1988. Riot after Riot: Reports on Caste and Communal Violence in India. New Delhi: Roli Books. Akela, A. R. 2006. Kanshiram Saaheb ke Sakshatkaar. Aligarh: Anand Sahitya Sadan. Akhtar, Mohammad Jamil. 1999. Iron Lady Mayawati. New Delhi: Bahujan Sangathak. Alam, Javeed. 1999. ‘Is Caste Appeal Casteism?’ Economic and Political Weekly (hereafter, E PW ), 34 (13): 757–61. Aloysius, G. 1997. Nationalism without a Nation in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Ambedkar, B. R. 1946. What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables? Bombay: Thacker. Ambedkar, B. R. 1971 [1936]. Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi. Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publications. Ambedkar, B. R. 1991 [1946]. ‘What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables?’, in Vasant Moon (comp.), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. IX. Bombay: The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra. Ambedkar, B. R. 2004 [1935]. Conversion as Emancipation. New Delhi: Critical Quest. Arnold, David and Peter Robb (eds). 1993. Institutions and Ideologies: A SOAS South Asian Reader. Richmond: Curzon Press. Arnold, David. 1977. The Congress in Tamilnad: Nationalist Politics in South India, 1919– 1937. London: Curzon Press. Arnold, David. 2001. Gandhi. London: Pearson. Ashala, Srinivas. 2010. ‘How the Nizam Treated Scheduled Castes’, in Moid, M. A, A Suneetha and R Srivatsan (eds), Nizam Rule and Muslims: Truth and Fairy Tales about Hyderabad’s Liberation. Hyderabad: Anveshi–Broadsheet on Contemporary Politics: 1(1): 11. Atey, M. (ed.). 1997. The Editorials of Kanshiram, Part I. Hyderabad: Bahujan Samaj Publications.



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achhut identity 50, 55, 56 Adi Andhra 154, 161, 162, 165, 176, 177, 179, 180; identity by Dalits 161; leadership 161, 163, 164, 165; in reserved domains 259 Adi Andhra Mahajanasabha 160, 165, 176, 179 Adi Hindu 26, 30, 36, 40, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 55, 56; and Buddhist movements 51; identity 47; ideology 46, 47, 48 Adi Hindu identity 167, 169, 172; by Dalits 170; for Dalits 169, 172; by Dalits in Hyderabad 169 Adi Hindu leadership 169, 170 Adi Hindu League 168, 170, 171, 173 Adi ideology 49 Adivasi category 70 Against Brahmanism and domination 208 agricultural labourers 234, 253 Agricultural Labour Union 183, 184 agricultural land 266, 267 All-India Adi Hindu Mahasabha conference 43–51 All India Backward (SC/ST/OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) 69, 80, 83, 86, 87, 88, 89, 93, 267, 268 All-India Jatav Youth League 38 Ambedkar family 258; and Dalit unity 257 Ambedkar ideology 232 Ambedkarite party 123

Ambedkarite perspective 20–4 Ambedkar, leadership of: colonial government 57–8; in colonial UP 51; Communal Award 54; Dalit activism in north India 51; Republican Party of India (RPI) 60–5; Round Table Conferences in 1931-32 52; United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation (UPSCF) 52 Ambedkar Village Development Programme (AVDP) 124, 125, 126 Andhra Pradesh (AP) 264, 265, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271; case studies 24–8; Dalit activities 189–92; Dalit movement 3; Dandora Movement in 2; fieldwork 28–9; formation of 188; research methods 27 Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha (APDMS) 3, 268, 269 Andhra Pradesh Madiga Sangham (APMS) 236, 237 Andhra Provincial Congress Committee (APCC) 190 anti-Brahmanical movements 36 Anti-Poverty Programme 123, 125 AP see Andhra Pradesh (AP) APCC see Andhra Provincial Congress Committee (APCC) APDMS see Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha (APDMS) AP State Secretariat 250 Arundhati Bandhu Seva Mandali (ABSM) 236, 237



Aryan: conspiracy 48; invaders 50; invasion 45; origin 46 Arya Samajis 40, 41 Assembly elections 105, 120, 121, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139 AVDP see Ambedkar Village Development Programme (AVDP) Backward Castes 257 Backward Classes Commission 110 Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP): and Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance 108; basis of 104; Dalit consciousness 104; Dalit identity 81; Dalit politics 69; DS-4 88–93; electoral failure in Punjab 68; electoral politics and success 69; electoral success in UP 68; idea of social justice 112–13; OBC, problems of 107; political power 107, 113; social trajectory 118–19; social transformation 113, 122; strategies of mobilisation 93–100; vote for 68 BAMCEF see All India Backward (SC/ST/OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) Below the Poverty Line (BPL) 127 BPL see Below the Poverty Line (BPL) Brahmanical caste order 241 Brahmanical Hinduism 40, 41, 44, 46, 47, 51 Brahmanical Social Order (BSO) 105 Brahmin gurus 96, 97 Brahmin-dominated polity and society 157 Brahmins 264, 265, 266, 267; by merit 39; communities 35; group 35; hypocritical 40; ideology 48; leadership 179; localities 149, 152; project 46, 264; selfish 40; status 41 BSP see Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Buddhism 49, 61 caste hierarchy 255, 257 caste Hindu reforms 153 caste Hindu society 249 caste occupation: assigned 235; traditional 234 caste-based assertions 115

caste-based census 38 caste-based histories 38 caste-based mobilisations 111 caste-based patterns 122 caste-based reservation 104 castes: advanced 251; annihilation 112, 116, 205, 217; associations 38; attitude 124; axis 104, 140; bruises 116; criteria 110; destroy 217; discrimination 39, 105; divisions 201; dominant 192, 228; equalisation 116; equality of 116; excluded 122; existence of 200, 217; exploiter 250; followers 106; groups 106; groups, lower 61; hierarchy 55, 105, 115, 120, 201, 218; Hindu society 116, 129, 135; hitherto-marginalised 270; identities 114, 116, 203, 208; identity, distinct lower 64; individual's 115; labels 115; landed 234; largest 210; lower 39, 40, 42, 47, 48, 49, 62, 63, 148, 150, 156, 182, 183; lower-class upper 202; middle 227; mobilisation 111; non-Brahmin 149, 157; perpetuate 110; problem 200, 202; question 198, 201, 215, 216; ruling 223; rural dominant 267; structure 42, 106, 111, 116; system 105, 111, 112, 115, 120, 121; system, hierarchical 44; traditional upper 267; upper 193, 195, 197, 198, 200, 201, 202, 203, 206, 208, 216, 219, 221, 225, 228, 264, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271 castes, lower 76, 79, 86, 89, 90, 92, 94, 95, 97, 98 Centre for Studies of Social Systems (CSSS) 27 Chandra, Kanchan 68 Christianity 150, 151, 154, 165 class position 267 coastal Andhra 232 colonial authorities 6 colonial government 35, 37, 42, 57 communalism 7 Communist Party 147, 173, 182, 183, 190, 197, 198, 199, 200 communities: beneficiary 266; deprived 64; largest 63; marginalized 269; peasant 266; separate 57



competition 190 Congress 266, 267, 268, 269; and government 198; co-option of Dalit leadership 197; Dalit 197, 267; Dalit MLA 206; Dalits and 69, 70, 72; framework 197; governments 195, 205, 209, 266; Harijan 196; in post-independence India 192; in UP 70; leaders 197, 213; upper-caste 207; Nehruvian era 72; patronage 266; ruling 207 Congress ministry, Dalit representation in 51 Constitution of India 8 Cripps Mission 57 Dalit Act 129 Dalit activism 147–9, 160, 167, 172, 173, 184; in AP 234; in Hyderabad 168 Dalit activities 176; pro-Ambedkarite 177; vigorous 168 Dalit Assertion 96 Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution: The Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh (Pai, Sudha) 3 Dalit-based BSP 112, 134, 140 Dalit-based political party 79 Dalit castes: disparate 50, 52; divergent 47 Dalit category: caste-based hierarchical social order 7; fairness and general welfare 8; Hindu population and Hindu dominated administration 8; political representation for 10; socio-economic disparities 9 Dalit employees 85, 87, 93; committed 86; fellow 83 Dalit group in AP 252 Dalit identity 47; positive 43; separate 52 Dalit Manifesto 217 Dalit–Muslim brotherhood 64 Dalit Resource Centre 95 Dalits: activism 61, 208, 215, 219, 221, 222, 224, 265, 269; activities 60, 188, 189; activities and politics in colonial 51; adoption 114; agenda 47, 51; and Backward Caste 227; and caste Hindu sympathisers 160; and caste Hindus 159; and Communists 198; and


Congress 69, 70, 72; and schools for Dalit children 179; and upper-caste Hindus 171; areas 126; associations 39; background 87; booklets 94, 95; brokers 220, 225; candidates 54, 56, 73, 74; category 129; character 161; chief minister 197; Christian 165; communities 46, 51, 54, 161, 173; community 98; compelled 80; conscientise 92; consciousness 36, 46, 50, 104, 140; constituency 76, 97, 107, 113, 140, 204; constituency for political power 99; converted to Christianity 39; culture 219; deputypresident 213; education 154, 155, 163, 174; electorates and hampers 60; elites 68–9; entry of 165, 181; exclusion of 149, 165; folk dramas 99; girls 110, 153, 154; histories 38, 50; identity 80, 81, 216, 225; in Hyderabad and Secunderabad 167; in northern India 149; in south India 149; in Telugu country 147; in Telugu districts 179; in Uttar Pradesh 147; in West Godavari 151; integration of 168, 171; intention of organizing 159; issues 61; killing 204; labourer beaten 214; labourers 152, 213, 214; landless 78, 183; leaders 51, 54, 59, 134, 157, 158, 159, 172, 175, 176, 178, 179, 184; leadership 50, 70, 74, 75, 76, 79, 87, 89, 197, 207, 217, 218, 224; independent 72, 76; legislators 72; literate section 95; localities 91, 171, 180; middle class 258; MLAs 193, 204; mobilisations 173; mobilizing 94; movement and politics in contemporary India 84; movements 5, 44, 49, 60; MPs and MLAs 76; neighbourhood of Nagla Balansha Mohalla 82; nomenclature 216; organisations 52, 53, 225; parties 118, 121; perspectives 216; politicians 206, 220; politics 68–9, 75, 86, 134, 140, 219, 224–9, 269; population 169, 179, 218; problem 225; quota 10; Rajyam 222; relationship 192, 196; representation 72, 76, 158, 164; treated 134; unity 232, 255, 256, 257,


259; vision of freedom 166; voice 203, 207; voters 70, 76; women 104, 126, 131, 161; writers 38, 55, 95, 97, 98, 166; young 85; youth 206 Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India (Omvedt, Gail) 4 Dalits for political power 79 Dalit Writers, Artists and Intellectuals United Front (DWAIUF) 225 Dandora Movement: in Andhra Pradesh (AP) 2 demanded political rights 52 democracy 112, 121, 122 Depressed Classes 6 see also Scheduled Castes (SCs) developmental activities 266, 267, 268 discrimination: caste-based 153; upper caste 153 domination 263, 265, 268, 269, 270; caste-based 263; sociopolitical 268 Dravidian ideology 4 Duncan, Ian 63 DWAIUF see Dalit Writers, Artists and Intellectuals United Front (DWAIUF) economic condition 210, 211 economic injustices 249 economic problem 202 economic structure 216 Election Commission 70, 71 elections 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 64; general 56, 57, 59 equality: social 250; substantive 254 equality principle 246 Explosive Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) 84, 85, 86 Gandhian programme of harijanuddhar 55 government jobs 51, 58, 59 Green Revolution 78, 266, 267 Guru, Gopal 6 Harijans 197, 202, 205, 208, 215; and Backward Castes 202; leaders 196, 197; and Scheduled Castes 216 hierarchy, caste-based 106

Hindu: caste hierarchy 40; community 42, 44, 54, 55, 56, 57; converts to Islam and Christianity, 42; faith 38; identity 56; interpretations 50; against Muslims 43; nationalists 41, 43; philosophy 49; practices 39; reformers 42; ritual of prayaschit 42; ruler 48; society 56; unity 52 Hinduism 41, 46 Hindu–Muslim axis 1, 26 Hindu–Muslim riots in Aligarh 63 Hindu society 149, 151, 164, 170, 171, 180; casteist 160 Hindutva Philosophy 105 Human Development Report 194, 210, 211 Hyderabad State 148, 167, 173, 178, 182, 183 Hyderabad State Adi Hindu Mahasabha 178 Hyderabad State Dalit Jateeya Sangh 173 Hyderabad State Depressed Classes Association 178 India: caste and democracy in 13–17; Dalit sociological and political discourses 16; north and south Indian politics 17–19; positive discrimination policies 17; social hierarchy and domination 13 Indian democracy 15 Indian national movement 35 Indian Statutory Commission or Simon Commission to Lucknow 52 India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics (Jaffrelot, Christophe) 4 ‘Is India Becoming More Democratic?’ (Varshney, Ashutosh) 1 Jaffrelot, Christophe 4 Justice of Ram’s Rule 48 Kanshiram, Manyawar Sahib 114 Kothari, Rajni 1, 2 land distribution 202 Lokur Committee 13 Lokur Committee’s report 12



Madiga Committee for Reservation Struggle (MRPS) 2 Majlis-i-Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM) 189 Mala Mahanadu (MMN) 26 Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labourers Programme (MFAL) 78 Member of Parliament (MP) 130 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) 198 middle-class Dalits 64 minorities, political representation for 8 Minorities Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly 7 Minto-Morley reforms 43 MLAs see Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) Most Backward Castes (MBCs) 195 MP see Member of Parliament (MP) Muslims 42 National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes 11 Nehruvian progressive ideologues 13 non-Brahmin communities 35 non-Dalit population 73 Omvedt, Gail 4 Other Backward Castes (OBCs) 26, 77, 105, 107, 110, 120, 121, 124 Pai, Sudha 3 People’s War Group (PWG) 223, 228 political power: BSP mobilise Dalits for 79; for Dalits 3; dominant positions, Brahmins and Thakurs 77; Kanshiram’s dream of 86; and social equality 69 post-Emergency elections 73 power: Adi Hinduism for 43–51; Dalit claims for 43–51; social injustice as achhut nationalism 45 power structure: non-Brahmins 35; socio-economic conditions 64;

upper castes, demographic weight of 36 PWG see People’s War Group (PWG) radical reinterpretation, theory 45 Republican Party of India (RPI) 26, 36, 60–5 reservations 2, 6, 8, 9, 62, 138 Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste (Kothari, Rajni) 1 Round Table Conferences in 1931-32 52 Samajwadi Party (SP) 27, 105, 108, 121; and BSP 105–7; Muslim loyalties 135 SCF see Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) 51, 52, 57 Scheduled Castes (SCs) 2, 6, 68; common identity of 6; parliamentary elections 70, 71; reservations 9; untouchables 7; UP Assembly, reserved (SCs) seats in 70 SCs see Scheduled Castes (SCs) second Round Table Conference in 1931 53 Shah, K. T. 9 Shastri, Lal Bahadur 62 Simon Commission 52, 53 Small Farmers Development Agency (SFDA) 78 social discrimination 7 spiritual knowledge 45 students: Dalit 27, 154; upper-caste 221 TDP see Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Telugu Desam Party (TDP) 191, 208, 211 two-vote mechanism 56 undemocratic political order, democratisation of 117 United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation (UPSCF) 26, 36, 52, 59, 60, 61 untouchables 2, 39, 42, 44 upper castes: demographic weight of 18; domination of 30; Hindu 10; unsophisticated rural 132



UPSCF see United Provinces Scheduled Castes Federation (UPSCF) Uttar Pradesh (UP): assembly elections in 2012 135, 136; case studies 24–8; fieldwork 27–8; research methods 27; Scheduled Castes in 57

violence: caste-based 69; against the Dalits in UP 80; against Dalit women 81

Varshney, Ashutosh 1 Vedic Hinduism 43

Zamindari Abolition Act and Land Reforms, 72

Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India (Chandra, Kanchan) 68 women, Dalit: raping of 81