ప్రత్యేక-సమైక్యతల నడుమ వర్గీకరణ భవితవ్యమేమిటి? (What is future of Sub-Classification Demand?)

ప్రత్యేక-సమైక్యతల నడుమ వర్గీకరణ భవితవ్యమేమిటి?

మాదిగ హక్కుల కొరకై పదహారేళ్ళుగా సాగుతున్న సుదీర్ఘ న్యాయ పోరాటంలో దండోరా ఉద్యమం ఎన్నో ఆటుపోట్లకు గురయ్యింది, ఎందరో నవ యువకులను కోల్పోయింది. పార్లమెంటులో వర్గీకరణ బిల్లు ప్రవేశ పెట్టిస్తానని మాటిచ్చిన వై యస్ రాజశేఖర్ రెడ్డి అకాల మరణం, తెలంగాణ-సమైక్య ఉద్యమాల హోరుల నడుమ దండోరా కేకలో నిన్నటి చిక్కదనం కనిపించడంలేదు. తెలంగాణాలోని మాదిగలు, కోస్తాలోని మాలలు ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రంతో వర్గీకరణ సమస్యకు పరిష్కారం దొరుకుతుందంటున్నారు. కాని వర్గీకరణ విషయంపైన భిన్న స్వరాలు వినిపిస్తున్నారు. దానికితోడు, మాదిగ అధి నాయకత్వ తీరు వర్గీకరణ ప్రక్రియపై పలు అనుమానాలకు, వ్యాఖ్యానాలకు దారి తీస్తుంది. ప్రత్యేక-సమక్య రాష్ట్ర ఉద్యమాల సందర్భాన దండోరాపై వినిపిస్తున్న భిన్న స్వరాల, వెల్లు వెత్తుతున్నా పలు సందేహాల నడుమ వర్గీకరణ భవితవ్యమేమిటి?

తెలంగాణ మాదిగలేమంటున్నారు?: దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించాలంటూ దండోరా ఉద్యమం ఆరంభమయిన తొలినాళ్ళనుండి కోస్తాంధ్ర మాదిగలతో పోల్చుకుంటే తెలంగాణలోని మాదిగలు విద్యా పరంగా వెనుకబడి ఉన్నారని, ప్రాంతీయంగా ఉత్పన్నమైన ఈ హెచ్చు తగ్గుల్ని అవగాహనలోకి తీసుకోకుండా రాష్ట్రంలోని మాదిగలందరినీ ఒకే గాటికి కట్టివేయడం న్యాయం కాదు. కాబట్టి దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించడంలో కులంతో పాటు ప్రాంతీయ కోణాన్ని కూడా అవగాహనలోకి తీసుకోవాలనే వాదనను రాష్ట్ర దండోరా అంతర్గత సమావేశాలలో తెలంగాణ దండోరా నాయకత్వం చర్చకు పెట్టింది. వాస్తవానికి తెలంగాణ దండోరా వాదన ఎంతో న్యాయబద్ధమైన వాదన. దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించగా మాదిగలందరికి ఉమ్మడిగా వచ్చిన వాటా సీట్లకొరకు తెలంగాణ-కోస్తాంధ్ర మాదిగలు పోటీ పడితే, ఆ పోటీలో విద్యాపరంగా ముందంజలో ఉన్న కోస్తాంధ్ర మాదిగలే ముందువరుసలో నిలబడేందుకు అవకాశాలు మెండుగా ఉన్నాయి. అయితే, అసలు వర్గీకరణే రాలేదు, దానికి ముందే ఈ ప్రాంతీయ కోణం ఏమిటి? ఇలా అయితే ఉద్యమం నీరు కారిపోతుందని అప్పట్లో ప్రాతీయ దృక్కోణ గొంతుకను దండోరా నాయకత్వం నొక్కివేసింది.

అయితే, దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరిస్తూ 1997లో అప్పటి రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం ఒక ఆర్డినెన్సును, ఆ తరువాత ఆ ఆర్డినెన్సు స్థానే 2000ల సంవత్సరంలో ‘ఆంధ్రప్రదేశ్ షెడ్యూల్డ్ కాస్ట్ (రేషనలైజేషన్ ఆఫ్ రిజర్వేషన్) యాక్ట్ ను అమలులోకి తెచ్చింది. ఆ యాక్టు అమలులో జరిగిన కొన్ని అనుభవాలను దృష్టిలో ఉంచుకున్న తెలంగాణ మాదిగలు మొత్తం వర్గీకరణ ప్రహసనం పట్ల పునరాలోచించడం మొదలు పెట్టారు. ఇక్కడ మచ్చుకు 2000ల సంవత్సరంలో వరంగల్ డి యస్ సి నిర్వహించిన టీచర్ నియామకాల పరీక్ష ఫలితాల అనుభవాన్ని పేర్కొంటాను. ఆ పరీక్షలో ఒక మాదిగ విద్యార్థికి ఒక మాల విద్యార్థికంటే అధికంగా మార్కులు వచ్చాయి. అధికంగా మార్కులు వచ్చిన మాదిగ విద్యార్థిని తోసిరాజని, అతని కంటే తక్కువ మార్కులు వచ్చిన మాల విద్యార్థికి డి యస్ సి టీచర్ ఉద్యోగం కట్టబెట్టింది. వివరాలలోకి వెళితే, వరంగల్ జిల్లాలో స్వతహగా మాదిగల జనసంఖ్య ఎక్కువ. గత రెండు దశాబ్దాల కాలం నుండి వారిలో డిగ్రీలు చదువుకున్న వారి సంఖ్య కూడా ఎక్కువే. విద్యా పరంగా జిల్లాలో మాదిగల కంటే మాలలు ముందునుండే ముందున్నప్పటికీ  జన సంఖ్యలో వారిది చాలా అధమ స్థానం. 15 శాతంగానున్న దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించిన పిమ్మట 7 శాతం రిజర్వేషన్లు మాదిగలకు రాగా, 6 శాతం మాలలకు వచ్చాయి. రాష్ట్రం మొత్తానికి వర్తించే ఈ వర్గీకరణలో ప్రాతీయ కుల జనాభా ప్రాతిపదిక లేదు. అందువలన ప్రాతీయ దళిత జనాభాలో అత్యధికంగా ఉండి, అత్యధికంగా మార్కులు తెచ్చుకున్న మాదిగ విద్యార్థికి డి యస్ సి పోస్టులలో అన్యాయం జరిగితే, 6 శాతం కోటా వలన జన సంఖ్యలో తక్కువ ఉన్న మాలలు మరింత లబ్ది పొందటం జరిగింది.

ఇలాంటి అనుభవాలను దృష్టిలో ఉంచుకుని తెలంగాణ మాదిగలలో డిగ్రీలు చదివిన కొంతమంది యువకులు వర్గీకరణ పట్ల అంత ఆసక్తిని కనపరచడం లేదు. అయితే, ఇక్కడ మనమొక్క విషయాన్ని స్పష్టంగా గుర్తుంచుకోవాలి. జిల్లాల వారిగా తీసే డి యస్ సి లాంటి పోస్టులలో తెలంగాణ మాదిగలకు వర్గీకరణ ద్వారా అన్యాయం జరిగి ఉండవచ్చు. కాని రాష్ట్రం మొత్తంగా చూసుకుంటే వర్గీకరణ ప్రక్రియ తరువాత రిజర్వేషన్ వసతులలో మాదిగలు లబ్ది పొందారనేది నిర్వివాదాంశం.

అయితే, గత నెలలో తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమం ఉధృతమై, తెలంగాణ ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్ర ప్రక్రియను మొదలు పెడతామని చిదంబరం ప్రకటించిన దగ్గరనుండి వర్గీకరణ విషయంపై తెలంగాణ మాదిగలలో రెండు రకాల వాదనలు వినిపిస్తున్నాయి. తెలంగాణా రాష్ట్రంలో కూడా కుల జనాభా ప్రాతిపదికన దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించాలనేది మొదటి వాదన. దండోరా మొదటి నుండి వినిపిస్తున్న వాదనకు ఇది కొనసాగింపు వాదం. ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రం ఏర్పడిన తరువాత వర్గీకరణ ఆవశ్యకత తెలంగాణాలో లేదు అనేది రెండవ వాదన. అయితే, తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం ఏర్పడిన తరువాత వర్గీకరణావసరం ఎందుకు ఉండదు? తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్ర దళిత జనాభాలో అత్యధికులు మాదిగలే గాబట్టి దళిత రిజర్వేషన్ అవకాశాలలో కూడా అత్యధిక భాగాన్ని మాదిగలే పొందడానికి అవకాశం ఉంది. కాబట్టి ఎప్పుడు వస్తుందో, అసలు వస్తుందో రాదో తెలియని వర్గీకరణ కోసం తెలంగాణాలో మాదిగలు తమ శక్తియుక్తులను ధార బోయడం బూడిదలో పోసిన పన్నీరే అవుతుందని రెండవ రకపు వాదన వినిపించేవారి సమాధానం. ఈ వాదనను ఓ వైపునుండి పరిశీలిస్తే  తెలంగాణా మాదిగలలో పొడచూపుతున్న మెజారిటీ అహంభావం కనిపిస్తే, మరో వైపునుండి వారి అమాయకత్వానికి నిలువెత్తు దర్పణం పడుతుంది. ఇది ఓ రకంగా వాపుని చూసి బలుపనుకునే అమాయకత్వంతో కూడుకున్న మూర్ఖత్వం.

1962-2009 ల మధ్య పార్లమెంటుకు తెలంగాణ నుండి ఎన్నికైన దళిత అభ్యర్థుల కుల వివరాలు

సంవత్సరం

మాల మాదిగ
1962 2 1
1967 3 0
1971 2 1
1977 2 1
1980 2 1
1984 3 0
1989 2 1
1991 2 1
1996 1 2
1998 1 2
1999 0 3
2004 1 2
2009 1 2

మూలం: భారతీయ ఎన్నికల సంఘం

తెలంగాణా దళితులలో మాదిగ జనసంఖ్య అధికమే. అయితే, ఆ ఆధిక్యత ఏనాడు వారిని దళిత రిజర్వేషన్ వసతుల దరిదాపులకి సైతం రానీయలేదు. ఉదాహరణకు, రాజకీయ రంగాన్ని తీసుకుంటే, తెలంగాణ దళితులకు ముడు పార్లమెంటరీ రిజర్వడ్ సీట్లున్నాయి. ఈ ప్రాంత దళిత జనాభాలో మాదిగల సంఖ్య ఎక్కువ ఉన్నప్పటికీ పటంలో చూపించినట్లుగా 1962 నుండి 1991 వరకు జరిగిన ఎనిమిది పార్లమెంటరీ ఎన్నికలలో అత్యధిక సీట్లను మాలలు కైవసం చేసుకున్న సంగతి తెలుస్తూనే ఉంది. 1967, 1984 లలో అయితే ఉన్న మూడు సీట్లను మాలలే చేజిక్కించుకున్నారు. చంద్రబాబు నాయకత్వంలోని తెలుగు దేశం పార్టీ దండోరాకు మద్దతునిచ్చి మందా జగన్నాథం, సుగుణ కుమారి లాంటి మాదిగలకు పార్లమెంటు టిక్కెట్లిచ్చి ప్రమోట్ చెయ్యకుంటే ఈనాటికీ మాదిగల రాజకీయ పరిస్థితి 1967, 1984లానే ఉండేదనడంలో ఎటువంటి సందేహం లేదు. వర్గీకరణపై తెలంగాణ మాదిగల వాదనలు ఈ విధంగా ఉంటే అదే విషయంపైన కోస్తాంధ్ర మాలల వాదన మరో రకంగా ఉంది.

ప్రత్యేకతకు మాల మహనాడు సమర్ధన వెనుక మర్మం: కోస్తాంధ్రాకు చెందిన మాల నాయకులు ముఖ్యంగా అమలాపురం ఎంపి హర్ష కుమార్ లాంటివారు, “విడిపోవాలనే అభిప్రాయం మనసులో కలిగినప్పుడు విడిపోవడమే మేలు” అని అంటూ తాను జై ఆంధ్రాకు కట్టిబడి ఉన్నానని పత్రికాముఖంగా ప్రకటించారు (వార్త,25 డిశెంబర్,2009).కారెం శివాజీ,మల్లెల వెంకట్రావు లాంటి మాల మహానాడు నాయకులు మరో అడుగు ముందుకు వేసి, “రాష్త్ర విభజన జరిగితేనే కోస్తాలో దళితులకు న్యాయం జరుగుతుంది. వర్గీకరణ వివాదానికి శాశ్వత ముగింపు లభిస్తుంది” (ప్రజాశక్తి, 17 డెశెంబర్, 2009) అని పేర్కొంటూ మీడియా ముందుకు రావడం జరిగింది. అయితే, ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రాల ఏర్పాటుకు కోస్తాంధ్రాకు చెందిన మాల నాయకులు ఎందుకు మద్దతు పలుకుతున్నారు? రాష్ట్ర విభజన జరిగితే కోస్తాలో దళితులకు జరిగే న్యాయం ఏమిటి? రాష్ట్రాన్ని రెండుగా విభజిస్తే వర్గీకరణ వివాదానికి శాశ్వత ముగింపు ఎలా లభిస్తుంది?

దళితులకు రాజ్యాంగ పరంగా సామాజిక న్యాయం పేరిట కల్పించబడిన రిజర్వేషన్ వసతులలో సింహభాగాన్ని మాలలే అనుభవిస్తున్నందువలన మాదిగ, రెల్లి యిత్యాధి దళిత కులాలకు అన్యాయం జరిగిందని, దళిత కూటమిలోని అన్ని కులాలకు న్యాయం జరగాలంటే ఆ రిజర్వేషన్లను కుల జనాభా దామాషా పద్దతిన వర్గీకరించాలంటూ దండోరా ఉద్యమం మొదలయిన నాటి నుండి నేటి వరకు మాల నాయకుల మాటలను, చర్యలను జాగ్రత్తగా గమనిస్తున్న వారెవరికైనా అవి రెండు విషయాలపైననే కేంద్రీకృతమైనట్లు సుస్పష్టంగా తెలుస్తుంది. ఒకటి, వర్గీకరణను అడ్డుకోవడం; రెండు, రాజ్యాధికార సాధన దిశగా పావులు కదపడం. మొదట్లో వారి శక్తులన్నీ రెండవ విషయం పైనకంటే మొదటి దాని పైననే కేంద్రీకరించడం జరిగింది. అయితే ఎప్పుడయితే వర్గీకరణకు వ్యతిరేకంగా సుప్రీంకోర్టు తీర్పునిచ్చిందో అప్పటినుండి వారు వర్గీకరణ వ్యతిరేకిత విషయాన్ని ప్రకటనలకు మాత్రం పరిమితం చేసుకుని, తమ శక్తి యుక్తులను రాజ్యాధికార సాధనపై లగ్నం చేశారు. ఈ ప్రయత్నంలో భాగంగానే నూతనంగా ఏర్పడిన ప్రజా రాజ్యం పార్టీ తలుపు తట్టి, ఆ పార్టీ సైద్ధాంతిక స్పోక్స్ పర్సన్స్ గా కొందరు, సామాజిక న్యాయం కోసం ఉద్భవించిన ప్రజా రాజ్యం పార్టీని గెలిపించి చిరంజీవిని ముఖ్యమంత్రిగా చేయడమే ధ్యేయమంటూ మరికొందరు ఆ పార్టీకి వెలుపల నుండి మద్దతు పలికిన విషయం పఠితులందరికీ పరిచితమే. రాష్ట్ర విభజన కొరకు ఈనాడు మాల నాయకుల ప్రకటిస్తున్న సమ్మతాన్ని కూడా వర్గీకరణ వ్యతిరేకం, రాజ్యాధికార సాధన విషయ కోణాలనుండే (ముఖ్యంగా మొదటి కోణం నుండి) అర్ధం చేసుకోవలసిన అవసరం ఉంది.

రాష్త్ర ప్రభుత్వం గావించిన వర్గీకరణను సుప్రీంకోర్టు కొట్టివేసినప్పటికీ పార్లమెంటులో వర్గీకరణ బిల్లుని ప్రవేశపెట్టి అమోదింప జేసుకున్నట్లయితే దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించుకునవచ్చుననే విషయం జగమెరిగిన సత్యం. ఆ మధ్య కాలంలో బిల్లును పార్లమెంటులో ప్రవేశపెట్టించి వర్గీకరణ సాధించేందుకు దివంగత ముఖ్యమంత్రి వైయస్ రాజశేఖర్ రెడ్డి నాయకత్వంలో ప్రయత్నాలు కూడా జరిగాయి. వైయస్ మరణంతో ఆ ప్రయత్నాలకు గండిపడడం, ఆయన మాదిరే ఢిల్లీలో మాదిగల సమస్యను గట్టిగా వాదించే నాయకుడు లేకపోవడంతో వర్గీకరణ విషయాన్ని ప్రస్తుతానికి ప్రక్కన పెట్టడం జరిగింది. అయితే, ప్రక్కన పెట్టింది ప్రస్తుతానికేగాని శాశ్వతంగా కాదు. అయిదు దశాబ్దాలకుపైగా దళితుల విద్యా, ఉద్యోగ, తదితర సంక్షేమ పథకాలలో అత్యధిక అవకాశాలను మాలలు, ఆది-ఆంద్రులే అనుభవిస్తంటే, డొక్కలెండిన డెక్కలి, మాదిగ, రెల్లి తదితర దళిత కులాలు చూస్తూ కూర్చోవు. పోరుబాట పట్టక పోరు, వర్గీకరణ జెండాను దశదిశలా ఎగురవేయకపోరు. అలా జరుగుతుందని మాల నాయకులకు కూడా తెలుసు. తెలంగాణ, రాయలసీమ ప్రాంతాలతో పోల్చుకుంటే కోస్తాంధ్రాలో మాలల సంఖ్య ఎక్కువ. అదే విధంగా కోస్తాంధ్ర, రాయలసీమలతో పోల్చుకుంటే తెలంగాణాలో మాదిగల సంఖ్య ఎక్కువ. దీని ఆధారంగా వారి వ్యూహంలో రాష్ట్రాన్ని రెండుగా విభజిస్తే, దండోరా ఉద్యమానికి ఆయువు పట్టుగానున్న తెలంగాణ మాదిగలు ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రంలోని దళితులలో జనాభాపరంగా అత్యధిక సంఖ్యలోనున్న తమకే రిజర్వేషన్ వసతులలో ఎక్కువ అవకాశాలు దొరుకుతాయన్న భ్రమలో ఉన్నందున వారు వర్గీకరణ నిమిత్తమై ఉద్యమించే ప్రసక్తే లేదు. కోస్తాంధ్ర మాదిగలు తెలంగాణ మాదిగల మాదిరే ఉద్యమించే అవకాశాలు లేవు. పైగా దండోరా నాయకుడు కృష్ణమాదిగ లాగా మాదిగ యితర దళిత కులాలను చైతన్యపరిచే సత్తాగల నాయకుడు కోస్తాంధ్రాలో లేడు. కాబట్టి రాష్ట్ర విభజన జరిగితే యిప్పటికే అచేతనంగా ఉన్న వర్గీకరణ ఉద్యమం సమూలంగా అంతరించిపోతుందనేది మాల నాయకుల వ్యూహాత్మ ఎత్తుగడ. ఒక్క మాటలో అలా అంతరించిపోవడమే ఆ నాయకుల దృష్టిలో ‘వర్గీకరణ వివాదానికి శాశ్వత ముగింపు’.

అయితే, మాల నాయకులు పేర్కొంటున్నట్లుగా రాష్ట్ర విభజన జరిగితే కోస్తాలోనున్న దళితులకు జరిగే న్యాయం ఏమిటి? దళిత కూటమిలో మాలలు, ఆది-ఆంధ్రులతో పాటు మాదిగ,రెల్లి,డెక్కలి లాంటి యిత్యాధి అరవై కులాలు ఉన్నాయి. దళిత ఉమ్మడి రిజర్వేషన్ల పంపిణీలో తమకు అన్యాయం జరిగిందని, వర్గీకరణతో న్యాయం చెయ్యమని మాదిగ తదితర కులాలవారు గత పదహారు సంవత్సరాల నుండి డిమాండ్ చేస్తూ ఉన్నారు. ప్రజాస్వామికమైన ఆ డిమాండ్ ని అప్రజాస్వామికంగా మాల మహానాడు వ్యతిరేకిస్తూనే ఉంది. అంటే, వర్గీకరణ జరగకుంటే కోస్తాంధ్ర దళితులలోని దండోరా కూటమికి చెందిన కులాలన్నింటికీ అన్యాయం జరుగుతూనే ఉంటుంది. మాల కూటమికి చెందిన కులాల వారు రిజర్వేషన్ లలో సింహ భాగాన్ని కైవసం చేసుకూంటూనే ఉంటారు. మరి, రాష్ట్ర విభజన జరిగితే కోస్తాంధ్రాలోని దళితులందరికీ జరిగే న్యాయం ఏమిటి?

సారాంశంలో వర్గీకరణ జరగకుండా రాష్ట్రాన్ని విభజిస్తే కోస్తాంధ్రాలోని దళితులందరికీ జరిగే న్యాయమంటూ ఏమి లేదు. ఏతా వాతా ఏదైనా జరిగితే మాల కూటమిలోని కులాలు మాదిగ కూటమిలోని కులాలను అణచివేసి బలపడడమే జరుగుతుంది. ప్రత్యేక, సమైక్యత ఉద్యమాల నేపథ్యంలో కోస్తాంధ్రాలో మాలలు, తెలంగాణలో మాదిగలు పైన చెప్పినట్లుగా భిన్నాభిప్రాయాలు వ్యక్తపరుస్తుంటే, మరి మాదిగ అధినాయకత్వం ఏ దిశగా అడుగులు వేస్తుంది?

మాదిగ అధినాయకత్వపు దారెటు?: 1994 జులై 7వ తారీఖున దండోరా ఉద్యమం ఆరంభమయినప్పటినుండి ఎందరో మాదిగ నేతలు దివ్వెలై ఆ ఉద్యమాన్ని ముందుకు నడిపించినా, నాటినుండి నేటివరకు దండోరాకు దిక్సూచి, వర్గీకరణకు చిరునామా కృష్ణ మాదిగ అనే చెప్పుకోవాలి. ఆ దిక్సూచే ఈ రోజున తెలంగాణ ఓడకు వెలుతురై దారి చూపుతుంటే, నడి సంద్రంలో చిక్కుకుపోయిన వర్గీకరణ పడవ చుట్టూ చిమ్మ చీకట్లు అలుముకుంటున్నాయి. తమకు దారి చూపించాల్సిన దిక్సూచి తమను కాదని, పగటిని మించిన వెలుతురును విరజిమ్ముకుంటూ దారిచూపించాల్సిన అవసరం లేకుండానే ముందుకు దూసుకెడుతున్న ఓడకు దారి చూపడంలోనున్న ఔచిత్యం ఆర్థంగాక ఖిన్నులౌతున్నారు.

ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణ అనేది ఒక ప్రజాస్వామ్యక డిమాండ్. ప్రజాస్వామ్య సిద్ధాంతాలపై నమ్మకమున్న ప్రతి ఒక్కరు ఈ డిమాండ్ ని బలపరచాలి. అందులో రెండవ ఆలోచనకు తావుండరాదు. అయితే ‘తెలంగాణ’ అనే నాలుగు అక్షరాల కంటే ‘ఎ బి సి డి’ అనే నాలుగు అక్షరాలే ముద్దు’ అని ఒకనాడు పలికిన కృష్ణ మాదిగ ఈ నాడు తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమంలో పూర్తిగా లీనమై ఎ బి సి డి ల ఊసెత్తక పోవడంతో జాతి ప్రయోజనాలపై అతనికున్న నిబద్దతపైన ప్రాంతాలకతీతంగా ఎందరో మాదిగలు సందేహ పడుతున్నారు. మాదిగ జాతికి ప్రయోజనాలు కల్గించే వర్గీకరణ కాదని తెలంగాణ బాట పట్టడంలో అతని వ్యక్తిగత ప్రయోజనాలే ముఖ్యంగా చూచుకుంటున్నాడనే ఒక బలమైన విమర్శ మాదిగలలో వినిపిస్తుంది. ఇట్టి విమర్శకు ఒక ఆధారాన్ని కూడా చూపుతున్నారు. తెలంగాణ ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రానికి దళితుడే తొలి ముఖ్యమంత్రి అని కే చంద్రశేఖరరావు యిది వరకే ప్రకటించి ఉన్నాడు. మొదటినుండి కే సి ఆర్ పట్ల గుర్రుగా ఉన్న కృష్ణ మాదిగ తెలగాణ ఉద్యమం ఉధృతమైన ఈ రోజున అతని ప్రక్కన కూర్చోవడం ఆ ముఖ్యమంత్రి పదవిపై మోజుతోనే నేమో!.

ముఖ్యమంత్రి పదవిపై కృష్ణ మాదిగకు మోజు ఉన్నా, లేకున్నా నిన్న మొన్నటి వరకు రంగుల ప్రపంచంలో విహరించి నిజమైన ప్రజా జీవితం గురించి ఏ మాత్రం అవగాహన లేకుండానే చట్టసభలకు వెళ్ళిన చాలామందికంటే, మూడు దశాబ్దాలకు పైగా అట్టడుకు కులాలవారి హక్కుల కొరకు అహర్నిశలు పాటుపడుతున్న అతను తెలంగాణలోనైనా, సమైక్య రాష్ట్రంలోనైనా ముఖ్యమంత్రి పదవికి నూరింతలు అర్హుడు. పైపెచ్చు, రాజ్యాధికారమే అంతిమ లక్ష్యంగాగల దళితులకు కృష్ణ మాదిగ ముఖ్యమంత్రి అవ్వడం శుభపరిణామం. అయితే, ఒక్క కృష్ణ మాదిగ అధికారంలోకి వస్తే దళితుల కడగండ్లు తీరతాయా? అలా అయితే స్వాతంత్ర్యం తరువాత ఈ రాష్ట్రంలో దామోదరం సంజీవయ్య లాంటి దళితులు ముఖ్యమంత్రి పదవినలంకరిచారు. కోనేటి రంగారావులాంటి వారు ఉప ముఖ్యమంత్రి పదవిలో కూర్చున్నారు. ఇంకా ఎందరో మంత్రులయ్యారు. దళిత కార్డుపైన పదవులరంకరించినప్పటికీ ఈ వ్యక్తులవలన దళిత జాతి మొత్తానికి ఒన గూరిన ప్రయోజనాలు శూన్యం.

స్వాతంత్ర్యం వచ్చిన పిదప మీకు ఒక మంచి పదవినిస్తాం, మీ సమస్యలను పరిష్కరిస్తాం. ముందు మీరు స్వాతంత్ర్య పోరాటంలో పాల్గోనండి అని అనాడు అగ్ర కుల నాయకులు అంబేద్కర్ తో అంటే, స్వాతంత్ర్యం వచ్చిన తరువాత నా జాతి ప్రజల సమస్యలను పరిష్కరిస్తామని గ్యారంటీ లేకుండా నేను మీ పోరాటంలో పాల్గోలేను. నాకు మీ స్వాతంత్ర్యం కంటే నా జాతి జనుల ప్రయోజనాలే మిన్న అని సూటిగా చెప్పి, స్వప్రయోజనంకంటే జాతి జనుల ప్రయోజనాల పరిరక్షణకే అంబేద్కర్ ఆరోజున కంకణ బద్దుడవ్వబట్టే ఈ రోజున దళితులకు ఈ మాత్రమైనా వసతులున్నాయి. మాదిగ జాతి ప్రయోజనాలను కాపాడే వర్గీకరణకు గ్యారంటీ లేకుండా, దళిత జాతి ప్రయోజనాలను కాపాడే రాజ్యాధికార భాగం గ్యారంటీ లేకుండా, తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమంలో భాగస్వామి అవ్వడం అంటే, అగ్రకుల రాజకీయ కుయుక్తి కోరలలో కృష్ణ మాదిగ చిక్కుకుంటున్నాడేమో?

అయితే,ఈ విషయాలన్నింటిపైన కృష్ణ మాదిగ ఒక స్పష్టతతో ఉన్నాడని అతనితో జనవరి 15 వ తారీఖున నేను జరిపిన ఇంటర్వ్యూ ద్వారా తెలుస్తుంది. అతని మాటలలో: “వర్గీకరణను మాదిగ జాతి వదులుకోదు. వదులుకోవడం జరుగదు కూడా. అయితే మన యిష్టాయిష్టాలతోటి సంబంధంలేకుండా కొన్ని పరిస్థితులు ఉత్పన్నమవుతుంటాయి. మరి ఆ పరిస్థితులలో మనం ఏ విధంగా ప్రవర్తించేమనే దానిపైననే ఆధారపడి మన భవిష్యత్తు ఆధారపడి ఉంటుంది… చరిత్ర నుండి కొన్ని పాఠాలను గుణ పాఠాలను మనం నేర్చుకోవలసి ఉంది. స్వాతంత్ర్య పోరాటానికి అగ్ర కులాలు నాయకత్వం వహించాయి. స్వాతంత్ర్యోద్యమ కాలంలో స్వతంత్ర్యుడిగా (ఏ పార్టీకి చెందనివాడిగా) అంబేద్కర్ ఆ పోరాటంలో భాగస్వామి కాదు. కాని స్వాతంత్ర్యానికి ముందే మా జాతి సంగతి తేల్చండి అని ప్రశ్నించి దళితులకు రిజర్వేషన్లను సాధించాడు. అలా రిజర్వేషన్లనయితే దళితులు సాధించుకున్నారు గాని, అరవై యేళ్ళుగా రాజ్యాధికారానికి దూరంగా నెట్టివేయబడ్డారు. ‘దేశానికి స్వాతంత్ర్యం తీసుకొచ్చింది మేమే’ అన్న ఆ ఒక్క నినాదంతోటే అగ్ర కులాలు యిప్పటికీ ఈ దేశాన్ని పరిపాలిస్తున్నాయి. అంబేద్కర్ ఆనాటి పొరాటానికి దూరంగా ఉండకుండా తన జాతికి హక్కులను కోరుకుంటూనే అందులో భాగస్వామ్యులుగా దళితులను నడిపించినట్లయితే ‘రిజర్వేషన్లను యివ్వండి’ అని అగ్ర కులాలను అడిగే దుస్థితి నుండి రిజర్వేషన్లను తామే కల్పించుకునే ఒక నిర్ణాయక శక్తిగా దళితులు ఎదిగి ఉండేవారు. స్వాతంత్ర్య పోరాటంలో జరిగిన అ తప్పిదాన్ని సరిదిద్దుకునే ఒక గొప్ప అవకాశాన్ని తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమం కల్పించింది. ఈ అవకాశాన్ని సద్వినియోగం చేసుకుని తెలంగాణ పోరాటంలో మనం భాగస్వామ్యులం కాకుంటే చరిత్ర పునరావృతమయ్యి, తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రంలో దళితులకు యితర అణగారిన వర్గాలు, తెగలు, మైనార్టీలకు  కొన్ని రాయితీలు కల్పించి, వెలమలు – రెడ్లు రాజ్యాధికారాన్ని చేజిక్కించుకుంటారు.”

వర్గీకరణ భవితవ్యమేమిటి?: తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం ఏర్పడితే దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించుకోవాల్సిన అవసరంలేదని తెలంగాణ మాదిగలలో కొందరు అనుకోవడం వారి అమాయకత్వానికి నిలువెత్తు దర్పణమైతే, రాష్ట్రాన్ని విభజిస్తేనే కోస్తాంధ్రలోని దళితులకు న్యాయం జరుగుతుందని మాల మాహానాడు నాయకులు ప్రవచించడం వారి అతి తెలివికి పరాకాష్ఠ అవుతుంది.

రాష్ట్రాన్ని రెండుగా విభజించినా లేదా ఇప్పుడున్నట్లే ఒకటిగా ఉంచినా దళిత రిజర్వేషన్ల పంపిణీలో మాత్రం ప్రస్తుతం నడుస్తున్న ఉమ్మడి పంపిణీ విధానంలోనే పంపిణీ చేయడం ఏ కోణం నుండి చూసినా సామాజిక న్యాయం అనిపించుకోదు. ఇది పొట్టనిండి త్రేంచే వారికే మృష్టాన్నం పెడుతూ, డొక్కలెండి ఆకలో అంటున్నవారికి గుప్పెడు మెతుకులు కూడా పెట్టక పోవడమే అవుతుంది. ఉన్న వాడికే యింకా పెట్టడం కులతత్వమేగాని అంబేద్కర్ తత్వం మాత్రం కాదు. కాబట్టి, తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం రాని పక్షంలో కుల జనాభా ప్రాతిపదికకు ప్రాంతీయత కోణాన్ని కూడా జోడించి దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించుకోవాలి. ఒకవేళ రాష్ట్రాన్ని విభజించి తెలంగాణ, ఆంధ్ర రాష్ట్రాలు ఏర్పరిస్తే అప్పుడు కుల జనాభా ప్రాతిపదికన దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించుకోవాల్సి ఉంది. అలా జరుగని పక్షంలో తెలంగాణ దళితులలో అత్యధిక సంఖ్యలోనున్న మాదిగలు విద్యను పెంపొందింపజేసుకుని దళిత కోటాలోని వసతులన్నింటినీ తామే ఆక్రమించేందుకు అవకాశం ఉంది. లేదా, అల్పసంఖ్యలోనున్నప్పటికీ విద్యాపరంగా ముందంజలోనున్న మాలలే దళిత కోటా మొత్తాన్ని తన్నుకు పోయేందుకు అవకాశం ఉంది. అదే విధంగా ఆంధ్రాలో మాదిగ కూటమిలోని కులాల పరిస్థితి దయనీయంగా మారి, మాలల ఆధిపత్యం వెర్రి తలలు వేస్తుందనడంలో లేశమంత సందేహం కూడా ఉండాల్సిన అవసరంలేదు. సారాంశంలో, దళిత రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించకుంటే ఒక దళిత కులం యొక్క అభివృద్ధి, ఆధిపత్యం మరొక కులం యొక్క వెనుకబాటుకి, అణచివేతకు దారి తీస్తుంది. కాబట్టి ఏ కులానికి ఎంత జనసంఖ్య ఉందో ఆ జనసంఖ్య ప్రాతిపదికన రిజర్వేషన్లను వర్గీకరించుకోవడం తప్పనిసరి, అది సామాజిక న్యాయం కూడా.  ఆ న్యాయాన్ని సాధించేందుకు ఒక్క కృష్ణ మాదిగ కాకుంటే వేయిమంది కృష్ణ మాదిగలు పుడతారు, ఒక్క దండోరా ఉద్యమం చాలకుంటే లక్ష దండోరా ఉద్యమాలు పుట్టుకొస్తాయి.

సాంబయ్య గుండిమెడ

(వ్యాసకర్త లండన్ యూనివర్శిటీలో పోస్టు డాక్టోరల్ ఫెలో)

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Supreme Court and Categorisation of Scheduled Castes List*

  • I have written this article in 2006, immediately after the Supreme Court’s verdict against the categorization of SC reservations in AP.  I have sent this article to EPW, but did not see the light of the day.

The Supreme Court’s view regarding the alleged ‘homogeneity of Scheduled Castes’ is based on a gross neglect of realities and the undeniable existence of sharp differences amongst the Dalits.  By invalidating ‘the Rationalisation of Reservation Act’, it actually lent a hand to the well-to-do castes amongst the Dalits to ‘eat up’ the meagre government jobs and depress the marginalised even further.  In addition, by declaring the ‘immutability’ of the Scheduled Castes List, the Court, in fact, bound the Dalits to the List and thereby to the Scheduled Caste identity, not just the present generation of the Dalits, but also future generations for all posterity. While the identities of Brahmins, Thakurs or Hegdes, since they serve the caste Hindus’ interests, may remain permanent, Dalit identity cannot remain permanent, not only because it does not serve their interests, but also because it subordinates them permanently to the caste Hindus.  It is time that the Dalits were left to decide their identity.  It is also time that the Government of India, taking stock of the fifty-five years of the compensatory policy’s implementation, change the  outdated ‘form’ to serve the marginalised and deserving within the Dalit category.

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment…laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. ” — Thomas Jefferson [1]

The history of the working of the judiciary in India in general and the Supreme Court in particular has been evoking mixed evaluations: particularly in response to the institutions’ inconsistent policy, whereby they appear to act at times progressively and at others conservatively.  It is our experience that the judiciary when deciding issues concerning caste Hindus and the upper classes tends to be progressive, but is more orthodox and supportive of the status quo regarding issues relating to Dalits, Adivasis, and Shudras.  The delay in delivering a verdict on the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report and the declaration of the right to strike as illegal are recent but pertinent indicators.  The conservative nature of the Supreme Court of India has, once again, been revealed in its judgement against ‘the Rationalisation of Reservations Act’ legislated by the government of Andhra Pradesh.  Who being persuaded by the Madigas’ Dandora movement for equitable distribution of reservations available for the Dalits in the state, passed the ‘Rationalisation of Reservation Act’ (Act 20 of 2000).[2] The Act has categorised the Dalits into A, B, C, and D groups in accordance with each group’s relative backwardness and proportion of population, with a view to fixing the percentage of compensatory seats in public appointments and admissions to educational institutions for said groups. This essay is an attempt to critique the Supreme Court’s argument for the ‘homogeneity’ of the Dalit category and to argue for a ‘rationalisation of reservations’ as a means to an equitable distribution of compensatory measures amongst the Dalits.

The grounds upon which the Supreme Court based its verdict are: (a) homogeneity of the Dalit castes, (b) immutability of the Presidential List, and (c) the authority to alter the categorisation of the SC List, which lies outside the purview of the State Legislature.  The third aspect, whether categorisation of Dalit castes falls under the purview of the State Legislature or Parliament is not the subject of our concern.  This is a procedural question and can be decided in Parliament by a majority vote.  However, the progressive step, to ameliorate the conditions of the marginalised among the Dalits, undertaken by the Government of AP, would be nullified if we did not pay attention to the first two aspects of the judgement.

Drawing upon Constituent Assembly debates and Article 341 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India invalidated the Act.  It declared that neither the state legislature nor its executive has the power of ‘disturbing’ the Presidential List of Scheduled Castes, in the form of interference, re-arrangement, re-grouping or re-classification.  Quoting from Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice Fazal Ali’s verdict in the case of N.M Thomas vs State of Kerala in 1976, the Court insisted that once castes are included in one list they become one class under the Constitution, and any subsequent division of these classes of persons would amount to ‘tinkering’ with the Presidential List.  It has further argued:

The conglomeration of castes given in the Presidential Order, in our opinion, should be considered as representing a class as a whole…  The very fact that a legal fiction has been created is itself suggestive of the fact that the Legislature of a State cannot take any action which would be contrary to or inconsistent therewith.  The very idea of placing different castes or tribes or group or part thereof in a State as a conglomeration by way of a deeming definition clearly suggests that they are not to be sub-divided or sub-classified further.  If a class within a class of members of the Scheduled Castes is created, the same would amount to tinkering with the List.  Such sub-classification would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.[3]

An avalanche of social science research, since the middle of 19th century, has proved the pervasiveness of caste system at all levels in Indian society.  No religion and no individual is unaffected by this social characteristic.  Governments and academics tend to organise castes into hierarchical categories, such as upper castes, lower castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, etc.  Yet, each person in India has a horizontal caste identity of their own.  For instance, Brahmins, Thakurs, Kammas, Reddys, Nayars, Lingayats, Hegdes and numerous other castes come under the category of caste Hindus or so-called upper castes.  They all belong to one category, practice one religion (in different forms) and observe similar rituals and festivals.  Yet, each caste is separate, lives separately (at least in rural villages) and has their respective caste identities.  Suffixing caste tags to individuals’ proper names, like Narayana Sashtri, Santosh Hegde, and Raja Sekhara Reddy etc., is a classic example for the exclusivist nature of individual castes within the caste Hindu society.  There is nothing common that binds them as one category, except in uniting on the occasions when their interests clash directly with the interests of the Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised groups.  A sociological tool that highlights this kind of caste homogeneity is the practice of endogamous marriage.  Indian sociologists and social anthropologists are ever eager and even enthusiastic to generalise on the basis of a few examples, that sub-caste and inter-caste marriages are a dominant social phenomenon in contemporary India, whilst the reality contradicts such generalisations.  Indeed, even if one were to assume the ‘homogeneity’ of the caste Hindu category, one comes across inter-caste marriage relatively rarely.  It is common knowledge that not only people from rural areas follow strict endogamous principles with religious inviolability but also urban, the so-called ‘enlightened,’ and English educated too.  The shameless advertisements both in the vernacular and English press, seeking bride or groom of one’s own caste are true evidence of such social boundaries.  Dalits, who are part and parcel of the same society, are not immune to such social practices.  They may be addressed with different nomenclatures as ‘Untouchables’, ‘Harijans’, ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Dalits’ by caste Hindus. With the exception of  the common feature of “victims” to the practice of Untouchability and poverty, there is nothing common amongst the castes in the list of Scheduled Castes that characterise them as a ‘homogeneous’ category.  Like any castes in the social hierarchy they also follow the same endogamous rules and each caste has a distinctive identity and lives separately.  It is no exaggeration that some castes amongst the Dalits often draw their water from different sources.  More importantly, there exists a miniature hierarchy amongst them that puts some castes at the upper rung of the ladder and others at the bottom.[4] At times more than caste Hindus, some Dalit castes jealously safeguard their status and commensality and inter-caste marriages are simply unthinkable.  In any village the interaction between two Dalit castes is significantly less than their interaction with the other castes in the village.[5] Those who created the Constitution, pursuing a great vision and ideal, wanted to create a society based on the principles of equity, equality and unity.  Their egalitarian notions led them to retain the category of ‘Depressed Classes’ and incorporate it into the Constitution of India as one group.  However, people or castes of people with ingrained inequalities, concerned for status and power,[6] will not become ‘homogeneous’ simply because the Constitution wants them to be.  Passing of legislative acts to create a normative social order is one thing, but actually changing the practices and attitudes of the people is a different matter.  There is a great difference between the law and people’s attitudes and social practices.  For an equitable distribution of state benefits amongst the poor, it is imperative to take account of these social differences.  Nonetheless, even if one considers Dalits as a homogeneous category, one does not understand the rationale behind preventing a government to take measures to raise the downtrodden.[7] Of course, we are aware that by categorising the Dalits into four groups, the state government did not come with a radical agenda to improve their lot.  It simply sought to distribute reservations more equitably amongst them, by taking into account each caste’s economic situation, social backwardness and percentage of population.  It is in fact in line with Dr. Ambedkar’s thinking and argument.

By the time the Constituent Assembly sat to frame a constitution for free India, the country had had significant experience with compensatory policies both at the state and central levels: the Princely State of Mysore, Madras and Bombay presidencies had been implementing reservation policies since the 1920s.  At the central level, the need to provide safeguards for minorities with regards to the appointment of jobs, as well as against potential legislative tyranny of the majority, were recognised and remedies were enshrined in various government Acts by the British rulers in India.[8] Nearly a three-decade long experience with reservation policy revealed the fact that a large proportion of reservations were actually taken advantage of by the developed amongst the minorities and that the poor continued to crawl. Ambedkar was clearly aware of this drawback of the policy, that was evidently reflected both in his monumental work, what could rightly be called ‘the Magna Carta of Dalit Rights’, State and Minorities: What are their rights and How to secure them in the Constitution of free India; as well as in his defence of reservation rights for minorities, Dalits and Adivasis during the Constituent Assembly proceedings.  Debating in the ‘Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minorities’, he vociferously argued for equality not merely between caste Hindus and minorities but also amongst the minorities themselves.  He insisted, “I personally do not see why it is not possible to add a further clause…Even among the members of the same minority (community) there may be complaints of partiality, of provincial favouritism of personal favouritism.  I have often heard the complaint that all the posts for the Muslims go to the Punjab Muslim and few to the Madrasi Muslim.  Even among the minorities, we want equality of opportunity.”[9] Major portions of the reservations were seized by the well-to-do sections amongst the minorities, thereby depriving the truly needy.  It was in this context that guaranteeing equality of opportunity even amongst members of the same category was essential.[10] Ambedkar did not want the experience of the Muslim reservations to be repeated among the Dalits.  Hence, he was cautious to incorporate in his memorandum provisions that would prevent a single caste appropriating reservations.  Thus, representation and reservations given to the Dalits were to be distributed equally amongst them and no caste was to be preferred or given advantage at the cost of other castes.  This he emphasised in a section concerning ‘Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes’ in his memorandum to the ‘Advisory Committee’. “Weightage where it becomes necessary to reduce a huge communal majority to reasonable dimensions shall come out of the share of the majority.  In no case shall it be at the cost of another minority community.[11] He further stressed dividing the reservations in accordance with respective castes’ backwardness, social status and educational advances.  To quote him again: “Weightage carved out from the share of majority shall not be assigned to one community only.  But the same shall be divided among all minority communities equally or in inverse proportion to their (1) economic position, (2) social status, and (3) educational advance.”[12] Thus, securing representation and reservation for the hitherto oppressed sections of Indian society was at the forefront of Ambedkar’s agenda during the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.  Nonetheless, it was equally important for him that such secured compensatory measures be equally distributed amongst the disadvantaged.  However, he made a fine distinction between distribution with equity and equality of distribution.  Dividing the compensatory measures equally between castes that were better off and the marginalised was not a fair measure.  Preference must be given to the people who were economically depressed, socially oppressed and educationally deprived.

The Madigas’ demand for the categorisation of Dalits and thereby the reservations, according to each caste’s social backwardness, are in consonance with Ambedkar’s philosophy of equality of opportunity and equitable distribution amongst the marginalised.  The Madigas are one of the most disadvantaged castes amongst the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh.[13] The following data discloses the differences in accessing reservation quotas by the Madigas and Malas, the two major castes within the Dalit category of the state, and substantiates the Madigas’ demand for the rationalisation of reservations:

Table 1: Literary Levels among the Malas and Madigas (in 1961, 1971 and in 1981)[14]

Year 1961 1971 1981
Caste Malas Madigas Malas Madigas Malas Madigas
Total  Population 17,45,466 21,47,879 21,13,393 23,14,948 28,94,643 35,72,622
%  of Total Literates 10.1 5.1 12.9 6.2 21.23 11.81

Table 1 gives us a glimpse of literacy rates amongst the Malas and Madigas.  From the beginning Malas have been at the forefront of education.  The 10 percent literacy rate amongst the Malas in 1961 has risen to little more than double by 1981.  Madigas on the other hand, though gradually improving, are not even half way to the point at which the Malas are.  These different levels of literacy rates are reflected and continued in their entry into higher educational institutions.  Table 2 explains such differences: Table 2: Enrolment of the main Scheduled Castes in Higher Education Institutions[15]

Caste Mala Madiga Adi-Andhra Relli*
Total Population  (1981 census) 28,94,643 37% 35,72,622 46% 6,98,860 9% 76,329 1%
J.N. T. University (Engineering admissions 1992-96) 98 59% 43 26% 15 10%
Osmania University (Engineering admissions 1992-97) 65 48.5% 27 20% 1 3%
Science course in three Universities 314 65% 183 38% 7 1.4%
Arts groups in three Universities 600 71.5% 331 39.5% 14 1.6%
AP State Welfare Residential Schools (upto Intermediate) (1996-97) 6790 62% 3880 35% 214 2% 42 0.4%

* Rest of the 56 castes within the SC category in the state constitutes 7 per cent in the total SC population. Table 2 gives us an overall picture of Dalits position in the medium and higher educational institutions.  It is a true reflection of the condition of Dalits in the state.  Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University has three constituent engineering colleges in Hyderabad, Kakinada, and Anantapur and it has nearly 185 affiliated colleges throughout the state.[16] Yet oddly, a meagre 156 Dalit students secured admission onto engineering courses.  Their situation in the rest of the higher educational institutions is no better than that of JNTU.  One can see the massive inconsistency between the total population of Dalits and the number of seats that they have secured in higher education.  When we look closer still at how those seats are distributed amongst individual castes (within the Dalit category) the disparities are glaring.  The Malas, who constitute 37 percent of the total Dalit population in the state, have been the major beneficiaries of the compensatory measures.  In any institution the proportion of the seats occupied by the Malas is more than half of the entire reservation quota.  At university levels too ¾ of reservation seats are filled by the Malas.  Numerically Madigas are greater than the Malas, yet, their numbers in admissions into medium as well as higher educational institutions are nowhere near to the number of Malas.  Naturally this domination of the Malas at all educational levels continues within the sphere of employment.[17] As in education, so in employment, Malas account for more than half of the rest of the Dalit castes.  In the public sector, in the secretariat and district offices Malas hold more jobs than Madigas.  Table 3 reveals the Malas domination in the reserved jobs:

Table 3: Employment of the four major Scheduled Castes in Government[18]

Category (Employment) Mala Madiga Adi-Andhra Relli
Employees in Central & Public Undertakings 5896 59.96% 3756 32.86% 1112 9.73% 83 0.72%
State Govt. Sector 735 61.8% 369 31% 33 2.77% 2 0.25%
Employment in Dist. Offices (15 Dists.) 10703 50% 7282 34% 2402 11.23% 577 26%
Secretariat 169 63% 70 26% 20 7.5% — —
Heads of Dept. (in 66 Depts.) 2101 59.5% 1216 34.4% 149 4% 43 1.2%

‘The Rationalisation of Reservation Act’ has unambiguously changed the Dalit situation in AP.  It has not merely closed the loopholes in the compensatory policy but also allowed each Dalit caste to have its due share, depending upon their social backwardness and population. It is a step towards the fulfilment of the call given by Ambedkar in 1942.  At the All India Scheduled Castes Conference in July 1942 Ambedkar demanded: “That provision shall be made by law for securing representation to the Scheduled Castes in all Executive Governments – Central and provincial – the proportion of which shall be determined in accordance with their number, their needs and their importance.[19] As has been shown above, Ambedkar was not for an indiscriminate distribution of reservations.  For him social contexts and the condition of marginalization are important for any compensatory measure. Madigas’ deprivation is not only because Malas are taking advantage of the reservations, but also due to their own social backwardness in comparison with the other Dalit castes in the state, particularly with the Malas and Adi-Andhras.  The contexts of Madigas’ economic marginalization i.e. social backwardness and educational deprivation are the conditions that justified their demand for rationalization of reservations.  With the categorization, the Madigas, Rellis and other marginalised castes amongst the Dalits have begun to reap the benefits of the compensatory policy in terms of their entry into higher educational institutions and jobs.  For the first time they received their rightful share in various recruitments conducted by the Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission.[20] However, since the principle of categorisation is restricted to education and jobs, the Malas have continued to dominate the seats that were reserved for all Dalits in representative bodies.  In 1994 out of a total of 39 seats in the state Legislative Assembly, while the Malas gained 23 seats, the Madigas had to be satisfied with a mere 16.  The same went for their representation in Parliamentary seats.  The Madigas hoped that categorisation would remedy this injustice and that political parties would apply the same logic of categorisation (even though that it is not legally required) in allotting seats to the Dalits, i.e., in accordance to the proportion of each caste within the total population.  The political parties, who, on the other hand, are largely interested in winning seats rather than the distribution of justice, continue to favour the Malas.  Thus, the Madigas’ situation in the 2004 elections remained as it was in 1996.  Table 4 and 5 demonstrates this point. Table 4: Comparison of Malas and Madiga MLAs in 1994 and 2004 Legislative Assemblies

Caste Malas Madiga Total Number of SC seats
1994 23 16 39
2004 23 16 39

Table 5: Comparison of Malas and Madiga MPs in 1994 and 2004 Lok Sabha

Caste Malas Madiga Total Number of SC seats
1996 4 2 06
2004 4 2 06

If the reserved seats were to be distributed, amongst the four groups of Dalits on the lines of categorization, they would be distributed in the following manner: Table 6: The share of seats to each group in the Legislative Assembly

Group % of reservation after categorization Seats to get
Relli (A) 1 1
Madiga (B) 7 19
Mala (C) 6 18
Adi-Andhra 1 1
Total 15 39

Table 7: The share of seats to each group in Lok Sabha

Group % of reservation after categorization Seats to get
Relli (A) 1 1
Madiga (B) 7 2
Mala (C) 6 2
Adi-Andhra 1 1
Total 15 6

The second aspect of the verdict – (what the Court called the ‘sanctification of Scheduled Castes List’) is more unfortunate than the first.  Presented as a ‘violation’ of some of the clauses of the Constitution, which apparently is tantamount to ‘tinkering with the List’, the Supreme Court tried to sanctify the Presidential  List at the expense of millions of depressed Madigas and Madiga-like castes within the SC List.  If one were to look at the history of the Scheduled Castes List, it was, except for a few inclusions from time to time, the result of JJ Hutton’s (Census Commissioner of India) 1931 classification of Depressed Classes.  The list was adopted in the Government of India Act of 1935 for providing special protection to the said classes. The same list was promulgated by the President of India in the Scheduled Castes Order in 1950.  Fifty-five years down the line, substantial improvements have taken place among the Dalits.  A few castes improved their conditions, thanks mainly to compensatory policies and developmental measures.[21] Children of Dalit IAS, IPS and other allied services and Group I & II category officers in states, because of their improved position and better education are equipped to compete with the general category students and do not require the assistance of the reservation policy.  A significant point that has, so far, been downplayed is that a substantial number of job- holders amongst the Dalits invariably come from ‘well placed’ castes.  A preponderance of Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, Mahars in Madhya Pradesh, Holays in Karnataka, Malas in AP, and Palayars and Palars in Tamil Nadu in the reserved jobs substantiate the point.  If two people belonging to the same List but with different backgrounds compete for the same job, it is entirely predictable who will get the job.  But the Supreme Court of India seems to be unconcerned with these realities and primarily obsessed with maintaining the status quo of the SCs List.  There seems to be a similarity between the declaration of English Parliament of 1688 and the present verdict of the Supreme Court.  Submitting themselves and their posterities to William and Mary the Parliament declared: “The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of the people … most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, for EVER.”[22] A hundred years later arguing against such declarations of binding and controlling posterity to the end of time, Thomas Paine observed “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generation which preceded it.  The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.  Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow.”[23] Each generation has the benefit of experience of the past. But the past experience cannot be one’s living experience.  Every generation should have the capacity and right to modify their present and build their future, again taking lessons from the past.  Institutional forms and constitutional arrangements are mere aids in human progress.  They are, as argued by Sudipta Kaviraj, mobile and plastic.[24] Every generation and society constantly improves their conditions with the help of institutional arrangements.  Over the years, new problems tend to arise and new instruments and rules are needed to face such challenges.  “If we accept the theory of immutability of the Constitution, we are no longer talking in terms of human frailty…we are in fact treading into the realm of religion and spiritualism where the authority of the divine revelation is supreme, unchallenged and immutable.”[25] Some of the views and arguments of the framers of the Constitution of India do not hold good any more and should not be binding on the present generation.  The context of enshrining compensatory measures in the Constitution emerged from a situation where the conditions of most Dalit castes were more or less similar.  Reservation for the ‘category’ as a whole, which was created for that special purpose, was justified in that context.  However, as shown in the above, clearly there has been a disproportionate development within the category.  A few castes have clearly benefited from the compensatory policies and their domination is causally connected with the marginalisation of other castes.  The ‘categorization’ demand stems from recognising these loopholes in the policy and the need to eradicate such ambiguities, thus ensuring equal opportunity among the Dalits.

A third aspect, which is not directly connected to the Supreme Court’s judgement but which would be affected due to the verdict, is that of the reservations in the private sector.  Dalits’ demand for an extension of reservations in the private sector is gaining momentum and assurances on this point were given by the Congress Party in its election manifesto.  Gradually, industrial houses are coming to terms with the logic and necessity of reservations in the private sector: a major step towards equality of opportunity for those hitherto oppressed by the largest employers of the country.  However, such a step necessarily has to take into account the demands for equitable distribution of reservations.  Today, in different parts of the country, especially in the southern states, the campaign for categorisation of reservations is gathering support.  Since the Madigas and Malas are the most numerous Dalits in AP, such a demand has been projected merely as a competition or rift between these two castes, when in reality it is about justice and cuts across all the Dalit castes.  It was in fact the Madigas of Karnataka who for the first time demanded categorisation of reservations.  The Madigas of AP, inspired by such an example, took the demand further.  Now, the Chakkaliyars in Tamil Nadu are following Madigas of Karnataka and AP, by making a similar demand.  Research on the internal differences amongst the Dalits in Tamil Nadu, conducted by independent Dalit groups has strengthened and justified the Chakkaliyars demand.  In Tamil Nadu, while the literacy rate amongst Dalits as a whole is 19%, that amongst the Chakkaliyars it is only 4% (1991 census).  Only 1% of government jobs are held by Chakkaliyars, though a total of 18% of government jobs are occupied by Parayars and Palars. The number of Dalit MLAs at present is 45, out of which only 3 are from Chakkaliyars.[26] A policy of reservations in the private sector should take these facts and the demands for categorisation into consideration.  Without such provision the projected policy would not help the marginalised in any substantial way and would rather, repeat the experience of compensatory policy in the public sector.

Finally, the Supreme Court’s suggestion of “adequate or additional training so as to enable” all the castes within the Dalit category to compete and access the reservations, is well intended and a sound suggestion but impractical, given our past experience with lofty but empty ideas.  There is a similarity between the Supreme Court’s suggestion and the ideas already contained within the Directive Principles of State Policy.  The DPSP had clearly recommended adequate action by respective governments to ameliorate the conditions of the marginalised; we now know the fate of such suggestions.  There is nothing in the verdict that binds the government to take necessary action to provide ‘adequate facilities’.  In the absence of such legally binding instruction, the Supreme Court’s suggestion will receive the same fate as the DPSP.  Vivek Kumar in his discussion on the reservation controversy, has challenged the central government to bring out a white paper on the present status of reservation policy, if the government is “truly sincere about opening up employment opportunities to the socially oppressed” in the private sector.[27] Such a document is necessary not just for any future course of action on the reservations, but importantly, as a means to test the sincerity of the respective governments in fulfilling their Constitutional obligations towards the people at the bottom of the heap.  But a white paper with a mere statement on the status of reservations is not enough.  It should disclose the employee’s caste background.  A document of this nature would reveal the facts about the domination of individual castes in reserved jobs, which would certainly act as an eye-opener not merely to the State and Central governments but also to the Supreme Court.  For, the Court’s view regarding the alleged ‘homogeneity of Scheduled Castes’ is based on a gross neglect of realities and the undeniable existence of sharp differences amongst them.  By invalidating the Act, it actually lent a hand to the well-to-do castes amongst the Dalits to ‘eat up’ the meagre government jobs and depress the marginalised even further.  The present category of SCs is neither fulfilling the Constitutional obligation to improve the conditions of the Dalits nor the interests of the Dalits themselves.  It rather serves the interests of the caste Hindus.  For, as long as the Dalits were kept in a box like category, Dalits were restricted to the 15 percentage of reservation jobs and the caste Hindus could corner the rest of the jobs and opportunities.  The Scheduled Caste identity has had tremendous negative psychological effects upon them, which is the reason why they continue to suffer from low-esteem and the inability to realise their full potential.  Moreover, the very identity itself makes them vulnerable to caste Hindus’ domination and ‘hegemony’ in all spheres of human activity in the Indian society.  The Court is actually missing the great opportunity initiated by the Madigas for a casteless society. With categorization, different castes in the Dalit category will be put together according to their backwardness and similarity of occupations.  As equality is possible amongst those people/castes in similar circumstances, placing of Dalits into different groups would afford them the possibility to forge unities, social intercourse and marriage alliances amongst them, which would in the long-run, unify the groups.  Historically there have been a number of examples that substantiate this point.  In AP, for instance, until thirty years ago the Kammas were divided into two castes: china (lower) Kamma and peda (higher) Kamma.  The latter treated the former with contempt, indignity, and marriage between them was a rare issue.  With the opportunities offered by the Green Revolution, the china Kammas improved their economic position that placed them more or less on par with the peda Kammas.  The marital relations between the two eliminated the peda and china boundaries and now there is only one Kamma caste in the state.  Thus, by preventing categorization, the Supreme Court has prevented social intercourse between various castes within the Dalit category.  In addition, by declaring the ‘immutability’ of the Scheduled Castes List, the Court, in fact, bound the Dalits to the List and thereby to the Scheduled Caste identity, not just the present generation of the Dalits, but also future generations for all posterity. As a general conclusion I would like to emphasise three points.  First, the very purpose of any institutional arrangement or policy is to realise a principle.  Political principles or institutional arrangements do not emerge in a vacuum.  They are specific to particular historical and social contexts.  Institutional arrangements, by extraction from abstract principles, give form to policies, which are again specific to an historical situation.  In any given context, the primacy of the principle has to be acknowledged over a specific form given to it at a particular historical moment in time.  If the historical reality changes, proper realisation of the principle may require a new form, rather than sticking to the letter of the policy.  The Supreme Court of India by rejecting the rationalisation of reservations prefers the mere ‘form’ to the very principle, which is a great mistake.  If we accept the principle and try to apply it to the changed reality of today, the policy should have a new form and categorisation is the best available form that suits the current Dalit situation.  Second, once we agree with the validity of a principle, it should be applied systematically.  The policy of compensatory discrimination was created, owing to the disparities between the caste Hindus and the Dalits.  If this was applicable between caste Hindus and Dalits, then the same principle should be equally applicable amongst Dalits themselves.  In other words, if the reservations were established on the basis of the extent of a respective people’s marginalisation and their percentage share of the total population, then the same criteria should hold good in allocating a percentage of reservations amongst marginalised groups within the Dalit category as well.  It is following this line of argument that the Madigas’ demand for the rationalisation of reservation is proven valid and justified.  Actually the Madigas’ demand was a simple and limited one.  They were only asking for equalization of compensatory measures, when they have every right to demand more than their relative share.  State support was required for those people who were in a disadvantageous position in comparison with others in society.  If we follow that logic then the Madigas, who are some of the most marginalised amongst the marginalised, should be entitled to more than their proportional share in the reservations.  What follows from this line of argument is that eventually amongst the Dalits, the criteria of ‘caste’ should be supplemented or that ‘economic criteria’ should be tacked on to ‘caste criteria’, in order to qualify for compensatory measures.  In this way, not only the poor amongst the Madigas but also poor amongst the Malas, would get help from the state.  However, the application of ‘economic criteria’ amongst the Dalits (and Adivasis) is not the same as that of applying it to rest of castes in the Indian society.  The compensatory measures were provided for the Dalits because they were not just economically deprived, but importantly, socially oppressed.  The reports of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, the National Human Rights Commission, and national and international NGOs, all attest to their economic deprivation and tell of atrocities and violence meted out against them by the caste Hindus.  As long as Dalits were discriminated against in the name of caste and excluded both from public as well as private spheres (again on the same basis) the principles upon which the compensatory measures were provided for them were seen as valid and justified.[28] Finally, in recent political and sociological debates, particularly in the last two decades, the very policy of ‘compensatory discrimination’ has come in for serious criticisms and challenges.  Critics have become vocal in the context of extending the policy to more and more social groups.  It also exists in a context where there is firm competition from the Dalit middle classes, particularly in the job sector.  The upwardly mobile Dalit middle classes are not restricting themselves just to the 15% reservation jobs (we must remember that the 15% quota has never been filled, except in grade IV jobs), they are competing with caste Hindus in the open category as well.  The caste Hindus, who were terrified by this Dalit ‘encroachment’ on the jobs that were ‘kept’ exclusively for them,  have begun  to challenge the compensatory policy, by pointing out that the Dalits have enjoyed the benefits of reservations for more than half a century.  They argue that  a group of people who have drawn its benefits, have actually moved up the social ladder and joined advantaged groups, such as the middle classes and even elite sections.  According to these critics, this has given them an undue advantage not merely over the poor amongst caste Hindus, but also over the poor amongst Dalits, thus, the entire policy is fallacious and must be discontinued.  The compensatory policy benefiting a group of people amongst the Dalits is undeniably true, but this cannot be the basis to eliminate the entire policy itself.  For a major portion  amongst them, such as  Madigas, Mangs,  Chakkaliyars and many others, still continues to live a life that is no different from their forefathers’ some fifty years ago.  A proper answer to caste Hindus’ criticisms, as well as a means to improve the lot of the marginalised amongst the Dalits (a sort of double edged sword) would be the categorisation of all the Dalit castes according to their backwardness and giving each caste their ‘due share’.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of ‘rationalisation of reservation Act’ merely on the basis of ‘homogeneity’ of the Dalit castes does not reflect the reality of the situation. Whilst deliberating upon the Act, it should have taken into consideration disparities and discrepancies amongst individual castes within the larger Dalit category.  Its opinion of ‘immutability’ of the Presidential List is unacceptable from the point of view of Dalit identity and respect.  Dalit identities have been changing not because Dalits themselves are changing it, but because society and governments (whether of colonialists or post-colonialists) have been ‘tinkering’ with their identities.  While the identities of Brahmins, Thakurs or Hegdes, since they serve the caste Hindus’ interests, may remain permanent, Dalit identity cannot remain permanent, not only because it does not serve their interests, but also because it subordinates them permanently, to the caste Hindus.  It is time that the Dalits were left to decide their identity.  It is also time that the Government of India, taking stock of the fifty-five years of the compensatory policy’s implementation, change the outdated ‘form’ to serve the marginalised and deserving within the Dalit category.  The best way to begin with, is to categorise all the Dalit castes in accordance with their backwardness and proportion of population and thereby to allow each caste to have their rightful share.

Email: sam.gundimeda@soas.ac.uk

References and Notes

* I am grateful to Sudipta Kaviraj and Sasheej Hegde for clarifying my thoughts and commenting on the draft. I am also greatly benefited from my discussions with Eleanor Zelliott, Sharmila Sree Kumar, Vijay Kumar Boratti, Karuna Mantena, Lucy Haines, Cyble Soans, and Hazel Still. I am grateful to each and every one of them.  Any shortcomings, needless to say, are invariably mine.

[1] Thomas, Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson on Democracy, – Selected and arranged with an Introduction by Saul K. Padover, New York: New American Library, 1954, p. 67.

[2] For background of the Act, see K Balagopal, ‘Justice for Dalits among Dalits: All the Ghosts Resurface’ in EPW, Vol. 40, No. 29, July 16, 2005.

[3] http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/qrydisp.asp (Case Number: Appeal (civil) 6758 of 2000, date of judgement: 05/11/2004.

[4] K. Balagopal, ‘A Tangled Web: Sub-division of the SC Reservations in AP’, EPW, March 25, 2000, p.1077.

[5] AM Shah, ‘The ‘Dalit’ Category and Its Differentiation’, EPW, April 06, 2002. Also see, N. Subha Reddy, ‘Community- Conflict among the Depressed Castes of Andhra’, Man in India, Vol. XXX, No.4, 1950, pp: 1-11; Karve I., ‘What is caste? Caste as extended kin’, EPW, July 10, 1958, pp: 125-38; Sambaiah Gundimeda, The Emergence of Sub-Caste Identity and Consciousness among the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh: A case study of the Madigas, unpublished MPhil thesis, University of Hyderabad, 2000.

[6] For an excellent discussion on Indians concern for status, see, Andre Beteille, Chronicles of Our Time, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000, pp: 111-116.

[7] Historically we had evidence, where reserved seats were distributed among the followers of the same religion but with different social backgrounds. The Christian community in India had been divided into three sections – Europeans, Anglo-Indians, and Indian Christians. Despite the fact that they all belonged to the same religion, each section was given separate electorate considering the social conditions, discrimination and separation, under the Government of India Act, 1935. See, B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1967, pp: 109-110.

[8] Preferential treatment in recruitment for government services, education, housing, revenue and agricultural administration became a steadfast policy of the British Government in India. The Government of India Act, 1919, provided for communal representation of Mohammedans, Sikhs Anglo-Indians, Indian Christians, Depressed Classes, Aborigines and other groups. An analogous arrangement had become a prominent feature in the Government of India Act, 1935. See, Marc Galanter, Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 363, and passim 1, p.363.

[9] B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, Vol. II, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1967, pp: 224-225. (Italics are supplied)

[10] ——–, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1968, pp: 192-194.

[11] ——–, 1967, Op.Cit., p. 93. (Emphasises are mine).

[12] B. R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities: What Are Their Rights And How To Secure Them In The Constitution of Free India, Bombay: Thacker & Co, 1947, p. 23. (Italics are supplied)

[13] For a detailed discussion and analysis of the Madigas’ demand for the categorisation of reservations, see, Jangam Chinnaiah, ‘Sub-Caste consciousness and challenges before Dalit intellectuals’ in Mainstream, March 14, 1998, pp: 7-8 & 32; K. Balagopal, Op.Cit,; Sambaiah Gundimeda, Op. Cit.,; K.C. Suri, ‘Dialectic of Social Justice: The Struggle of the Madigas for Categorisation of Scheduled Caste Reservations in Andhra Pradesh’, in R. Balasubramanian (ed.), Social and economic dimensions of caste organisations in South Indian states, Chennai: University of Madras, 2001, pp: 228-245; G.V. Siva Reddy, ‘Competition and Conflict among the Dalits: Madiga Dandora Movement in Andhra Pradesh’, in Ghanshyam Shah (ed.), Dalits and the State, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2002, pp: 325-342.

[14] Figures pertaining to 1961 and 1971 were taken from Uma Ramaswamy, ‘Protection and Inequality among Backward Groups’, EPW, Vol. XXI, No. 6, March, 1986 and figures for the year 1981were taken from Justice Ramachandra Raju’s commission’s report  quoted  in Sambaiah Gundimeda, Op. cit., 2000.

[15] Figures as given in Justice Raju Commission’s Report, quoted in G. Venkata Siva Reddy, Op. Cit., p. 334.  Adi-Andhras and Rellis are the two other major castes among the Dalits in AP.

[16] http://www.jntu.ac.in/affiliated_colleges.htm

[17] A newspaper reported: “…while the Malas were trying to compete with the developed Kammas and Reddys, the Madigas were not even in a position of compete with the Malas.”  http://www.expressindia.com/ie/daily/19980620/17150824.html

[18] V. Shiva Reddy, Op. Cit,, p.334.

[19] B.R. Ambedkar, Emancipation of the Untouchables, Bombay: Thacker & Co. Ltd., 1972, p. 16 (Emphasises are mine).

[20] The Annual Report of the AP Public Service Commission for the year 2001-02.

[21] For contexts and analysis of such demands, see, Marc Galanter, Op. Cit. pp: 136-140 and 547 -567.

[22] Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996, P.8

[23] Ibid., p.9

[24] Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘Democracy and Social Inequality’, in Francine R. Frankel & others (eds.), Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy, New Delhi: OUP, 2000, p.90.

[25] Ibid.,

[26] R. Karuppusamy in Asian Human Rights Commission –  http://www.rghr.net/mainfile.php/0607/675/

[27] Vivek Kumar, ‘Understanding the Politics of Reservation: A Perspective from Below’. EPW, Feb.26 – March 4, 2005, Vol. XL No.9, p.803.

[28] I am thankful to Dr. Kaviraj for this point.  It is about equality, of course, but informed by a premonition about which equalities matter.

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‘సమైక్యత’ ఎవరి కోసం?

    1. (Published in Andhra Jyothi, December 27, 2009)

      “ఆంధ్ర విశ్వ విద్యాలయం వంటి కొన్ని చోట్ల అణగారిన కుల-వర్గాల విద్యార్థులు, బోధన, బోధనేతర సిబ్బంది సమైక్య ఆంధ్ర అంటూ ఉద్యమంలో ముందున్నప్పటికీ, నిజానికి ఈ ఉద్యమం ద్వారా వారు బావుకునేది ఏమీ లేదు. సమైక్యంగా ఉండడం వల్ల వారు పొందుతున్న ప్రత్యేక ప్రయోజనాలు ఏమిటో, తెలంగాణ ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రం రావడం వల్ల ఈ ప్రత్యేక ప్రయోజనాలకు ఎట్లా గండి పడుతుందో ఓ పట్టాన అర్థం కావడం లేదు.”

      తెలంగాణ ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్ర ప్రక్రియను మొదలు పెడతామని కేంద్ర హోం మంత్రి చిదంబరం మొదట ప్రకటించిన తరువాత కోస్తాంధ్ర, రాయలసీమ నాయకులు, ప్రజల వినిపించిన వాదాలు, చేపట్టిన చేష్టలు ఆశ్చర్యం కలిగించాయి. మలిదశం ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమం ఆరంభమైన దగ్గర నుంచి ఏనాడు మచ్చుకైనా వినిపించని సమైక్య వాదం ఇప్పుడు ఎందుకు ఇంత ప్రబలంగా వినిపిస్తున్నది? ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణ ఉద్యమానికి వ్యతిరేకంగా కానీ, సమైక్య వాదానికి మద్దతుగా కానీ కనీసం ఓ మీటింగ్‌ పెట్టడం, ఓ చిన్న పాదయాత్ర జరపడం చేయని కోస్తాంధ్ర, రాయలసీమ నాయకులు, ప్రజలు ఇప్పుడు భారీ ఎత్తున బయటకొచ్చి నిరసన వ్యక్తం చేయడంలో ఆశిస్తున్న ప్రయోజనాలేమిటి? అసలు సమైక్యవాద ఉద్యమం ప్రజల నుంచి వచ్చిందా లేక ఆర్థిక, రాజకీయ, సామాజిక బలాలున్న కొందరు వ్యక్తులు స్పాన్సర్‌ చేసిందా? ఇటీవల శక్తివంతంగా జరిగిన విద్యార్థి ఉద్యమం వల్లనే తెలంగాణకు కేంద్రం గ్రీన్‌ సిగ్నల్‌ వచ్చింది అనుకుంటే పొరపాటే.

      అంతకు ముందు ఎన్నికలలో టిఆర్‌ఎస్‌ మరింత బలంగా ఉన్నా కేంద్రం ఎందుకు సానుకూలత చూపలేదో అర్థం చేసుకోవాలి. వై.ఎస్‌. మరణం, చంద్రబాబు అధి కార లేమి ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణకు మార్గం సుగమం చేశాయి. ఆంధ్ర విశ్వ విద్యాలయం వంటి కొన్ని చోట్ల అణగారిన కుల-వర్గాల విద్యార్థులు, బోధన, బోధనేతర సిబ్బంది సమైక్య ఆంధ్ర అంటూ ఉద్యమంలో ముందున్నప్పటికీ, నిజానికి ఈ ఉద్య మం ద్వారా వారు బావుకునేది ఏమీ లేదు. సమైక్యంగా ఉండడం వల్ల వారు పొందుతున్న ప్రత్యేక ప్రయోజనాలు ఏమిటో, తెలంగాణ ప్రత్యేక రాష్ట్రం రావడం వల్ల ఈ ప్రత్యేక ప్రయోజనాలకు ఎట్లా గండి పడుతుందో ఓ పట్టాన అర్థం కావడం లేదు.

      అయితే వారికి తెలుసో, తెలియదో కానీ ఒక్క విషయం మాత్రం నిజం. సమైక్య ఆంధ్ర ఉద్యమం వెనుక అగ్రకులాలున్నాయి. ముఖ్యంగా ఆ కులాలలో ఆర్థికంగా బలపడిన వర్గాల వారి ప్రయోజనాలున్నాయి. హైదరాబాద్‌లో, దాని చుట్టూ ఉన్న ప్రాంతాలలో బట్టల వ్యాపారం దగ్గర నుంచి, ఫైవ్‌స్టార్‌ హోటల్స్‌, సాఫ్ట్‌వేర్‌ కంపెనీలు, షాపింగ్‌ మాల్స్‌, రియల్‌ ఎస్టేట్‌ వ్యాపారం, మీడియా – వంటివి కోస్తాంధ్ర, రాయలసీమ వారి చేతిలో ఉన్నాయి. వీరి వ్యాపార సామ్రాజ్యాలలో పనిచేసే ఉద్యో గస్తులలో కింది శ్రేణిని తప్పించి ఉన్నత, మధ్య శ్రేణులకు చెందిన వారి సామాజిక, ప్రాంతీయ చిట్టా తీస్తే అప్పుడు తెలుస్తుంది, ఆ వ్యాపార అధిపతులలో పేరుకు పోయిన కుల, ప్రాంతీయ తత్వం.

      మరి ఉన్నత కులాల వారు నిర్వహిస్తున్న వ్యాపారాలలో , సంస్థలలో తమకు ఉద్యోగాలు కూడా ఇవ్వని అగ్రకుల వర్గాలు నడిపిస్తున్న సమైక్య ఉద్యమంలో అణచివేతకు గురి కాబడిన కుల వర్గాల వారు సిపాయిలుగా ఎందుకు మారాలో అర్థం కావడం లేదు. హైదరాబాద్‌లో, నగర శివారులో సంస్కృతి కళల పేరిట, అభివృద్ధి వ్యాపారాల పేరిట ఉన్నత వర్గాలకు కట్టబెట్టిన వేలాది ఎకరాల చిట్టాను బయటకు తీసే అవకాశం ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం ద్వారా మాత్రమే సాధ్యమవుతుంది. అది సాధ్యమైన రోజున అన్యాయంగా కట్టబెట్టిన , అక్రమం గా ఆక్రమించుకున్న భూములను ప్రభుత్వం తీసుకుని తెలంగాణలో అణగారిన కుల-వర్గాలకు, అగ్రకులాలలోని పేదలకు పంచడానికి మార్గం సుగమం అవుతుంది.

      తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం ఏర్పాటు వల్ల మైనారిటీల రక్షణకు భంగం కలుగుతుందనే వాదనను కొందరు ముందుకు తెస్తున్నారు. ఇది తప్పుడు ప్రచారం. నిజాం చరిత్రను పరికిస్తే- వందల ఏళ్ళుగా హైదరాబాద్‌ సంస్థానంలో భిన్న మతాల వారు సామరస్యంతో జీవించారు. హైదరాబాద్‌, సికిందరాబాద్‌లలోనే కాదు తెలంగాణలోని పలు చోట్ల క్రైస్తవ దేవాలయాలు నిజాం కాలంలో నిర్మితమయ్యాయి. తెలంగాణ ఏర్పడిన తరువాత మైనారిటీల శాతం పెరిగి మరిన్ని ప్రయోజనాలు సాధించుకోవచ్చు. ఎస్‌.సి, ఎస్‌.టి, బి.సి, మైనారిటీలు సమైక్యాంధ్ర వాదాన్ని వ్యతిరేకించి, ప్రత్యేక తెలంగాణకు మద్దతు తెలుపవలసి ఉంది.

      ఇందుకు తగిన కారణాలున్నాయి. కోస్తాంధ్రలో విద్యా వ్యవస్థ అభివృద్ధి చెందడం వల్ల ఈ ప్రాంతంలోని కింది కుల-వర్గాలవారు కొందరయినా విద్య నేర్చుకుని ఉద్యోగాలు చేయగలుగుతున్నారు. కానీ విద్యాభివృద్ధి అంతగా లేని తెలంగాణలో కింది కుల-వర్గాల వారు అధికశాతం ఇంకా వ్యవ సాయంపైనే ఆధారపడి జీవిస్తున్నారు. కృష్ణా గోదావరి వంటి జీవనదులు తమ ముంగిటే ప్రవ హిస్తున్నప్పటికీ వాటిని తమ పొలాల్లోకి మళ్ళించుకోలేక పోతున్నారు. తెలంగాణ వస్తే వారి ముంగిట్లో పరవళ్లు తొక్కుకుంటూ పారే నదీ ప్రవాహాలను తమ పొలాలకు మళ్లించుకుంటారు. కొత్త రాష్ట్రం అంటే ప్రభుత్వంలోని ప్రతి శాఖను ప్రత్యేకించి ఏర్పాటు చేయవలసి ఉంటుం ది.

      దీని వల్ల ఉద్యోగావకాశాలు లభిస్తాయి. దీనిలో ఎస్‌సి, బిసి, ఎస్‌టి, మైనారిటీలకు తమ కోటా ఎలాగూ ఉంటుంది. అంబేద్కర్‌, ఆయన అనుయాయుల చిరకాల స్వప్నం దళిత ఆదివాసీ బహుజన మైనారిటీ వర్గాల వారికి రాజ్యాధికారం. ఇప్పటి వరకు రెండు కులాల వారే అన్ని పార్టీలను గుప్పెట్లో పెట్టుకుని పాలిస్తున్నారు. తెలంగాణలో బహు సంఖ్యలో ఉన్న దళి త, ఆది వాసీ, మైనారిటీలు ఉమ్మడిగా రాజ్యాధికారాన్ని ప్రజాస్వామ్య పద్ధతిలో చేజిక్కించుకునే ఒక సువర్ణ అవకాశాన్ని తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్రం కల్పిస్తుంది. అందుకే న్యాయబద్ధమైన తెలంగాణ రాష్ట్ర ఉద్యమాన్ని సమర్థించవలసిన బాధ్యత అణచివేతకు గురవుతున్న కుల-వర్గాల ప్రజలపై ఉంది.

      – సాంబయ్య గుండిమెడ
      (వ్యాసకర్త గుంటూరు జిల్లా వాస్తవ్యుడు, లండన్‌ విశ్వవిద్యాలయంలో పోస్ట్‌ డాక్టోరల్‌ ఫెలో)

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Democratization of the Public Sphere: The Beef Stall Case in Hyderabad’s Sukoon Festival

(South Asia Research, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp: 127-149, (2009)

Sambaiah Gundimeda[1]

ABSTRACT Equality of treatment for all citizens and their cultures in public places is one of the prominent declarations of the secular Constitution of India. The hegemony of Hindu culture in the public sphere, however, reflects a dichotomy between stated declarations and social reality. Placing Dalits at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, if not outside it, ‘mainstream’ Hindu culture not only marginalised but importantly rejected the Dalits and their culture. This article examines the saga of the demand for a beef stall by the Dalit students in Hyderabad Central University and argues that the rejection of the culture of any community injures the human agency of that community. It is proposed that such injury can be healed only by a dialogical process, involving assertion of positivity and pride in the culture of the injured and positive recognition of such assertion by the injurer. Democratisation of the public sphere can be actualised by according representation to marginalised cultures, but in addition such representation needs to be accompanied with respect.

KEYWORDS: beef, caste, Dalits, democratisation, food, human agency, Muslims, public sphere, representation, reservations, Schedules Castes, respect, social status

Introduction: Exiling Communities Through Hegemonic Culture

The concept of ‘hegemonic culture’, critical to the present discussion about equal treatment of different cultures within Indian law and politics, has two meanings according to Margalit (1996: 169).[2] Firstly, it refers to the culture of the dominant group in society, the group with the power to decide who belongs to this society and who does not. In such a society, as in virtually all human societies, there are cultures or sub-cultures that exist side by side with the hegemonic culture, but these are considered less important or are even not considered at all. Secondly, the view may be taken that there is only one culture for the whole society, and that culture is decided by the dominant group.

My use of the concept here is clearly in the first sense, respecting the reality of social and cultural pluralism. In addition, equality of treatment of all citizens and their cultures in public places is one of the solemn declarations of the fundamental rights guarantees in the Constitution of India of 1950, to the effect, ultimately, that all citizens shall be at liberty to live in accordance with their culture (Mahajan, 2005; Rodrigues, 2005). The hegemony of a particular kind of ‘Hindu culture’ in India’s public sphere,[3] however, reflects a dichotomy between the stated constitutional declarations and social reality. While the end result of such hegemony, as in any other hegemonic cultures, is marginalisation of non-Hindu cultures,[4] there is something more serious, and perhaps specific, to the hegemonic claims of Hindu culture. By placing the Dalits at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, generally considered outside that very hierarchy, Hindu culture not only marginalised but importantly rejected the Dalits and their culture. Two debilitating effects of such rejection are that Dalits have become ‘citizens in exile’ (Guru, 2005: 260) in their own country and that the human agency of Dalits has been ‘tampered with’ (Berlin, 2002 [1952]: 43 and 339), and injured on an everyday basis.

Following Bhargava (2005), I take ‘public sphere’ to mean a common space, in principle accessible to all individuals. Importantly, in post-colonial India, this public sphere is protected by fundamental rights guarantees for all Indian citizens irrespective of community and culture, starting with Article 14, which provides that ‘[t]he State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India’.[5]

Dalits, since at least the nineteenth century, have fought for education, for wastelands for cultivation, for temple entry and above all for access to public spaces and the use of roads and public transport (Omvedt, 2004: 21). The demand for water rights for Dalits in the Mahad satyagraha in 1927, sponsored by Bahishkrut Hitakarni Sabha, under the leadership of Anantrao Chitre and Dr. Ambedkar, marked the new beginning of Dalit battles against the caste Hindu society and its inegalitarian culture. This was done to reclaim the right to access public spaces, and thus equality in citizenship, as well as human agency. Presently, the demand for equal access to public space is still pursued vigorously and energetically by various Dalit movements and their parties.

The present article examines how a Dalit group of students, the Dalit Students Union, faced difficulties and opposition in setting up a beef stall in Hyderabad Central University in Andhra Pradesh. The article first outlines the demand for the installation of this beef stall. The aim thereafter is to analyse three interconnected aspects of the Dalit students’ demand: Cultural representation, humiliation and retrieval of human agency, and democratisation of the public sphere. Through this analysis I make two claims. Firstly, rejection of any community’s culture is a way of injuring the human agency of that community, and such injury can be healed only by a dialogical process, namely the assertion of positivity and pride in their own culture by the injured and positive recognition of such assertion by the injurer. Secondly, democratisation of the public sphere can be effectively actualised not only by according representation to marginalised cultures, but such representation needs to be accompanied with respect of ‘the other’.

Food Hierarchy and Caste Hierarchy: A Dialectical Matrix

Within the caste-based Hindu society, a broader food hierarchy sustains an order of superiority of food consumption. This goes down from vegetarianism, meat-eating (involving no beef) to beef eating (Chigateri, 2008: 11).[6] Such ordering arises on account of two specific food taboos, one against the consumption of meat itself, the other specifically against the consumption of beef. What is significant about these taboos is that they are not simply taboos in the true meaning of the word and they are not only about food. They are, indeed, markers of divisions and differences employed to sustain caste and community identities and relations (Pandey, 1983; Yang, 1980). In one of his seminal works, Ambedkar (2002 [1916]: 404) drew attention to these two taboos and the socio-cultural codes they carry with them and observed:

Even a superficial view of the food taboos of the Hindus will show that there are two taboos regarding food that serve as dividing lines. There is one taboo against meat-eating. It divides Hindus into vegetarians and flesh-eaters. There is another taboo against beef-eating. It divides Hindus into those who eat cow’s flesh and those who do not.

Thus, these two food taboos divide Hindu society broadly into three social groups, a division that corresponds with the social divisions on caste and community lines: (i) vegetarians, specifically Brahmins; (ii) non-vegetarians, i.e. meat consumers (but not beef eaters), including various categories of non-Brahmins; and (iii) beef consumers, primarily the Dalits.

Interestingly, this food hierarchy is not built upon the Brahmanical notions of caste. It is constructed on a matrix of the superiority of the ethic of non-violence, a conception of the graded hierarchy of living things, and especially a belief in the sacredness of the cow (gau mata), to produce a conception of necessary food (Chigateri, 2008: 11). Such a matrix, in modern India, is shaped by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu to the core. In correspondence with Asaf Ali in 1920, Gandhi (as quoted in Chigateri (2008: 19), wrote:

I consider that God has not created lower forms of animal life for man to use them as he will…I have no right to destroy animal life if I can subsist healthily on vegetable life. I have no right to slaughter all animal life because I find it necessary to slaughter some animal life. Therefore, if I can live well on goats, fish and fowl (surely enough in all conscience) it is sin for me to destroy cows for my sustenance. And it was some such argument that decided the rishis of old in regarding the cow as sacred, especially when they found that the cow was the greatest economic asset in national life. And I see nothing wrong, immoral or sinful in offering worship to an animal so serviceable as the cow…cow slaughter is indefensible on moral grounds.

Two aspects are clear from this religio-spiritual discourse by Gandhi. First, the hierarchy of food consumption is constructed around the principle of non-violence and necessity. Second, non-violence is understood in terms of a graded valuation of living things and creatures. At the top of this hierarchy is the gau mata, an important economic unit integral to the ecology of the village. Cow slaughter and beef eating, in this particular discourse, become unnecessary and immoral acts (Chigateri, 2008: 20).

However, the food hierarchy in practice is far messier, especially when it comes to what specific castes and communities eat and what they are supposed to eat. For instance, Brahmins of all sub-castes in Bengal and Saraswat Brahmins in coastal regions of Karnataka eat fish. Several communities in the middle of the caste hierarchy, such as Vaishyas and Lingayats, are mainly vegetarians. Yet the superior status accorded to vegetarianism, because of its minimal violence, the ethic against cow slaughter and the attendant taboo against beef eating, continues to frame the discourse of food practices in India and does not match the relative caste ranking.

The effects of the caste Hindu discourse on beef consumption, especially upon Dalits, are appalling. In everyday social relations they are made vulnerable to humiliating treatment. Following the rise of Hindu fundamentalist forces, on several occasions Dalits have been lynched by caste Hindus, allegedly after killing a cow.[7] Dalits are forced to consume beef stealthily, far from the gaze of the caste Hindu public. This, however, does not mean that Dalits accept their subordination. They are engaged in an intellectual critique of the food hierarchy as well as symbolic acts of consumption of beef in public so as to dispel the stigma attached to it (Kancha, 2004; Raj, 2001).

Demand for a Beef-Stall

The beef stall incident at Hyderabad Central University’s Sukoon Festival is an attempt at such a ‘teasing out’ and highlighting of stigmatising treatment. Every year, at the end of March or in early April, the University Student Union, the representative body of all students at Hyderabad Central University, organises a three-day cultural festival called Sukoon. As part of this festival a number of competitions are held for students, including quizzes, dramas, debates, singing, dances, music, games and sports. While in the daytime students enjoy taking part in those competitions, in the evenings they relax in an open theatre where various musical bands play for them. Along with the competitions, various stalls, selling books, clothes and food, are opened by students and non-students. The food served in these stalls is mostly vegetarian. Meat is also served, but mostly confined to chicken dishes. Unquestionably these two food varieties are consumed by all social categories in the campus.

At the same time, other more culturally specific foods are eaten. Festivals are special occasions, and on such occasions people would prefer food which is tied to their respective cultural backgrounds. As the name ‘Central University’ suggests, this university has students and teaching and non-teaching staff from all over India with diverse cultural backgrounds and a varied range of food habits. For instance, Dalits (at least South Indian Dalits) prefer beef to other varieties of food. Similarly, Muslims desire mutton biryani, and students from Adivasi background as well as north-eastern states favour pork varieties. Unmindful of this diversity, an exclusive preference of a particular variety of food, identified with a specific culture, especially on the occasion of the cultural festival of a university, is a marker of hegemony of a specific culture over the plural cultural terrain of the campus.

The Dalit Students Union, a few months before the Sukoon Festival in 2006, challenged this hegemony. They argued that the food in the stalls did not represent the cultural diversity of the university community, comprising students, teaching and non-teaching staff of the university, and was simply another manifestation of the hegemony of the upper castes and their culture. The University, as a public institution, it was further argued, should not allow its public space to be colonised by a particular culture. Instead, it should ensure that space is shared equally by every culture of the university community. In short, the cultural festival of the university should represent the many cultures of Indian society. As a step towards equality in representation, the Dalit Students Union demanded that it should be allowed to set up a beef stall in the Sukoon Festival. It was argued that beef constitutes an important part of the food habits of Dalits and is thus part and parcel of Dalit culture. Besides, such food culture is equally shared by Muslims and a few others from caste Hindu cultural backgrounds. The administration, the executive body of the university, was ‘irritated’, to quote one of the Dalit Students Union delegates, by this request and instantly denied permission for the stall on the grounds that ‘consumption of beef…(in the campus) creates caste and communal tensions’.[8]

This, as criticised by many Dalit Students Union members and other students, is an absurd ground of justification. How does beef consumption create caste and communal tensions? Beef is consumed outside the university campus as well, and does not appear to create caste and communal tensions, or at least tensions between the consumers and non-consumers of beef. In any case, the administration’s rejection of a beef stall was taken as a rejection of Dalit culture by the Dalit Students Union. It organised a number of protests against the decision and led an indefatigable campaign among the students. Its determined efforts divided students into two diametrically opposed groups, one supporting the installation of the stall and the other opposing it. Many student organisations supported the Dalit Students Union.[9] The only organisation that opposed it was the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad, the student organisation attached to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

As it happened in 2006, the Student Union was under the leadership of the Marxist Student Federation of India, a key supporter of the promotion of Dalit culture. Disregarding the decision of the University, the President of the Student Union let the Dalit Students Union set up a beef stall in the festival. The opening of the stall generated great euphoria as well as despair in the campus. The Dalits and other supporters of the stall celebrated the occasion by shouting slogans in praise of Babasaheb Ambedkar, clapping, dancing to the energising rhythmic sound of the Madiga Dappu (drum), congratulating each other on their triumph and relishing the taste of beef. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad, however, bemoaned the installation as ‘the tragedy of the campus’ and ‘a calamity of Indian culture’. Further, it organised noisy protests against the stall and demanded that the administration should remove the stall, for ‘beef eating is against the Indian culture and against the sentiments of [the] majority students’.[10]

The administration, as if waiting for this response, hurried to the stall and demanded that the Dalit Students Union remove it at once, alleging damage to ‘order’ in the campus. The Dalit Students Union and other supporting organisations, especially the Student Federation of India and the Ambedkar Students Union, stood firm and argued that ‘the food habits of the Dalits are different from those of the (caste) Hindus and this difference should be represented in the food served in the Sukoon Festival’.[11] The administration, both on account of the logic of the reasoning and the support rendered to the stall by a majority of the students, appeared to come to its senses. Taking cognisance of the prevailing local as well as national laws on the issue of beef consumption, it officially issued a letter of permission to the Dalit Students Union for the beef stall.

The Beef Stall and Student Politics

Dalits, whose culture has often publicly been devalued, have an intrinsic interest in revaluing their culture and social standing in the public realm. To that extent their campaign for the beef stall was justified. But why did non-Dalit students (and, of course, non-consumers of beef) support the cause as well? Should their support be taken at face value, or are there underlying motives that need to be examined? I argue that although Dalits have an intrinsic interest in revaluing their culture, the driving force for the actualisation of such interest in the campus comes from the interest in power of different student groups. This is what propelled the non-Dalits either in supporting or opposing the beef stall. This can be explained by a brief examination of the student organisations and their politics in the university.[12]

Students and their politics in the campus are a reproduction of social relations as well as a replication of politics that take place outside the campus. The existence of multi-caste/ethnic/cultural organisations in the campus quite clearly demonstrates that students are polarised on the basis of caste, class, community, region and religion. Such polarisation informs us about two aspects of this power struggle. Firstly, the battle to capture power in the University Student Union is fought from many corners, where one student organisation is simultaneously engaged in fighting against every other organisation. Secondly, the victory in this case fused together those contesting parties which possess an ability to appeal to wider audiences and manage to muster support from other contesting parties. Of course, in the game of power, as demonstrated by Indian coalition politics in recent years, rendering support is not giving up power, but taking a share in it.

The key players in the beef issue are the Dalits, but it is important to be aware that since 1995, the Dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh has been caught up in the web of reservations-oriented activism. There are certain Dalit castes, such as the Mala and Adi-Andhra which, owing to their proximity to the Hindu upper castes, a history of Christian missionary and Hindu reform activities and largely due to governmental welfare efforts – both in colonial and immediate post-colonial India – have acquired education, become socially and politically conscious and gained employment opportunities in modern spaces. It is this group of castes that has benefited most from the reservations for Scheduled Castes in the state and has become dominant among the Dalits (Raju, 2000; Mehra, 2008). However, there are other Dalit castes such as the Madiga, Relli and others, which lacked the initial advantages. These communities are too poorly equipped to take advantage even of facilities extended through the policy of reservation. This has, in turn, resulted in their continuous incarceration in traditional caste-based socio-economic relations and occupations (Ramaswamy, 1984; 1985; 1986).[13]

This under-representation, evidently one of the primary reasons for their overall marginalisation, compelled the Madigas in Andhra Pradesh to organise under the banner of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi in the 1990s. Through this organisation they have not only questioned the over-representation of the dominant Dalit castes in the quota of Scheduled Caste reservations, but have also demanded caste-based re-distribution or categorisation of that quota. This method of categorisation aims to enable every caste within the Dalit category to access their due share (Gundimeda, 2009a). But the Malas and the Adi-Andhras rejected this demand on grounds that warrant serious concern. First, they argued that the Madigas lacked the merit to compete against the Malas. Second, they claimed that the categorisation would destroy the unity of the Dalit community. They even formed the Mala Mahanadu, a counter-caste association, and organised a ‘no holds barred’ campaign against the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (Balagopal, 2000: 1078).

This larger Dalit politics influenced the Dalit politics in the University and resulted in the division of Dalit students along caste lines. Prior to the emergence of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi, Dalit and Adivasi students were organised under the banner of the Ambedkar Student Union. Together with the Dandora, the Madiga students then moved out and formed their own organisation, the Dandora Students Union. As the name suggests, initially the organisation operated as an exclusive body of the Madiga students, despite the fact that they, as part of the Dalit group in the campus, had the same problems and issues as that of other Dalit students. But in recent years this Union has moved from its original exclusivity and has begun to respond to issues of other students as well, particularly issues concerning Dalit students. The change of the organisation’s name, from the Dandora Students Union to the Dalit Students Union, both using the acronym DSU, aptly describes this transition. But what triggered this transition? The Dalit Students Union, apart from securing the interests of the Madiga and other Dalit students in the campus, is interested in power just like any other student organisation. In its incipient years, the Dalit Students Union attempted to contest elections on its own strength. But the number of the Madiga students was insufficient for winning elections. It was electoral defeat that drove the organisation to evolve a two-pronged strategy, making alliances with other student organisations and attracting other Dalit students into its fold. On the first front it has entered an alliance with the Student Federation of India, and on the second it primarily targets the non-Mala Dalit students, winning their confidence by taking up issues common to the entire Dalit group. The issue of the beef stall in the Sukoon Festival is one such common issue.

After the departure of the Madiga students, the Ambedkar Students Union had literally become an organisation of Mala students. Mala is the second largest Dalit caste in the state and members of this caste have achieved a great proportion of reservation facilities for Dalits in the state. While there has always been social rivalry between the Madigas and Malas (Reddi, 1950), such rivalry in recent years has further intensified. In addition to these old and new rivalries, both organisations witnessed an unprecedented competition against each other when the Madiga students began to attract the non-Mala Dalit students into its organisational orbit. Threatened by the prospect of losing members, the Ambedkar Students Union forced itself into the beef issue. In a sense, if it had not given support simply because this issue was being initiated and pursued by the Dalit Students Union, it would have lost the support of other Dalit students, who see this episode as a common important concern. Of course, some students from both organisations have quite positively viewed the Ambedkar Students Union’s support for the Dalit Students Union’s initiative as a new beginning of old Dalit politics. Moreover, such partnership is sine qua non not only for winning elections, but importantly to end the domination of the upper caste students in the leadership positions of the University Student Union.

Apparently, the beef stall would not have been installed but for the support of the Student Federation of India. The question is why did it support the stall and how does such support fit into the ‘class-based’ approach preached by the Communist Party of India? While this is a larger question, it is sufficient to mention here that in recent years the left parties have changed their original position on caste, and are now supporting caste-based mobilisations for justice. Although the support of the Student Federation of India for the stall could be traced to this changed ideological stance, the immediate motive also comes, again, from electoral calculations on campus. While the leadership of the organisation emanates from upper caste students, especially Kamma and Reddy castes, the support base is constituted by students that belong to Dalit, Muslim, Adivasi and Most Backward Caste backgrounds. Thus, the upper caste leadership is compelled to support the caste-based cultural issues of Dalits as well as other lower castes in order to sustain its broad supporting base. Such mutual support, undoubtedly, is benefiting both sides. For instance, between 2001 and 2006, both the Student Federation of India and the Dalit Students Union have entered into an electoral alliance, in which each has helped the other to send representatives to the University Student Union. Yet, a significant point here is that while all the important positions in the Union, particularly those of President, Vice-President and General Secretary, would be taken by the upper castes, the less important positions, such as Cultural Secretary and Joint-Secretary would be given to Dalit students. In other words, as the traditional patron-client relations of the agrarian order have been replicated in the political order of democratic politics, the same relations are yet again replicated in student politics today. The effect of such replication is what Kaviraj (1998: 156) has called a process of ‘domestication’ of the lower orders by the upper orders of society. Thus, such mutuality of support not merely facilitates the reproduction of caste-based relations; it also impedes unity among the lower castes in general, and Dalits in particular.

The support rendered to the beef stall both by the Tribal Student Association as well as the North Eastern Students Forum is also not without interest. These organisations wanted to set up a pork stall in the Sukoon Festival. As the consumption of pork has, along with beef, been banned in the campus, they could not achieve this objective. However, they knew that once the path for the beef stall was cleared that would open the way for their project. It is this interest that has roped these two organisations into the supporting side.[14]

Of all the student organisations, the only one that opposed the stall is the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad. As an offshoot of the Bharatiya Janata Party it draws its inspiration against the stall from the mother party’s Hindutva ideology. Interestingly, however, the student body’s campaign against the stall is not on account of this ideology, but is also part of a competition for power that operates at two levels. On the one hand, the Parishad as a strong contender for power in the University Student Union employed the beef stall as an instrument to mobilise caste Hindus. It was observed that some of the caste Hindu students who do not take an active interest in campus politics suddenly joined the Parishad’s campaign against the stall. Thus, the organisation used the issue at hand to swell its membership. On the other hand, the issue had also become an instrument in the competition for the organisation’s leadership between Brahmin and Other Backward Classes (OBC) students. Many of my respondents informed me that the Brahmin students were not eager to oppose the stall. The logic for their lack of enthusiasm was that if beef is consumed outside the campus, then what is wrong in consuming it inside the campus? This logic did not appeal to the OBC students, however, who are competing against the Brahmins for leadership. It was argued by them that if the Brahmins could not adhere to Indian ‘culture’ and ‘values’, they should step down and hand over the organisation to those people who are ‘true believers’ and ‘followers of that culture and its values. The OBC’s arguments forced the Brahmins to remain silent and launch the campaign against the stall.

Claiming the Right to Represent

Nobody was really surprised to see the arguments used by the Parishad against the beef stall. It is almost needless to mention that the ‘Indian culture’ they were referring to was the culture of the Brahmins and other upper castes, a culture that includes, among other things, notions and ideas of purity-pollution, hierarchy and exclusion (Pandian, 2002) In short, it was yesteryear’s Brahmanism and today’s Hindutva. Fascism as the source of its inspiration makes Hindutva a problematic culture (Puniyani, 2006). Besides, Hindutva is of course not the only culture practised by Indian society. As people are associated with a variety of religions, castes, languages and geographical regions, so they practise a wide range of cultures. Being practised and followed by the diverse citizens of India, and importantly conforming to the secular law under the Constitution, this diversity becomes part and parcel of society. Thus we have many Indian cultures rather than a single Indian culture. Due recognition of these cultures is not just a courtesy of Indian society. It is a constitutional obligation (Taylor, 1994: 25).

The other argument of the Parishad, namely that ‘beef eating is against the sentiments of the majority students’ is absurd. If ‘sentiment’ is the basis of argument, Dalits could equally be arguing that not eating beef is against their sentiment. If both concerned parties are fixated on the idea of sentiment, this argument does not lead anywhere. In fact, the place for sentiment is the private sphere rather than the public domain. Chandhoke (2005: 328) argues that the public sphere ‘can remain the site of rational communication and deliberation as long as the participants are content to let reason be king’. In other words, in matters of the public sphere only reason should be allowed to guide endeavours to find a viable solution, not irrational sentiment.

What is important to recognise is that the issue at stake is neither about beef eating in a public space nor about sentiments of some students. It is simply about the sharing of public space, a space that belongs to none but is – and should remain – accessible to everyone. The individuals of the ‘university community’ by virtue of their membership in the university are entitled to use the public space in the university, as long as such use does not encroach upon the rights of other members in the community. These rights are accorded to them both by the Constitution of India as citizens as well as the Constitution of the Hyderabad Central University as its members. However, while some people are claiming this common space, others are even prevented from accessing it. This is what was being questioned by claiming the right of access to the public space of the University. To put it in cultural terms, some individuals on account of their cultural affiliation are made eligible to access this public space, while some others are prevented from accessing it, simply because their cultural habits are seen to be incompatible with those of others.

In short, Hindu culture risks standing in tension with the Constitution. The domination of this culture in India’s everyday life implies the marginalisation of non-caste Hindu cultures in society and, as a consequence, an undermining of the secular Constitution. The Dalit Students Union, by setting up a beef stall in the public space of the university, was not merely challenging the domination of Hindu culture, but opening up the public space for other marginalised communities and cultures to enter that space. In short, the Dalit Students Union was not only realising citizenship rights accorded by the Constitution, but importantly protecting the law itself from the exclusionary claims of caste Hindu culture.

Claiming Human Agency

The rejection of the beef stall, both by the Parishad and (initially) the administration, is only one of many rejections Dalits face by caste Hindu society in everyday life. Such rejections are not only humiliating to Dalits but importantly are also injuring their humanity. What was being rejected was not just the stall or the consumption of beef, but the consumers themselves. This raises the issue of what it means to be humiliated and how the victims should react to this. Palshikar (2005: 5428) insightfully observes:

To be humiliated is to be rendered inferior or deficient in some respect by others in a deliberate and destructive way. It is therefore a deeply distressing experience. It is something one cannot get over easily, and those who have to face it everyday sense a constant threat to their sense of self-worth.

Similarly, Margalit (1996: 109) forcefully makes the claim that to humiliate someone is to treat a human being as nonhuman, and treating someone as nonhuman is an injury to their very humanity.[15] Both claims are made under the supposition that humiliation typically presupposes the humanity of the humiliated. While such humiliating behaviour rejects the other as nonhuman, the act of rejection presupposes that it is a person that is being rejected. One of the ways of treating a human as a nonhuman with the potential for feeling humiliated is seeing humans as stigmatised, that is ‘to see some physical “anomaly” of theirs as a sign of a defect in their humanity’ (Margalit, 1996: 103). This anomaly is not necessarily present in the physical body, but may also be found in certain items of dress people wear or the food they consume. For instance, the caste Hindus who cannot tolerate Dalits see not only their drum (dappu) as a stigma, but also their food, particularly beef. In a way, when certain items are associated with or used permanently by certain individuals or groups of people, as argued by Margalit (1996: 104), they ‘can serve as marks of stigma just like bodily signs’. One debilitating effect of such stigmatisation of people is to injure their very humanity, and thus to make them subhuman. Further, to treat someone as stigmatised means to treat that person as someone who is seriously deviant from the stereotype of the ‘normal appearance’ of a human being. Dalits as consumers of beef are treated as seriously deviant from the normal way of life – read the Brahmanical way of life –  and are therefore considered severely flawed human beings.

The key question is, where do humiliated people go from here? Should Dalits accept the humiliating treatment by caste Hindus and lose their humanity forever? Or should they do something against such treatment to retrieve their humanity? If the choice is the latter, what are the available options? Palshikar (2005: 5431) notes three main historically evolved responses to humiliation: revenge, retribution and forgiveness. To this list I add two more responses, namely to restrict or avoid those practices at the root of the humiliating treatment, and to assert positivity and pride in those practices which grant license to the humiliator.

Before discussing these two additions, the usefulness of Palshikar’s (2005) three responses is considered here. First, if taking revenge against the humiliator implies reciprocating humiliation, how can this be achieved? Since Dalits are humiliated on account of their beef consumption, the reciprocation could be humiliating caste Hindus on account of their food habits as well as their ways of life. Some remarks made by Dalits and other lower castes against Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus suggest that the former have already been engaged in this form of response. For instance, one finds a few Telugu expressions such as pappugaallu (‘lentil fellows’, which refers to Brahmins’ fondness for and consumption of lentils), jandhyamgallu or threaddugallu (‘thread fellows’, a reference to the sacred thread worn by Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus) and sinthapandugallu (‘tamarind fellows’, which refers to the trade of Vaishyas as well as their complexion). These names are given not only by Dalits to the upper castes, but also by the upper castes against each other. However, the effect of these remarks of humiliation upon Brahmins as well as other upper castes are relatively ineffective, for two reasons: Firstly, lentils or the sacred thread, unlike beef, carry a positive social value on account of their consumption/use by Brahmins and other caste Hindus, and such value works as a shield against external humiliating remarks. Secondly, Dalits on account of their inferior social status are psychologically incapable of extricating themselves from humiliation of the upper castes. Caste Hindus, however, unlike Dalits, have generally enough social confidence to enable them to ignore the opinions of others. If the action of revenge does not have its expected effect upon the target group, then what is the point in engaging with it?

In this context, it is useful to examine the observations by Chakrabarti (2005: 31-6) on ‘revenge’. Describing revenge as a fundamentally silly idea, Chakrabarti argues against the idea of revenge on three counts. Firstly, by resorting to revenge the avenger cannot ‘get even’ with the original attacker. Secondly, ‘[t]he revenge spiral keeps continuing, turning into blood feuds, keeping old wounds fresh rather than helping them heal. Revenge always escalates violence, never puts it to rest’ (Chakrabarti, 2005: 34). Thirdly, vengeance is seen as an announcement of moral and strategic defeat, not a display of victory or power. (Chakrabarti, 2005: 35). But what are the victims supposed to do with the haunting memories of past sufferings inflicted by others and the toxic resentment that this generates? Chakrabarti’s response is simply to ‘remember’ and ‘resist’. The advice is that one should not throw back the wounding words or weapons of mass destruction (real or concocted) to the perpetrator.

Although one might not have objections, at least on moral grounds, to the views expressed by Chakrabarti (2005: 31-6) on ‘revenge’, the suggestion to remember and resist is an unviable solution, for two reasons. First, asking a victim to remember an act of violence or humiliation is a way of leaving the victim in permanent mental agony. The victim is doubly victimised, first on account of the humiliating treatment itself, secondly on account of retaining such treatment in memory. Second, the idea of ‘resistance’ implies continuation of the problem. The solution to a problem is annihilation rather than temporary solace. By resisting one is at best pushing the problem aside rather than eliminating it on a permanent basis.

I suggest that retribution as a response to humiliation is problematic for three reasons. Firstly, violence, causing destruction either human or material, is a regression of civilisation. Secondly, though the population size of each individual caste is no greater than any other individual caste within the social hierarchy of India, there is a massive gap when castes join into social categories. The combined population strength of the caste Hindus is between 65 to 70 per cent of the total population of India, while the combined strength of the Dalit population is between 22 and 24 per cent. It is not only a question of numbers, however. In other capacities, too, caste Hindus are better equipped and in the event of violent retaliation, the Dalits would obviously suffer more than others. Thirdly, resorting to violence suggests that parties involved in violence have lost trust and faith in each other.

Palshikar (2005: 5431) quotes Digeser (1998) who observed that ‘forgiveness commonly requires that the victim have a change of heart or express a commitment to eradicating his resentment to the wrongdoer’, provided the victimiser has repented for his wrongdoing.[16] I remain sceptical as to the usefulness of this response in a caste-based society. One of the pillars of Hindu caste society is the theory of karma, which suggests that the birth of individuals into various castes in the hierarchy occurs on account of their deeds in their previous life. This means that the present positions of upper caste and lower caste are a consequence of their earlier good deeds or bad deeds. It is possible that, shaped by karma theory, caste Hindus believe that their attitude and behaviour, including violence and humiliation against Dalits, is not only a way of reaping the benefits of their good deeds in previous lives, but also a way of punishing these Dalits for their earlier bad deeds. Shaped in such an ideological environment, the question arises whether caste Hindus can ever repent of their violence and humiliation against Dalits. To put it differently, forgiveness requires repentance on the part of the wrongdoer and also a change of heart on the part of the victim.

Ambedkar, despite his anger with caste Hindus for inflicting indignities on Dalits, gave considerable thought to the influence of scriptures on the attitudes and behaviour of caste Hindus towards Dalits. Ambedkar (1989 [1936]: 66) perceptively observed:

Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are inhuman or wrong headed. They observe Caste because they are deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. In my view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this notion of Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy you must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the Shastras which teach them this religion of caste.

Some orthodox Brahmins as well as other caste Hindus genuinely believe in the Hindu Shastras and mould their lives in accordance with values drawn from those texts. But such a view is simply dangerous. It removes ‘human responsibility’ of human activities and transposes that responsibility unto non-human materials, such as religious texts, ideologies, values and faiths which cannot be held accountable. What follows from this analysis is that ascribing human actions to non-human materials is simply avoiding human responsibility. Caste Hindus will never change their attitude against Dalits without being confronted by the issue of human responsibility. As long as people choose to declare other humans as non-human, for whatever reason, one cannot expect forgiveness of ‘the other’.

The two other responses mentioned above, namely either to restrict or avoid those practices at the root of the humiliating treatment, or to assert positivity and pride in those practices which grant license to the humiliator, need to be examined now. If one were to choose the response of avoiding the practices that are at the root of the humiliating treatment, the only available choice for Dalits would be to completely give up the consumption of beef. This is a choice that suggests that people may be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of not being humiliated. Such sacrifice, however, is not warranted for two reasons. While it is true that Dalits are humiliated on account of beef consumption, relinquishment of this practice by itself does not guarantee them human treatment by caste Hindus. Historically, we have several instances where Dalits continued to be humiliated by caste Hindus despite strict adherence to vegetarian food. Giving up beef consumption to avoid humiliation can itself constitute an act of humiliation, not inflicted by others, but self-inflicted. Taking an action for others which goes against one’s own interest, but which strengthens the power of others over that person, would be an act of damaging one’s self-respect and constitutes self-inflicted humiliation. Thus the first course of action, both on account of lack of guarantee for humane treatment and because of self-inflicted humiliation, is untenable.

The second course of action, asserting positivity and pride in those practices that have been rejected by others and are at the root of humiliating treatment, appears to be the best course of action for two reasons: Firstly, engaging in a practice shows that the practitioners value this practice. However, when such practice is not only disregarded by others, but used as a means to inflict humiliation, then the views of others certainly become one’s concern. Reaffirming the value in the practice, and asserting positivity and pride in it, practitioners, as Young (1989) suggests, may invite others to see the value in that practice.

While Dalits are not ashamed of beef eating and in fact relish its delicious taste, they are made to feel ashamed of their food when they encounter caste Hindus, whose social norms prohibit beef consumption. The installation of the beef stall in the public space by the Dalit Students Union can be interpreted not only as an assertion of positivity and pride in their food practice, but also an invitation for caste Hindus to taste this food and re-evaluate their perception of it. In this case, the victims are not acting on the wishes of the humiliator, but on their own terms, and thus claim agency for themselves, inviting others to accept or at least re-assess the value of the denigrated action.

Democratisation of the Public Sphere

The installation of a beef stall in a public space by the Dalit Students Union is an act of democratisation of that space for two reasons. Firstly, it has fractured the hegemony of Hindu culture over this public space, and in doing so the Dalit Students Union has liberated that space from the thrall of Hindu culture. Secondly, on account of this, the space is now set for ‘due representation’ of hitherto marginalised as well as misrecognised cultures. Already students belonging to the Tribal Students Association and the North-Eastern Students Forum have engaged in discussions about setting up a pork stall in Sukoon 2009.

A troubling question at this stage remains whether securing representation can by itself be characterised as democratisation. The reason for asking this question is that the initial experience of the beef stall indicates that the Dalit Student Union’s approach is not so different from that of the representatives of Hindu culture. During the Sukoon festivals of 2006 and 2007, the stall served mostly beef items. As a result of such exclusivity, the people eating at the stall were mostly Dalits. Representatives of supporting student organisations also visited the stall, but only to show solidarity with the cause, mostly borne out of political compulsions and self-interest. This suggests that by serving a specific variety of food, the stall has catered only to a specific group of consumers. This implies that the representative space of a specific culture becomes an exclusive domain of that culture and indicates, on account of this, that persons who are not part of this specific culture are excluded from that domain. I argue that such approach is problematic for three reasons and build my arguments on Alam (1999), Bhargava (2002) and Gutmann (1994).

First, it is true that the need for representation occurred because people, either in the name of caste or community, were impeded from promoting their culture in public spaces. To that extent, claiming representation in the name of the same markers was justified. However, once such representation is secured, what is expected is an abandonment of those exclusive markers rather than a clinging to them for achieving the common good. Sticking to the socially ascribed markers not only essentialises and hardens identities, but also generates radical exclusion of other people and cultures. Such essentialisation will negatively affect not only the socially powerful but specifically the powerless. As already discussed, Brahmin identity entails socio-cultural superiority and individuals belonging to the Brahmin caste might desire to hold on to that identity to tap into entitlements that come along with that identity. The same is equally true with the identities of caste Hindus. But the same preference for the traditional ascribed identity, beyond the representational space, does not work for a Madiga and other Dalits. Further, these preferences – in the longer run – will perpetuate the system that produces and reproduces Brahmins and Madigas, the two representatives of the oppressor/humiliator and oppressed/humiliated, respectively, in the caste hierarchy. It could be argued that sooner or later it should be the aim of all individuals to liberate themselves by breaking such prisons of identities rather than remaining in those dungeons.

Secondly, if until 2006 the entire orbit of public space at Hyderabad Central University remained an exclusive domain of Hindu culture, now a specific portion of that space has become and will remain an exclusive domain of Dalit culture, so also of Muslim culture, Christian culture, Adivasi culture, and so on. In a way, we can see in the name of cultural representation a simultaneous popping up of multicultural huts in public spaces, only to become ghettos – in word and spirit – of the respective cultures. Such a ghettoisation cannot be liberation; at best it is jingoism. What is more, it is not just one culture’s jingoism, but multicultures’ multijingoisms, so that every representative culture henceforth will compete against every other in preaching their respective jingoisms. There may be people who argue that the ‘jingoisms’ of hitherto marginalised and misrecognised cultures should be distinguished from the hegemonic culture, for the former is liberating and the latter is suppressing. One would not deny such an argument. Yet, one should be willing to see beyond the surface and be sensitive enough to recognise that such liberation or cultural particularity encourages a deepening of divisions and would ‘undermine the common foundation necessary for a viable society’ (Bhargava, 2002: 94).

Thirdly, it is true that individuals benefit by being members of a particular community’s culture. Such individuals can tap into and build themselves on resources at the disposal of that specific community. But it is equally true that those individuals that do not adhere to the community’s culture, its way of thinking and acting, are or may be forced into silence. Such silencing either ignores the presence of individuals or neglects or belittles the specific interests of such individuals. Wolf (1994: 81) makes a similar argument in her comment on Taylor (1994). In short, cultural particularity bestows enormous power on the community at the cost of individual freedom and problematises the relationship between culture and sub-culture. Finally, the whole idea behind introducing an element of marginalised and misrecognised culture into the public space is not only to tease out the attached stigma to that element, but importantly to share that element of culture with others. It becomes a way of giving-up ‘ownership’ of that element of culture and dedicating it for the consumption of the demos.

Faced with such predicaments, how does one actualise the democratisation of the public sphere? Developments at the beef stall in Sukoon 2008 provide an answer. Interestingly, for this year’s Sukoon the Dalit Students Union included non-beef items, such as vegetable biryani and chicken biryani. These changes in the menu dramatically altered the atmosphere of the stall. If earlier it attracted only students of certain communities and sympathisers of the cause, this time the stall drew students from all cultural backgrounds to eat together. A caste Hindu ate vegetable biryani while sitting along with a Dalit who was eating beef biryani. In a way, the inclusion of various food items in the menu of the stall facilitated the union of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This demonstrates that the Dalit Students Union has repositioned itself from its original position as preacher of a specific community’s culture to an accommodator of other cultures. This is an act that implies respect for one’s own culture but importantly also respect for other cultures. This is where democratisation of the public sphere is being actualised, so that representation is accompanied by respect. It is of course easier for the Dalit Students Union to provide vegetarian food or non-beef items than it would be for a Parishad stall to include meat items, but the point this article is trying to make is becoming clearer – respect is a critical element in democratisation of public spaces.[17] To put it differently, securing representation in the public sphere is a formal realisation of democracy rather than its actualisation. Democratisation is fully actualised when there is evidence of mutual respect among members for each other’s cultures.[18]

But why should we respect others? Maybe for the simple reason that all humans are capable of living dramatically differently from the way they have lived so far, and ‘[r]especting people preserves the idea that their future is open, and that they can change their lives for the better through action or a re-evaluation of their past’ (Margalit, 1996: 72). This point can be elaborated through the idea of ‘radical freedom’, as Margalit (1996: 71) notes:

Radical freedom means that, although a person’s past actions, character, and environment constitute a set of constraints on her future actions, they nevertheless do not determine these actions. Every person is capable of a future way of life that is discontinuous with the past. The respect people deserve for this is based precisely on the fact that Man does not have a nature, if a “nature” means a set of character traits that determine one’s actions. Animals have natures, human beings do not.

In light of this, the three key elements of radical freedom are that the past actions of a person do not determine his/her future actions, that human beings have the capacity to change in the future, and the non-existence of ‘nature’ among humans. If we look back at the Dalit Student Union’s actions in the framework of radical freedom, by selling exclusively beef items it did not show any respect for the food of others. It appears that it was working under the impression that the caste Hindus’ previous disregard for beef would forever remain the same. If earlier the caste Hindus had an attitude that Dalits are incapable of change, for they have ‘Dalit nature’, the Dalit Students Union had viewed caste Hindus with a similar essentialised attitude, that they are incapable of change. In 2008, we see that Dalits, as well as caste Hindus, have substantially changed their prejudices and archaic attitudes towards each other and have begun to respect each other.

Conclusions

To recapitulate what this article has tried to analyse, we see that the first section set the context and argued that the two taboos at the root of the food hierarchy in caste Hindu society are in reality employed as markers of caste and community identities, creating divisions and differences among different communities. Pointing out the effects of the conceptions of food hierarchy upon Dalits offered a clue to the direction of examination and analysis that followed. The second section described the demand for a beef stall by the Dalit Students Union and introduced the actors that supported and opposed the demand. The third section attempted to survey the interests of the various actors involved in this issue. The fourth section took the side of the supporters of the beef stall, arguing that the demand for the stall is justified as a matter of cultural representation of marginalised groups in a multi-cultural social setting. The fifth section attempted to analyse the impact upon Dalits of sub-human treatment meted out to them by caste Hindus. It argued that stigmatisation of the cultural practice of a community is not only humiliating, but injurious to the human agency of that community. This led to a discussion of the retrieval of human agency, which rejected all three traditional responses to humiliation because at best they offer temporary solace rather than a permanent solution. It was then argued that the human agency of the injured could be retrieved in a dialogical process, when the humiliated assert positivity, value their own agency in public, and when such assertion is recognised by the humiliators. The final section, in light of the more recent experience of the beef stall, pointed out the possibility of cultural representation transforming into cultural jingoism which, it is argued, can be avoided by reciprocation of respect for each other’s culture. In the multi-cultural environment of diverse countries like India, this finding poses enormous challenges to the capacity of individuals for refraining from denigrating practices of ‘othering’ and for building a future society in which respect for diversity and difference becomes a firm basic value, as is suggested in the well-chosen words of the Indian Constitution of 1950.

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Sambaiah Gundimeda held a Fellowship under the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Programme (2003-06) and has recently completed his PhD at SOAS, University of London, on Mapping Dalit Politics in Contemporary India: A Study in Political Sociology.

Address: John Astor House, Room 450, 3 Foley Street, London W1W 6DN, UK.

[e-mail: sam.gundimeda@soas.ac.uk, sam.gundimeda@gmail.com]


Notes

[1] The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable and generous support of the International Fellowship Programme (IFP) of the Ford Foundation. He would also like to thank Sridhar Modugu, Shamla Medhar, Vijay Kumar Boratti, Julia Gallagher, Matthew Nelson and Rochana Bajpai for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. Special thanks go to Zeba Ghory, but for whose support and constant encouragement this paper would not have been completed.

[2] I borrow these two meanings from Margalit (1996:169) and thank Sudipta Kaviraj for suggesting Margalit’s work.

[3] My basic understanding of the term ‘public sphere’ comes from Habermas (1992 [1989]), but such understanding has been further illuminated by Fraser (1999), Taylor (1995) and particularly Bhargava (2005).

[4] By ‘non-caste Hindus’, I mean Dalits (including Dalit Buddhists and Dalit Christians), Adivasis and Muslims. In recent years the conditions and situation of the Muslims in India is, as horrifically demonstrated by the 2002 events in Gujarat, no better than that of the Dalits. By ‘caste Hindus’ I mean the traditional four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) in the caste system. Making such a categorisation does not suggest that all individuals within the caste Hindu social category are wedded to the ideology of Brahmanic Hinduism, but their membership of that category has been enough to work in their favour and to facilitate their pursuits either as individuals or groups in the Indian public sphere.

[5] Further, Article 15 prohibits specifically discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

[6] Much literature is available on the relationship between food practices and caste hierarchies, for example Appadurai (1981), Parry (1985) and Srinivas (1962; 1966).

[7] For instance, in August 2003, five Dalit men were lynched by a caste Hindu mob in Jhajjar district, Haryana (Jodhka and Dhar, 2003).

[8] Sukoon Guidelines for the Academic Year 2007-08, issued by the Vice-Chancellor, Hyderabad Central University.

[9] These were the Student Federation of India, the student wing of the Communist Party of India [Marxist]), which prior to 2007 had operated in the campus under the banner of the University Discussion Forum; the Ambedkar Students Union; the Tribal Students Association; the North Eastern Students Forum; the Telangana Students Association; and the Bahujan Students Front.

[10] Interview with Suresh Kumar Digumarthi, President of the Dalit Students Union.

[11] Interview with Santhi Swaroop Sirapangi, Department of Politics, University of Hyderabad.

[12] Some portions in this section are taken from Gundimeda (2009a) with permission from the publishers. I thank C. Rammanohar Reddy, editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, for his consent.

[13] This caste-based domination and marginalisation in the Dalit quota of reservations is not specific to Andhra Pradesh. For instance, while Mahars in Maharashtra, Jatavs/Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, Paswans in Bihar, Bairwas in Rajasthan, Palayas and Parayas in Tamail Nadu, and Holeyas in Karnataka have been appropriating a major portion in the reservation opportunities, castes like the Mangs, Koris, Mazhabis, Nats, Musahars, Arundhatiyars and Madigas in these states, respectively, are blatantly under-represented in the Scheduled Caste quota of reservations (Gundimeda, 2006; 2009b; Jodhka and Kumar, 2007).

[14] Two other organisations whose support for the stall has further strengthened the demand, are the Bahujan Students Front and the Telangana Student Association. A section of students, both from the Dalit and Shudra categories, are wedded to the ideologies of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule and are organised under the banner of the Bahujan Students Front. These students have been working for the unity of these two social constituencies, and in the beef stall issue they saw an opportunity for unity. Interestingly, the Telangana Students Association’s support for the stall is not influenced by student politics, but arises from outside the campus. In recent years the movement for separate Telangana statehood has gained momentum, with reverberations in the campus in the form of the Telangana Students Association. Generally all students that belong to the Telangana region, irrespective of caste and communal identity, are members of this association. In the Telangana region, although Madigas are one of the socially oppressed and politically powerless castes, they are one of the largest. During elections, their votes can change the fortunes of candidates. One way of gaining support from the Madigas, both inside and outside the campus, is thus to support their caste-based issues.

[15] Margalit (1996) makes his point by drawing an interesting contrast between two ways of treating human beings as non-human. One provides a sound reason for feeling humiliated, the other does not. Firstly, treating a human being as God is a way of treating that person as non-human. But this treatment does not provide the subjected person with any sound reason for feeling humiliated. Secondly, there are ways of treating humans that have the potential for being humiliated as non-human, by treating them as objects, as machines, as animals and as sub-human, which includes treating adults as children (Margalit, 1996: 89-112).

Though I agree with Margalit’s contrast, I think that treating a human being as God also has the potential for creating humiliation. The moment one elevates other humans to the status of God, one is simply undermining their efforts and struggles and attributes everything to some kind of mystical power. This provides sufficient reason for feeling humiliated because one recognises not the individual’s efforts and struggles, but the hand of a mystical power. To give a concrete example, these days Dalits, especially Dalit Buddhists, worship Ambedkar along with the Buddha by keeping a photograph or a small bust of Dr. Ambedkar.

I am sympathetic with these Dalits. For living in a society along caste Hindus that boast millions of gods as their own, a lack of their own gods is a genuine cause for feeling dispossessed in the spiritual realm. Attributing God-like status to individuals who scaled extreme heights from their community is a way of filling up a spiritual deficiency and reconstructing the spiritual world. I see this as an absurd behaviour that humiliates both the Buddha and Ambedkar, because the ascription of the status of God upon them de-recognises their human efforts. Moreover, ascribing God-like status to Ambedkar deprives today’s Dalit youth of human role models they can identify with.

[16] Derrida (2001 [1999]) goes beyond this traditional observation and argues that true forgiveness consists in forgiving the unforgivable. If forgiveness forgave only the forgivable, Derrida claims, then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear. One wonders whether human beings will ever have that magnanimity of forgiving the wrong-doer unconditionally.

[17] There is much literature on the question of respect. Though I am primarily influenced by both Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39), I am drawing here from different sources, particularly Ambedkar (1989 [1936]), Gutmann (1994), Margalit (1996) and Taylor (1994).

[18] In the name of mutual respect for each other’s cultures, I do not suggest to include respect for those aspects that devalue and mistreat other people and their cultures, such as casteism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.

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Dalits, Praja Rajyam Party and Caste Politics in Andhra Pradesh

Dalits, Praja Rajyam Party and Caste Politics in Andhra Pradesh

” The formation of the Praja Rajyam Party in Andhra Pradesh has been received with conflicting attitudes and expectations by the two major dalit castes in the state. While the Malas embraced the party as the champion of social justice, the Madigas opposed it as the party of the Kapus. Rather than seeing the prp in these binary and oppositional lenses, it is necessary to view the party as a new choice for dalits. A brief history of caste politics in Andhra Pradesh is also undertaken in this essay.”

–Sambaiah Gundimeda– 23-05-2009 [SPECIAL ARTICLES] Issue : VOL 44 No. 21 May 23 – May 29, 2009

The arrival of the Praja Rajyam Party on to the political platform of Andhra Pradesh has been received with conflicting attitudes and expectations by the two major Dalit castes in the state.  While the Malas are embracing the Party as the champion of social justice, the Madigas are opposing it as the Party of the Kapus. Rather than seeing the PRP in these binary and oppositional lenses, this article views the Party as a new choice emerging for Dalits to negotiate differently, perhaps even on equal terms.

The mass migration of many Dalit leaders who had previously been outside the spectrum of mainstream political parties and the emerging allegiance as well as opposition of a considerable proportion of Dalit masses, to the recently established Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) – (literally, Peoples Rule) – has become an event of varied interpretation and commentary in Andhra Pradesh (AP).  Of these, three specific comments that are of significant interest are: one, that the PRP is a champion of social justice, and is therefore ‘the political alternative’ that has been long awaited by the Dalits and other marginalized sections in the state;[1] two, that “the PRP is not the praja rajyam (peoples rule), it is the Kapu rajyam (rule of the Kapus)”;[2] and three, the Dalit movement in the state has reached the end of the road.  These comments in the context of a highly fragmented Dalit movement, and also in the context of the continuous marginalization of Dalits by mainstream political parties, compel us to ask: Is the PRP an alternative political platform for the Dalits, and is it the champion of social justice? Why did one section among the Dalits, represented by the Mala caste, ‘positively’ respond, and why did another Dalit section, represented by the Madiga caste, oppose the PRP? What are the implications of the Dalit migration to the PRP for the Dalit movement and politics? Is it true that the Dalit movement has reached the end of the road in the state, or is it just a hiatus in the long road ahead?  Rather than taking these binary and oppositional positions, this paper seeks to analyse the political meaning of this crucial moment in AP politics, especially from the vantage point of Dalits.

Following scholars, particularly from the discipline of political sociology, such as Rajni Kothari (1970 & 1994), Sudipta Kaviraj (1997 & 2000), Ghanshyam Shah (2002) Christophe Jaffrelot (2003) and others, I have deployed caste as a primary analytical category.  Such an exclusive emphasis upon the caste in this paper’s context is simply for one well known reason. The electoral politics in India is definitely dominated by caste equations.  And in the case of AP, its political landscape for a long time – more than six decades – has been dominated by the socially and economically entrenched upper castes.  Such domination is manifested through their domination in the political parties.  For instance, the primary electoral support either for the two established political parties in the state – the Congress (I) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), or the latest entrant in the political setting – the PRP, emanates from three dominant upper castes, i.e, Reddys, Kammas and Kapus, respectively (as described below).  Even the ‘class’-oriented Left parties in the state – CPI and CPI (M) –are also completely dominated by the leaders that belong to the upper castes only, especially the Kamma and Reddy castes.  It is precisely on account of this domination that the word ‘comrade’ had come to be understood by the lower castes as ‘Kammas’ and ‘Reddys’.  In other words, while the social category of caste is the foundation upon which the structure of the upper castes’ domination over the political sphere is constructed, the political parties merely serve as vehicles through which such domination is maintained.

PRP and context of Dalit politics: The PRP was established by a popular Telugu film actor ‘megastar’ Chiranjeevi in August, 2008 on the birthday of one of his apparent role-models, Mother Teresa.  As is well known he is not the first actor to take to active politics. He is, in fact, a successor of a well established tradition of actors turning into politicians in southern India. Tamil Nadu has a long history of elected rulers from its thriving film industry.  Three of its five chief ministers were actors, while the remaining two wrote film scripts.  Similarly, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in AP was also established by a thespian-turned-politician Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR), who became the chief minister of the state in less than nine months of his entry into politics.  Now Chiranjeevi, who is hoping to follow the footsteps of NTR, has entered the political arena with an active support from his caste group: the Kapus.  However, what is significant about the PRP, especially for our purpose, is the specific context of Dalit politics in the state and the support and opposition rendered to this party by the two major Dalit castes in the state, Malas and Madigas, respectively.

Since 1995, the Dalit movement in the state has been caught up in the web of reservations oriented activism.  On the one hand, there are certain Dalit castes, such as the Mala and Adi-Andhra, which, owing to their proximity to the Hindu upper castes, a history of Christian missionary and Hindu reform activities, and also largely due to governmental welfare efforts – both in colonial and immediate post-colonial India – have acquired education, become socially and politically conscious and gained employment opportunities in modern spaces. It is this group of castes that has been availing most of the reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the state and has become dominant among the Dalits.  On the other hand, there are Dalit castes such as the Madiga, Relli and others, which have lacked the initial opportunities and advantages of the former, and are too poorly equipped to take advantage even of facilities extended through the policy of reservation.  This has, in turn, resulted in their continuous incarceration in the traditional caste-based socio-economic relations and occupations (Ramaswamy: 1984, 1985 & 1986).  Such a situation is not specific to AP.  Indeed, this pattern of caste-based domination and marginalization in the Dalit quota of reservations can be seen all over India.  For instance, while Mahars in Maharashtra, Jatavs/Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, Paswans in Bihar, Bairwas in Rajasthan, Palayas and Parayas in Tamil Nadu, and Holeyas in Karnataka have been appropriating a major portion in the reservation opportunities (Jodhka & Kumar, 2007); castes like the Mangs, Koris, Mazhabis, Nats, Musahar, Arundhatiyars, and Madigas in the above states, respectively, are blatantly under-represented in the SC quota of reservations (The Times of India, 25 Nov. 2008).

The under-representation, which is evidently one of the primary reasons for their overall marginalization, compelled the Madigas in AP to organize under the banner of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) in the 1990s.  Through the MRPS they have not only questioned the over-representation of the dominant Dalit castes in the quota of SC reservations, but have also demanded caste-based re-distribution or categorization of that quota.  This method of categorization is to enable every caste within the Dalit category to access their ‘due share’.  But the Malas and the Adi-Andhras rejected this demand on grounds that warrant serious concern: first, they argued that the Madigas lacked the merit to compete against the Malas; and second, that the categorization would destroy the unity of the Dalit community.  They even formed the Mala Mahanadu, a counter-caste association, and organized a “no holds barred” campaign against the MRPS (Balagopal, 2000:1078).

The significance of these caste-based movements must be properly recognized here. To my mind the advent of the MRPS indicates a growing consciousness of rights and a consequent political activism among the hitherto marginalized 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 of the process of the new democratic revolution at the bottom of the social hierarchy. If the arrival of the MRPS signifies a welcome growing political consciousness, the coming of the Mala Mahanadu, however, clearly represents its reversal.  By its adamant insistence on the continuation of the group-based distribution of the Dalit reservations, the 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 marginalized 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 mobilizations both by the Madigas and Malas around the question of categorization must be clearly recognized here.  First, as the economic gap is continuing to grow between the dominant and marginalized Dalit castes, (Malas and Madigas in our case), the former is continuing to become more dominant among the Dalits, while the latter is further marginalized. Second, as every Dalit caste is affected by the categorization issue, for the past fifteen years the social community of Dalit is divided against itself, and wasting precious energies of the community – both men and material. And third, politically the caste-based conflicts have been a great blow to the Dalit unity.  That is to say, while Dalits have always been a marginalized group in AP political scenario, the caste-based rivalries further fragmented the 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 categorization demand, the Congress has absorbed the Malas by accommodating them in the positions of power.  For example, Jupudi Prabhakara Rao, leader of the Mala Mahanadu, was made a Member of the Legislative Council of AP. Such developments lead one to argue that such incorporation and accommodation has taken Dalit politics back to its pre-1980s phase and turned the Dalits into, once again, vote-banks to the upper caste-led political parties.  In a context such as this, the migration of Dalit leaders to the PRP seems to come as an enormous setback both to caste-based politics (such as the MRPS) as well as the SC group-based Dalit movement as a whole.  But, is the PRP a champion of social justice, and therefore an agency of the Dalit emancipation?  These are tall claims for any political party to bear, (including the Dalit-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), perhaps).  The PRP, as asserted by Krishna Madiga, leader of the MRPS movement, is neither the champion of social justice nor the emancipator of Dalits.[3] It is simply a political manifestation of the Kapus to attain power.  I agree with this assertion and justify the same from two standpoints, which are discussed below. However, rather than being completely dismissive, I would also want to see certain negotiating spaces opening up for Dalit groups in AP politics with the emergence of PRP.

Dominant Castes and Political Power: The political space in AP is dominated by five dominant castes, which are: Reddys, Kammas, Kapus, Velamas, and Goudas.  Although these castes have been locked in a fierce caste-war against each other for political power, they also ensure that the reins of power remain within their collective hands. This is done by the method of co-opting and accommodating the members of other castes and communities in the political power structure of the state. This argument can be delineated from a brief examination of the contours of political power in the state.

Table 1: Caste backgrounds of Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh

S.No. Name Party Tenure Caste
1 N. Sanjeeva Reddy Congress (I) 01-11-1956 – 10-01-1960 Reddy
2 D. Sanjeevaiah[4] Congress (I) 11-01-1960 – 11-03-1962 Dalit-Mala
3 N. Sanjeeva Reddy Congress (I) 12-03-1962  – 28-02-1964 Reddy
4 K. Brahmananda Reddy Congress (I) 29-02-1964 – 29-09-1971 Reddy
5 P.V. Narasimha Rao Congress (I) 30-09-1971 – 18-01-1973 Brahmin
President’s Rule 18-07-1973 – 10-12-1973
6 J. Vengala Rao Congress (I) 11-12-1973 – 05-03-1978 Velama
7 M. Chenaa Reddy Congress (I) 06-03-1978 – 10-10-1980 Reddy
8 T. Anjaiah Congress (I) 11-10-1980 – 24-02-1982 BC
9 B. Venktram Reddy Congress (I) 24-02-1982 – 20-09-1982 Reddy
10 K. Vijay Bhaskar Reddy Congress (I) 20-09-1982 – 08-01-1983 Reddy
11 N. T. Rama Rao TDP 09-01-1983 – 16-08-1984 Kamma
12 N. Bhaskararao TDP 16-08-1984 – 15-09-1984 Kamma
13 N. T. Rama Rao TDP 16-09-1984 – 02-12-1989 Kamma
14 M. Chenna Reddy Congress (I) 03-12-1989 – 17-12-1990 Reddy
15 N. Janardhan Reddy Congress (I) 17-12-1990 – 08-10-1992 Reddy
16 K. Vijay Bhaskar Reddy Congress (I) 09-10-1992 – 12-12-1994 Reddy
17 N. T. Rama Rao TDP 12-12-1994 – 31-08-1995 Kamma
18 N. Chandra Babu Naidu TDP 01-09-1995 – 11-10-1999 Kamma
19 N. Chandra Babu Naidu TDP 11-10-1999 – 14-05-2004 Kamma
20 Y.S. Raja Sekhara Reddy Congress 14-05-2004 — Reddy

Source: K. Srinivasarao, 2002: Telugu Verdict 1952-2002: Fifty Years Political Analysis (in Telugu), Hyderabad: Prajasakthi book House.

Table 2: Caste-wise break of CM’s of AP

S.No. Caste
1 Reddy –     7
2 Kamma –    3
3 SC-(Mala) – 1
4 Brahmin –   1
5 Velama –    1
6 BC        –    1
Total            –    14

As has been clearly reflected in the above two Tables, the political power in AP since its formation in 1956 until today has largely been controlled by the elite classes that belonged to the Reddy and Kamma castes through the two main political parties in the state: Congress (I) and TDP, respectively.  The Reddys, who belonged to the Sat-Sudra category in the traditional Hindu social structure, constitute about 8 to 10% of the State’s population and are spread throughout the three regions of AP: Telangana, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra. They found themselves in a fierce competition for leadership positions in the Congress Party against the Brahmins, who were in dominant positions both in the party as well as government in the early 1950s. But by the mid 1950s the Reddys had succeeded in wresting the reigns of the Congress Party from the latter and from then onwards until today are continuing to steer the wheel of the political power in the state through this Party. Not surprisingly such domination of the Reddys led the critics to view the Congress as the Reddy Raj (Prasanna Kumar, 1994:158).  But how did they manage to consolidate their political power and how are they able to cling on to it? Political power, creation of new institutional structures, and some of the techniques employed by them while in power, especially the technique of accommodation, are said to be forces at work that have not only consolidated their power, but also continued to facilitate their continuous domination in the political sphere.  In a way, the possession of state power through the Congress Party is the key factor that afforded the Reddys to deploy that power for their perpetuation in that domain.

Of all the policies and programmes undertaken by the Congress Party in the immediate post-Independence India, the most important policy was land reforms. In addition to land reforms, another programme, which is specific to AP, is the introduction of the Panchayati Raj system towards decentralization 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 the Reddys succeeded in consolidating their political power in the state. One of the crucial aspects in the entire process of consolidation is that of the preservation of the socio-economic and political powers of the dominant castes. For instance, the maximum land allowed per family under the Andhra Pradesh Land Reforms Act of 1972 was 10 acres of cultivable land and 25 acres of uncultivable land.  But the Agricultural Census of 1988 revealed that there were 2000 upper caste farmers in the state holding 100 acres and above (Ratnam, 2008:7).  Further, in the Andhra region the land under the possession of small, medium and semi-medium farmers during 1955-71 was decreased, while the number of medium and larger farmers has increased (Ram Reddy, 1989:293-94).  Such decrease and increase of the number of the small farmers and medium farmers, respectively, clearly indicates two things. First, the beneficiaries of the land reforms in the state, as elsewhere in India, were farmers or peasantry, but not the landless labourers.  It is important to recognize here that when we say farmers we imply the members that belong to the upper castes, particularly the Reddy, Kamma and Kapus castes.  For a majority of the lower castes, especially those castes that come under the current category of the Most Backward Castes (MBCs), and almost entire Dalit category were landless labourers, particularly during the duration of the land reform process. It may be mentioned here that while the upper castes have been allowed to appropriate thousands of acres of cultivable and uncultivable land by the Congress government under the Reddys leadership, the landless Dalits, who were cultivating the wastelands, were forcefully evicted even from those wastelands. In fact, their crops were destroyed by the upper castes with the help of the police (Ratnam, 2008:7). Second, the land reforms by removing the gross and wide differences between the landed gentry and the peasantry have, as argued by K. Srinivasulu (2002:8), brought about a certain homogenization of agrarian propertied classes. And it is this homogenization that led the other rich peasantry, particularly the Kamma and Kapu castes, to become the core supporters of the Congress Party under the leadership of the Reddys.

If the land reforms have facilitated the homogenization of the upper class-base of the upper castes, which in turn, led to their becoming the core support base for the Reddy dominated Congress Party, the Panchayati Raj system paved the way for the penetration of their (Reddys) power into the grassroots. The Panchayati Raj system has a three-tier structure, consisting of the village Panchayat at the bottom, the Panchayat Samithi in the middle (the block/Taluq level), and the Zilla Parishad at the top (district level).  This system is, for our purpose, significant for two main reasons.  First, it had become a fresh avenue of power and prestige to the upper castes in general and Reddys in particular.  The political aspirants from the Reddy castes were accommodated through this system.  For instance, an examination of the first three Panchayati Raj elections conducted in 1959, 1964 and 1970 reveal that the Congress Party captured all Zilla Parishad chairmanships (except that of Nalgonda in 1964, which went to the CPI) and most Panchayat Samithis. It is important to note here that all the chairmen of the Zilla Parishad were handpicked by chief ministers; thus, perpetuating the domination of the Reddys domination through these handpicked chairmen (A. Narasimha Reddy, 1979: 210). A study on the social backgrounds of the leadership at the level of Panchayat Samithis in the Telangana region indicated that in 1970-06 out of 112 Samithi presidents, the proportion of the upper castes, particularly from the Reddy and Kamma castes, was 92.4 percent (Ram Reddy, 1989:307). Second, as the system had become a mechanism to provide access to funds and control over their distribution for development, the Reddys (and other upper castes) utilized the government machinery, resources and patronage in exercising control and commanding loyalty from the lower castes, which eventually became the ‘traditional vote banks’ to the Reddy dominated Congress Party (Gray, 1968; Suri, 2002:17).

The Kammas, just as Reddys, are also belongs to the Sat-Sudra category and constitute about 4 to 5% of the state’s population.  Unlike the Reddys, the Kammas are mostly concentrated in the fertile coastal Andhra region, especially the rich Guntur, Krishna and Godavari districts.  As has been mentioned above, the Kammas are one of the highly beneficial upper caste groups through the land reforms in the state.  But by dominating in the utilization of the Green Revolution facilities such as high-yield variety seeds, chemical fertilisers and easy availability of banking capital to agriculture, they proved to be more enterprising than the other upper castes.  By using their land wealth they spread into numerous commercial activities such as rice mills, tobacco, sugar production, film industry, hotels, and newspapers, etc.  This changing economic base not merely strengthened their social status and political power at the grassroots, but even gained them additional ministerial positions in the Reddy dominated Congress governments. And yet, it did not secure them the position of chief minister, a fact that was resented by every Kamma. “The growing disjuncture”, as observed by Atul Kohli, “between economic power and the failure to capture the highest political office – with all the symbolic and the real gains that involves-alienated the Kammas” from the Congress.  And when NTR, a Kamma, made his move from the silver screen to the political stage by launching the TDP in 1983, a majority of the Kammas, irrespective of party affiliations, ideological differences and class positions, rallied behind him and wrested the power from the hands of the Reddys (Kohli, 1988:996).  Since then the pendulum of political power in the state has been oscillating between the Kammas and the Reddys.

The Velamas and the Goudas, despite their socio-economic domination in the Telangana region – relatively speaking – were politically marginalized during the heyday of the Reddys.  They found a political messiah in NTR and became the key supporters of the TDP ever since its inception.  In recognition of their power in the Telangana region and the importance of that power for its own survival, the TDP accommodated members of the Velamas and the Goudas in a number of prominent positions in the party as well as in government structures.  For instance, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, a Velama, was given the position of deputy speaker and T. Devender Goud was facilitated in various powerful capacities, such as revenue and home minister, during the TDP’s rule between 1994-2004.  In fact, the latter was allowed to rise even to become the party’s second-most powerful leader.  But these castes are also acutely aware that they can only climb up to a certain level in the party’s ladder and are strictly forbidden from the privilege of reaching top of the ladder, a privilege that is exclusive to the members of the NTR family, or at the most to a Kamma (Andhra Jyothi, 13 Nov. 2008).[5] Such awareness coupled with increasing political ambitions led the Velamas and the Goudas to question the domination of the Kammas.  Interestingly they did this in the name of Telangana self-respect.  Eventually they deserted the TDP, one after the other, to build their own political formations.  While the Velamas launched the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) under the leadership of K. Chandrasekhar Rao; the Goudas have put their weight behind Devender Goud’s Nava Telangana Party (NTP).  Currently these parties are occupied in mobilizing the people in the Telangana region for a common cause: a separate Telangana state.  Irrefutably the demand for separate Telangana statehood is genuine, for it is in response to the “systematic and widespread discrimination against the region” and its culture and language by the ruling elite of Andhra Pradesh (Kodanda Ram, 2007:90).  And yet, one should bear in mind that the demand for separate Telangana state, in its present form, has been articulated to realize the political ambitions of the dominant castes in that region.  Therefore one cannot rule out the possibility of the appropriation of political power by these two castes (along with the Reddys) in the event of actualization of the Telangana state.

The Kapu, which is another Sat-Shudra caste, amounts to 10 to 12% of the state’s population.  Although they are spread throughout the state, they remained as one of the dominant castes in the coastal Andhra region, especially in the ‘rice-bowl’ districts – East Godavari and West Godavari.  Their traditional rivalry against the Kammas for socio-economic dominance as well as political power in the region is well known.  Thus far, the power relations that emerged out of this rivalry favoured the Reddys, who were given an opportunity to play one against the other and keep them in check.  Such a mechanism of check was achieved by accommodating both the castes in the Congress party as well as government structures, and thus forcing them to compete against each other for positions of power.  This strategy was, however, challenged in 1983 when the Kapus, under the leadership of Mudragada Padmanabham, lent their support to the fledgling TDP and joined the TDP-led government.  Of course, the Reddys have struck back by inducting another Kapu leader in the region, V M Ranga into the Congress.  With Ranga, who had by then become a thorn in the flesh of the Kammas and their party, rivalries between the two castes reached a dramatic height. Murders and violence against each other became the order of the day, an order that had culminated in the murder of Ranga himself in December 25, 1988 (Parthasarathy, 1997:162).  Although this murder was a huge setback to the Kapus, it did not dampen their political ambitions.  In fact, their regular public lament has been, “every caste, including the Dalits, had become chief ministers in this state.  Only the Kapus are deprived of that position”.[6] Somewhat surprisingly they clung even more closely on to the Congress party, particularly after the death of their leader.  To my mind this was to achieve two purposes: one, to remain in the power structure of the state, so that they could continue to enjoy the social prestige that entailed, and to secure economic interests, and thus also earn enough power to challenge their rival; and two, to mount pressure internally on the Congress party to include them in the state’s Backward Classes (BC) category.  The latter aspect, which has a political agenda with larger ramifications, requires a further delineation.

The Kapus, despite their economic power and social domination, have until recently had neither the numerical strength to tilt the electoral fates either of candidates or parties, nor the good fortune to have a charismatic leader, who could appeal across a wide range of castes, communities and groups.  These limitations are not specific to the Kapus alone; the other four dominant castes are also equally constrained by them. But each has a way of overcoming them.  For instance, while the Reddys depended upon their traditional political power and the charisma of the members of the Nehru family, the Kammas depended both upon the legacy of NTR as well as popular film actors, particularly those actors that belong to the NTR family.[7] It is interesting to note here that the TDP has depended upon the legacy of NTR so much that even Chandrababu Naidu, the man who led the coup against NTR and took over as chief minister in 1995, would not dare to address a public gathering without chanting the ‘mantra of NTR’.  The Velamas and the Gouds base their politics exclusively upon the Telangana plank and depend heavily upon Telangana folklore in their mobilizations.

The Kapus also have a two-pronged strategy.  First, under the aegis of their caste association, the Kapunadu, they have been demanding inclusion of the Kapu caste in the state’s BC category so that reservation facilities applicable to the latter are available to the Kapus as well (The Hindu, 25 March 2005).  Although the economic, educational and employment opportunities gained by the caste group from such inclusion seems to be the motivating factor, the real impulse is, as charged by the BC leaders, political power.  The BCs who constitute 45 percent of the state’s total population are a major vote-bank that can either engender or endanger the electoral providences of candidates and their parties.  It is this vote-bank that Kapus aim to take control of by claiming a socio-economic status that is akin to the BCs.  Although a majority of the BCs are objecting to this demand, some of the prominent BC leaders, such as R. Krishnaiah, whose motivations and personal political interests are unclear, extend their support to the demand (U. Sambasivarao, 2007).

Second, there have been efforts to bring famous Kapus in the film industry into politics, and thus, overcome the lacuna of a charismatic political leader.  For instance, Dasari Narayanarao, who directed about 150 successful films and was an energetic critic of NTR and the TDP, was urged to launch a political party as early as the 1990s.  On his part, Dasari made arrangements to establish a party in 1997, and even chose ‘Telugu Talli’ (literally, mother of the Telugus) as the name of that party (The Indian Express, 20 Dec. 1997).  However, he dropped the idea at the eleventh hour and ultimately joined the Congress.  After Dasari, the leaders of the Kapu caste turned towards Chiranjeevi, and have been persuading him for almost ten years to join politics and realize the dreams of the community.  Although Chiranjneevi’s own political ambitions were unknown, as he had always maintained ‘studied neutrality in politics’ (SV Srinivas, 2005), it has recently been argued that the main objective of Chiranjeevi’s social service activities, such as the ‘Blood Bank’ and the ‘Eye Bank’, was simply to earn public support for his future political career.  One cannot establish the real motive behind Chiranjeevi’s social services, but one can assert that the success of these activities has added to his film fame, and eased his path into politics.

In a way, while it is the energy of political ambition of the Kapus that has driven the PRP into the state’s political arena, electoral calculations, turned the party towards the BCs.  Clearly, we need to understand that the recruitment of Dalit leaders is also determined by such electoral arithmetic.  Of course, apart from electoral calculations, the recruitment of the leaders from the Dalits (and BC, Adivasi communities as well) also serves a different purpose. Their presence helps the party not only to overcome its caste image, but importantly also to acquire an image of a secular party, which represents a wide range of castes and communities across the social hierarchy.  To put the same in the words of a Dalit intellectual K. Satyanarayana: “PRP is a clear Kapu party. But as a party it has to have a secular face and casteless identity. Induction of the leaders from Dalit, Adivasis and Bahujans communities is undertaken simply to acquire a secular mask and identity”.[8]

PRP’s Social Justice: Although the PRP is yet to formalize its objectives, policies and programmes, it is clear from the speeches of its leader that ‘social justice’ and ‘rooting out corruption from public life’ would be the guiding principles of the party.  But what does the PRP mean by social justice? From the way the concept is being employed by the PRP it is clear that social justice is equated with political representation.  Two aspects must be noted: first, minimizing inequalities and enhancing equality of opportunities are the twin objectives of social justice (Mahajan, 1998:255-256).  And although political representation, which is part of the latter objective, is an essential vehicle of social justice, it is not a sufficient condition for its realization.  It provides political rights to individuals and communities to take part in the political process but cannot provide equal opportunities to exercise those rights and the pleasure in the freedoms they provide.  From this standpoint the PRP’s concept of social justice is narrow and there is thus no substantial difference between the PRP and other mainstream political parties.

Second, while the Constitution of India has already ensured representation for Dalits and Adivasis by reserving a certain percentage of political positions for them, the upper castes have been enjoying an indefensible proportion of political representation in the non-reserved quota. If there is one particular social category, whose representation has neither been enshrined in the Constitution nor ensured by the political parties, it is the Backward Castes.  Of course, even among this group there are some upwardly mobile castes, such as Goudas, Padmasalis, Kurmis and Yadavas.  Compelled by the demands for political representation made by these castes in recent years, parties in the state, particularly the Congress and the TDP, have been accommodating them both in the party as well as government structures.  The Congress’ appointment of D. Srinivas, who is a BC from the Telangana region, as the Chairman of the Pradesh Congress Committee; and the second-highest rank in the TDP of Yarram Naidu, again a BC from the north coastal Andhra region mirrors the politics of caste-based assertions and accommodations.  Viewing the political representation from this vantage point, the castes that require representation are not the BCs as a whole but the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) among them, such as Katipapala, Nakkala, Pamula and Dommara etc.  As the representative positions are highly sought after, provoke competition and are already occupied by dominant castes, providing political representation as a measure of social justice to these much-neglected MBCs is not a simple issue.  In fact, to my mind, the only way that one could ensure social justice among the MBCs would be by wresting some positions of representation from the dominant castes and redistributing them among the former. Can PRP swim against the current of dominant caste self-interest?  And, can Chiranjeevi play Robin Hood in real politics, as he did in many of his films?  These questions cannot be answered just yet. One has to wait and see the pattern in the PRP’s distribution of its tickets at least in three to four elections.  Interestingly, by allotting 110 out of 220 General seats for the BCs in the current assembly elections the Party, at least for time being appears to be committed to its slogan of social justice in the political arena.  Of course, what we must recognize here is that measures for the economic development and caste-based representation to a large extent would herald a new ear of social justice both among the BCs and MBCs. But similar measures, as historical evidence clearly points out, cannot ensure justice among Dalits.  Their problem is much more complicated and complex than the relatively straightforward problems either of the BCs or of the MBCs.

Political Opportunism Vs Jati Interests: Perhaps one should also look at the factors that motivated or forced the Dalits both to support and oppose the PRP.  I shall take up the cases of two prominent Dalit leaders, Katti Padma Rao, a Mala by caste, and Krishna Madiga, to understand this development comprehensively.  Katti is one of the main leaders of the Dalit movement in the state. He became the founding general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha (APDMS), an organization that was established after the massacre of the Madigas in Karamchedu village by the Kammas in 1985.  Through this organization he mobilized not only the Dalits, but also the Adivasis and the BCs against caste-based atrocities and oppressions.  He was convinced that violence and inhumane treatment meted-out against the Dalits and other marginalized sections in Indian society are due to the hegemony of the Hindu culture.  And that culture can be changed by replacing it with an alternative Dalit culture, a culture that draws from the Charvaka’s materialism, Buddhist Sanga philosophy and humanism, and thus, recognising fundamental human “equality, fraternity and dignity” (Katti, 1995:143).

In 1991 when the Reddys of Chunduru organized carnage against the Malas, the APDMS under the leadership of Katti, provided unstinting support to the victims and their families.  The APDMS’ activism was significant for two reasons: first, it has insisted that the bodies of the butchered Dalits be buried in the heart of the town.  For the Rudhira kshetram (land of blood), as the burial place was named, was to serve as a daily bleak reminder of the barbarity of the attack.  Second, on account of its demand and campaign the government has agreed not only to set-up a Special Sessions Court under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, but importantly also to shift the venue of the sessions from the AP High Court to Chunduru.  As Kalpana Kannabiran 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, the physical location of the court become(s) vital in reassuring survivors…” (Kannabiran, 2007: 3916).

Further, what is significant about this massacre is the Dalit realization of the nexus between social dominance and political power, and perpetuation of the former with the help of the latter.  When the Kammas massacred the Madigas in Karamchedu it was the Kamma led TDP that was ruling the state, and again, when the Reddys killed the Malas in Chunduru it was the Reddy-dominated Congress that was in power.  And in both the incidents the state infrastructure, especially the police, were used by the ruling castes not only to harass the victims, but importantly also to protect the victimizer.  This recognition has led the APDMS to shift its focus from alternative culture to political power. Katti Padma Rao was the facilitator of this shift.  Apart from the lessons taught by the caste-based atrocities against the Dalits, he was profoundly influenced by the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar.  Following Ambedkar, he, as Kanshi Ram in Uttar Pradesh (UP), came to conclude that the Dalit problem is a political problem and political power is the master key.  In order to attain this ‘key’ he launched the Poor Peoples Party (PPP) on the eve of the elections to the state legislative assembly in 1989.  The debacle of this party at the electoral level, according to his own admission, compelled him to move towards the BSP in the early 1990s.[9]

The BSP, whose coalition with the Samajwadi Party on the basis of an explicitly anti-Hindutva campaign in 1993 led to its astonishing victory in UP, created a storm among the upper castes and euphoria among the lower castes when it entered the political arena of AP in 1994 (Balagopal, 1995:139).  However, contrary to the expectations of many political commentators, the Party failed rather miserably in the 1994 state assembly elections.  One fundamental factor that was at the heart of this electoral debacle, (a factor that is pertinent to our discussion) is the dark reality of casteism among its victims.  Unlike in UP, the BCs or the so-called Bahujan communities in AP did not become the part of the Party.  For joining a Party of the Harijans and working under the leadership of the Malas is lowering their caste status.  Most shockingly, even the Dalits, whose supposed social mission was to establish a casteless society, were caught-up in caste competitions and antagonisms.  Despite the presence of the Malas in the state BSP’s leadership structure, a majority of the Malas did not even join the party.  For it was a Party of the Madigas and not of the Malas (Madigas, whose traditional occupation was leather-making, were equated with the Chamars, who were also engaged in the similar occupation in northern India) (Manda, 1999:100).  Interestingly, the Madigas, who were kept away from the Party’s leadership positions, also themselves stayed away from the Party.  And their movement for categorization, which has emerged immediately after the BSP’s electoral disaster, was said to be triggered both by a lack of representation for them in a Dalit-based Party and also on account of that explicit casteism of the Malas. Although Katti seems to appreciate the justness of the Madigas’ demand and agrees with the categorization in principle, he neither did support the demand openly nor oppose the counter-claim of the Mala Mahanadu.  Such position of studied neutrality made him vulnerable to attacks from both the castes.  While the Madigas attributed his ‘neutrality’ to his Mala caste background, the Malas criticized him for not taking-up the ‘cause of the Mala Jati’.  Whatever the justifications for his position on the issue, that position has alienated him from both the caste groups, which, in turn, pushed him away from the centre of Dalit politics and social activism and for the last ten years he has been occupied with literature.  Through his contributions in the form of essays, poetry, and books he not only enlarged the Dalit literature, but also enriched Telugu literature.  This active engagement helped him to retain his position as a Dalit leader without actually engaging with the Dalit politics.  Thus, when the PRP leadership needed Dalit leaders who could appeal beyond their respective caste group, it was to Katti that they turned, and made him the ‘ideological spokesman’ of the party.  Such attention for him, from any conceivable angle, is an opportunity of a life-time, and it is this opportunity that he set to avail rather pragmatically.  There were criticisms that he joined the PRP “only for his personal gain and not for the sake of Dalits or society”.[10] Such criticism, especially viewed in relation to the political ambitions of the Kapu-based PRP, appears to be valid.  But given the ever growing caste antagonisms, and a bleak possibility for unity among the Dalits, leaders like Katti are left with no choice but to be absorbed by the upper-caste led political parties.  Now, let’s see the case of the other Dalit leader, who is opposing the PRP.

Krishna Madigas, whose original name was Eliya, comes from Warangal district in the Telangana region.  As a young boy he was attracted to the class-based slogans of the communist parties and was fascinated by the Naxalite movement and its ideology.  He joined the Peoples War Group (PWG), and rose from an ordinary worker in the organisation to become a member in the Central Organising Committee.  But an incident in his native village appears to have destroyed Krishna’s faith in the Naxalite ideology and their work. A Madiga rickshaw-puller, who owes some money to a person that belonged to a Shudra category, was badly beaten-up when the former requested extra time to repay the debt.  The rickshaw, the only source of his daily income, was also confiscated by the money-lender. When Krishna came to know about the incident, he called the money-lender to the People’s Court (praja court) and made him apologise to the rickshaw-puller.

This incident seems to have caused uproar among the local Shudras, who in certain pockets of the Telangana region are oppressors of the Dalits. A Shudra apologizing to a Madiga by the order of another Madiga is considered as a great humiliation to the entire Shudra category. Although they were afraid to take any action against the incident as Krishna was part of the PWG, their ‘humiliation’ was avenged by their fellow Shudras among the Naxalites. Calling Krishna as a ‘police informer’ and accusing him of ‘mobilizing the Madigas against the Group (PWG),’ he was simply beaten-up by the Shudra Naxalites and forced to leave the group.  Recounting the incident, Krishna said: “There was no enquiry on the charges levelled against me. They simply came and beat me up; and warned me that I should not conduct praja courts in the village”.[11] It was clear that Krishna was beaten up not because of those false accusations but because he made a Shudra apologise to a Madiga. This incident, it appears, left a lifelong influence over Krishna.  When he was recovering in a hospital Krishna was, for the first time, introduced to Ambedkar’s philosophy through a Dalit youth organization (Ambedkar Yuvajan Sangam) in Prakasam district; and it was here that he converted from Naxalism to Ambedkarism: “After learning Ambedkar I have realised that revolution is possible not through the bullet but by the ballot.”[12] Incidentally, it was during this time Kanshi Ram entered AP, as mentioned in the above, with the slogans of ‘Dalit share in political power’.  Krishna Madiga joined the BSP and even actively campaigned for the Party during the 1994 Assembly elections.

While campaigning for the BSP Krishna was presented with a pamphlet that detailed the differential rate of the Madigas and Malas in accessing the reservation facilities by the Arundhati Bandhu Seva Mandali, a Madiga association that has been demanding categorization since the early 1970s.  It was after reading this pamphlet he was forced to rethink on the very idea of ‘the Dalit share’ in the political power of the country. Two questions appear to have set the agenda for the future mobilization and politics of the Madigas: first, what is the moral basis for demanding equality with the upper castes in the absence of equality among the Dalits themselves?; and second, in the eventual realisation of political power for the Dalits, would the power be distributed equally among all the Dalit castes or simply usurped by the Malas, as they have been doing in the SC reservations? After engaging in prolonged discussions with the Madiga youth Krishna was convinced that the demand for political power for the Dalits should be preceded by internal equality within the Dalit category. And such equality would be realized only when there is an equitable distribution of reservations among all the Dalit castes on the basis of the categorization principle.[13] It was with this conviction that he along with Krupakar Madiga launched the MRPS in 7 July, 1994 for the categorization of SC reservations.  But why is he opposing the PRP?

Although the categorization is a question of social justice for the Madigas as well as other marginalized Dalit castes, the PRP, which has declared social justice as its objective, did not spell out its stand on this question. Chiranjeevi, when confronted by the Madiga youth, simply said that ‘the Party is examining the matter and will declare its stand in due course’ (Andhra Jyothi, 10 January, 2009).  For me one aspect is very clear from this statement. Irrespective of their mobilizational strategies, all the four major political parties in the state – Congress (I), TDP, CPI and CPI (M) – have agreed to the categorization demand as a matter of social justice.  And even the two enquiry commissions on the categorization issue: Justice Ramachandra Raju Commission and Justice Usha Mehra National Commission – constituted by the TDP government in 1996 and the current Congress (I) government, respectively, have clearly shown the inequalities among the Dalits, especially between the Madigas and Malas, and recommended categorization as a matter of social justice. Despite these clarified positions on the categorization on the part of the other four major parties, the PRP’s current stand is obviously motivated by the electoral calculations.  In the sense, as every political party, except the PRP, stand for the categorization, the Malas and the Adi-Andhras are not only resenting that position, but clearly waiting for other political platforms, the platforms that do not support the categorization demand. It is precisely on account of this the PRP is not declaring its stand on categorization issue, and thus, is openly courting the Malas and the Adi-Andhras. The leadership positions given to the Malas such as Katti Padma Rao in the Party is a clear indication of this strategy. Interestingly, this strategy appears to be already working as a substantial number of Malas and Adi-Andhras have openly pledging their support to the PRP. In a way, the PRP is simply following what the other political parties have been following: the age-old strategy of divide and accommodation. It is this strategy of the PRP that forced Krishna Madiga to oppose it, as he stated, in order to safeguard his ‘Jati (caste) interests’.[14]

Coda: The PRP might deploy the slogan of social justice for its own political ends, and the Dalit leaders might migrate to that party due to a lack of opportunities in other political parties. They may also do so to fulfil their own political ambitions or oppose it in order to realize certain interests, such as categorization.  Whatever the driving reasons, these developments will have a profound impact upon the Dalit movement and politics.  Although this requires further investigation, here I shall merely point out three dimensions, which might be mutually contradictory, of this process. First, so far a hope had been entertained by the progressive elements in the state that Dalits would find a viable solution to the question of categorization and they, especially the Malas and Madigas, would join hands in order to acquire political power, the historic ambition of the Dalit politics. This might be the idealism of imagining a united Dalit movement which meaningfully represents the most marginalized among Dalits themselves taking political power.  However, the exodus of the Dalit leadership to the PRP has not only destroyed that hope, but importantly wiped-out the space of possibility for the emergence of Dalit-based political party, at least in the near future.  This also implies that Dalits would continue to organize around individual caste-based issues and politics, and thus, continue to be part of the political parties, which are led by the upper-castes.  Many Dalits, including scholars of Dalit politics and culture, would view working in upper-caste political parties as ‘replication’ of caste-based relations in the democratic political arena (Gorringe, 2008).  But “The language of replication is”, as commented by Sudipta Kaviraj, “misleading, because they (Dalits) are not becoming reconciled to social replication; they are being ‘reconciled’ to the legitimacy of democratic institutions.”[15]

Moreover, unlike the Dalit leaders in the Congress and TDP, especially those Dalit leaders who joined these parties prior to the emergence of the MRPS, the present Dalit leaders entering the PRP enjoy a certain advantage.  They had been part of the group-based Dalit movement as well as individual caste-based movements and politics.  As such they not only represent the assertiveness of these movements, but also enjoy the support of their castes and communities.  It is precisely the latter reason why the PRP had inducted them into its fold.  This would in turn provide a measure of power and status to the PRP Dalit leaders in their everyday dealings with the party and its leadership as equal partners, rather than locating them at the receiving-end in a political venture.

While this has taken away the opportunity of the idealistic imagination of the formation of a Dalit party, we need to remember that the primary task of Dalit politics is not to run parallel caste-based politics, but to destroy the present upper caste-base of that politics.  And Dalit migration to the PRP is perhaps one small step towards achieving that task in the contemporary moment.  The emergence of this third front in A.P politics, in the form of the PRP, is also a new choice emerging for Dalits to negotiate, hopefully in different, perhaps even equal terms.  That is, acquiring a substantial presence in this upper-caste led political party, a presence, which is a necessary evil for the upper-castes, would inevitably, if not annihilate caste, at least corrode the caste base of upper-caste politics. Thus, though with reservations, this is a moment to be celebrated – not as the magical Robin Hood of Dalits emerging, but as the emergence of a new democratic space, necessarily a space for negotiation and therefore choice for Dalits.  Yet, it is to be understood that the specific instance of PRP itself might bring its own contradictions for Dalits in its wake.

*********

Notes


* I am grateful to Srivatsan of Anveshi, Research Centre for Women’s Studies (Hyderabad), Bindu K C (Charles Wallace Fellow, SOAS, London) for helping me to fine-tune my arguments, and Zeba Ghory (LSE, London) and Erin Anastasi (LSHTM, London) for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper.

[1] Statements made by Katti Padma Rao, a prominent Dalit leader and founder General Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Maha Sabha (APDMS), cited in N. Venugopal, ‘Evari Kosamee Prajarajyam Party?’ (The PRP – for whose sake?), Veekshanam, Vol. 6, No. 10, p. 28.

[2] Krishna Madiga, leader of the Madiga Dandora, in Andhra Jyothi, O8 October, 2008.

[3] Some people that belong to the other upper castes are also of the same opinion.  For instance, Kesineni Srinivas, a business tycoon that belongs to Kamma caste, joined the PRP immediately after its establishment.  However, he resigns from the Party criticising it as ‘the Party of the Kapus’ – The Hindu, 03 February, 2009.

[4] The installation of Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, a SC candidate, as the CM of the State was not because he was democratically elected by the Congress Party, but simply because he was selected as a consensus Harijan candidate in order to avert an impending power conflict between the two Reddy candidates –Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (Elliot, 1970: 152).

[5] Andhra Jyothi, one of the leading Telugu newspapers, describes the TDP as the ‘family (NTR) private limited’, on account of the domination of NTR family over the party.

[6] K. Veerabhadra Rao, Chairman, Kapu Sadbhavana Sangam (The Kapus Welfare Association, Kakinada) in a public meeting in Kakinada, (Andhra Jyothi, 17th September, 2005).

[7] Two sons and three grandsons of NTR – Balakrishna, Harikrishna, Jr. NTR, Kalyan Ram and Taraka Ratna, respectively, are popular film actors with a huge fan following.

[8] My personal communication with K. Satyanarayana, CIEFL, Hyderabad.

[9] My personal communication with Padma Rao, January 2005, Ponnuru.

[10] K. G. Satyamurthy, a former naxalite leader, The Hindu, 20 Oct. 2008.

[11] MD Yakub Pasha’s interview with Krishna Madiga in Adivaram Andhra Jyothi (Sunday news magazine) September 11, 2005, p. 13.

[12] My personal communication with Krishna Madiga in Hyderabad on 20th April, 2004.

[13] Interviews with Krishna Madiga and Krupakar Madiga

[14] My personal communication with Krishna Madiga on 24 February, 2009.

[15] Kaviraj’s comment on Hugo Gorringe’s paper (see, reference below), (italicized addition and italics are supplied.)

References

A. Narasimha Reddy (1979) ‘Congress Parties and Politics’, in G. Ram Reddy, and B.A.V. Sharma (ed) State Government & Politics: Andhra Pradesh, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt Ltd., pp: 193-255.

A. Prasanna Kumar (ed) (1994): Andhra Pradesh Government and Politics, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers.

D. Parthasarathy (1997): Collective Violence in a Provincial City, Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Elliot, Carolyn M (1970): ‘Caste and Faction among the Dominant Caste: The Reddis and Kammas of Andhra’, in Kothari, Rajni (ed.), Caste in Indian Politics, Hyderabad: Orient Longman, pp: 121-161.

G. Ram Reddy (1989): ‘The Politics of Accommodation: Caste, Class and Dominance in Andhra Pradesh’, in Frankel, R. Francine and M.S.A. Rao (eds.), Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order (vol. I), Delhi: OUP.

Ghanshyam, Shah (ed.) (2002): Caste and Democratic Politics in India, Delhi: Permanent Black.

Gorringe, Hugo (2008): ‘From Panthers to Pussy-Cats? Replication and Consensus in Tamil Dalit Politics’, paper presented at The Dalit Studies Conference, December 3-5, 2008, Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Gray, Haugh (1968): ‘Andhra Pradesh’, in Weiner, Myron (ed) State Politics in India, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Gundimeda, Sambaiah (2006): Brahmanatva Malatvamaa?…Manavatma Ambedkaratvamaa? Vargeekarana samasyapai charcha (Brahmanical Mala Casteism or Humanistic Ambedkarism? Discussion on the Question of Categorization), Hyderabad: Rajyam publications.

Harrison, Selig (1960): India, the Most Dangerous Decades, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jaffrelot, Christophe (2003): India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics, Delhi: Permanent Black.

Jodhka, Surinder and Avinash Kumar (2007): ‘Internal Classification of Scheduled Castes: The Punjab Story’, EPW, Vol. 42, No. 43, pp: 20-23.

K C Suri (2002): Democratic Process and Electoral Politics in Andhra Pradesh, India, working paper 180, London: Overseas Development Institute.

K. Balagopal (1995): ‘Andhra Elections: What Happened and What Did Not Happen’, EPW, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp: 136-139; ……… (2000): ‘A Tangled web: Subdivision of SC Reservations in AP’, EPW, Vol. 35, No. 13, pp: 1075-1082.

K. Ratnam (2008): The Dalit Movement and Democratization in Andhra Pradesh, working paper, No. 13, Washington: East-West Center.

K. Srinivasulu (2002): Caste, Class and Social Articulation in Andhra Pradesh: Mapping Differential Regional Trajectories, working paper 179, London: Overseas Development Institute.

Kannabiran, Kalpana (2007): ‘Chunduru: On the Road to Justice’, EPW, Vol. 42, No. 39, pp: 3915-3916.

Katti, Padma Rao (1995): Caste and Alternative Culture, Madras: The Gurukul Lutheran Theological College.

Kaviraj, Sudipta (1997): ‘Introduction’, in Kaviraj, Sudipta (ed) Politics in India, New Delhi: OUP; … (2000): ‘Democracy and Social Inequality’, in Frankel et al (eds), Transforming India, Delhi: OUP.

Kohli, Atul (1988): ‘The NTR Phenomenon in Andhra Pradesh: Political Change in a South Indian State’, Asian Survey, Vol. 28, No. 10, pp: 991-1017.

Kothari, Rajni (1970): ‘Caste in Indian Politics’ in Rajni, Kothari (ed) Caste in Indian Politic, New Delhi: Orient Longman; … (1994): ‘Rise of Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste’, EPW, Vol. 29, No.26, pp: 1589-1594).

M. Kodanda Ram (2007): ‘Movement for Telangana State: A Struggle for Autonomy’, EPW, Vol. 42, No. 02, pp: 90-94.

Mahajan, Gurpreet (1998): Democracy, Difference and Social Justice, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Manda, Janaiah (1999): ‘Dalit Politics in Andhra Pradesh: A Case Study of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’, unpublished M.Phil dissertation submitted to the University of Hyderabad, Department of Political Science.

N. Venugopal (2008): ‘Evari kosamee prajarajyam party?’ (The PRP – for whose sake?), in Veekshanam, Vol. 6, No. 10, p. 28.

Ramaswamy, Uma (1984): ‘Preference and Progress: The Scheduled Castes’, EPW, Vol. 19, No. 30, pp: 1214-1217; … (1985): ‘Education and Inequality’, EPW, Vol. 20, No. 36, pp: 1523-1528; … (1986): ‘Protection and Inequality among Backward Groups’, EPW, Vol. 21, No. 9, pp: 399-403.

S V Srinivas (2005): ‘No Free Lunch At Fan Clubs’, Outlook, May 30.

U. Sambasivarao, (2007): ‘Kapulu biciletla-avutaaru?’ (How could Kapus become BCs?), Andhra Jyothi, 10 August.

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Madiga Dandora: A Social Movement for Rationalization of Dalit Reservations

On the morning of September 2, 1996, more than 40,000 Madigas from various districts of Andhra Pradesh took a massive rally from Indira Park to the Babu Jagjivan Ram statue in Basheerbagh area, Hyderabad. Braving the continuous rain, they stood firmly in front of the statue and staged a dharna. Men and women, old and young, children, educated, literate and illiterate, all stood valiantly against chilly wind, listening to the speakers, Madiga leaders shouting from the loudspeakers on ‘the classification of Scheduled Castes on the pattern extended to the Backward Classes’, on ‘social justice for the Madigas’, on ‘Madigas’ share in the SC reservations’, and on ‘categorisation of reservations as a way to social justice fot the most disadvantaged’. The busy traffic from four sides, from Secunderabad, Hyderguda, King Koti and Nampally to Jagjivan Ram’s statue was blocked. Battalions of police contained the Madiga activists with guns and lathis (sticks). The Babukhan estate with its mammoth building, the biggest in the whole area, was resonating Dandora activists’ slogans. ‘We are ready even to sacrifice our lives for our reservation rights’; ‘CM Chandrababu Naidu should come to the stage and announce classification’.

Then evening had fallen. Small children were crying with hunger. Old people changed their position from standing to sitting. Occasional rain tested the grit of the demonstrators. But nothing seemed to deter the determination of the Madigas. They continued to stand there. However, there was no sign of the Chief Minister of the state. Instead, at around 6pm the government sent a delegation of Madiga legislators from the ruling Telugu Desam Party, Manda Jagannatham, Rajaiah and Sudarshan, to assure the people that the government was committed to justice for the Madigas. They also mentioned the CM’s announcement in the Legislative Assembly, early in the morning that day, of a commission set up to inquire into their demand. The demonstrators were hardly convinced and forced the delegates to leave the stage.

When his delegates failed to convince the demonstrators it fell upon the CM’s own shoulders to directly take charge of the situation. At about 10pm Madiga leaders received a call from the CM’s residence that he wanted to see them. On reaching there, he assured them of a commission of inquiry and categorisation within 45 days. The crowd filled with joy. They began clapping, laughing, and foot stomping for a long time, and congratulating one another.

Reporting next day on the Madigas’s dharna, Vaartha, one of the local Telugu newspapers, stated:

In the last one decade Andhra Pradesh never witnessed such a massive rally by the marginalised sections for justice. Any agitation begins in the morning and ends by the evening of the same day. However, Madiga movement seems to set a different trend. Madigas, who came to Hyderabad from hundreds of kilometres from different parts of the state, suffered from lack of drinking water and minimum facilities. They stood on the road, ate on the road, drank on the road and slept on the road. This reporter does not have words to describe the hardships suffered by the children and women. Despite the continuous rain and cold wind the Madigas stood in front of Babu Jagjivan Ram’s statue the whole day and night, a full 23 hours, for an assurance from the Chief Minister.

It is interesting to note here that for the Dalits, either Madigas or Malas or any other socially and politically conscious Dalit castes, Ambedkar had been the leading spirit. In all their protests and demonstrations, slogans in praise of Ambedkar and display of his picture are customarily important. A gigantic statue of Ambedkar had been erected in front of Hussain Sagar Lake on Tank Bund that connects Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Dalit demonstrations were, in the capital city, used to taking place in front of this statue. But on September 2, something different happened. The Madiga activists instead of leading the demonstration towards Ambedkar statue took it towards Babu Jagjivan Ram’s statue in Basheerbagh. Every state in India has numerous Dalit castes which are different by name and occupations, and there has been a tendency to compare one’s own caste and status with another Dalit caste in another state or region with similarities in occupation. While the Malas of AP identify themselves with Ambedkar’s Mahar caste in Maharasthra, the Madigas equate themselves with the leather-makers of other states, especially Chamars of UP, Punjab and Bihar in North India. After the massacres of Madigas and Malas in Karamchedu and Chundur respectively, they launched a united struggle against Kammas’ and Reddys’ oppression. In their mobilisations and protest demonstrations the symbol of Ambedkar was used to awaken consciousness among the Dalits. However, after the emergence of the Madigas’ Dandora, while Ambedkar continued to be the icon for Malas, the Madigas replaced Ambedkar with Babu Jagjivan Ram, a Chamar Congress activist and Minister from Bihar. It was recreating an icon out of Jagjivan Ram. It was commented that, while Jagjivan Ram had been dead and removed from the public memories in his own state, his ghost suddenly resurrected in AP as he was given a new meaning in Dandora movement.

Six months had passed after the CM’s announcement and assurance. But the Commission of Inquiry did not complete its inquiry and categorisation was delayed. The Dandora activists saw this as reneging on the part of the CM. There inexorably followed cycles of mobilisations and demonstrations by the Madigas. Hundreds of meetings were organised, from small villages to towns and cities. They staged demonstrations and protests in front of district Collectorates (District Magistrate’s offices), government offices and the state Legislative Assembly. Madiga youth volunteered police arrest and filled every prison cell in the state. There were separate demonstrations for the categorisation of SC reservations from Madiga children (Bala Dandora), Madiga women (Madiga Mahila Dandora), Madiga employees (Madiga Employees Dandora) and Madiga students and youth (Madiga Youth and Vidhyardhi Dandora). A young man committed suicide leaving a note stating ‘categorisation of SC reservations’ as his ‘last wish’; two other Madigas were killed in a conflict with the Malas, the other Dalit caste opposing the categorisation. Organisations for civil liberties and political parties extended their support.

The Dandora felt that the government was buying time in the guise of the Commission. It was agreed that unless strong pressure was put on the government, it would continue in its inertia. As a dual strategy, to put pressure on the government and to mobilise the Madigas and awaken their consciousness, Krishna Madiga, the Dandora leader, set on a long-march, to cover a distance of 1000 kilometres, which came to be known as the Madiga Maha Pada Yatra.

By April 14, 1997, the birthday of Ambedkar, the Dandora leadership has reached Naravaripalle, the CM Chandrababu Naidu’s village in Chittoor district. Before they embarked upon the Yatra they submitted a memorandum to Ammalamma, mother of the CM, which had a dramatic effect. While submitting it they asked her ‘whether she, as a mother, would distribute her earnings to her children equally or favour only one and ignore others’. Her reply was that ‘she would treat all her children equally’. It was mentioned by the Dandora that they had taken this response of Ammalamma as the ‘blessing of a mother.’ Krishna Madiga said, as reported in The Hindu of May 6: ‘I do not know if the Chief Minister respects the words of the Governor, but I believe that every individual would at least respect the words of his own parents.’

The actual Yatra became a sensation with the public as well as the media. Madiga Dandora suddenly caught the attention through this Yatra. The Hindu also reported:

… as the clock struck two on Sunday, a group of youths wearing the anklets of dancers and beating drums started the walk, announcing the ‘waging war against the Government’s indifference to the Madigas’ problems’. This proclamation is the ‘Dandora’, the traditional form of announcement in the villages, and the movement has come to be called the ‘Madiga Dandora’. The group holds wayside meetings at the Madiga hamlets situated on the outskirts of every village early in the day. The network of Madiga Yuva [Youth] Sena is so extensive that they work as the courier system conveying the information about where the group would stop for lunch or halt for the night. The host villagers organise lunch and dinner… About 500 people march together but about 300 of them are people of one village, who escort the group to the next village, when people of the next village take over. … Their legs have swollen and have blisters, yet they walk with determination, about 20 to 30 kilometres a day, in order to awaken the Madigas. A jeep with their clothes and foodstuffs, and a trailer carrying a drum of drinking water follows them. Mr Manda Krishna, who has taken the suffix ‘Madiga’, leads this group on a journey by foot from Naaravaripalle, the native place of the Chief Minister Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu in Chittoor district to his official residence in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad.

This march was depicted as equivalent to Dandi March undertaken by Gandhi. If Gandhi undertook the Dandi March for the rights of the locals against the foreigners, Madiga Maha Pada Yatra was acclaimed as a march not only for the rights of the Madigas but for the rights of every marginalised caste and community for their ‘due share’ in the reservation facilities. Further, they assured everyone, the ‘march’ was not against any group or caste but for a society which is based on equality, where everyone is treated equally and rights and privileges are distributed equitably among the marginalised castes (Personal interview with Krupakar Madiga, co-convenor of the MRPS, Hyderabad 14.3.03.)

The state had witnessed unprecedented violence and conflict among the Dalits themselves. Finally the government yielded to the Madigas demand on the basis of Ramachandra Raju Commission’s Report and passed legislation categorising the Dalit reservations. The Mala Mahanadu, emerged to counter the Madiga Dandora, objected to the state’s Act by lodging a writ against it. Now the battle ground shifted from the street demonstrations to the seat of justice. While the High Court of the state favoured the Act, the Supreme Court, on the other hand, invalidated it. Amidst the Madigas claims and demands and the Malas counter claims, Dalit politics, movement and leadership became so fragmented that any unity among Dalit castes, organisations and leaders belonging to various castes appears to be a mirage.

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Caught Between Culture and Weakness: The Ipswich Victims


Caught Between culture And weakness: The Ipswich victims

By Sambaiah Gundimeda

19 December, 2006
Countercurrents.org

“For all of you non-prostitutes out there talking about us women who have sold sex, you have to realise that the damage to us is massive. Financial help, a few encouraging words, won’t do it. Sticking us in ‘tolerance zones’ won’t do it. Maybe ongoing psychological care, over a period of many years…”

– An ex-sex worker from San Francisco, US[1]

The serial murder in Ipswich, United Kingdom, of five women in less than two weeks is one of the gravest brutalities that one comes across in the recent past of the country. As one follows the TV and Newspapers about the malicious killings, one’s heart could not help but get wrenched. ‘Women such as those murdered exist in every town and city in any country, though for the most part we prefer not to see them. They are killed far more often than is reported and suffer repeated violence but are noticed only when they die in numbers.’[2] But in a first world country such as Britain what causing women to enter into sex trade. This essay argues it is the existing social culture in combination with human weaknesses what pushes a father’s ‘little girl’ and a mother’s ‘lovely child’ into the ‘dark business’.

Culture

One always admires certain socio-cultural notions of the British, such as treating individuals with respect and dignity, respect for individual’s privacy and respect for others’ culture and language. We rarely come across a normal British person ridiculing others because they speak different language or speak English with a ‘funny’ accent or wear different clothes.[3] Probably this is one of the reasons why the UK is one of the best multicultural countries in the world. Undoubtedly all these notions are emanates from the ideology of individualism, which is fiercely safeguarded by the British. But problems like murders in Ipswich would reveal the excess of such ideology and practices. For instance, of the five murdered women, only two of their parents (and friends) were aware of their daughters’ ‘business’. Obviously no daughter would want to disclose her profession to her parents and no parents would want to know the business of their daughters, especially if that business happens to be selling their flesh. What surprises, however, is the personal relationship between the daughters and parents. The parents of these women did not have information about their daughters’ whereabouts. It was said that one of the parents has last seen her daughter some eight years ago. What I am trying to say here is that the notions of individuality and respect for individual’s privacy are all fine. But in the name of such respect one is risking of loosing one’s own kith and kin and thereby finding little meaning in the very purpose of living, this is more so with aged parents. If the children, on the one hand, are driven away from their parents, thanks to notions of individuality, which often results in strained relationship between the parents and children,[4] the prevailing city culture and emerging ‘star culture’, on the other hand, are equally responsible in driving the individuals into the world of vice.

The culture of a city has many facets and this is not the place for discussing all of them. Instead what I shall do is to bring-in those aspects that were emphasised by the sex-workers[5] in their justification of the trade. In the event of serial murder the police advised the women on business to stay away from the streets of the red light area. Responding to such advice the women said that they did not have choice as (a) they need money and (b) it’s Christmas time. Although the latter aspect is also tied with the former one, i.e., money, the justification of the trade on account of ‘Christmas’ is tremendous. For, whether one lives in UK or India, everyone needs money. One cannot grapple with the problem of prostitution simply from the point of money. There is something ensnares to this ‘need of money’. Perhaps one could appreciate this need from an appreciation of emerging ‘star culture’, all over the world. As modern technology helps us to connect every nook and corner of the world, the present generation, especially the youth are in an extremely advantageous position to know everything about the ‘other’ – people, countries and cultures. They are also, again, extremely informed about the overnight millionaires. As the knowledge about ‘others’ grow our desires are also equally expanding. People began to compare themselves with others, especially with the people who fly around the world, live in luxurious estates, drive BMWs and the ones who wine and dine in five-star hotels.[6] In a way we are witness to the emerging star culture and everyone wants to be part of it. Of course, there is nothing wrong in having such thoughts and desires. In fact, these thoughts not merely widen our mental horizons but also help us to learn from others and improve our own lives. But the problem occurs when people want what they want in a split of second, without working for it. In other words, unlike the past generations, the present generation is not interested in hardworking, but in hard money or what they call in America ‘a quick buck’. One cannot realise goods or achieve things as fast as one imagines in one’s mind. There is always a gap between ones’ desires and fulfilment. This void is what is driving the youth into the world of quick businesses and ready to do anything, which includes trading with one’s flesh.[7]

Of course, one cannot deny the connection between the prostitution and the psychological damages, in the form of sexual abuse, experienced by the sex workers in their childhood, and the kind of relationships they enter as young girls. First, on the latter aspect: When a girl meets a boy, it is not a simple relationship between a boy and a girl, although it appears to be. They are entering into hitherto unknown worlds, cultures and relationships, which have been part of the partner’s life. The rise or fall of a person in the new environment depends upon the character of the new world. In the sense, if the girl’s partner is a good person and world of his interactions are uncorrupted she is bound to be influenced positively by the new environment. On the contrary, if the new world is impaired and malicious, unless the girl is quick at grappling with the true character of the new environment and move out of it, she is bound to be dragged into it and finally submerged into it. Interviews with the sex workers confirm that they were initially pushed into the trade by their (so-called) boy friends who pimped them and introduced them to drugs. And once introduced they somehow, rather sadly, came to believe that in the world of prostitution there exists only a gate of ‘entrance,’ but not a gate of ‘exit’. This poses a fundamental challenge to the very power of human thinking and what we are worth. For, we would not have developed thus far had we not explored avenues of “way out”. Of course, one should recognise that our capacity to think, imagine and act is actually connected to the environment in which we are part of. For, human beings need recognition, encouragement and assurance that they are capable and worth of something which acts as motivational factors in their thinking and acting. The responsibility of encouraging an individual lies with the larger society[8] in general; the immediate responsibility, however, rests with the family. This belief among sex workers, actually takes us to an earlier point that I was trying to emphasise – individualistic attitudes and family ties. If the family ties are strong and parents are ready to help them, not in terms of money, but at least in terms of psychological assurance, these women might not come to the conclusion that their world has closed behind them.

It is no secret that many girl children are physically abused by their relatives. The whole problem is not so much about the physical bruises of this abuse, (as time heals them), but so much about the mental damages that abuse leaves behind. When a child turns into a young girl her mental disfigurement, caused by sexual exploitation, metamorphosis into hatred, both self-hatred and hatred against the people, who abused her. Of course, sometimes this might even result in hatred against the entire opposite gender. This state of mind produces two kinds of women: (a) mentally stronger women with a burning anger against their abuser, and (b) women with weak mind-set. On the former, the life of Phoolan Devi serves as a case-in-point. She violently thrashed and stabbed her ex-husband, in front of the whole village, as an act of retaliation for abusing her when she was still young.[9] On the latter, the cases of more than two thirds of the sex workers are revealing stories. Their inability to act against their abuser leaves them in a perpetual state of self-hatred and thereby in a perpetual state of suffering, which is, obviously, self-imposed (but the result of an external agency). And here lies the problem. Their powerlessness to disentangle themselves from suffering deprives them of any self-confidence and self-respect.[10] The self-flagellating behaviour of many sex workers and their willing subjection to pain inflicted upon them by the ghastly sexual behaviour of their customers is, thus, the result of lack of self-respect for themselves, which is rooted in self-hatred.[11]

Christmas

Before understanding the sex-workers’ justification of their trade in the name of Christmas, I would like to point out two general social principles: First, individuals’ actions and reactions, in any given society, are both influenced by and in response to other individuals’ actions and reactions. Secondly, it is normal behaviour/tendency or social instinct of human beings to be part of the group and thereby its culture, within a given society, rather than left out. From this understanding let’s look at the justification.

In today’s world the process of commodification of everything, including a religious festival like Christmas is complete. The original idea of Christmas, i.e., celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, is, more or less, replaced by the idea of shopping. Although the tendency of shopping is high in any given month in a year, this is higher in the month of December. People spend huge amounts of money buying everything that they could possibly imagine.[12] It is this prevailing culture of shopping what drags people into its web, irrespective of their ability or inability to shop. People are forced, by culture, to earn more in order to shop more. Of course, this is not a bad notion. For, it gives an opportunity to explore avenues and thereby improve the quality of life. However, this notion put pressure on everyone and everybody cannot put-up with it. People’s ability to shop invariably depends upon their economic conditions. People with economically rich backgrounds and good earnings can afford to shop, while people with lesser economic capacities are confined to window shopping. The latter’s inability to shop sometimes forces them to explore morally and legally unacceptable avenues so as to meet the social demands and expectations.[13] Thus, the sex workers’ justification of their trade on account of Christmas should be understood from the point of this prevailing social culture of spending and its pressures. In other words, the women simply would not have become sex workers, had they have enough to afford a comfortable life.[14]

Perhaps one should mention the problem of poverty among the sex workers as well. Most of the sex workers are victims of poverty, both as children and as young girls. Lack of decent education, a consequence of poverty, poorly equips them to earn a decent life. They endure a mental suffocation on account of the restrictions imposed by their material conditions. They find it difficult to overcome the consequences of poverty and come to conclude that they simply do not have avenues to improve their material conditions.[15] In terms of economic exchange value they do not have products (capacities), which could be exchanged for money. In such a situation they view their bodies as having some earning value that can be exchanged for the real money.[16]

Weaknesses

Human weaknesses are many and everyone is vulnerable to one or the other weaknesses. As long as they are able to control these weaknesses they would not be drifting into the worlds of vice. But they enter the dark worlds when they lose control over their facilities. In the case of many sex workers, they began to take drugs simply because it is difficult to bear the mental agony that their bodies are, like a product, being used and abused by strangers. After a certain point, however, they do the trade because they need money to buy drugs. In a way it is a vicious circle and many of the sex workers are simply victims. The Ipswich victims are, yet again, fallen into this trap. It was revealed that some of them, including two of the murdered women, spend not less than £200 to £500 per day on drugs.

Conclusion

The above observations suggest that the five murdered women are victims of existing social culture and their own weaknesses. The demands of social life forced them to enter the business, while their weaknesses further pushed them into the depths of the trench. Such social culture and human weaknesses are not merely confined to UK but it is a common experience all over the world. Although the state could be brought-in to ameliorate the economic conditions of the women (or sex workers), the responsibility largely lies with the society, since it is connected with its culture. However, it is not too much to urge:

1. That sex workers before entering into the world of vice were somebody’s little daughters and some others’ lovely children. We should, once for all, establish the fact that they are not sexual objects but human beings. We should develop a more realistic and humane attitude towards them.

2. Parents should take proper care of their grown up daughters and help them in all possible ways so as their daughters do not waft into the world of vice. Even if some of them do, parents should do everything in their capacity to bring them back to an ordinary and decent life.

3. While entering the trade young girls and women consider the devastating effect it will have on their family and friends. Emotionally it is simply difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that their ‘own child’ or ‘good friend’ has become an object of appalling sexual pleasures.

Sambaiah Gundimeda (sam.gundimeda@soas.ac.uk) is a research student in the Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

* I dedicate this essay in memory of Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholas, the five murdered women in Ipswich, UK.

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/6183491.stm

[2] Ben Macintyre. ‘Out of darkest Suffolk, enlightenment’, in The Times, London, 15 Dec., 2006.

[3] Setting aside the suitability and unsuitability of weather conditions, the way we clothe ourselves not merely reflects our individual tastes and personality but also, importantly, mirrors the specific cultural backgrounds and ideology(ies) that are embedded in that culture. See, Bourdieu, Peirre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Mass: Harvard University Press. Somehow I began to think that clothing by the non-British people in UK, despite unsuitability to the British weather, was not so much because they wanted to show (-off) their cultural background or feel comfortable in those clothes, but so much because they miss their culture amidst thousand different cultures. In a way they ‘lose’ themselves and suffer a sense of alienation. One way of overcoming such alienation and to regain the ‘lost person’ is projecting one’s distinct identity, and clothes are one of the best available means for such projection.

[4] Here I am not arguing that family relations are failing because of the individuals’ attitudes, which are rooted in the ideology of ‘individualism’, although my argument appears precisely that. On the contrary, I am only trying to show one of its many facets.

[5] Despite social and academic activism by the feminists, certain words and phrases such as ‘prostitute’ and ‘vice girl’ are very much current in the British media. A BBC correspondent while interviewing a parent of one of the victims used the word ‘prostitute’. The parent was angry, trembling and shouted at the correspondent to not to use such words against his ‘little girl’. It had such a devastating effect on him that he began to stutter for sometime. One can understand the parents’ anger and agony as the word sends nails into their hearts. One should recognise the fact that before entering the sex trade and referred as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘vice girls’ they were referred to by their own names. They are all ordinary women from an ordinary town, plying a grimly ordinary trade.

[6] I am not saying that comparison with others is a new phenomenon that emerged along with the developments in technology. In fact, comparison among human beings is as old as times. I am simply saying that with technology, our horizons of comparisons have expanded and thereby our desires.

[7] According to the UK government reports there are as many as 80 thousand women in the sex trade. See, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6172273.stm This figure does not include thousands of young girls that either or are brought from the countries of third world and East Europe. And of course, there is always the presence of sex workers from the other West European counties.

[8] For a brilliant analysis on the social forms of recognition and non-recognition, see, Honneth, Axel. 1995. The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts, Cambridge: Polity press.

[9] Phoolan Devi was born in North India. She was given in marriage at the tender age of 11 to a man three times her age. Her marriage broke down in the same year. By the time she was around 20 years old, she was subjected to numerous sexual assaults. See, Sen, Mala. 1991. India’s Bandit Queen: The story of Phoolan Devi. New York: Harper Collins; Devi, Phoolan. 1996. I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India’s Bandit Queen. London: Little, Brown; also see, Leela, Fernandes. 1999. ‘Reading “India’s Bandit Queen”: A Trans/national Feminist Perspective on the Discrepancies of Representation’, in Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 25, no. 1, pp: 123-152.

[10] From an Indian context, talking about the connection between prostitution and a lack of self-respect, Ambedkar’s opinion may be helpful. In 1935 at a Bombay Presidency Depressed Classes conference in nearby Yeola, Ambedkar proposed a resolution for religious conversion and declared, ‘I was born a Hindu and have suffered the consequences of Untouchability. I will not die a Hindu.’ Following this declaration there was a heightened activism among the Dalits, all over India. The sex workers from Kamathipura in Bombay, who were mostly from Dalit community, also responded to this declaration. In 16 June, 1936 they held a meeting at Damodar Hall and invited Ambedkar. Although Ambedkar went there to address the gathering on the issue of conversion, instead he proclaimed that their profession was a shame to the Dalit community and they must leave it. As Gail Omvedt points out, the meeting aroused one of the earliest debates on prostitution. Most of the caste Hindu social reformers criticised Ambedkar ‘for ignoring the severe economic constraints that drove women to this profession.’ Ambedkar, however, stood firm on his stand from the point of self-respect. Although we do not know Ambedkar’s mind on prostitution, except in Kamathipura conference, it was clear, especially when he was talking in terms of ‘self-respect, that he was connecting the psychological damages suffered by the Dalits on account of caste behaviour of the Hindus with the mental agonies suffered by the sex workers, on account of physical exploitation by men. On Kamathipura meeting, see, Omvedt, Gail. 2004. Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India. New Delhi: Penguin Books, pp: 63-64.

[11]Although Rousseau was not directly talking about self abasing behaviour, but his ideas on ‘inequality and inauthentic lives’ would throw some light to comprehend the individual’s self-abasing behaviour. See, J.J. Rousseau. 1984. Discourse on Inequality. Penguin.

[12] Thanks mainly to the cheap labour from the developing countries.

[13] I am not, by any means, suggesting that only poor people undertake legally and morally unacceptable means to earn money. In fact it is open secret that lots of underworld businesses are run by elite circles. Poor people become part of these businesses simply because of economic compulsions. Note that the former is motivated by his insatiable hunger for riches, while the latter is compelled by acute poverty.

[14] One of the sex workers explained eloquently how she turned to prostitution because she needed money to raise her children, and didn’t want to work long hours in a supermarket never seeing them. See, The Times, London, Wednesday, 13 December 2006.

[15] For a brilliant analysis of the consequences of poverty in modern capitalist societies, see, Lewis, Oscar. 1965. La Vida: a Puerto Rican family in the culture of poverty, San Juan and New York. London: Secker & Warburg.

[16] This is not to suggest that all the women who undertake sex trade are compelled by poverty. In many elite circle the trade is an honourable profession. Without any disrespect, the services to the elites, in any society, are rendered not by ordinary and uneducated street sex workers but by the girls from rich background. For, they can only understand, thanks to their socialization, the ‘subtle’ behaviour of their class. We see the ‘class’ aspect in the sex business. The ‘business’ in the elite circle is professional and honourable, while the same, if undertaken by the women from the underclass, is prostitution.

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