Caste/Tribal Diversity in Andhra Pradesh
There is no universal system of caste throughout India. The belief that the Vedic varnashrama dharma was the “caste system in embryo,” seems to be flawed, since the existence of tribes/castes in Andhra Pradesh predate the migration of Brahmins to that region. One may argue that in any society, including European or modern American society, there are four underlying varnalu (colors or divisions or groups), the four groups being, intellectuals and priests (Brahmin varnamu), rulers and warriors (Kshatriya varnamu), agriculturists and business persons (Vaishya varnamu), and all other workers without whose input the society cannot move further (Shudra varnamu). Without these four broad classes there is no society in this world. Thus if the society is the God, his/her head is the intellectuals and priests, shoulders are the warriors and military, the trunk is the business and agricultural community and finally the limbs are the workers who fulfil the basic needs of the society starting from the work in agricultural fields to the temple construction, without which society cannot go forward. Anybody can become a Brahmin varna (religious/spiritual class), but one has to be born into Brahmin caste to be a Brahmin caste. Caste is not a Varnamu and these should not be confused with each other. Caste is a tribal identity that is ubiquitous in every human society. The caste conflict in Andhra Pradesh is nothing more than the tribalism that still exists.
The castes in Andhra Pradesh can be divided into two distinct categories. Brahmin, Komati, Reddy, Kamma, Velama, Kapu, Nayudu, Relli, Mala, Madiga, Yeraka, Yanadi etc., castes are based on their tribal, cultural and religious differences, while the castes like Chakali (washerman), Kummari (potter), Kammari (smith), Kamsali (goldsmith), Mangali (barber) etc are based on their duties. With a few exceptions like the Brahmin caste (see below), all these castes are uniquely localized in Andhra Pradesh. Each caste has a deity and distinct social formalities. The interaction between various castes is difficult because of these religious, cultural and tribal considerations.
Today, all the castes (tribes) in Andhra Pradesh are categorized into four groups, viz., Forward Communities (FC), Backward Communities (BC), Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST). Preferential quotas and reservations are established for BCs, SCs, and STs. The Constitution of India endorses and enforces such preferential discrimination. This system reinforces the old caste system, while broadly categorizing them into a new form. Here again like in Vedic Varnamu, any caste can be included into FC, BC, SC, or ST group if one attains a certain social stature. Even today the tribalism prevails and the social interactions such as marriage and festivals are influenced by caste. Inter-caste/religious social intercourse is still not accepted. One can see the power of caste/tribe over the society clearly in politics. Even in the North America, the Telugu nationality is divided along the lines of caste, e.g., the Telugu Association of North America is dominated by Kamma caste where as the American Telugu Association is dominated by Reddy caste. Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 10/30/98
Prof. Ilaiah Kanche’s Caste
In my last article on the Caste System in Andhra Pradesh, I gave a brief account of the tribal and religious origins of the Caste in Andhra Pradesh. Now I would like you to read the views of Prof. Ilaiah Kanche, who belongs to Kuruma (shepherd) caste/tribe and Christian religion, from his critique of Hindutva, “Why I am not a Hindu.” These views are ignorant and biased against Brahmins, but these views are popular among some sections of the society such as Dalit Christians, all Hindu haters, and foreign Indologists for political reasons. He is part of a movement against Hinduism as a whole with a broad nexus among hate-filled fundamentalist groups that draw from communities such as Islamists, Christian missionaries, ‘Dalit’ leaders, Marxists, Anglophile Indian elites (still bearing the white man’s burdens), Western/American Indologists and South Asian specialists.
“Suddenly, since about 1990 the word ‘Hindutva’ has begun to echo our ears, day in and day out, as if everyone in India who is not a Muslim, a Christian or a Sikh is a Hindu. Suddenly I am being told that I am Hindu. This totally baffles me. In fact, the whole cultural milieu of the urban middle class- the newspapers that I read, the T. V. that I see- keeps assaulting me, morning, evening, forcing me to declare that I am a Hindu. Otherwise I am socially castigated and my environment is vitiated. Having born in a Kurumaa family, I don not know how I can relate to the Hindu culture that is being projected through all kinds of advertising agencies. The government and the state themselves have become big advertising agencies. Moreover the Sangh Parivar harasses us everyday by calling us Hindus. In fact, the very sight of its saffron-tilak culture is harassment to us. I, indeed not only I, but all of us have never heard the word ‘Hindu’- not as a word, nor as the name of the culture, nor as the name of the religion. We heard about Turakoollu (Muslims), we heard about Kirastaanapoollu (Christians), we heard about Baapanoollu (Brahmins) and Komatoollu (Vaisyas) spoken of as people who are different from us. There are at least some aspects of life common to us and the Turakoollu and Kirastaanapoollu. We all eat meat. The only people with whom we had no relations, whatsoever, were Baapanoollu and the Koomatoollu. But today we are suddenly being told that we have a common religious and cultural relationship with the Baapanoollu (Brahmins) and Koomatoollu (Baniyas or Vaisyas). This is not merely surprising; it is shocking.“
Professor Ilaiah Kanche was born in a small Telangana village in the early fifties in Andhra Pradesh. He is a Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi and Reader in political science at Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is also an activist in the Dalitbahujan and civil liberties movements. Sreenviasarao Veapchedu, 12/11/98
To know more about Dalit Kuruma Christian Ilaiah Kanche and his ignorance and hatred against Brahmins and Hindus, please visit: http://www.bharatvani.org/indology/Ilaiah.html
Casteism and Hope
The strife between various groups is part of a worldwide phenomenon, which affected all kinds of human relations for thousands of years. The reasons for hostilities between different tribes/castes/religions/nationalities are mostly prejudice, jealousy, self-righteousness, partisan politics etc., among the groups. In the primitive tribes most frequently cited provocations for hostilities were abduction of women, rape, theft of crops, poaching, a strayed pig, a slaughtered cow, witchcraft etc. Sometimes friendly tribes begin to build hostilities leading to fights following allegations of such acts. Vendetta and grief of each casualty fuels a fresh fight providing sufficient motivation for the next. The cycle goes on forever. Also, the tribal problems involve superiority and inferiority in addition to the group solidarity, e.g., in the Roman empire Germans were considered inferior and were not allowed to intermarry with Romans and were allowed to work as servants and soldiers only. The caste/religious/tribal conflict in modern Andhra is a combination of primitive tribal and modern partisan politics.
One may broadly divide the human races into a few categories such as Caucasians, Negroid and Mongoloid. The hostilities have not been limited to between such groups, but extended within those groups. In a larger context of human history degrees of biological or cultural differences have had little relationship to the degrees of strife, repression or violence. Contemporary black and white Americans have lower hostilities than those that exist in all-black or all-white nations such as Burundi or Northern Ireland. Throughout America, Africa, Asia, Europe and India, the racial intermixtures over the centuries have left hybrid populations. For example, in different parts of the world people of Negroid ancestry have been divided into more or less racially pure blacks and colored castes. In Andhra these caste groups are minutely graded racial designations; the skin color and ancestry are accompanied by marked cultural and religious differences.
De-recognition of importance of caste in every aspect of life may be difficult to achieve. The equality clause in the modern Indian Union constitution to protect various groups from discrimination and repression is a positive step. But, affirmative action and quotas in the jobs and education based on group identity is counterproductive. This short-term prescription to solve the problem automatically became a long-term policy of appeasement that created vote banks strengthening the divisions in the society, leading to an irreversible process of balkanization of the society. Migration from rural areas to urban cosmopolitan cities and college education might help get rid of some of the social barriers, encouraging the inter-caste/religious/tribal marriages and social intercourse. I am optimistic about the future of our society as the literacy increases, modern college education becomes compulsory, religious and tribal blind beliefs are eroded by modern scientific understanding of life and secular democratic principles, and the discriminatory quotas imposed by constitution become redundant in a very competitive open market economy. Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 12/21/98