There is a long history, going back decades, of Communists fighting against caste discrimination and for socio-economic uplift of dalits and adivasis in Andhra Pradesh. Due to its massive organization in villages, these struggles ranged from economic issues like wages for landless labourers to social and cultural ones like allowing dalits into temples and ending other such brutal discriminatory practices.
In recent years, in order to continue this struggle with a sharper and more organized focus and to expose the failure of various political parties and groups in their so-called programmes of dalit welfare, the CPI (M) decided to form an organization specifically dedicated towards working for ending caste atrocities and discrimination. The Kula Vivaksha Porata Samithi (KVPS) (Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination) has successfully mobilized lakhs of people over the years on issues ranging from govt. policy to temple entry, from land for graveyards to ending two-glasses system, and many such issues. Below, we give a summary of the work done by this organization, which is being emulated in all other states.
On 2 October 1998, the CPI (M) formed the Kula Vivaksha Porata Samithi (KVPS) (Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination) which had the objective of fighting the rampant caste atrocities and discrimination in Andhra Pradesh. A state convening committee of KVPS was formed on that day after which conferences were held in 23 districts and committees formed. Subsequently, 478 mandal level conferences were held.
Between 15 and 25 October 1998, KVPS undertook a survey to identify forms of caste discrimination in 800 mandals, 11,000 villages and 550 wards. 7849 volunteers conducted the survey all over the state. The survey revealed a horrifying picture of daily discrimination against dalits. It was found that in 252 villages dalits were not permitted to enter temples, in 92 villages there was two glass system, in 175 villages there was no burial ground for dalits, in 175 villages dalits were denied water drawing from the common tanks, in 33 villages there was wage discrimination, in 220 villages there was no hair dressing service for dalits, in 290 villages there was no washing service, in 219 villages dalits were not allowed to stand in the bus shelter, in 22 villages dalits had to carry chappals in their hands while walking, in 139 villages dalits were abused by caste names. In many villages marriage processions of the dalits were not allowed to pass through upper caste colonies; dalit children were served mid-day meals in verandahs; upper caste children did not eat food cooked by dalit women, dalit children are forced to wash the plates after eating while upper caste children were allowed to leave the plates unwashed; and, during the Ganesh festival, dalits were prevented from immersing idols at the common place and they cannot pray at the village temple. In all, the survey revealed that 57 types of obnoxious caste-based discrimination practices existed in the state.
After this, KVPS launched a sustained and ongoing struggle against such discrimination and demanded implementation of various government schemes for development and welfare of dalits. Protests against caste discrimination were organized on 8-9 November 1998 in 270 centers by formation of human chains. About 97,000 people participated in this widespread action. Following this, 16 district collector offices were gheraoed to highlight the problems of dalits and protest against administrative apathy. In 188 villages of 53 mandals pada yatras were taken out followed by attempts at temple entry or protests on other such discriminatory issues.
Some of the major campaigns and struggles carried out in the past nearly two decades, and their achievements, are summarized below.
Demand for SC-ST commission of enquiry: To press for the demand that a commission should be formed to enquire into caste discrimination in the state, signatures of 35 lakh people were collected and submitted to the Chief Minister on 16 March 1999. Following a lukewarm response by the CM, a huge march to the State Assembly was held on 22 March 1999 demanding SC ST enquiry commission. The marching people were brutally attacked by the police with lathis and water cannons. The people responded by holding mass dharnas. Such was the pressure built on the government that they were forced to announce the Justice Punnayya SC-ST commission. This Commission extensively toured the state and received 8500 petitions. It submitted a report with 42 recommendations to eradicate caste discrimination. KVPS continued to mobilise people and agitate demanding speedy implementation of the recommendations. As a result, on 1 Oct 2001, government accepted the recommendations and issued 18 Govt. Orders on 31 Oct 2001 for their implementation. A permanent SC ST commission was also formed.
Special ‘Janmabhoomi’ programme against caste discrimination: AP government had a routine programme of community outreach called Janmabhoomi. KVPS launched a movement demanding a special Janmabhoomi programme against caste discrimination. As a result during 1-3 November, 2001 all the government functionaries – from the Chief Minister to village level administrators and elected representatives – participated in meetings, ate food in all-community meals and held other programmes all over the state.
Pada Yatras and village level struggles: In 2003, on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, KVPS undertook pad yatras in 450 villages and held protests against many forms of caste discrimination.
Leather workers’ issues: On 4 February 2004, a dharna was held demanding training for leather workers and establishment of leather industry parks. Government accepted demands and formed a few leather parks.
Inter-caste marriages: To protest against government neglect of a scheme under which inter-caste married couples were to be given financial assistance, KVPS organized extensive protests demanding an increase financial assistance to Rs.50,000 and immediate release of pending arrears of Rs 3 crore. The government was forced to act immediately and accepted the demands.
Cycle Yatra against caste discrimination: In 2005, a cycle yatra, led by Com. Raghavulu was organised for 13 days. Launched at a huge rally in Rangareddy district, the yatra went on to tour other districts in the then united Andhra Pradesh. As a part of this yatra when dalits drew water from a tank, the upper caste people poured poison into the tank; when dalits entered into a temple, the upper caste people purified it by performing rituals. Such was the stiff resistance from the upper castes to the struggle for eliminating caste discrimination. This movement was able to make entry of dalits possible in temples of many villages in the hinterlands of AP.
Cycle Yatras for social justice: On the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanthi in 2007, a cycle yatra was held on 2-14 April in Ranga Reddy district (North). It covered 153 villages over 20 mandals, travelling about 953 kms in all. Com. Raghavulu along with 13 regular volunteers and 25 to 75 supporting volunteers participated in the Yatra. In the course of travelling from village to village, they under took led mass protests against local discrimination practices in 65 villages.
Land Grab by Upper Castes: In Tummidi village of Bantumalli tehsil of Krishna District, 236 acres of assigned land which was distributed to Dalits during the land reforms were illegally occupied by a group of people, belonging to the Gouda community, which is categorised as an OBC. KVPS took up the struggle in 2010 and successfully forced the Joint Collector, Krishna District to give back the lands to the landless Dalit families. Around 200 families, out of which 150 are Dalit and the rest 50 belonging to backward castes, have benefited from this militant struggle which was also marked by rapes and murders by the upper castes on the vulnerable Dalits who resisted them.
SC/ST Sub Plan: In 1983, the government decided upon a policy of allocating a share of all expenditure for the benefit of dalits and adivasis. The share was to be equivalent to the proportion of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the population. However, this allocation was never done properly and the policy remained on paper. KVPS started organising meetings and round table conferences in 2002 to mobilise support for the demand for proper implementation of this policy. Dalits comprise 18 percent of the population in the state, but the government allocates only 9 percent for them and actually spends only 4 percent of its total expenditure. Even this paltry spending is shown for various schemes like construction of Outer Ring Road and irrigation projects, where dalits actually do not own any land and do not get exclusive benefit. KVPS has demanded the government to pool all the resources and hand it over to the Social Welfare ministry which will formulate a plan for allocating the resources.
Finally, after a series of dharnas and rasta roko’s in 2006, a nodal agency for implementing the sub-plans was appointed.
However, the implementation still remained ineffective. To broaden the struggle, 126 mass organizations came together and formed a joint working committee to lead the movement. After a long-drawn struggle with a series of rallies, hunger strikes, marches to Assembly, and group sit-ins, the government formed a committee headed by the deputy chief minister for making the SC/ST sub-plan into a statute which makes it a legal obligation of the govt. to allocate and spend shares of its budget as per the population shares of dalits and adivasis on the uplift and development of these two communities. This law came into effect in 2013. It is the first of its kind in India.
Struggles on various developmental issues: KVPS and its fraternal organisations have been alertly taking up diverse burning problems of the dalit and adivasi communities across the state. While they are too numerous to list here, some examples are summarized below:
For Graveyard land: We did protests with coffins in front of mandal, district and state government offices demanding 2 acres of graveyard land in every village for dalits. Under this pressure, government issued a GO (no.1235) announcing that 3 acres of grave yard land should be set aside in every village for use by dalits.
Waiver of electricity bills of SC /ST families: KVPS led an agitation demanding waiver of electricity bills of SC/ST families who were too poor to pay the dues. As a result government waived Rs.120 crore worth of dues.
Corporation loan waiver: Government waived Rs.180 crore worth of loans given to SC/ST commission over 15 years.
Overall development struggles: In 74 mandals KVPS is agitating on issues for overall development of dalit and tribal wadas. In Khammam district Com. Tammineni led a 72-day yatra. As a result government allotted funds for drainages and roads in dalit wadas. During 4-14 April 2008, state level Cycle Jathas started travelling from 9 centres while sub-Jathas started from 160 sub centres. Covering In 8836 villages and 11,000 dalit petas in 904 mandals across the state, these cycle jathas travelled 50,000 km. Over 2500 activists participated regularly, while 650 more provided support. In 700 villages, struggles on various demands concerning dalit families living in wadas were launched. An indefinite hunger strike and Chalo Assembly march to the legislative house were also undertaken.
Social welfare hostels: For resolving problems of social welfare hostels and higher budget for mess charges, KPVS conducted cycle and jeep yatras. A survey of conditions in 1000 hostels was conducted at this time. Government was forced to increase the mess charge allocation after that.
The state of Andhra Pradesh was split into two states in 2014: Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. While the above description of KPVS is for the unified AP, since the division both states have seen continuation of activities and struggles against caste discrimination. Some of the important activities in Telengana are:
Reservations in Private Sector: The Telangana state committee of the CPI(M) has been in the forefront in the state in organising meetings and round table conferences, and mobilising intellectuals and people for implementing reservations in the private sector. Bus jathas and rallies were organised to raise consciousness about the absolute need of SC/ST/OBC reservations in Private Sector. A state wide movement also followed with the party giving a call for other progressive and likeminded organisations and individuals to come together in the cause for social justice.
Mahajana Padayatra: The Telangana state committee of the CPI(M) has decided to tour every nook and corner of the state for over 5 months covering a distance of more than 4000 kms. The padayatra is starting on October 17th, 2016 and is scheduled to end on March 12th, 2017. One of the rallying cry of the padayatra is Social Justice, which has included demands as reservations in private sector and a sub-plan for BCs.