Adi Andhra Reform Movement

Dalits In Andhra

The first quarter of the twentieth century could be noted as a significant transformation period for the untouchable communities all over south India and particularly in Andhra where they encountered the Aryan Hindu scripture- based society.

The "Non-Aryan Theory had been developed and sought a new place in society. They applied the concept of ‘Adi’ to represent their own communities, the term Adi indicates as the ‘First Born’ or ‘Original Inhabitants’ of that region or the original sons of the soil. In other words, the prefix, Adi denoted that they were vanquished by the Aryan nomads.

To counter the ‘Adi’ concept, the Brahmins gave a new name to the untouchables, ‘Panchama’, which was in use till the third decade of this century. Even Gandhi used it in his Young India for a long time, where the idea of ‘Panchama’ justified the age-long evil tradition of the Hindu society that had thrown the untouchables into the hell of caste bias since unknown antiquity.

The enlightened and self respected among the untouchables protested against the using the term ‘Panchama’ and even compelled the government to issue orders against this usage,and forbidding the use of the terms, Panchama and Pariah.

The concept of ‘Adi’ as an ideology indicated their assertion of equal rights, humanity and citizenship with members of the superior castes. They demanded the Government to improve their conditions. This was followed by an agitation for a change of name.

It is important to note that 50,000 people from two districts renamed themselves as ‘Adi-Andhras’ .The other communities continued to address them as ‘Panchamas’ or by the traditional caste name in Krishna and Guntur districts where there had been great addition to the Christian Population. As a result of conversion there was a marked fall in the number of Malas in Guntur and Kurnool as they became Christians.

The Adi-Andhra movement was the only movement that denounced scriptural authority, questioned the importance of tradition in Indian history, and developed a counter ideology against the upper caste hegemony by claiming themselves as the first born or original inhabitants. This period witnessed the growth of consciousness among untouchable communities.

The intellectual activities of Untouchables can be traced back from the activities of Madari Bhagya Reddy Varma (1888-1939) who founded an organization, which was called the Jaganmitra Mandali. 22 At that time evils like Devadasi (Nautch), beef eating, drinking liquor etc were prevalent among Untouchable communities.

Jagan Mitra Mandali organised the Harikatha, Preethi-Bojan, Bhajan-Mandal programs, to mobilize these untouchables by reforming them. No doubt Madari Bhagya Reddy Varma bagged credit for reforming the untouchable society. But he followed the initiative only in name but in practice retained his focus on the distinctiveness of his own caste. But he became well known as a depressed class leader.

Arigay Ramaswamy (1875) a railway employee had a broader perception of untouchable issues. He was the pioneer in Secundarabad of the idea developed in Madras that the depressed classes or panchamas as they were officially known in Madras, were the original inhabitants of the country and as such deserved respect rather than being treated as untouchables. In 1922 Ramaswamy started an Adi-Hindu Jatiyonnati Sabha.

This was in effect a Mala caste association but gradually included the Madigas who had a lower status. He worked for reform of caste customs in accordance with the values of reformist Hinduism of the time. His activities remained localized, and even these leaders could not escape from the stigma of caste system.

Madari Adiyya, P R Venkataswamy [1908] and others in Telangana and the Hyderabad regions also strove for the regeneration of untouchable communities and stressed on education, service, etc. They denounced the Devadasi system and use of intoxicating drinks and sought for an alternative path that tended to adopt Buddhist principles. They also celebrated Buddha Jayanthi as a symbol of Buddhism.



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