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Caste matters in Konaseema – The Hindu- Mrit News

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The latest violence is rooted in the unacceptance of Dalit assertion by the dominant castes

The latest violence is rooted in the unacceptance of Dalit assertion by the dominant castes

Konaseema, which was carved out of the erstwhile East Godavari district, is a sleepy agrarian district. It is said to be the granary of Andhra Pradesh. But on May 24, Amalapuram, the biggest town in the district, burned as hundreds of members of organisations dominated by the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the upper castes, such as the Konaseema Parirakshana Samithi and Konaseema Sadhana Samiti, took to the streets opposing the State government’s order directing that the name of the district be changed from Konaseema to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Konaseema. They broke prohibitory orders and set ablaze the residences of Transport Minister P. Viswaroop and Mummidivaram MLA P. Satish. They also torched buses and threw stones. About 20 policemen, including the district SP and DSP, were injured in the violence. While the government blamed the Opposition parties including the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Jana Sena Party, and the BJP for the riots, the Opposition in turn blamed the ruling YSR Congress for the failure of the police in stopping them.

History has shown that the nature of the farming class in this area changes when there is Dalit assertiveness. In Konaseema district, the numerically dominant castes are the Kapus, who are upper castes, the Settibalijas, who are OBCs, and the Dalits. While the Kapus and Settibalijas have a major share of the landholdings and constitute about 60% of the demography, the Dalits are farmhands and account for over 30%. If we consider the whole region of the erstwhile East Godavari district, two statues dominate the landscape. One is of Kapu leader and Congress MLA Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga, who was killed in 1988 during TDP rule, and is considered a ‘Kapu Knight’; the other statue is of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

The show of dominance by the Kapus and the Settibalijas has been recorded since Independence. The most number of cases filed under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, in the State are from this area. In most of the cases, the Kapus and the Settibalijas are the accused. For instance, on December 29, 1996, the then independent MLA of Ramachandrapuram, Thota Trimurthulu, a Kapu leader, had allegedly tonsured the heads of two Dalit youth, Koti Chinna Raju and Dandala Venkata Ratnam, and beaten up three others from Venkatayapalem village. The reason reportedly was that the Dalit youth had asserted their rights. After almost 20 years, the case came to trial at a court in Visakhapatnam in 2017. The judgment is still awaited.

All the parties vie for the Kapu, Settibalija and Dalit votes. Every party has members and leaders from the three communities. Mr. Viswaroop is from the Dalit community.

All the parties agreed with the State government order of May 19 directing a change in the name of the district to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Konaseema district. A few days before the order was passed, TDP national president Chandrababu Naidu had visited the area and had promised to change the name of the district once he came to power. Immediately after Mr. Naidu’s visit, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the area and promised the people that the demand would be accepted. But the Kapus and Settibalijas saw this development as an acceptance by the government and the Opposition of Dalit assertiveness. Instigated by the hatred on social media, they began protesting and their anger erupted on May 24. Senior police officers who were at the scene of violence say the incident had nothing to do with changing the name of the district but and everything to do with the fact that the demands of the Dalits were being met by the government.

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