Cover page of a biography in Telugu on Raghupati Venkata Ratnam Naidu, by renowned historian Ramakrishna Vakulabharanam and Lalita. Ramakrishna led a team of scholars and published a monumental work on Andhra history in 8 volumes.This biography is a smaller work, not part of that.

This is an article on Andhra’s Great Reformers and Writers, who were remembered recently on their birth anniversaries, Part-1 focusing on  Lakshmi Narasimham Chilakamarti, (26 September 1867- 17 June 1946), published on October 2, 2020. Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu (1 October 1862 – 26 May 1939), Jashuva Gurram (1895 Sep 28- 1971 July 24) were among others remembered.

This Part-2 will show, while recalling their contributions, how they were  a part of a Renaissance movement that is more than 100 years-old in Andhra, with its own features. This will briefly mention contribution of Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu. There has been a perception that the reforms were merely of Brahmin society. These articles attempt to bring  out lesser known aspects, more so about pioneering efforts about dalits, and women including those of “lower” castes.

And it shows how the reforms that began with a humanitarian outlook were in the later period got distorted by electoral and divisive politics played up by the State.  It is hoped these will be particularly useful to younger generation and to non-Telugus.

In Part-1, we explained that Chilakamarti’s Role-model was Veeresalingam Kandukuri :“If Veeresalingamwas the path-finder in this respect, KandukuriChilakamarti was a torch-bearer along the path, as the former went on breaking new grounds. Both were versatile writers in verse and  prose, with conspicuously voluminous output. There was practically no genre left untouched by them…” (Wikipedia).

There was Appa Rao, Gurazada (1862-1915), a contemporary co-fighter, who wielded his pen in a path-breaking manner to facilitate reforms in literature, culture and education. Gurazada famously declared, long ago, against varna dharma : “There are only two castes – good and bad; if good is Mala (dalit sub-caste), I will be a Mala.” Most of his writings were informed by gender justice : His classic drama Kanya Sulkam (Bride Price 1892, later revised by him), exposed the corruption, (self-) deception and decadence of Brahmin society, and made Madhuravani, a low caste (bhogam) prostitute, the defacto heroine who exposed them all, and helped reforms. The long drama, made into a film too, is still staged and appreciated.

Together with Gurazada (1862-1915), they constituted a trio known to each other, that spearheaded the reform movement,  and laid foundations for Renaissance in Andhra society. They wrote and worked on issues of medieval orthodoxy, social evils, superstitions, gender injustice, untouchability,  dalits education,  lampooned and opposed Brahminical deception associated with such malpractices. He was backed by the zamindar of Vizianagaram, a non-Brahmin. Rama Murthy Gidugu was the fourth who heralded the spoken language movement that helped easy-to-read literature, and led to a spurt in books and magazines.  (See for more on Gurazada, (2016, April 2), and Kandukuri (2019, May 27).

Incidentally all these four happened to be born Brahmins, but variously defied, exposed and opposed  brahminical orthodoxy (codified by Manu), pleaded and worked  for education to all including women and dalits. They were  joined by Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu (1 October 1862 – 26 May 1939), a non-Brahmin elite. Raghupathi (RVN), an educationist in the main, was remembered recently. They were helped in this by sevral non-Brahmins, including Pithapuram Raja (1885-1964) (PR), Zamindar and a scholar.

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Brahmo Samaj : Social Reforms Preceded Political Awakening

Earliest girls schools were opened in Madras (1837), Mysore (1842),  Travancore  (1864) and Hyderabad  in 1896, but all of them were set up by western missionaries.

Jyotiba Phule opened a school in 1848 for the girls of brahmin and other intermediate communities, and another school in 1851 for dalits and ati-sudras,with the help of his  brahmin friend. (Gulamgiri by Phule. Sec 15 on Education).These were by local initiatives led by Phule. So were Kandukuri’s schools.

Kandukuri (1846-1919) was about 20 years younger to Jyotiba Phule (1827-1890). Phule’s movement  took a leap with Satya Sodhak Samaj in 1873 September. Both began their work before Congress was founded in 1885, as a loyalist political platform, and had support from the British administration.  Because of his scholarship in Telugu and English, Kandukuri was chosen as a tutor by Mr. Barrows and later by Mr. E.P. Metcalfe, British officials. Social reforms preceded political awakening. Such were the times.

Kandukuri had established in 1874 Viveka vardhini, a reformist Monthly magazine, and the first girls school at Rajamundry. As it was getting popular by exposing the orthodoxy and social evils, it was made bi-weekly in July 1876 : Thus he had strong non-Brahmin supporters and admirers. The  widow marriage association was formed,with Veeresalingam as Secretary in 1879. Challapalli Bapaiah, B. Gavarraju, E.L.Narasimham Chetty, B.V. Jogaiah Naidu and K. Parthasaradhi Naidu were among its non-Brahmin leaders. He had supporters among dalits for whom he opened schools, when Christian missionaries declined to do so. Enlightened dalits in the dt had joined Brahmo Samaj and mobilized others too.

“If Veeresalingam was the path-finder .. Chilakamarti was a torch-bearer along the path, as the former went on breaking new grounds.”  Chilakamarti  who arrived later was a fierce nationalist who wrote in a poem: The wily cowherds called white-men, having tied the calves’ mouths,  were milking the cow.And he raised his voice against imprisonment of Lala Lajpat Rai and wrote: Alas, the whole country is a big  prison House! 

Thus his magazine Desamatha (Motherland), Chilakamarti faced problems after sometime due to the new rule by the British that nothing against British should be published. He felt running it  according to the rules of British is equivalent to the selling of one’s own soul, and so closed the magazine. He had to close down a school when he was denied permissions to upgrade it by the British. It was later run by others.

Two massive irrigation projects were completed,  both under Sr. Arthur cotton, by 1855 on two perennial rivers, Godavari (near RJY) and Krishna (near Vijayawada). Lakhs of acres got assured irrigation and protection from famine and floods that ravaged the region and had earlier caused lakhs of deaths.These promoted agriculture, commerce and later agro industry and working class. The Godavari dt had sections of dalits who were landed and they too benefited. It was this economic setting that was behind the social development, including in education and culture.

The Hindu reform movement started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828 later reformed itself  into Brahmo Samaj in 1860 with these features: No scripture as an authority, no Avatars and no poly theism, no idolatry, no caste restrictions. Belief in Karma and Rebirth are optional. (Wikipedia). Obviously this was different from “Hindu nationalism” that took shape later; and from those like Gandhi who upheld Varna Dharma.It was this religio-cultural reform movement that had its impact on Andhra reformers.

Kandukuri  had Brahmo influence 1867 onwards, opposed idolatry, and  constructed a  ‘Brahmo Mandir’ in 1887 in Rajamundry, later also in Madras; he removed his “sacred” thread. He performed the marriage of Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949), famous poet and freedom fighter, in ‘Brahmo Mandir’RJY.  Sarojini was an elite Bengali who married a physician Dr. Govindarajulu Naidu, a Telugu man. It was a marriage between persons of different castes, regions, and languages, performed with approval of elite and educated parents on both sides. Her father Aghoranath Chattopadhyaya was the Principal of a college at Hyderabad and influenced Raghupati Venkata Ratnam Naidu (RVN) who joined Brahmo Samaj and the company of the Andhra reformer trio.

Kandukuri inspired generations of reformers and purposive writers, and continues to do so.So many from Telangana of 1940-50 period also named him as one who inspired them (Alwar Swamy, Vattikota, Telangana-1 and 2.). They were not like solitary reapers who said let me march alone.

Kandukuri was defended by hundreds of supporters when he was even physically attacked : it was a movement acknowledged by so many scholars, including historians (Ramakrishna Vakulabharanam). He was a builder of institutions of reforms that were carried forward. Chilakamarti and Gurazada followed, and they constituted a trio that helped Andhra renaissance. Efforts by them were mutually reinforcing:  

By opening schools exclusively and free of  cost for dalits and successfully running them for more than a decade, Chilakamrti displayed his special contribution. Incontinuing widow marriages, he followed his mentor Kandukuri.  In his fight against nautch, he was a followerofVenkataratnam Naidu.

In recent decades, many of the prejudiced scholars and myopic post-modernists,  resorted to post-truth by calling  the trio as merely Brahmin reformers. They were aided by unscrupulous voices in the media of the ruling classes, and in universities too, who were driven by their  divisive agendas, rather than genuine concern for the oppressed. One such writer (an editor)  stooped to recklessly call Kandukuri (in an article, Andhra Jyothy  20.05.2019) “uncultured, male chauvinism personified”! Whereas Chalam GV (1894-1979), when  he was hailed as a first feminist Telugu writer, said ‘the credit must belong to Kandukuri and then Gurazada; I am the third’.

Thanks to the efforts made by Andhra reformers, the reform movements influenced students.  The students in Rajahmundry held a meeting in 1893 and sent a representation to Madras Government for the abolition of nautch.

These so-called critics  made sustained, motivated and concerted efforts; they were blinded by “Constitutional casteism”, indulged in falsehood, in blind and brazen anti-communism too, which was their larger agenda.

Whereas there are scholars, notwithstanding their own perspectives,  who are objective in recording facts, like a JNU scholar (Dr. Y. Chinna Rao) on 100 Years of Dalit Movement in Andhra, ranked Kandukuri as a pioneer in reforms, in particular their education.  So also K.Y. Ratnam in his Paper, The Dalit Movement and Democratization in AP, (2008), acknowledged the role of the trio and of RVN.  Sambiah Gundimeda is another who is cited later.

Inna Reddy, in his paper (2011) Social Reform Movements in Andhra (1920-1947), mentions the trio plus RVN and  wrote they “made pioneering efforts in the field of social reform.” In fact, he pointedly mentions how they influenced non-Brahmins and dalits too :

“The other angle to non-Brahmin awareness was an intense drive at intra-caste reform. It ishere the influence of Veeresalingam era was explicitly visibleand, reveals how the non-Brahmin caste groups wereincreasingly concerned about those social maladies taken up byVeeresalingam in 19th century. The efforts at intra-castereform were highly organised and serious in nature. They weresuccessful in spreading the message of reform among castemembers, both at urban and mofussil levels.”

He was a co-editor (1904) of Telugu Janaanaa, a magazine focussed on women’s education. 

The reformist trio, in spite of all their limitations, was basically inspired by ideas of renaissance of  modern, anti-feudal phase of western societies, while the post-modernists were influenced by the later phase of imperialism.

Chilakamarti’s writings in 10 volumes were released  in 1927 when he turned 60, a rare thing for a writer, more so in those days of limited literacy and readership. Both the reformers were most of the time full timers, each active for around 45-50 years, till their last breath, and had hundreds of readers for magazines they published.  People like Nageswara Rao Kasinadhuni and his famous nationalist newspaper Andhra Patrika (1908-1991) supported them. Though born in orthodox Brahmin families, both lectured and wrote articles, plays, satires etc, lampooning Brahmin priests, superstitions, vices and cheating by orthodoxy.

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Schools Colleges and Libraries

Kandukuri established schools, the first in 1874, a girls school at Rajamundry (RJY). The Hita karini school that was upgradedby Kandukuri in 1907, was the first co-education school in Andhra.The second feature of this new school was it started admitting children from panchama (SC) communities too. And it was free for them and  for girls too. The students were successfully trained to treat others well irrespective of gender and caste.

“I was surprised to learn that even in the Christian School , they were not admitting Mala (SC) children if they were not Christians, ” wrote Kandukuri in his auto-biography. It had more than 500 students in his life time itself. ( His Biography, NBT 1972). He was the Father of Renaissance Movement in Telugu society and literature. He wrote and lectured fearlessly and is usually likened to Voltaire,” said  Dr. KV Narayana Rao in his authentic work, The Emergence of AP, 1973.

Chilakamarti, who had no own house till his death, spent Rs 3000 he earned from his books, and gave all his  energies full time, and started Ram Mohan School, exclusively for Depressed Classes (mostly dalits), the first such school, in the year 1909. And he ran it for 13-14 years, before he gave up as the British govt did not co-operate, and due to his  increasing nationalist activities, fierce speeches and poems.

It was not an easy job, wrote Chilakamarti, who mobilized and enlisted support from across the castes : Cheruvu Somayajulu, a brahmin, gave his tiled house in a Brahmin locality, Aryapuram, free of cost. After a long search, Ande Subba Rao, a Telaga (BC) agreed to be the first teacher ( monthly salary Rs.12) . Then began the search for students: only five joined initially (in standard 3 and 4. Even the required books and slates were provided freely. As strength increased, it was shifted, now to a Muslim house in 1911.  New classes were added every year to become a  higher elementary school. The  strength reached100 by 1915, and the highest was 150, with 7 teachers, an ideal ratio even today.

He got some donations later to buy benches and chairs. Maintenance cost was mostly met from his limited earnings by sales of his books. He regularly helped, with food clothes books etc, a harijan student hostel set up with the help of  Pithapuram Raja. Whenever  need arose, he accommodated the dalit students in his own home, where his wife cooked and served them.

The schools they founded, were taken over later by the Govt. The British regime established in 1853, a college in Rajamundry (RJY)  and it had a good library. RJY was a centre for education, culture and commerce. It had more libraries, including Gautami Grandhalayam (1898), Jubilee Public Library (1891) in Town Hall. All were open to all and now continuing.

In fact, a public library and reading room were established in Rajahmundry as early as 1839 by Mrs. Julia Thomas, the wife of James Thomas, District Judge. The library had books in English and Telugu and an English newspaper…Open by 6am, always 20 or 30 at a time sit reading there…(Following requests from villages) a circulating library was started in the district, consigning a packet of books to the headman in one village…When they were all read, a fresh supply of books will be followed… people were sitting in the reading room for hours, copying books on their own little condjan leaves. (Julia Maitland: Letters from Madras During the Years 1836-1839. New Delhi, 2004. Cited in a Paper.)

Pithapuram Raja (PR), Surya Rau, (1885-1964), a non-Brahmin Zamindar, was one who helped both (brahmin-born)  Kandukuri and Chilakamarti in such things. PR  college (1884) at Kakinada, the Dt headquarters 65 km from RJY, was set up with his help, later it became a govt institution. Both colleges had celebrated their centenaries, as was the case with Surya Raya Library he had started  in his home town in 1915. He also set up two hostels for students of Depressed Classes.

Gundimeda Sambaiah wrote :

“Two people who worked for education of the Dalits in coastal Andhra during the early part of the nineteenth century were Kandukuri Veeresalingam (1848-1919),  and Raghupathi Venkata Ratnam Naidu (1862-1939).

“The Dalit leaders, as we shall see, were groomed and given the necessary support throughout the colonial era by those social reformers…(p.203)….

“Some of the caste Hindu reformers were so committed in their efforts to ameliorate the sufferings of the Dalits that they were ready to fight with their own caste people for this cause. To take one example, Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao set up a school in Yalakurru Agraharam, his native village in Krishna district,” where  the entire Agraharam, including some of the sympathisers of the Dalit cause, opposed the move. Kasinadhuni, however, stood up…and the school created some prominent dalit leaders like Vemula Kurmaiah.

“The Maharaja also sponsored Ram Manohar Roy Hostel in Kakinada for college-going Dalit students; and it was from these educational institutions sponsored by the Maharaja that the first generation Dalit intellectuals of coastal Andhra emerged….Eventually the foundations laid by Veeresalingam and Naidu for Dalits’ education were further strengthened and, in fact, effectively developed by a number of other reformers, particularly since early 1900.

Deenabandhu, a Telugu weekly that exclusively addressed the problem of untouchability and the issue of socio-economic development of the Dalits was launched in 1918.

(Gundimeda Sambaiah (2013), University of London,  Mapping Dalit Politics in Contemporary India:a Study Of UP  And AP From An Ambedkarite Perspective.)

Chilakamarti helped to run one such hostel. RVN (see below) was another reformist who joined these efforts. He was a non-Brahmin inspired by the trio.  All the four elite were inspired by Brahmo Samaj that chose to go beyond creed and caste. There was another similar stream, the communists who arrived on the scene soon after, who awakened masses from below.

It was not an easy battle.The Zamindar of Polavaram was  a chief patron of Arya Mata Bodhini, a journal claiming to champion Arya  dharma and religion. He had married an young girl aged ten even when his legal wife whom he deserted was alive and protesting. Kandukuri,  in one of the journals he founded (Satya vadini, 1901, March 29 issue. Satya vadini means advocate of truth), made a sharp criticism of the educated zamindar who claimed to be a reformer and who had donated Rs 1000 ( a huge amount in those days)  to the Widow Orphanage founded by Kandukuri. Piqued by the criticism by Kandukuri, Arya Mata Bodhini launched a tirade against Kandukuri which he boldly  refuted through  his columns : ‘Even if you were to give Rs. 10000, I would have rejected it for such immorality.” (NBT p. 150-152).

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Reform, Communist And Literary Movements

Chilakamarti, (1867- 1946), was still active when first communist party cells were organized in the Godavari district, and there was growing support for reform, also from toiling sections, including dalits. It was communists who brought out, and reprinted, his Autobiography later. They paid some amount to him for that. The writings of Kandukuri, Gurazada and Gidugu were also published and popularized by the communists.

When a Hindi teacher’s house was raided in RJY by police, some books were seized,  in 1929, including one on Russian Revolution and Leninism (written by Stalin). He was Mallikarjuna Rao Pandiri, the first communist party member in 1934 who worked as a district organizer during 1935-38.  A student from PR college joined (in 1936) the party and helped organize students.

The First Andhra Communist Party conference was secretly hosted in Kakinda in 1936, attended by student activists too. By that time Andhra  Communists started working among workers (many  agro industries came up related to  rice, oil, jute, coir,tobacco; apart from port, transport, municipal workers)   and set up state level Unions too. And agri labor unions, and night schools for them, too started  functioning in four central coastal districts including Godavari. They included a large proportion of dalits. There were strikes by them by 1938-39. The class awakening facilitated their education and reform.    

There existed a Sodara Samiti (Brothers Council) in Kakinada port town that smuggled in socialist literature. A Viswa Sahitya Mala, (A Garland World Literature), pioneering Telugu publishing House, was started by 1935, by Mahidhara Brothers (renowned writers) in Munganda village.

The development of reformist, communist and progressive literary movements helped many from “lower” castes including dalits who studied in these schools and colleges and became leaders in several fields. RVN’s  focus was extension of  reforms and education to women of lower castes.

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Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu

Recently remembered on his birth anniversary was  Sir Raghupathi Venkataratnam Naidu (RVN in short,  1 October 1862 – 26 May 1939) from Machilipatnam in Andhra who worked more in Godavari dt. His father Appayya Nayadu worked as a subedar in Madras Army, and so were his forefathers who worked as commanders in East Indian Company Army since its inception i.e. late 17th Century.  He was a disciple of Veeresalingam, and was a powerful orator. He worked for about 25 years as a college Principal, or as VC 1925-28.

Army  duty made the family shift places : Thus Raghupathi did his Matriculation at Hyderabad, B.A., MA. and L.T. degrees from Madras University. Joining the teaching line, he worked as a teacher at High Schools at Eluru and Rajahmundry, at Noble College, Machilipatnam (his home and a port town), later as the Principal of the Mehboob College, Hyderabad (1889-1904), and then Principalof the PR College, Kakinada between 1905 and 1919.In 1925 he became the first elected VC (vice chancellor)  of Madras University. He was conferred a knighthood by the British government in 1924. Along with  modern and higher education, RVN had the added advantage of heading prestigious colleges for 25 years, for his reform activities.

RVN began his career (around 1885)  as a member of Editorial Board of theEnglish journals -People’s Friend, and The Fellow Worker. He continued his association. His contemporaries from Andhra (like CY Chintamani) also made a mark in all India and English journalism.

Later he edited Brahma Prakasika. Brahmo samaj, besides western education, had its influence on the learned cosmopolitan, on the reformist duo (who were his role models), and on Andhra in general and Godavari district in particular. Kandukuri and Chilakamarti influenced the reformist Raja who set up the the PR College, later headed by Raghupathi as Principal for 14 years, his best years according to him :  Free education to girls, dalits and orphans were his passion. He was closely associated with Harijan student lodges and orphanage at Pithapuram and Kakinada. Through Brahmasamaj, using prayer and other meetings, he brought women out of their homes, a rarity those days.

Samineni Muddu Narasimha Naidu, District Munsiff at Rajahmundry from 1848 to 1852 (he   died in 1856), author of Hita Suchani, had earlier laid seeds of reform, that grew into a movement under Kandukuri.

Raghupathi Naidu (RVN) carried forward the reform movement initiated by the trio, with whom he identified : He promoted widow remarriages and encouraged women’s education.He worked on untouchability and upliftment of  dalits and founded an orphanage and a hostel for “Harijan” boys and girls in Kakinada.The Brahmo Samaj honored him with the title of “Brahmarshi“. All the above led to him being described as the second great social reformer of Andhra, the first being Veeresalingam. (wikipedia). Dissemination of rational and scientific ideas in society picked up momentum with RVN’s efforts.

Social Reform Movement in Andhra (2003) by senior historian Dr. Ramakrishna, V. is a good source on the subject, most widely cited. He was the General Editor of a monumental 8-Volume History of Andhra, by a team that involved 250 men of letters. Published by AP History Congress. He was the lead author of a biography of RVN.

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Prostitution, Devadasi System, And Caste In India

RVN strived for the abolition of the “Devadasi system” (the Indian system in which women, mostly from certain castes, were devoted as temple dancers and who were treated like sex slaves and prostitutes) in Andhra. In fact in Andhra there was a Bhogam (literally carnal enjoyment) and kasa castes. The caste was also called kalavantulu, lierally meaning artists.

Those of  such Dalit women were called joginis, basivis etc., attached often  to the deities and temples of “lower” castes, with their own promoters and priests.

Prostitution in India was for centuries combined with music and dance; was patronized by feudals and the elite; such  women were regarded as artists and dignitaries; it was  a major source of taxes in feudal era ( Kautilya, Arth Sastra), and  was glorified as the oldest profession. Every kavya (poetic work) of medieval period had a chapter on describing the glorious vesya pura, the township of prostitutes, like the Red Light dt of the capitalist era.

That later got transformed and became commodified, was thus regarded as plebeian, lowly, demeaning, decadent, and mere sex slavery. It ruined families of both sides. The women were  used to corrupt officials, and buy favors. Polygamy and promiscuity, once regarded as manly traits,and were common, came to be disregarded as a vice. It was left to Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986), and such others to rescue the art (dance and music) from a system  that had its day in feudal era.

Besides women of Bhogam and Kalavantula communities, there were kasas serving as maids i.e., dasis, in the Pithapuram estate. Girls belonging to these  communities were often deprived of marriages. Prostitution is universal, but  RVN noted it “as a hereditary and acknowledged profession”, and is “special to this land.”  He believed that Hindu Society fossilised every profession into a caste and thus “could accommodate professional lewdness with a plea and a place, just as it furnished the professional thief with a guide book and a presiding genious.”  (Indian literature lists 64 arts, which include stealing or thefts.)

He founded ‘social purity movement’ in 1892 at Madras as a student. At the VIII th Indian National Social Conference at Madras, Venkata Ratnam spoke, on 30-12-1894, including on the  institution of nautch, and his early efforts. He refused to attend marriages and  functions that hosted nautch parties, which was common those  days. His activities through tours and lectures spread to Northern circars.

RVN was joined by others like Dr.Muthu Laxmi Reddy and Yaminipurna Tilakam who waged a relentlessbattle against the evil system of nautch, and devadasis. In fact,  it was an all India program Congress had adopted since its earliest phase, and taken up also by dalit and “lower caste”  leaders who felt it was demeaning to their women.

He taught  men that “Nothing can justify the pleasure purchased with another’s degradation.” And told men from the affected communities not to depend on the earnings of their women. They were asked to get educated, be self-reliant. The Pithapuram Raja followed RVN and provided free education to all men from these communities, and helped their employment.

Scores of Kalavanthula and  kasa girls in Pithapuram estate were suitably married and  happily settled. The credit for initiating this social reform goes to the leaders of Andhra Brahma Samaj in general and RVN in particular. He noted this with satisfaction while delivering lectures at Kalavanthula conference at Vizianagaram on 26th December 1929.

Thus Brahma Samaj in Godavari dt, led by Kandukuri, served the causes of women and dalits. Focus extended to women and students of oppressed communities. Such an attitude was different from the approach of  leaders like Gandhi, who upheld Varna Dharma, and  looked at “fallen women” as “thieves stealing virtue”. RVN found fault with the demand from men, and a remedy by rehabilitation of the community through education, marriage and employment, thus integrating them into the larger society.

In Maharashtra,  Phule’s work on women included this  segment. Vithal Ramaji Shinde joined him in it. Mahar (SC) women were among main recruits into this system;  There emerged reformers from within Mahar community like Shivaram Janaba Kamble, apart from BR Ambedkar himself, who worked against it. Bhagya Reddy Varma (1882-1939), a contemporary and dalit leader of Hyderabad, also a Brahmo for some years, worked on the same issues.

Forgetting all this, some pervert and post-modernist writers, like the editor mentioned elsewhere,  sought to paint it  as anti-women and  anti-lower caste movement driven by Brahmin reformist Kandukuri. They were driven by blind anti-Brahminism. Some painted it to be anti-art too! RVN himself was criticised as  irreligious, anti fine arts etc, as it affected temple dancers.

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Native Roots Of Reform

It is not as if there were no roots of reform before the British and Brahmo Samaj, as some apologists of imperialists suggest. Poet Vemana  (1652-1730, or so), a non-Brahmin by birth, was a trend setter who wrote poems, popular among people in oral tradition too, that were sharply critical of superstitions, social customs, including caste and religion.  Despite all his limitations, he was (and still is)  widely, across the caste and class spectrums, regarded as a harbinger of some rational questioning of the past. That tradition was revived and carried forward by reformists of later period.

The role of colonial power and their missionaries, who had their own vested interests,  was not progressive as is painted and exaggerated by some scholars, glamorizing the English.  It was contested then itself. The indigenous roots of reform were clear : “Even the low caste converts began to question the paternalist depotic role of missionaries…it was vehemently protested that the endeavours of missionaries instituted a dictatorship of Christian orthodoxy in the place of Hindu orthodoxy.”

The Madras Native Community submitted a memorandum to the Court of Directors in 1846 under the title The Wrongs and Oppressions of the Hindus. It took strong objection to the lack of interest on the part of Madras Government in promoting vernaculars, its enthusiasm in readily extending help to English schools under the guidance of missionaries and the undue interference of Christian preachers in educational learning..( cited by Inna Reddy.)

“Publication of reform ideas in regional tongues like Telugu heralded a new epoch which witnessed the spread of reform ideas to the grassroots level. These early activities of educated middle classes, a few non-Brahman intellectuals like Muthu  Narasimham and early Telugu journals paved the way for a smooth transition – a transition that was less painful for later day reform leaders like Veeresalingam. There was a continuity in the progress of reform ideas from earlier period to Veeresalingam period, who evinced a keen interest in the spread of scientific knowledge and growth of rational thinking

“…the post-Veeresalingam era had two significant characteristics. The legacy of Veeresalingam’s reform campaign was kept alive as witnessed by an intense intra-caste reform efforts of different castes and their open support  to women’s issues like post-puberty and widow marriages. In fact, the growth of women’s organisations, a few of which were affiliated to respective caste associations consolidated the efforts of Veeresalingam.”

Atheist Gora  joined P.R.College at Kakinada in 1928 from where he undertook programmes on atheism, untouchbility, inter-dining  and inter caste marriages etc  that spread across Andhra. ( Inna Reddy.)

Thus the reforms in Andhra led by the four reformers were not confined to Brahmins. They had hundreds of supporters across the castes, and through their magazines. RVN inherited imbibed and carried forward all those causes. They were aided by printing industry; both Kandukuri and Chilakamarri had their own printing units. That facilitated more of  reformist  prolific writings and journalism in Telugu.

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Justice Party and  its Electoral Politics : RVN’s last days

Groomed with principles of Brahma samaj that was beyond caste and creed, his  followers, including dalits,  were surprised when RVN, in his later life, attended the meetings of his (Kapu) caste  association and took its membership too. They asked him about it. He said he would continue to serve all communities but that did not satisfy many. He was “elected as VC” during 1925-28, when Justice Party was a ruling party in Madras province. RVN became more controversial when he joined Justice Party later on, post-1935. He was asked by his followers to come out of both, but there was no response. Many deserted him.

As Congress kept aloof , Justice Party was in office in Madras province (that  then included Andhra) for some years …In 1920, it won elections and formed the government. For the next 17 years,  it formed four out of the five ministries and was in power for 13 years. Soon it was perceived to be a party propped by the British, with a base provided by zamindars. It cracked down on any protests. Power corrupted and divided it, and the party underwent splits; Muslims and dalits were alienated. The party lost the 1934 elections, but managed to retain power for a while as a minority government…The extent of the discontent against the Justice Party government was reflected in a contemporary article of Zamin Ryot, an anti-zamindari, popular Telugu newspaper:

“The Justice Party has disgusted the people of this presidency like plague and engendered permanent hatred in their hearts. Everybody, therefore, is anxiously awaiting the fall of the Justice regime which they consider tyrannical…”

Provincial elections arrived on the basis of 1935 Govt of India Act, and Congress, after initial hesitation, jumped into the fray, clashed in the elections with and Justice party. The political divisions went down into villages and exacerbated caste divisions, and the latter was defeated, never to recover from it. The reform movement was split by electoral politics, which vitiated and dictated the agenda, including feigned “concern” for Dalits, for decades to come.

SCs (Adi Dravidas) were slowly pushed out of the party. The “Pulianthope incidents” (also called as the “B&C Mill strike”) soured the relationship with dalits… Justice Party leaders accused the Government of creating problems by pampering the Paraiyars. M. C. Rajah, the main representative of SCs in the Council, and Paraiyars left the party…

Justice Party’s final defeat has been ascribed variously to its collaboration with the British Government; the elitist nature of the Justice party members, loss of scheduled caste and Muslim support and flight of the social radicals to the Self-Respect Movement…etc.

In 1944, Periyar transformed the Justice Party into the social organisation Dravidar Kazhagam and withdrew it from electoral politics. (Wikipedia)

That was a broader picture of politics of the day, that impacted on RVN’s life and work, wherein the humanitarian approach to society was totally replaced by opportunist politics. The experience of a famous academic, CR Reddy, will further help to understand the individual predicament of  RVN:

In 1921, C. R. Reddy (VC of Andhra University) entered politics. He was elected as an MLC as an outstanding educationalist. For a short while he was in the Justice party, whose feudal  leaders  found him far too brilliant and individualistic … Towards the end of 1930, he resigned as VC in protest against the repressive policy of the Government  during Salt Satyagraha. Reddy was back again in Chittoor politics, but only briefly. He finally went back to the University.

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Social casteism transformed into electoral and political casteism, played up by the State

It should be kept in mind that the Andhra Reformers began their work in earlier era where there were no ‘politics’ and no elections. Later, chilakamarti was witness to elections, and he already wrote satire (prahasanam) on “Vote hunting” and about ‘culprits buying and selling votes’.  He cites a case where a voter was taken away, paid to vote, and kept overnight in a locked room to avoid rival candidates, whereby Yama (the god of Death) asks his Assistant Chitragupta to provide for new and bigger prison facilities in hell to accommodate such culprits.

In terms of such electoral and caste politics the following analysis (put in brief), by Sambaiah,  an Andhra  scholar who did his PhD (2013) from London University, will help to get some picture, though from his own perspective.

“In coastal Andhra also the Reddys and Kammas took up an anti-Brahmin stance. It was a fall out of the Brahmins’ concern for Dalits’ education and untouchability.  Since the Reddys and Kammas (we may qualify the dominant classes from those castes) were  landlords and (rich) peasants who owned thousands of acres of cultivated land in the villages, their interests lay in perpetuating the caste hierarchy coupled with economic benefits for themselves. In effect, their ideas were diametrically opposed to the well-being or the uplift of the Dalits. (p.211) This enmity proved to be a significant factor and explains why the Dalits distanced themselves from the non-Brahmin leaders in coastal Andhra…. On the other hand, the Brahmins, who were disengaging themselves from agricultural activities, did not have any direct conflict with the Dalits. Thus, the trajectory of caste dynamics made the Dalits get closer to the reformist Brahmins than the anti-Brahmin, landholding Kammas, Reddys and Velamas…

The true face of the Justice Party where Dalits were concerned was exposed after its possession of power in the Madras Legislative Council in 1921. The abolition of the labour department and the refusal by P.T. Chettiyar, one of the main leaders of the Justice Party to support anti-untouchability laws in 1922, provided the evidence that the non-Brahmin movement would neither protect nor would benefit the interests of the Dalits…

“ It was on account of this attitude of the leadership in Justice Party against Dalits and their concerns that the latter distanced themselves from the Party. Criticising the Brahmanical attitude of the non-Brahmin leaders, M.C.Rajah observed: “Considered from the stand point of the depressed classes, this (Justice Party) Ministry which seemed to have begun well has been moving backwards under the influence of leaders (who are) more responsible to the vested interests, social pride and aristocratic affectation than to the principles of justice and democratic progress.

“Thus, the Justice Party took up those issues of justice not for the uplift of the socially and politically marginalised sections but to strengthen their own claim for communal representation and to justify their demands against Brahmins.”

 ( Gundimeda  Sambaiah,  (2013) Mapping Dalit politics in contemporary India: A study of  UP and AP from an Ambedkarite perspective PhD Thesis .SOAS, University of London.)

RVN must have seen it all. In his last years, he was back in the place he loved, shuttled between places visiting the institutions he was associated with.   On May 26,1939, he passed away.

The efforts to form electoral Fronts  on caste basis (“Shudras”/ BCs/ bahujans with dalits) proved futile, and ended up in most opportunist alliances. Nitish kumars, Paswans, Mayawatis, Athwales, Udit rajs, anti-Brahmin DMK and ADMK  did not hesitate to join hands with BJP they branded as a Brahmin Bania Party.


The author was a media person.



One Comment

  1. Avatar S. N. Murthy Ch says:

    In our village there was a library(1975-80) which kept hundreds of books written by those great reformers and writers like Veeresalingam, Gurajada, chilakamarthi, Jashua and such others. I read some. I have been greatly influenced by those writings, which helped me to come out of the grip of tradition and to think about the people and society. I am sure hundreds of activists of social reform and revolution were certainly inspired and influenced by that literature. The present Facebook and YouTube generation is in need of such literature which inspires them to reunite with society.