Remembering Karamchedu Dalits’ Massacre – Many Lessons  


One way of remembering history is by the anniversaries of events of injustice, of suppression, of pillage, etc. Such remembrance is certainly more moral than marking history by the anniversaries of coronations; and more rational than marking it by the birth or death.

The Karamchedu massacre of Dalits (1985) on 17th July, 32 years ago in Karamchedu, a village in Andhra Pradesh was a turning point not only in the history of Dalits’ assertion but also in distancing Dalits from the left movement who realized their solution lies in Dr. Ambedkar and Phule. On this day, 17 July 1985, the dominant Kamma caste group killed six Dalit men and raped three Dalit women in broad daylight in Karamchedu, a village in Prakasam district in coastal Andhra.

It is not as if the Dalits were not discriminated against and humiliated in day-to-day life in the villages earlier, but what makes the Karamchedu massacre distinct is that the dominant Kamma caste group which of course alleged to have support of the then state government organized and united on caste lines and targeted Dalits as a caste group.

Seeking Solution for Caste – Dr. Ambedkar into the Scene

Since the 1980s and 1990s, atrocities on Dalits have become new normal like Tsundur (1991), etc. This was also the time when the country has seen Mandal agitation and the rise of Kanshiram’s BSP as a new political force of oppressed castes. Public debates on Dalits’ massacres, the issue of reservations, an ‘upsurge’ of oppressed castes in the electoral politics and the emerging interest in Ambedkar and Phule reveal two remarkable developments. One, new social groups – Dalits and Backward Classes – had appeared on public sphere; and two, the emergence of a Dalit critique of communist ideology.

Babasaheb Ambedkar was ignored till the 1990s. The outcome of such several debates pointed towards Ambedkar who always implied that – “Dalits are not considered citizens by caste Hindus.” This Babasaheb’s understanding of discrimination lacked in the then Civil rights movement in AP which is evident in their reduction of Dalit killings to an issue of atrocity and demanded state action to deliver justice. Of course, this inadequate understanding had to do with the Marxist origins of the civil liberties movement. Even from extreme left PWG, most of the Dalits came out and joined Dalit organizations which began to emerge. Though PWG killed Daggubati Chenchu Ramaiah who was alleged to be a prime conspirator in the massacre, it has not appealed to Dalits as PWG cadres were also not exempt from caste discrimination.

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This is where the Dalit movement provided the category of caste and other concepts to analyze and understand the “denial of human dignity to Dalits”.

Demand for Self Respect – Assertion of Dalit Identity

Immediately after the massacre, Dalit Mahasabha (DMS) in 1985 was formed under the leadership of Kathi Padma Rao and Bojja Tharakam who even mobilized Dalits & rallied to Jantar Mantar. It is the Dalit movement that contributed to a new understanding that the anti-reservation offensive was an anti-Dalit protest. Dalit movement has been instrumental in establishing the fact that Dalits have been denied ‘human status’. The post-1990 Dalit movements added a new dimension – that of cultural identity to the notion of caste. This new Dalit identity has enabled Untouchables to claim self-respect and human dignity.

The modern category of ‘agricultural labourer’/bonded labourer by the left parties was found inadequate to analyze the specificity of untouchability, caste discrimination and inequality experienced by the Untouchables.

Dalit movements represented the victims of atrocities as martyrs who died for ‘a fistful of self-respect. ’(a heart-wrenching poem by Kalekuri Prasad) and here emerged Dalit literature and arts- like Gaddar’s ‘Dalita Pululamma’- which describes Dalit youth as tigers.

Is Marx a Solution for Equality in India?

Of course, class conflicts exist in all human societies. But, Unique to India, here lies the “CASTE”. In India, one is not identified by class but by caste. When I say so, I don’t think one would deny our curiosity to know one’s caste. This is where we could relate Ambedkar’s saying- “turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path”. Labour movements alone cannot bring equality in India, the reason being labour in India are again graded into different castes. How can one unite all these castes into labour with still existing discrimination/alienation among the castes? Can anyone unite such labour without addressing the caste distinctions? The solution for this lies neither in Marx nor in Charles Fourier, but only in Ambedkar & Phule who understood the reality of India. Left parties are now forced to appropriate this understanding; but, in vain.

Liberty, equality & fraternity are the values of the French revolution (though it failed to produce equality), we cherish even today. But, equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. Communism can give one, but not all of them.

Author – Sowmya

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