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Arigay Ramaswamy and His Struggle for Uniting Dalits

 

Dr. Chandraiah Gopani

chandraiah gopani 3The concept of emancipation has occupied a central place in Dalit movements and politics, both in colonial and post-colonial period. There were organic leaders among Dalits during the Nizam (Asaf Jahi) period, especially from 1906 to 1953. The period between 1906-1953 was crucial for vibrant Dalit activities and autonomous assertions in Hyderabad state. Although the Nizam was autocratic there was urban centric Dalit leadership which played a vital role in mobilizing and organizing Dalits. Leaders like Bhagya Reddy Varma, Arigay Ramaswamy, B. Shyam Sunder, B.S. Venkat Rao, P.R. Venkat Swamy and etc. have envisaged the emancipation of untouchables against caste/class inequalities.

Arigay Ramaswamy was considered to be popular among Dalit leaders during the Nizam period. His contribution towards resolving inter-caste hierarchies among Dalits, a movement for inter-caste marriages and building the broader Dalit struggles are well-known. He was an active member in many organizations; he himself established various organizations like Sunitha Bala Samajam, Adi-Hindu Jathiyonnati Sabha, Arundhatiya Mahasabha and Bhoomananda Swamy Mandali etc. for the welfare of the Dalits. Though P.R. Venkat Swamy's historical work 'Our Struggle For Emancipation' (1955) has documented some of Arigay Ramaswamy contributions, there is a considerable negligence and lack of recognition of his work in popular Dalit discourse. This article is to document his contribution and struggle in uniting the Dalits.

arigay ramaswamy

Arigay Ramaswamy (1885-1973)

Arigay Ramaswamy (1885-1973) was a Dalit social reformer and writer who worked with a galaxy of Dalit leaders like Bhagya Reddy Varma, B.S Venkat Rao, P.R Venaktswamy, Mudigonda Laxmaiah etc. in the Nizam period. Ramaswamy born to a tonga driver, Balaiah, in Secunderabad at Ramankole in 1885, Ranga Reddy district. He belonged to the Mala caste. Ramaswamy went to a Baptist mission school, but due to extreme poverty, he could not continue his studies. Then he joined the Nizam's railway services as an office boy in the Audit office . He left the job and joined the Engineering workshop as a carpenter. He worked for some time in the furniture manufacturing workshop of Lever and Co. He could not work there; later he was appointed as Record Tracer in the Railway Agent's Office1. Soon he was posted as a Number Taker at Purna. Later he was promoted as Ticket Collector at the Bolarum Railway station. After some years, he was transferred to Secunderabad as Suburban Ticket Checker, where he came under the influence of 'Achalla Bodha' or 'Achala Thatva' propagated by his guru Mandippela Hanumantha Rao in 1912. This Achalla Bodha or Achalla Thatva was popular among subaltern saints and communities in Telangana. Scholars have argued that though Dunna Idasu (1811-1919)2 was not the first person to propagate it, he was certainly a popular figure in propagating it among Dalit communities.

Arigay Ramaswamy, while he was involved in Achala Bodha activities, got married to Rajamma who died in 1921. Later he married Lalitabai in 1929. He had three sons. Because of his active involvement in the reform activities, he left his job and started to work fully as a leader for depressed castes. He also entered into a small business of brick making in Kumariguda, this business was for his family's survival. He established many organisations for the welfare of the depressed castes in the Nizam period. Since he believed in Achala Bodha, he engaged in tracing the identity of the untouchable castes as the aboriginals of this country. In many meetings he argued for a separate identity for untouchables, that is Adi Hindu identity. In his entire public life, he established many organisations for the welfare of the Dalits.

The list of organisations started by Arigay Ramaswamy: 

arigay ramaswamy organisations

Since Ramaswamy was influenced by Achala Bodha tradition he began to organize people around his localities through Sunitha Bala Samaj in 1912. The aim of the organisation was to spread the ideals of nonviolence, temperance, and work against alcohol etc. among untouchables. He also deeply believed that untouchables are original inhabitants of this country, hence they are true Adi Hindus. He also established 'Adi Hindu Kreeda Sangam' through which he encouraged many untouchable youths to participate in sports. His wife Lalita Bai also participated and encouraged many people to take part and regularly organized meetings for youth. There was instances where Dalit youth in Nizam period participated in football Olympics. Arigay Ramaswamy also started a 'Friends' Union' which basically helped people in organising marriages and other festivals for poor people.

He was a member of the Hyderabad Municipal Council from 1933-1940. He was one of the delegates to the All India Depressed Classes Conference held at Nagpur under the presidentship of Rao Bahadur N Sivaraj on 18-20 July 1942. He was nominated as a member of the Constituency Assembly and then to the provisional parliament from 1950-52. He contested as Congress nominee in the first general election (1952) for Hyderabad Legislative Assembly from Vikarabad (General G and SC) seat and got elected. Later he was nominated as Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Civil Supplies, Government of Hyderabad, from 1954 to October 1956. When he was minister, he undertook many welfare programmes for the downtrodden in particular, and poor in general.

Arigay Ramaswamy was a poet, he wrote a Satakam (a collection of a hundred verses) poem with the title 'Anumu Anumu Aav Booma Arigay Rama'. In his poetry he reflected on many social issues like untouchability, poverty, Achala Bodha, caste discrimination, farmers' suicides etc3. When Suravaram Pratap Reddy published a 'Golkonda Kavula Sanchika' (Special Volume on Telangana Writers), Arigay Ramaswamy contributed his poetry on farmers' problems in the publication. He was the only Dalit whose poetry was published in the book. He also published a small booklet on "Antaranithanam Samasya-Parishkaram" (Untouchability: Problem-Solution)4. This booklet argues that untouchables are original inhabitants of the land, true Adi-Hindus, and because of Brahmanical hegemony they have been exploited and are suffering from the caste system. Although Arigay Ramaswamy believed in the Adi Hindu identity like Bhagya Reddy Varma, they differed on many issues, particularly in resolving the internal differences among Dalits. The following section deals with the contested views of Arigay Ramaswamy and Bhagya Reddy Varma on Dalit emancipation.

Among all Dalit leaders in the Nizam period Arigay Ramswamy had a different view on the caste hierarchy among Dalits. He also had a strong opinion that unless untouchable castes resolve their internal differences and caste practices, efforts for unity among them will be futile. His approach was to see envisage Adi Hindus' (untouchables) emancipation from below. He not only preached Justice to the lowest among low but also initiated his own efforts to achieve that. While most of the Mala leaders talked of development of Dalits in general, Arigay Ramaswamy strongly fought for the lowest among the low, particularly of the most marginalized Madigas. Madigas are considered lower to Malas within the caste system. From the beginning Ramaswamy questioned the biased attitude of Bhagya Reddy Varma towards Madigas. Though Arigay appealed many times to Bhagya Reddy Varma for welfare of all, the latter did not cooperate with his ideas. Then Arigay Ramaswamy started a separate organization for Madigas' welfare under the banner of Arundatiya Mahasabha in 19315. The rift between Bhagya Reddy Varma and Arigay Ramaswamy was reported by P.R Venataswamy in his book 'Our Struggle for Emancipation'--the extract follows,

"The gulf of difference between the Malas and Madigas was widening day by day. Bhagya Reddy and his followers struck to their guns and by their irreconcilable attitude, they were becoming very unpopular. Girkala Mallesh Rao, a well-wisher of the Madigas, co-operated with Arigay Ramaswamy in the matter of unification of the Malas and Madigas. He thought seriously about it and pressed Arigay Ramaswamy to take some drastic steps in that respect. He suggested a separate organization for the Madigasto achieve their legitimate rights. But Ramaswamy hesitated to take any hasty step in that direction lest it might cause a split in the community. So, he approached Bhagya Reddy and sincerely pleaded for the cause of the Madigas to give them a place of equality with the Malas. But Bhagya Reddy ridiculed his utopian ideas. Ramaswamy warned him of the evil consequences of his short-sighted policy. Bhagya Reddy bluntly told him to have his own way; he was not in the least bothered about it"6.

 While there was galaxy of leaders from Mala caste, Arigey Ramaswamy was the only one who was consistently sympathetic to Madigas and other lower castes' empowerment. Arigay Ramaswamy's contestation with Bhagya Reddy Varma on the internal problems of depressed castes clearly indicates the paradox in Dalit leadership in representing all Scheduled Castes and consolidating them. This paradox continues to exist in contemporary Dalit movement. The caste hierarchies and lack of inter-caste marriages among depressed castes continues to persist in the cotemporary times. Arigay Ramaswamy's contributions are invisible in the popular Dalit discourse. Because neither Malas nor Madigas own him. Most of the writings which are published on Dalit leaders and movements in Hyderabad state tend to focus on Bhagya Reddy Varma, B.S Venkat Rao, Shyam Sunder etc. Except P.R Venkatswamy's book 'Our Struggle for Emancipation' (1955) no other writings document Arigay Ramaswamy's contribution. Malas do not own him much; they own other leaders like Bhagya Reddy Varma. Madigas too do not pay much attention partly because they are unaware and organically, he does not belong to their caste though he was sympathetic to Madigas. Because of this competing leadership and rivalry between Scheduled Castes they have not been consolidated under one platform and one leader, both in colonial and contemporary times.

Today's Dalit movements have to take forward the spirit of Arigay Ramaswamy in addressing internal disparities. Arigay Ramaswamy strongly believed in building a uniform identity for untouchables by addressing internal contradictions among Dalit communities. While Dalits do not prefer to subscribe to Arigey Ramaswamy's inclination towards Congress politics, there is certainly a need for addressing the internal disparities among Dalits for which Arigey Ramaswamy invested his efforts.The Arigay Ramaswamy spirit of encouraging and arranging inter caste marriages among depressed castes, addressing disparities and justice for the lowest of the low are important aspects to build unity among Dalits and consolidate them under one platform for their liberative politics.

~

Notes

1. Kshirsagar, R.K. (1994) "Dalit Movement and India and Its Leaders", M.D Publications Pvt Ltd, New Delhi. Pp-166

2. Dunna Idasu belongs to Madiga community born in Nalgonda district, but his disciplines and followers are more from Kalvakurthy, Nagarkurnool, Achampet from Mahaboob Nagar

3. Arigay, Ramaswamy. (2012) "Kaviga Arigay Ramaswamy", Neeli Zanda, Issue-3, Volume-8, PP.3.

4. Arigay, Ramaswamy. (2011 and 2012) "Antaranithanam-Samsya Parishcharam", Neeli Zanda,Part-1, Part-2, (December 1-15, 2011, pp.12 and December 16-31, 2011, pp.15)

5. Venkatswamy.P.R "Our Struggle for Emancipation; Dalit Movement in Hyderabad state", Hyderabad Book Truest, Hyderabad. Pp.

6. Venkatswamy.P.R (2019) "Our Struggle for Emancipation; Dalit Movement in Hyderabad state", Hyderabad Book Trust and Bojja Tharakam Trust, Hyderabad. Pp. 90-91

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 Dr. Chandraiah Gopani is an Assistant Professor in G.B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad Central University. He has been teaching and doing research on Caste, Dalit Studies, Anti-Caste Intellectual Traditions, Dalit Youth and Bahujan Musical Traditions and literatures. He regularly writes in English and Telugu.

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