Remembering a social movement in 1917 against untouchability in coastal Andhra

Courtesy: South First

Bhagya Reddy Varma of Hyderabad (left) and Sundru Venkaiah of Eluru were some of the prominent SC leaders who took part in the 'Adi Andhra Maha Sammelanam' from 4 to 6 November in Vijayawada in 1917 as part of a social movement against untouchability (Supplied)

Not many know that a social movement to eradicate untouchability took place in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh 105 years ago, much before Mahatma Gandhi who spearheaded India’s independence struggle launched the Harijan Movement in 1932.

The coastal Andhra region in the then Madras province has been called a progressive society due to the emergence of social reformers like Kandukuri Veeresalingam who advocated widow marriages and fought against the dowry system.

A movement aimed at eradicating untouchability was also taken up in coastal Andhra by leaders such as Vemuri Ramji, freedom fighter Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao — also the founder of the oldest Telugu daily ‘Andhra Patrika’ and Amrutanjan Balm — and Unnava Lakshmi Narayana, writer of the novel ‘Malapalli’.

“They focused on the eradication of untouchability and educating the Harijans (now referred to as Dalits) through a sustained social campaign. Many meetings of various social groups were conducted across the coastal districts to highlight the need to take Scheduled Caste people into the mainstream of society. The culmination of this was a three-day state-level meet in Vijayawada in 1917 from 4 to 6 November,” retired academician and social activist Duggaraju Srinivas Rao told South First.

Vemuri Ramji (left), Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao (centre), and Unnava Lakshmi Narayana were among those who began a social movement in coastal Andhra to eradicate untouchability (Supplied)

A report in ‘Andhra Patrika’ about 1917 meeting

Srinivas came to know that such a movement against untouchability in Andhra had taken place in the coastal districts more than 100 years ago when he read a small booklet published by a social organisation called ‘Samajika Samarasata Vedika’.

Srinivas was looking for information about the social movement against untouchability when he found a newspaper report by ‘Andhra Patrika’ in which there was a detailed description of the 1917 meeting in Vijayawada including a verbatim report of the speeches made by the participants.

The report in ‘Andhra Patrika’ about the ‘Adi Andhra Maha Sammelanam’ from 4 to 6 November in Vijayawada in 1917 (Supplied)

SC leaders in a horse-drawn cart

“During the three-day meeting held from 4 to 6 November in 1917 called ‘Adi Andhra Maha Sammelanam’, SC leaders such as Bhagya Reddy Varma and Sundru Venkaiah were taken in the horse-drawn cart of Ayyadevara Kaleswara Rao, then a member of Madras Assembly, through the main streets of the town with the other so-called forward caste people leading the procession on foot. That was a scene that was never seen earlier,” added Srinivas.

The other highlight of the 1917 meeting in Vijayawada was the public apology expressed by a group of forward community leaders such as Nallapati Hanumantha Rao to the SC people assembled for the treatment they were subjected to all those years, he said.

Ayyadevara Kaleswara Rao (Supplied)

The prominent SC personalities who were invited and took part in the three-day event were Bhagya Reddy Varma of Hyderabad, Sundru Venkaiah of Eluru, and Vemula Kurmayya of Vijayawada.

The problems faced by the SC community and the demands that were to be put forth before the then-colonial rulers were discussed in the meetings.

A few resolutions about their demands such as social respect from others, establishment of schools in the areas where they lived, and provision for participation in panchayat decision-making were also passed.

Vemula Kurmayya (Supplied)

1917 meeting against untouchability in Andhra: Commemorative event on 6 November 2022

A commemorative meeting is being organised for the first time in Vijayawada on 6 November 2022 to mark the 105th year of the ‘Adi Andhra Maha Sammelanam’.

“Though there have been efforts to bring in social balance and eradicate untouchability in the last 72 years with the spirit of the Constitution, there has been no progress along expected lines. At this juncture, it is appropriate to hold such commemorative meetings to continue that social spirit and also take inspiration from our predecessors,” Samajika Samarasata Vedika president Sri Vishnuvu told South First.

The 6 November event is being conducted at Sri Siddhartha College auditorium in Mogalarajapuram by Samajika Samarasata Vedika.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s