The Adi Andhra are a Scheduled caste of people living in south India. A Scheduled caste means that they are disadvantaged and victims of past discrimination. The Indian government provides guaranteed places in education and public jobs for them. As of 2001 only about 60% of the Adi Andhra could read and write at a basic level.
Today most Adi Andhra are still landless, rural farm workers. Some also work as street sweepers, village watchmen and in the leather trade. Some women work as domestics. Beginning in the 20th century the Adi Andhra and other Dalit peoples started a reform movement to gain human rights and economic opportunities. The movement continues today. A small group of Adi Andhra has gained an education and become professionals. Some Adi Andhra have moved to cities to work in industry, improve their status and have their children attend school.
The lives of the rural Adi Andhra are very challenging even by Indian standards. Often they are without electricity, access to clean water, indoor plumbing and modern medical care. They work in the fields from sunup to sunset with little hope for a better life. Their children must work in the fields to help support the family.
The Adi Andhra are endogamous, that is they marry within their clan. Young people frequently marry their cousins. Families arrange the marriages. Sons inherit what little property they own. Unlike most Hindus, the Adi Andhra will eat any type of meat they can obtain. The major portion of their diet is rice and any vegetables and fruit they can afford. Meat is a luxury for special occasions.
The vast majority of Adi Andhra is Hindu, the national religion and culture of India. They worship and serve the numerous gods of the Hindu pantheon. The Adi Andhra give attention to the Hindu goddesses who they believe can protect them from epidemics, evil spirits and famine. The Adi Andhra participate in the yearly Hindu holidays of Holi, the festival of colors, Diwali, the festival of lights and Navratri, the nine-day celebration of autumn.
Movements and role of Veereshalingam and others – Non-Brahmin
The growth of non-Brahmin movement and its emergence as a political force in the early 20th century were the spin-off of the developments that took place during the course of 19th century. In the light of this, it becomes necessary to delve into different aspects of non-Brahmin consciousness in the 19th century. An analysis of the course of events in the development of non-Brahmin consciousness suggest that it was more a social upheaval than a political challenge to Brahmins. Hence the focus here is not from a political perspective.
An attempt is made to consider the growth of non-Brahmin consciousness during the 19th century from the view point of a socio-economic and socio-cultural perspective. In doing so, the non-Brahmin awareness during this period is seen as a ‘reformist drive’ from within non-Brahmin castes.
In the absence of any strong corroborative contemporary documentary evidence to show that non-Brahmin castes were pitted against Brahmins in absolute political terms, an analysis is made to view and project non-Brahmin consciousness as a social reform measure in 19th century.
The impact of colonial policies was seen among different social groups in the society. The break-up of old political and social order under the colonial rule affected both social and traditional relations in society. The new revenue, social and cultural policies dislocated people from their occupations and social positions. Amidst these changes various social groups in the indigenous society began an intense quest for new identities and alternatives. During this process their reactions to the colonial rule were multi-dimensional. The growth of public consciousness and the consequent political awakening emerged out of these reactions. Since public life in general was less organised during this period, it can be seen that the emerging consciousness was found scattered among various social groups. The term ‘consciousness’ can be understood in a broader sense which reflects the sprouting seeds of resistance and protest among different social groups. In the absence of a strong ideological force to channel this germinating consciousness, the latter remained isolated at different levels. The origin of social consciousness among the non-Brahmin sections in Andhra during the nineteenth century is to be seen as a part of the general spread of public consciousness in society since such consciousness among these sections took a definite shape of a caste movement only during the early decades of 20th century.
Rao Bahadur Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu (April 1848 –1919) was a social reformer, writer of Andhra Pradesh. He is considered as the Father of renaissance movement in Telugu. He was one of the early social reformers who encouraged women education, remarriage of widows which was not supported by the society during his time and fought against dowry system. He also started a school in Dowlaiswaram in 1874. He constructed a temple as ‘Brahmo Mandir’ in 1887 and the ‘Hithakarini School’ in 1908 in Andhra Pradesh. His novel Rajasekhara Charitramu is considered to be the first novel in Telugu literature.
One of the greatest reforms of Veeresalingam was to promote women’s education, which was considered to be a taboo in those days. In 1876, he started a journal called Viveka Vardhini and published articles about women’s issues of that era. The magazine was initially printed at Chennai (then Madras), but with his writings gaining popularity, he established his own press at Rajahmundry.
Remarriage of widows was not appreciated in the society during those days, and he opposed this by arguing that widows were not prohibited from remarrying by quoting verses from the Hindu Dharma Sastra to prove his point. His opponents used to organize special meetings and debates to counter his arguments, and even resorted to physical violence against him when they failed to stop him. Undeterred, Veeresalingam started a Remarriage Association and sent his students all over Andhra Pradesh to find young men willing to marry widows. He arranged the first widow remarriage on 11 December 1881. For his reformist activities, Kandukuri gained attention all over the globe. The Government, in appreciation of his work, conferred on him the title of Rao Bahadur in 1893. Later he established a widow home.