ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Caste Question in the Naxalite Movement

The period following the Chundur massacre of Dalits in August 1991 has witnessed an intense theoretical and ideological debate on the caste question in Telugu society, ignited by the growth of the Dalit and women’s movements. The article examines the debate on the caste–class question in theory and in practice in the Naxalite/Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh.

The agrarian struggles that have occurred in different parts of India since the 1960s under the leadership of the CPI(ML) [Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist)] parties (hereinafter, M–L parties) constitute significant and conscious attempts in the history of rural social transformation. Committed to Marxist–Leninist–Maoist thought, the M–L parties have seen India pre-eminently as a “semi-feudal” and “semi-colonial” social formation that can be emancipated only through an anti-feudal and anti-colonial struggle. One of most formidable challenges the agrarian movements led by them have faced is on the question of caste. Caste as the historical specificity of Indian society has been a major challenge to any effort at social transformation in India, including that of the M–L parties. While their attempts at political mobilisation of the Adivasis in the forest areas, due to the absence of any significant stratification among them, has been quite successful, in contrast, their experience has been quite complex in the plains due to the presence of caste hierarchy/division and resultant contradictions within the rural society.

Theoretically, the M–L parties have sought to understand the rural society in class terms. Landlords and agrarian poor have constituted the two poles of the social stratification, with the middle and rich peasantry comprising the intermediate layers. The principal contradiction is posited between the former two, with the middle and rich peasantry being potential allies of the latter depending on the level of class polarisation and the intensity of social conflict. In contrast to this, they have faced a different situation on the ground, which has demanded a greater sensitivity to caste as it has been a living reality that has ordered not only the social, political and economic spheres but, quite significantly, the everyday life of the subaltern classes. What strikes quite clearly is the hiatus between the theoretical–ideological perspective and the actual mobilisational politics in the movement. What needs to be reflected is the successful mobilisation of the most subaltern sections of the rural society due to the tactical advances in addressing the caste reality in practice. However, the absence of a corresponding theoretical articulation of the caste question also needs to be emphasised.

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Updated On : 29th May, 2017
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