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Caste Dominance and Territory in South India: Understanding Kammas’ socio-spatial mobility

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2018

School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford Email:


This article argues that taking territory into account is essential to understand the change in the scale and nature of caste dominance in contemporary India. The demonstration is based on an analysis of the socio-spatial trajectories of the Kammas—a dominant caste from Coastal Andhra, where they continue to own most of the land, even though they have migrated in large numbers towards the interior and southern regions of the Indian peninsula, both to newly irrigated areas and to the cities. The key positions they occupy in the politics and economy of Andhra Pradesh confer upon them a hegemonic character. However, this hegemony is threatened by the growing resistance of Dalits to caste and class oppression, while Kamma cultural domination, long contested in Telangana, is now challenged by the formation of the new state.

Research Article
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*Fieldwork for this research was funded by various grants and scholarships from the University of Paris-Nanterre, the Fondation Thiers (Institut de France), the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient (Pondicherry), the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities (Delhi), and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). A seminar version of this article was presented at a workshop organized by Alpa Shah and Jens Lerche in the Department of Anthropology of the London School of Economics in April 2014. I am grateful to the discussants Barbara Harriss-White and Geert De Neve for their comments, as well as two anonymous reviewers for this journal.


1 Space has been theorized by Barbara Harriss-White as a ‘social structure of accumulation’, along with caste, class, gender, and religion (Harriss-White, B., 2003, India working: Essays on society and economy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 200)Google Scholar. The regionalization of caste has also been studied, but in a rather descriptive way, by simply ‘mapping’ caste regions (Schwartzberg, J., 1968, ‘Caste regions of the North Indian plain’, in Singer, M., Cohn, B. (eds), Structure and change in Indian society, American Folklore Society, Philadelphia, pp. 81113)Google Scholar.

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5 In rural areas: Godavarru village (Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh), Sriram Sagar dam command area (Nizamabad district of Telangana), Tungabhadra irrigated belt (Bellary and Raichur districts of Karnataka). In urban areas: Vijayawada and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.

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40 ‘This geographical separation of the two powerful castes had a tribal logic; in any one local area, only one or the other caste group with its patriarch could be dominant. When British tax-collectors came onto scene, they formalized the status quo, extending the sway of leading landholders in each caste over vast zamindari estates’ (Harrison, S., 1956, ‘Caste and the Andhra communists’, American Political Science Review, 50 (2), 378404CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 383).

41 ibid., p. 381.


42 Elliott, ‘Caste and faction among the dominant caste’.

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44 For the post-independence period, I use Dalit (a militant self-descriptive term that means ‘oppressed’) rather than ‘Untouchable’.

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51 Ibid., pp. 212–13.


52 Upadhya, C., 1988, ‘The farmer-capitalists of Coastal Andhra Pradesh’, Economic and Political Weekly, 23 (27), 1376–82Google Scholar, and 23(28), 1433–42.

53 Balagopal, K., 1986, ‘Anti-reservation, yet once more’, Economic and Political Weekly, 21 (36), 1572–4Google Scholar, p. 1545.

54 This is an estimation based on the last caste census under British rule and on later surveys done by Kamma associations. After independence, caste was not included anymore in the decennial censuses, but was reintroduced in 2011, after many debates on whether this would perpetuate caste identities or help the weakest castes who could be better targeted by government programmes (see Kumar, R., 2000, ‘Caste enumeration in census: Constitutional imperative’, Economic and Political Weekly, 35 (35/36), 3100–2)Google Scholar. The results of the 2011 caste census have not been released.

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58 ‘Apart from a profit motive, these institutions also enhance the political power and prestige of the dominant peasant class. The private colleges with their phenomenal fees are a manifestation of the interface between caste, class and power which continue to treat education as an enterprise’ (Kaul, R., 1993, Caste, class and education: Politics of the capitation fee phenomenon in Karnataka, Sage, DelhiGoogle Scholar).

59 Suri, K. C., 2002, Democratic process and electoral politics in Andhra Pradesh, India, Working Paper 180, Overseas Development Institute, LondonGoogle Scholar.

60 The Kamma population of Kukatpally is estimated to 200,000 by their caste association (Kukatpally Kamma Sangham), which is half of the total population of Kukatpally.

61 Vivekanand colony is a posh area with luxurious individual houses, where only people with very high income live. The second surveyed area is a gated community for high-income people, located in Nizampet Road. Kukatpally Housing Board Colony (KPHB) is the third surveyed area, where most of the interviewed people belonged to the middle-income group.

62 Most tenancy contracts are oral to avoid the transfer of land to the tenants after many years of cultivation as per the law.

63 One British pound sterling is approximately equal to Rs 100.

64 ‘One member of the dominant caste is to split the village into two rival groups. But both the groups are led by members of the same caste. Whatever be the party, rival candidates are from the same caste, and one of them wins. Anyway, they take care that political leadership does not slip out of their hands into those of the lower castes’ (Padma Rao, K., 1995, Caste and alternative culture, Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Madras, p. 17)Google Scholar.

65 When I wanted to interview him, one dominant Kamma objected and said: ‘The sarpanch is illiterate and doesn't know anything. He's here just because of a reserved seat for Scheduled Caste. If you want to know about village affairs, you should talk to Kamma leaders.’

66 Beck, B., 1972, Peasant society in Konku: A study of right and left subcastes in South India, University of British Columbia Press, VancouverGoogle Scholar.

67 Ludden, Early capitalism.

68 ‘The Kamma Naidus of Coimbatore are made of various groups, so there is a lot of emulation between them: when a big family starts a mill, other families also want to start their own. That is how the community developed in various fields’ (interview with G. K. Sundaram, CEO of the Laskhmi Mills).

69 Parthasarathy, D., 1997, Collective violence in a provincial city, Oxford University Press, DelhiGoogle Scholar.

70 Ibid., p. 24.


71 Interview with Vangaveeti Radha, the son of Ranga.

72 Prasad, R. J. R., 2004, Emergence of Telugu Desam, and an overview of political movements in Andhra, Master Minds Academic Press, Hyderabad, pp. 86–9Google Scholar.

73 ‘A Congressman approached me and wanted me to head the party here. He wanted one member from the Kamma Naidu community and one from the Gounder community to hold top positions. He wanted me to be the President. I declined since I had my business to look after and also since I had no experience in party politics’ (interview with G. K. Sundaram).

74 ‘I was offered a 20 crores dowry [Rs 200 million] by Andhra Kammas who wanted their daughter to marry my grandson, but their culture is different. So I chose a girl from Coimbatore who studied medicine, from a respectable family though not as rich as us’ (interview with Genguswamy Naidu, industrialist and president of the Tamil Nadu Kamma Naidu Mahajana Sangham).

75 Interview with Jagadish Chandran, CEO of Premier Mills.

76 The Telangana leader Kodandaram justifies the use of the term in the following way: ‘Telangana is an internal colony. It is economically exploited, socially and culturally suppressed and politically not represented.’

77 Satyanarayana, ‘A note on land’, pp. 33–4.

78 A similar analysis can be found in 1969 already in Economic and Political Weekly: ‘In a given caste structure the poorer castes do not seem to resent the traditionally rich castes becoming richer, particularly if their own conditions have also meanwhile improved. What has happened in Telengana is that to this situation a new factor was introduced of the migrant Andhra. The migrant Andhra very often certainly made spectacular progress in terms of agricultural prosperity. But he, being an alien to the local social structure, was not protected from the normal jealousies of the less well-to-do among the local people . . . . The general situation was further aggravated by the fact that, very often, the migrant Andhra belonged to the Kamma community which is not of any great significance in the caste configuration of the Telengana region. Had the migrant been a Reddi, the reaction would not have been so severe, and it is even possible that by this time he would have been assimilated into the local caste structure’ (EPW, 1969, ‘Telengana and caste’, Economic and Political Weekly, 4 (10), 455–6Google Scholar, p. 456).

79 ‘The concept of modern cultivation hasn't caught up yet there. They are still stuck with the age old idea of millets and rotis. Not yet gone to modern methods of increasing the produce. Many lands are still lying as waste lands. At some places the land is limited to fodder. One feels an endless sense of loss looking at them’ (Chandralata, 1997, Regadi vittulu, Pravardhana Publications, Hyderabad. English translation provided by the author after an interview with her).

80 Oddie, G. A., 1975, ‘Christian conversion in the Telugu country, 1860–1900: A case study of one protestant movement in the Godavery-Krishna delta’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 12 (1), 6179CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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83 Chenchu Ramaiah, NTR's relative who premeditated the massacre and escaped from the court, was killed three years later by the People's War Group, a Maoist organization.

84 Balagopal, K., 1988, ‘Rich peasant, poor peasant’, Seminar, 352, 1923Google Scholar, p. 22.

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88 Srinivasulu, Caste, class and social articulation.

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92 Srikanth, H., 2011, ‘United Andhra or separate Telangana? Politics of regionalism in Andhra Pradesh’, The Indian Journal of Political Science, 72 (3), 781–90Google Scholar.

93 Srikrishna, Committee for consultation, p. 380.

94 Ibid., p. 368.


95 ‘It is claimed that cultural domination by coastal Andhra has affected the development of distinctive Telangana culture . . . . The following grievances have been voiced: . . . “Coastal Andhra elites and the ruling classes show a negative attitude towards the folk art of Telangana . . . . The entertainment industry has been used as a means to ridicule Telangana culture. Films and television channels use Telangana dialect to portray criminal or comical characters”. They claim that although the film industry has been located in Hyderabad, the local people are discriminated against and not given any employment opportunities in the film industry’ (ibid., pp. 398–9).

96 Ibid., p. 319.


97 O'Hanlon, R., 1988, ‘Recovering the subject: Subaltern Studies and histories of resistance in colonial South Asia’, Modern Asian Studies, 22 (1), 189224CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 191.

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