[LOST & FOUND] K. G. Satyamurthy

K. G. Satyamurthy ‘Sivasagar‘ (1931–2012), lifelong Communist who eventually broke with his party largely over the issue of its caste-blindness.

Towards the end of his life, Satyamurthy told one reporter:

[su_quote]I am a Mala, an untouchable. Whenever I went for a bath, someone would leave something valuable in the bathing area to see if I stole it. They thought it was a caste habit and I guess they were testing me. [/su_quote]This extraordinary statement shows how deeply ingrained casteism has been even in the most radical of the ‘revolutionary left’ parties in India. By ‘they’ Satyamurthy meant comrades of his party who were caste-Hindus. In 1980 Satyamurthy along with Kondapalli Seetharamaiah had helped form CPI-ML (People’s War), better known as PWG, the most militant of the Andhra Maoist groups whose armed assaults on state personnel from the mid-eighties on led to the insurgency/counter-insurgency that currently rages in large parts of Central India.

Sujatha Gidla who conducted extensive interviews with Satyamurthy shortly before he died confirms the impression of a movement riddled with caste prejudices and of the profound impact this had on ‘SM’. “Talk of caste feeling inside the party had always been taboo. But the political climate had changed in the wake of a shocking massacre that year [1985] in the village of Karamchedu, where an entire madiga settlement was brutally attacked by a mob of two thousand kamma men”. In 1987 Satyamurthy was expelled from the party for ‘conspiring to divide the party’. In case it isn’t clear what that means, he was expelled for raising the issue of casteism and caste discrimination within the party.

Ostracized by the PWG and ‘on the run with a price on his head’, some years later he intervened at an annual conference of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association to try and explain what lay behind his expulsion from the party. Gidla says, [su_quote]Some PWG members present then tried to remove him from the podium by force, but several young untouchables in the audience rose silently in his defense…”. In the later years of his life Satyamurthy came to the conclusion that “uppercaste peasants and workers couldn’t be won to a truly revolutionary program… [/su_quote]

What large parts of the traditional (or tradition-dominated) Left in India have never seen clearly is that class oppression is worst at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, so that caste and class are realities that fuse in a kind of ‘overdetermination’ of the contradictions of India’s capitalist society.



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Jairus Banaji Written by:

Jairus Banaji is a well-known historian and Marxist intellectual

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