Usaa Barber (Uppumavuluri Sambashivarao) (1951-2020)- a well-known social reformer, anti-caste ideologue and anti-brahminism fighter succumbed to Covid-19 on July 25, 2020. He died because of the Indian medical system that could not reach to a stage where it could meet the challenge posed by the new coronavirus.
After Savitribai Phule and her son Dr. Yashwantharao died of Bubonic Plague in 1898, Usaa Barber (whom I named so), as committed as Savitribai and Mahatma Phule for abolition of caste and untouchability, died of the brutal Covid-19 pandemic.
Usaa was a legend in many ways. From his student days, he has been a staunch atheist, and used to compose songs and poems to motivate the masses. For a boy who came from a poor barber family from a village, Brahminkoduru near Tenali, which was known as centre for cunning brahminism in Andhra Pradesh this was surprisingly a bold step by a barber boy. Such a beginning of his was unexpected. A barber has to lead a slave life by going from house to house to shave the heads of those rich unproductive castes, who keep insulting them. They were supposed to behave like skilled slaves and eat the meagre food that they offer and survive.
In the 1960s, a barber going to school in that region was rarest of rare thing. Usaa was put in the school and later in the college by his elder brother. His school teacher seems to have given a date of birth – February 19, 1951.
But unusually this barber boy, instead of shaving the heads of brahmin poojaris who needed to have a clean-shaven head with a scalp like that of Mahatma Gandhi’s at the apex of the head to perform pooja, archana, and offering pure vegetarian food items to brahmanized Hindu Gods, revolted against their God itself. The poojari life and pooja was ultimately to make money to lead the life without doing any productive work either in the family or at community level. A barber had no right to enter the temple along with Dalits. Ages together, Poojaris habituated to live as parasites and justify this sort of life as holy and worthy by their so-called spiritual fascism.
God for them is free food and a good life provider. This deception was understood by this atheist barber quite early in his life. The barbers of that area in those days were designating themselves as Nayi Brahmins to get some respect but that respect was never to be given by brahmins. They treated them as spiritual and social slaves meant to shave their body on a daily basis for priests and their women who became widows so that they lose their beauty, dignity and human life and live like a brahmin female slave within the four walls of the house.
Brahminism of Andhra was brutal. Brahmin reformers like Gurijada Apparao and Kandukuri Veereshalinam Panthulu initiated some reform for better life of their own brahmin women but a barber’s life remained unreformed and un-upgraded. Leaders, writers and thinkers were not supposed to come from that community even in the freedom movement. They were supposed to shave the leaders’ heads and give them beautiful and clean shape for their elegant public appearance. That was considered to be their contribution to nationalism, without any respect and livelihood.
If any barber aspired for the role of a leader, he would be snubbed and pushed back into his shaving job. The Indian freedom struggle was not anti-caste or struggle for change of the millennial occupational stagnation and indignity of labour. Nobody had a right to change their oppressive caste occupation. The lower caste occupations – in fact all productive occupations – were treated as undignified, unequal to the most unproductive occupation like pooja and purohityam. No brahmin god was pro-production and the Shudra productive god images were pushed into what they cunningly called the ‘little tradition’ by the brahmin intellectuals of the freedom movement. The communist intellectuals having come from the same cultural roots did not think of changing it, rather they reinforced it with loud silence.
Usaa Barber joined the radical left movement once it began. He was in jail during the emergency. Later worked in the Tribal areas to conduct an armed struggle. In plain areas he mobilised farmers and labour for irrigation and drinking water resources. He contested elections and challenged the so-called conservative communists of CPI in Nalgonda district of Telangana. He worked with me to expand the notion of human rights to starving masses, caste atrocities and women’s rights in the 1980s. He was a tireless mass lover and lived with them. He got expelled from his party for his stand on Ambedkar and anti-casteism.
Usaa compared and understood the civilized barbarism with brahmanised radical left and started writing and speaking against their loud-silence on caste culture in Telugu quite eloquently. All communist intellectuals were upset, angry with him. If only he was to come out of a radical Maoist party he would have been, perhaps, attacked physically as there was a bad culture of accusing every dissenter as a police agent. But he was from moderate Tarimela Nagireddy (a Shudra Reddy) and Devulapally Venkateswar Rao (a Brahmin) group. Democratic centralism destroyed the sense of democratic dissent in the communist structures of India. That was most un-Marxist culture but well developed in those structures. Once brahminism operates as democratic centralism it uses only Vishnuchakra to resolve differences.
Usaa was the first full-time worker rebellion in Telugu region and oppressive caste leader who, within no time, was identified as leader, writer, thinker, poet and song composer, of course, singer. Singing in the revolution was always left to Dalits/Shudras, as Gaddar and many others did all their life without having a stature of a leader. Though they were popular among the masses, they were never given a leader’s stature.
This boy started questioning the very existence of their God in the temples. Afterwards this man challenged Brahminism in communism. This was what the first barber Upali did by joining Gauthama Buddha’s system as his close confident during 6th Century BCE. After that, in the known history, only Usaa Barber did that at a very young age. He never turned back.
He was in a haste to fight the exploitation and oppressive system, hence joined the most militant Naxalite (Moist) movement to kill the enemies as soon as possible with a barrel of gun. He mobilized the poor Dalits and Shudra (Other Backward Class) labouring masses to rebel against landlords and oppressors. Meanwhile in 1975 the emergency came in. He was arrested and kept in Rajahmundry jail for two years.
Then he went into a deep tribal area called Kondamodulu and organised tribals to fight for their lands with bows and arrows. He was a tribal among tribals, eating everything from root to raisin and rat to rabbit. After that, he shifted to Nalgonda to organise farmers to fight for irrigational and drinking water and became a famous peasant leader. He contested from Motkuru constituency in 1984 against a Communist Party of India landlord leader and lost the election. He was not sparing anybody.
He realised that even in the revolutionary movement brahminism was playing a key role. There was a Brahmin (pure vegetarian) leader called Devulapally Venkateswar Rao (DVR) who was claiming all theoretical authority on Marx, Lenin and Mao as if they were like Vedavyasa, who wrote Mahabharat, Kautilya, who wrote most dangerous Brahmin-State craft book- Arthashastra and Manu who wrote Manudharmashastra that was burnt by Ambedkar.
Their’s was a culture of read and recite among their families hence they would pick up quotations from Marx, Lenin and Mao’s writings and write funny documents and ask the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi cadre to apply to them to the concrete conditions of India’s class system, as if there was no caste in India of their mind. What an understanding of concrete conditions of India.
Usaa sensed DVR’s brahminism in the revolutionary movement. DVR was treating a much better revolutionary leader, Tarimela Nagireddy, who is a Shudra and the author of a famous economic theory book ‘India Mortgaged’ as an unworthy leader. Usaa stood by Nagireddy to finish DVR’s revolutionary Brahminism. But Nagireddy never saw brahminism in communism and died unsuccessful.
Usaa was married to a brahmin woman within the party. The DVR’s camp tried to set his wife (Padma) against him. But he could take her with him. She finally became a State Government officer with a Mangali (barber) caste certificate. He was the first man to successfully navigate an extreme inter-caste married life between a barber and a brahman by converting Padma into his caste and she became the bread-winner to support his full-time socio-political work and educated their only daughter Hima Bindu. Both of them lived all along with an unfriendly kitchen at home.
The caste-blind communist brahminism did not realise a barber whose home preferred food was/is mostly meat and fish across the Telugu society and country and that was/is their pride food culture. Padma comes from a family that could not even tolerate the smell of meat and fish. Her family, caste, even her ‘out eating’ system was always confined to pure vegetarianism as their God was believed to be a vegetarian at home and also in the brahmin society. All Shudra gods are considered to be meatarians. Usaa’s childhood food was his god’s food who he rejected even that gods too in later life and turned to Buddha.
Her food culture was not a choice based but was a caste trained food culture. Communists should have understood caste is in the blood and class is on the body. Both of them had to struggle a great deal to navigate with two opposite food and work cultures as wife and husband. Like Gandhi, DVR also thought that all Indians should become vegetarian only to die after his communism comes to go to Hindu swarga. But they managed with a great difficulty to be under one roof till their death as Padma died in 2015 in his lap. Thereafter, Usaa became a Buddhist and carried his work.
In the process of fight against DVR’s so-called Braminic-Marxist theory, Usaa mastered Marxist-Leninst theory quite seriously. Later he developed differences with Nagireddy group leaders on understanding Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar and integrating it into caste-class revolutionary movement, in the context of Karemchedu Dalit massacre in 1985.
Though the main leaders in Telugu states were Shudras (Kammas and Reddys), their intellectual rigor was very weak and could never perceive the role of Brahminism in the communism. That was a green snake in the green grass. A barber who knows how to identify snake of any colour anywhere and kill it, he located this green snake in the green grass. None of the leaders who hailed from Shudra upper caste background studied the history of Hinduism and Buddhism as rival schools to the Brahminism. And, none of them read what Ambedkar wrote on Indian history.
In the life of the Indian communist movement only Brahmins wrote theory who never had an agrarian or artisanal productive mind. And, they only became intellectual leaders — a tragedy at that. This was a paradox. Dange, Ranadive, Charu Mazumdar, EVS Namboodripad, DVR, Vinod Mishra and so on became leaders and dreamt of becoming like Lenin or Mao. Hence Marxism became Vedamantra but not scientific theory that could adopt to caste cultural conditions. Usaa challenged that communist brahmin heritage. No Kamma, Reddy, Jat, Yadav, Nair, Patel, Maratha could become well-known theoretician from the communist ranks. This barber changed that hallow Shudra house into an intellectual Saloon.
No Shudra leader could acquire an intellectual and philosophical stature even from the communist school exactly on the lines that happened in the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) school. Usaa even with his limited English could perceive this. The RSS Brahmin intellectuals construct a consent system among the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi activists about the Hindu spiritual system, which is completely under the grip of Brahmins as priests, philosophers as part of necessary parampara. Productive Shudras have to live as spiritual slaves.
The communist Brahmin intellectuals never allow a serious discourse on Hindu spiritual system quite consciously as that would overthrow their hegemony in the communist structures, under the rubric that they believe in atheism not in religion. They refused to realise that no Shudra could become a priest in a temple like Tirupati or Jagannath, while being treated as Hindu. Usaa has opened this shell of silence in the communist ranks. The bogus theory of base structure and superstructure are separate guarded the Hindu brahminical system in the communist parties. Usaa told them that ‘these two structures are interdependent and you are operating on hypocritical humanism’.
He was expelled from the Nagireddy group, few others along with me in 1986 on the same question of caste and Ambedkarism. He worked with me in human rights protection and feeding the poor people dying of draught conditions in Mahabubnagar district. In 1987, I wrote a small book ‘Annihilation of Caste – A Marxist Approach’ in Telugu he helped in that project. The communist brahmins mainly tried to make State as the agent of attack leaving the oppression that the Dalits/Tribals/Shudra faced related to caste atrocities as myth. Caste according to them was/is a myth; class was/is material reality. They decided to see only the human body not the soul.
This theory came from Bengali and Marathi brahmin intellectuals into the communist revolution exactly on the line as it came into the RSS from Maharashtra Brahmins. This barber realised that this deceptive ideological framework certainly does not allow even social reform, leave alone revolution.
The Shudra/Dalits who worked in leftist structures believed as Marxism was given divine truth, as such brahmin nationalism is God given truth in RSS. In both mainstream communist parties also Shudra/Dalits could not become intellectual leaders as they could not in RSS till today. In the CPM’s Politburo there is no single Dalit/Adivasi member even now. This is where caste disease destroyed human creativity.
To sustain such brahmin intellectual hegemony many wings — literary, cultural, student and so on were started in communist parties. The Brahmin youth were trained to read and write. Others were made to do the mass work, as if it was like tilling land again in the revolution, which no brahmin does. And they became poojaris of Marxism.
Usaa became an all-rounder in this struggle. He became a poojari of his own gods –Phule and Ambedkar, and started shavings the head of brahminism, rather clean.
They abused him as renegade, reactionary and lackey of imperialism. Usaa said ‘my foot — get lost’. His tongue and pen became sharper and shaper. He travelled into the nook and corner of two Telugu states prepared youth for a leaderless #Black Lives Matter# like leaderless #Shudra/Dalit Lives Matters movement any time in future.
Usaa Barber a college drop-out leaving after his II year B.Sc perceived this quite well. So far, no communist leader in Bengal or Kerala or Maharashtra did that. We do not even know even a single Shudra/Dalit intellectual leader from these two states even though the communists ruled them for decades.
In literary and cultural field in Telugu states P.Varavara Rao led that strategy of Brahmin control. In organizations, a Brahmin is given the hold to control the written word. Even if others–Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis come into that field marginalizing their written word or making it invisible has been a historical strategy. Varavara Rao with his friends did that quite consistently.
Since the communist movement gives more weightage to written word–the theory–they made Marx as a Brahmin in India and others could never counter it with strong autonomous strategy of written word. Usaa hence started his own journal, a small Youtube studio in his house at the time of his sudden death. Corona took him away from his busy work. However, he made it difficult for the communists to continue their long-time caste-blind approach and continue the brahminism in future–a life that never rested till he breathed his last.
(Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, a long-time associate of Usaa Barber, Political Theorist and Author)
Other pieces by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd: