he traditional social stratification in Maharashtra was governed by varnashrama dharma, which is the division of society into an unequal hierarchical order comprising brahmins, Kshatriyas, vaishyas, and Sudras.
The social interaction between castes governed by this stratification was maintained by strict rules of pollution and purity.
At the top was the brahmin caste with many rights and privileges which maintained their social control over society by developing a religious ideology that gave legitimacy to many superstitions and inhuman practices.
At the lowest end were the anti-sunders or untouchable outcastes deprived of education and all other rights.
In Maharashtra, the Hindus were 74.8 percent of the total population. According to the census of 1818, the kunbis or Marathas were the main community about 55.25 percent of the total population.
Kunbis were also economically powerful in rural society. Being a rich peasant class they controlled agricultural production.
However, the influence of the traditional ideology and the institution of caste made them subservient to the brahmins.
The brahmins, on the other hand, exercised considerable influence over other castes due to their ritualistic power and monopoly over learning and knowledge.
During the British period, the brahmins successfully adopted the new English education and dominated the colonial administration.
The new intelligentsia, therefore, came mostly from the already advanced brahmin caste, occupying strategic positions as officials, professors, lower bureaucrats, writers, editors, or lawyers. This created fear among the non-brahmin castes.
It was this traditional social order which came under heavy fire both from the Christian missionaries and the nationalist intelligentsia that had imbibed western liberal ideas.
We can divide the reform movements into two distinct stands. The early radical reforms like Jyoti Rao Govindrao Phule tried for a revolutionary reorganization of the traditional culture and society on the basis of the principles of equality and rationality.
The later moderate reforms like Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842-1901), however, gave the argument of a return to the past tradition and culture with some modifications.
It was the early radical tradition of Phule which gave birth to the non-brahmin movement in Maharashtra.
Caste Movement in Tamil Nadu
In the madras presidency, the brahmins constituted 3.3% of Hindus. But in the rituals dominated traditional hierarchy, they were superior to other castes.
Traditionally being a literate caste, the brahmins were quick in adopting English education and monopolizing opportunities in professions and colonial bureaucracy.
This aroused the envy and hostility of the non-brahmins communities, which in turn, resulted in a non-brahmin movement.
However, the brahmin and non-brahmin conflict which was aggravated by job opportunities had much deeper social, economic, and cultural roots.
Recent historical works show that the Tamil renaissance had resulted in the growth of Dravidian. Consciousness and its political manifestation were the starting of the non-brahmin movement.
Based on the Tamil classical works like Paltupattu, Manimekalai, Cilappatikaram published between 1887 and 1904 Tamil scholars had elaborated on a picture of classical Dravidian civilization. It was distinct from the Aryan and Sanskritic culture, Caldwell, this was later elaborated by Tamil scholars.
The non-brahmin Tamil scholars also attempted to show that the Aryans had distorted the superior Dravidian religious-like Saiva Siddhanta philosophy and imposed the teachings of the Vedas and the casts system on the south Indian people.
It was his rediscovered distinct cultural identity, which expressed itself in the non-brahmin movement after 1916.
Caste Movement in Andhra Pradesh
In Andhra “Brahmanetharodyamamu” which literally means the movement launched by those other than the brahmins was basically for cultural reforms and social uplift of the non-brahmins groups like Kammas, reddish, Balija, and Velamas.
These peasant groups, with their substantial land ownership and economic dominance, lacked modern English education or the traditional ritual status on the basis of which they could claim a high social status in society.
Naturally, they attacked the brahmin monopoly over ritual status and the government jobs.
This movement had its origin in their perceived sense of social and cultural deprivation. The non-brahmin section of the landowning and rich upper class suffered on account of being clubbed into a sudra category by brahmins.
Some specific incidents acted as a stimulus for the movement.
It was alleged that the brahmins teachers denied Kamma students the right to study the Vedas.
At Kothavaram village, Krishna district, the brahmins protested against the use of the suffix Chowdary in the place of Dasa by members of the Kamma caste.
In the Krishna district, the brahmins filled a registered notice that the Kammas should not be allowed to study Sanskrit.
At Amritalur, Kamma students were driven away by brahmins as they were enraged by the presence of Sudras who they thought had no right to hear the Vedas.
Tripuraneni Ramaswamy Chowdhry (1887-1943), a prominent non-brahmin leader, refers to several such incidents. In one incident he was rebuffed for his interest in literature, by a brahmin teacher who remarked, “you are a sudra. It would be a sin for you to write verse. Sanskrit is the language of the gods. It is a great crime for a sudra to learn it”.
It was this social and cultural environment that strengthened the self-respect movement, especially with an event like the one that occurred at Kollur in 1916.
The self-respect movement in Andhra was a cultural response of the non-brahmin intellectuals to the superior brahmin social and spiritual domination.
The intellectual leaders embarked upon the reinterpretation of the sacred text. One drawback, however, was that the movement addressed only the problems of upper caste non-brahmins, and left out the Harijans in the lower order.
It aimed at restructuring the caste system with the upper caste non-brahmins on the top, rather than fighting for its complete abolition as in Maharashtra.
Caste Movement in Karnataka
The Vokkaligas, two dominant castes in Karnataka had suffered sub-division before being listed as a single unified caste by the census of 1901. This categorization argued one historian provided the leaders of the non-brahmin movement with significant caste associations.
The Lingayats established the Mysore Lingyat education fund association in 1905, while the Vokkaligas formed the Kokkaligara sangha in 1906.
However, it was the non-brahmin movement, which provided these caste associations with a common platform and held these social groups together.
The non-brahmin movement in Karnataka took its birth around 1918 and it was spearheaded by Vokkaligas and Lingayats. A delegation of non-brahmin leaders called on the maharaja of Mysore in 1918 and protested against the discrimination practiced against non-brahmins.
This resulted in the appointment of a committee headed by sir Leslie miller, who submitted his report in 1919. One the recommendation of miller, the government passed an order for equitable communal representation in the public service.