On 14 November, the day of Diwali this year, Dalit residents of Guvvalegi village, in northern Telangana’s Siddipet district, tried to install a statue of BR Ambedkar at a central spot in the village. The spot where they wanted to erect the statue lay between a Dalit settlement and a settlement of the Mudiraj community—a preponderant agrarian caste in Telangana categorised as Other Backward Classes in the state. That day, a group of Mudiraj men stopped them from entering the village commons, arguing that they were going to place a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha there instead. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been actively courting the community in the state, including giving several Mudiraj candidates tickets in the Hyderabad civic polls held four days later, on 18 November.
Ganesha is a deity that was not widely worshipped by many non-Brahmin communities in South India, but has been recently popularised by the BJP and other Hindu nationalist organisations. The Mudiraj demand for a Ganesha statue reflects the spread of Hindutva politics among some OBC communities in Telangana. The state has also witnessed a concomitant rise in OBC assertion, which has frequently led to anti-Dalit violence.
Jangapalli Sailu, an activist of the Dalit Bahujan Front—a Telangana-based Dalit-rights organisation—from Guvvalegi told me that the families in the village had pooled together Rs 35,000 for the statue. He said that when they assembled to erect it, he heard a Mudiraj man say, “If you want an Ambedkar statue, place it in your colony, because he belongs to you. This is a Scheduled Caste statue, so it cannot be in the centre of the village.” Sailu told me that on the next day, leaders from both communities visited the village, as did the police. As tension prevailed, Sailu told me that a mob of Mudiraj men charged the Dalits and a brawl ensued, which was brought under control by the police. By all accounts, no one was seriously injured.