In mid September, members of the Arya Vysya community in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh began holding protests against the work of the academic and writer Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd. The nature of the protests was vigorous: while some Arya Vysyas ambushed Shepherd’s car and pelted stones at it, others burnt effigies in his likeness. On 18 September, during a meeting of an Arya Vysya organisation, TG Venkatesh, a member of parliament from the Telegu Desam Party, said that Shepherd was a “traitor” who deserved to be “hanged.” Shepherd registered a complaint with the police, saying that he feared for his life, and confined himself to house arrest until early October.
The Arya Vysyas, also referred to as Kommatis, and understood to be an upper-caste Vaishya group, had taken grave offence to the contents of a short Telugu-language book, Samajika Smugglerlu: Kommatullu, or “Social Smugglers: Kommatis.” The Telugu book is an adapted extract from Shepherd’s book Post-Hindu India, which was published in 2009. The Samijika Smugglerlu argues that the Baniya community—often referred to as Vaishya, the term from which the Arya Vysyas derive their name—has maintained a monopoly over business in India, and excluded Shudra, Dalit and Bahujan groups from the benefits of capital growth in the country. An interview with Shepherd, in which he discusses “social smuggling,” can be read here.
In the introduction to Post-Hindu India, Shepherd writes that the book covers “Dalit-Bahujan cultural, scientific and economic knowledge systems, analyses their overall relationships with each other and also with the Hindu religion as a spiritual system.” In addition to the chapter on the Vaishya community, the book contains individual chapters on various communities residing in India, and, based on their traditional occupations and knowledge systems, analyses the development of the Indian economic structure. It theorises that the Hindu religion’s failure to reckon with the evils of caste oppression will lead to its demise. Shepherd writes: “If a religion does not have the inner strength to gradually move towards institutionalising the spiritual democratic course of equality and transformation within its inner structures, it is bound to fade away.”
The following is an extract from “Social Smugglers,” the chapter from Post-Hindu India whose adaptation became the focus of Arya Vysya anger. In it, Shephard argues that, unlike in the West, industrialisation in India did not promote social mobility, as capital was made inaccessible to Shudras, Dalits and Adivasis.
In the European context, the children of the servants and also of vagabonds entered into business, which, in their context, was based more on individual entrepreneurship rather than on communitarian or caste entrepreneurship. Since the feudal lords looked down upon the business activity, the youth from the rest of the civil society found an opportunity to start businesses on competitive basis. The spiritual society did not impose any restrictions on the process of business enterprise.