5 things to know about Kapus, their reservation demand and protests

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
  • Updated: Feb 01, 2016 15:06 IST
Kapu agitators protest after setting fire to the Ratnachal Express in the East Godavari district on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Additional police and paramilitary forces were rushed to coastal Andhra Pradesh on Monday, a day after large-scale violence rocked Tuni in East Godavari district during a protest by Kapus demanding reservation.

Police imposed prohibitory orders banning the assembly of four or more persons across East Godavari district and beefed up security to prevent any untoward incident.

Read: Forces rush to violence-hit Andhra town, police probe Kapus protesters

Here are five things to know about the Kapu community:

1) Who they are

The Kapus are primarily an agrarian community based in the Andhra-Telangana region. It is one of the dominant caste groups with political influence in the state. The Kapu community comprises nearly 26% of the state’s five crore people.

“The Kapus, in fact, form the core of the middle castes of Andhra Pradesh, the original cultivator caste which migrated from the Gangetic plains, probably from Kampilya (near Ayodhya) thousands of years ago. They entered what is present-day Telangana and, after clearing the forests along the banks of the Godavari, settled down to farming. This is the reason why even today there is a heavy concentration of Kapus along the Godavari down to the Andhra area... Although farming continues to be their mainstay, a section amongst them took to trade and business. These Kapus are called Balijas (derived from vanijya)... There are also Ontaris and Telagas who are found in the two Godavari districts,” according to the book Battleground Telangana: Chronilce Of An Agitation.

2) Where they stand

The Kapus sway is secondary to that of Kammas and Reddys, who they accuse of wielding political power, denying them their due.

“The Kapus believe that about one hundred twenty years ago, probably at the end of the nineteenth century, their social status was higher than that of the Kammas. But the Kammas took to business, commerce and education faster. Closely knit and numerically not too many, the Kammas were able to take rapid strides to land at the top of the social hierarchy,” the book says.

3) Their demand

Saying that they are falling behind in terms of jobs and education, the Kapu community is demanding inclusion in the ‘Backward Castes’ category “like they were before independence”. ‘Backward Castes’ is a collective term covering socially and educationally deprived groups in the country. The mid-20th century saw the Kapus shuttling in and out of the category.

The first major protest for the inclusion of the Kapus in the ‘Backward Castes’ was held in 1993. A government order was then issued for their inclusion in ‘Backward Castes’. The Kapu leaders accuse the Telugu Desam Party (regarded as a party of the Kammas), which came to power later in 1994, of not honouring the order.

The Kapu community has also accused the ruling TDP of reneging on its promise made during the state legislature elections in 2014 to reserve some state government jobs for members of the lower-caste group.

4) The government’s stand

TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu’s government recently announced a panel -- the justice Manjunatha Commission -- to study and submit a report to include the Kapus in ‘Backward Castes’.

Terming Sunday’s violence as ‘pre-planned’, Naidu has asked officials to deal firmly with those involved.

5) What next?

Rail and road traffic between Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada was restored late on Sunday after M Padmanabham, a key Kapu leader, announced the withdrawal of their agitation . He, however, threatened to go on ‘fast-unto-death’ if the government failed to respond by Monday evening on the demand for including Kapus in the list of ‘Backward Castes’.

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