Radhika Iyer/Uma Sudhir, NDTV, Saturday, May 20, 2006 (Nalgonda/Hyderabad):
The reservation debate may be raging throughout the country, but in Andhra Pradesh, it's not about dalits against those from the general category.
It is a complex issue of differences within the dalits, which is why the demand is for sub-classification of scheduled castes and sub-reservation.
In a village in Nalgonda district, most of the dalits will not step into the Pochamma temple of the village.
It's not because it belongs to the upper caste but because it belongs to the Malas, another dalit caste that apparently considers itself superior to the predominantly Madiga caste of dalits in the village.
The Madigas have their own temple with their own Goddess Pochamma.
"We have our Pochamma, they have their Pochamma, BCs have their own Pochamma. Everyone has their own Pochamma," said a villager.
All through Andhra Pradesh, in virtually every village where the two dominant dalit castes live, there are two separate residential colonies and two separate water sources.
And where there are converts, there are two separate churches, one belonging to the Malas, another to the Madigas. The Madigas are a virtual untouchable for the Malas.
"They would say you are a Madigas, you are less than us, even as a child. When my friend came home, I made him sit with us on a chair. When I went to their house, they would make us sit on the ground. My friend said our caste people won't like if you sit up on the chair or cot," said Ramchander, a Madiga youth.
The divide became even more sharp after the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti started a protest movement in 1994, demanding sub-classification and sub-reservation in the 15 per cent quota for scheduled castes in the state.
They argue that of the 59 castes under Scheduled Castes in Andhra Pradesh, Madigas comprise 60 per cent of the SC population but hardly enjoy 2-3 per cent of the reservation.
On the other hand, Malas who constitute 33 per cent, walk away with 80-90 per cent of the benefit.
"Out of the 15 per cent reservation, one caste is taking 13 per cent, the rest of the 58 castes are getting two per cent, how is it right? You must give according to population," said Krishna Madiga, President, Madiga Res Porata Samiti.
Vijayarangamma's husband Ravi Madiga was the Rajeev Goswami of that movement. He immolated himself as part of the mass protest movement.
In 1999, the TDP government brought in an ordinance to allow sub-classification but the Supreme Court struck it down in 2004.
"Among Backward Classes, sub-classification is done on economic basis whereas in Scheduled Castes it is on the basis of untouchability,'' said J Prabhakar Rao, Mala Mahanadu.
So Vijayarangamma is once again part of the struggle for sub-classification that she hopes will get her a job to fend for her three children.
"My husband died for caste, I am relying on my caste to live," she said.
Critics say the merits of the sub-classification apart, there is also vote-bank politics in it.
The Telugu Desam, BJP and Left parties already favour sub-classification, now pressure is being put on the Congress to bring a Bill in Parliament to make sub-classification of Scheduled Castes a reality in Andhra Pradesh and in India.