Usaa Barber (Uppumavuluri Sambashivarao), a well known social reformer, anti-caste ideologue and anti-Brahminism fighter, succumbed to Covid-19 on July 25. He died because of the Indian medical system, which could not meet the challenge posed by the new coronavirus.

Over a century after Savitribai Phule and her son Dr Yashwantharao died of bubonic plague in 1898, Usaa Barber (whom I so named), as committed as Savitribai and Mahatma Phule to the abolition of caste and untouchability, died of the brutal Covid pandemic.

Usaa was a legend in many ways. From his student days he was a staunch atheist, and would compose songs and poems to motivate the masses. For a boy who came from a poor barber family from a village, Brahminkoduru near Tenali, known as a centre for cunning Brahminism in Andhra Pradesh, it was a surprisingly bold step.

Such a beginning of his was unexpected. Barbers have to lead a slave life by going from house to house to shave the heads of those rich unproductive castes, who keep insulting them. They were supposed to behave like skilled slaves, and eat the meagre food they were offered and survive.

In the 1960s, a barber going to school in that region was rarest of things. Usaa was put in school and later in college by his elder brother. His school teacher seems to have given a date of birth: 19 February, 1951

But unusually this barber boy, instead of shaving the heads of Brahmin poojaris who needed a clean shaven head with a scalp like that of Mahatma Gandhi’s at the apex of the head to perform pooja, archana, offering pure vegetarian food items to Brahmanised Hindu gods, revolted against their God itself.

The poojari life and pooja was ultimately to make money to lead one’s life without doing any productive work, either in the family or at the community level. A barber had no right to enter the temple along with Dalits. For ages together the poojaris were habituated to live as parasites, justifying this sort of life as holy and worthy by use of a “spiritual” fascism.

God for them is free food and a good life provider. This deception was understood by the atheist Babar quite early in his life. Barbers of the area in those days were designating themselves as Nayi Brahmins to get some respect, but Brahmins were never to give them that respect.

They treated them as spiritual and social slaves meant to shave their body on a daily basis – for priests and for their women who had become widows, and so would have to lose their beauty, dignity and human life, and live like a Brahmin female slave within the four walls.

The Brahminism of Andhra was brutal. Brahmin reformers like Gurijada Apparao and Kandukuri Veereshalinam Panthulu initiated some reform for a better life for their own Brahmin women, but a barber’s life remained unreformed and unupgraded.

Leaders, writers and thinkers were not supposed to come from that community even in the freedom movement. They were supposed to shave the leaders’ heads into a beautiful and clean shape for their elegant public appearance. This was considered to be their contribution to nationalism, without any respect and livelihood.

If a barber aspired to the role of a leader, he would be snubbed and pushed back into his shaving job. The Indian freedom struggle was not anti-caste or a struggle to change the millennial occupational stagnation and indignity of labour.

Nobody had the right to change their oppressive caste occupation. The lowered caste occupations, in fact all productive occupations, were treated as undignified, lower than the most unproductive occupation like pooja and purohityam.

No Brahmin god was pro-production, and the Shudra productive god images were pushed into what was inaccurately called the “little tradition” by the Brahmin intellectuals of the freedom movement. The Communist intellectuals, having come from the same cultural roots, did not think of changing it, rather they reinforced it with loud silence.

Usaa Barber joined the radical left movement once it began. He was in jail during the Emergency, and later worked in the Tribal areas to conduct an armed struggle. In the plains he mobilised farmers and labour for irrigation and drinking water resources. He contested elections and challenged the so-called conservative Communists of the CPI, in the Nalgonda district of Telangana. He worked with me to expand the notion of human rights to starving masses, to caste atrocities and women’s rights in the 1980s.

He was a tireless mass lover and lived with them. He was expelled from his party for his stand on Ambedkar and anti-casteism.

Usaa compared and understood the civilised barbarism with the Brahmanised radical left, and started writing and speaking against their loud-silence on caste culture in Telugu quite eloquently.

All the Communist intellectuals were upset, angry with him. If he had only come out of a radical Maoist party he would perhaps have been attacked physically, as there was a bad culture of accusing every dissenter of being a police agent. But he was from the moderate Tarimela Nagireddy (a Shudra Reddy) and Devulapally Venkateswar Rao (a Brahmin) group.

Democratic centralism destroyed the sense of democratic dissent in the Communist structures of India. It was a most unmarxist culture but well developed there. Once Brahminism operates as democratic centralism it uses only Vishnuchakra to resolve differences.

Usaa was the first full-time worker rebel in the Telugu region and oppressed caste leader who, within no time, was identified as a leader, writer, thinker, poet, composer of course, singer.

Singing in the revolution was always left to Dalits/Shudras, as Gaddar and many others did all their life without having the stature of leaders. Although they were popular among the masses, they were never given a leader’s stature.

This boy started questioning the very existence of their God in the temples. Afterwards this man challenged the Brahminism within Communism. This was what the first barber Upali did by joining Gauthama Buddha’s system as his close confidant in the fifth century BCE. Since then, in all known history, only Usaa Barber did so at a very young age. He never turned back.

He was in haste to fight exploitation and the oppressive system, hence joined the most militant Naxalite (Maoist) movement to kill the enemies as soon as possible at the point of a gun. He mobilised the poor Dalits and Shudra (Other Backward Class) labouring masses to rebel against landlords and oppressors.

Meanwhile in 1975 the Emergency came in. He was arrested and kept in Rajahmundry jail for two years.

Then he went into a deep tribal area called Kondamodulu and organised Tribals to fight for their lands with bows and arrows. He was a tribal among Tribals eating everything from root to raisin and rat to rabbit. Afterwards he shifted to Nalgonda to organise farmers to fight for irrigational and drinking water, and became a famous peasant leader. He contested from Motkuru in 1984 against a Communist Party of India landlord leader and lost the election. He was not sparing anybody.

He realised that even in the revolutionary movement Brahminism was playing a key role. There was a Brahmin (pure vegetarian) leader called Devulapally Venkateswar Rao (DVR) who was claiming all theoretical authority on Marx, Lenin and Mao as if they were like Vedavyasa, who wrote Mahabharat, or Kautilya, who wrote the most dangerous Brahmin–State craft book, the Arthashastra, or Manu who wrote the Manudharmashastra that was publicly burnt by Ambedkar.

Theirs was a culture of read and recite among their families, hence they would pick up quotations from Marx, Lenin and Mao’s writings and write funny documents asking the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi cadre to apply to themselves the concrete conditions of India’s class system, as if there was no caste in the India of their mind. What an understanding of the concrete conditions of India.

Usaa sensed DVR’s Brahminism in the revolutionary movement. DVR was treating as unworthy a much better revolutionary leader, Tarimela Nagireddy, who is a Shudra and the author of a famous book of economic theory called India Mortgaged. Usaa stood by Nagireddy to finish DVR’s revolutionary Brahminism. But Nagireddy never saw the Brahminism in Communism and died unsuccessful.

Usaa was married to a Brahmin woman within the party. The DVR camp tried to set his wife (Padma) against him. But he could take her with him. She finally became a state government officer with a Mangali (barber) caste certificate. He was the first man to successfully navigate an extreme inter-caste married life, between a barber and a Brahman, by converting Padma into his caste, and she became the breadwinner to support his full time socio-political work and educate their only daughter, Hima Bindu.

Both of them lived all along with an unfriendly kitchen at home. The caste-denying Communist Brahminism did not realise a barber whose home preferred food was/is mostly meat and fish across Telugu society and country, and that was/is their food culture and pride.

Padma comes from a family that could not even tolerate the smell of meat or fish. Her family, caste, even her ‘out-eating’ system, was always confined to pure vegetarianism, as their God was believed to be a vegetarian at home and also in Brahmin society.

All Shudra gods are considered to be meatarians. Usaa’s childhood food was his God’s food, whom he rejected in later life and turned to Buddha.

Padma’s food culture was not a choice-based but was a caste-trained food culture. Communists should have understood that caste is in the blood and class is on the body.

Padma and Usaa had to struggle a great deal to navigate between two opposite food and work cultures as wife and husband. Like Gandhi, DVR thought that all Indians should become vegetarians, only to die after his communism comes to go to Hindu swarga. But they managed with great difficulty to be under one roof until their death, as Padma died in 2015 in his lap. Thereafter Usaa became a Buddhist and carried on his work.

In the process of fighting against DVR’s so-called Braminic-Marxist theory, Usaa mastered Marxist-Leninist theory quite seriously. Later he developed differences with the Nagireddy group leaders on understanding Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar, and integrating it into a caste-class revolutionary movement, in the context of the Karemchedu massacre of Dalits by Kammas in 1985.

Although the main leaders in Telugu states were Shudras (Kammas and Reddys), their intellectual rigour was very weak and could never perceive the role of Brahminism in this Communism. It was a green snake in the green grass. A barber who knows how to identify a snake of any colour anywhere and kill it, he located this green snake in the green grass.

None of the leaders who hailed from Shudra highered caste background studied the history of Hinduism and Buddhism as rival schools to Brahminism. And, none of them read what Ambedkar wrote on Indian history.

In the life of the Indian Communist movement, only Brahmins wrote theory who never had an agrarian or artisanal productive mind. And they only became intellectual leaders -- a tragedy at that. This was a paradox. Dange, Ranadive, Charu Mazumdar, EVS Namboodripad, DVR, Vinod Mishra and so on became leaders and dreamt of becoming like Lenin or Mao. Hence Marxism became Vedamantra, not a scientific theory that could adapt itself to caste cultural conditions.

Usaa challenged that Communist Brahmin heritage. No Kamma, Reddy, Jat, Yadav, Nair, Patel, Maratha could become a well known theoretician from the Communist ranks. This barber changed that hollow Shudra house into an intellectual salon.

No Shudra leader could acquire intellectual and philosophical stature even from the Communist school, exactly along the lines of what happened in the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh school.

Usaa even with his limited English could perceive this. The RSS Brahmin intellectuals construct a consent system among the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi activists about the Hindu spiritual system, which is completely under the grip of Brahmins as priests, philosophers as part of the necessary parampara. Productive Shudras have to live as spiritual slaves.

The Communist Brahmin intellectuals never allow a serious discourse on the Hindu spiritual system, quite consciously, as that would overthrow their hegemony in the Communist structures under the rubric that they believe in atheism not in religion. They refused to realise that no Shudra could become a priest in a temple like Tirupati or Jagannath, while being treated as Hindu.

Usaa has opened this shell of silence in the Communist ranks. The bogus theory that base structure and superstructure are separate guarded the Hindu Brahminical system within the Communist parties. Usaa told them that “these two structures are interdependent and you are operating on hypocritical humanism”.

He was expelled from the Nagireddy group, few others along with me in 1986 on the same question, of caste and Ambedkarism. He worked with me in human rights protection and feeding the poor people dying of drought conditions in Mahabubnagar district. In 1987 I wrote a small book called Annihilation of Caste - A Marxist Approach in Telugu in which he helped.

The Communist Brahmins mainly tried to make State as the agent of attack, leaving the oppression of Dalits/Tribals/Shudras through caste atrocities as myth. Caste according to them was/is a myth; class was/is material reality. They decided to see only the human body not the soul.

This theory came from Bengali and Marathi Brahmin intellectuals into the Communist revolution exactly on the lines as it came into the RSS from Maharashtra Brahmins. This barber realised it was a deceptive ideological framework that certainly does not allow even social reform, leave alone revolution.

The Shudra/Dalits who worked in leftist structures believed Marxism was a given divine truth, just as Brahmin nationalism is a God given truth in the RSS. In neither mainstream Communist party could Shudra/Dalits become intellectual leaders, as they still cannot in the RSS.

In the CPM’s Politburo there is not a single Dalit/Adivasi member even now. This is where caste disease destroyed human creativity.

To sustain such Brahmin intellectual hegemony, many wings -- literary, cultural, student and so on were started in the Communist parties. The Brahmin youth were trained to read and write. Others were made to do the mass work, as if it was like tilling land again in the revolution, which no Brahmin does. And they became poojaris of Marxism.

Usaa became an all-rounder in this struggle. He became a poojari of his own gods, Phule and Ambedkar, and started shaving the head of Brahminism rather clean.

They abused him as a renegade, reactionary and lackey of imperialism. Usaa said ‘my foot – get lost’. His tongue and pen became sharper and shaper. He travelled into the nooks and corners of both Telugu states preparing youth for a leaderless #BlackLivesMatter–like leaderless #ShudraDalitLivesMatter movement any time in future.

So far no Communist leader in Bengal or Kerala or Maharashtra has done that. We do not even know of a single Shudra/Dalit intellectual leader from these two states, even though the Communists ruled them for decades. Usaa Barber, a college dropout who left after his II year B.Sc, perceived this quite well.

In the literary and cultural field in the Telugu states, P. Varavara Rao led that strategy of Brahmin control. In the organisations a Brahmin is given the hold over the written word. Even if others, Shudras/Dalits/Adivasis come into that field, marginalising their written word or making it invisible has been a historical strategy. Varavara Rao with his friends did that quite consistently.

Since the Communist movement gives more weightage to the written word – the theory – they made Marx into a Brahmin in India and others could never counter it with a strong autonomous strategy of the written word.

Usaa hence started his own journal, a small YouTube studio in his house at the time of his sudden death. Corona took him away from his busy work. However, he made it difficult for the Communists to continue their longtime caste-blind approach and continue Brahminism into the future – a life that never rested till he breathed his last.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, a long-time associate of Usaa Barber, is a political theorist and author