Sanam Roohi gives a working paper on ‚Telugu associations in the US: Caste differentiation and diasporic politics in a transregionally connected social field‘

American Telugu associations, built as a cultural platform to unite spatially dispersed Telugu diaspora have become key political intermediaries linking the US with Andhra and Telangana’s political landscape. Although the term Telugu point to their larger linguistic basis of membership, the caste character of these associations is reflected in the way particular communities exercise control of these associations and the alignments of these associations with caste affiliated political parties in India. In this paper I argue that these diasporic Telugu organisations are performing the role of caste associations, albeit in a refashioned way: as in colonial times, they work to make caste relevant, but now in a globalising milieu. Caste associations, a product of colonial modernity and increasing urbanisation have worked for the dynamically defined ‘interests’ of the community, which changes over time. While in colonial times, caste associations worked to unite sub-jatis, achieve upward mobility in the caste hierarchy, and wrest concessions from the British government, in post-independence era, their tryst with democratic politics have been lauded by scholars. With transnational migration and a sense of disintegration of community and cultural values among migrants in the USA, I argue that it is organizations like TANA and ATA that take up the project of building caste based community cohesiveness transnationally even as they attempt to become political mediators in local politics in India. In doing so, associational politics create a transnational social field where carefully crafted and performed caste differentiation between the two major caste groups – Kammas and Reddys pan out. Whereas Reddys and Kammas often see each other as opponents or rivals, they also regard themselves as the only two legitimate caste groups who can represent Telugus both in America and in Andhra. Therefore, the associational politics in the diaspora also point to how Reddy-Kamma rivalry has subsumed the political possibilities of other caste groups within a trans-regionally connected social field.

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