Kancha Ilaiah was born on 5th October, 1952 in the village of Papaiahpet, Warangal district in Telangana State. His family belonged to the sheep-grazing Kuruma Golla caste which is considered as one of numerically dominated sub-caste among the Telugu speaking . The name ‘Ilaiah’ came out of their caste deity ‘Inoli Mallanna’. Inoli Mallanna, Katta Mallanna, Komuravelli Mallanna, Odela Mallanna are the geographical locations/peaks situated in Deccan plateau, through which shepherds usually travel in the quest of fodder for their sheep and goat. Thus, it is believed that Inoli Mallanna was the chieftain of shepherds. Ilaiah was inspired by his own mother Kancha Kattamma as she was at the forefront of the shepherd’s struggle against the forest guards’ discriminatory behavior. She was killed during a violent confrontation while protesting against police brutality.
Ilaiah has an M.A. degree in political science from Osmania University, Hyderabad and an M.Phil. awarded for his study of land reform in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He was awarded with Ph.D. degree for his work entitled ‘Political Thought of Gautama Buddha’, later it was published in the form book entitled ‘God as Political Philosopher: Buddha’s Challenge to Brahmanism’. He has been a recipient of the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Award and was a Nehru Fellow between 1994-97. While working as an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Osmania University, several of Ilaiah’s colleagues as well as academics affiliated with the university expressed, in an open-letter, their concern with respect to certain articles and opinions Ilaiah contributed to a local newspaper and advised him against writing material that could inflame sectarian discontent or prejudice. He also bagged LISA award for his magnum opus ‘Why I am not a Hindu?’ In 2012, he got retired from his teaching job in Osmania University after 38 of study, research and teaching. Currently, he is serving as Director of the Centre for Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad.