A Tamil movie, 'Jeeva', lamented, justifiably, that cricket teams in India are dominated by Brahmins. The movie was applauded and many took to, where else, social media to vent their ire on the 'disproportionate' dominance of Brahmins, who constitute a minority in the state, in the game. Now, here is another statistic. In 2004 out of the much coveted 1400 MBBS seats in Tamil Nadu just 28, barely 2%, was taken by Forward Community students (not just Brahmins but the so called FCs in general) whose population far exceeds the paltry 2%. Of course there is no movie to lament the latter or even accept the grotesque injustice of Tamil Nadu's grossly perverted and fraud ridden quota based reservation system. In fact the latter statistics is welcomed with unreserved glee and a smug "deserves you right" attitude. Being born to a middle class Forward community is the closest to a death penalty that a new-born gets in Tamil Nadu. Brahmins have been marginalized politically and economically leaving just the cricket team and a few music sabhas in Mylapore to dominate.
Many would be livid that I'd choose to characterize being born in a middle class FC family as death sentence. What is life worth today when, first, education and, as a consequence, good paying jobs are beyond the reach of a human being on account of nothing but caste and for no sin except those that of his forefathers more than a century ago?
Popular publisher and entrepreneur Badri Seshadri wrote a very short op-ed in Times of India titled 'The angst of the Tamil Brahmin: Live and let live'. Subject to caprices of the editor and the tyrannical limit of word count Seshadri highlighted that Brahmins have been completely emasculated (my word) of political and economic influence, especially in Tamil Nadu. More than the marginalizing of his community his angst was the continued, as Karunanidhi does with relish, vilification of Brahmins as the fountainhead of all that plagues Tamil Nadu. I've written several blogs on Dravidian politics and anti-Brahminism before and I'd invite the reader to bear with some repetition. Also, given the explosive nature of the topic, this being a blog, I shall dwell at length and with caveats to make things as clear as I could.
Seshadri is certainly wrong in calling the long history of Brahminical oppression of lower caste as a 'putative theory'. He is, nevertheless, spot on in ridiculing the skewed, perverted and fraudulent reservation system built on fancy claims of upper castes denying education for 2000 years. Modern education was a very recent entrant to India, thanks to the British, in less than 200 years. Of those 200 years reservation system has existed in some form or the other for over 100 years.
Reservation system, as a tool to ensure that weaker sections of the society have access to education and jobs, is always effective in the short term and without fail eventually trends towards becoming counter productive and a politically convenient panacea to all ills. Reservation system is offered as a solution to every inequality to the exclusion of any serious government efforts to address the real underlying issues like access to quality education. Between 1967, when DMK came to power, and 1984, when MGR allowed private professional colleges just two or fourdigit medical or engineering college (combined) was started by any government. The private colleges initiative has done far more in providing access to education than the quota system could ever dream of.
The Sattanthan commission had categorically stated that reservation should be restricted to "one or at most two generations of affluence". He further emphasized "modern society and modern scholarship will not admit that there can be any environmental or social handicap which cannot be remedied in a generation". Yet, we are informed, with mouths foamed, that "a 2000 year injustice cannot be undone in a few generations". Essentially this is an argument for quotas in perpetuity. Already the pernicious effect is evident in that the cut offs for BCs is pretty close to that of FCs. It is not uncommon to see third or even fourth generation beneficiaries of quotas and that too of kids who are born with a silver spoon.
When the reservation system was debated by the framers of the Indian constitution Ambedkar was single minded in ensuring that the benefits were reserved exclusively for SCs and STs of Hindu religion only. He rejected the claim of Sikhs to be considered for reservation. Today Hindutva supporters proudly thank Ambedkar for ensuring that only Hindus are eligible for quotas. Justice as a broad based concept for the oppressed amongst all sections was a concept beyond the feeble imagination of Ambedkar.
A Hindu association poster thanking Ambedkar for making reservations exclusive to Hindus.
Amongst the many myths about FCs is that they are all rich and could address through alternate avenues the lack of opportunities imposed by the quota system. Also it is assumed that FCs, without distinction, have a network of support and knowledge reservoir in navigating the labyrinth that is the educational system.While there is strong justification for defining backwardness in terms of caste that it was done exclusively in terms of caste with no latitude for economic backwardness remains the most unjust part of the quota implementation. A recent Wall Street Journal article titled "Reversal of fortune isolates India's Brahmins" cites a study saying that 50% of Brahmins actually live on $100 a month.
One of the reasons behind the paltry 28 candidates in MBBS is that FCs have started shunning MBBS simply because even if a student surmounted the odds of gaining an MBBS seat it is near impossible for an FC to get a good PG course. The same is true for Engineering too where the groups one can study is further decided on caste basis. I still remember my Brahmin friend, from a very middle class family, crying when he came to know that he was assigned to Civil engineering course whereas girls and boys of 'suitable' castes sailed into EEE. One such student failed to graduate.
Reservation system remains the bane of FCs and the most important tool that can easily be called genocidal in its impact. I am sure many will roll their eyes at that characterization and many more will be indignant. When I enrolled in my Plus one class the clerk asked my dad for my caste in order to categorize. When my dad specified the caste (a non-Brahmin FC caste) the clerk chuckled and said 'finished'. He was prescient.
Not many realize that the classification Forward community is not restricted to Brahmins alone it encompasses a good number of non-Brahmin upper castes too. However, non-Brahmin FCs are notorious for fudging their castes using the myriad close sounding BC counterpart castes to escape the Nazi jackboot strangulation of quotas. It is also due to this loop hole that even non-Brahmin FCs cheer for quotas and participate with equal frothing in anti-Brahminism of BCs/MBCs etc.
An interesting irony is how the implementation of quotas, for the very same reasons that the Dravidian parties cite in Tamil Nadu, in Sri Lanka contributed to 25 years of bloodshed. The rationale of Sinhalese governments in implementing quotas was exactly similar to that enunciated by the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu. The litany of complaints and justifications by the Sinhalese majority against minority Tamils mirrored the Tamil Nadu scene. Tamils, the Sinhalese charged, a minority dominated education and jobs. Dravidian party stooges make a big deal of the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils (and accuse Brahmins of not sharing the sympathy) while turning a blind eye to the fact that the very policies that Sri Lankan Tamils hated are being stuffed down the throats of FCs in Tamil Nadu. The irony becomes tragic if one realizes that the Sri Lankan system of quotas was not only far less oppressive than the Tamil Nadu version it was, in later years, even mitigated. Put simply Sri Lankan Tamils suffered far less under the quota system than Tamil Nadu FCs. Incidentally Tamils in Malaysia took part in a rally to protest against reservations that the Maylaysian government enacted to protect the natives. Apparently the only place in the world where Tamils love reservations is in Tamil Nadu because thats the only place where a large section of them stand to benefit. The rationale for quota system remains the same through out the world it is the beneficiaries that change.
A persistent pernicious campaign against Brahmins is about their ability to adapt and survive. A DMK stooge and blogger today wrote that Brahmins have moved away from MBBS to courses like chartered accountancy. What does he expect? Even a unicellular organism like amoeba adapts to survive. Does the lunatic expect people to live like sacrificial goats? And it is completely erroneous to say Brahmins have 'moved away' from MBBS. No. FCs have been systematically excluded thanks to a genocidal policy. That is because on top of the stifling 69% quota there are rules for giving marks, gratis, to so called 'service candidates' proportionate to the years a candidates spends whiling away time in some primary health center. This is how doctors are produced in Tamil Nadu. No wonder that Karunanidhi and his family come running to US and UK for medical treatment.
The Dravidian movement's relentless propaganda that Brahmins will swamp the academia without quota system to hold them in check has given rise, counter-intuitively, to the myth that Brahmins, by virtue of being Brahmins, are intelligent. Jeyamohan's stereotyping, of Brahmins being 'natural teachers' and that a mediocre teacher is an exception amongst Brahmins, is patently false and every bit racist too. I studied 11th and 12th grades and later college in Brahmin run institutions where the teachers were almost 100% Brahmins. I can count on one hand the good teachers. In fact my botany teacher was notorious for vulgar double entendre that he freely dished out in a co-education class. My chemistry teacher was a rowdy. The physics teacher famously failed in his MSc physics exam 8 times and never understood physics. College was no different.
My advice to Forward Community in general and Brahmins in particular is to leave India until the hydra headed monster that is reservation is reformed. Beg, borrow or steal but find a way to leave the country and when you leave hold your head high that you are forging ahead for a better tomorrow. Patriotism, as Johnson taught us, is the refuge of the scoundrel. I make no apologies for quitting India. If anything, India owes me an apology for having made it inhospitable for a citizen to live and prosper.
Brahmins and Chennai IIT
Amongst the Tamils who enter Chennai IIT and other IITs Tamil Brahmins are a dominant section and of course this too raises the ire of others. “Whither social justice” ask the anti-Brahmins with their habitually blood shot eyes and at the top of their lungs. I say to them “blame yourself and the likes of Karunanidhi”. Karunanidhi took the politically palatable part Sattanathan commission report, to increase quantum of reservation to 49%, and ignored the less politically convenient parts recommending identification and removal of creamy layer. As a result of the reservation policies Brahmins started moving out of Tamil Nadu or at least out of Tamil Nadu government jobs (from which they were excluded) and migrating mostly to Central government jobs. The move had the corollary effect of those families educating their children in CBSE schools. Tamil Nadu State Board curriculum look aboriginal compared to the CBSE curriculum. Karunanidhi, with much fanfare, promulgated the ‘uniform curriculum system’ in his last administration and abolished the Matriculation schools which had a marginally better curriculum. School curriculums were now reduced to the ‘lowest common denominator’, called with politically correct terms as ‘village school friendly’. I know DMK supporters who cheered this ‘lowering of the bar’ and they cheered loudly when students scored high marks willy nilly. The phrase ‘grade inflation’ is unknown to such people. Recently at Guindy College of Engineering a vast number of engineering students, many of who had scored centimes in the much lauded ‘uniform curriculum’, failed in mathematics. A study undertaken by government of India said that only 16% of Tamil Nadu’s engineering graduates were suitable for employment. I’ve read the textbooks of ‘uniform curriculum’ and can say that students studying those will not enter IITs or IIMs for ages to come. It is no wonder that Tamil Nadu students from non-CBSE streams face a great challenge in succeeding in the All India entrance exams such as those for IIT, IIM, AIIMS, AFMC, JIPMER etc.
When Rajiv Gandhi wanted to introduce the Navodaya school system Karunanidhi cried hoarse that it was imposing Hindi by the backyard. Never mind that the Maran brothers studied Hindi in a posh private convent in Chennai and later when one of them was nominated to the ministry his Hindi fluency was cited as an advantage. The Navodaya schools were modeled to deliver high quality education to village schools. They have a track record of sending pupils to IITs. Tragically, Thirumavalavan, a Dalit leader and politician, took pride that he played a role in preventing Navodaya schools in Tamil Nadu. Only Tamil Nadu, thanks to the politicians, lacks a Navodaya school infrastructure in all of India. Of course after depriving the poor people of a good choice every politician sent his children to expensive private schools.
Though I remain an avowed and determined opponent of reservation system I fully support reservation being implemented in IITs and IIMs. If we accept that the notion of 'merit' has to be elastic beyond just marks and if we accept that merit, based on test scores, is negotiable for how we produce a neuro surgeon in a government medical college then I see no reason behind exempting the so-called 'islands of excellence' from the quota system. IITs and IIMs have been mostly feeders for American universities unlike the doctor and engineer produced from other colleges who treat thousands of fellow Indians and construct bridges that thousands more use everyday in India. And, to be fair to the quota supporters, the much vaunted IITs, IIMs and IISc, with all their meritoriousness, are still rated at the bottom of the world rankings. So much for being islands of excellence. Madras IIT is pretty much an 'agrahaaram' and a den of Hindutva politics. The youtube lectures organized by the Vivekananda Study Circles are notoriously Hindutva and many are of patently abysmal academic quality and smack of quackery. IIT Chennai will lose nothing with a dose of Mandal.
Badri Seshadri and the Hindutva question
The rise of BJP and Hindutva has given, without a doubt, Tamil Brahmins a political platform and a channel for their grievances. Tamil Brahmins, barring a few, have embraced Hindutva with alacrity and eagerness. Jeyamohan had lamented how Brahmins are ill treated in offices but he forgot how institutions like State Bank of India, Brahmin dominated, functions like an agraharam. To enter SBI or BHEL during Navarathri is akin to sauntering in an agraharam. India’s bane is that all castes and religions practice mobocracy, a crude majoritarianism, wherever their cohorts dominate by numbers. Princeton University Chapel recently hosted a Diwali function. I cannot expect that at a chapel in a Christian institution in India or at Muslim college as much as I cannot expect a Brahmin run institution to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan.
It is common to see Brahmin run institutions like Padma Seshadri and SASTRA to propagate a Hindutva culture albeit under the garb of ‘oh we are just teaching Indian culture’. India’s top award for architecture is named, what else, ‘Viswakarma’ after the mythical Hindu architect and not after the Muslim king who gave India its most famous architectural marvel. The buildings in SASTRA are exclusively named after mythical Hindu names or Hindus about whom there is more myth than historicity. That’s why I saw buildings named as ‘Vasishta’ and ‘Chanakya’. I wish they had named their law college buildings after Ambedkar.
I’ve often felt that Badri Seshadri was a closet Hindutva person who cloaks his support of Narendra Modi in his desire to see economic progress and better governance. Seshadri is part of a group that hosts lectures on Tamil heritage and of course ‘heritage’ has never included the contributions of other religions, religions which have existed in Tamil Nadu for over 400 years. Whether it is the ‘Thyagaraja festival in Cleveland’ or Padma Seshadri or SASTRA one can safely assume that, where Brahmins dominate, the idea of heritage is defined almost exclusively in Brahminical terms. The only defense on their part is, like on other issues, the other castes are no different when they get an upper hand. Tamil Sangams dominated by non-Brahmins are blatantly blasé about anti-Brahminism and a muddled idea of Tamil identity.
Seshadri, for whatever reason, decided to pursue a course in Vaishnavism in Madras University. What he chooses to study is his personal liberty but I wish he had decided to study something either of a broader ambit or of something unfamiliar as in theology of another religion or even theology of a religion like Buddhism or Jainism, something beyond what he was born into. To be fair to Seshadri many who criticized him for that or use that to take pot shots at him are no more broad minded or inquisitive themselves. When reports of a UK school teaching Sanskrit surfaced many, particularly Brahmins, took pride in it and shared it widely on Facebook. I found it distasteful because what that shows is that British schools are broad minded to learn an alien language, that too one which is not in vogue even in the native land but Indians reacted smugly to it without crediting the British and I predicted that Indians would not learn an alien language with the same respect. Now, the education minister (or should I say uneducated minister) has decreed that Indian schools should stop teaching German and instead teach only Indian languages.
All that said, from his public writings and remarks, Seshadri does not come across as a bigot or a racist. A much discussed tweet of Seshadri was one where he said that as a then student of Cornell he supported the demolition of Babri Masjid and even went to the extent of trying to form a friends-of-BJP forum in Cornell. What was conveniently left out was that he had added that those were his ideas at that time and ideas that he no longer supports or advocates. Seshadri was being honest and even daringly courageous in openly talking about his intellectual evolution knowing full well how such things matter less in Tamil Nadu where his original sin of being a Brahmin is all that counts for his opponents. In a similar episode a self styled Tamil activist (Leena Manimekalai?) quoted Gandhi from his own letters and cried hoarse about how Gandhi referred to native South Africans as ‘kafirs’ and how he looked down upon them. Gandhi was in his twenties when he wrote those letters and later lived a life dedicated to the upliftment of the untouchables. Like my father says, ‘confessions are good for your soul but bad for your reputation’. Unlike many Brahmins and non-Brahmins when Seshadri wanted to rent an apartment he owned he had advertised ‘caste/religion no bar’. But hey who cares, he’s a Brahmin, lets pelt him.
Not even Seshadri’s private publishing enterprise was spared. A fellow Brahmin, a progressive one nevertheless, sought to ‘expose’ Seshadri’s Hindutva agenda and discovered that nearly 20% of the titles published by his firm had an anti-Islamic (and therefore a pro-Hindutva) stance. In a post 9/11 world many books relating to Islamic terrorism were published and Seshadri, as businessman, is entitled to not just his profits and freedom but also presenting, as he deems fit, books of a certain view. My complaints about his firm are pretty much the same as what I feel about every other vernacular publisher and his caste is not relevant to that.
Brahmins and Arts:
A vituperative propaganda by Dravidian politicians is how Brahmins are not just antagonistic to Tamil but actively undermine its richness and usage. Nothing is further from truth. Many of the Tamil texts that Dravidian politicians take pride in would not have survived but for the herculean efforts of U.Ve. Swamitha Iyer. That one man has done more for Tamil than all the Dravidian politicians combined.
Even amongst non-Brahmins there is a certain respect, even if a grudging one at that, for how Brahmins have assiduously protected and propagated the classical arts. Seshadri underscores this in his article. While this is certainly true there is a seedy underbelly to this aspect in my view.
Brahmins have succeeded very admirably in perpetuating that what they have come to consider 'classical' is indeed the only 'classical' in arts. And in so doing they have with great efficiency effaced the efforts of others and eclipsed anything folksy as unworthy of occupying a place of pride. It is easier for country music to find a place in the top music halls of the west but it would never be in the vicinity of Madras Music Academy or Kalakshetra.
Rukmini Arundale bowdlerized the lusty 'Sathir Aattam' and created a victorian version called Bharathanatyam. Until then dance was an art form reserved for women who were betrothed to temples and called 'Thevar Adiyar'. Brahmin women would dare not dance in public. While Arundale changed that she also eclipsed, ably supported by the Brahminical dominance of the then media, the earlier traditions and castes which upheld them.
The so called Carnatic music trinity completely eclipsed those who are now called the Tamil trinity. Jeyamohan in his review of T.J.S. George's biography of M.S. Subbulakshmi detailed how caste rules music. Today popular vocalist T.M. Krishna is openly critical of Brahmin hegemony in Carnatic music. That a singer, because he was not Brahmin, could be prevented from singing in Music Academy in the recent 80s shows how caste ridden Carnatic music was and is. Incidentally Brahmins may be surprised to learn how much Carnatic music is imbued in Tamil Christian hymnals. They may be surprised further to know that it was Abraham Pandithar who wrote a treatise on music.
It is common to see Carnatic music teachers drop snide remarks about the abilities of non-brahmin students to learn, especially when they come from households that have no knowledge of music. The accident of math genius Ramanujan being a Brahmin made a Brahmin openly tell my cousin "well your daughter may do good in studies but she will never be as good as my son in math".
Most of the early Tamil novelists were Brahmins and most of their works were mediocre. Thanks to his clout Rajaji masqueraded as a litterateur. Kalki wrote mediocre history and was hailed as a novelist par excellence. Sujatha was another overrated writer. Especially the aura about Sujatha being a science popularizer is completely undeserved. But in a state where Annathurai and Karunanidhi parade around as literary creators one can pardon the hubris of Rajaji, Kalki and Sujatha. Pa.Raghavan who peddles screen play and dialogues for pathetic T.V. serials once listed writers he liked to read and all were Brahmins with even Jeyakanthan being omitted. Such smugness and clannishness appropriately drew the ridicule on Facebook but to be fair to him he is in good company with other caste members. Sujatha, till the end, could never outgrow his Brahmin roots even when he discussed science. I still remember the drab and pathetic dramas of the likes of Abaswaram Ramji, Kathadi Ramamurthy etc that dominated the Doordarshan days. Today S.Ve.Sekhar and Crazy Mohan are insult incarnates to the art of drama.
Brahmins as a community served a different purpose for Jayakanthan. In the staid and victorian 1969 Jayakanthan shocked his readers with a story based on Oedipus complex. The magazine that featured the story series stopped it abruptly and apologized to its readers. Later Jayakanthan brought it out as a book. He could write such a story because the characters were Brahmins. If Jeyakanthan had written such a story with other communities as the background he may never have been able to write again. Time and time again Jeyakanthan would use Brahmin households as the backdrop for his stories. Jeyamohan reasoned that Jeyakanthan too saw in the Brahmin community an ethnic group that was capable of being progressive while a majority of themselves were mired in orthodoxy. Also, the tolerance of Brahmins as a community was uncharacteristic of any other community. The past few days of protests by a non-Brahmin community against a novel (மாதொருபாகன்) by Perumal Murugan underscores that point.
Tamil filmdom on the other hand felt comfortable ridiculing Hindus in general and Brahmins in particular. It is common to present crass and crude caricatures of Brahmins in movies. From Bhagyaraj to Kamal Hassan Brahmins have borne the brunt of being the butt of ridicule and criticism. In a movie Bhagyaraj, playing the son of a barber, would marry a Brahmin girl by cheating her father into believing that he was a Brahmin too. Then Bhagyaraj would make a virtue of putting the hapless father on the mat for his casteism in opposing the marriage. Brahmin filmmaker Ananthu criticized, justifiably, Bahgyaraj for using Brahmin as the sacrificial bogie. In real life when a Vanniyar girl married a Dalit boy an entire village was ransacked and the boy died under mysterious circumstances.
Self-Critical Brahmins and Self-flagellating Brahmins
Amongst Jews, especially after the establishment of Israel, two kinds of critics emerged, one was a section that criticized Israel fairly and the second was a section of Jews who went overboard and pretty much assumed that Israel, by its very existence and Jews by being Jews, were the problem. The latter are pejoratively referred to as ‘self-loathing Jews’. Amongst the Brahmins I see such a schism. By virtue of being the most educated community it is not an accident that Brahmins, along with other upper castes, came to play a pivotal role in the freedom struggle and formed a majority of its leadership. While the progressiveness of a freedom struggle spilled over into a social upheaval it is equally undeniable that leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Srinivasa Sastry etc were practically reactionaries as much as Gandhi and Nehru were revolutionaries.
Bharathi was unsparing in his criticism of Brahmins. Dravidian party leaders would gleefully quote Bharathi in a vein of ‘even a Brahmin born Bharathi said so’. Bharathi wrote “the Brahmin is a greedy one indeed” (பேராசைக்காரனடா பார்ப்பான்) , “the Brahmin policeman has his kickback” (போலீசுக்கார பார்ப்பானுக்குண்டதிலே பீசு) and he even dreamed of Independent India being egalitarian where “a Brahmin will no longer be suppliantly called an ‘iyer’” (பார்ப்பானை ஐயரென்றக் காலமும் போச்சே). Lamenting of how his father had lost his way in pursuit of riches he wrote “It is the Kaliyug and the Brahmin has become wayward in relentless pursuit of wealth”. Unfortunately there is no Bharathi today amongst the other castes to sing of how they too have become no just avaricious but patently violent too towards whom they consider as lesser castes. Yet, thanks to Bharathi, the caricature lives on as comfortable quotes that one can repeat on a stage to applause by those incapable of reflecting how they lack a Bharathi in their midst today.
On the other end of the spectrum is somebody like Rajan Kurai, himself a Brahmin, who scolds Brahmins for even showing the slightest agony of victimhood and lectures that Brahmins should be eternally apologizing for their role in untouchability without even a murmur of how so many other castes were guilty of the same and not only escaped blame but enjoy the benefits of scapegoating Brahmins. Another Brahmin, an IIT graduate no less, wondered why at all we need ‘economic criterion’ in reservation and worried about fraud and difficulty of implementing it. In her opinion Brahmins had nothing to complain about. These are the groveling, self-flagellating and self-loathing Brahmins.
Lumpen Dravidian party supporters often indignantly say “oh we don’t hate Brahmins we only hate Brahminism and by the way have not our leaders had personal relationships with Brahmins. What about EVR and Rajaji?”. If E.V. Ramasamy Naicker had poured his vitriol over any other community he’d not have seen anyone from those communities be friends with him. It was the generosity and large heartedness of Rajaji and Kalki that they were friends with a person of the likes of EVR. A section of Brahmins seeking to appear as egalitarians and progressives played second fiddle to DMK whose leadership employed every trick in the book of political skullduggery in the single minded pursuit of power and money. Even these progressive Brahmins were perpetually under the microscope and eternally watched for any deviance of the orthodoxies that the whims and fancies of the DMK leadership pursued. At the slightest sign of disagreement the Brahmin sympathizers were acidly reminded of their caste. Hindu N. Ram, a communist, a supporter of reservation policies, vocal supporter of DMK and even appeared on DMK stages, opponent of fellow Brahmin Jayalalitha, first employer of Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, is often pilloried simply because he differs with the Dravidian party on LTTE and Sri Lankan separatism. Never mind that Karunanidhi himself has heaped abuses on Prabakaran but that Ram calls him a terrorist is reason enough to call Ram a ‘paarpan’ his other views notwithstanding.
E.V. Ramasamy Naicker and the venom of anti-Brahminism:
Both RSS ideologues like Golwalkar and E.V. Ramasamy Naicker cited Adolf Hitler in support of their views with respect to minorities that they thought were responsible for all the ills of the society. To Hitler it was the Jews, to Golwalkar it was the religious minorities and to EVR it was the Brahmins. Naicker, called by his motley group of admirers as 'Periar', famously asked Tamils, when they see a Brahmin and a snake together, to hit the Brahmin first. When 44 Dalits, all women and children were burned alive, by a zamindar from a so called backward caste Naicker wrote two articles blaming, unsurprisingly, Brahmins (see the complete text of EVR's articles in the bottom of this blog in the References section). Goebbels would have been proud of his Indian Ekalavya.
Cartoon in Murasoli issue for 'Pongal 1962'
Ironically, the man, who railed against the supposed intellectual superiority of Brahmins, all his life, sought out the archetype Brahmin leader Rajaji to ask whether or not an old widower like him should marry a far younger woman. Tamil poet Bharathidasan in one of his expansive moods wrote that the world marveled at the brain of Periar. Apparently that brain took a holiday when it came to deciding for himself. Poor Maniammai meekly married a man who could not even make up his own mind when it came to marrying her. No girl has ever masochistically suffered a great ignominy.
Naicker spawned a whole movement around hating Brahmins. His protege C.N. Annathurai wrote a propaganda drivel titled "Arya Maayai". The book had as its cover a Brahmin with a contorted visage and evil glare. The purveyors of the 'Protocols of elders of zion' would've approved of Annathurai as their disciple from afar. Annathurai, a poetaster, wrote crass verses calling the Brahmin as "ye who is fork tongued". In later years Annathurai the politician would make the fork tongued look far more principled and less hypocritical thanks to the many somersaults he'd do in his craven pursuit of power.
The upending of Brahminical hegemony was already underway thanks to Gandhi and the egalitarianism that permeated the freedom struggle. EVR instead of emulating Gandhi chose Hitler as his mentor. The allure of hatred is easy and more long standing than a message of non-violent reconstruction of society. Naicker's acolytes learned to love the colonial ruler more than their Brahmin cousins.
The myth making of Naicker as a champion of the oppressed was a highly successful project assiduously undertaken by his handpicked protege Veermani. All that we've to do is go to Karunanidhi's own cartoons, ridiculous un-artistic and half baked aesthetically, in his rag sheet Murasoli to read of Naickers blatantly racist comments about Dalits. Commenting on the price rise of cloth Naicker said that it is so because Dalit women have started wearing undergarments. Commenting on quotas for Dalits Naicker railed that this will impinge on the benefits for BCs. Naicker, like Ambedkar, had no idea of what justice means in a broad based level.
Karunanidhi, elected as constitutional head not once but 5 times, in the occasion of the centenary of the founding of 'Madras united league' in 2012, quoted one of its founders saying "the aim of this organization is to make Brahmins quake in fear" ( பார்ப்பனர்கள் நடு நடுங்க வேண்டும் ). For the sin of Kapil Sibal, a Brahmin, the then Minister for Education calling for entrance exams as a criterion for candidates Veeramani called for a war of such magnitude that "never in the future would a member of the upper caste should become a minister for education". On a day when Hindus, India's majority, celebrated the birth of Lord Krishna Karunanidhi's son and chief-minister aspirant posted on Facebook a message wishing all Hindus. Later he disavowed it as the work of an over-eager underling but continues to wish Muslims and Christians for their functions. Prof Naganathan, chief of planning commission, a constitutional post, wrote a diatribe decrying Diwali, Hindus most holy festival, as a Brahminical conspiracy and called for Tamils not to spend money in Brahmin shops. Welcome to Tamil Nadu.
Much of the critical opposition to Seshadri were by the lumpen elements of Dravidian political ideology and keeping in line with Naicker's tradition of threatening violence many threatened to cut Seshadri's sacred thread. This cutting of sacred thread as form of protest was a notorious invention of EVR. Little did it strike his stunted thinking that that is a violation of individual liberty. Interestingly Ram Manohar Lohia who had an axe to grind with Nehru voiced his support of such an agitation. In the 90s I think such an agitation again reared its head. Father of one of my Brahmin friends who was a correspondent for a newspaper was waylaid in Tanjore and had his sacred thread cut off. I don't think he even approached a police station to file an FIR.
Every year on December 24th Facebook would be deluged with craven praises for Mr. Naicker and caricatures of Brahmins would freely float. Tamils hate Brahmins more than the British colonizers or any other invader or conqueror. A caricature I recently saw was a picture depicting Naicker’s walking stick tugging at the hair tuft of a Brahmin. The picture also shows the Brahmin’s feet in shackles with the shackles, also, tied to the walking stick. The Brahmin, essentially, is portrayed tied, head to toe and literally imprisoned. The post appeared on my timeline because a Brahmin, the progressive one mind you, was tagged to the post. Another caricature accompanied an article by Ambedkar showing a pot bellied Brahmin walking haughtily while his tuft of hair extends like a snake with its mouth open and ready to devour a, supposedly, low caste man. Of course, the stereotyping extends crudely to show the Brahmin as light skinned with the low caste man as dark skinned. The post, sadly, was shared by columnist Gnani, a Brahmin and a self-identified atheist at that. The two caricatures capture the legacy of Naicker very aptly. Naicker was no Gandhi and was nothing more than a man of vengeance who just succeeded in poisoning the well for generations to come. His followers confuse vengeance with justice. It is not without reason that nothing of what Naicker preached took root as much as his virulent hate filled propaganda against Brahmins. In fact EVR’s success, if one can call it that, is literally limited to the agenda of anti-Brahminism with abject failure in almost all other areas.
When I wrote a blog on anti-Brahminism in Tamil Sangams in US a relative was angered. She wrote me comment after comment contesting what to many was plain knowledge. Finally she pressed me to concede that it was Brahmins who invented the pernicious practice of untouchability and caste tensions. Jeyamohan who wrote a lengthy blog, with contentious stereotyping, on the Seshadri article had traced the history of anti-Brahminism at great depth. He also puts to rest the charge that Brahmins were the creators of caste untouchability. He pointed out that ironically in Naicker's birthplace Erode Dalits are subjected to the notorious 'two-tumbler' system. Today it is probably easier for Dalits to walk through the few remaining Agraharams than through colonies of some so-called backward communities. Even Dalit children have to walk bare feet when passing through some of those colonies. As Jeyamohan and many others point out backward community leaders have used the bogey of Brahmin dominance to cloak their own well entrenched pyramid like dominance of lower castes. A case in point is how DMK administrations, dominated by the so called backward communities, has given the short shrift to Dalits while crying hoarse about Brahminism.
Cartoon picked from Facebook on Dec 24th 2014.
The government runs hostels for Adi-Dravidas and those hostels are all practically dilapidated and unfit for human habitation. On December 21st 2010 Adi-Dravida students in Chennai brought the city’s traffic to a standstill by choking off an arterial road with a dharna. Their demand was that their hostels be made suitable for humans. ‘The Hindu’s sister publication ‘Frontline’ called the hostels ‘hell hole hostels’ in a detailed article. DK’s Veeramani who relishes in his role as EVR’s protege was not so strangely silent. Ravikumar, a Dalit MLA, invited controversy by highlighting the anti-Dalit attitudes of EVR.
Cartoon from Ambedkar article. From Facebook.
Guess who calls for an abrogation of the “Prevention of atrocities against SC/STs” law? No, it is not a Brahmin. It is Vanniyar Sangam founder and leader of PMK Dr.S. Ramadoss who rails against a law, a feebly enforced one at that, that was written to prevent grotesque atrocities that were commonly enacted against Dalits. Guess which community left an entire village in an exodus when a high court ruled that Dalits, too, can enter a temple? No, it is not Brahmins. It was Vanniyars living around Cuddalore who left some villages in protest against Dalits entering temples during June 17th-21st 2014. Yep, that’s this year. Now, no prizes for guessing which community protested against a Dalit cook from cooking meals for their children provided in schools as part of the government’s mid-day meal scheme. Is it not ironical that people who could not feed their kids and depend on government largesse nevertheless have the arrogance and bigotry to protest at the cook’s caste? Yet, of one reads through Veeramani’s rag sheet ‘Viduthalai’ one would think that but for Brahmins Tamil Nadu would have been Eden.When some Brahmin advertised for a rental that his house is only for Brahmin tenants the ad did the rounds on social media with the usual dose of self-righteous condemnations. I've heard a Mudaliar housing secretary proudly declare "I ensure that houses for rent are taken only by Mudaliar tenants". I can go on and on put simply the vices of Brahmins are not unique to them. Let he who is without blame cast the first stone.
Dalit Children walking bare feet (with slippers in the hand) through an 'upper caste' colony. Note, the upper caste is often not named unless it is Brahmin.
Legendary Tamil writer Asokamithran created a flutter when he compared the plight of Brahmins with that of Jews in Nazi Germany. The rabid Brahmin haters set upon him immediately and asked indignantly "have Brahmins been killed in Tamil Nadu? have we not 'allowed' you to live peacefully?" As a student of holocaust history I too will disagree with Asokamithran. His remark is facetious on some counts. That said was he completely wrong? No. He was only offering an analogy. Let's remember that the cutting of sacred thread was no different from Nazis cutting of the locks of hair of Jews. Let's remember that much of the rhetoric of anti-Brahminism resembles neo-Nazi rhetoric. Above all, holocaust, the physical act of killing, is no worse than denying education and jobs, on account of birth, to a people. In the modern world what is a man worth without education and jobs? He might as well have been gassed. Holocaust lasted only for 10 years whereas quotas have been in vogue for over a century and with no end in sight.
Dalit leader warmly surrounded by Brahmin priests with an ornate shawl and garland denoting respect. He must be thinking of the contrast with other castes.
Whenever caste violence by BC or MBC communities is pointed out the indignant replies are that Brahmins while not physically violent they adopt more devious methods of violence. Just naming a government run bus corporation after a Dalit caused all of Madurai to erupt in violence. Vasanthi, writer and editor of Tamil India Today, toured the riot struck areas and was shocked to hear a 10 year old boy say, with blood shot eyes, "would we step into a bus named after a Dalit?". It is easy to make a Sri Rangam tea shop owner change his shop's name from "Brahmin cafe" to something else rather than run a bus named after a Dalit.
Brahmins and political power
A persistent myth about Brahmins is their political clout, directly and indirectly. In their hurry to perpetuate this myth many claim that Brahmins wielded power most often indirectly, as puppet masters, through a pliant monarchy or democratically elected leaders who nevertheless relied on the Brahmin dominated bureaucracy to rule. Of course it unwittingly goes to prove that over centuries that a vast majority of the rulers did not have a mind of their own and relied on their priests. That a Brahmin has to plead in an oped for others to “live and let live” shows the pathetic nature of Brahmin political power today in Tamil Nadu.
Another myth, the Chankaya myth of single minded focus, is about their ability to protect their interests. Nothing illustrates the effete Brahmin inability to protect anything vital to them is the abject surrender of the community in regards to reservation policy. It is K.M. Vijayan, an individual, who is fighting in the Supreme Court for 20 years, for every year, to ensure that Tamil Nadu MBBS admissions adhere to the 50% cap. Vijayan went to the Supreme Court to protest that Tamil Nadu’s 69% went against the Supreme Court directive of capping quotas at 50% in the Mandal case. In yet another irony it was Brahmin born Jayalalitha as Chief Minister who bamboozled the Central Government into protecting the 69% quota by including it in the 9th schedule of Indian constitution. The 9th schedule was originally enacted to place the land reformation acts as beyond the purview of judicial review in order to protect a reform but now it is a basket for anything the rulers want to shield from judicial review. DK’s Veeramani exulted and called Jayalalitha as “heroine protector of social justice”. In another twist in later years Karunanidhi would engage Brahmin lawyer Parasaran, a race traitor one could say, to defend Mandal quota in the Supreme Court. He would turn to another Brahmin lawyer, Jethmalani, to protect his daughter in a corruption case. Incidentally Karunanidhi’s personal ophthalmologist was a Brahmin doctor. The Brahmin association TAMBRAS not only failed to muster any coherent legal challenge to the travesties of reservation they are also mute in challenging the many ridicules that Karunanidhi and Veeramani hurl at Brahmins continuously. Brahmins have no political power in Tamil Nadu, period. Seshadri was absolutely correct in observing this fact.
Today almost every non-Brahmin caste, particularly the so called Backward castes, flex their political muscle as dominant factions within political parties or as political parties themselves. The forward castes and especially Brahmins have been very effete in staking a political clout owing their pathetic numbers. There is not a single Brahmin MLA in most assemblies in Tamil Nadu over the recent decades in each election. While this is not intrinsically a bad thing it is a test of democracy. A mature democracy is one where every minority can live without fear and prosper and on that score what has happened in Tamil Nadu is not just democracy but a tyranny of the majority. And, this is a message for Tamil Brahmins who stridently support the anti-minority positions of Hindutva. In fact the propaganda methods of Hindutva is strikingly very similar to anti-Brahminism. DK and RSS are two sides of the same coin. Both DK and RSS adopt very similar strategies. They both harp on the past, however distant, to enact policies today, injustices of the past are arguments for injustices today, truths serve only to further the cause of propaganda falsehoods, minorities are often reminded that they are ‘allowed to exist’ and minorities are perpetually put through a litmus test to prove their ideological fealty. At the end of the day whether it is Nazism or Anti-Brahminism or Hindutva they are all similar because they are all vehicles of hatred.
Given that the Brahmin and Jews comparison is popular I’d extend it to another area. Incidentally Brahmins dominated the early leadership of communism in India just as Jews were a dominant force in world communism. While there are sociological reasons behind how international Jewry warmed up to Communism the advent of Brahmins as leading communists belies the narratives about Brahmins that was propagated by anti-Brahmins. When Karunanidhi had to spar with a Brahmin communist party leader he, of course, without fail, reached for the only thing the habitual hate monger would reach for, the caste of his opponent. Karunanidhi wrote a hate-filled verse where he pejoratively referred to his opponent’s caste and said “they (Brahmins) are still a challenge for us” and referred to Brahmins as scorpions. Yet, no Brahmin lawyer sought to drag Karunanidhi to court using the many provisions that exist in Indian law against spreading hatred about a community.
Why I oppose anti-Brahminism
I am a great admirer of Gandhi and Nehru from my school days and I consider them to be the greatest gifts bestowed on India. Gandhi strides like a colossus even today. It is no wonder that Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement drew not just inspiration from the Mahatma but even studied his methods like a student. From the sit-in protesters at the segregated lunch counters of Greensboro, NC to the march in Selma the shadow of Gandhi looms large. MLK Jr was a better leader than Malcolm X because he was a student of Gandhi and unlike Malcolm X MLK Jr refused to peddle hatred. I’d oppose the hegemony of any caste with everything I can but I’ll equally oppose making a villain out of everyone. I’ve been asked many times if Brahmins would ever accept me, a non-Brahmin, as their equal. I am comfortable enough in my skin to think I am the equal of any human being by virtue of being a human being alone. Once when I asked a Tamil Sangam member, on Facebook, why not have a quiz on Nehru in observance of Children’s day instead of some cinema related stuff, the member, a US resident, got a call from Tamil Nadu asking “who is this Brahmin stooge?”. The member asked his friend “well can the person not be a Brahmin himself?”. The friend from Tamil Nadu replied “well his last name does not sound Brahminical and therefore he can only be a Brahmin stooge”. All that for just asking why not teach kids about Nehru, one of India’s greatest sons who incidentally was a Brahmin. Poor Nehru lived his life as a westernized atheist with only one identity, an Indian and yet he is not seen as anything beyond the caste he was born into. This question of “why defend Brahmins when you are not one” has been asked of Jeyakanthan too. Writer Charu Nivedita in his weekly Q&A in an online magazine defended Brahmins and the publisher added a caveat under the lengthy reply “this is Charu’s personal opinion” as if the rest were the opinion of the publisher. Such is the poisonous climate in Tamil Nadu and for that I squarely blame E.V. Ramasamy Naicker and his proteges.
‘Live and Let Live’
As my father used to say, ‘let us learn to hate hatred’. Seshadri’s plain request of “live and let live” is simple enough and needs no embellishment. If one observes the anti-Brahmin arguments it is unsurprisingly the same as anti-Dalit rantings. No one, Dalit or Brahmin or anybody, should be judged based on what caste a person is born into. All, Brahmins included, have a right, a human right, to live and prosper in the country of their birth. If denying a Dalit education because he/she was Dalit is despicable then so is denying a Brahmin an education or job because he/she is Brahmin.
Amongst the deluge of articles, mostly against Seshadri, I observed a few common factors. First, Tamil Nadu lacks real sociologists of academic standing. Most reactions, including mine, are largely based on personal experiences and lack empirical data. I’ve tried to be factual as far as possible and provided empirical data at least where it really counts, reservation policies and economic status of Brahmins. Second, many quoted Ambedkar and E.V. Ramasamy forgetting that more than half a century has passed since many of the writings were originally written and the world has changed a lot since then. One of the few sensible demands by Dr Ramadas is to conduct a caste based census. The last one was conducted in 1930. His request though is highly selective in order to prove that his community needs more quotas. Rather, a comprehensive demographic survey of socio-economic indicators broken down on caste lines is required. It is useless to argue against caste based census while very vital policies relating to jobs and education are based on caste as criteria. Third, a perennial illness of Indians is to indulge freely in stereotyping.
More than anything it is on ‘stereotyping’ that we as human beings can make a difference because we can do it starting with ourselves. The human mind loves simplicity and hates complexity. Human mind, Will Durant writes in his chapter on Herbert Spencer, loves to categorize and label instead of looking at things individually or as a nebulous entity. This has its advantages and even necessities too. I’d even say that stereotyping does not arise in vacuum. Even the US Department of Justice which prohibits cops from racial stereotyping accepts that the Homeland Security is free to do it. However, we as individuals when trying to judge anyone let’s try to look at them as individuals and not as a unit of a larger, albeit sectarian, mass alone.
Fourth, diversity in classroom and workplace is an essential goal. Diversity should not degenerate into tokenism or diversity for the sake of diversity enforced by quota policies. There should be diversity whether it is a cricket team or a music hall or an MBBS classroom. Outreach and access to quality education are two cardinal principles in ensuring diversity.
Finally, crass majoritarianism will eventually erode the roots of democratic impulse. Minorities, of all hues, need to be encouraged and protected.
In the past few weeks America has learned painfully and at great price that the leviathan of racism is yet to be slain. A just and an egalitarian society is a journey and not a one-time destination. India has to go a very long way before it can even call itself an egalitarian society in the making. The cynic in me says that such a day is centuries away but the humanist in me wishes India ‘good luck’.
Badri Seshadri's blog http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/The-angst-of-the-Tamil-brahmin-Live-and-let-live/articleshow/45408151.cms
Jeyamohan's blog on Brahmins https://www.jeyamohan.in/67150.
Charu Nivedita's Q&A on the issue http://idlyvadai.blogspot.in/2014/12/7_22.html . The site http://idlyvadai.blogspot.in has a collection of blogs in the series titled "நீயொரு பாப்பானா"
Karunanidhi's quote from Dravidian party founder on the occasion of centenary celebrations பார்ப்பனர்கள் நடு நடுங்க வேண்டும் http://thanneerkunnam.blogspot.com/2012/02/blog-post_25.html
Sattanathan Commission Report http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CC8QFjAC&