I hope to follow this up with a part 2 (or more) covering Jainism, Buddhism,Sikhsim Ramakrishnaism,.. and so on. comments most welcome
A Decimation so Systematic - Part 1
"They are the world’s poorest aristrocracy” said Sorokin , the famous sociologist
(1), the two words cover perhaps as varied a spectrum as the two worlds he lived in (2). He was referring to the Brahmins !
A good number of people would agree with the second word, and a handful would agree with the first word, I guess. Since articles and books and what not have already been written about the “oppressors” called Brahmins, let me focus more on “les miserables” part. How poor? How frustrated?
Take the case of S who in a discussion with her friends on caste, suddenly came up with “You know what, I think we Brahmins should demand minority status even if it meant ceasing to be Hindus “ . One is naturally reminded of Ramakrishnaism, Aurobindonism (3), and perhaps more of these “isms” who went to the court for a minority status and to separate from Hindu religion. Recently, the issue of Jains as minority has as usual become entangled in state-center-caste-vote and what not based politics and online and otherwise petitions that the Supreme court has asked for a final verdict (4,5). The only surprise so far is, “Why were the Jains of Tamil Nadu this late?” (6)
Lets go back to S- and do a bit of an analysis. She is from a rather orthodox, but reasonably well off, “TamBram” family, now doing her graduate studies in US, like her innumerable Brahmin counterparts. A typical temple going, bhajan singing, occasionally fasting type- no surprises so far
So then what made her suddenly say this? She went on to rcollect some of her experiences, and allow me to paraphrase. “I had high , but not perfect marks for my degree course and yet I was in waiting list in most colleges in TN for my post-graduation. And my father would not pay. We were literally driven away from most colleges asking what a forward caste is doing there. At one place the person even told on my Fathers’ face that even though I have good mark, his “sacred” thread is a problem. Added to it is the humiliation amongst family members that I did not score enough in my college to get into IIT or become a doctor. I do not want my kids to go through all these. Minority status is the only way out”.
Try arguing the usual way, and she had an answer pretty much ready for everything. “Don’t you think by doing that such a community will soon be absorbed into some other religion. May be you and your kids may remain Brahmin, but a few generations down the line?” and quick was her response “ What makes you feel that’s not already happening. There is so much of inter religious marriages happening already in the community. And many so called Brahmins are not even connected to their roots"
Eventhough a first reaction would be “well, a unique case, perhaps just out of momentary anger”, it may have more to what meets the eye. There is no doubt that there is lot of frustration among the community about the way reservations and other caste based things are handled in India, especially Tamil Nadu. There are also voices of dissentment within the community itself… And some try to look at with a sense of humor, like this one from the internet (7) “For a middle class Tam Bram family (and that means the whole lot of them for all Tam Brams qualify as middle class if you take outlook and behavior as parameters), mathematics and science are not merely subjects in the schoolcurriculum. They are a religion. And the dharma of every Tam Bram student is tomaster them and pave his way to the heavenly portal of an IIT. Or at least tothe ordinary portal of a local engineering college, which the family willeventually reconcile to, in the absence of the 'real thing'” ……… “'Centum' is a word unique to the Tam Bram world, that a child grows up listening to. It is a figure that even if sometimes elusive, is never lost sight of throughout the academic career. Centum, Math, Science, Brilliant Tutorials, Engineering, IIT, B.Tech., Computer Science, USA, Financial Aid, I-20,Student Visa, M.S., San Jose, California, Oracle, Microsoft, Intel [add Green Card, stock options - the latter is a little subdued now, thanks to the dot-com bust]. These words and names are like carefully arranged furniture in the mental landscape of a Tam Bram boy-and increasingly girl- below the age of 25"
Should the community be blamed, for in order to cross the “barrier” of reservations and the rest of the anti-forward caste laws in Tamil Nadu, the TamBram has to set his/her standards high. In fact, another Tam friend of mine, surprisingly used this fact in favour of reservations – Hello, I thought the aim was to close in the gap!
And finally back to the question of “minority status” . It looks like this isn’t a “new issue” either. Atleast this Christian website claims so (8)“A few years ago, a group of Brahmins filed a petition with the Backward Commission at Mylapore, Chennai, India, requesting backward community status. On October 8th, 1995 the Tamilnadu Brahmin Association organized a rally Demanding 20% Exclusive Reservation for hitherto neglected Forward Communities in Tamilnadu"
Is this the inevitable fate that Tagore refered to when he said (9) “On the other hand, it has to be recognised that there is an inevitableness in the fate that has overtaken Hindu India. We have divided and subdivided ourselves into mincemeat, not fit to live but only to be swallowed. Never up to now has our disjointed society been able to ward off any threatening evil. We are a suicidal race, ourselves keeping wide open for ages, with marvellous ingenuity, gaps that we are forbidden to cross under penalty and cracks that are considered to be too sacred to be repaired because of their antiquity”