‘By bad luck, I am a Brahmin” replied the unemployed youth on being asked why he was not working despite having a diploma in mechanical engineering. The year was 1993 and he was standing on the platform of Nanded Railway Station, waiting for the train that may arrive with scheduled delay. My friend, a non-Brahmin looked at me apprehensively, how I will be reacting to such a ludicrous response.
‘You are not a Brahmin”, I replied to him confusing him further “It is said that Brahmins have lots of self-confidence. Brahmins are supposed to have intelligence and someone who couldn’t find work despite being educated cannot claim to be a Brahmin”. His face flushed and he explained how poor his father was and how having no reservations are affecting his employment opportunities, like many others who oppose reservations.
Though this incident happened more than two decades ago, somehow, I could never forget it.
It is apt to remember the following shloka, with reference to this incidence
janmana jayate sudrah samskarat dwij uchchte
veda pathnat bhavet viprah brahma janati iti brahmanah
“By birth one is a sudra, by the culture he possesses one becomes a dvija, by study of the Vedas one becomes a vipra, and one who knows Brahman is a Brahmana.”
To simplify, we can distinguish the spelling difference between Brahmin and Brahman. Brahmin is used mostly when it is denoting the caste, acquired at birth from the patriarchal lineage, whereas Brahman is used to denote those people with higher spiritual wisdom.
Given current conditions and standards of living how many people could qualify to be Brahmana? A difficult question to answer, for caste system or Varna Vyavastha had already transformed our society (for worse, I am sure) from a knowledge/skill based one to a hereditary one.
In India, despite the deep entrenchment of caste system, it never was clear to define who is what. The case of Viswamitra (Kaushika), born into a Kshatriya family became a Brahman may help to understand how Brahmans were defined in ancient days. Viswamitra became a Brahman by doing penance. And Parashurama remained a Brahman, despite killing scores of Kshatriyas. Valmiki was revered despite being a hunter, before his transformation. Krishna remained Yadava, despite being born into a Kshatriya family. Ravana and Kamsa were called Rakshasas, though they were born into Brahman and Kshatriya families respectively. Dronacharya and Kripacharya practised archery, the art that was needed for Kshatriyas, but continued being Brahmans. Though Vyas was born to a fisherwoman, he was called Brahman; but his offspring Dhritarashtra and Pandu and their sons became Kshatriyas.
It was clear from these evidences that the caste in those days was defined by the ambient in which a child grew and the character he possessed as an adult. Now, humans live their lives for their next generations and so there creeps in a bias that forces those having power to wish to pass it on to their off spring.
So, slowly the caste system mutated into its present form wherein caste is inherited. Entire human history is an evidence how people with power exploited others. This continued in medieval India and even now. It is on record that Brahmins enjoyed power exploiting others for long in Indian society. But then, this happens in every society.
The Church had a stranglehold over the King in Britain. The Jewish priests condemned the Christ. Entire civilisations of Africa were crushed and the natives were ‘exported’ by the white men, as if they were commodities. The British even exported Indians only to work in their plantations as ‘slaves’.
Equality is the law of nature. But, equilibrium was never stable. The instability existed in the nature forces the inequality towards equality so that stability could be attained – only to move to the other side of stability that will increase inequality.
In a party, when I noticed one was not eating chicken, I asked whether he is a vegetarian.
“Well, I eat chicken, but rarely”, he replied.
“You should have at least to give company to others”, I suggested despite being a vegetarian myself. Coming out of his initial inhibitions, he ate some. I joked “Well Thakur, this was how we Brahmins ruled the country through you”.
In a serious vein, there always were Brahmins behind the rulers, who wielded actual power exploiting everyone else, including the King. Then there were another class of Brahmans who were dirt poor trying hard to make their ends meet. Distribution of Brahmans across India is not uniform, like their customs and habits that vary every hundred kilometres and with every hundred years.
In South, Brahmins hardly comprise two percent, unlike in north where Brahmins are still a vote bank. Then, all three philosophies postulated in modern Hinduism, Advaita, Dwaita and Visishtadwaita came from south. In south, Shaivism and Vaishnavism had taken shape of true religion that was different from the ancient Vedic way of living. There were killings of Shaivas by Kings following Vaishnava sect and vice-versa. The medieval society of south was full of internal conflicts. Though Ramanjujacharya worked to eradicate caste differences, society largely remained divided on caste lines.
In Kerala, even during the initial decades of last century, women from lower castes were not allowed to cover their chest before Brahmins. In Tirunelveli and Ramanathapuram districts of Tamilnadu, pariahs were supposed to carry their footwear in their hands, while walking in the streets of main villages.
They walk with palm leaves tied to their backs so that the street gets automatically swept off. And this was the same time some Brahmins like Subramania Bharathi and Veeresalingam were trying to eradicate caste differences in the society, for they believed the nation could never be freed by people that were divided themselves.
It was the time when a Brahmin teacher gave his family name to the person who led the committee that drafted our constitution but the Brahmin surname couldn’t prevent Ambedkar from being discriminated against. It was the time Gandhi was trying to eliminate caste differences by calling them ‘Harijan’, but at the same time decided against the Patel, favouring Nehru for the top position. It was a time of contradictions; in fact contradictions rule always.
Of course, the North was already fallen into the hands of invaders, but the administrative Brahmins retained power through all changes that happened in over a period of thousand years. Yes, there were many Brahmins who stood for the values, but those in power – retained power. During the Mughal rule and thereafter, with the weakening of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, Brahmins became more powerful.
Though the power or control over society was initially a result of respect towards the learned men, with the increasing greed Brahmins started exploitation of others. This could be seen even today in the temples like Vindhyachal, controlled by individuals where devotees are fleeced in the name of God.
Brahmins could administer the North for many centuries only because they exercised power with a restraint. However, with the falling levels of education, the restraint had gone and subsequent generations could not digest power leading to excesses being committed.
The final blow to the Brahmin supremacy came in the form of Emergency. Opposing emergency, a new generation of leaders, mostly from backward castes emerged, who could successfully stop the Brahmin domination.
When Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav became chief ministers, for the first time people from backward classes started believing in themselves. As repeated in Indian philosophy, whatever happens, happens for the good – good not for an individual or a particular community, but for the masses.
Could Brahmins prevent the rise of backward class leaders? No! Neither in the South, nor in the North. In South, freedom movement played the role of equality among people eradicating caste guidelines. Then came the Dravidian movement. The British identified themselves with higher caste Hindus by propagating the Aryan invasion theory.
Though Dravid simply means the land with water on three sides – a peninsula and thus Dravidians would be peninsular Indians, for the political parties, Brahmins represented the Aryan domination over Dravidians, who as per them are the original inhabitants of South. The fact that Dravid is a Brahmin surname was overlooked, while Aadi Dravidians were recognised as most backward sections of the society. Everyone used and abused history by interpreting to suit to their immediate needs.
Long before the rise or Yadavas in the North, Brahmins had experienced the wrath of other classes in the South, when they had to migrate leaving the lands that they never tilled. With reservations in educational institutions and employment opportunities at about 70%, Brahmins were forced to search for fresh avenues to survive. And, they survived – on an average and grew.
The credit for the survival of South Indian Brahmins goes to their women. Realising the futility of crying hoarse on the reservations issues, mothers ensured their off spring got the best education they can afford.
While many kids of sixties got advantage of the education, by the turn of century, most of Brahmin kids rose in the social ladder, to a better position than their fathers ever experienced. Same thing happened in Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala. Those families without a ‘mother with vision’ remained poor – even after five decades.
In the North, however Brahmins continued to be at the morally high position till nineties. During riots post Babri Masjid demolition, it was recorded how many Brahmins saved lives of Muslims from the rioters.
But, the community could not economically progress in line with its socially higher position owing to the restricted freedom of women in some families. Competing for 30% unreserved positions was relatively easier for Southern Brahmins, but their own numbers being high in North had become an impediment to the progress of their northern cousins.
Though considerable population from other castes acknowledge the inequalities that exist within Brahmins, but there are equal number who feel Brahmins of current generations should suffer for the sins of their forefathers. And, they remind to the Brahmins asking for reservations or opposing reservations for other castes that there never was any level playing ground for all masses.
Brahmins opposing the reservations often claim that by continuously extending the reservations the caste wheel is being simply inverted instead of paving way for a society where all are equal.
Many Brahmins of current generation feel they are being punished for the sins of their ancestors, which is injustice to the current generation and the future one. The fact that Brahmins in Kerala and Gujarat are asking for reservations, though ridiculed by many, remains a truth of their current condition.
But then, if one takes a holistic view, there are many people from other castes who still are in worse conditions. Almost all people living in forests and many Dalit communities like Bhangis in Maharashtra and Valmikis in Gujarat fare worse.
It is time for Brahmins to realise that the fight for inequality in a society ruled by democracy is meaningless. And asking for reservations for Brahmins will have many negative impacts on the future generations.
For one, due to the socialist policies of Nehru, there were two generations of Indians that expected their children to study and ‘do a job’ killing the entrepreneurial zeal amongst Indians. Thus came to live were the cinemas with dialogues like ‘I have a BA degree that could not get me a job’. People failed to realise that to get jobs, skills are needed and not degrees.
Dignity of Labour was one thing people were not inculcated by earlier generations, as parents wanted their kids to sit in the office under a ceiling fan with some files before them and return home by evening. Can that happen to all in the society? Never. People shall work or in other words – they should make something.
However, after seven decades of independence, due to lack of moral guidance from the leaders, the society is looking at freebies. We want the government to set up educational institutions, hospitals. We expect government to provide employment opportunities. After independence, our dependence on the government has increased manifold. The concept of State providing citizens was so deeply instilled in our minds, one will ask for two coffees, if one is offered free.
Brahmins or for that matter, even Dalits should take cue from Marwaris. Marwaris have a common fund from where poor in their community get loan to start a business.
Of course, he shall return the loan with interest once he is established resulting into the kitty increasing forever. One shall note that foundations of Marwari way of doing business were laid by mutual trust.
However, with deep rooted classification in Indian masses irrespective of religion and caste, there exist a trust deficit amongst the populace. This trust deficit hampers the growth of the society in general. That is the exact reason we see even prolific persons promote their relatives after achieving success.
Irrespective of castes, if there is a rally asking for reservations, everyone goes and disrupt trains, buses and everything that was already struggling to function in this country. But, when asked to depart some of their money to help fellow community member, only a few comes to the fore.
And, this characteristic is not only associated with Brahmins, but in people of all castes. As long as people do not trust one another, whatever the government does will not have the required impact on the ground.
For Brahmins and others who want to see themselves shall remember the ancient man lived in this country, who worked hard and observed things and thought logically. Emulate him, for he believed in an equal society without prejudices.
When Krishna told to follow ‘Swa Dharma’, it was not about the religion, but of one’s own character. It is about not worrying over flaws of oneself, but to work on improving the strengths. And try to excel in whatever one does.
Being successful means to have Peace attained from self-satisfaction, for it is above the materialistic success. And for any community that doesn’t help itself, not only the government but even the God himself couldn’t help.