Author’s note: This piece was initially written for a Hindusphere audience, and has generously been run by Fort Russ so that the issues raised within are able to be brought before a broader following. However, because it launches straight-in with some pretty contextually-embedded material, readers may benefit from a brief intro helping to explain what’s going on with this controversy – and why we’re up in arms about it.
As many will be aware, Brahmins have – broadly speaking – been our “priestly” and “intellectual” portion of society. This has obviously meant that, for those seeking to erase or otherwise seriously alter Hindu culture, customs, and communities, the Brahmin varna has tended to represent a prominent target. After all – if you eliminate, or simply co-opt the guardians and bearers of a heritage … it’s that much easier to control and to reshape according to your design. [If you do not, then it becomes *much* harder; and resistance will almost invariably galvanize, as a result]
These days, there are several tendencies which have picked up this anti-Brahmin agenda; and each has constructed their own narrative as to how it is that Brahmins apparently “dominate” Indian society, and why it is that the Brahmin position *within* said society must be “smashed” accordingly.
Apart from the various Muslim efforts over the previous millennium, and the occasional Christian proselytization projects commencing rather more recently, one of the oldest of these has been some of the Tamil/Dravidian nationalists/exceptionalists – who have sought to paint Hinduism as it exists in South India as being “Brahminism” rather than an authentic tradition; and who appear to have bought hook-line-and-sinker (ironically) into the British Imperialist meta-narrative of “Aryan Invasion” and subjugation of those who came before – thus rhetorically “justifying” the modern(ish) Dravidian Nationalists’ anti-Brahmin enthusiasms as an effort at “de-colonization”. Needless to say, the *actual* history of how Indo-European languages and religion came to be on the Subcontinent is *much* more complex and nuanced than that, but it makes for appealing propaganda.
Particularly when it’s actually a ‘cover’ for an atheistic effort to replace/displace Hinduism and other traditional sources of values and essences of community with … well, various forms of “Communist” thinking, in prior decades; some iterations of “Capitalism” nowadays, often. A comparative phenomenon may, perhaps, be found in the cultural purging which took place in the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution – as there, too, the historical and the traditional and the metaphysical were attacked [quite literally and viciously, in that situation] due to their perceived role as “impediments” to Mao-thought and as competitors for the hearts and minds of the people.
[As an aside, and lest the above lead to some misinterpretation of my position, sympathies, and leanings : it’s probably important to note that from our own work and readings, there can and should be no harsh antipathy between our religion and socialism – “Dharmic Socialism” is very much a viable, indeed a *vital* concept.]
Other strands that have taken up the cudgel in recent times include pro-Dalit activists, and certain sorts of Feminists. In both cases, because they perceive (and with some merit, it must be added) their previous treatment as a demographic within society as fundamentally unjust, and with the stratified structure of said society being the key element which had made this possible.
Conceptualizing Brahmins as the ‘keystone’ for said society – or, in some cases, simply congealing a perception of Brahmins as the most rhetorically viable target for their rancour – they therefore single out Brahmins and “Brahminism” and the “Brahmanical” as their simultaneous “rallying-point” and direst adversary.
Now, the plain reality is that an ordinary Westerner turning up in India, and bringing with him all the “mythperceptions” that the decades of cultural influence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Rudyard Kipling, and any number of other entertaining-but-egregiously-erroneous takes on the Subcontinent have inculcated, will quite likely find it easy to become ensnared by these sorts of narratives which hinge around a malevolent class of Brahmin(-ical) oppressors, who’ve somehow mischievously managed to manipulate the entire course of Hindu society for the previous three thousand plus years to their direct and personal benefit … and whose activities (which are apparently, somehow, the sin(e) qua non evil underpinning all others within India) must be opposed in the name of “Social Justice” ™.
After all – we have grown up in an age where televangelists regularly become millionaires; and a civilization whose greatest bastion of gold-laden Renaissance-art-studded opulence, is the Vatican City. When we think of people who opt to join the serried ranks of the Clergy, we either (if they are Catholic, or some Evangelical sorts) look sideways at them and presume a highly improper (and outright illegal) motivation for so doing … or we think them a “Weekend Warrior” whose ecclesiastical duties start and in all likelihood end on a Sunday morning. If we encountered a scraggily (un)dressed man in the street speaking about religion, we’d be more likely to suspect him a street-person, a vagrant, a “bum” – than a Saint, a Sadhu, a Sage.
We simply do not, for the most part, have the requisite nor adequate psychological basis to look at what’s actually going on here (a religious society – a religion permeating society), on its own terms.
Despite what you may, perhaps, have heard (and I do apologize to those readers who’ve a more comprehensively informed perspective already) – the situation of many Brahmins is *not* that of … to put it crudely … the dramatic presentation of Jews in a Nazi propaganda piece. As shall be touched upon in the article below, the facts of the matter are actually quite different – with many Brahmins, even those who continue to practice their ancient and ancestral occupations in the Priesthood and such, living hand-to-mouth or even poverty-line existences. And with an apparent degree of social influence that sees a number of Brahmin populations reduced to refugees or pulling rickshaws and cleaning toilets.
It is also worth mentioning, lest there be any doubt, that there are significant structural issues within Indian cultures and society. The point of this piece is not to cast doubt upon that, nor to attempt to pretend that they simply do not exist. But, in part to point out that it is both ridiculous and counterproductive for *actual* positive progression of change to attempt to tie all and everything that is ill to “Brahminical” conspiracy (I must confess, I was also unaware that “Patriarchy” was an exclusively Brahmin or Brahmin-originated phenomenon?) – and, for that matter, to *further* point out that many Brahmins are *significantly* detrimentally impacted by exactly these same caustic ills.
Poverty, it could be said, does not seem to care what varna you hail from when it shortens your life, whitens your hair, and feeds only your desperation and never your stomach.
Although as applies an array of these tendencies which have, historically or in the modern day, sought to exert their will upon Indian society – well yes, yes they *do* tend to care … and as noted above, often have especial spite towards Brahmin groups.
I therefore wrote this piece to attempt to ‘push back’ against the aggressive “anti-Brahmin” antagonism that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s recent escutcheon-based escapade is so emblematic of. And because, as a result of it making the news in so many places around the world, the otherwise-unexamined assumptions and prejudices which made it possible in the first place, will presumably find themselves considerably reinforced and further-permeating.
It is nevertheless incumbent upon me to note that I come to these matters with a bias – as not only am I a pious Hindu, but I count amongst my closest friends persons from the very communities these “smash Brahminical” tendencies seek to marginalize or even to outright attempt to destroy. In addition to this, several months spent stationed at a local Mandir, and longrunning community engagement beyond that, have allowed me a rather more “direct” position of view upon the realities of the circumstances and the way of life of a Pandit.
All of which, together, contributed to my frank astonishment at the characteristics of the “Brahmin” ‘stereotype’ that many people seem to harbour.
Hopefully, this article can go some way towards dispelling that phantasm; so that the *true* realities of the situation can instead be considered.