When I began with the series on casteism, I expected it to go unnoticed, like many other posts in the blog. A handful have read through the post, which is fantastic, and they’d taken the effort to convey their views to me personally, which is even better. I have been speaking on this issue for quite some time now, but never made an effort to record it as such. Couple of weeks back, purely by chance, I got an opportunity to translate an article recording the caste-based violence in Tamil Nadu. It wasn’t a verbose, emotionally charged account of caste riots triggered by inter-caste marriages. The article was penned in a sober, matter-of-fact tone, as if listing monthly supplies in an old fashioned household. The lack of terror or shock in the write-up probably sparked the whole idea behind this series. The girl belongs to Vanniyar caste (caste Hindu) and the boy is a Dalit. (the article carefully avoids the name of the caste!) They fall in love, get married and pronto! enter the caste police belonging to the girl’s family. The caste Hindus get to the Dalit settlements and shamelessly say that they forgive the marriage, but want their girl back anyway. A popular political party in Tamil Nadu supports this stand and heroically leads the violence. Honour, pride, you see. Dalit settlements in about 12 villages are burnt down, household articles destroyed, money and jewelry looted. When asked why take jewelry and money of the purported “lower castes,” pat came the reply, “Gold and money are exempted from theettu (pollution). Dalits will be compensated by the Government anyway.” Oh, the couple? The guy was hacked to death and the girl is with a family member, far away from her home, left to grieve her tragedy in utter isolation.
There are two kinds of responses I’m used to when a grave incident like above becomes newsworthy. I have to stress on the newsworthy part of the violence because very little gets reported. When it is, the one response from Brahmin community is, “This never happens in our homes. We have always been against discrimination and violence. You should be proud of it.” There has been a notion among a lot of Brahmins that the politicians use them as ‘soft targets.’ Particular is the effect in Tamil Nadu where the Dravidian politicians use the trope of “Ariya sadhi” (Aryan conspiracy) whenever they run out of things to say. Periyar has been a torchbearer of anti-caste movement in Tamil Nadu, coming heavily down on the hypocrisies of Brahmins. His intention, to say the least, is to target Brahminism and not Brahmins. How some people used it to target one community of the society and spew hardcore hatred on them is another story altogether. “Brahmins are selfish, vile, cunning and discriminating” is the bottomline of their ideology. Curiously enough, despite the obvious venom behind the generalization, Brahmins are still respected across Tamil Nadu and even nationally. Bollywood’s version of a Tamilian is still a math/science-obsessed-conservative-person who eats curd soaked noodles and mouths heavily accented English interspersed with random feline outbursts of “Ayyo Rama” and “Amma” – in other words, a South Indian Brahmin. A little more variety on this interesting image is the one involving “the Hindu” and “kaapi.” Needless to explain that, I guess.
Brahmins continue to occupy high positions across fields. Admittedly, it is getting increasingly difficult for Brahmins to reach the top. But that is because the others are finally given a chance to compete. The cause of sulk among Brahmins is their dangerous assumption that they are hated and that reservation has killed meritocracy. Brahmins have long been seen as symbols of the inhuman, power-hungry Varna system. The laws governing the society have been screwed and contorted in their favour. When a community takes pride of the “good genes” genially passed on by their great, smart ancestors, so should they graciously accept the burden of the sins committed by their predecessors, isn’t it? What do they call it, Karma? The irony is, most Brahmins, earnestly believe that Varna system is meaningful. And, the mother of all ironies is right here, that one should be “blessed and proud” to be a Brahmin. Of course, tagging along with would be, “no, no, we are against discrimination too!” You can take a Brahmin out of Brahminism, but never the Brahminism out of a Brahmin, so they say.
Dissecting the psyche behind this idiotic assumption is going to be a tedious and tortuous affair in itself. I’d start with these questions –
1. Does your caste pride isolate or blend you with the society?
2. Does feeling blessed for being born in the upper caste in anyway indicate that someone else is less-blessed or cursed for just not being you?
3. Have you been stereotyped with a negative connotation based on your origin?(caste/religion/nationality) How did that make you feel?
4. Who are you without your caste identity?