An innocuous tweet by Anna MM Vetticad has kicked off a storm in India. In the picture attached to the tweet is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey holding a placard which said “Smash Brahminical Patriarchy”. It looks like Jack has picked the most inappropriate time for his brain freeze moment. In a society that revels on religious sentiments with Ayodhya and now Sabarimala as flashpoints, imminent state assembly elections and general elections next year where religion is going to play a massive polarizing role, calling out for the annihilation of Brahminism is directly at loggerheads with the Hindutva plank of the BJP and RSS which is essentially about revival of Brahminism. It may not be a lot, but Twitter is going to lose out on quite a number of accounts.
There are many interesting arguments and counter-arguments flying around on Twitter which prompted me to ponder over what Brahminism or rather what the premise of Brahminism is. Our fundamental building blocks are genes, so we are products of genetic engineering and subtle changes in genetic structure ensures that we are all different from one another. As we evolved from cave dwellers and hunters to farming and societal life, two things happened: our genes also evolved, and our needs increased. Some among us started collecting information and recording it in different ways and became good with it. As our needs increased, the scope of work in society also expanded. This is how different professions in the society evolved. This was probably the greatest time of human evolution. All skills were equally important and respected, and everyone joined hands to drive society forward.
Fast forward to thousands of years later, and we get to see the Aryan and Vedic culture in India. The basic premise of society hadn’t changed, but society was divided into four broad categories based on people’s professions: Brahmins (scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders) and Sudras (professionals). Kshatriyas were always busy fighting or preparing for wars. Vaishyas were the business class. Sudras were the backbone of the society to keep it running on a daily basis. So who would manage information, record it and pass it on to other people? This was the responsibility of the Brahmin class. Ancient texts across the world are replete with how Gods or beings from other worlds came to earth and shared their knowledge with us. So they shared their knowledge with the Brahmins who recorded everything. Brahmins used to hold sway over the courts of Kings, and they were the ones who charted the administration of the kingdoms and became advisors, conflict resolvers and solution providers for the entire society. The picture was perfect up to this point till the advent of Kali Yuga when Brahmins started to monopolise their knowledge. Their stature and prominence started increasing in the society, and the worst affected by this were the Sudras who were gradually relegated to the menial class. This, in spite of the Vedas clearly mentioning that everyone is born as a Sudra and a person’s caste is decided by the profession he/she chooses. With the advent of temples and idol worship, Brahmins seized control of the concept of worship and made themselves the sole authority of temples and Gods. It is from this point that all the draconian rules of Brahminism evolved many of which survive even to the present times.
Brahminical patriarchy was born out of the dominance over society that Brahmins gained with time and they used it to exploit people of other castes especially the Sudras. The supposedly “impure” Sudras were not even allowed to come before or be in the vicinity of Brahmins. But Brahmin men could use Sudra women to satisfy their sexual lust. More than violence it was their wily exploitation and oppressive societal rules such as not allowing people from other castes to drink water from their wells that alienated them from other castes. The oppression extended to their own women as well. Even their emotions and needs were muzzled and they were permitted to marry only Brahmin men. Brahminical patriarchy is still prevalent in the rural society especially in the North Indian belt. They have maintained their stranglehold with caste based divide through vote bank politics and not allowing people of lower castes to get education and better lives. The most recent example was the picture of tribal girls being made to wash the feet of the CM of UP and a few other upper class leaders who were sitting on a dais.
Surprisingly, how did Brahminical patriarchy survive into the 21st century? Two reasons. One, our need to free the country from colonial rule was completely misplaced. How did colonial rule take its roots in India? India was not invaded and subjugated by the British. They came for trade and saw the caste-based divide in the society and how small kingdoms were constantly fighting with one another. They took advantage of our fractured society to become our rulers. Freeing the country of colonial rule was not the solution to our problem. Then, we incorporated the caste-based divide of our society into the Constitution because the makers of the Constitution felt it necessary for the upbringing of the lower castes through reservations. What did that result in?
Complete imbalance in our society, the creation of vote bank politics and with it the rapid decline of Brahminism. Giving more opportunities to the lower castes had undesired effects. They started feeling entitled to what they were getting, and more importantly, their angst against the age-old oppression they suffered at the hands of Brahminical domination started spewing out. The need was only to create a level playing ground for everyone without any differences and let the best ones win. Provide facilities for all irrespective of any divides and discourage any/all caste/communal based discourses. We would have had a political system based on governance and administration and a society free of all age-old divides.
The second and the most unnecessary reason was the rise to prominence of the Hindutva ideology. RSS and its political front BJP propagates the Hindutva ideology under the premise of protecting Hinduism and keeping its traditions and customs intact. But the truth is nowhere near to it. There was no religion called Hinduism till the advent of Kali Yuga and idol worship started. So the rise of Brahminical dominance coincides with the creation of Hinduism as a religion. BJP and RSS are both managed and administered predominantly by people from the upper class. As Hindutva ideology has gained prominence so has the bitterness and friction between upper and lower caste people increased especially in the North Indian belt. After being in governance for five years in the country and with abject failures of demonetisation, GST implementation and now under a cloud of scams, BJP is winding back to its rhetoric on Hindutva agenda for 2019 elections with temple based issues at Ayodhya and Sabarimala.
The primary reason why Brahminism lost their relevance is because Brahmins were not a working class community and as society evolved, religion took the backseat. Because in the Vedas it has been mentioned that caste is based on the profession we choose, Brahmins were averse to doing any other work, wanted to stick to temples, scriptures and their strict religious lives and were largely not willing to integrate into a rapidly evolving society. If the same proponents of Hindutva and Brahminism were to follow the Vedic rules, the majority of the Brahmins, even temple priests are working professionals or engaged in business now. So none of them can be strictly considered as Brahmins. Brahminism exists now only through inheritance from a lineage which simply amounts to holding on to old traditions.
There is no need to smash or destroy anything. With time everything evolves, and old traditions and rules will make way for new ones. But holding on to them is like keeping wounds open especially when they become part of political discourse. Any attack on the wounds, no matter how small will evoke loud and heated reactions. This is what has happened with the Jack Dorsey episode.
Expect the fallout to persist for a while with plenty of articles, arguments, responses and noisy TV debates to follow. Thanks, Jack for creating one more reason for people to debate and ignore the critical aspects of an economy in distress.