Last year when Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, posed with a placard ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’, it caused a huge uproar, many claiming that it was casteist, and derogatory towards a certain community, basically Brahmins. However, the veracity of this claim was never scrutinised. In the Indian subcontinent, where patriarchy along with caste, class, religion and region results in brutal violence, it is necessary to examine if there is any relation between Brahminism and patriarchy, and if yes, then how does it impact our society, and why people are against dismantling this hierarchical structure?
In order to understand Brahminical patriarchy, we need to understand the basic social structure of India. Indian society is divided into various castes, and this determines every aspect of one’s life, social status, class, occupation, dietary habits, social or cultural practices, family background etc. It also determines whether your caste name will be a slur (e.g. Bhangi or Chamar) or something which is revered, and is literally synonymous to being intellectual (Pundit).
Indian caste system can be dated back to early Vedic society (1500 BCE), where Rigveda’s Purushukta theory assigns a differential status to people according to their Varna. Now, around three millennia later, we live in a society where only 5% of the total marriages are inter caste, and caste-based ‘honor’ killings are a routine. In order to create a hierarchical structure like this, controlling women’s bodies has to be an integral part. This is where Brahminical patriarchy comes into play. The religious texts, written by Brahmins laid down the rules, specifying the rules, the marriages and relationships which are legitimate, and the rest which are ‘criminal’ and should be ‘punished’ because, without punishment, rules would be useless.
One of the many aspects Indians are extremely proud of, is their ancient culture, a culture which has been preserved for thousands of years, and it is the truth, no exaggeration. From languages to norms, we have retained enough of our past, including an oppressive hierarchy – which was meant to enslave communities in entirety and denied basic human rights to them.
In contemporary society, Brahminical patriarchy leads to brutal violence, physically and emotionally. Various toxic notions, which we hold dear in our society, directly descend from our glorified past. For instance, until recently there were movies which focused on the trauma of rape victim/survivor’s partner, rather than the former. It is about how she’s ‘impure’, ‘unworthy’ now. This concept of purity is clear in Ramayana, where Ram, the ‘perfect man’, asks Sita for Agnipariksha (walking in the fire) as a proof of her purity, that she had not been raped by her kidnapper. She passes the test and ironically is still thrown out once she’s pregnant.
Brahminical patriarchy uses women as pawns to maintain the power structure, to keep Savarna (upper caste) men on the top of the hierarchy. However, Brahminical patriarchy is still considered a controversial topic, not only among brahmins, but even feminists as well those who outrightly ignore the problem.