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The Myth Of Merit: Why Brahmins Refuse To Acknowledge Caste As A Social Privilege

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We have been hearing arguments that try to justify the superiority and monopoly of Brahmins and savarnas in the fields of education and governance based on genetics. Their argument is that generations of endogamy and access to education have created a group of people who are better at learning (Brahmins). They are simultaneously arguing for the Brahminical superiority in education along with justifying the backwardness of Bahujans.

This is one of the biggest arguments against affirmative action programmes in jobs and education since they are genetically gifted with “merit”. They think they are using the principle of natural selection to prove their point, but this analysis refutes their claim and shows it is pseudo-science. Genetic determinism has always been used to nullify cultural and sociological effects to exaggerate the influence of the genotype, and build support for exclusionary policies that create and reinforce socio-political hegemony (Mukunth, 2020).

This is an image of a movie scene with an imposed speech bubble that reads caste system doesn't exist
Brahmins use the principle of natural selection to prove their superiority, but this analysis refutes their claim and shows it is pseudo-science.

In an interview, Dr P Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, a well-known social scientist who has done extensive work on caste and society, discusses whether there is a link between exemplary scientific research and being Tamil Brahmin against the background that three Indian scientists (Sir CV Raman, Dr Subramaniam Chandrasekhar and Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan) to win the Nobel Prize for the sciences have been Tamil Brahmins. He says that as they are too small in number, it is difficult to judge their linkage with a community.

“What is seen as a co-relation may be sheer coincidence. There is a co-relation between the Nobel Prize and Jews as most of the Nobel Prize winners are from a Jewish background. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the crucial importance of cultural capital in intellectual achievements; and virtually all the Nobel Prize winners possessed cultural capital.” (Warrier, 2009)

This is something that the savarnas consciously ignore; their monopoly in the cultural capital that they don’t want to give away to Bahujans and they fear might happen due to affirmative action programmes. After all, no one wants to give away privilege. India’s Brahmins have enforced a stranglehold on the country’s knowledge production for over a millennium, and since the industrial era has expanded their influence to secure influential positions within the ruling class, top jobs in the government, universities and research institutions, and in business. industry and trade.

Drawing from cultural capital and social frameworks they erected to maintain their power, Brahmins have perpetrated their violence by subjugating members of other castes, keeping them from being educated, holding off well-paying jobs and denying them access, and in general starving them of any opportunities for socio-economic mobility and empowerment.

 

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“In a hierarchical society, the cultural capital is concentrated at the top. Brahmins are at the summit of the social hierarchy. So, they had all the advantages of society traditionally…Cultural capital gets transmitted from generation to generation and over generations, this transmission makes its recipients well-entrenched. As early as the 1880s, the British administration had reported that a poor Brahmin cannot be compared to a poor untouchable for the simple reason that the poverty of a Brahmin is only economic, but the poverty of an untouchable is both economic and cultural. Brahmins have cultural capital. That is also the reason that where talent has to be used persistently and assiduously, Brahmins have been shining. It is not that others are dullards. Universally, intelligence is distributed across the entire society. But opportunities are not” (Warrier, 2009).

It is important to keep in mind that the social background of Brahmins has been elite and aristocratic. As a reason for the current monopoly of Brahmins in education and administration, he says,

“If you take all of India, Brahmins were the first to take to English education, and gradually managed to monopolize it. Brahmins had a monopoly over indigenous education also. In Kerala, what happened was the Namboodiri families initially refused to take to English education because of superstition. It took them some time to come out of it” (Warrier, 2009).

The example of Kerala is important because Brahmins in the states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu adopted English education first, enabling them to occupy the important posts in education and administration creating a monopoly that we see even to this day. But in Kerala, it was the Nair community that adopted the change first when the Kerala Brahmin Namboothinri’s failed to adopt it fast. Hence, they lost the monopoly in education and important administration to Nairs (Menon, Pillia etc.).

Suriya on the poster for Jai Bhim.
Whichever community got a headstart in adopting Western education got the chance to hold a monopoly in it thereby defeating the genetic superiority argument. | Poster of Jai Bhim

This is apparent even today as they still hold important positions. This shows that whichever community got a headstart in adopting Western education got the chance to hold a monopoly in it thereby defeating the genetic superiority argument. The only reason they could hold such important positions was that they were at the top of the social hierarchy and had the opportunity to start first.

Also, unlike what most of the savarnas believe, most of the castes that are considered upper castes weren’t always top in the hierarchy. Even though the hierarchical system of caste remained in Indian society for millennia, and it was always Brahmins on top and others in the bottom, which jatis comprised the so-called savarna changed with times, sometimes because of change in the political climate, sometimes due to migration and interaction between other communities due to trade.

Many lower castes became elevated to higher status and many higher castes lost their privileges. What never changed was the privilege enjoyed by the people who were considered as Brahmins at that point in time, that remained unaffected.

The arguments raised in terms of genetic selection for education and talents are similar to what white supremacists and Nazis used to subjugate the black communities and treat them inferior. It is also similar to the misogyny suffered by women who were believed to be less intelligent than men and kept away from education.

 

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They tried to use genetics to explain why women performed worse in STEM fields citing the lack of women in these fields. People who use genetics for misogyny conveniently ignore the social obstacles that women face to access education. Studies after studies have shown that there is no genetic difference in the learning capabilities of men and women. Just as it was shown that it’s not a genetic disadvantage that women face, but a social one; the problem of Brahminical monopoly in education is not due to genetic difference, but a social one.

References

Mukunth, V. (2020, January 4). Genetic Determinism, Pseudoscience Can’t Hide the Casteism of Brahmin Chauvinists. Retrieved from The Wire.

Warrier, S. (2009, October 12). Brahmins dominate all modern professions. Retrieved from Rediff News.

Note: The article was first published in Round Table India

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