By Saquib Salim
The ongoing debates around the suicide, or rather institutional killing, of Rohith Vemula and the JNU issue have brought to the public discourse a rather confusing and controversial term: “Brahmanwad”. My Facebook timeline, over the last few days, has a spate of updates from my Brahmin friends, who lament — and quite rightly so — that are Brahmins not poor, why are people creating this binary of Brahmin and non-Brahmin? Most of the non-Brahmin people also have this impression that these slogans of “Brahmanwad” are directed at the Brahmins, and this is a war cry from non-Brahmins over the Brahmins.
It needs to be understood that Brahmanwad refers to a social system, where a small privileged section of society, through different means, controls the resources and excludes others from economic and political power. The term is nothing but an attempt to draw an analogy to the previously practised rigid social system in the Indian society. Brahmanwad is a way of creating a dominant ideology in the name of religion.
In the present context, are Brahmins, who are born in that caste, the real ‘Brahmin’ of this Brahmanwad? Do upper-castes still hold the key to political as well as economic power? It is no longer the case. Brahmins have not remained that infallible set of people who can do no wrong, who used to enjoy respect throughout history from the state apparatus. While a lot has been written about the present regime and how it is targeting minorities and Dalits, nobody seems to notice that upper-castes are in the line of fire in a number of ways like never before. People might argue that the ministers and MPs of the present government deliver the hate speeches against the minorities and dalits; hence, these are the most testing times for these communities. Nevertheless, these communities were always vulnerable. I do not know of a time when Dalits or the minorities were having social or economic security in general. Different government studies, like Sachar Committee report, reaffirm this truth.
During almost 60 years of the Congress regime, the onus was on Muslims, Adivasis and sometimes Dalits also to prove that they are Nationalists. Just look at the people locked up under TADA or the way the post- Babri Masjid demolition riots were handled — people who were at the receiving end were not upper-castes. Communal riots were also blamed on Dalits, and to show fair trial, often they were sentenced harshly as the ‘token’ parties from the Hindu sides.
Rather interestingly, barring the Dadri incident, during the last two years of this regime there is no ‘actual’ violence against the minorities. Yes, members of the ruling party are delivering hate speeches, but incidents of actual violence are not there. Then why does everybody seem to talk of intolerance? What has changed? The change is in the attitude towards the upper-castes, or I might say upper class also.
Just look at who the BJP-RSS combine has allegedly targeted in last couple of years. At the top you will hear name of three rationalists, M.M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, and Narendra Dabholkar, who were allegedly murdered by people from the Hindu Rightwing. All three of them were upper caste Hindus. You will hear name of Prof Sandeep Pandey, who was sacked from IIT-BHU, because of his political affiliations and opposition to the present regime. Kanahiya Kumar, JNUSU President, is also an upper caste man. Prof Rajesh Misra, of Lucknow University, who faced the wrath for sharing a Facebook post and now Richa Singh, AUSU President, also come from the upper castes.
By attacking centers of higher learning like FTII, JNU, HCU, AU etc., this government is challenging the intellectual class of this country. Centuries of social discrimination have ensured that nobody but the upper castes dominate these centers. Of course, the reservation policy has its effect but still academia is dominated by the upper-caste. And, any attack on these institutions of academic influence is a veiled attack over the authority of upper-caste too. When they are calling whole of the JNU, especially its teachers, anti-Nationals, they are crossing that line where you did not question upper caste for her/his devotion to the country. When we call this government anti-intellectual, it translates to anti-Brahmin too.
This Government is trying to cut the funds for higher education, disbanding the fellowships. On a pan-India basis, will it not affect upper castes more than Dalits or minorities? Especially when the dropout rate for Dalit students is very high at the primary education level? Had not Kashiram, and later Mayawati, kept BSP away from university politics, claiming that Dalits do not reach there in substantial numbers and upper castes dominate these institutions? Is not the present regime, in the name of higher education, attacking the interest of the upper castes more than the lower?
There is a clear onslaught on the Left parties, and the BJP-RSS combine is dubbing these as ‘anti-national’. Is there any doubt that all of the left parties are dominated by upper-castes and except for D Raja, of CPI, there is no Dalit face? For all these years since, 1947, the Muslim community as a whole has been questioned for its devotion to the country, repeatedly. A Muslim could be called Pakistani at the drop of hat. Now, the same is beginning to happen to people from upper castes. Kanahiya, Anirban, even Rahul Gandhi are being branded anti-national.
These are not mere slogans. The last two years have not witnessed much Hindu-Muslim violence but that does not mean that country has been peaceful. Last month, Haryana saw some of the worst incidents of violence since independence. It took the shape of caste violence. The worst-hit communities are the Punjabi trading castes and the Brahmins. The BJP heads the state government.
Losing grip over political power, and with no prominent face in the Central government or Hindi belt politics, the Brahmins are losing out in the academic milieu. The kind of slander being produced will take away public funded education — which will loosen their grip, as corporates will be calling the shots there. Will it be the start of new class hierarchy, replacing previous castes? Brahmanwad will live on for years to come, as will all that is being done in the name of it. The question remains – will the Brahmins have a stake in this constructed “Brahmanwad” which is becoming synonymous with mob rule?
The writer is a research scholar at the Center for Historical Studies, JNU