Can one be proud Brahmin?

I wrote this short note three years ago. However, I think the issue stays the same, my dilemmas stay the same. Increasingly, I have come across many discussions on Twitter about sexual violence against Dalit women. While there has been anger and outrage against the issue (and rightfully so!), the issue of caste implication in the violence against Dalit women seem to make many people (read Savarnas) extremely uncomfortable. In this backdrop, I see many of us talking about how Brahmins are ‘unfairly’ targetted. I am compelled to reshare an already old post because I feel strongly about this. Disclosure: I happen to belong to the Tamil Brahmin caste. And my blog post is a small attempt at deconstructing my own privilege. Read on:

This post made me revisit a dilemma I have had for quite some time now. I will revisit my dilemma later on. First of all, I want to respond to this post. In this post Rahul Pandita, a journalist, talks about his Brahmin-ness and wonders why he should not feel proud about his Brahmin roots and culture.

It is important to understand the caste hierarchy. Brahmins, as we all know, occupy the topmost position in the hierarchy. Their position that they enjoy and have enjoyed over a period of years is also based on severe oppression of lower castes. Simply put, one is not a Brahmin just like that. The position of that of a Brahmin cannot be without oppression of others. To put it very simply, Brahmins became possessors of knowledge purely on the basis of exclusion. Because of the position they enjoyed, they could conveniently exclude people who were non-Brahmins and their power also could be sustained by centuries of exclusion. It still continues. I haven’t seen many non-Brahmin priests. It is still the domain of Brahmins. So what are we saying, when one says, “I am proud of Brahmin culture.” Can we be proud of a culture that has evolved under conditions of having oppressed such a large majority? I definitely don’t think so. Culture cannot be devoid of politics. Culture that evolved then was also an outcome of political economy of that given period. Thus, it cannot be viewed in isolation of this historic background. It is important to know and understand under what conditions the cultural practices originated from.

Rahul Pandita is a Kashmiri Pandit. Their history of displacement has been very painful to say the least. It just appears to me that he has taken recourse to his culture as a response to being a victim of displacement. Taking recourse to one’s culture is a very common way of connecting to one’s roots especially in the face of physical displacement. The history of caste oppression of Dalits has been happening across centuries and cannot even be compared to the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits. Their history of oppression existed long before the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits. That is why I think Kashmiri Brahmin culture cannot be contextualised without taking into account the centuries’ old oppression of the Dalits.  Feeling sorry for the Dalits is futile if one doesn’t take into account that their condition is very deeply connected to the Brahmin culture.

Recently, there has been a website that has been famously frequented by many Tamil Brahmins. It is called the TamBrahm Rage. It is a site where Tamil Brahmins collectively make fun of all things Tam Brahm. When I checked out TamBrahm Rage, I experienced mixed reactions. When I go through Tam Brahm rage, I feel an acute discomfort when I see people laughing at all the jokes and the rituals. That is because I often wonder if they are just mocking or actually being critical of the entire thing. But even as I say this, I also laugh at the same jokes that that I am being critical of right now. That is because I think there are some things I have no control over. For instance, my upbringing. And it does have a major influence on things I do relate to. All my life, I have seen all these practices happening all around me. It has been an inevitable part of my growing up and my reality. I have never bothered to join the innumerable Tam Brahm groups on various social networking sites as I find it absolutely ridiculous to talk at a platform where the main reason of association is that of being a Brahmin. But then, I do frequent Tam Brahm rage sometimes because it does consist of some (of the many) questions I asked in my childhood which were left unanswered. Many of which are also ultimately responsible for my disregard to Brahminism as a whole.

The issue of personal identity is a very complex one. While I don’t consider myself as a Brahmin per se, I am one by default, in terms of my upbringing; in terms of certain privileges I have enjoyed being one. While I consciously do not associate myself with the identity of being a Brahmin and its associated rituals, I wonder if I can be away from it at all? Ideally I would want the destruction of the entire caste system and the annihilation of caste identity.  But then, I also wearily sometimes wonder, is it possible?

Can one really separate culture from the oppressive conditions it thrived in? Carnatic classical music has been a preserve of only Brahmins till now. This clearly means that Brahmins would have isolated everyone outside of their community in the spread of the art. No wonder we only have Brahmin performers ruling the roost. But then, I love Carnatic music very much. I often wonder where I stand. I often wonder if I can ever enjoy it without these confusions in my head.

Recommended readings

  1. A primer on caste privilege:

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