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Portrayal of Brahmins/uppercastes as exploitaters?

  Brahmins and upper castes in India have been portrayed  as oppressors and tyrants, who have exploited for centuries non-Brahmins, backwards or Dalits. Backward castes regard them as their real enemy. Why they do so and how far are their  allegations justified ?

First Backward class Commission’s Chairman Kaka Kalelkar had commented in his Report – “National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation”.

In ancient India, Brahmins were given the highest place of honour because of their intellectual and spiritual qualities. It was not by birth. People, who could keep themselves away from ignorance, illusions and lust, were put in this category. Brahmins were given the highest respect, not because of material successes, but for their learning, character, spirituality and ability to guide the masses. Their duty was learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that the whole society could benefit from their knowledge. They were put under maximum self-restrictions and were debarred from indulging in the pleasures of material world.

However, later on, when by birth people were put under different categories, their morals began to disintegrate. One compromise set them off to other compromises in order to enjoy pleasures of money and get name, name and power. It made them to forget about the life of austerity. As India moved on to medivial and modern period, irresponsible and arbitrary acts of some misguided and ambitious Brahmins added fuel into the fire. By hook or crook, such Brahmins (not in the real sense a Brahmin) tried their best to retain hold over the people of their respective local areas. They started making compromises and took advantage of their high status given by Hindu society. Ignorance and superstitions of masses helped them in achieving their mission.

However, in the past, Indian society from time to time looked inwardly and corrected the arbitrariness and irresponsible behaviour of Brahmins. In the past, rise of Buddhism in Ancient India, or Bhakti movement in mediaeval India, when Hindu and Muslim priests, alike, arbitrarily distorted and misinterpreted the tenets of their respective religions, and Reform Movement in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries are a few examples of it. India never needed the help of any outside force for its exaltation. However, after establishing their rule in India, British rulers tried to correct the Indian society in its own way.

But much more than arbitrariness of Brahmins, it was the potrayal of Brahmins and upper castes as oppressors and tyrants by the missionaries and the British rulers in India. During British rule, initially, British, who annexed authority from Muslim rulers, looked favorably towards Hindu community. The gradual displacement from their source of income, after the decline in financial status of their patrons – Princes and Zamindars, the appalling poverty of Brahmins compelled them to switch over their attention towards modern education.

Initially, it was the impoverished group of Brahmin and caste Hindus in search of livelihood, which looked upon modern education as means to earn their living respectfully. They devoted their scarce resources and energies to get costly Western Education. Sir Alfred Croft, Director of Public Instruction in Bengal wrote to Rev. J. Johnston in 1881, We know well that any considerable increase in the fees paid by college students would compel many to withdraw. It seems not to be fully understood… how poor the middle classes that flock to our colleges really are. Half the students live from hand to mouth…. And yet though, far behind in point of wealth, they correspond to, and are in fact the only representative of our professional classes at home, and the pressure on them for the means of subsistence is so great, that they must either be educated or go to wall. Their poverty gets confirmed by a study done to examine the annual income of the guarantors of 1271 Brahmin Students enrolled at Ferguson College, Pune from 1885 to 1895. According to it, 76% of the Chitpavan Brahmins guarantors belonged to the low or medium income groups. Similarly of the 277 Deshastha Brahmin guarantors, 70% came from low or medium groups.

Brahmins, being natural learners and pursuers of knowledge, were quick to move ahead of other communities. Their long tradition and undisputed role in the field of knowledge and learning, their intelligence, sincerity and hard work helped them to take a lead in all newer areas of advancement and secure an important place in the society.

In 1900, Sir William Lee, an important official in the Government of Bombay and Government of India, noted Brahmins dominance in the Civil Service, during 1869 to 1899. The British authorities also noticed the preponderance of Brahmins in other areas, too, including National movement and their growing influence and hold over the Hindu Community.

Preponderance of Brahmins at all levels of freedom movement alarmed the rulers. Innumerable C.I.D. Reports of that period confirmed the active role played by Brahmins in National movement. In 1879, the Collector of Tanjore wrote to James Courd, a Member of the Famine Commission, There was no class except Brahmins, which was so hostile to English (rule) In the words of an observer, If any community could claim the British out of the country, it was the Brahmin community 70% of those, who were felled by British bullets, were Brahmins. Sir Richard Temple, the governor of Bombay said that ever since 1818, when British finally defeated the Peshwa in the third Anglo Maratha war, Brahmins were, Inspired with a national sentiment and with an ambition bounded only with the Bonds of India itself.

Rowlett Report (1880) also confirmed that the British regarded Brahmins as the main force behind all terrorist movements and agitation leading to violence in almost all the provinces. Overwhelming support of Brahmin lawyers to Congress Party and Mrs. Anne Besant’s Home Rule made the British to believe that Brahmin Community was a threat to imperial rule.

The preponderance of Brahmins in freedom movement as well alarmed the rulers. It appeared to British rulers as if this small community was governing the country. In them British authoritiessaw a potential threat to their rule in India. They considered it necessary to counter the hold of Brahmins on Indian society by raising a strong force against them. Many British administrators including Temple advised the Government to stop the dominance of one or few groups in administration and begin to rely on other groups or castes, in order to keep the balance of power. In 1881 the Government decided to secure a reasonable combination of various races and castes in order to counter Brahmins hold in education and administration.

The atmosphere was already ripe for it as there was a fear in the minds of minorities and non-Brhmin community that if by any chance India would get Independence in near future, Brahmins would dominate them completely. On one hand, the British slighted the role of Brahmins as Indian intelligentsia and reformers, and on the other, portrayed them as oppressors and tyrants. Missionaries and the British rulers initially spread the idea to generate the resentment in the minds of ‘Non-brahmins’ of South against ‘Brahmins’ that Brahmins had occupied most of the places in education, jobs and places in modern callings. It succeeded in developing an in anathema amongst South Indian non-Brahmin population towards Brahmins (who constituted only 3% of the total population of Tamil Nadu), Sanskrit, and northern culture.

Being a minuscule non-militant community by nature, the Brahmins have surrendered to their fate. Brahmins yielded to the pressures of aggressive attitude of non-Brahmins. The geographical cum social mobility of Brahmins from Madras earlier to other parts of the country, where non-Brahmin movement was either weak or non-existent and then abroad led them to explore new pastures.

Education, being an important Institution, had attracted the vigilant attention of British rulers. The Raj made a thorough study of the prevailing indigenous educational system. Many surveys were made before introducing its own system of Modern education in 1834, most prominent being the Report of W. Adam, of1835 an excommunicated Baptist missionary. His data on indigenous education system of Madras was the most comprehensive.

Data of Adam’s Report (1835) reveals a different story and destroys completely the popular notion that education in India was monopolized by the Brahmins,. and resentment in the hearts of present day politicians because of North being always in prominance in national politics. Colonized Indian intellectuals still continue to sing their tune. The data shows –

  • There were 12,498 public schools containing 188,650 scholars in Madras. Madras Presidency reported 1,101 schools (with 5431 students) of higher learning, Rajahmundry heading the list with 279 such schools.

  • besides the system of public education, there was also widespread private coaching. In Madras, the number of pupils taught privately at home was considered to be “above five times greater than that taught in the schools”, according to Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras Presidency.

  • Non-Brahmins were not unrepresented in learning. In Malabar, out of 1,588 scholars of Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics and Medical Science, only 639 were Brahmins, 23 Vaishyas, 254 Shudras and 672 “other castes”.

  • Brahmins had a near-monopoly only in the Vedas and Theology.

  • Shudras and the “other castes” had in other branches of advanced learning like Astronomy and Medical Science.

  • The share of the Brahmins in certain areas was indeed very low. Even in higher learning in Malabar, out of 1,588 scholars of Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics and Medical Science, only 639 were Brahmins, 23 Vaishyas, 254 Shudras and 672 “other castes”.

  • In Astronomy, out of a total of 806 scholars, Brahmins were only 78, Vaishyas 23, Shudras 195, and other lower castes 510. In Medical Science, the share of the Brahmin scholars was only 31 out of a total of 190. The rest belonged to the Shudras and “other castes”.

  • In many places like in Seringapatam, it was only 7.83% in Madura 8.67%; in North Arcot, Brahmin boys were 9.57%, while the Shudras and “other castes” were 84.46%.

  • the female education was very much neglected though it was not altogether absent.
  • In some regions, Shudras did better in the matter of female education than the upper class Hindus including the Brahmins like Malabar and Joypoor in Visakhapatnam.

According to the data, out of the total number of 175,089 students, both male and female, elementary and advanced, only 42,502 were Brahmins (24.25%); 19,669 were Vaishya students (about 11%); but 85,400 were Shudras (about 48.8%); and still 27.516 more were “all other castes”, meaning castes even lower than the Shudras including the pariahs (15.7%). Thus the higher castes were only about 35% and the Shudras and other castes were about 65% of the total Hindu students. If we also include the Muslims who were about 7% of the total Hindu and Muslim students, then the share of the Brahmins was even less.

The rulers created many other identities in Indian society for the purposes ofcreating rift among different sections of Indian society, like Upper castes-lower castes, Brahmins-non-Brahmins, Backward castes, Dalits, Majority-minority communitities etc. The newly created identities generated venom in the hearts of the people against each other. A strong force against Brahmins was thus raised to counter their hold on masses.

While laying the foundation of democratic institutions in India, some discriminatory Acts were passed on electoral reforms and quota system like Act of 1919 (Minto Morely Reforms) or Communal Award of 1932, in order to secure a reasonable combination of various races and castes in administration and other modern callings. It created a wide gulf amongst various sections of Indian society.  Gandhiji along with other National leaders regarded it as the “Unkindest cut of all” intended to “divide population into communal groups” and to create a permanent split in Hindu Society.

Now onwards, Muslims and non-Brahmin castes resisted vociferously the dominance of Brahmins everywhere. The Imperial government allowed formation of many caste groups against Brahmins. The movement against Brahmins forged ahead with ferocity in the Southern and Western parts of India. It remained mild in North India, where communalism had already disrupted the peace of the land.

First Backward class Commission’s Chairman Kaka Kalelkar had commented in First Backward castes Report – “National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation. All communal and denominational organizations and groupings of lesser and narrower units have to be watched carefully, so that they do not jeopardize the national solidarity and do not weaken the efforts of the nation to serve the various elements in the body politic with equity. Mutual help, mutual respect and mutual trust are the touchstone, on which all communal and denominational activities will be tested and anything that undermines it, will be expected and brought to book.

Also, Communalism and casteism are bound to destroy the unity of the nation and narrow down the aspiration of our people.” …It would be well, if representatives of the Backward classes remembered that whatever good they find in the Constitution and the liberal policy of the Government, is the result of the awakened conscience of the upper classes themselves. Whatever Government is doing by way of atonement is readily accepted and acclaimed by the nation as a whole. The upper classes have contributed their share in formulating the policies of the Government Removal of untouchability, establishment of equality and social justice, special consideration for backward classes, all these elements found place in the Constitution without a single voice of dissent from the upper classes.

If the backward communities have neglected education it is because they had no use for it. Now that they have discovered their mistakes, it is for them to make the necessary efforts for making the leeway…As far as the assistance in the matter of education for the backward classes, I am convinced that introduction of basic education in all the states with help the backward communities to cultivate self-confidence. They will also have a better chance of succeeding in life and have the advantage of mixing with other people.

Irespective of caste or creed, materialism and consumerism have taught people in general to fulfill all their desires and enjoy the life to the core, even if one has to ‘beg, borrow or steal’.  Such a tendency ignites the desire or craving for ‘more’, which instead of making them happy and contended, limits human aspirations to sensual enjoyment only, meaning eating delicious food, nights out, wearing good clothes and possess all the riches and worldly possessions to enjoy pleasures of life and make people very selfish. Achievements only at physical plane does not always make a person happy, successful and strong. Such a mindset gives rise to greed, anger and passion and most of the times (s)he is not able to maintain good relations with others. Materialism, consumerism, ruthless competition for positions of power, money and VVIP status to get access over all the luxuries of life at tax-payers cost have brought some unpleasant changes in the mind-set of people recent past and are increasing every day in the character, role and inter-relationship of the six main constituent of the national elites – political executive, legislators, businessmen, organised workers, surplus farmers and bureaucrats.

We are in a critical phase of history. The actions of present generation in right direction can lead the nation towards a better future. Therefore all citizens should join hands and work for the sustainable development of the nation. They must realize that they are one human family with a shared vision and common destiny. All Indians must give preference to their national identity over their class, caste, community, gender, linguistic or regional identities and must align together their efforts to restore the vitality, strength and dignity of our nation.

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February 4, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

2 Comments »

  1. dear sir,
    The post was very informative. But there are some doubts to be cleared,
    1.”Somehow, during British rule new identities were created in India for the purposes of governance,….. Brahmins-non-Brahmins,”.Where does these class come from?
    2.

    Comment by sameer | February 25, 2010 | Reply

    • I hope following posts of the web-site latasinha.wordpress.com will help you to clear your doubts –
      1.Origin of caste system of India
      2.Classification of society in India – Past and present
      3.Specific duties and obligations on each Varna,
      4.Are Brahmins/upper castes oppressors or exploiters?
      5.Start of Census operations in India.
      6. Principles of Dharma Varna and Karma in India.
      7.Dalits and discrimination.
      8.Dalits seeking foreign intervention?

      Comment by latasinha | February 26, 2010 | Reply


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