(This was written in response to Ananya Vajpeyi’s piece ‘The reactionary present’.)
One is rather awestruck at having a glimpse into the workings of Ananya’s mind. In our latest observation, we find that she traces back all of India’s social problems, be it Hindu-Muslim divide or ‘Casteism’, ultimately to an imagined ‘Brahminical tyranny’ being puppeteered by NRIs. According to our current creature of study, this resurgent ‘Brahminical ‘ is also at the heart of the Hindutva espousing party in power – even though its head man is an OBC, and the second in command is a Jain (an honourary ब्राह्मण ?).
While we all like a good conspiracy theory now and then – foreign hands anyone ? – the crudeness by which this picture is being painted by the eminent Social scientist beggars belief.
Perhaps she believes that if it speaks like a ब्राह्मण, and acts like a ब्राह्मण – and Swamy dubs it a ब्राह्मण – it should be a ब्राह्मण ? Can’t be, for she being so very eminent, must by necessity believe that the ब्राह्मण label is fixed by birth. Perhaps then she believes that it is all one big meta-conspiracy by the scheming ब्राह्मणs ? Or could it just be, that she’s just afraid that the colony is coming to an end ?
First things first, let’s get the connotational baggage out of the way. The Sanskrit word Brahman (ब्रह्मन्), with a dental nasal, refers to the description of the Vedic ‘God’: the Advaitic interpretation of the Veda posits an all-pervading entity, but there are many other schools of thought. Brahmana (ब्रह्मण) – this time with a retroflex ending – refers to the Vedas themselves, for they talk of Brahma (ब्रह्मन्). Finally derived from the latter is Braahmana (ब्राह्मण), for he studies that (ब्रह्मण) which talks of Brahma (ब्रह्मन्). This now is the varna in question.
Now, Anthropologists who study Hinduism – even while its alive – refer to “Brahminism” as being related to the former two, while Social scientists refer to it as Hinduism in general. In this sense Social scientists see no difference between the three derivations of brh (बृह्), and happily use the tersity that romanization affords them. It is seen mostly as an aberrance that most well-regarded Rishis in the Hindu pantheon are not to have born to ब्राह्मणs. This includes Vyasa himself who is believed to have collected the Vedas at the beginning of Kali. More specifically, Social scientists foolishly equate everything in ‘Hinduism’ with the ब्राह्मण varna. This pathological imprecision should not surprise those of us who are always confused by terms like ‘caste’, ‘Vedism’ and numerous occidental constructs. Some say “Brahmanism” is a “Brahminized” corruption of the “pure” Vedism, and others don’t feel the need to define this term for us stupid natives at all.
And this now brings us to the next root.
The word ‘varna’ is derived from the root ‘vr’ (वृ), which means ‘cover’, or that which is the external description. This should not be surprising, for ‘varnan’ in Hindi is exactly the meaning of this. Colour too, being one such external quality is also described by the word, but should one pick the general or the specific ?
Since Purusha Sukta is organizational – metaphor to the Human body hardly does a hierarchy make – one would imagine that one ought to pick the former. Given that we Hindus are so conspiratorial, let’s assume for the moment that her allusion to deep-rooted – tracing all the way to ऋक्! – racism is indeed at play. This notion is little more than the usual trope fed by the ‘Aryan invasion’ camp, which has of late transmogrified into the ‘Elite migration’ camp. Neither of these camps have any grounding, since Archaeological & Genetic evidence disallows the former proposition from existing, while the latter assumes no large-scale migration in the first place! And it shows: the various jatis (including Vanavasis) have been found to be far closer to each other than any one of them is to the European genetic pool.
Perhaps, now she shares Witzel’s belief that the genetic data itself is a Brahminical conspiracy ? I wish not to enter this tower-of-conspiracies, and abandon here the reader to ponder on about these two wonderful play on words and the mind behind them.
Ironic that Whitney in his compendium, lists the root ‘वृज्’ (lit. twist) nearby.
Hinduism त्यज ?
I’m not entirely sure what texts Ananya speaks of, but as many have realized, few if any have ever read these texts – including Manusmriti – let alone rigidly implemented them. Second, it is also likely that much error and fiction has crept in over the years through scribes, translators and generally people from one jati (including Jainas) trying to show their superiority over others. Third, neither of these texts are known to have any real importance, nor are they particularly consistent. Basically, if assuming contradictions is Ananya’s premise, she has already given up on making any sense. But then, politics needs no logic, only propaganda.
She claims that Buddhism & Islam counteracted ‘Brahminical construct’ on the sub-continent. She further claims that ब्राह्मणs, irked at Muslims, Women and others, pushed the country into a Dark Age. That the reassertion of Hinduism with Bhakti movements, heralded a new Dark Age starting the second millennium. To claim the drastic change occurred would be to point to Turkic invaders, which I doubt was her intention.
Neither did the Malayala Arabs, nor Syriac Christians/Jews have any real power, and nor were they known for “social reform” – the oppression and plunder across the country by their respective imperial cousins needs no elucidation either. The contemporary existence of Christian-only wells & public schools, and Muslim-only quarters betrays the image of benignity she desperately tries to build.
Koenraad Elst notes in ‘Buddha and caste’, that Buddhism was never really an “Indian version of Protestant reform”, as many neo-Buddhists wish to believe. It is ironic that many neo-Buddhists, in their Protestant reverie, are often caught trying to promulgate Lutheran propaganda, with “Jew” replaced by “Brahmin”.
Newars, a population of Vajrayana followers in Nepal, have a jati of ‘Bajracharyas’ from which their ‘priests’ are derived. मैत्रेय, the prophesied rebirth of Buddha himself, is to be born in a ब्राह्मण family. Perhaps the neo-Buddhists, believe that मैत्रेय will be born to give the family freedom from Hinduism – as they often do about Ambedkar’s wife. Most Dharmic social movements against jati-varna corelates seem to be on the plank that one’s jati/varna impedes अध्यात्मिक progress. This period also saw the likes of Basava, Ramanuja and various other Alvars speaking out against such discrimination. The Alvars & Ramanuja’s own Guru were themselves not born of ब्राह्मण lineage.
As for the “oppression of Women”, the Devadasis of Tamil Nadu were known for being extremely well-educated in the arts – M S Subbalakshmi herself is the daughter of one such household. The ‘jatis’ responsible for our much cherished classical arts were also not of ब्राह्मण heritage, as noted by the well-known Sanskrit poet Shataavadhani Ganesh.
Dharampal notes in his book ‘The Beautiful Tree’, that early British records indicate that there existed an Indic educational system, which was quite equitable, before falling victim to colonization. The surveys ordered by Sir Thomas Munro in 1822, indicate that Shudras comprised of no less than 20-40% of the student enrollment. He also notes that while girls were poorly represented in schools, they were nevertheless present. It was far more ‘secular’ too. Vijayanagara, Wodeyars, and other Hindu kingdoms had Muslim commanders. This at a time, when a non-European leading a European army was considered unimaginable.
Of course all of these systems ultimately collapsed, the grand traditions corroded, by the British-engineered economic decimation. Angus Maddison notes that this period saw our share of the world GDP reduced from 25% to little more than nought. Poverty is not a cultural issue. It is a deep cave which entraps people and corrupts everything within it.
‘Western fundamentalism’ ?
Instead of uplifting the poor, what our ‘righteous’ state has done from colonial times, has been to purge the sub-continent of traditions instead of letting them evolve. Traditions which have corrupted partly by stupidity, partly by engineered poverty, but yet are nonetheless the only markers of our grand civilizational heritage. How the Indian state survived without having earned the slightest in legitimacy, is for the future to ponder upon.
Unlike Japan, where the Geisha adorn Gion, we collectively resolved to calling Devadasis ‘prostitutes’ and banished them from our present. The poor who did resolve to prostitution continued to do so, providing much needed aposteriori justification for the dim-witted move.
It’s not science to make the world fit your assumptions, but this however is exactly what Ananya wishes for. Those who seek to ‘civilize’ us, can (and will) always find issues to justify their violence. She sees the Western-liberal notion that exists today, and completely ignores the path by which it has evolved, and the economics sustaining it. Lest we believe that all that is ‘Western’ is good, we should note that segregation is rampant even in very hipster-ny cities like Seattle (let alone Baltimore), and that American Churches continue to be deeply divided racially.
There is much that can be learnt from the others, but imposing a foreign philosophy without attempting to syncretize native traditions is little more than fundamentalism in itself. People of her mould, however, are impatient for what evolution requires, and wish for a ‘parched earth’ policy of vanquishing the old and adopting whatever fancies the Occident (as Madhu Kishwar notes often). This interestingly is also the project that our neighbour Pakistan has indulged in – their ideas though come from the Saudis. Much of Hindustani Music, Sufism, and Ahmaddiya which were the hallmarks of Mughal culture now remain banished in the land of the pure.
There is no reason for us to believe in the unscientific philosophy of bland universalism. As Dunkin Jalki and others have noted, there is really no theory of ‘caste system’ in Social sciences that is consistent with data. Contrary to the widespread propaganda, the crimes against Dalits are but a very tiny fraction of what their share of the demographic would have us believe. That is not to say that discrimination exists, but characterizing it as ‘Brahminical tyranny’, when most such violence is perpetrated by “OBCs” (who turn “upper caste” for newspapers, overnight), belies this ostentation of helping the poor and gives us a glimpse into the true form of this medieval witch hunt.
For the record, India is poorer than, no less than ten African nations by per-capita, on PPP terms. Its citizens are poorer than Sudan and war-torn Syria on nominal terms, despite having a ‘Socialist’ rule for over 70 years. By contrast, Indians form the ethnicity with the highest median income in the US. This is not socialism, this is tyranny. One is not sure who the fundamentalists are any more when people – including Amnesty’s current director – tacitly support the existence of misogynistic laws against Muslim women in India, while at the same time launch such vituperative attacks not based in any logic.
Some more equal?
Hindutva has many faults, no doubt. They’ve historically nourished few institutions of higher learning, and many like myself feel that they are too tied up in Semitic notions as a result – much as all our beliefs have turned so. The thing you can’t attribute to them is that they are opposed to equality. One, their founding literature says as much, but more importantly, it can be gleaned by the very fact that the likes of Ananya, who are of the ‘Anglicized Brahmin’ heritage, are going after someone not from their own class.
This is not an accident. The ‘Righteous republic’ deals with all its affairs in a language not spoken by the majority of the population – and likely not by most of its lawmakers.
Founded by the ‘wisest’ in all of the land, but for whose sake ? For those who wish to speak not to their brethren but to outsiders ? ‘Socialists’ who wish to eradicate native cultures-languages and replace them with that of whosoever has the deepest pockets ? No wonder she’s aghast that these ‘Hindutva’ people are taking over their apparatus!
Now, this is not just my conspiratorial mind, Ms. Vajpeyi, this is perhaps what is going on in the minds of those who feel disenfranchised by this ‘righteous’ state of yours. Dalits formed a large fraction of those who took part in the Ram Janmabhoomi protests, and it is these people who treat their Cows as members of the family.
While the state may provide for reservations to pacify them, it has also simultaneously destroyed public schooling. The wider Hindu population has been cut-off from their native ‘Brains’, by emphasizing the incestuous hold of power by the ‘Anglicized Brahmin’ classes. Even if they make it through the grind learning in their mother tongues, they’ll have to compete with rich Anglophone co-jatins, for opportunities. And when they do get one, they’ll have to study in English for their degrees. Yes sir, the righteous state decided long ago that, if you haven’t cut off your tongue and attached the Anglo-Saxon one, the state will not feed your brain. How equal the constitution is! Aye! If only you were born into this minuscule class of vestigial Indians!
This state-sponsored linguistic inequality, which is visible on every product/medication label, is perhaps also one of leading factors for children dropping-out from school. It certainly is the reason ‘English-medium’ schools are cropping up all over the countryside. The latter by the way is not equality, it is desperation. Unlike Rukmini Devi, there is no one to save the arts of the thousands of villages of भारत being abandoned because of a lack of economic opportunity. These people neither have access to knowledge nor capital, let alone infrastructure.
Changing the religion has never really changed how one is perceived in India. Perception is determined based on one’s ‘class-markers’, how rich one is, the value of one’s job in the Social market, and increasingly whether one speaks English, his accent, and so on. Now, who sits at the top of this class pyramid is easy for everyone to see. This is after all the colonized class that has ruled over us for over 300 years, even under the British. Necessarily, these will be co-related with people from jatis who were co-opted into working for the colony, but I doubt they share any experiences with their poor cousins.
One is drawn to wonder if the popular narrative, which by necessity is based on the experiences of this class, is little more than autobiographic. Whether this guilt of the Anglicized is being superimposed on their non-Anglicized co-jatins ? Or perhaps it is the Anglo-Saxon experience being ‘pulled-back’ into India, and desperately made to fit. One wonders if independence was little more than the House Negro taking over from his master: a Colony of the colonized, have we become ?
Certainly, much Hindu experience would support this supposition. Our Temples continue to be looted by the state, and it continues to be unlawful for us to set up educational institutions in the land of our supposed majority. Local cultures continue to be the target of ‘anti-superstition’ laws, while Homeopathy completely gets a pass. The simple absence of paeans to Jainism – as opposed to Buddhism – in Ananya’s article, in itself should give us a clue: the message on the wall is clear: the only good Indian is a dead Indian.
The ‘Sanskritization’ theory of M. N. Srinivas, which yet again has been shown to be mere fiction by S N Balagangadhara’s group, describes exactly this process of ‘Anglicization’ which has played out in front of our very eyes. Yet those who can write can’t see it, and those who can can’t write.
This is the core issue with cases like Perumal Murugan & Wendy Doniger. It’s perfectly fine to ask for ‘intellectual’ rebuttals in a level-playing field, but is there really such an equitable platform ? In the rare case when these works are critiqued, they are either never taken cognizance of, or worse branded ‘Hindutva’. In others, those whose tongues have been cut off by state-policies can hardly be expected to speak out against rabid propaganda. It is ironic that the author who writes about Swaraj, is now at the forefront of the battle against it. Now we know why RSS has no intellectuals: because they equate it with Anglical pomposity.
It’s not about Adhikara. It’s about growing a tongue. Get over it.