Gandhi ji’s 150 birth anniversary- His views on the Brahmins
In India, after attaining Independence from the British colonial rule, we have chosen a liberal Constitutional democracy wherein all people are equal irrespective of the caste and community. In fact, our founding fathers envisaged for a castleless society. Yet, our social fabric is still caste-ridden. This gives fillip to minority religious communities to convert saying that their religions to be egalitarian. The main target for vilification in Hindu society are the Brahmins. Many in India, loathe Brahmins for keeping knowledge to themselves and not distributing it to others. It’s said in scriptures, Brahminical qualities are: austerity, service, learning, purity and the unrelenting efforts to know Brahman.
Brahmins of yore, never exhibited pomp. Their priesthood itself symbolized their poverty. Now, of course, most Brahmins have moved away from those ideals. Mere birth into a family of the order wouldn’t make automatically a Brahmin. Anyone who lives by the said ideals could be called a Brahmin, is the theory. So therefore, it is incomprehensible why there is a fight in the society to pull down Brahmins? All told, in any case, it is undeniable, to say, that from among Brahmins, more men have come with real Brahminness in them than from all other castes.
In olden days, the ideal man was a Brahmin. For, he was the epitome of service. The secret of his power lied in his renunciation of earthly (material) enjoyment. When the Brahmins ideals slowly started eroding, Brahmins position in the society had become vulnerable. That means, they themselves invited the trouble.
In this 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, let’s review what the position of Gandhi ji was on Brahmins. Gandhi ji spoke about their (Brahmins) defects also. Pointing out how a Brahmin should be, he said, a Brahmin is to be synonymous with renunciation, self-control, learning, service of others, of effacing oneself in service of others. As such he cannot look upon anyone as low or untouchable, nor can he aspire to any secular vocation or goal. Get back to these ideals he emphasizes.
Gandhiji remonstrates with Brahmins by saying, “Your treatment of non-Brahmins has been satanic. When you were living up to the ideal of inner purity you did not need to fear being polluted from without. Give up offensive language towards non-Brahmins, give up these false notions of superiority and ‘purity’. Remember, pollution comes from within. Remember no superiority is inherited, that notion must be fought every inch of the way….”
Just as he told Brahmins, he told the non-Brahmin agitationists (in the South India) repeatedly, “The remedy is correction, not destruction”, … “Do not think you will gain anything by becoming non-Hindus, do not think you will gain anything by abusing Brahmins or burning their homes. “Who were Tilak, Gokhale, Ranade and Agarkar?” he asked them. They were Brahmins.
Gandhi ji added, “The Brahmins, however fallen they may be, are still in the forefront of all movements, political and social… It is the Brahmins who exert for the uplift of the depressed classes, more than anybody else. Lokmanya Tilak is revered by all classes of people for his service to the country. One Brahmin gentleman in Andhra has devoted his life to the service of the untouchable classes. The late Mr Gokhale, Mr Ranade and the Hon’ble Mr Sastri have all done splendid work for the regeneration of the backward classes. These are all Brahmins. I am convinced that the Brahmins are known for their self-sacrifice at all times. You complain of the Brahmin bureaucracy. But let us compare it with the British bureaucracy. The latter’s follows ‘the divide and rule policy’ and maintains its authority by the power of the sword, whereas the Brahmins have never resorted to the force of arms and they have established their superiority by sheer force of their intellect, self-sacrifice and penance…By indulging in violent contempt of a community which has produced men like Ramdas,Tulsidas,Ranade, Tilak and others, it is impossible that you can rise,” was Gandhi ji’s message. (Collected Works, 20.144, 18.448.49).
In support of Brahmins Gandhi ji also says, “I have not a shadow of doubt that Hinduism owes its all to the great traditions that the Brahmins have left for Hinduism. They have left a legacy for India, for which every Indian, no matter to what Varna he may belong, owes a deep debt of gratitude. Having studied the history of almost every religion in the world it is my settled conviction that there is no class in the world that has accepted poverty and self-effacement as its lot. I would therefore urge—a non-Brahmin myself—- I would urge all non-Brahmins who may compose the audience and all non-Brahmins to whom my voice may reach that they will make a fundamental error if they believe that they can better their position by decrying Brahmanism.
Even in this black age, travelling throughout the length and breadth of India, I notice that the Brahmins take the first place in self-sacrifice and self-effacement. It is the Brahmins all over India who silently but surely are showing to every class in India their rights and privileges. But having said so much I wish to confess too that the Brahmins together with the rest of us have suffered all (sic). They have set before India, voluntarily and deliberately the highest standard that the human mind is capable of conceiving; and they must not be surprised if the Indian world exact that standard from them.
The Brahmins have declared themselves, and they ought to remain, custodians of the purity of our life. I am aware that the non-Brahmins of Madras have many things to say against Brahmins, for which there is some cause. But let non-Brahmins, realize that by quarrelling with Brahmins…by mudslinging they will not better their lot, but will degrade Hinduism itself” (Collected Works, 19-546).
Gandhi ji further advised non-Brahmins, “ In your haste, in your blindness, in your anger against Brahmins, do not trample underfoot the whole of the culture which you have inherited from ages past”, he added “…even at the risk of being understood or being mistaken by you to be a pro-Brahmin, I make bold to declare to you that whilst Brahmins have many sins to atone for and many for which they will receive exemplary punishments there are today Brahmins living in India who are watching the progress of Hinduism and who are trying to protect it with all the piety and all the austerity of which they are capable. Them you perhaps do not even know. They do not care to be known. They expect no reward; they ask for none. Their work is its own reward. They work in this fashion because they must. It is their nature. You and I may swear against them for all we are worth, but they are untouched… (Ibid, 34.512).
Now, it could be easily understood as to why religious minorities in India prefer former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (an agnostic) over Mahatma Gandhi who championed for the cause of Hinduism. Undoubtedly, Gandhi ji strived for bringing unity among various castes in Hinduism to keep the society intact.
Excerpts from: Shri Arun Shourie’s column- ‘An example of the consequences’ published on 4 July 1993 in English newspaper Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad.
I am Indira Garimella living in Hyderabad. I hold a Master’s Degree and M. Phil (in English) with M.Ed. I worked as PGT in English in Government run Residential Schools. I have been associated with Pragna Bharati, Hyderabad. I also worked as Associate Editor of Bharatiya Pragna, monthly magazine of Pragna Bharati in the past. I have been a keen observer of National Politics and also write letters and articles to the English and Telugu newspapers from time to time.