In a surprising turn of events, historically derided as weak, effeminate and unworthy of manhood, the Brahmin has come under the lens for 'Brahminical patriarchy'.
To begin with, two-minutes of silence for the poor chap in the picture whose face clearly shows he has no clue what Brahmanical patriarchy means. Awkwardly, nonetheless, he holds the placard, shrunk like a raisin, drained of all the 'toxic masculinity’ as he must be after talking to the surrounding ladies.
This photograph of Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter Inc, caused a social-media backlash. In full honesty, Dorsey was just doing his job. After a sanitisation campaign on Twitter against the right-wing and openly admitting discrimination against employees with conservative views, as the new MNC-multi-national comrade, he is only expanding his footprint by chastising other cultures he knows nothing about. That is the beauty of Marxist thought- the 'irreconcilable class conflict' sutra has universal application.
We are already familiar with the ways of local-global leftist combine, but more than that, the products of the new bourgeoisie-left, the 'MNC-left', are fascinating. Gone are the socialists of the 60s who would shun markets, live a hippie lifestyle, practice free-love, do psychedelics or leave society to establish an experimental communist settlement. Today's leftist shares stage with pop-stars, CEOs, businessmen and career politicians. The latter offer them a share in their stardom and celebrity status, and in return, the left offers them “discount coupons” of moral high-ground.
Are you a multi-millionaire looking to escape the 'greedy bourgeois' ignominy? Or a film producer whose movies consistently objectify women? Or an actor who wants to add a little bit of an edge to his public persona? Or a gorgeous woman acing the dating market who wants to add yet another barrier for men to cross to be “worthy” of her? Buy the ideological membership and start moral-shaming others from day one.
It is under this subscription-scheme that we find actors and actresses enlightening us about 'my choice', why Padmavati's “Jauhar” should make us all feel like vaginas and how we don't need a man but for his semen. Of course, these champions of women’s empowerment failed to speak up about the pervasive sexual abuse in their own industry, and when #MeToo broke out, their intellectual partners jumped to save them with ready-made explanations - patriarchy and toxic masculinity. When it's about “empowered” actresses, Bollywood and its culture are to be praised, when it is about their sexual exploitation in the industry, men in general have to be blamed. What a public distribution of the private property of crime!
As Hindu males, you must constantly feel guilty. You can't enjoy one festival without people telling you how unworthy you are of happiness, how that festival is sexist, racist, casteist, speciest, anti-environment, anti-minority and anti-humanity some way or the other.
Every Navratri, Diwali, Sunday or Monday our social media feeds are flooded with photos of Hindu goddesses modified to make an ideological statement. Sometimes, it's Lakshmi with the wounds of domestic violence, sometimes it is Durga with a sanitary pad soaked with blood, creating the design of a sacred symbol, or comments like, Hindus worshipping a woman when they can't respect one? Shame!
The barons of entertainment and news industries, didn't you boast superiority of your 'free-sex' culture as a panacea for women's problems? According to you, it was the conservative common man that is sexually frustrated and rapes, not you, and therefore, deserves constant shaming. Post-Sidharth Bhatia, Vinod Dua, Aditi Mittal, Vikas Bahl, Gursimran Khamba and several others, what happened to that theory?
When our intellectuals have sublet the task of educating us about feminism to fashion brands like Vogue and Dove, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook do the ideological policing on their behalf, the Jack Dorsey affair shouldn't surprise us at all.
In fact, this isn't the first time Brahmins have become a target for the left. The Jack Dorsey affair is a speck in the stratagems of the MNC-left, which thrives theoretically over cultural Marxism, politically over identity politics, and practically over its academic hegemony and alliances with the bourgeoisie. The hegemony doesn't just allow the left to save their allies from disgrace, be it Indira Gandhi's Emergency, or curtailment of freedom of expression by powerful social media giants, but also, hide their own reality.
'Capital in Twenty-First Century' fame Thomas Picketty's was one such attempt. To describe the deficiencies of the contemporary left, he constructed the term, 'Brahmin left', as if the fault lies not in the left itself, but mysteriously, in Brahminism.
The truth about the leftist leaders being the new bourgeoisie is too harsh to accept, so a deflection was needed. How could Professor Picketty admit that the left-leaders are mere careerists who masquerade as 'radicals' even when they are smack dab in the middle of the mainstream. In India, Marxist scholars have written the NCERT school textbooks - the definition of the mainstream. How, then, could he have justified the disproportionate outrage by those who draw big salaries from government and NGOs, who live in posh apartments and whose children attend the costliest schools in the city, and who fight with the organisers for a first-class ticket to attend a seminar on World Hunger and Poverty.
How could Professor Pickety admit that the leftist leadership had itself adopted the logic of market, trying to get the highest bidders for its products and investing its intellectual capital in promising ventures. How could he justify the claim of moral superiority when the comrades work hard day and night for expansion of their own turf, academic hegemony and 'social activism'. While NGOs have bid farewell to motivated volunteers, instead hiring IIM graduates at seven-figure salaries, our scholars frequent politicians' and media moguls’ house parties.
The truth of the left being the new bourgeoisie and vice-versa would have marked the final death of communism. For all its previous failures, the left had already overused the people-are-too-stupid-to-recognise-left-is-good argument. After Mao and Stalin, no one had an appetite for the myth of capitalist brainwash being responsible for the left's failure, so a new myth was required, a scapegoat powerful enough to bear the burden of the blame, yet powerless enough to not retaliate and puncture the myth.
Much like Picketty's ancestors, 300 years ago, who found 'oriental despot' to justify imperial campaigns against natives, he found 'Brahmins' to deflect from the failures of the left. It is surprising how these Brahmins, whom Mr. Picketty's ancestors thoroughly derided as a weak, effeminate, and a failed race accustomed to foreign yoke, came to have such a great influence on the global left. This might be the biggest success story of Hindutva for all we know.
Those who want to question Mr. Picketty about his knowledge of Hinduism, Varna system or Brahmins to have used the term in a derogatory fashion are mistaken. Picketty's purpose, much like Dorsey's, isn't casting aspersions on Brahmins. He couldn't care less. All he needed was a perfect diversion, the rest is corollary. A lot of people fail to realise that the new MNC-left has long buried principles, even of Marx, and most of what it engages in, is pure power-politics.
The Brahmin card also proved very useful for the Indian left.
Creation of a sharp and rigid image of the enemy is a hallmark of totalitarian ideologies. Nazis had the Jews, and the communists had the bourgeoisie, both unredeemable; both had to be completely annihilated in the pursuit of the “ideal world”. Interestingly, much like the attempt to dissociate Brahminism - the phenomena, from Brahmins - the people, there was an attempt to dissociate the phenomena of capitalism from capitalists and Jewishness from Jews. The exercise of abstraction leads to creation of a collective myth, a potent force that is an end in itself. The Nazis were able to create the collective myth of evil Jewish-ness, in front of which, individual Jews seemed like mosquitoes, not humans, and destroying them as easy and necessary as pest-control.
Short of such profound consequences, the myth of an abstract, all pervasive enemy proves very useful for escaping accountability. 'Brahminism' is one such myth. Whether thousands of Dalit Hindus were killed by leftists in Bengal in the 1970s, or one in 2018 for doing 'BJP politics', the blame lies on Brahminism, something to be ashamed of; when Hindus are killed in Kerala by comrades, it is an evidence of Stalinism destroying Brahminism, something to be proud of.
Just like the archetypal enemy, the anti-god, powerful Satan, who misled Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit remains a constant threat for humanity to resist, Brahminism is an all-pervasive force in Indian society, the source of all the “sins”. Any mistake can be explained as a deviance caused due to the influence of the invisible spirit of Brahminism.
Apart from escaping responsibility, such a myth is used to maintain 'purity' of the group. If a member of the left makes a mistake, he will go through the ritualistic shaming of acting under the influence of Brahminism. Post-ritual, the offender would be cleansed of all his crimes, surrendering them to Brahminism, the omnipotent force that controls from local to global left. Totalitarian ideologies, in a way, become the cults of the enemy images they create. They not only use them to inflame passions and provoke action, the leftists run to the temple of Brahminism to cast away all their sins.
The myth of 'Brahminism' also proved very harmful for the Dalit movement, a discussion we shall leave for some other time, and come back to the term 'Brahminical patriarchy'. There were two broad defences for the term. First goes back to a 1993 paper by scholar Uma Chakravarti. This is how G Sampath Kumar of The Hindu summarises her work:
... it is a truth universally acknowledged (except in the parallel universe inhabited by certain species of trolls) that ‘Brahminism’ refers not to members of the Brahmin community but to the oppressive social order of caste. This social order, as has been well established by feminist historians such as Uma Chakravarti, is premised on two hierarchies that are inter-connected: gender hierarchy and caste hierarchy. The former accords women an inferior social status vis-à-vis men, while the latter accords Brahmins a superior social status vis-à-vis all other varnas, or caste groups. Also, it is through male control of female sexuality that what Ms. Chakravarti calls “caste purity, the institution unique to Hindu society”, is preserved and reproduced over time. Hence, in the Indian context, it makes little sense to issue a call to arms against patriarchy without also referencing the Brahminical roots of this patriarchy
There are several problems with Uma Chakravarti's arguments.
Ms Chakravarti calls caste purity an institution unique to Hindu society. Apart from the fact that the term 'caste' itself is exclusively used for Hindus, the concept of this kind of purity is prevalent in all groups. A Muslim cannot marry a non-Muslim and is not allowed to have non-Muslim children. Racial groups resist marrying outside their race, both black and white, calling it a dilution of race. Similar customs are prevalent in different tribal and caste groups. Protection of culture and identity requires some control over the mechanisms of group-perpetuation. Since childbirth, the major mechanism, is exclusively a female task and shrouded in secrecy, almost all groups exercise control over female sexuality.
Whether this control is morally right or wrong is not the subject of this article. What is clear is that the control of female sexuality to maintain purity of the identity group is neither unique to Hindu society, nor Brahmins. The inquiry into it, therefore, should not limit itself to four-walls of the myth of Brahminism.
In fact, radical feminists like Kate Millet have called 'patriarchy' a 'social constant' found in every historical and contemporary society, as it is rooted in the family, a common denominator in all major cultures and religions. Others like Andrea Dworkin have gone further, arguing that patriarchy is rooted in male sex itself. Irrespective of the family or society, every interaction between men and women would be exploitative due to 'toxic masculinity'. By this line of argument, any qualifier before the word 'patriarchy' is misleading and would only serve to divide the feminist movement and scuttle sisterhood.
Even then, we could use terms like 'Muslim patriarchy', 'Christian patriarchy' or 'Liberal patriarchy' to refer either to ideologically/theologically mandatory/praiseworthy anti-female practices or the social evils widely prevalent in the group, if backed by substantial evidence.
Note that this doesn't mean that the degree of oppression doesn't vary from group to group and when it comes to female subjugation, Saudi Arabia and Sweden are the same. It also doesn't mean that experiences of all women, irrespective of group identities, are the same. The issue here is of the politics of knowledge production. The terms produced by industries of knowledge production must be honest in their expression. Giving derogatory connotations to a word which reflects identity of a group is a risky business, especially when that group is a mere 5 per cent of the population. Such an attempt shouldn't be made except in the service of truth.
Even if we are able to find a substantial causation beyond correlation between gender and caste hierarchy, we would have to justify what makes the terms 'whitist patriarchy' or 'Brahminical patriarchy' much more reflective of the truth than, say, 'racist patriarchy' or 'casteist patriarchy' (whitism or whitist is not a word, by the way).
This brings us to the important question, how patriarchal Brahmins are and how they perpetuate patriarchy?
Some might argue that as religious leaders of other groups perpetuate patriarchy in their communities, Brahmins, being the religious leaders of Hindus, do the same. This would be a highly fallacious argument.
Firstly, Brahmins don't hold religious authority of any significance over Hindus anymore. A lot of them don't practice their traditional occupation and those who do, don't represent the powerful section of the Hindu community. They have no backing of powerful institutions and interact with the customers of their services on one-to-one basis. The religious institution of Hindus, temples, many of them managed by the government, have minimal authority over the secular lives of Hindus - the reason why Periyar's wife could frequent temples and do pooja while he went around vandalising photos of Lord Rama.
Hindus have the freedom to worship god in whichever form and shape in their own homes without interference of priests. There are no mandatory religious practices that Hindus have to perform to prove their Hindu-ness. By virtue of the decentralised and pluralistic nature of Hinduism, any Tom, Dick and Harry can write why he is a Hindu, who is a good Hindu and what Hinduism is. There is no fear of Brahmins passing religious fatwas against the person or expelling him from Hinduism.
The rise of popular 'babas' in Hindu society is the most definite marker of the decline of traditional authority of Brahmins. Most popular Gurus these days, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Baba Ramdev, Late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are all non-Brahmins. So are Asaram Bapu, Ram Rahim Singh, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Sakshi Maharaj. In fact, a very famous Ashu Maharaj is from a Muslim background. These leaders, much like Locke's economic entrepreneurs, are religious entrepreneurs who made their fortune based on their own skills and market-appeal, not traditional authority or knowledge of religion. They are not backed by any powerful religious institutions and following them is totally optional. It is again, the plurality and tolerance of Hinduism that made this 'democratic upsurge' possible.
Secondly, one may argue that even without traditional religious authority, Brahmins can still lead by example, given, their superior caste status is well-respected by others. Even if we assume so, Brahmins, in sharp contrast to religious leaders of other groups, reflect a much better attitude towards women and open-mindedness about religious practices.
In fact, several Brahmins, with their Brahmin identity intact, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Dayananda Saraswati played an important role in ending caste discrimination and empowerment of women. A person whose role in working for Dalit uplift and establishing a constructive conversation between upper castes and the former is remarkable, Gandhi, rejected caste but accepted Varna system in its theory.
The argument is not that Gandhi, Roy or Saraswati are the ideal role-models, for many faults can be found in them. The argument is that, historically, an upper-caste identity has easily co-existed with a fierce opposition of caste-discrimination. There is nothing about having a Brahmin heritage that stops one from being anti-discrimination. Caste identity remains the bedrock of diversity and reservoir of cultural-historical heritage in India, and like all ancestral inheritance, some of it is good, some bad, some relevant, some obsolete. We have to handle both, much like what we do with all historical inheritances. From Aristotelian thought, we reject slavery but accept the idea of mixed constitution. Just as racism can end without a genetic revolution wiping out differential melanin production in humans, casteism can end without end of caste.
In fact, several researchers like Rudolf and Rudolf have pointed out how caste became a vehicle of modernisation and democracy in India. The Bahujan Samaj Party, founded and led by a Dalit, has been radical in its contempt of upper castes, giving the slogan, Tilak Taraju Aur Talwar, Inko Maro Jute Chaar (Beat the brahmins, kshatriyas and baniyas with shoes). Yet the party founded in 1984 is the third largest national party in the country, and third most voted for in last Lok Sabha elections, a feat our brothers of colour in USA and UK can only dream of. Surprisingly, the last time BSP came in full majority in Uttar Pradesh was with the support of Brahmins, and the chief secretary of the party and a close aide to the party supremo, Mayawati, is also a Brahmin.
Chakravarti has taken the Eurocentric view of Hinduism, the traditional-formal approach where texts become the primary source for inquiry, while other factors, the empirical reality, effect of different social movements, climate, invasions etc. are ignored. Even within the limitations of such an approach, Chakravarti's 'museum gaze' fails to read the texts 'from within', not just by disregarding the living traditions, but larger sensibilities of Indic thought.
Chakravarti quotes selectively from several 'Brahminical' texts to prove that Hindu society has been obsessed with control of female sexuality. She calls Manusmriti the most prominent ideologue of the Brahmanical system. Apart from the fact that Manu was a Kshatriya King, and not a Brahmin scholar, it would be instructive to do research about how many Brahmins today have read or even seen this book which Chakravarti calls the 'prominent ideologue' of Brahminism. There must be a reason why prophet Muhammad's cartoons led to killing of the cartoonists and 'Piss Christ' led to several acts of vandalism and protests, but burning Manusmriti is almost routine in India.
All in all, Ms Chakravarti's work fails to provide any evidence that the term connoting a social group, Brahmins, conjoined with 'patriarchy', reflects the reality of the situation of women in India. Chakravarti fails to stand apart from the dominant tradition of post- Independence Indian scholars trying to fit reality into an ideological mould. Her work is a great example of what I call, 'rap-song research', something we will explore in detail later on.
All tests failed, the last resort argument in favour of the term 'Brahminical patriarchy' is that B R Ambedkar used the term 'Brahminical'. Even if we agree that Ambedkar used it and, therefore, we should imitate him blindly (something Babasaheb himself wouldn't approve), we still would have to see his usage of the term in its proper context, something we shall do in the Part II of the article, along with, what remains after discrediting 'Brahminical patriarchy', the question of Hindu patriarchy.