Brahmin means entitlement, and Rahul Gandhi wants to embrace it.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi is putting every effort possible to show his Brahmin identity. His party colleagues like to boast about his janeu or sacred thread. By now, everyone knows that he is a Kaul Brahmin and his gotra is Dattatreya. The fourth generation of Jawaharlal Nehru, the eternal Panditji of modern Indian politics, is flaunting its Brahmin origin with vengeance.
Like all of us, Rahul also has multiple identities – religion, language, caste-gotra-kula, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, political party affiliation, club or association membership, alumni of some institution, and profession. We decide what should be our primary and secondary identity at different points in time.
Nowadays, Rahul Gandhi is choosing to project his secular (a word that has a different connotation in the western and Indian contexts) and Brahmin identity. By doing that, he is perhaps trying to derive political benefit in the election season.
Is it beneficial to be a Brahmin? Do they have some privileges, which other castes don’t have? Let’s unpack the knapsack of Brahmin privileges.
This is not an easy task. There isn’t much literature on this topic. Libraries are full of books on sociological studies of deprivation and exploitation of Dalits, shudras and women. But it’s almost impossible to find books on Brahmin or savarna privilege, or how they perpetuate caste. This is a big problem with Indian sociology. Professor Vivek Kumar has highlighted that “domination of the twice-born castes works at four levels – as members practicing sociology in universities, institutions and colleges, in the sphere of production of knowledge while writing chapters of books, producing knowledge with the help of scriptural sources, or producing data from the field and while teaching sociology in the classrooms”.
As explained by noted feminist writer and scholar Peggy Mcintosh, we can assume that there is a hypothetical imaginary line of social justice where things feel fair. Below this line, people can feel being bullied, they can face slurs, they can be stereotyped, cornered or discriminated and be considered unworthy. We know so much about the happenings at this level.
What we do not know is what happens above this hypothetical line of social justice; their advantages, their privileges, how they are pushed up, how they are believed, considered to be capable of doing intelligent things and producing academic work, seen as virtuous and classy. We have departments of Dalit studies, minority studies, tribal studies but nobody is doing Brahmin or savarna studies. That’s why we do not have any literature on Brahmin privilege (read more on lack of elite studies in this brilliant speech by author Martin Nicolaus).
In western social science, we have ample literature on white privilege. The most popular of these was written by Peggy Mcintosh in 1989 – of Caucasian descent and equipped with an honesty to write about the privileges accorded to her race. As no Brahmin in India has the guts and the honesty to write on the privileges they have, I will try to map this phenomenon based more on common sense and a perspective from below. Hope this helps decode Rahul Gandhi’s eagerness to be accepted as a Brahmin.
What is Brahmin privilege?
1. If I am a Brahmin, I will be revered in the society and a “Ji” will be added to my name. I will be known as a pundit, although I can be dumb or even illiterate.
2. If I am a Brahmin, there will not be any difficulty in getting public accommodation. I need not fear that people of my caste cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places they choose.
3. Almost all public places will be open for me.
4. I will find restaurants serving food according to my cultural choices. Asking food of my choice will not be considered a bad thing. Rather, that will enhance my stature.
5. If my neighbour or co-traveller knows my caste identity, he/she will not hate me or look down upon me.
6. I can upload my profile on Brahmin matrimonial sites and not face prejudice.
7. There is every possibility that the interview board I will be facing in a university department will have representatives of my caste.
8. If I am a Brahmin, I can be sure that the books and texts prescribed in the school and college syllabus will reflect my cultural leaning, and many of them will be written by people belonging to my caste.
9. Whenever I am told about our national culture or about Hindu civilisation, I am sure that I am hearing about something that is our caste heritage.
10. Whenever I will be travelling to any Hindu religious place, I will find no difficulty in getting accommodation.
11. If am travelling abroad, I will find a diaspora dominated by my caste members. Many of them are employed because of the diversity policies of foreign companies.
12. Despite getting jobs due to the affirmative action policies in the West, I will keep opposing reservations in India.
13. Despite getting jobs under diversity principle, I will not consider myself less meritorious.
14. I will oppose affirmative policies of India and consider myself caste-blind or caste-neutral. Opposing reservation will not make me casteist.
15. When I enter a music store and ask for traditional Indian music, there is a fair possibility that the shopkeeper will hand me over something that has been produced by my caste brethren.
16. My caste gets almost 100 per cent reservation for the position of a priest, but I dislike the constitutional scheme of reservations.
17. Even If I don’t have domain knowledge to speak on a topic, I will be considered eligible to speak. My ‘C’ grade work will be cited in research papers by virtue of my surname.
18. Being oblivious and ignorant about the customs, traditions and present situation of the majority population, which is lower caste, does not make me a bad scholar. I will still talk about the whole nation.
19. My love for the nation and patriotism are a given, and even if someone of my caste sells defence secrets to Pakistan or China that will have no bearing on my caste.
20. My caste is the mainstream.
21. I get jobs in the private sector easily because my name is referred to by people of my caste in higher positions. But that does not make me casteist.
22. If I speak for the backward classes or SCs, I will be considered humanist and democrat.
23. But if someone from the lower caste does the same, he/she will be branded casteist.
24. When I watch television to follow news or debates, my caste people are over-represented as analysts, anchors and editors.
25. My caste people write most of the opinion pieces in the ‘National Press’.
The university libraries are full of books written by scholars of my caste.
26. If I do something foolish or boorish, or even heinous, nobody will attribute it to my caste.
27. I will consider myself a great humanist for eating or studying or working together with a Dalit or attending marriage of someone from the lower caste. This is sufficient to make me caste-neutral.
28. If my roommate or hostel mate is someone of a lower caste, I can produce this fact to prove that I am not casteist.
30. If I am a Brahmin, I will find it easy to publish my thesis in an academic journal where people of my caste are members of the editorial board.
Rahul Gandhi knows this and wants to embrace the Brahmin brand.
The author is a senior journalist.