Opinion: Anti-Brahmanism, the New Communalism of Modern India

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Here’s an opinion on Anti Brahmanism, penned by Arpita on Twitter. All credits to her and her tweets.

Anti-Brahminism has a long history in India, being a dominant theme of the long period of foreign rule.

In the last thousand years India was primarily governed by non-Hindus – Muslims and Christians – who certainly cannot be called pro-Brahmin in their policies. When India was invaded by foreign powers, the Brahmins proved to be a great obstacle, particularly against religious conversion. Muslim rulers made special efforts to convert or even kill Brahmins.

They destroyed Hindu temples in order to deprive the Brahmins, who were mainly temple priests, of their influence and their income. The British rulers of colonial India targeted the Brahmins and dismantled the traditional educational system that the Brahmins upheld However, the same groups which attacked the Brahmins found that they had to use the Brahmins at times, who represented the intelligentsia of the country, to help administer the country. So occasionally they compromised with the Brahmins and allowed them certain privileges.

But the Brahmins had little power under their rule, and were officially discredited as heathens. Hence the Brahmins were the main oppressed community in India over the last thousand years and the main target of Muslims and Christians trying to control and convert the country. This historical oppression of the Brahmins has been lost on modern Indians, primarily because of anti-Brahmin propaganda of various types. Somehow this oppressed group has been stereotyped as the ruling oppressors! As Brahmins are vilified as the oppressive ruling elite one would expect that the Brahmins routinely ruled the country. Not only was this not true in the period of foreign rule, it wasnt true in the period of classical India either.

In this regard it is important to look at the social role traditionally held by Brahmins. In traditional India Brahmins served as the priestly class, providing teachers of all types as well performing religious sacraments and temple worship. The traditional Brahmin was given to a life of poverty, social service, and spiritual practice. Brahmin families usually gave one of their sons to become a monk and led lives of religious austerity. The Brahmins therefore had neither economic nor political advantage. Their status was on a religious and intellectual level. They were praised as religious leaders, not as a political or economic elite. The Kshatriyas or the noble class, who were taught the arts of government and warfare, traditionally ruled India. The Vaishyas, the merchant and agrarian class, administered the wealth of the community. The Brahmins as the priestly class did not control the military or economy of the country except when individual Brahmins stepped beyond the traditional limits of their class, which was rare.

As a class Brahmins were not allowed to carry weapons or to accumulate wealth and property. Each village had its Brahmins to guide the community and perform religious ceremonies, whom the villagers would in turn provide with modest food and shelter. Village Brahmins were on par with other village folks and most Brahmins were of this type. Hindu kings also had their chief priests or purohits, their special Brahmins to guide the kingdom. Only these Brahmins in service to kings and princes gained social status through royal patronage and the affluence that could come with it. Old India had castes but no casteists; new India has casteists but no worthwhile castes.

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