When Narendra Modi expanded his cabinet and made Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu cabinet ministers, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted thus: "Big day for my Goa. Two GSBs (Gowd Saraswat Brahmin), both talented politicians become full cabinet ministers. Saraswat pride!!" The last bit "Saraswat pride" indicating brahmin caste affinity and pride caused considerable stir in the media.
Brahmins may be at the top of the archaic social hierarchy, (Editor's note: not economic hierarchy, as Brahmins seldom acquired wealth and majority of them lived in penury yet devoted to education and teaching) but in reality they hold little or no power across the country. They are numerically insignificant in most states and are not found in the public sphere at all. This is more so in Tamil Nadu than any other state. (Editor's note: What is stated about the Tamil Brahmins mostly applies to all Brahmins in India, but the Tamil and Kashmiri Brahmins in particular were most cruelly persecuted in their respective states)
Share of Tamil and Telugu brahmins was disproportionately large in the government of pre-independent Madras province. But the quota system initiated by the Justice party and the Dravidian movement over the years has meant that brahmins are almost completely excluded from medical seats, and are mostly out of contention in government jobs and good engineering schools. Brahmins once formed a significant percentage in teaching jobs in schools and colleges. Now, their percentage is minuscule.
Politically, brahmins have been complete ly stripped of any possible power. With very few options available in TN, there was a brahmin exodus to Bombay and Delhi in search of jobs in the 1970s. Post the liberalised 1990s, and the proliferation of self-financed engineering colleges, brahmins chose engineering and then IT jobs. As the need for executive managers arose in companies, many took to MBA. Today IT, management and CA are the chosen professions of brahmins. Many have migrated to the US and have been instrumental in many Silicon Valley start-up successes. Many have taken to entrepreneurship in India too and helped to seed the IT revolution in India. In Tamil Nadu, the political narrative has been stridently anti-brahminical. Though brahmins have been away from politics, the Dravidian parties have always resorted to blaming everything on a purported "brahminical conspiracy". Modi is brahminical. Jayalalitha too is, but only for DMK and not for AIADMK. Centre's promotion of Sanskrit or Hindi is brahminical. Congress or BJP's anti-LTTE stand is brahminical. Market economy and globalisation are also termed brahminical!!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is akin to a primitive paranoia culturally and socially promulgated)
It is also routine for Tamil movies to depict brahmins in bad light. The theme of the recent movie, `Jeeva', is that a brahminical conspiracy is keeping talented non-brahmin cricket players from reaching the state team. A putative theory about brahmins suppressing nonbrahmins for the last 2,000 years and denying them education and other privileges has gained currency and is today taken for granted. No proof is required. No further research is required.
Even OBC violence on dalits across the state is explained in terms of brahminism, a term that implies that all evils of the caste system are because of brahmins and hence they and only they have to be held responsible for such violence.
Yet, the reality is very different. Though no statistical data is available, anecdotally I can say that brahmins have inter-married more than any other caste in Tamil Nadu.
There is no rancour or resorting to honour killing when inter-caste or inter-religious marriages happen. They have been at the forefront of pre serving performing arts, heritage monuments and culture in the state and have done much to promote Tamil language and literature. They have contributed immensely to science, engineering, medical science, engineering, medicine and education in the state.
Politically excluded and socially reviled, what can the Tamil brahmins do to preserve their identity and yet feel secure within the social space in Tamil Nadu and India?
Brahmins are unlikely to demand any kind of reservation in education, job or political sphere. All they would look for is an amenable climate where they can, like other communities, contribute to the progress of the nation.In a liberal country , we would like communities such as Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jains preserving their unique faith, tradition, customs, attire, language and practices. The same has to be extended to the brahmins of Tamil Nadu. They should be allowed to retain multiple identities - that of a brahmin, a Tamil and an Indian - with pride.
The political hate narrative in Tamil Nadu must change.
(A co-founder of cricinfo.com, the author is managing director of New Horizon Media Private Limited)