Brahminism is Casteism

I remember a conversation where an acquaintance accused me of being casteist for using the phrase ‘tam-bram’ cuisine. I fought back energetically, saying but it’s what my mother cooked. I am brahmin born, in a Tamil family. What am I supposed to call it?
But this is our problem, those of us who are Sawarna. Our castes, our privileges thereof, the entitlement cause a peculiar blindness. It imparts us with a sense of goodness and graciousness, a divine superiority. This superiority comes from all that we can avail by virtue of being uppercaste, higher education, higher positions, higher social ranking, higher remuneration, greater representation everywhere we see. We are secretly proud of being our caste, we are also slightly miffed that it’s no longer politically correct to tout it. We are insulated and insured. We are okay with agreeing that there used to be a caste system, it was mildly wrong, but that it no longer exists. What we forget is the oppression in the name of caste is far from over. People are still routinely murdered for transgressing the upper caste delineated strictures. We are keen to forget that the very mention of our castes, Iyengar, GSB, are deeply triggering for those who have been oppressed for millennia by people like us. Everytime we celebrate a ritual, we exclude, everytime we mention our food we exclude, everytime we wear our clothes, celebrate our self-madeness, our competitive exams, our IITs and IIMs we exclude. We don’t know what the rest of the country lives like because the smells and sounds and tastes and sights do not permeate the thicker than steel insulation of agrahaaram privilege. It not merely insulates us, it also keeps the other out effectively. And so we are happy to assume that there is no caste system. Just us and the rest. And we don’t discriminate, look at all the reservations!
Many many years ago, when for the first time one began to see gay men in popular culture, in Indian media, I asked my friend something really, really awful. I asked him why did gay men (lesbians didn’t come into existence till much later in my universe) have to be so obvious about their homosexuality, the swishy movements, the androgynous clothing, if they were quieter, nobody would care what they did in their bedrooms. My friend replied with some irritation, couldn’t I see that with every movement, every word, every gesture I was constantly projecting my heterosexuality (I was in my 20s unmarried, now I hope I project nothing)?! How entitled I was in my cis-het privilege to assume being gay was all about men having sex with each other and everything they did was was to express that and nothing else.
We shout out our privilege, we who are vastly over-represented in caste and class, in gender and sex, in religion and custom, to the point that we have pushed out anyone unlike us. We have become their mouth-pieces, we have appropriated everything of theirs and we offer them our tokenisms. And when they object we call them reactionary, angry, ungrateful.
For centuries we have walked carefree on fields dotted with landmines because we were owners of the fields, of the maps, in charge of planting those landmines. Now we must take measured steps, we must dig up those landmines that mutilated the lives and limbs of vast swathes of humanity. We must dig them up and deactivate them. And then we must step aside to let the people we kept back to take the lead, redraw the map. If we are truly against the atrocities against minorities, we need to defer to them, to their voices, their lived experiences to understand the hydra- headed monster that is the caste system.

2 thoughts on “Brahminism is Casteism

  1. An introspective, thoughtful piece. It takes courage to look beneath the multiple varnished layers of our privileged positions, and admit the innumerable slights, taunts, insults, even atrocities that we have perpetrated or allowed to perpetuate.


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