An open letter to Brahmanism
Being born a Brahmin in not a matter of choice, but Brahmanism is. Till now I have failed to put across this point well. But it is an essential dialogue so here I am, trying it again!
Not long ago, a Brahmin acquaintance said something rather bizzare. He said, “Jokes apart, I can never let a dalit or tribal enter my kitchen.”
The Brahmin in questions belongs to a well to do family, is educated in premier schools and prior to opting for voluntary retirement, he was a high ranking official with the Indian Government. He leads a modern westernised lifestyle. In the backdrop of this reality, it was very hard for me to imagine why he said, what he said. I was not just angry but also felt very uneasy and unsettled.
I had a simple query for him. I am also a tribal so how come he invites me home. He simply said that my case was different. I did not understand the statement. Neither did I put any effort to figure it out. I feared that my acquaintance was forced to act in contradiction with his belief system because of me. Hence I stopped interacting with him.
After that incident I had a strong urge to lambast all the Brahmins only to realise that many of my friends and relatives were also born in Brahmin families but they did not nurse such regressive views. They do not roam around displaying their ‘Brahmin’ badge. So what is the difference between them and this gentleman?
I thought a lot only to realise that being a Brahmin is not a problem. Brahmanism is. In order to calm myself down and spit my anger, I am writing this open letter to the brahmanical brahmins!
Hello Brahmanical Brahmin!
Your birth in a Brahmin household is something that you could not have controlled. If you believe in God, karma and reincarnation then you must be well aware that things like time, family, caste, and geographical location of your birth are not for you to decide. Your being born in a Brahmin family is a matter of coincidence. A coincidence similar to the one due to which someone is born in a thakur, vaishya, adivasi or dalit household.
Because the choice was not yours, being born a Brahmin is neither a matter of joy nor a matter of remorse. It is not a crime to be born a Brahmin. Just as it is not a crime to be born a dalit or Adivasi, or any minority for that matter. These are natural incidences which are not within our control. Hence ‘to be’ something due to birth ceases to have any relevance. It is eventually your deeds that define your identity. Each one of us is well aware about how many people love us and how many turn their faces in dislike – no matter which caste or family we are born in.
Every caste, like any religion, has a history – a history made up of numerous positives and negatives. There are customs which were probably relevant once upon a time but are irrelevant now. There are beliefs which were once labelled as evil but ceased to remain evil as we walked ahead in time. What was regarded as good or bad in any phase of history was decided by the circumstances of those times. Societies of those times, based on the then prevalent worldviews, took decisions for themselves. Many such decisions may have been propelled by power, greed, or sheer arrogance. But whatever they were, they were ‘their’ decisions. We can at best analyse those actions. We can debate our respective conclusions to understand and interpret history and learn from those historical actions. But we need to remember that these debates are primarily intellectual interactions about the past and not modern day conflicts of morality or politics.
One cannot deny the fact that past cannot be changed. It is only the interpretations that one can play with. Hence it is for us to decide how we want the interpretations of the past to impact our present, and how we want to deal with those interpretations which have impacted, or are altering our present realities.
We are also aware that every decision that we take may not stand the test of time. It is perfectly fine to make mistakes. We all are also aware that the idea of truth and its context changes with time, at a personal as well as societal level. There are many actions of our ancestors which were deemed moral and valid in their times. Maybe they had an option which they did not exercise. Maybe they did not have any options. There is also a possibility that the societal values decayed at a pace that one could not estimate the final outcome. And when they did, it was already too late. Maybe they should have intervened at that point of time. Maybe they tried but could not undo the change. Maybe they willingly chose to do nothing about it. Whatever be the reasons, science has yet not enabled us to engage with the dead to understand their intentions.
The point that I am trying to make is that if one is aware of these realities then how can one take pride in one’s history or ancestry to weave the reality of one’s present? An identity based on the past is nothing more than a ghost who overpowers our present being and forces us to shape our present opinions based on the so-called ‘unique’ and ‘evolved’ experiences of our past.
Your being a Brahmin is your personal matter. It is perfectly fine for you to take pride in that fact. But if you try to unbox you past and forcibly box our collective present with it then there is definitely something very wrong with your approach and thought process. And please do remember, if you want to exert your past, please do that in totality. Which means while you should be taking pride in what your ancestors did, please also be ashamed of their unacceptable actions. If you want others to devour your history then please be willing to the clean the dirty plate that you serve it in, no matter what precious metal it is made up of.
My contention is simple. It is not a crime to be a Brahmin but there is everything wrong with Brahmanism. It is fine to be born in a Brahmin family and leading the life of a Brahmin, as per the scriptures that you value. It is a deeply personal choice. But if you decide to ride the horse of Brahmanism and roam around the town then your being Brahmin will not be a personal matter anymore. If you choose to ride the horse for displaying your Brahmin identity in public, you will have to confront the stares and answer the uncomfortable queries. You will have no choice but to shoulder the burden of the past that you have chosen to display.
If you ride the horse of Brahmanism and venture out in the street, people will definitely ask you questions like – how on earth did five percent of the populace ended up taking all major societal decisions? You will have no choice but to answer it, or deny providing an explanation. And if there is chaos because of your answers or because of your denial then you will have no choice but to own up that chaos as well.
So it is up to you whether you want to ride the horse or not. If you have already mounted the horse, you have the choice to hold the fort or unmount. After all, life is all about choices and you are free to make yours. To think of it, the ball is in your court. It always was!