Posted by Priyadarshini Ohol
I saw an invite on my feed the other day.
“Please join us to celebrate the release of THE BRAHMIN, a novel by Ravi Shankar Etteth over canapes, cocktails and Kalaripayattu on Wednesday 10th May 2018, 7 pm.”
I’m horrified. Prima facie this raises questions:
Should public declarations of caste be the social norm?
Should Brahmin supremacy be a normalized element of pop culture, eligible for mass publishing?
Should assertions of caste pride be supported and amplified by publishers like Amazon?
Isn’t this an act of reinforcing casteism and the caste-based social structure?
The text goes on to mention that this Brahmin celebration is going to be at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi — the heart of the country’s capital swarming with elite urban India, and attaches the email ID of an Amazon India rep, for RSVPs.
Ravi Shankar Etteth has written a whole book celebrating Brahmin supremacy playing on the casteist beliefs and myths that work in favour of the Brahmin — the highest beneficiary of the caste system. He is celebrating it over Kalaripayattu — appropriating the survivor caste resistance martial art of the Ezhavas — a group designated untouchable by the Brahmins.
This is akin to a white supremacist publishing a book titled The Whitest Man Of All and then celebrating racism over Black Karate at the St. Regis, with complete impunity and social sanction. All of this is happening in the heart of urban India – the country’s capital at The Taj Mansingh.
Absurd isn’t it? This is the everyday dystopia for survivor castes in India as their oppressors profit off them. Oppressor caste elites love to flaunt their caste pride. I’m always amazed at how they love to celebrate all that is wrong about India – about casteist art and casteist culture over canapes, cocktails and whichever culture appropriated from whoever they’ve oppressed and wish to profit off that particular day.
To anyone who has borne the brunt of casteism, the title is obnoxious, insulting and makes a mockery of their daily lived reality.
This vulgar display of casteism makes a mockery of the struggle for egalitarianism that is being fought in India since time immemorial. A belief in Brahmin supremacy is the root of casteism. It’s the same belief that sanctions the division of humankind, assigns high to low value to human life and sanctions lack of rights based on these assigned values.
Brahmin supremacy is an ideology that is anti-equality, liberty and justice, thus inherently anti-democracy. It is the reason why we hear statements so often by saffron ideologues about subverting democratic institutions and ideals. Their idea of a Hindu Rashtra is the ideology of Brahmin supremacy implemented with a social structure defined by the laws and rules of the caste system.
Brahmin supremacy is implicitly fascist. ‘Casteist’ is the more appropriate term in the Indian context, however, casteism is so normalized here that Indian people identify with and are more outraged by an Italian term than it’s Indian counterpart. In the Indian context, it is casteism through casteist propaganda that will pave the way to totalitarianism.
There is a caste-hunt going on in this country and this man is off celebrating his Brahminism through a protagonist in a book. He has easily found the ecosystem to publish it in – Westland Books, an Amazon publishing company. I wonder if Jeff Bezos is aware of the subversion of his company by people with discriminatory agendas here in India.
This is not literature for all. To anyone who has borne the brunt of casteism, the title is obnoxious, insulting and makes a mockery of their daily lived reality. All their struggles against caste-based prejudices nullified by one act of normalizing oppressor caste pride and making it an element of pop culture. This is the literature of The Brahmin, by The Brahmin, for The Brahmin.
Ravi Shankar Etteth has managed to insert the word “Brahmin” 594 times in 247 pages. In many instances, the word could have been replaced by pronouns but it isn’t for the sheer purpose of repetition. In the first chapter itself, the word “Brahmin” is mentioned 45 times and repeated at least 3 times per page. I leave it up to you to compare this with any other books with a protagonist and say it’s not propaganda disguised in the figures of speech of English prose.
The Brahmin is characterized as feared, with a smooth golden-skinned face. He has an inscrutable expression and unflinchingly looks at the Emperor with his hooded expressionless eyes. He has a warrior’s body and is the only officer of the court allowed to turn his back on the king. In short, he is flawless and superior just like the mythical assumption about the Brahmin.
The protagonist could be named anything or anyone. However, author Ravi Shankar Etteth has chosen to represent all the beneficiaries of the caste system through the protagonist of his book and celebrate their place on the top of the caste pyramid. Why not use one’s writing to reinforce the caste system a bit more in the Indian consciousness?
Through popular culture now, all Brahmins, good or bad, get more privilege because of their caste. After all, the caste-based violence we have in abundance around us is not enough. The author felt the need to elevate and reinforce the status of the Brahmin further through his work.
How insensitive can you get? However, this is normal to casteists. This is the reality of the caste system that the Brahmin sits on top of. This othering, dehumanizing, objectifying, exploiting, disregarding and discarding a large section of humanity as long as the benefits are passed to the top of the caste pyramid to maintain Brahmin supremacy.
Ravi Shankar Etteth has managed to insert the word “Brahmin” 594 times in 247 pages.
What is more abhorrent is that Indian society is influenced by opinion makers predominantly comprising people like the author – in his roles as an editor of popular dailies, tabloids and newspapers. Hence it is a trend, especially in urban metros, to cultivate hypocrisy as a principle by denying the existence and practice of casteism in this age whilst simultaneously propagating Brahmin supremacy.
These very casteists who would celebrate and propagate Brahmin supremacy and caste hierarchies openly in 5-star restaurants will mock and trivialize the concerns of the survivor castes. While they continuously battle caste-based sexual violence, caste-based physical violence, caste-based exploitation, caste-based bullying, caste-based exclusion, caste-based denial of opportunities in communities, schools, colleges, workplaces and other social networks.
Ravi Shankar Etteth could next conduct workshops on how all oppressor caste Indians can capitalize on their accumulated caste privilege, flaunt and celebrate their caste publicly in an environment where caste-based rapes, lynchings, murders and institutionalized casteism are on the rise. His workshop may aptly be named ‘How to insidiously reinforce casteism without being obvious whilst being oblivious to all its evils’.
A Call to Action :
If you read this, do any of the following:
1) Tweet the article with #changethebrahmin at @jeffbezos, @etteth, @minarishah, @amazonin, @amazon, @westlandbooks @karthikavk @somakghoshal or share on other social media platforms with #changethebrahmin.
2) email your comments with this article to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
3) Republish this article as it is or with commentary.
4) Call this PR Agency that handles Amazon India:
Weber Shandwick India
Also Read: How Caste Gets Clickbaited: My Point Of View
Editor’s note: When the author confronted Ravi Shankar Etteth for his book and the casteism that he propagates, he subjected her to trolling and sexual harassment. He subjected her to body shaming as well but deleted the comments when he was called out for his male chauvinism.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ravi Shankar retweets her criticism of his book in a self-aggrandising post:
What I love about India is there’s always someone somewhere who gets offended about something. c’est la vie. https://t.co/mZ0lKC8AUV
— Ravi Shankar (@etteth) May 11, 2018
Where Amazon is concerned, The Brahmin has been made the top pick on the Amazon Editors page of the month.
Priyadarshini Ohol is an internationally acclaimed artist and activist. She can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Mojarto and Saatchi Art. Originally published in Medium, this article has been republished with permission.
Featured Image Source: Subhadrika Sen