Why Understanding Brahminical Patriarchy Is Of Utmost Importance

Twitter, a favoured medium for journalists and those with snappy comebacks, is not known for nuanced discussions and genuine debate. But on November 18, it became a virtual battleground between Brahmins, the self-appointed doyens of all things holy and all knowledge valuable in Hindu society, and those considered unworthy of a place in the caste system. Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, was pictured holding a placard that had ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ emblazoned on it (full marks to Equality Labs for that slogan and design) and promptly, all hell broke loose.

The exact details are a bit hazy since apologies were handed out for this inexcusable act of acknowledging an inherently evil practice, which, naturally, merited another version of how events really transpired. Unless the grand master of Twitter, Mr Dorsey, himself explains his take on this incident, we have to settle for the riveting set of tweets and counter-tweets on whether this was an “insult” to a particular group of people, hate speech, or a devious plan to divide Hindus (the irony of such sentiments at a time when Dalits are routinely lynched is hard to miss).

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was pictured holding a placard that had ‘Smash Brahminical Patriarchy’ emblazoned on it and promptly, all hell broke loose

The Retaliation against Anti-casteism

One needn’t get into the details of the sheer amount of easily-verifiable fake data (Brahmins are the poorest in the country), claims of reverse casteism and victimhood (Brahmins are suddenly the oppressed lot since they are only 5 per cent of the country’s population and yet, mysteriously control much of Indian capital along with Baniyas), conspiracy theories that Dalit activists are funded by the Church (an old favourite), comparisons with anti-semitism (historians were perturbed to discover their ignorance of that time when Brahmins were exterminated in the millions), and unbridled revisions of history (Dalits were not “bound”, free to move but apparently not free to seek a different kind of life, job or status).

A neologism, ‘Hinduphobia’, has also been coined for savarna warriors to use as a strategic weapon in their online wars, giving credence to the fact that they see Hindus primarily as caste Hindus because until this time, the vitriol and virulent abuses faced by Dalits and Adivasis were never considered as an attack against Hinduism. The similarities of these arguments with the ones peddled by men’s rights activists are quite eerie.

That Brahminical patriarchy is a real, structural issue in Indian society that is responsible for upholding the twin evils of casteism and sexism should be evident to anyone who has bothered to examine its basic aspects and workings, without the distortions that privilege accords. In light of this online outrage, many have compared this controversy to the backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and while race is not equal to caste (though they are both systems of oppression), the equivalence is not without merit.

Any group that holds social, economic, and cultural power in a hierarchical system is unlikely to resist opposition without resorting to the very methods that made them reach that pole position in the first place. In the US, the rise of the white supremacists and Donald Trump is attributable to the backlash against an increasingly assertive Black population and people of colour.

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Brahminical patriarchy is a real, structural issue in Indian society that is responsible for upholding the twin evils of casteism and sexism

In India, while caste-based violence and skirmishes have been a regular feature throughout the sordid history of this nation, a resurgent pan-India anti-caste, Ambedkarite movement, proud reclamations of Dalit history such as the Bhima Koregaon march that are being covered in media, and unapologetic Dalit activists on the field and on social media who work tirelessly to counter caste apartheid are some of the factors that have been brewing for a while, adding to the increasing discomfort of privileged Hindus. Then there’s the tacit encouragement of a savarna-majority central government that openly condones murders of Muslims, Dalits, and oppressed groups, and dreams of an Akhand Bharat where Hinduism – the atavistic Manusmriti version – reigns supreme. It was simply a matter of time for an online episode of the Brahmin strikes back to take centre stage. All it needed was a slight trigger to outrage and out-tweet.

Progressives in Name only?

The savarna meltdown is expected from hidebound caste Hindus who proudly flaunt their surnames and affiliations to the “right” kind of lineage. But what about those who claim to be anti-caste? It was Ambedkar who taught us to recognise the central role that endogamy and hence, patriarchy plays in perpetuation of the caste system. By subjugating and controlling women, the structures of caste “purity” and exclusivity can be maintained. Inevitably, endogamy becomes a critical factor in this kind of segregation. And to date, it is still practised by most Indians, irrespective of where they fall in the ideological spectrum.

But most savarnas, including liberals, are yet to confront and admit their own complicity in upholding this regressive tradition. Claims of being anti-caste, recognising their savarna privilege, singing paeans to Ambedkar, deriding Brahmins is of little solace when their own choices reflect caste hypocrisy. The great institution of arranged marriage, hailed as a shining example of Indian sanskaar and respect for elders, is nothing but a gossamer cover to promote endogamy, thereby legitimising and entrenching casteism. Parental pressure and manipulation are undeniably difficult to counter but cannot be a get out of jail free card. Convenient hand-wringing and self-flagellation over caste privilege isn’t going to make up for centuries of caste oppression.

Read the comments on any online article on caste and one of the many claims made by otherwise eloquent commenters is that casteism is “absent” in urban areas. This is an old sleight of hand in the parley of caste discourse. Casteism is conveniently “othered”, consigned to poor, uneducated folks living in rural areas. Whereas the cities are seen as beacons of progressive politics and enlightened individuals, shorn of the kind of biases and discrimination that mark the rural hinterlands, magically insulated from the effects of centuries-old practices and regressive social norms by virtue of their cosmopolitan nature. The fact, however, is that education has little or nothing to do with exogamy or inter-caste marriages. Studies have shown that metropolitan areas have the lowest rate of inter-caste marriages among urban areas while developed villages have a higher rate.

most savarnas, including liberals, are yet to confront and admit their own complicity in upholding this regressive tradition

Then, of course, there are the everyday casteist acts such as the inhumane treatment meted out to our cooks, maids, sweepers, and sanitation workers (most of whom are Dalits and Bahujans), casual casteist and racist slurs that are so banal and acceptable that few even notice them and that most savarnas are guilty of, dissemination of anti-reservation propaganda, and housing discrimination.

Invisibilisation of caste is almost as problematic as propagation of it because when something isn’t even acknowledged, how do you go about solving and eradicating it? Brahminical patriarchy is not the exclusive domain of retrograde, Hindutva champions as some would prefer to believe; it is ingrained and indeed, cultivated and promulgated by all caste Hindus.

DBA, Muslim, disabled feminists have always been aware of the many inflections in their oppression due to their multiple identities that inform how they are seen and treated by patriarchy. While Brahminical patriarchy talks about the intersection of caste and gender, to me, it is also representative of the malaise that afflicts Indian society – that there is this socially-sanctioned notion that arbitrary hierarchies (be it of religion, gender, ability etc) can and should exist and dismantling these hegemonic structures necessarily goes against some archaic, irreproachable, exalted tenets and traditions that form the bedrock of our society. These kind of sophistries are flimsy justifications against an undeniable truth – that casteism is a crime, an indefensible transgression that for centuries, humiliated, denigrated, and dehumanised millions of people.

But it is time savarnas and their apologists learn that Brahminical hegemony will be smashed sooner or later. The placard was just another shot fired in the battle against casteism.

Also read: The Internalized Misogyny And Casteism Of Growing Up In A Brahmin Household

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  1. What exactly is Brahminical patriarchy? Is there no patriarchy among the followers of other Castes/Religion? One of the participant was a Syrian Christian woman (Anna MM Vetticad), whose clan still take proud in their Brahmin ancestry and look down upon other Sects of Christians in Kerala. Malayalam film Ara Nazhika Neram (Half an Hour Only) released in 1970 was based on the vain glory of such a family. The film was based on a story written by K.E.Mathai, better known by his nom de plume Parappurath. Btw I am neither a Brahmin nor Baniya nor do I hold any brief to defend them.

  2. “conspiracy theories that Dalit activists are funded by the Church (an old favourite)” If this is a myth, can you invalidate it? Rajiv Malhotra, in his book ‘Breaking India’ has investigated the money trail flowing from various foundations. Why are the board members of Dalit Freedom Network mainly Christians (and foreign nationals)? Feminism is a serious topic and definitely can not stay away from politics. It has the tendency to rub shoulders with religion. I know Hinduism has a lot of problems including oppressive rituals and cultural issues it doesn’t mean all other religions are emblems of equality. If you want to stay credible, investigate and bring out misogynic issues in all religions. Is that too much to ask?

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