Brahmin identity politics: A short note


Gaurav Somwanshi

gaurav somwanshiHere is Kuffir's brief analysis of the Brahmin hegemony (recently shared on social media): 

"let's recognize this: the brahmins are superior. look at the number of presidents, prime ministers, chief ministers, ministers, party presidents, doctors, engineers, scientists, nobel/magsaysay winners, corporate presidents/directors, editors, columnists, university heads, professors, writers, playwrights, actors, directors, bureaucrats, diplomats, jnanpith/sahitya academy winners, economists, statisticians and even astronauts etc etc etc etc who are brahmins..what made them so superior? 'Merit and hard work'. It's very decent of the politically correct 'left liberals' not to push this point too much..but the 'right wing' is more honest in talking about these 'achievements' sometimes.. What's the moral for the dalitbahujans? The brahmins no longer need the shastras and puranas etc to establish their superiority because it's the overwhelming Indian reality..they can claim to be nationalists or hindutvavaadis or libertarians or liberals or communists or socialists or marxists or feminists or trotskyites or leninists or maoists or anarchists or just plain left or right or Gandhian or Nehruvian or whatever and go on pushing the agenda of brahmin supremacy one way or another, even without being conscious of it."

With regards to the above quote, allow me to share a relevant case study.

Vishwambhar Choudhari, a well-known Marathi activist,  posted a screenshot of a comment made on my Facebook wall by a friend, and wrote a post on it. The privacy settings didn't allow me to post on his posts, and I believed it could be a separate 'case study' on its own.

The original comment on my wall was made by Balaji Londhe, over here, which was this:

"Vishwambhar Choudhari, another 'liberal progressive brahmin' while deriding Manusmriti would quote 'greatness' of another brahmin Kurundkar who has thrived on hating dalits and terming their assertion as identity politics. Choudhari's affiliate, again another brahmin, Girish Kuber, editor of brahmin newspaper Loksatta, goes on to reproduce Kurundkar's 30 odd year old text on Ambedkar Jayanti in 2013, which had ridiculed dalits in 70s. Same preaching, 30 years down the line. This is brahmani kawa (deception). The same Choudhari in another post talks about poverty of brahmin kids, on job training for priesthood and seeking food exclusively being brahmins. No wonder brahmins are the biggest 'victims' on earth."

As a reply to this, Mr Choudhari posted a screenshot of the above comment by Balaji Londhe, and wrote this post around it:

माझा तरूण मित्र ओंकार दाभाडकरने ही पोस्ट माझ्या नजरेस आणून दिली त्याबद्दल मी आभारी आहे.

 वस्तुस्थिती अशीच आहे की पुरोगामी विचार करणारे ब्राह्मण हे इतिहासात आणि वर्तमानात 'नाघरकानाघाटका" होऊनच राहिले आहेत, राहणार आहेत! त्यासाठी मनाची तयारी करूनंच पुढे गेले पाहिजे, विचलीत होऊन चालणार नाही. ब्राह्मणांच्या जातीयवादा विरोधात उभ्या राहिलेल्या चळवळी स्वत: कट्टर जातीयवादी झालेल्या आहेत याचा अर्थ जातीयवाद सर्वांनाच पुरून उरला आहे!

एसेमजोशी, नानासाहेब गोरे यांच्यासारख्या महान लोकांची जात काढली गेली तिथे विश्वंभर चौधरी सारख्या कस्पटांची काय कथा? जाती शोधणारे एवढे प्रबळ आहेत तेवढे भारतात तरी अन्य कोणी तेवढे प्रबळ नाही.

माझ्यापुरतं बोलायचं झालं तर मी जेंव्हा दलित या संज्ञेचा विचार करतो तेंव्हा माझ्यासमोर ब्राह्मणांना शिव्या घालणारा दलितांतील निवडक शहरी वर्ग कधीच नसतो, माझ्यापुढे संध्याकाळी रानातून परत येतांना गवताच्या भार्यानं खचून चालणारी गावातली दलित, बहुजन स्त्री असते. गांधीजींच्या अंत्योदयाच्या कल्पनेत हीच स्त्री असावी.

I'll post an English translation of above post by Mr Choudhari and I hope it will be fairly accurate: 

"I am grateful to Omkar Dabhadkar for bringing this post to my attention. The reality is that the liberal Brahmins have always been and always will be treated as "na ghar ka na ghaat ka". For that one must ready one's mind before proceeding ahead. One can't get distracted. The struggles against the casteism of Brahmins have themselves become casteist and this means casteism has spread everywhere.

When S.M. Joshi's and Nanasaheb Gore's caste can be called into the debate, then who is Vishwambhar Choudhari. The ones who are capable at finding out caste are the most efficient in India.

But if I have to speak only about myself, then whenever I think of the term 'Dalit' then I never picture the urban Dalit who swears against Brahmins, but in front of me there is the Dalit-bahujan lady who has to walk with a bent back under the weight of the grass/firewood that she's carrying. Maybe the same lady exists in Gandhiji's imagination."

That's my translation of Mr Choudhari's post, hope he agrees to it.
Now, from the start, the comment by Balaji Londhe mentions an article by Narahar Kurundkar, a celebrated self-proclaimed progressive Brahmin, that was published in 1969, and republished by Loksatta on 14th April, 2013, on the occasion of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's Jayanti.

I urge those who can read Marathi to please read this article by Kurundkar

facebook gita

I can't translate the above article in full, but it has some amazing casteist gems like, "currently there is a lack of introspective literature and intellectual literature among the Dalit society." 

This was coming at a time when the Marathi Dalit autobiography had already taken its hold and was redefining Marathi sensibilities. Further, in the next para, Kurundkar says, "Babasaheb was a great political leader, but he was only human. He couldn't bring the Dalit samaaj under one political hold." And thereby the celebrated historian (he loves to call himself that in the article) erases the entire history of the Congress in pre-independence movement and their extremely dehumanising tactics to disrupt any unity among the Dalit-bahujan castes, and instead places its burden on someone who he himself so agrees is just a man.

Later on towards the end, the article states that the Dalit society never cares to introspect over the rights that were "accepted" ('maanyakelet') by the liberal savarna Hindus at least. And in one stroke again the credit of achieving the rights with relentless struggle by the Dalit-bahujans is shifted over to the charity of liberal-savarna Hindus. 

Kurundkar further writes, "The second question in front of the untouchables is to get equal treatment from the savarna Hindus. But to get respect and equal treatment from the savarna Hindus just struggling/fighting isn't enough. For that they also need to give some respect/have some decency and also grant some gratitude." And I'll let this hang in there for the moment for you to get slowly accustomed to the enormity of this statement's arrogance.

And this is not cherry-picking but it is the entire tone of the article which sounds far more disgusting when read in entirety. But the point of contention is not just that this article was published in 1969, the point is the republishing of this article by the celebrated "progressive" newspapers like Loksatta in today's times and the glorification of Narahar Kurundkar by a multitude of people like Vishwambhar Choudhari today, and that was what was being called out by Balaji Londhe.

Now moving on to Mr Choudhari's post. Apparently he believes that questioning the identity of the storyteller and not just his story constitutes some form of casteism, and for this I've written in detail here

Next, he says that when he sees the word Dalit then he doesn't consider the 'urban Dalit' who's apparently criticizing Brahmins senseless but instead thinks of the the heavy-load carrying Dalit-bahujan lady in a village. Compare this with Arundhati Roy's reply to Dalit Camera, when the former stressed that can there be an "authentic" victim and that we're all victims of caste. Anyways, Mr Choudhari compares his stance with of Gandhi's, and which is true, given that when Gandhi started his 'Harijan Sevak Sangh' Babasaheb immediately quit it because Gandhi wouldn't allow any untouchables among the board members of the Sangh. It's kind of a mean trick where you start getting liberal cookies without really rescuing anyone, and the supposed act of saving/rescuing/helping is itself perverse as it doesn't allow you to challenge the foundation of the structure, which was basically Gandhism. 

But one can't help but be confused. The title of Kurundkar's article was "Dalits should get out of their shells/sacks" (Dalit yanni koshotun baher yaave) and stressed the lack of "intelligentsia" among Dalits and told us in his piece that it's gravely needed, and when the so-called carriers of his legacy of liberal-Brahmins today are confronted with valid challenges as those posed by Balaji Londhe to Vishwambhar Choudhary, then the latter says that he doesn't consider the former to be a Dalit.

So, what is one to do?



Gaurav Somwanshi, an alumnus of IIM Lucknow, is currently preparing for civil services examinations.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.


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