Brahmin welfare regimes’ little farce is a sign of India’s great tragedy
Secularism and social justice have become far-fetched ideas. If you want to see a new and vivid demonstration of this, study the new Brahmin welfare regimes instituted by the southern states. The websites of the Telangana Brahmin Samkshema Parishad, or andhrabrahmin.ap.gov.in, or the Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board have a story to tell. Each of them created or supported a separate enterprise for the welfare of the Brahmins. Each of them has a similar model: scholarships, support for education abroad, funds for business start-ups, support for Brahmin self-help groups, money for coaching and a range of others. advantages. The state must help the poor of all communities. But the way the proposed schemes are framed is a grotesque perversion of constitutional values. They are a reactionary throwback to the worst aspects of caste.
The government of Andhra Pradesh has a Veda Vyasa program for Vedic education. Let us put aside for a moment the question of whether there is a secular educational argument for the state supporting Vedic education. But who is entitled to this training? Students must belong to the Brahmin community by birth. Likewise, the Telangana and Karnataka parallel programs require Brahmin caste certificates to be eligible for their programs. Can you think of anything more grotesque than the idea that in the 21st century the state is supporting a profession whose eligibility is determined by birth? If Vedic education is a good without mixture, why should it not be open to all, subject to rules of conduct? How can the state discriminate, and limit it to Brahmins identified by birth? It cannot pass any constitutional odor test.
Semiotics is getting worse. The brahminparishad.telangana.gov.in proudly announces that “BRAHMIN means broad and brilliant in thought, righteous and religious in livelihood, skillful and adventurous in personality, honesty and humanity in quality, modesty and morality in character, innovation and industry in performance and nobility and novelty in approach. The form available for issuing a Brahmin caste certificate to Telangana asks for details about Gothram, as if the state was a pundit in Haridwar. There is, of course, a colossal irony, or perhaps a deep historical ignorance, in the diagram of Andhra named after Veda Vyasa. Veda Vyasa would not have counted as an eligible Brahmin under this program. At least the Mahabharata is a little more embarrassed to refer to the Brahmin by birth rather than by conduct. But here is a modern secular state that respects the birthright of caste to the end.
No one can deny the fact that some Brahmins are impoverished and need help. But why make a schema available on a caste basis? For example, there is a BEST project (Brahmin Entrepreneurship of Telangana) which provides entrepreneurial support to those whose income is less than Rs 2 lakh. Worthy goal. But presumably, Article 14 would require anyone with an income below Rs 2 lakh to be eligible for this, especially if there is no additional basis for classification based on discrimination. Why allocate funds for IAS coaching, the formation of self-help groups or funds for education abroad, based on being a Brahmin? The state of Karnataka now offers financial incentives to the wives of the Brahmins, who apparently struggle to find them. It is a gross perversion of Vedic and constitutional values.
The argument will be that if “Dalit” can be used as a basis for classification, why not “Brahmin”? But it was exactly the perversion of the social justice discourse that was set in motion after Mandal, where the issue of deeply entrenched historical discrimination was confused with backwardness and poverty in general. No one can deny the pervasive caste reality in India. But it does not follow that, except in the case of Dalits or similar exceptional cases, the struggle against the backwardness of the state requires the use of caste as a criterion. Almost anything that one seeks to provide in these aid programs for the poor and the backward – preferential admissions, scholarships, income assistance, housing, education, health, loans – can cover all those who need to be. covered without invoking caste.
But think about the regression that this represents in politics. Recognizing caste to overcome discrimination was one thing. But anchoring it as a mandatory, state-certified identity and reproducing birth-based rights is a perversion of social justice. Politics and public policies are reduced to jati-based mobilization in the most absurd way. The Dalits were poor because of their caste, which is why the caste was recognized. From now on, the state wants to ensure that all the poor are permanently marked with their caste by an official seal. Do you have income below Rs 2 lakh? Please obtain a Brahmin certificate to enjoy the benefits. Can’t find a bride? Well if you are a Brahmin we can help you. Karnataka, Andhra, and Telangana are said to be the most progressive states in India. They do well in providing public goods and incorporating Dalits. But it seems that the chief ministers, in all political parties, see themselves as old Hindu monarchs, ruling over a caste order and distributing benefits by caste. There is no emancipatory vision here of going beyond castes. This Lohiaite idea, which must be passed through the caste to overcome it, turns out to be sociological wishful thinking.
But also think of secularism. Ironically, just as the Haj pilgrimage grants have been removed, you have massive erosion of secularism. There were anomalies in Indian secularism that needed to be corrected. But we have to understand this. Those most practiced on pseudo-secularism do not care about secularism; they use it as a pretext to stigmatize and target minorities, while the erosion of secularism is not weakening.
The free-for-all that follows for the reconfiguration of caste services, the requirements for local domicile reservations, are signs of pessimism on the economy. Much heat will be generated on how to distribute the current pie and increasingly shrinking jobs and resources along the jati lines. But no one seriously gets upset that the cake isn’t growing as fast as we need it to. The benefits to the Brahmins may seem like an absurd reduction of our policy, a little farce. But behind it lies a great tragedy, that of a nation with diminishing prospects for everyone, encouraging them to reach for the narrowest conceptions of identity and to call it social justice.
The writer is editor-in-chief, The Indian Express