Thursday, January 3, 2008

Brahmins, vyshyas, Reddys-India is a land of minorities

Dr Arjun Appadurai, writer of ‘ fear of small numbers’, was interviewed by rediff. I qoute below one question and its answer:
“You argue that the Hindu majority is 'a double fiction in contemporary India'. Why? What is your objection to Hindus being termed a religious majority? Isn't it a reality that Hindus comprise about 85 per cent of India's population?
First, the category 'Hindu' is unthinkable in contemporary politics, apart from its birth in colonial ethnographies and census categories. Second, because of the deep divisions between the upper and lower castes that is always a feature of life in agrarian India, it has grown into one of the most important fissures in North Indian politics.
If you look at India as an anthropologist does, what you see is that it is made up of many small groups. A professor of mine once said, only half-jokingly, that India is historically made up only of minorities.”
My view is that the Hindu society is a confederation of minorities. This confederation is under an umbrella given by Persians. They believed to have called Indu as Hindu. Within the broad category of Varna and those ouside Varna system, each verna (caste) has innumerable groups who painstakingly try to retain their identity. Among shudra community in Andra Pradesh there are Kapus, Reddys, Munnur Kapus, Telagas, Khammas, Velamas and Naidus. You have kapu sangham and a function hall at Kachiguda, Khammas have their association at Srinagar colony, Munnur Kapus have their estabshment at Khairtabad and Velamas have association at Himayatnagar. Each group wants to keep its cultural identity and we-feeling intact. Brahmins have many catagories. Even scheduled caste have divisions like Madigas and Malas.
Similarly in each linguistic state you find similar groups. In north karnataka there are lingayats, who again have fissures. Though Basava srived to create a casteless society, there are many groups among Lingayats. Brahmins are also divided as deshastha, saraswat and the followers of Madhava, who advocated duality. Lingayats worship only Shivalinga. I never saw a Lingayat going to Laxmi Temple.
In Tamil Nadu there are many groups among Shudras.Each group is a minority within the Hindu fold. I have had opportunities of interacting with each group. Each is suspicious and fearful of every other group. Collectively all lower castes blame Brahmins for their ‘high handedness’. They believe, nay are convinced, that India is not progressing because they were running the Government at the centre. See how many Brahmin PMs we had—Nehru, Shastri, Indira, Narsimha Rao and Vajpayee. In 70s Brahmins dominated PSUs.
There was an assistant, a few years to retire, in Siliguri, where I worked for two years. He was a Kayasth. In west Bengal the shudra community calls itself Kayasth. The first ever cencus of 1909 gave an opportunity to upgrade one’s caste. It is said that all those Kayasthas in WB are the beneficiaries of Lord Kurson. There was an exclusive batch of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe officers in 1980. It is quite another matter that it was exclusive, which in a way was discriminatory. So it was common knowledge that all were SCs and STs. That move was ill advised. I happened to be incharge of stores for a month where this assistant was working. During a conversation he made a remark that the company will be doomed with inferior officers, meaning SCs and STs. I asked him why? He argued that they were inferior. I just asked him, “ You consider them inferior because you are slightly upper caste. But do you on the same grounds think that you are inferior to Brahmins?” He had no answer. Hindus, as a whole, may be in a majority in India but each individual sub-caste is in a small minority.

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