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Parashuram: Icon of New Brahminism

The brahmins all over India are involved in competition with other castes in the modern political arena, leading them to forge unity within the caste and alliances with other castes, including the dalits. Parashuram, the mythical ancient brahmin warrior has become the icon of this new brahminism.

Parashuram: Icon of New Brahminism

The brahmins all over India are involved in competition with other castes in the modern political arena, leading them to forge unity within the caste and alliances with other castes, including the dalits. Parashuram, the mythical ancient brahmin warrior has become the icon of this new brahminism.

A M SHAH

T
he brahmins in India no longer seem to be happy with carrying the ancient image of being priests, teachers, scholars and rishis like Manu, Panini, Vasistha, and Shankaracharya. They would now prefer to carry the image of being warriors like Parashuram, the legendary brahmin hero who is believed to have exterminated the kshatriyas several times from the surface of the earth in the past. They have been pressurising for the last few years at least two state governments, those of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, to declare Parashuram’s birthday as an official holiday. They have also formed an all India association and a Parashuram Foundation to promote their economic, political and social interests. Prior to the national conference of this association in Surat (Gujarat) on June 4, 2005 a Parashuram ‘kalash’ (sacred pot) was carried in procession for 40 days from Somnath temple on Saurashtra coast to the venue of the conference. Some time ago the condolence meeting to mourn the assassination of a brahmin MLA in Ahmedabad was held under the auspices of the Parashuram Foundation. All these apparently simple happenings have a deeper meaning.

It is well known that in every part of India, the brahmins are divided into endogamous sub-castes and even subsub-castes. For example, traditionally the brahmins in Gujarat are divided into as many as 84 sub-castes, each of which is divided further into sub-sub-castes. Nowadays, however, the brahmins are forging unity first between sub-sub-castes within a sub-caste and then between sub-castes within the caste in various ways. One important way is to encourage marriages between the relevant endogamous units. The concept of “love marriage” finds enthusiastic support for marriage between the sub-castes, but within the brahmin caste. Secondly, the brahmins of all sub-castes in almost every town form an all-brahmin association. It organises “marriage melas (fairs)”, where a large number of young boys and girls of the caste are given an opportunity to meet freely with a view to decide to marry. The association also provides scholarships and loans to students, felicitates members on their achievements in various fields, organises festivals, pilgrimages and pleasure trips, and many other activities to encourage unity within the caste. These town associations form a federation for the region, which in turn becomes a part of the all India association. The increased strength derived from this unity is used in the political arena.

The brahmins feel pushed to the wall by reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and other backward classes in educational institutions and government jobs. This feeling is strong particularly among the poorer brahmins. Most brahmins in most parts of India have migrated from villages to towns, and those left behind have more or less the same economic status as that of the OBCs. Many brahmins in cities are employed in low paid jobs like those of peons, clerks, cooks, tailors, bus conductors, mechanics, etc. These disadvantaged brahmins find that they are left out while the privileged members of SCs and OBCs get the benefits of reservations. Their cause is supported by the middle and upper class brahmins, including many VIPs, even some VVIPs. In a polity based on numbers most brahmins see their future in the strength of numbers. They fight elections in a united way, and then lobby for positions of ministers, chairpersons of government corporations, members of committees and commissions, and so on.

A Silent Revolution

The brahmins are upset particularly by the growing strength of the OBCs, most of whom claim to be kshatriyas. The brahmins think the old argument about the brahmins cornering all plum positions in the society is no longer valid. They find the members of the OBCs also occupy plum positions, and even the privileged ones among them get benefits of reservations while the brahmins are left high and dry. No longer are the brahmins overly worried about the rise of the dalits. They do not mind aligning themselves with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, basically a party of the SCs, because the SCs are also equally resentful of the growing political power of the OBCs in UP as well as in most other states. The SCs now see the OBCs rather than the brahmins as their real oppressors. The brahmins’ alliance with the dalits, considered untouchables and condemned to remain at the lowest rung of caste hierarchy for centuries, is indeed a revolution, a silent one though.

This change goes hand in hand with the declining influence of ritual criteria

Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

of purity and pollution in determining caste hierarchy, not only in towns but also in villages. There is now a race in every caste for competing with other castes and going ahead of them in secular matters, such as increasing one’s strength in educational institutions, employment market, and the political arena. Every caste sees its increased presence in legislative bodies as the most effective weapon to protect all its other interests.

The numbers therefore matter most. This requires a caste to work for internal unity and for viable alliances with other castes, whatever their traditional ritual status. The brahmins want to fight in the political arena through the same methods as the other castes have adopted, and Parashuram is an effective icon of this militant face of brahminism.

EPW

Email: arvindmshahdse@yahoo.com

Economic and Political Weekly February 4, 2006

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