ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Brahmanism, Liberalism and the Postcolonial Theory

Indian academic scholarship and politics have remained caught between the triangulate frames of Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial theory, papering over the commonalities between the three in their "politics of accommodation," and the fact that they cumulatively privilege similar bhadralok scholarship. Indian politics today is witnessing an implosion of intra-subaltern conflicts which cannot be captured either through East versus West or subaltern versus elite kind of frames.

It is common belief that Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial interventions are not only mutually exclusive frames, but that they were inaugurated to displace one another. In India, Western liberalism was a response to undo the social hierarchies put in place by Brahmanical proclivities, including those of purity and pollution and gender discrimination closely linked to caste, all found in a programmatic form in Manusmriti. In turn, postcolonial theory was inaugurated to displace the imperialism of categories introduced by Western modernity in our society which was originally communitarian, religious, and traditional. However, a closer look at Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial theory, and the way this triangular entanglement works itself offers us a possibility to read all the three frames as belonging to the same epistemic community. The social and political effects of the three frames operate within the limits of a politics of accommodation, and of incremental and additive change.

Brahmanisms core philosophical propensity is not only to justify social hierarchy and untouchability but also to allow porous changes that will disallow the building of contradictions. Brahmanism is a philosophical system that co-opts and accommodates moments that emerge in opposition to it and tones them in its own colour. This is how Buddhism and innumerable other reform movements within Hinduism came to be co-opted into the Hindu fold as dissents internal to Hinduism. Thus, even though core practices have a certain fixity, truth becomes contextual here. Gandhian praxis is symptomatic of this practice, oscillating between claims that are non-negotiable and the idea that truth (god) itself needs to be unearthed through an ethical praxis, such as that of a satyagrahi. If seen in a deeper sense, liberalism reflects a similar kind of propensity to accommodate and arrive at consensus and dialogue without radically altering the structural power relations, or the equation between the hegemonic practices of the dominant over the dominated.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

INR 59

(Readers in India)

$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.