The Brahminical as hegemonic ideology and the Dalit-Bahujan counter

Most ideas in this post are borrowed from the writing of Kuffir Nalgundwar, Anoop Kumar, Karthik Navayan Battula , Sri Chintala, and others on Facebook, and on Round Table India. I’ve tried to combine them with my reading of the works and speeches of Phule, Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, and G Aloysius. The belief and misunderstandings are mine.

The term ‘Brahminical’ is used to describe an ideology rather than a caste/community, and is not to be equated/conflated with Brahmins. Brahminicals are those who subscribe, knowingly or otherwise, to certain ideological tenets. In the past, the primary among these were graded inequality or hierarchy i.e. superiority of Brahmins and upper castes, inferiority of lower castes and women, purity and pollution, exclusive rights to education, primacy of the shastras etc.

Some of these are still widely prevalent in India but there is also a smarter, modern avatar of the Brahminical, self-described as the ideal Indian, who enjoys the privilege of birth among the elite and its attendant access to the best resources and opportunities, but attributes all success to ‘merit’ and considers ‘undeserved’ and ‘lacking in merit’ minimal redress for disadvantage of birth for the underprivileged, say in the form of reservations, but is happy to support ‘poverty alleviation’ schemes. Who will point to real but statistically rare cases of exceptions (how many OBC/SC/ST MP/MLA/IAS and their kids are there in all of India?) as proof that caste no longer matters, or even that the tables have turned. Who will consider assertion of rights and equality by the disadvantaged as ‘dangerous radicalism/revolution/jealousy’ but assumes the burden to ‘guide them in the proper way’.

While its grip has loosened somewhat due to anti-caste movements and democratic politics, this ideology still has hegemonic salience in India. By its very nature, the hegemonic ideology tends to be considered “normal” or “how things work, have been, will be”, not just by those who enjoy the privileges, but also by those who bear the brunt of it. Reform and dissent is often carefully managed using social, political, economic institutions, which are primarily controlled by the elite, some in obvious and others in surreptitious ways. Historiography is no different, and conditions who we are taught to think of as being role models. At one level (say in school textbooks), those who upheld the ideology are presented in polished form (Tilak), those who challenged it are shorn of their radical edge (Ambedkar) or left out altogether (Phule).

When some people manage to break out of the hypnosis and challenge the ideology and seek to unmask its managed reform/dissent, they are quickly cast as anti-social, anti-national and the like. The aggressive assertion by some Dalit-Bahujans we see today is in line with the modern tradition of the challenges posed by the likes of Phule, Ambedkar, the Dalit Panthers, Kanshi Ram, and many others. Of course, there will be some who will go about it with more anger than others, and there will be some new misunderstandings. However, ignoring the signal for the noise is not going to help.

As a society, we have to collectively figure out how to ensure the best outcome, which is a more egalitarian society. It will take a whole lot of rethinking and unlearning, but the resources and the tradition already exist. Dalit-Bahujans are leading the way. Will the Brahminical renounce false pride and follow them into a future to be proud of for everyone?

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