GENESIS OF ANTI-BRAHMINISM
Ram Swarup on the oppression of Hindu priests
Ram Swarup, Nayee Dillee, is a leading thinker in the
contemporary dynamics of Hindu renaissance ideology. Here he recounts the tragic
decimation of Hinduism's religious leadership -- its priestly brahmins. He reveals the
motivations and historical forces underlying the continuing propaganda against,
and oppression of, Hindu clergy.
A country is never fully defeated as long as its martial and intellectual
leaders exist. A self-conscious imperialism undertakes to reduce them as its first
important task. Muslims coming to India found brave, armed men and a brahmin class
providing cultural and spiritual leadership. Dr. Ambedkar, quoting Muslim
historians, says the first act of religious zeal by Mohammad bin Qasim, the first Arab
invader, was circumcision of brahmins. "But, after they objected, he put all above
the age of seventeen to death."
When the Portuguese came, St. Xavier wrote to the
king of Portugal, his patron, "If there were no brahmins, all
pagans would be converted to our faith." He hated them with hatred that evangelists
alone are capable of. He
called them a "most perverse people." Brahmins became a persecuted people. Next
the British came. They physically disarmed India. Then missionaries and orientalists led
an ideological disarmament.
C. Buchanan said Indians should be baptized because "it attaches the governed to the
governors." They thought that brahmins came in the way of their dream of a baptized
India. They started blackening and discrediting them. A brochure called The Book of Wisdom
in 279 verses was widely circulated by missionaries under William Carey, touted as the
father of the Indian press. It was one of the first he printed and is addressed to the
"mean, despicable Brahmins." The brochure promises hell for heathens and
salvation through Christ.
The administration found brahmins to be the only "national" caste, held in much
respect and capable of
providing political leadership. This was enough. They fomented anti-brahmin movements in
different parts of the country which are still very powerful in today's secular
India. Their fears were well-founded. Brahmins were the intellectual leaders of the
Independence struggle. Thus anti-brahminism was a construct of the last two centuries. And
though learnt under the colonial- missionary aegis, it became an important category of
future social thinking and political action. Brahmins began to be described as cunning,
parasitic exploiters and authors of the iniquitous caste system. Much scholarship and
intellectual labor was put into this thesis before it acquired its present momentum and
currency. Anti-brahminism originated in, and still prospers in anti-Hindu circles. It is
particularly welcome among Marxists, missionaries, Muslims, separatists and casteists of
different hues. When they attack brahmins, their target is unmistakably Hinduism.
They know their only chance is a disintegrated India.
The success of their mission is seen today in the brahmins' new poverty.
Sorokin describes brahmins as "world's poorest aristocracy," as a "caste of
priests without church organization; teachers without state educational institutions;
moral and social leaders without wealth, army and support of state organization." It
is a faithful description. In the past, their poverty was voluntary--renunciation
was their way of life; but the old glory has gone. Their new poverty, not chosen but
imposed by circumstance, is also ideological and cultural. In the past, brahmins were
connected with temples which were also great centers of learning. When
these were destroyed, brahmins became poor as well as illiterate. A nation bereft of
fighters now lost its teachers and thinkers. When the British came on the
scene, they were already destitute. Independence brought
no relief; they remained the poor est section in the country, followed probably by
Rajputs. A Government study
of incomes was made in Karnataka State. The figures given in its Assembly in 1978 show
that brahmins were the
poorest, poorer than scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Among the brahmins themselves,
the poorest are
those connected with Vedic learning, temple service and religious functions. At Tamil
Temple, priest's monthly salary is Rs.3 (us8 cents, from Census Department studies) and a
daily allowance of one
measure of rice. The government staff at the same temples receive Rs.250 plus per month.
But these facts have not
modified the priests' reputation as "haves" and as "exploiters." In
Marxist-secular social sciences, social
facts do not change social theories. The destitution of Hindu priests has moved none, not
even parties known for
Traditional India is long-suffering and used to neglect. But how will a nation fare which
treats its temples and
priests so shabbily? And brahmins themselves should take up this challenge -- not in any
narrow spirit, but by
recovering their old vocation, by fearlessly speaking for dharma and by again becoming
brahma-vadins, God beings.
The world needs it, and needs them.