What is “Brahmanical” in Indian Patriarchy ?

In December 2018, Jack Dorsey had a photo-op with a section Indian feminists (left-leaning) holding a placard that read Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy. Naturally, Hindutva supporters took umbrage to the reduction of Patriarchy in India to Brahmanism & “supposed” targetting of Brahmins. The “Liberals” appeared consistent with their ideological framework, though the framework can be accused of being myopic. Here are some essays from both sides of the ideological spectrum – Wire & Swarajya.

When words become labels, they tend to deviate from their original meaning and end up serving just their political purpose. The word Brahmanical is in danger of becoming a catch-all term on the left to not just to attack Hindutva but also to indulge in some masochism. Like all terms in Hinduism, Brahminism is difficult to define. For the purpose of this essay, I would refer to all Hindu practices & rituals which have a basis in scriptures like the Vedic Canon, Puranas/Itihasa, Sutras/Shastras as Brahmanism. (I would welcome any better definition of Brahmanism. It is often easier to negate a Hindu practice as Non-Brahmanical than the other way around)

Similarly, the word Patriarchy is likewise used loosely as an amalgamation of the words patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and male chauvinism. Patriarchy is a hallmark of human civilization, especially post the agricultural revolution. Just a handful of cultures have been exceptional. As a result, all strands of patriarchy in a society cannot be blamed on the predominant religious current of the culture unless there is a logical & direct link between the two – correlation is not causation. Coming to India lets focus on the different strands of Patriarchy present in the country and try to entangle each strand and investigate its potential origins in Brahmanism.

MARRIAGE

In Brahmanism, marriage is a sacred bond between man and woman(women) and hence unbreakable. As polygamy is allowed under Brahmanism, Men could move on to newer women without breaking the sacred bond and continue to lead a Dharmic life. Women had a lot of patriarchal restrictions placed on them. It is interesting to note that the Hindu marriage act of 1955 has transformed Hindu marriage customs in Hinduism. Hence wrt Marriage – Smashing Brahmanism would be equal to beating a dead ARYA horse in 21st century India. All these strands of “patriarchy” exist to almost the same extent in other native India “Panthas” in -Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. No need to explain how Muslim personal law is way worse wrt marriage today and needs immediate attention from Feminists.

INHERITANCE

Brahmanism did not support the rights of women to inherit property, but the 1956 act meant that equal inheritance rights were awarded. On the other hand, Muslim women don’t get equal rights under Muslim personal law.

WIDOWS

The conditions of widows in Brahmanism was arguably worse than most other cultures. With Remarriage out of question (unlike Islam and Christianity), widows were treated inhumanely in Hinduism – especially in Brahmanical orthodoxy. The Brahmanical obsession with abstract concepts of purity and consequent “bad luck” blamed on the widow meant that widows were sentenced to social boycott in Hindu societies (social murder). The other option – Sati is also uniquely Brahmanical. (though its prevalence in olden times is debated). Even today, widow remarriage is less common than widower remarriage. A lot of regression and inhuman attitude towards widows continue to this day even among elite and liberal Hindus. Hence wrt Widows Brahmanical Patriarchy is still alive and needs SMASHING. 

Eg: Widows are still considered inauspicious. Even today a widow cannot predominantly partake Brahmanical rituals on her own, she always needs a male/couple (pure and auspicious) helping hand/s to carry out rituals. Typically Marriage/Upanayana/other rituals are carried out by the Uncles of her children. Though Hindu society has moved beyond the Social ostracization of earlier times, the position of widows is far from equal. 

Having said that, the overlap of these practices with Varna oppression isn’t wide. These practices are particular to the Dvija Varnas. Conditions of widows in subaltern castes & tribes were historically significantly better – with remarriage/separation allowed in many subaltern/tribal communities.

DOWRY

It is difficult to pin down the custom of Dowry on Brahmanism. By accounts of most experts, it is a sociological custom not unique to India.

FEMALE FOETICIDE

A Direct consequence of Dowry and Two child policy (along with economic hardships and some other factors) Female Foeticide – arguably the worst Anti-Female practice in India is also a deeply sociological practice with very tenuous or no links to “Religions”. (Though Christianity actively condemns all abortions and hence Female Foeticide has no existence in Christians)

RELIGIOUS ROLE OF WOMEN

All religions present in India are deeply sexist and Brahmanism (Hinduism) doesn’t stand out as a particularly bad. However, the impurity attributed to menstruation is directly an outgrowth of the Brahmanical obsession of ritualistic purity. From practices of untouchability for menstruating women to the temple entry conflict, these customs can be attributed to Brahmanism though other faiths aren’t doing a particularly great job. Even Buddha’s teachings and the role of women in Buddhist Sangha are not remotely equal. However, the position of women in a lot of Brahmanical rituals is secondary/inferior to men. One could make a logical argument from Brahmanism to the demoted the role of women in rituals. (same as other faiths)

Sabrimala – though people claim the issue in Sabrimala is due to the Celibacy of Lord Ayyappa & not ritual taboo of menstruation- the priests of Sabrimala carried out a purification ritual after the women visited Sabrimala.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE

No correlation. This problem is worse in India than some regions of the world but no coherent link between this and Brahmanism exists.

CASUAL SEXISM & MISOGYNY

Is a universal societal problem. There is an argument that some aspects this is an overreaction to the overreach of some aspects of feminism (from conservative POV- I don’t hold this view)

ENDOGAMY

While caste endogamy is often blamed on Brahmanical doctrines – and especially the notorious Manusmriti, on a deeper investigation of the texts, the link is found to be not very robust. While the DIKTATS against the mixing of Varnas is a very important part of Manusmriti (and other texts too), the jati endogamy practice in India doesn’t have many sanctions in Brahmanical texts. Getting deep into the nuances around Jati and Varna is beyond the scope of this essay. Given the fact that Varna is a salient feature of Brahmanism and Jati is an outgrowth of Varna in a sense, we can logically argue that the origins of Endogamy are Brahmanical.

However its sustenance in 21st century India is due to tribalism, pressures of families (larger caste groups) and Compatibility correlated with Jati.  

HONOR CULTURE

Honor culture is a salient part of most caste conflicts in the country, but given the preponderance of similar conflicts in other cultures (Islamic), this practice cant be blamed on Brahmanism.

CHILD MARRIAGE

The universal practice in medieval and early modern times. On the contrary Vedic canon advises post-puberty marriage for both sexes. 

EDUCATION AND OTHER FREEDOMS

Like most religions wrt education and other freedoms, Brahmanism was harsh on women. But it doesn’t stand out. Even though subaltern women faced harsh Brahmanical opposition (Like Savitri Phule), the same is true for upper-caste women reformers as well. Sub Altern women faced the double combo of Brahmanical Casteism and Patriarchy, hence the blame of this strand can be put mildly on Brahmanism wrt Christianity but not wrt other faiths.

MODESTY (PURDAH)

Practiced in North Indian Hindu cultures, but most experts believe these practices were imposed on women after Islamic Turko-Afghan invasions of 11th century.

There may be some more strands of “Patriarchy” in India which are not covered here.


Out of the 13 strands identified above a modest 5 practices can be partially blamed on Brahmanism. Even out of these 5, 2 are addressed legally and are inconsequential today with 3/13 Brahmanical strands remaining (though these aren’t the biggest problems for 21st century India). If the aim is to Smash All Patriarchy – smashing Brahmanical Patriarchy which achieves only a fraction of the aim, can’t logically be the primary objective. In other words, wrt Feminism in India there are bigger fish to fry.

Some have argued that “Brahmanical patriarchy is a conceptual framework” that has a wider meaning. But it has been a word (Brahmanism) which means something specific for almost over a century and its definition was never as broad or loose as Hinduism.

Another issue I had with the “Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy” was the lack of understanding in the general population of the term Brahmanism. Any political point being made has value only if it resonates with the masses for whom it is coined. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here. As a result, such a sloganeering can be viewed by a considerable population as bigotry against Brahmins (As lots of people pointed out). Having said that, had the slogan been analytically watertight it wouldn’t matter IMO.

Next time there is ideological virtue-signaling – let us hope there is robust elucidation instead of attack with language meant as a catch-all for what one opposes. (Like calling your opponent fascists)


Ironically brahmin communities (mostly due to early exposure to education) are some of the least patriarchal communities of the country. Most women wouldn’t mind freedoms enjoyed by women in these communities (especially MH and WB). Though this would be explained as Brahmanical patriarchy which aims to oppress Bahujan women while emancipating Savarna ones. An incredibly contrived discussion arguing this can be found here with which I profoundly disagree – but that argument is for some other time.

On language diversity in India – North vs South

Language remains a bone of contention within Indian discourse, and much of it surrounds the North Indian insistence on Hindi (more specifically Khariboli, the high prestige dialect of Hindi spoken traditionally in the region around Delhi) versus the Southern insistence on lingual diversity and the immense pride in regional lingual traditions (be it Tamil, Kannada or Telugu)

But the fundamental divide is this –

Lingual diversity in North India is significantly lower than in the Deccan, which creates fundamental differences in the attitudes towards lingua franca like Khariboli

Roughly 450 million people from Bikaner to Jamshedpur speak similar tongues Yet the 60 million people in Karnataka can barely follow the 70 million people in TN

The reason Khariboli in my view established itself as the primary lingua franca of the North Indian plain is because the differences across the various languages spoken from Panipat to Gaya were not as massive to start with. Clearly smaller than the differences between say Telugu and Tamil.

But why is that? One obvious proximate reason –

South had regional polities unlike North where Empires spanned the whole Indo-Gangetic plain, driving greater homogeneity in the spoken Prakrits.

But what are the underlying reasons for the greater political unity of North India?

    • The Northern terrain is more uniform, unlike South which is a plateau. Also the nature of the terrain varies a lot down south. E.g. Tamil Nadu is clearly a plain, while neighboring Kerala is hill country and Karnataka is an elevated plateau. This perhaps limited social intercourse of people in ancient times.
    • In the North we have the great Ganges river. The Ganga-Jamuna river system unites the land, linking the whole expanse of land through maritime commerce.  South has no such single river system but separate provincial rivers like Krishna, Godavari in AP, Kaveri in Karnataka and TN.
    • North India was setted earlier by the Indo-Aryans. Its proto-historical period can be conservatively dated to 1500-1000 BCE. In contrast, Southern India emerges out of pre-history much later towards the beginning of the Common era. The earlier settlement meant that the Gangetic plain is significantly denser and also uniformly dense. E.g. UP’s density is over 800 per sq. km, while Bihar is at 1100. Whereas in the South, there is greater variation in population density. Tamil Nadu is at 550 per sq.km, Kerala is 800+, while Karnataka and Andhra are significantly less dense (around 300).. The higher and more uniform density up north perhaps contributed to a more homogeneous lingual culture.

But the last hypothesis is unsatisfactory. It leaves us with the question – Why didn’t the less dense and more isolated parts of North India (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh evolve distinct regional cultures? Having said that, it must be noted that the relatively denser parts of these two states – Malwa and Mewar are culturally closer to the Gangetic mainstream culture than other parts of these provinces where we do see greater variation in dialect (E.g. Marwar)

I feel the vastly different levels of lingual diversity between the Northern plains and Deccan impact how the discourse is conducted today on the issue of Hindi and Khariboli.

The “typical” North Indian argument underrates the diversity down south. And hence goes like this –

Hey. We are Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri speakers. We don’t mind our differences, and have chosen to embrace Khariboli as the “standard” tongue. Why can’t you southerners do so as well?

The “typical” South Indian argument overstates the lingual diversity up north.

Hey..why are you guys adopting Khariboli without resistance. Why have you guys given up on Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri? Get a spine!

Both sides in my view get it wrong. Northerners understate lingual diversity down south. Southerners overstate lingual diversity up north. This is at the root of most culture wars around language

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

Dammed it you dont: The hydraulic origins of the divergence between the Raj, India and Pakistan

Historians have put forth the the idea that complex political states originated as ‘hydraulic empires’, a need for ancient societies to manage vast water systems. Governments have evolved from their ancient origins to do a lot more beyond managing water. However, we shall see in this post that attitudes towards water can lead to important differences in the evolution of spatially and temporally adjacent political entities.

In terms of hydrology and geology, there are striking contrasts between the Indo-Gangetic plain and peninsular India. The Indo-Gangetic plain is drained by perennial rivers, fed by both Himalayan glaciers and monsoonal precipitation. Peninsular India, on the other hand, is drained only by monsoon-fed seasonal rivers. Geologically, the Indo-Gangetic plain is blessed with alluvial soil which is both fertile and holds groundwater. Peninsular India is composed of harder rocks, which leads to more runoff and less groundwater retention. Water has always been a much harder challenge in peninsular India than the Gangetic plain.

The British Raj and its successor state of India, had vastly different attitudes towards the hydro problems of peninsular India. However, the Raj’s successor state of Pakistan never had to deal with the water challenges of peninsular India. Pakistan remained agriculturally more productive per worker than India till 2017. India had to construct 5264 medium and large dams (compared to Pakistan’s 150) to overtake Pakistan on that count. A side effect was an advanced industrial and technical base.

We first discuss the dam policy of the British Raj, which is known for its investments in railways and canals. A striking rarity in the Raj’s impressive portfolio of grand infrastructure projects are mega dams. It is not that the British did not build significant water-works in India, but these were overwhelmingly barrages and canal irrigation projects. And the absence of large dams was not due to a lack of technical expertise, indeed, elsewhere in the empire, (notably Canada and Australia), British engineers pioneered the techniques that underlie the construction of modern, large scale dams.

So what explains the Raj’s dam reluctance in their richest canvas ? It is likely that the politics of British India underlies the inhibition towards dams. The centre of gravity of the British Indian empire was the Indo-Gangetic plain. It was the most populated region, the region which produced the most recruits for the British Indian army and the region they really needed to manage. And this region did not need dams. The large dams the British built were mainly in deep South India, the largest dam there was a project conceived by the king of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar.

The modern day Republic of India found itself in a very different political situation. The elites of peninsular India were organized and had the numbers to match their Gangetic counterparts. Prime minister Nehru, although Gangetic, was deeply influenced by the economic philosophy of the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union was a master of building mega dams. A massive dam building project ensued, all across India. In the Gangetic plain, this meant increased agricultural yields, but in peninsular India, the dams were a game-changer. Vast tracts of land in Madhya Pradesh were brought under productive cultivation. Interior Maharastra developed a sugarcane belt. Gujarat has become a leader in cotton, tobacco and groundnuts.

Equally important, dams made large cities viable outside the Gangetic plain. Dams and their reservoirs are the only reason the nascent urban centres of peninsular India (Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) could become the dynamic mega-cities they are today. In contrast, Gangetic plain cities continue to get their water from the perennial rivers that they are set on (Delhi-Yamuna, Lucknow-Gomti, Patna-Ganges, Kolkata-Hooghly and so on).

It is conceivable that the extreme importance of large dams and water management structures pushed India’s post-independent elites to invest heavily into engineering education. The public and private enterprises in charge of dam construction, irrigation boards, and hydroelectric machinery provided employment for the labour produced by these elite institutes. These projects thus serviced the needs and aspirations of both urban elites and the vast rural voting masses.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s situation was quite different. With the exception of Islamabad, Pakistan’s cities get their water in the same way Gangetic Indian cities do, surface water and ground water. Developing state-of-the-art water management technology was never an imperative for the Pakistani elite.

Browncast – Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop: The Origins of South Asian Islamism

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

This episode features Akshar and Mukunda talking to Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum. We get into topics surrounding the relevance of the Deobandi movement, how Islamism percolates between South Asia and the West, and the political ramifications of Islamism in the US and the UK.

Religious books in Hotel rooms

Going through my photo archives for a photo blog I plan to start, I remembered a thing which had struck me as weird during my travels in Kenya. Being interested in travel and wildlife, I have stayed a lot across hotels and resorts in India. Outside India I have been to Singapore, Bhutan and Kenya. But only in the resorts in Kenya did I find religious books in hotel rooms. I found the Bibles/Quran placed in the top drawers of the bedside table extremely funny, surprising and slightly unpalatable. I did some reading – here here and was surprised to find this being a norm in United states. I still cant understand the reasoning behind placing religious books in hotels – especially wildlife resorts like Serene Lodge in Maasai Mara (which had Quran as well as Bible I guess).

Serena Lodge in Maasai Mara

Funnily the top drawer often reserved for these religious books (based on my experience in Kenya) is the best place for keeping your condoms IMO (next to the books which are clearly anti contraceptive). Apart from that why would holidayers who cant spend a day without their scriptures travel without them? I suppose for people who are this religious, there would also be an emotional connection to one’s one set of scriptures and they wont feel the same way about some other copy (my presumption). In India most you find in Indian resorts are religious symbols like Om and Shree and even they are extremely rare (non existent in nature and wildlife resorts). Finding copies of Vedas or Bhagwat Gita in hotel rooms seems incredibly funny almost unimaginable to me. Even in the pretty catholic goa, none of hotels I have stayed in (even in Portuguese Goa) had bibles in rooms. Why would someone going to the top wildlife destination in the world spend time reading scriptures instead of enjoying the resort is something beyond my humble irreligious (and Indian) mind to fathom. I don’t necessarily put the blame of this practice on the evangelical zeal as many hotels claim to provide most popular religious scriptures.

This brings me to a larger point about lack of understanding of other cultures and histories (which Razib likes to point) in Indians (as well as all other cultures). If understanding of different cultures is so poor even in the internet age, during the age of exploration there would have been a far greater gap which is clearly visible in most colonial literature. This makes the criticism faced today by sincere western scholars like Asko Parpola and Sheldon Pollock (who do have understanding of the Indian culture) inevitable. Example of similar things are even visible when English speaking journalists from India make televised journeys into the hinterlands. Here I come to some questions for the readers.

How should people foreign to cultures they’re studying, view them? and Is the criticism of them as ignorant of culture and hence partial in their scholarship fair? (Despite them being scholars of lets say Sanskrit and History in Indian context)

What could be a logical explanation for the practice of keeping religious books in hotels (apart from evangelical zeal) ? Some people have made argument of loneliness and suicide but I find those extremely tenuous.

What are some of the other practices prevalent in foreign cultures that can be unfathomable to an outsider ?

Pakistan and India: Why Did They Diverge?

@FrankBullit67 is a well-read Rajput from India, and an active presence on Twitter. He composed a thread on partition and his view of why India and Pakistan have diverged in many ways since independence. I tweeted it with the comment that it was interesting, but I may not agree with all of it. Which led to several people asking me “what do you disagree with?”. I had not really thought it through, but here is what I came up with; Frank’s tweets are combined into paragraphs and any comment I may have is under the tweet in red. (1. that India and Pakistan have not diverged as advertised here is another possible argument, I skipped that for now, and 2. everybody forgets Bangladesh, which fact was nicely summarized by @shivamsethi01 and i have attached a screenshot at the end of this post).

Frank: I was going to do a thread on Partition in the form of a historical chronology – I think that can wait. I’ve decided to do a thread which is more “philosophical” and on “principles” about Partition. So here goes. As we know, “partition” carved two countries out of one in 1947. One with a Hindu majority (~85% Hindu in 1947 but now 79%). The other with a Muslim majority (over 90% Muslim in 1947 – even more skewed now).

The process was extremely bloody resulting in over a million deaths (some think the figure could be two million).

For those who are unfamiliar with the scale of the carnage, it is worth Googling Margaret Burke-White’s pictures of partition for LIFE Magazine (see here).

Indians, Pakistanis and Brits can keep arguing for centuries about who was responsible for what but that’s another subject. The purpose of this thread is to concentrate on what I think is the key philosophical divergence between Hinduism and Islam which made violent conflict or a “partition” unavoidable. Although one can write an encyclopaedia on the theological differences between the two Faiths, the key difference to me is on the question of “Blasphemy”. Broadly, Hinduism has had atheists in the mix for millennia (or those with a weak adherence to faith or those who have created new sects). This was never punished. As a result, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and later Sikhism lived next to each other for millennia or centuries despite enormous theological differences. Continue reading Pakistan and India: Why Did They Diverge?

Troubles and politics of the billionaire author

The current outrage storm over JK Rowling’s latest book – the Troubled Blood is not unexpected given the trans-related controversies that have surrounded JK Rowling since December last year. For more on the issue, these pieces on Quillete are good. Link Link. Unwilling to back down in the face of abuse, threats of canceling, Rowling stood firm and wrote a long essay explaining her position here. (I strongly recommend this essay). As expected after the publication of Troubled blood, there was a social media storm with #RIPJKRowling. trending. Prima Facie I was sure that people who had been trolling and attacking the billionaire author were doing so ad hominem without reading the book. Being a fan of Rowling, I was going to eventually read the book (i have read all the earlier four Strike books) but this whole storm made me buy and read the book before commenting on the issue. When I started reading the 888-page book the Good Reads reviews of the book on the day of its release stood as follows

Troubled blood is a long mystery/romance/drama book that runs considerably longer than the average book. While the book isn’t what I would call flawless, but if you are invested in the primary characters by now – you will love the book. The core of the book is an almost impossible cold case (a 40-year-old case of a missing Feminist General Physician), the detectives – Strike and Robin are trying to solve. The issue the trans activists seem to have taken up is that a serial killer suspect in the book is known to disguise himself as a woman to get close to his targets (who were all women). The character of this serial killer is based on 2 real-life serial killers as posted by Rowling herself on her Robert Galbraith website.

 a sadistic serial killer active in the 60s and 70s, who was loosely based on real-life killers Jerry Brudos and Russell Williams – both master manipulators who took trophies from their victims.

This character is not a Transsexual. Even his cross-dressing is not given as his only tactic for appearing harmless. Aside from this, the serial killer himself is not the primary focus of the book, but a specter who looms behind the narrative due to his psychopathy not his occasional passing off as a woman. There is no trans character in the book – may be in near future even that will be called transphobia. Additionally, the only Trans character in the Strike series was a character named “Pippa” in the second book of the series – The Silkworm. That character has been dealt with very sympathetically on that occasion with her abuse at hands of men not trivialized or brushed aside. How JK Rowling gets to be a Trans-Phobe after this, this points to the deeper problem in the SJW activism – the tendency to self cannibalize. Examples like these (attacks on Steven Pinker, JK Rowling, Green Greenwald) appear eerily similar to what happened in Pakistan these last 70 years (From Hindus to Ahmadis to Shias). If societies are formed on such principles – shifting goalposts appear a natural outcome.

The Strike Series has always had political commentary in the background – but these things hardly got any attention in the first three books. The Second book – The Silkworm is getting panned retrospectively for being Islamophobic after the publication of the 5th book. This seems really funny because Rowling has been fairly active on twitter against what she herself perceives as Islamophobia. Maybe it is her consistent stance when it comes to calling out Corbyn for Labour’s Anti-Semitism that has taken away her brownie points for calling out Anti-Muslim bigotry. Her fourth book of the series was particularly political – as Rowling caricatured both the right and the left equally in the Lethal White. She appeared pretty harsh on Antifa type protestors/activists in the Lethal White. Troubled Blood has certainly got a lot of politics in it. The book references the bloody Partition of India from an Indian POV with references to Suhawarty being complicit in the 1946 carnage. The book also touches Scottish and Welsh nationalism (Rowling a Scot, was a strong Remain in the UK advocate and well as Remain in Europe advocate) and manages to humanize the nationalism of the Scots and the Welsh while critiquing it. However, the strongest political message of this book has to be its argument in favor of the 20th-century Feminism. Both the protagonists are feminist in the older definition of the word, which at times seems to be at odds with the 21st-century feminism. Rowling’s feminism which comes across in the book is much more focused on

  • fighting for female safety from sexual and violent crimes.
  • fighting for female control over reproduction and sex
  • fighting misogyny faced by career-oriented women

Rowling like her protagonist, Robin Ellacott is a survivor for violent and sexual crimes. Her psyche and motivations are mirrored a lot in Robin, which has especially come to the fore in the last three books. Of all the characters Rowling has brought to life, Robin Ellacott is the closest to her- an intelligent and independent feminist who is slightly left of center politically. Rowling like Robin continues to be influenced by the violence faced decades ago. It’s this experience and consequent political priorities that have led Rowling to champion physically safe spaces for women (bathrooms and changing rooms). Western Left must decide which TRENCH they are willing to die in. When most polls show that the overwhelming public is not comfortable with transwomen using women bathrooms, taking a radical stance will be laughable and outright stupid.

From India, at least this debate appears a non-starter in the priorities plaguing India – but that hasn’t prevented Indian Left jumping on the AntiRowling bandwagon on twitter with Varun Grover calling her a Prisoner of Patriarchy. I guess Grover feels he has some stake in the debate after him helping bring Kukoo to life in Sacred Games. Would “Gaitonde being able to transcend Kukoo’s biology for love” be something that’s expected from every heterosexual man or a lesbian woman? According to Rowling and other Gender critical folks, that’s already the case in the west :

However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises,

In this woke world view, even a sexual/physical assault survivor is lower down the oppression hierarchy and hence a TERF as they simply can’t put their own priorities above the rapidly changing commandments of the woke mob. All the prior brownie points Rowling had earned on the left due to her politics, philanthropy, and personal story are annulled when Rowling came out as Gender critical. If a person with as liberal credentials as Rowling can be hounded or canceled like this then I shudder to think what conservatives must be thinking in the west.

By virtue of her previous success and fan following, JK Rowling is a type specimen of what one could call Un-cancellable. But by the avalanche of the attacks she has faced (even from people who owe their careers to her), it is fair to say the position of lesser writers would be extremely tenuous if they choose to be non-conformist. Most of the criticism of Rowling is so stupid and spurious it is not even a classic strawman in my view.

All biological interventions like Breast enlargements, Botox, or Transitioning Sex are not interventions anyone should rush into. Isn’t it fair to raise the point that the Ease with which Sex change is offered to impressionable teenagers is risky? Are these activists sure these teenagers won’t regret these changes which in many cases have a long term effect on one’s body? There has been a lot of research that can make a lot of Woke activists uncomfortable. Should we just sweep that under the rug or make it the elephant in the room? There have been dozens of instances of de- transitioning and a lot more where people continue to regret transition. I expect this debate to continue violently as parents will not want to take chances when it comes to their kids – even under the pressure of the woke people.

This discussion comes to something I discussed with Omar and Mukunda when we talked. For long I have loudly wondered whether it’s Islam the Rock that has broken liberalism as our own Dr. Omar as put so eloquently. Now it seems the Trans-debate and other Woke Dogmas have surpassed the challenge to liberalism posed by Islam. It can even be speculated that the liberal order itself without emphasis on its core tenets was never robust internally and was bound to fail especially after the vacuum left by the withdrawal of religion and nationalism.

Post Script:

I have been a huge fan of JK Rowling for 2 decades. It was her writings that introduced a video game & television addicted 11 year old to the pleasures of the written world. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Rowling has changed the lives of thousands of other kids like me. 

a few links about detransitioning: Link Link Link

 

Open Thread – 09/19/2020 – Brown Pundits

The comments are open(ish).

Finished India in the Persianate Age. This was a much more fluidly written book from Eaton than other stuff I’ve read from him, probably because the Mughal narrative “writes itself.” Recommended.

Probably will take reader advice and focus more on “primary sources” from now on. Though finding good translations is always an issue then…

Also, check out the podcast with Matt Yglesias. And another one with Anand Kadali on hunger in India.

America has been good to immigrants and we should be honest about who we are

Bangladeshi American teens preparing for NYC selective school admissions exam

Since there has been rather persistent confusion about my Unherd piece I will clear up a few things. I am rather tired of talking about it now, as I “said my piece”, but sometimes things need to be done.

First, for many months (years), friends of various backgrounds (brown and non-brown) have been speaking to me of the issue of very self-righteous South Asian American (Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi) “social justice warriors.” There’s nothing wrong as such being a social justice warrior and brown, but, the problem is that these individuals often accrue to themselves the full-weight of colonialism and centuries of oppression to add to their credibility and authority.  The reason I finally punched out the Unherd piece is that an Indian scientist who I am familiar with made a reference to trauma and oppression on Twitter. This resulted in many “likes” and praiseworthy comments. It was a vague and amorphous statement and could mean anything, but the response made it clear that most people took it to be that they were alluding to the weight of colonialism and racism.

The problem I had with this is I know that this individual, a Brahmin raised in India, is from a literally rich family. Rich enough to pay undergraduate American tuition for international students in full. And, rich enough to pay graduate school tuition when otherwise this person would have to take up a teaching assistantship. This is not a person who is well-off in the Indian context. They’re well off in the American context.

This is an extreme case. But it illustrates a more general problem. People who by dint of their brown skin claim to be, or allow people to believe they are, marginalized and oppressed. The vast majority of brown Americans can tell you stories of racial discrimination and prejudice. That is true. But are these experiences determinative in their lives? Does their race define and limit them in a deep and powerful manner?

I would argue not. Today the Americans of brown background are flourishing. Indian Americans in particular are socioeconomically advanced, and now, becoming culturally prominent. Just like their white upper-middle-class peer, Indian Americans are benefiting from the system, and flourishing within it. Their realized outcomes are very different from African and Latino Americans. Some of the same is also applicable to poorer newer ethnic groups, such as Bangladeshis, who begin much lower on the socioeconomic ladder but are placing their children into elite public schools like Stuyvesant.

Second, selective immigration from India has resulted in a very atypical Diaspora. Many who responded to my piece argue that selective immigration is the whole story, so why bring caste into it? Because the criteria used have skewed the India Amerian community in a way where it is not representative of India at all. I am personally not bothered by this. But again, when issues such as caste oppression come up in the USA, non-Indians may not realize when talking to Indian Americans that they will almost never interact with a Dalit, who are 15% of India’s population (one could argue that except for Gujarat the “Cow Belt” is also totally underrepresented due to the way immigration has worked). Many Brahmin Indian Americans I know are vociferously against caste (sincerely, and in their actions!). But to me, this is a laudable idealism, not something that comes out of historical brutality, because their ancestors were willing executors of the system. In this way, they are like upper-class white people who wish for a more egalitarian economic system. Their views are sincere, but it comes from idealism, not trauma.

As a brown person from Bangladesh people who knew where I was from would always make assumptions about my background, as Bangladesh was the byword for incredible poverty for the second half of the 20th century. Those that did not know my family was of professional background would ask naive questions, such as “did you grow up in a hut?” I found it amusing, but I did make it clear that I couldn’t personally speak to the poverty and deprivation which were such serious concerns for everyone about the country of my birth. In Bangladesh, I was a very privileged person. In my day to day life in the USA, this was irrelevant, but I wasn’t going to go around speaking with authority about how horrible grinding Third World poverty was. It was just in many ways just as abstract for me as it was for my white classmates. Honestly, if I did grow up in a hut I’d probably brag about it since it would make my Horatio Alger story so much more inspiring.

Overall, the point of the piece is that when you make identity so important to the content of someone’s arguments and the force of their views, it creates a massive incentive for individuals to cultivate and shade their identity to add credibility. Ergo, a Nigerian American whose family is wealthy from brutal oil extraction which results in human rights violations and crimes in their ancestral homeland will likely not expose this fact when castigating a middle-class white American about their “white skin privilege.”

Brown American should just accept what they are in the main: a relatively privileged people from whom America works, who have to deal with some incidents of racism in their lives.

About Brahmin Privilege: Education, Brits and Chitpavans

This post is result of some comments in the Open thread in response to Razib’s piece in Unherd. While i agree with core of Razib’s argument & and some comments, i feel there isnt enough nuance about Brahmin privilege that comes out in discussion these days. Some assertions of comparing Brahmins to White slave-owners  are too simplistic and even terribly wrong. (I dont imply Razib or others on BP made those)

The problem with simplistic narrative of Brahmin “privilege” is that it focuses on caste as a privilege while not focusing on concrete privileges which are often correlated with Varna in India. Following are the salient privileges of Indian public life

  • WEALTH including Lands – Moderately correlated with caste but with some mismatch. Most Brahmins who had lands, lost them in the Land reforms of 20th century though. (even though one supports the land reforms in principle the confiscation of land cannot be brushed aside)
  • EDUCATION – highly correlated with caste ; Brahmins score considerably higher on educational parameters for centuries. This post focuses on Education as a historic and inherited privilege.
  • CONNECTIONS – related to politics – here ordinary Brahmins aren’t necessary up in the top percentile.
  • URBAN BACKGROUND – (more Brahmins/UC are urban dweller though some continue living in rural backgrounds).
  • GENDER.

This post focuses on Educational attainments of Brahmins (particularly Chitpavans) in Pune region. The quotes and tables are from a booklet A survey of the Chitpavan Community in the pre colonial state

For the British, Education was an instrument of efficient colonization as seen from the words of Sir Erskine Perry,  the Governor of Bombay Province subsequent to Lord Elphinstone. He maintained

“Only the higher castes should be educated because of the limited facilities, therefore only limited members could be educated. These higher castes through their natural influence would affect an elevation of mental and moral condition of the masses. Four groups were identified under this category of high castes the military and administrative class of Landowners, Jagirdars, Chieftains, petty nobility and feudatories, wealthy traders and other commercial men; government employees; and Brahmins and other
higher writer castes”.’

The Maratha empire employed a number of upper castes (Brahmins, Kayasthas and some Marathas) in positions of administration and accounting. On arrival, the Brits picked these up as administrators, teachers, clerks etc. The literacy of the males of these subcastes in Bombay presidency was extremely high. Chitapavan males in a Pune Taluka are reported to have 90% literacy in late 19th century as compared to 11.9% in average males. This extreme bias cannot be explained without the Peshwai & the privileges the Chitpavans enjoyed because of it. 

A variety of education institutes like Maharashtra education society, Deccan Education society started in Pune in the 19th century. Brahmins were the prime movers as well as the overwhelming beneficiaries of these institutions. Lets see a few examples:

Reports of the Poona Native Institution published from 1881 to 1933.

The data from Deccan Education society started by Tilak and Agarkar isnt much different. The report quotes

The annual report published in 1883 acknowledges the preponderence of brahmins amongst the students as well. “The characteristic feature of the school is that the largest number of boys belong to the higher and intelligent classes of the community.’When deposing before the Hunter Commission Annual Report of 1883,Deccan Education Society,Poona,1884 on Education, the representative of the society acknowledged that only 17 out of 582
students were nonbrahmin.

Lokmanya Tilak, the freedom fighter and founder of DES had this to say

Englishmen are and were averse to imparting any knowledge of a practical nature to subject races, they found that philosophy and theoretical science were  the safest subjects. It is hopeless to expect the artisan or the agriculturist to evince an interest in a form of education so far removed from his way of life, i.e is profession decided on the basis of caste for thousands of years. It is we think beyond the power of a dozen Educational Directors of the type of Mr. Lee Warner with all the encouragement by way of free studentships and scholarships which they can command, to infuse a love of western learning into the hearts of men who find themselves better off without knowing anything that our schools and colleges teach, than with it. If the brahmin under all kinds of difficulties strives to surpass his brethren of lower castes in intellectual attainments and tries to take up all the advantages and honours and emoluments to which these attainments qualify him, it is owing to the fact that the very traditions and obligations of his caste and the predispositions and capacities of his mind lead him in that direction. The very spirit of the caste system, the precarious conditions of life under a foreign rule, the indolent characteristic of the tropical world and the spirit of contentment infused into the heart of the Hindu by his religious faith all contribute towards the position of the Brahmin

My Two Cents:

Its fair to say that being born a Brahmin in India distinguishes you as a recipient of certain privileges. However we cant firmly gauge today how much those privileges

  • are the indirect result of ChaturVarna
  • are the result of amplification by the British (for their own colonial ends)
  • are direct result of active oppression of the subalterns
  • or something else entirely

While granting that these privileges exist and shape Indian life considerably, one mustn’t fall into the trap of seeing Brahmin privilege as the overwhelming or even the most consequential privilege of Indian society. Instances like the 1948 Anti Brahmin riots – typically underplayed in the Brahmin privilege narratives are still fresh in mind of thousands. Anti Brahmin rhetoric by political parties like NCP, DMK though not as viscous as rhetoric against some other communities is nonetheless non trivial.

There are and have been many other forces of nature and economy at work for centuries though it is fair to assume that these forces interacted with caste & varna.