About Brahmin Privilege: Education, Brits and Chitpavans

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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.

 

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The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 3)

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In my previous two posts, I traced the roots of India as a civilization state and proposed a framework which would seek to retain modern India’s classical Anglo-liberal framework but embellish it with Dharmic values. In this third and final post, I will seek to demonstrate how these seemingly contradictory systems could be reconciled in a coherent Anglo-Dharmic liberal conservative framework. I will also analyse Indian domestic and foreign policy from a liberal conservative perspective. Before doing that, it is worth examining how liberal conservatism would deal with the third great tradition that has influenced Indian history: Islam.

The Muslim Question

The ledger of the Nehruvian state’s interactions with and treatment of Indian Muslims is decidedly a mixed bag. On the positive side, it is to the Nehruvian state’s credit that Indian Muslims were able to see themselves as full and equal participants and stakeholders in the Indian Republic. It is easy to underestimate today how difficult and challenging this would have been in the immediate aftermath of the partition and vivisection of India in 1947. It would have been easy to let hatred and vengeance take over in the aftermath of a bloody division. The Congress party under the stewardship of Pandit Nehru ensured that the better angels of our nature prevailed and the Muslims who remained in India were treated with tolerance and compassion. The basic framework of the Indian Constitution, in particular the golden triangle of equality, freedom and liberty, ensured full and equal citizenship and freedom of worship for Indian Muslims. The wisdom and sagacity of the founding fathers of the modern Indian Republic who were the architects of this framework must be applauded.

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Liberalism – A brief history

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Glad to contribute on Brown-pundits

Thought I’d start with an essay I’d written some time back on the history of Liberalism –

I tweet @shrikanth_krish

Liberalism – A Short History

The rise of populist “right wing” movements around the world has caused many commentators to bemoan the decline of the “Liberal world order”.

Notably Lord Meghnad Desai, the British Labour Peer in the House of Lords, wrote in his 2017 book – “Politicshock” –

“Brexit and Trump mark the collapse of the liberal order worldwide, a phenomenon which saw its beginning with Modi’s rise in 2014”

But what was Meghnad talking about? What is this “liberal world order”? It is one of those nice sounding words of modernity that everyone wants to appropriate, but few offer a precise definition. It is a term which is so universally attractive and capacious that individuals who embrace it often range across the political spectrum.

What does it mean? What are its principles? What is its history? How has it evolved over time? What are its limitations? What is its prognosis in the 21st century? And why is it that many pundits are worried about its health all of a sudden in the past couple of years?

Let us first make an attempt to understand what it means. One of the reasons Liberalism is extremely hard to define is because of its immensely complex history and the internal contradictions that do exist among liberals on many fundamental political questions.

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The counterproductive (il)liberalism

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Yesterday I read a piece in Web portal Newslaundry (of which i am a disappointed subscriber). While i agreed with some parts of the argument I found the oversimplification and ideological bias to be very stark and mildly unpalatable. Particularly what struck me was the referring to Yogi Adityanath as Ajay Bisht.

about that time Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Bisht showed up in Karawal Nagar and told a bustling audience that “their ancestors broke this country apart”, meaning Muslims.

Being a reasonable follower of politics I know that Yogi Adityanath was once called Ajay Bisht before he took the name Adityanath as the head of Gorakhpur Muth. The use of name Ajay Bisht is clearly a polemical ploy to get virtual cheers from the people on your side of the debate but what it foolishly ignores IMO is the reverence Hindus in general have for Yogis, Sadhus and Godmen.

The problems of this polemic are twofold:

  • Some people who are uninformed maybe confused by use of name Ajay Bisht. Even a minute incoherence which diverts from the thrust of the argument could be seen as counterproductive.
  • It prejudices minds of readers who are not necessarily partisan but find this un-name calling unpalatable.

In my readings and listenings over the years, the only people who had scornfully referred to un-named religious men have been people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. However one doesn’t need to defend these folks for their consistency as their all out attack on religion is as even handed as humanly possible.

This discussion goes well into the truly sad self goal by the Indian Liberals viz. the Delhi Riots 2020 book launch. One of the arguments for this is made in here. (Again in Newslaundry which to my disappointment is going truly into the Wokesphere). This argument is so lame and so pre-Internet IMO that it doesn’t even bother confronting the real outcome of Bloomsbury de-platforming Delhi Riots 2020 – increased popularity and unnecessary (from liberal pov) martyrdom of the authors. What could’ve been criticized as an one sided and hyperbolic book has become a Free speech issue. And Liberals have ceded a lot of moral ground here. Contrast this with the much more objectively problematic book on 26/11 – RSS ka Shadyantra, 26/11 which did not receive any meaningful criticism from the liberal side despite being the complete PIGSHIT. The book could’ve objectively & legally banned from publishing IMO as it compromised the national position on 26-11 and Pakistan but it wasn’t. The extend to which the RSS opposed that book was that they filed a court complaint and the author/publisher had to apologize – yes its the so called Fascists who take the legal route. The whole outrage over the pulping of Wendy Doniger’s book is put in nice perspective with this incident. The reason I personally endured parts of Doniger’s spurious Freudian extrapolations is because of the noise that book generated. Same will happen with the Delhi Riots 2020 for many non-partisan people.

Some smart liberals have stood up against this virtue signaling masquerading as moral righteousness. Examples – Here and Here  but they have been childishly dismissed by the left as Both-siders between Good and Evil. What is surprising for me is how deracinated some people have become to count this instance as a liberal victory. As if getting plaudits from your own tribe matters as a victory.  But in these polarized echo chambers even a (BOT)tish liberal POV articles by folks like Aakar Patel & Shivam Vij are well received. Lets not even start with how people like Rana Ayyub and Sagarika Ghose earn so much money and fame.

On the whole, based on interactions i have had with Hindutva supporters, most don’t support the extreme narrative espoused in books like Delhi Riots 2020. From a purely reductionist point of view – 40/53 causalities have been Muslim and the overwhelming number of people facing prosecution are also Muslims. Such hard facts are irrefutable even if people on the Right are moderately honest (which most are). However what has enraged most people on the right is the calling of Delhi 2020 riots-  Pogroms or comparing them to Gujarat 2002. Journalists like Rahul Pandita  and even bleeding heart liberals like Rajdeep Sardesai were viciously attacked from the left when they pointed out that both communities had suffered from the riots. If such an atmosphere persists I wouldn’t be surprised if more One sided books like Delhi Riots 2020 are written, published and widely read. Had I been the marketing in-charge of release of Delhi Riots 2020, i couldn’t have come up with a better plan for a wider readership.

What is tragic about these antics is that people on the right are more likely to believe extreme and conspiracy theorist narratives as a natural function of this controversy. But till LIBERALS continue with virtue signaling over readable and nuanced arguments, liberals(like me) are bound to be pushed rightwards.

 

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The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 1)

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I listened with interest to Brown Pundits’ recent podcasts with Gaurav and Tony on the current state of Indian politics. I could relate to some of their agonies and predicaments, although I profoundly disagree with some aspects of Tony’s worldview.  Slapstik’s recent post Indian woke wears saffron also contains some good insights on the nature and roots of the current Hindutva movement. In this post, I have picked on three strands of Slapstik’s argument: the comparison between Hindutva and woke culture, the genesis of the Bhakti movement and the nature of the leadership of the Indian National Congress both before and after independence.

While I share Slapstik’s assessment of the importance of the Bhakti movement, I do not regard the Bhakti movement as a radical rupture from the pre-Islamic Dharmic traditions. I also argue that by only highlighting the role and influence of the liberal modernist elements of the Indian political leadership in the colonial and early post-colonial periods, Slapstik overlooks the equally if not more salient part of the leadership that sought its inspiration from the country’s indigenous Indic heritage. In doing so, I seek to highlight the deep and abiding roots of India’s Dharmic consciousness that is characterised by cultural continuity.

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Paatal Lok – Review

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Kamala Harris embrace of ‘victim identity’ bothers me

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Apparently Kamala Harris was admitted to law school through LEOP:

LEOP offers admission to approximately 50 high-achieving students each year—up to 20 percent of the class—who have experienced major life hurdles, such as educational disadvantage, economic hardship, or disability. The majority are students of color. Besides traditional admissions criteria, such as grades and LSAT scores, the program also considers students’ overall potential and the obstacles they’ve overcome. “These are extraordinary students who have been playing while injured in the game of life, but all they do is win,” McGriff said.

Once students enroll, LEOP supports them throughout their tenure at UC Hastings, offering a weeklong orientation, academic counseling, practice exams, and help preparing for the bar exam and job interviews, among other resources and services.

…. LEOP went on to count many prominent alumni among its ranks, including U.S. Senator Kamala Harris ’89; San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi ’85; Adelmise Warner ’01, chief counsel at Pandora; and Andrew Houston ’07, procurement counsel for the University of California’s Office of the General Counsel.

We know a lot about Kamala Harris’ mother’s family. They are upper-middle-class Tamil Brahmins. Her mother did raise her mostly alone. So she was a single mother. But she was also a Ph.D. biomedical researcher.

Here is a profile about her father, Kamala Harris’s Father, a Footnote in Her Speeches, Is a Prominent Economist:

Dr. Harris was raised in a landowning family on the north coast of Jamaica by a paternal grandmother whom he described as “reserved and stern in look, firm with ‘the strap,’ but capable of the most endearing and genuine acts of love, affection and care.” Reserved and highly intelligent, he was more cut out for academia than activism, contemporaries said.

Basically, on both sides of Harris’ pedigree, there is evidence of sub-elite status. Her utilization of the LEOP program seems to be unfair to students who were genuinely disadvantaged.

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Citizenship Amendment Act – the straw that broke the camel’s back

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Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not  a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.

As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termites at one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).

Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a  better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)

The ACT: 

The instrumental part of the act reads

any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act

While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.

The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).

Objective Reasons for opposing the CAA:

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The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be

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Wagah Border

THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the URI ATTACKS with the aim of bringing some nuance in the increasingly binary discussions of Pakistan. Looking back at it in 2020 there are a few points in the essay I mildly disagree with but on the whole, I stand by my arguments. 


For anyone willing to read a shorter -TL-DR version find the link HERE:

Note: This is not a scholarly analysis of Indo-Pak question but an essay ((*mildly subjective)) on the question with references being presented for most of the essay. 


Every well-read Indian who has thought enough about the India-Pakistan issue will have faced Hamlet’s dilemma — “To be or not to be”. It’s fair to assume that national patience, with everything related to Pakistan, is waning very fast nowadays aided by the explosion of social media. Simply put — most Indians have had enough of this shit for 69 + years (the Idea of Pakistan being older than Pakistan). The leftist solution to the Pakistan problem has always been the Aman ki Asha narrative. The reactionary position of some of the Right-wing is to totally boycott anything related to Pakistan every-time a terrorist attack takes place in India. This position though backed by popular opinion at times like this seems to be no closer to a permanent solution to the problem. To come up with potential solutions for this problem, we need to discuss both these approaches and we also need to dig deep into the Nation-state of Pakistan.

 

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