By U. Mahesh Prabhu
The Great Uprising of 1857 unnerved the British, though for a while. Within two or three years of quelling it, and with great ferocity, they set to work putting together a version of the incident that would suit their ends. ‘The uprising was confined to just a few pockets’, they said, adding, ‘it erupted as a result of local misunderstandings’, and that ‘there was no national sentiment behind it for the leaders themselves fought only for their feudal privileges—one because her son was not being recognized, another because his pension was being stopped, and so on.’ This version was believed to be the true narration of the incident for so long that it even finds mention in Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’!
The British did not stop at rewriting history books. They initiated a series of real politick measures. As Brahmins had provided the ideological leaven for the uprising, the campaign of calumny against them was redoubled. They started their propaganda against the Brahmins and an era of anti-Brahmanism began which lives on till date.
Though the British just gave a boost to such sentiments, they were not the beginners of the legacy. In the book ‘Diwan-i-Salman’, Khwaja Masud bin Sa’d bin Salman wrote of the Battle of Jalandhar (Punjab) thus: ‘The narrative of any battle eclipses the stories of Rustam and Isfandiyar. By morning meal, not one soldier, not one Brahmin remained alive or free. Their heads were levelled to the ground with flaming fire. Thou have secured the victory to the country and to religion, for amongst the Hindus this achievement will be remembered till the day of resurrection.’
In Mughal times, Sheikh Ahmad (Mujaddid) of Sirhind wrote a letter to Mirza Darab excerpts of which read thus: ‘Hindu Brahmans and Greek philosophers have spent a lot of time on religion. Since their efforts were not according to the Shariat of the prophet, they were all fools. They will remain devoid of salvation.’
According to the Tawarikh Firishta, Firoz Shah Bahmani (circa 1398-99), kidnapped 2,000 Brahman women, who were later freed by Raja Devaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire.
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 Brahman 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 Brahmans. ‘But, after they objected, he put to death all above the age of seventeen.’
Rev. C. Buchanan said Indians should be baptized because ‘it attaches the governed to the governors.’ They thought that Brahmans came in the way of their dream of a baptized India. They started blackening and discrediting them. A brochure called ‘The Book of Wisdom’ with 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 Brahmans’. The brochure promises hell for heathens and salvation through Christ.
The British administration found Brahmans to be the only ‘national’ caste, held in much respect and capable of providing political leadership. They fomented anti-Brahman 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-Brahmanism 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.
Brahmans began to be described as ‘cunning, parasitic, exploiters and authors of the iniquitous caste system’. A lot of scholarship and intellectual labour was put into this thesis before it acquired its present momentum and currency. Anti-Brahmanism 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 Brahmans, their target is unmistakably Hinduism.
Even in the freedom struggle, the contribution of Brahmans under the leadership of the Mahatma was enormous. A great percentage of his followers were Brahmans and hence, the country owes quiet a lot to them, and they certainly deserved special privileges. But when freedom was attained, their services were quickly forgotten. In the name of empowering the lower caste, their right to a fair chance in education, service, and so many other things, was snatched away.
There is no credible testimony to the fact that Brahmins ever opposed upliftment of the lower caste, yet the government, for the sake of ‘strengthening the weak’, in every sense, weakened the strong. Today, the situation is such that Brahmans have been practically deprived and made to suffer in the same way as the Dalits were ‘made to suffer’.
There are 50 ‘sulabh shauchalayas’ (public toilets) in Delhi; all of them are cleaned and looked after by Brahmans (this much-needed public institution was started by a Brahman). A far cry from the elitist image that Brahmans have! There are five to six Brahmans manning each toilet. They came to Delhi eight to ten years ago looking for a source of income, as they were a minority in most of their villages, where Dalits constitute the majority (60 to 65 per cent). In most villages in UP and Bihar, Dalits have a union which helps them secure jobs.
Did you know that you also stumble upon a number of Brahmans working as coolies at Delhi’s railway stations? One of them, Kripa Shankar Sharma, says that though his daughter is doing her graduation in science, he is not sure if she will secure a job. ‘Dalits often have five to six children, but they are confident of getting them placed easily and well,’ he says. As a result, the Dalit population in villages is increasing. He adds, ‘Dalits are provided with housing, even their pigs have spaces; whereas there is no provision for ‘gaushalas’ (cowsheds) for the cows of the Brahmans’.
This reverse discrimination is also found in bureaucracy and politics. Most of the intellectual Brahman Tamil class has emigrated outside Tamil Nadu. Only 5 seats from the 600 in the combined UP and Bihar assemblies are held by Brahmans—the rest are in the hands of the Yadavs. At least 400,000 Brahmans of the Kashmir valley, the once respected Kashmiri Pandits, now live as refugees in their own country, sometimes in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi in appalling conditions. But who gives a damn about them? This is all simply because their vote bank is negligible.
At Tamil Nadu’s Ranganathaswamy Temple, a priest’s monthly salary is Rs 300 (as per the Census Department findings) and a daily allowance of one measure of rice. The government staff at the same temple receive Rs 2,500 and above every month. But these facts have not modified the priests’ reputation as ‘haves’ and as ‘exploiters’. The destitution of Hindu priests has moved none, not even the parties sympathetic to Hindus.
The Indian government gives Rs 1,000 crores (Rs 10 billion) in salaries for ‘imams’ in mosques and Rs 200 crores (Rs 2 billion) as Haj subsidies. But no such help is available to the Brahmans and the upper castes. As a result, not only the Brahmans, but also some of the other upper castes are suffering in silence today, seeing the minorities slowly taking control of their majority.
Even after so many years of persecution by invaders and their own countrymen, Brahmans still continue to suffer in silence and yet, contribute in a very positive way to this land. Not a day has ever been recorded in history when Brahmans, anywhere in this land, have resorted to arms.
There are incredible success stories attributed to them. Had there been no Brahmans, the IT sector of India, in which the media and government take pride, would not have existed. There are so many industrialists, academicians, journalists, engineers, and doctors, who continue to contribute to this land by trying to forget their deprivation.
In light of this, I wish to ask my Muslim brethren as to what they are complaining about. Can they complain of more atrocities than the Brahmans? Everyone has had their share of bad luck. I am a Brahman, but I hold no prejudice against Muslims or Christians for they are my countrymen today. I always say ‘we have issues to resolve’ and not ‘scores to settle’.
Yet, whenever I try to expose the negations and false concoctions of Muslim and Christian intellectuals I am easily branded a ‘fanatic’, ‘fundamentalist’ and what not.
The point I wish to wish to make here is simple. If Brahmans, after facing so much opposition from everyone including those of their own faith, can keep up their courage, write stories of passion, and contribute proactively, without brooding over their plight, then it is certainly possible for the Muslims to do so provided they come to terms with modern world dynamics and shun violence in all forms and types.
Note: Most of the statistical data is from Francois Gautier’s column ‘Are Brahmans the Dalits of today?’
Author is co-founder and editor-in-chief of upcoming apolitical and illustrated family magazine ‘Folks’ (http://www.folksone.com) and a fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London (UK).