I am a Member of the Highest Caste of India, But Here is Why I Want to Throw It All Away

ByHimanil Pandya

I am upset because in my groups list on Facebook has been added the head in the clouds, pseudo-intellectual, “Nagar Caste Surat” to which I unfortunately belong. We are called Vadnagara Brahmin because our caste originated in Vadnagar. It’s a village in Gujarat. As far as I know, my grandfather spent his youth in India then went abroad to Uganda. My father and his siblings spent their school life not in Surat but in Mumbai. Thank God for that. If he had stayed in that environment he would also have been bitten by the virus of perceived upper caste superiority.

My father spent his life first in the army and then in Baroda. So, I also have been lucky to have been insulated from that setup. My first brush with this false notion of Brahmin superiority was during the funeral of my father’s elder brother. He was not a very popular character and rightly so but I expected every real learned person who came to his funeral to if not good at least not speak bad about him. No luck. A couple of relatives came over uninvited and when we had put the body in the oven in the Smashan one of them started abusing him in front of my father and laughing at his own insults (My uncle had a beef with everyone in town). Here I must say that another relative who had similarly been offended by my uncle carried out the last rites and even helped with last minute requirements. The actions of the two relatives of mine are polar opposites of each other.

The learned and wise men which the Vadnagra Nagar Brahmins claim or at least seem to be would have only one reaction. One of my relatives has not behaved according to Nagar Brahmin beliefs. Of course, one reaction can be assumed to be because of the Nagar Brahmin lineage and the other can be dismissed as an aberration but who will decide which the aberration is and which action is standard. An alternate view would be to distance wisdom from ones lineage. Who gave the idea that we are wise and intelligent because we are Nagar Brahmins? Why do we assume that we are all knowing just because we happen to be born in a Nagar Brahmin family? It just sounds so arrogant. Also, are we wise because we are Brahmins or even if we assume for a moment we are wise is it because of the environment which we grew up in? Does ones caste affect ones behaviour and morals or ones upbringing? If the answer is caste than we are assuming that the persons other than in our caste can never be knowledgeable or wise as no matter what they do they cannot change their caste. This is a patently absurd notion and if we concede that Brahmins don’t have a monopoly on wisdom or that wisdom is not the only criteria in judging whether a person is a Brahmin or not then why the arrogance. If upbringing affects ones wisdom and knowledge then should we not strive to improve the environment in which the offspring of those less fortunate grow so they might also acquire the wisdom.

Why can’t we see ourselves as a collection of individuals of whom some are intelligent, some less so, some are more tolerant than others? This propensity to impose a monolith on any group of individuals militates against the diversity of human nature. Also, this imposed monolith is the necessary precursor to the notion of a common creator. Religion is the glue which binds diverse personalities together. Thus, a criminal and a saint are Brahmin as long as they wish everyone Jai Hatkesh. This false oneness is reinforced by the mindless rituals, traditions and superstitions imposed by religion. To summarize we first assume qualities in ourselves which make us superior to our fellow beings and then we put our faith in a common God. Thus, we raise barriers. It’s a sort of monopolization. Many years ago some group of Brahmins (our forefathers) would have gotten together elected their God, decided to greet each other by saying Jai Hatkesh and decided to exclude everyone else. Now, for eternity these select Brahmins and their offspring’s will be assumed to be carriers of knowledge and wisdom. It would be safe to assume the Brahmins would have been least interested in forming a separate group if there were no monetary benefits from their religious activities. The Brahmins could share their knowledge with the sons of kings but not with the sons of lepers. It’s obvious that the sons of kings were allowed because in return the kings would shower expensive gifts on these Brahmins and to save themselves from teaching the sons of lepers these Brahmins came up with the concept of untouchability. Also, sons of kings didn’t become Brahmins as becoming a king was a higher calling than becoming a Brahmin thus; the Brahmin monopoly on their traditions and rituals remained intact. On the other hand the son of a leper would naturally aspire to be a Brahmin so he has to be prevented at all cost to preserve the all-important monopoly.

Later on in the British Raj, the kings lost their power and riches so the Brahmins lost the Kings and they never had the Lepers. Still, the airs of superiority acquired during the times when the kings eulogised them seem to have become a part of the psyche of the Brahmin who just can’t accept that his lie has been caught. Also, hatred for Brahmins in general may also be because of the fact that people realise that they were denied knowledge for centuries to keep them eternally subjugated.