Author: Utpal Kumar
India is a complex nation. Sir Vidia Naipaul realised this after his multiple visits. When he first came to the land of his forefathers in the early 1960s, he was appalled at the overwhelming sight of filth, poverty and lack of basic hygiene all across. It was “an area of darkness” for him, with no scope for redemption. Decades later when Naipaul visited the subcontinent again, he was much more forgiving. He was ready to scratch the deadwood of the old civilisational body ravaged by centuries of depredation, destruction and deprivation. He could comprehend the mind of India, bursting and bubbling with ideas that would at times seem irrational and nihilistic but still active and awake. India was witnessing “a million mutinies”.
Of the many fault lines across the country, Naipaul’s exploration of the “Little Wars” in Tamil Nadu was a tragic saga of how one of the oldest and richest cultures of the Indic civilisation was allowed to be undermined, ravaged and even attempted to be uprooted in the name of Brahminism. Without denying the excesses of the caste system, the fact remains that most campaigns against Brahminism were organised and orchestrated by those inimical to Hinduism per se: A Brahmin was targeted because he was seen as a symbol of a civilisational Bharat. The missionaries attacked him because he was regarded as the biggest hurdle in winning “India for the Christ”, a fact attested by Abbe JA Dubois in Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. The British saw him as a unifying force of nationalism rising against colonial rule. Worse, post-Independence, the Left joined the forces to villanise him, for he was seen as the spiritual/religious/intellectual fountainhead against the Godless communist diatribe.
While Brahmin atrocities are among the most widely studied phenomenon, atrocities on Brahmins remain one of the best-kept secrets in post-Independence India. Not much is recorded on how Brahmins faced institutional/societal persecution in Tamil Nadu after 1967 when the DMK came to power. As a young Tamil Brahmin confessed to Naipaul, it was “not easy for Brahmin boys nowadays”. They were mocked at schools and colleges, faced discrimination in job opportunities, and were incessantly ridiculed by ‘rationalists’ in every walk of life. Overnight, with the government appropriating temple property and resources, a Brahmin was reduced to being “simply the conductors of rituals, the purohits, and certainly there was impoverishment”.
A temple in south India, however, wasn’t just about worshipping. It was more of a socio-economic institution, simultaneously running its own schools and hospitals, and building dams and granaries for adjoining villages. A temple was also the patrons of arts. So, the state takeover of temples in the name of Brahminism threatened to not just destroy the traditional hold of Hinduism over the masses, but also impoverished the society at large, making it overtly dependent on the mai-baap state for everything. It changed the dynamics of Hindu society vis-à-vis state: In the past, society would be an autonomous body running its own socio-economic-cultural affairs, with sporadic state interventions during emergency situations. In the name of fighting Brahmanism, Hindu society was weakened, turned parasitic and made to habitually look state-ward for help and assistance. First British (read Dharampal’s The Beautiful Tree for the British role) and then our own states inflicted with the virus of coloniality sucked dynamism and entrepreneurship out of Hindu society.
Brahmanism, thus, was an excuse. One can understand the nature of anti-Brahmanism in Tamil Nadu — which Naipaul says was a movement of the middle castes, and not all non-Brahmin castes — from the fact that it offered no protection to lower castes. In fact, some of the most brutal attacks on the Scheduled Castes took place post-1967 during the DMK regime. In 1969, for instance, 40 Harijans were burnt alive by Thevars, a powerful middle caste. A similar pattern can be seen in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where Dalits often find themselves at the receiving end of Yadavs’ fury.
So, what did Tamil Brahmins do? They just moved on, without any fight back. This tendency of ‘moving on’ has been a typical Hindu phenomenon, especially among Brahmins. They don’t get stuck in a quagmire, they build an alternative universe and try to restart a new life. Which is not a bad thing for self-sustenance. Moving on may be good, but forgetting is not. After all, as the saying goes, “Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.”
It is this tendency to move on and restart life silently that has ensured the atrocities on Brahmins remain the least known phenomenon. Even the organised killings of Brahmins, especially in Maharashtra, after the assassination of MK Gandhi are confined to the realm of speculations. How many people died? No one knows for sure. How much property was destroyed by the arsonists? Again, there are no definite answers.
It’s pure luck that American scholar Maureen LP Patterson thought of researching on the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder on the Maharashtrian Brahmins, especially the Chitpavans, to which sub-caste Godse and Savarkar belonged. It was sheer coincidence that PL Inamdar, lawyer of DS Parchure, one of the accused in the 1948-49 Red Fort Trial, thought to pen down his memoirs. And Congress chief minister of Central Province decided to validate his devotion for Gandhi when he made grandiose claims in his book about how he facilitated the persecution of the Brahmins soon after the assassination.
Had there been no such accidental documentations, the 1948 Brahmin pogrom would have remained hidden in the dark. Incidentally, while Indian press was silent about these killings following the Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948, The New York Times, a day later, while quoting The Associated Press, reported that “15 people were killed and more than 50 injured before an uneasy peace was established” in Bombay. This was just Day 1 of the pogrom and covered Bombay alone!
According to Patterson, the anti-Brahmin riots began in Bombay, Pune and Nagpur, and then spread to Maratha strongholds of Satara, Belgaum and Kolhapur. Initially, it was spontaneous, where Chitpavans and those with Godse surnames were targeted, but later other Brahmin sub-castes and surnames were attacked too, with active connivance, support and participation of Congress leaders who exploited the age-old Maratha anger (at the Peshwas sidelining the descendants of Shivaji) to push their political agenda. Caste and politics joined hands to unleash independent India’s first pogrom — and in this ruling Congress, just like in 1984, played the dubious role of both assisting as well as assembling and even leading the rioters.
Exposing the Congress’ dirty hands, Patterson mentioned how lorries reportedly owned by a leading Maratha Congressman took the protestors to “Brahman [sic] wards”. In February 1948, one thousand of their houses were officially burnt down, and an unspecified number were killed… one family with Godse surname reportedly lost three male members, she said.
More disconcerting was the role of the then Congress chief minister of Central Province, Dwarka Prasad Mishra, who in his memoirs unwittingly exposed the Congress’ role in the entire episode. While explaining how Brahmins were being attacked and their homes and hearths set on fire, he conceded that “those who indulged in these unlawful activities also included a large number of Congressmen belonging to non-Brahman (sic) communities”. In fact, in Nagpur and Berar the troublemakers were mostly Congressmen, some being even office bearers of the various Congress committees, he informed. “Among those arrested by the police, there were more than a hundred Congressmen and I was immediately subjected to pressure for their release,” Mishra wrote boastfully.
One can comprehend the gravity of the situation from the fact that even someone of the stature of Veer Savarkar could be saved from bodily harm only with police intervention. His brother, Narayanrao Savarkar, however, wasn’t that lucky and was hit with stones and mortars till he fell down. He was later admitted to a hospital with severe head injuries.
Such was the Congress’ role in aggravating violence against Brahmins that even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel expressed his anger at the manner in which the situation was allowed to deteriorate. In his letter dated 5 June 1948, he wrote to Bombay chief minister BG Kher, saying the “fear of further reprisals by perpetrators of evil and wrong-doers can hardly be a justification for treating such wrong-doers with leniency… Such things are done under a spirit of mass hysteria, and leniency shown at one time is soon forgotten, more particularly it is ignored when the scene of another mass hysteria sets in.”
The Brahmins of Maharashtra, like their Tamil counterparts, deserted their homes and hearths and decided to move on and move into safer environs of cities like Bombay and Poona. It helped them cope with the crisis. It helped them restart life again. But it also kept their plight undercover.
They continue to face prejudice and intolerance, especially in Tamil Nadu where discrimination has been institutionalised in the name of fake Aryan versus Dravidian binary. The notorious colonial myth of the Aryan invasion, which was later appropriated wholeheartedly by communists, has long been debunked intellectually. But politically, it remains a force to reckon with down south.
Brahmins are the new Dalits. And in the season of The Kashmir Files, they too need a ‘File’ of their own. For the sake of justice and fair play. For humanity. And of course for the sake of history.
Souce: The Brahmin Files: Why atrocities on Brahmins remain one of the best-kept secrets in independent India (firstpost.com) by author Utpal Kumar. Title changed.
Image sourced from internet.
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