Had a small debate with a faculty of Management in Manipal on caste, the Vishwakarma community in specific, which took me back to a mail i had written to my friend Shobha after she shared a blogpost of Rahul Pandita titled ‘A Brahmin Heart’ with me. Here i post the entire mail:
Rahul Pandit may be correct in his opinions on Binayak Sen, CRPF, Maoists etc but his take off point itself appears flawed. When people ask “Why are you doing this?” the question comes from a statist mind and not with a hidden expectation that only a Dalit, JNU passed jhola fellow or a leftist needs to do it. If he can’t understand such simple psyche of the larger population, which thinks Nation is mother, Nation is God etc etc (which makes them feel offended when someone takes a soft stand on Maoists who declare a war on the nation) and takes that as his spring board to kiddish arguments about Brahminism, i can only pity him.
He was displaced by Islam terrorism. Sad. Very sad. I condemn. But how does this feeling of displacement gets translated into a pride for Brahminism? In a system which is oppressive, crying slogans about one oppression and feeling proud about another oppressive group is no progressive-ism. It is utter regressive-ness and display of stupidity and half baked understanding of the world in which one lives. I have no issues with he not eating meat on Tuesdays and wearing the so called sacred thread, for i know many, including myself, who wear the so called sacred thread as a respect to the emotions of their family. Some of them have casted it off once the emotional burden fell off. In my case it will remain till i can convince my parents in removing it and i am in the process of convincing since nearly ten years now and i hope to convince them sometime soon. That apart, yeah… wearing the so called sacred thread is not much of an issue. The problem is when one wears it on their minds. I think this Rahul Pandit has worn the so called sacred thread on his mind.
Well, now let me tell you about my caste history. I was told, since childhood, that we are brahmins and i was brought up in a typical brahminical set up. You may not believe, Shobha, in my childhood, during holidays, i have served as asst priest, distributing holy water to the devotees. My father happens to be in the forefront of these caste organizations and i would go with him to all their programmes (because there they would serve ‘bajal’- a local soft drink which was very popular those days) and listen to all the speeches. It was sometime when i was in high school that the caste-organization, in which my dad was an active participant, started a gurukul to train the caste-boys in priesthood. Soon, a ‘Mutt’ was established. Out of my curiosity, i asked my dad as to why suddenly they found a need for such a school. Then answer was, “Because the Udupi Brahmins refused to train our boys.” The immediate question was, “So, till now din’t our caste have priests?” The answer to this was, “There were only one or two who went and learned from northern parts of India.” I couldn’t accept the answers. I realised, that Vishwakarma community were not Brahmins. The community, from ages, have been occupied in the profession of smiths, carpenters, architects, idol making (stone) etc which is a working class job. I just couldn’t digest the fact that a working class community was a brahmin.
When i came to my calss 12 in our sociology we had to learn about Sankritization. The theory was formulated by one M.N. Shrinivas and his case study was that of Vishwakarma community. He says that in history there have been many communities, like Vishwakarmas, which though not from an upper caste, follow the upper catse way of life and rituals in order to enhance their social status. (it is a totally different fact that no brahmins or non-brahmins saw them as brahmins just because they followed the brahminical rituals) I had a theoretical background now. So i started arguing with my dad and my dad started saying that M.N.S. has been proved wrong long ago, for it is a well known fact that to sculpt the idols of the god and do the temple architecture one needs to know the vedas etc etc so one had to be a brahmin. Saying this my Dad said, “MN Shrinivas is bogus.”
My dad was partially correct, though not completely. I will tell you why. MNS makes his observations correctly, but doesnt go further and ask, “Why do they imitate?” Earlier i thought, and i still think, that these communities which imitate to gain acceptance by enhancing their status are desperate for being a part of the world. There is a whispering cry and crying whisper in that imitation. MNS doesn’t speak of that and by just documenting his observations has in no way explained the power politics in the structure. Even Vishwakarma community is of the same kind, but there is a small twist here. As Deviprasad Chattopadhyay observes, at one point in Indian civilization the working class and working hands enjoyed great dignity for that was the early stage of civilization when man was still conquering the world and gaining control over the world. But once the caste- structure came into existence knowledge and labour got broke and immediately knowledge gained supremacy over labour. That is when the Vishwakarmas lost their dignity in the society. Here this community seem to have, in an attempt to regain their supremacy, have adopted to some brahminical rituals without leaving their professions. Sadly in the course of history they wore the so called sacred thread on their minds, not juts on their body.
Two years ago the caste organization of which my dad is an active participant organized a seminar ‘The False Theory of M.N. Shrinivas’ and even i was invited to read a paper. My paper was titled ‘Sanskritization as a regressive counter culture’ made people go angry because i not just was showing the limitation of MNS but also arguing in the same breath that Vishwakarmas are not Brahmins. People were annoyed. But i stood my ground. If my dad had not earned so much respect in that circle, i guess i would have been trashed that day. Whatever.
Now my dad himself has started slightly believing in my arguments, but he has believed that he is a Brahmin, in fact a step above Brahmins, that it is getting difficult for him. All i tell him is this: “MNS did injustice to Vishwakarmas but not addressing the issue properly. Fine. A greater injustice is being done by people like you who through the ages have ripped off the community from its own flesh blood and culture to make it wear a Brahmin culture, making the community divorced of its own culture and its own grammer. You have uprooted the Vishwakrma community from its soil.” At times i also tell him that the caste organization is killing community identity by hanging it to the brahmin tree with the so called sacred thread. To this his answer has always been silence.
Well i narrated this entire narrative just to ask this: Now should i, for having been uprooted from my soil, sometime in history, left with no culture of my own, but a borrowed culture of brahmins, take extreme pride in saying i am a Vishwakarma and once upon a time we were the most respected people on this earth and these Brahmins did injustice to us? Or should i engage my entire life in resurrecting the Vishwakarma culture which the brahminical supremacy snatched from the Vishwakarma people? How regressive and stupid that would be. The real thing to be done is de-casting the society.
I know, like Dalits, the community which i belong too has been oppressed throughout history. The community to which i belong to lost everything of its own, in an attempt to regain its supremacy, and gained nothing, not even the dignity for which it yearned. This remains a less spoken part of India cultural history where certain communities got torn apart between two cultures. But there is no point in speaking of it and trying to re-establish it. Any such attempt would only build walls and what we need to build is not walls but bridges. Construction, should have a knowledge of the past, but the eyes or the vision should be focused in the future and not in the past. I guess somewhere Rahul Pandit has to understand this and needs to decaste himself first. Else, with all his progressive stands on developmental issues one would still say “arrey yeh toh Pandit hai” because he is Pandit not in his card but in his mind.
(The mail was written on 7 July 2011, from New Delhi)