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Are Brahmins the new Dalits in India?

Cross-posting my entry on Sulekha Blogs here:

Francois Gautier has once again raised questions that are bound to be uncomfortable to those among us who harp on 'centuries old oppression of the downtrodden in India'. In a hard hitting article on Rediff, Gautier reveals that most of the Sulabh Sauchalayas (public toilets) in Delhi are manned by the so-called upper caste, priestly class Brahmins.

Also, that 55% of Brahmins in India live below the official poverty line. And according to a study done in Andhra Pradesh, a very large percentage of the State's Brahmins are employed as domestic servants.

And more such damning statistics. Why damning ? Because, it seems to be that during the 5o years of its implementation, the reservation policy has created one creamy layer, but has added more people to the 'Dalit' category. More over, these Brahmins, who are the new Dalits, have no chance of ever being considered for any reservations.

This reminds me. During the Mandal agitation of the 80's, there was a Letter to the Editor in The Hindu daily. The letter writer quoted the Mandal Commission, which seemed to have listed the 'Vaidiki Brahmins' of Andhra Pradesh (especially the Coastal districts) as a community that should be added to the BC list. I am sure this is one aspect of the Mandal Commission that will never see the light :-)

The traditional occupation for the Vaidiki sect among Andhra Brahmins is priesthood in Hindu temples. And their pay is less than what is earned by sweepers in Municipalities. However, in a recent Act passed by the State Assembly (even Tamil Nadu) has passed this Act, people from any caste can be appointed as priests. Fine. So, I guess there will be around 50% reserved positions here as well. In a way, these legislative Acts are symbolically nailing the last coffin in the much maligned caste system. So, if all vestiges of caste system are thus eliminated, is it fait to still call these Brahmins as 'upper castes'?

After reading Gautier's article, I tried to think of evidence that would contradict his thesis that Brahmins are the new Dalits. In my home state of Andhra Pradesh and in the neighbouring States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, many lower middle class Brahmin families made the transition to middle class and in some cases, even upper middle class, thanks to the IT revolution. Another favorite occupation for Brahmins seems to be teaching. Even though all Govt teaching posts have 49.5% reservation, most Brahmin youth seem to be able to get these jobs by combining merit with bribes. (It is an open secret that a Govt primary school teaching job can be had with political recommendation plus Rs. 1 lakh bribe or even less at times). In the past couple of decades, another job - that of Sales Representative- has also seen increasing number of Brahmin youth gravitate towards. Typically, these sales rep jobs in small towns require a basic graduation, and communication skills. And not only are these jobs not reserved as they are in the private sector, the SCs, STs, BC-Bs etc. do not seem to be interested in these jobs. These jobs involve a lot of physical hard work (walk several miles a day, get stressed out if targets are not met, work weekends most of the time), and if one would get a Govt desk job through reservations, and live in Govt funded hostels till one gets a job, why would one want to join as a sales rep?

So, I don't think Gautier is right when he says that most of the Brahmins are living below poverty line. Probably only the rural Brahmins, with no land, no jobs and have migrated to the towns and cities, are below this poverty line. It will be hard to know how many millions of them are there.

In essence, it looks like irrespective of caste and provision or lack of reservation, if a person is living in an urban area, he/she is more likely to live above the poverty line and also not be discriminated against because of his caste. And irrespective of a person's caste, if he/she is living in a rural area with not many job opportunities, it is likely that just getting above the poverty line would be a challenge.

Looks like the composition of 'Dalit' category may change in the next couple of decades. I will not be surprised if 20 years from now, Christian missionaries start targeting rural, semi urban poor brahmins for conversion, in a more focused manner than they are doing now.


Nara said…
Came to this blog from Sepia Mutiny. Excelent work here. I will bookmark this blog.
Kumar Narasimha said…
Thank you, Nara. You are the first peson to ever leave a comment on my blog :-)

Have a nice day.
Anonymous said…
Kumar: I read your comment on another blog. Really interested in your views re. concepts of nerd/geek in India. I am a psychology professor doing research on concepts of nerds/geeks in other cultures. Any thoughts/resources? I have to admit I am not very blog-savvy and don't know how (or if you wish) to contact you directly via e-mail.
Reply here? Thanks. David
Kumar Narasimha said…
Hi Anon,

Please mail me on:narasimhakumar at gmail dot com.