news Wednesday, December 24, 2014 - 05:30
Sameera Ahmed | The News Minute | December 23, 2014 | 06.14 pm IST In a recent blog titled ‘The Angst of the Tamil Brahmin: Live and let live’, the writer Badri Seshadri, presumably a Tamil Brahmin by caste, lashes out against the Dravidian political order for what he believes to be political and social marginalization of the Tamil Brahmin community in the state of Tamil Nadu. While Seshadri, in the end, only asks that the ‘political hate narrative in Tamil Nadu’ should change, his arguments are a regular lament of the middle class Brahmin families in Mylapore. On the face of available facts, it is indeed hard to deny the political marginalization of Brahmins in Tamil Nadu. Today, the highest class by social order remains completely unrepresented electorally. Not even one among the 234 MLAs in Tamil Nadu Assembly is a Brahmin. The AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa has Brahminical roots, although her political success has been on the back of the Dravidian movement.  According to figures provided by the Thamizhnadu Brahmin Association, Brahmins were about 7% of the state’s population in 1950, which is down to 5.75% today. Recently a data-analysis by The Hindu showed that while Muslims make up 8 per cent of the population of BJP-ruled states, they account for less than 2 per cent of MLAs. A similar analysis of electoral representation of Brahmins in the Dravidian state is far less likely to whip out the same level of outrage that the story by The Hindu did. The anti-Brahmin political climate, however, hasn’t stopped some Brahmins from trying to create a political space for themselves. In 2010, the Thamizhnadu Brahmin Association, which has 500 branches in 32 districts in the state demanded representation for Brahmins in the TN Legislative Assembly.The Association’s president N Narayanan had even planned to launch a political party, the Makkal Desiya Jananayaka Katchi representing the Brahmin community. Anti-caste activists however are quite open in stating that Brahmins have no claim to political representation. “They constitute a minority in the population. There are no grounds for such claims,” says Marx, a Dravidian ideologue based in Chennai. While it is hard to deny or justify the evident political marginalization of a supposedly powerful caste, the social impact of the lack of political representation is up for debate. A narrative of victimhood is often woven around the Brahmin community in Tamil Nadu. According to Narayanan, the State President of Thamizhnadu Brahmin Association, 5% of the community lives below the poverty line, 10% are poor and 25% are from the lower middle class. As Seshadri points out, it is a distant dream for anyone from the community to land a medical seat in government colleges. But prominent voices from within the community also deny economic suppression. “Dravidianism succeeded politically, but I don’t agree that Brahmins are under some sort of stress or economic subjugation,” says MR Venkatesh, a notable Chartered Accountant and columnist based in Chennai. “At the ground level, there has not been much impact. Certain branches have been left out by the community, but the reel has come full circle, we have moved on to other things,” he says, refusing to accept that Brahmins were not given an equal opportunity in the education sector. The system of ‘reservations’ in educational institutions in Tamil Nadu has however been widely contested. Tamil Nadu has 69% caste-based reservations in the education sector, the highest for any state in India. It is also the only state in India which refuses to implement the ‘creamy layer’ rule, which aims to prevent economically well-off members of backward castes from seeking seats reserved for poorer members of their community. “The government abides by the Supreme Court on the Mullaperiyar issue, the Kaveri issue. But when it comes to reservation, they don’t follow the SC orders,” said Narayanan animatedly, referring to a 2006 notice sent by the Supreme Court to the Tamil Nadu state government asking why the state has not implemented the ‘creamy layer’ rule. While powerful Other Backward Castes (OBC) communities have been able to wrest political control from the upper castes, the most backward of all communities, the Dalits, continue to be subjugated and oppressed. The 2011 Census revealed that Tamil Nadu was the third largest state in Dalit population at 7.2 per cent. For political parties representing Dalits, like the Viduthalai Chirathugal Katchi, the OBCs have become the main political opponents, even as anti-Brahminism continues to be a part of their political discourse. “Both brahmins and OBCs are trying to claim victimhood from the victims. Both are not victims of society,” says VCK former MLA Ravikumar, a strong advocate for Dalit rights. But at the heart of caste-politics in Tamil Nadu lies the story of the spectacular failure of the Dravidian movement to create an egalitarian society. The Self-Respect Movement started by Periyar encouraged backward castes to maintain “self-respect” in a caste-dominated society where hierarchy played utmost importance. Tamil Brahmins, the class that occupied the highest slot in the hierarchy, then was considered responsible for the backwardness of the oppressed classes.  But what started out as a clarion call to end the repulsive system of caste soon transformed into a self-serving movement to usurp political power. As PratapBhanu Mehta says in his seminal 2003 essay, The Burden of Democracy, “…we have arguably never had anti-caste politics. What we have witnessed in the decades since Independence is anti-upper caste politics.” In fact, Dravidian politics further faltered by failing some of its own stalwarts who had realized that the movement was headed in the wrong direction. In 1949, when CN Annadurai decided to break away from the DravidarKazhagam to form the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, he explained to his comrades that the party could no longer just represent the Dravidian castes, but also Brahmins, Muslims and Christians who live in Tamil Nadu. Anna vouched for an inclusive brand of politics. As he explained the choice of the party’s name, he told his followers,“When we say DravidarMunnetraKazhagam (instead of DravidaMunnetraKazhagam), it introduces the prohibition that only Dravidians can be its members… To add the proviso that only Dravidians can live on such a Dravidian soil in narrow-mindedness… We should work with the broad perspective that Dravidam can live here and so too Aryan, Christians and Muslims… Unlike the DravidarKazhagam, which fought only for racial welfare, we have to struggle on the basis of geography for the good of the entire ‘Dravidam’." (Translations from Anna: The Life and Times of CN Annadurai, by R Kannan) This idealism which once symbolized the Dravidian movement is now in shambles. DMK Chief Karunanidhi continues to propagate a narrative of hatred against Brahmins, which is often laughable. The DMK supremo has blamed the 'threaded brahminical class' for his loss in elections, the fallout of the 2g scam and even the allegations of the stronghold his family over Tamil film industry. At the same time, the party has continued to pay lip-service to the Dalits even as tensions simmer between the Dalits and OBCs. With the upper caste deserting the Tamil community for fancy careers abroad, and the Dalits still facing severe oppression by the all-powerful and politically strong OBC communities, it is upon the existing Dravidian political class to pay heed to the words of Anna and create an inclusive political climate in the state. Who know, a new, inclusive brand of Dravidian politics which respects caste-minorities could even show the DMK a way out of it's present quandry. The elite Brahmins have no reason to claim victimhood in the state economically. Socially, however discrimination remains as much for the lower downtrodden as it does for the upper so-called ‘elite’. Taking into consideration the wrestle of power between themselves, the OBCs and the Dalits, there is a large shift in caste-dynamics slowly making its presence felt in society. Tweet
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