The Padma Shri award has been announced for Garikapati Narasimha Rao in the category of literature. Garikapati is famous in the upper caste Telugu sphere for his Hindu discourses (pravachanam) on mythological texts such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Vedas. In these discourses, Garikapati often draws lessons from these mythological texts for contemporary society. Through this act, he offers perspectives and opinions on contemporary politics. As he himself confessed to a TV channel, though the category is literature, it is his â€śworkâ€ť on devotional discourses that has become famous, and the award is for this.
His technique is to frame the Brahmanical ideology as logic and thus appeal to the younger, English speaking generation, including NRIs. This act is sometimes termed as â€śpersonality developmentâ€ť based on Hindu culture. Garikapatiâ€™s discourses are broadcast on radio, telecast in prominent Telugu channels, receive millions of views on YouTube and are circulated on Whatsapp. Presenting a seemingly educated and logical argument, Garikapati deftly peddles Hindu supremacy. For instance, in one video on YouTube which has garnered over twenty-six thousand views, he says in India, ninety percent of laws have to be in favour of Hindus because they are the majority population. As a convincing strategy, he gives an example from the Mahabharata saying when the Pandavas were struggling for food and when Kunti found food she did not divide it equally but gave half a portion to Bheem and the rest half she divides between herself and the rest of her sons. This, he says, is because Bheem needs that nourishment to do great things, similarly in India all religions cannot be treated equally but they need to be given their place.
He says the demand for equality is responsible for conflicts. Garikapati also claims scientific knowledge existed in mythological texts. In one instance, he quotes a story from Mahabharata and says that it had the same concept as that of Einsteinâ€™s theory of relativity, and that the battery and dynamo were already referred to in some ancient Hindu texts.
In another video he defends the caste system and manusmriti and calls the varna system â€śa golden systemâ€ť which ensured there was no â€śunemploymentâ€ť in the society. He terms caste as a result of karma of the previous birth. He criticizes identity politics, saying they have no standing without a strict following of the caste system, which he laments has been destroyed.
He also says individuals who have had inter-caste marriage have no place claiming any caste identity. In one instance, he is found crying on camera, claiming victimhood for the Brahmins, that the community has been vilified and in reality they are all living in poverty. Such discourses resonate with upper castes and help them consolidate their victimhood, which plays out prominently in the debates on reservations.
Garikapatiâ€™s strategy of camouflaging upper caste ideology as â€ślogicâ€ť and â€ścommon senseâ€ť can be understood using what sociologist Satish Deshpande terms as the castelessness discourse of the upper castes. The upper castes riding on their privilege claim to have transcended caste, and are hence modern and casteless. The marginalised castes and their demands for social justice are looked down upon by the upper castes as illegitimate claims using caste identity. Thus, the social capital of the upper caste is completely invisibilized.
After the award was announced, singer Chinmayi Sripada tweeted reminding people of Garikapatiâ€™s anti-women comments, and this has become a matter of discussion on many Telugu channels. Garikapati terms the trend of women wearing jeans and T-shirts as â€śdangerous.'' He argues â€śif you display your body, can any man resist? Why should you display?â€ť He terms gender abuse (teasing and sexual advances) as the right of men if dressing as they wish is the right of women. He says rape cannot be avoided unless women learn to dress properly, thereby victimising the perpetrator and blaming the victim.
He also advocates parents to snoop on their daughterâ€™s phones to avoid them from falling in love. These comments of Garikapati have to be understood in continuum with his upholding of manusmriti in almost all his discourses. Manusmriti has some of the most regressive ideas on women. The same is reflected in his disdain for love marriages and individuals choosing their spouses, which he paints as a societal problem.
Ruling governments have always awarded those who are favourable to their ideological position. Kalyan Singh, who was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh during the Babri masjid demolition has been given Padma Vibhushan. This award to Garikapati also has to be seen in that vein, as an endorsement to the Brahmanical ideology of manusmriti.
Yamini Krishna currently teaches at the FLAME University