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Myth of Brahmin Merit: Refutation of Superiority

 

Pranav Jeevan P

pranav We have been hearing arguments that try to justify the superiority and monopoly of Brahmins and savarnas in the fields of education and governance based on genetics. Their argument is that generations of endogamy and access to education has created a group of people who are better at learning (Brahmins). They are simultaneously arguing for the Brahminical superiority in education along with justifying the backwardness of Bahujans. This is one of the biggest arguments against affirmative action programs in jobs and education since they are genetically gifted with "merit". They think they are using the principle of natural selection to prove their point, but this analysis refutes their claim and shows it is pseudo-science. Genetic determinism has always been used to nullify cultural and sociological effects to exaggerate the influence of the genotype, and build support for exclusionary policies that create and reinforce socio-political hegemony (Mukunth, 2020).

In an interview, Dr. P. Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, a well-known social scientist who has done extensive work on caste and society, discusses whether there is a link between exemplary scientific research and being Tamil Brahmin against the background that three Indian scientists (Sir C. V. Raman, Dr. Subramaniam Chandrasekhar and Dr. Venkataraman Ramakrishnan) to win the Nobel Prize for the sciences have been Tamil Brahmins. He says that as they are too small in number, it is difficult to judge its linkage with a community.

"What is seen as a co-relation may be sheer coincidence. There is a co-relation between the Nobel Prize and Jews as most of the Nobel Prize winners are from a Jewish background. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the crucial importance of cultural capital in intellectual achievements; and virtually all the Nobel Prize winners possessed cultural capital." (Warrier, 2009)

This is something that the savarnas consciously ignore; their monopoly in the cultural capital which they don't want to give away to Bahujans and which they fear might happen due to affirmative action programs. After all, no one wants to give away privilege. India's Brahmins have enforced a stranglehold on the country's knowledge production for over a millennium, and since the industrial era have expanded their influence to secure influential positions within the ruling class, and top jobs in the government, universities and research institutions, and in business. industry and trade. Drawing from cultural capital and social frameworks they erected to maintain their power, Brahmins have perpetrated their violence in by subjugating members of other castes, kept them from being educated, holding off well-paying jobs and denying them access, and in general starving them of any opportunities for socio-economic mobility and empowerment.

"In a hierarchical society, the cultural capital is concentrated at the top. Brahmins are at the summit of the social hierarchy. So, they had all the advantages of society traditionally...Cultural capital gets transmitted from generation to generation and over generations, this transmission makes its recipients well-entrenched. As early as the 1880s, the British administration had reported that a poor Brahmin cannot be compared to a poor untouchable for the simple reason that the poverty of a Brahmin is only economic, but the poverty of an untouchable is both economic and cultural. Brahmins have cultural capital. That is also the reason that where talent has to be used persistently and assiduously, Brahmins have been shining. It is not that others are dullards. Universally, intelligence is distributed across the entire society. But opportunities are not" (Warrier, 2009).

It is important to keep in mind that the social background of Brahmins has been elite and aristocratic. As a reason for the current monopoly of Brahmins in education and administration, he says,

"If you take all of India, Brahmins were the first to take to English education, and gradually managed to monopolize it. Brahmins had a monopoly over indigenous education also. In Kerala, what happened was the Namboodiri families initially refused to take to English education because of superstition. It took them some time to come out of it" (Warrier, 2009).

The example of Kerala is important because Brahmins in states like Bengal and Tamil Nadu adopted English education first which enabled them to occupy the important posts in education and administration creating a monopoly which we see even to this day. But in Kerala, it was the Nair community which adopted the change first when the Kerala Brahmin Namboothinri's failed to adopt it fast. Hence, they lost the monopoly in education and important administration to Nairs (Menon, Pillia etc) which is apparent even today as they still hold important positions. This shows that whichever community got a headstart in adopting western education got the chance to hold a monopoly in it thereby defeating the genetic superiority argument. The only reason they could hold such important positions was because they were at the top of the social hierarchy and had the opportunity to start first.

Also, unlike what most of the savarnas believe, most the castes which are considered upper castes weren't always top in the hierarchy. Even though the hierarchical system of caste remained in Indian society for millennia, and it was always Brahmins on top and others in the bottom, which jatis comprised the so-called savarna changed with times, sometimes because of change in political climate, sometimes due to migration and interaction between other communities due to trade. Many lower castes became elevated to higher status and many higher castes lost their privileges. What never changed was the privilege enjoyed by the people who were considered as Brahmins at that point in time, that remained unaffected.

The arguments raised in terms of genetic selection for education and talents is similar to what white supremacists and Nazis used to subjugate the black communities and treating them inferior. It is also similar to the misogyny suffered by women who were believed to be less intelligent than men and kept away from education. They tried to use genetics to explain why women performed worse in STEM fields citing the lack of women in these fields. People who use genetics for misogyny conveniently ignore the social obstacles that women face to access education. Studies after studies have shown that there is no genetic difference in the learning capabilities of men and women. Just as it was shown that it's not a genetic disadvantage that women face, but a social one; the problem of Brahminical monopoly in education is not due to genetic difference, but social one.

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References

Mukunth, V. (2020, January 4). Genetic Determinism, Pseudoscience Can't Hide the Casteism of Brahmin Chauvinists. Retrieved from The Wire.

Warrier, S. (2009, October 12). Brahmins dominate all modern professions. Retrieved from Rediff News.

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 Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He has earlier studied quantum computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.

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