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Anti-Brahmanism and Anti-Semitism

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  • jakobderoover
    Friends and fellow heathens, A short piece on the parallel between anti-Brahmanism and anti- Semitism: To be against Brahmanism is part and parcel of the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2008
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      Friends and fellow heathens,

      A short piece on the parallel between anti-Brahmanism and anti-
      Semitism:

      To be against Brahmanism is part and parcel of the political
      correctness of twenty-first-century India. This indicates that
      something is wrong with the Indian public debate. Promotion of hatred
      towards a religious group and its traditions is not acceptable today.
      But it becomes truly perverse, when the intelligentsia endorses it.

      In Europe, it took horrendous events to put an end to the propaganda
      of anti-Semitism, which had penetrated the media and intelligentsia.
      It required decades of incessant campaigning before anti-Semitism was
      relegated to the realm of intellectual and political bankruptcy. In
      India, anti-Brahmanism is still the proud slogan of political parties
      and the credential of the radical intellectual.

      Some may find this parallel between anti-Brahmanism and anti-Semitism
      ill-advised. Nevertheless, it has strong grounds. First, there are
      striking similarities between the stereotypes about Brahmins in India
      and those about Jews in the West. Jews have been described as devious
      connivers, who would do anything for personal gain. They were said to
      be secretive and untrustworthy, manipulating politics and the
      economy. In India, Brahmins are all too often characterised in the
      same way.

      Second, the stereotypes about the Jews were part of a larger story
      about a historical conspiracy in which they had supposedly exploited
      European societies. To this day, the stories about a Jewish
      conspiracy against humanity prevail. The anti-Brahmanical stories
      sound much the same, but have the Brahmins plotting against the
      oppressed classes in Indian society. In both cases, historians have
      claimed to produce "evidence" that cannot be considered so by any
      standard. Typical of the ideologues of anti-Brahmanism is the
      addition of ad hoc ploys whenever their stories are challenged by
      facts. When it is pointed out that the Brahmins have not been all
      that powerful in most parts of the country, or that they were poor in
      many regions, one reverts to the image of the Brahmin manipulating
      kings and politicians behind the scene. We cannot find empirical
      evidence, it is said, because of the secretive way in which
      Brahmanism works.

      Third, both in anti-Semitic Europe and anti-Brahmanical India, this
      goes together with the interpretation of contemporary events in terms
      of these stories. One does not really analyse social tragedies and
      injustices, but approaches them as confirmations of the ideological
      stories. All that goes wrong in society is blamed on the minority in
      question. Violence against Muslims? It must be the "Brahmin-
      dominated" Sangh Parivar. Opposition against Christian missionaries
      and the approval of anti-conversion laws? "Ah, the Brahmins fear that
      Christianity will empower the lower castes." Members of a scheduled
      caste are killed? "The Brahmin wants to show the Dalit his true place
      in the caste hierarchy." An OBC member loses his job; a lower caste
      girl is raped? "The Brahmanical upper castes must be behind it."

      This leads to a fourth parallel: in both cases, resentment against
      the minority in question is systematically created and reinforced
      among the majority. The Jews were accused of sucking all riches out
      of European societies. In the decades before the second World War,
      more and more people began to believe that it was time "to take back
      what was rightfully theirs." In India also, movements have come into
      being that want to set right "the historical injustices of
      Brahmanical oppression." Some have even begun to call upon their
      followers to "exterminate the Brahmins."

      In Europe, state policies were implemented that expressed the
      discrimination against Jews. For a very long time, they could not
      hold certain jobs and participate in many social and economic
      activities. In India, one seems to be going this way with policies
      that claim to correct "the historical exploitation by the upper
      castes." It is becoming increasingly difficult for Brahmins to get
      access to certain jobs. In both cases, these policies have been
      justified in terms of a flawed ideological story that passes for
      social science.

      The fifth parallel is that both anti-Semitism and anti-Brahmanism
      have deep roots in Christian theology. In the case of Judaism, its
      continuing vitality as a tradition was a threat to Christianity's
      claim to be the fulfilment of the Jewish prophecies about the
      Messiah. The refusal of Jews to join the religion of Christ (the true
      Messiah, according to Christians) was seen as an unacceptable denial
      of the truth of Christianity. Saint Augustine even wrote that the
      Jews had to continue to exist, but only to show that Christians had
      not fabricated the prophesies about Christ and to confirm that some
      would not follow Christ and be damned for it.

      The contemporary stereotypes about Brahmins and the story about
      Brahmanism also originate in Christian theology. They reproduce
      Protestant images of the priests of false religion. When European
      missionaries and merchants began to travel to India in great numbers,
      they held two certainties that came from Christian theology: false
      religion would exist in India; and false religion revolved around
      evil priests who had fabricated all kinds of laws, doctrines and
      rites in order to bully the innocent believers into submission. In
      this way, the priests of the devil abused religion for worldly goals.
      The European story about Brahmanism and the caste system simply
      reproduced this Protestant image of false religion. The colonials
      identified the Brahmins as the priests and Brahmanism as the
      foundation of false religion in India. This is how the dominant image
      of "the Hindu religion" came into being.

      The sixth parallel lies in the fact that Christian theology
      penetrated and shaped the "secular" discourse about Judaism and
      Brahmanism. The theological criticism became part of common sense and
      was reproduced as scientific truth. In India, this continues unto
      this day. Social scientists still talk about "Brahmanism" as the
      worst thing that ever happened to humanity. Perhaps the most tragic
      similarity is that some members of the minority community have
      internalised these stories about themselves. Some Jews began to
      believe that they were to blame for what happened during the
      Holocaust; many educated Brahmins now feel that they are guilty of
      historical atrocities against other groups. This has led to a kind of
      identity crisis in which they vilify "Brahmanism" in English-language
      public debate, but continue their traditions.

      In twentieth-century Europe, we have seen how dangerous these
      elements of anti-Semitism were and what consequences they could have
      in society. The question that India has to raise in the twenty-first
      century is this: Do we need bloodshed, before we will realise that
      the reproduction of anti-Brahmanism is harmful? Do we need the
      victory of fascism, before we will admit that pernicious ideologies
      should not be sold as social science?


      Jakob
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