The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the plight of India’s Brahmin caste in its Saturday edition.
Once a privileged caste closely aligned with the rulers of India for several centuries, the Brahmins have fallen on tough times over the last few decades owing to the reservation policies (affirmative action programs) of the federal and state governments in post-Independence India that set aside jobs and seats in engineering and medical colleges for the lower castes.
Discussing the reversal of fortune for the Brahmins, the WSJ (subscription required) piece observes that:
[I]n today’s India, high-caste privileges are dwindling, and with the government giving extensive preferences to the lower-caste majority, many Brahmins are feeling left out of the economy’s rapid expansion.
Originally a priestly and scholarly caste, the changing political and social milieu in India has compelled the Brahmins to branch out into other arenas.
The WSJ writers note of the sorry plight of Brahmins:
The reverse discrimination is rooted in Indian history and politics. For decades, Brahmins were resented for their dominance of the government, economy and culture. Indeed, political parties in Tamil Nadu sprang from anti-Brahmin feelings. “If you see a Brahmin and a snake, kill the Brahmin first” was an old slogan.
A national constitution adopted in 1950 reserved more than 20% of government jobs for lower castes. In 1990, an additional 27% were set aside for what were called “other backward castes.” Some states set higher quotas, including Tamil Nadu, which reserves 69% of government jobs for lower castes and other needy groups.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the reverse discrimination against Brahmins has induced some members of this community to migrate to the West or look for opportunities in the business world that was once the mainstay of the Vaishya caste.
The French evangelist and Christian bigot Abbe Dubois, who traveled widely in South India in the late 18th century and early 19th century, had this to say about the Brahmins in his lengthy work Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies:
Naturally cunning, wily, double-tongued, and servile, they turn the most undesirable qualities to account by insinuating themselves everywhere; their main object, upon which they expend theÂ greatest ingenuity, being to gain access to the courts of princes or other people of high rank.
Brahmins once dominated the elite Indian Civil Service andÂ in post-independent India, the Indian Administrative Service but their numbers in the bureaucracy are now dwindling.
Some noted Indian Brahmins include the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Bollywood film actress Hema Malini, world chess champion Viswanathan Anand, Tamil Nadu politician Jayaram Jayalalitha, Infosys co-founder N.R.Narayana Murthy, mathematician RamanujanÂ and physicists and Nobel laureates C.V.Raman and his nephew Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar.