On May 10, Delhi University was forced to cancel an event to mark Parshuram Jayanti announced by a new organisation called Brahmins of Delhi University. Titled “Brahmins and the Tapestry of Hindu Civilisation: Weaving Bhartiya Heritage and Calling Astikas to Fulfill rsi rna”, it was to have been held at the Conference Centre of the North Campus, along with a campus-wide Shobha Yatra the same day.

The programme was scrapped after protests by some leftist and Dalit student organisations. But that day, a large procession was organised on the campus hailing Parashuram, the Brahmin warrior. The walls of the campus were covered with posters to mark his birth anniversary.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the display of Brahmin superiority. Parashuram Jayanti events have started taking place across India, especially in the North. Enthusiastic demonstrations of Brahmin identity are becoming commonplace. Stickers bearing the word “Brahmins” have started appearing on vehicles.

A phenomenon that has been playing out on the streets has now entered India’s campuses. It is not that this idea of Brahmin superiority has grown in the last decade. But the fact that is being expressed brazenly is definitely new – and it is linked to the rise of Hindutva politics.

Restricting privileges

Many people argue that if Dalit identity can be expressed and is seen as legitimate, what is wrong with the expression of Brahmin identity? After all, both are caste identities. If a caste group can talk about itself, then why not others?

We have to consider the values carried by each identity, We also have to consider the relationship between the two. Brahmin superiority implies the inferiority of other caste groups. Brahmin identity is not just about superiority: it is tied to the idea of restricting privileges to one group of people that others can never avail of.

Literature explains this conception of privilege better than religious texts and scriptures. Take, for example, the character of Pandit Moteram Shastri created by Premchand. His depiction of Shashtri as greedy and untrustworthy greatly angered Brahmins in his time. Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugra’s autobiography, Apni Khabar, described how he had been sold as a child by his superstitious Brahmin family. When his work was included in school textbooks in 2005-’06, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party raised storm in the Parliament.

The notions of purity and pollution that mould the idea of Brahmin identity are contrary to the idea of equality. Since separation and exclusion are at its core, it makes social solidarity impossible. It is an obstacle in the formation of the much-coveted idea of the nation.

It was clear from the poster of the programme proposed in Delhi University, purportedly to weave the tapestry of Indian culture by calling upon the astika, or believers, to pay off the debt owed to the rishis or sages for the knowledge they generate. There were no women depicted. All the rishis were, after all, men.

But don’t the rishis belong to all Hindus? Why is the debt to them to be paid only by Brahmins?

Another question that people from Dalit and marginalised communities can ask is about what they are owned by Brahmins or their sages. After all, how could the the superiority of Brahmins have been made possible without the exploitation and appropriation of the labour and other resources of these marginalised communities. Can Brahmins deny that they made laws that deprived marginalised groups and women of knowledge and language for centuries? The eloquence of the Brahmins and the muteness of generations of Dalits and women must be considered together.

I still remember the occasion on which I attained Brahminhood. At the time of the Yajnopavit Sanskar, my guru, after reciting the Gayatri Mantra in my ear, instructed me never to chant it in front of “Shudras” and women. It is a different matter that years later, the mantra started being played on loudspeakers in an attempt to heighten the religiosity of India’s people. But did that establish equality?

The twice born

Brahmins are not born like other humans. They claimed to be dvijas – twice-born. It is impossible to become a Brahmin without the sacrament of Yajnopavita. Though members of some other castes have started wearing the sacred thread, they know they are not considered equal to Brahmins. It is a mistake to assume that you can become equal to Brahmins just by wearing the sacred thread, which many castes do today. Even after this, they cannot sit in the row of Brahmins at a ritual.

Protecting Brahmin identity means strengthening the ideas of superiority, separation, inequality, and oppression. How can these ideas be considered legitimate in a university?

In the same way, how can slogans hailing Parashuram be allowed on campus? Parashuram had taken a vow not to accept anyone other than Brahmins as his students. Karna persuaded him to take him as his student by hiding his caste. Even after serving the guru in every way, Karna was cursed by Parashuram. His teacher said that Karna would forget everything he had taught him at that very moment when he needed it most. How can Parashuram be held as an ideal for the teachers of our universities?

In contrast to Brahmin identity, Dalit identity is born out of resistance to the idea of superiority. It is a proclamation of the idea of equality. It is opposed to segregation and all forms of oppression. It is true that Dalit identity will primarily belong to those communities that were Dalitised by the Brahmin idea. But it is possible for even those who are not Dalits to form an active relationship with Dalit consciousness and stand with the community in the struggle for the values of equality, fraternity, and justice – and thus transform themselves.

The Dalit identity gives non-Dalits an opportunity to liberate themselves from oppressive relationships. It can welcome you as an ally. Brahmin identity tells others how inferior they are. It excludes.

For a university, any idea that imposes restrictions and is not an invitation should be unacceptable. An idea that creates an exclusive group that does not allow others entry should not be given space in a university. That’s why there is no place for a Brahmin conference in the university.

Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.