Wednesday, February 10, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Nepal: 'Benefits' of being Brahmin

'Benefits' of being Brahmin

When the government employment quotas are first reserved for people of
other castes before allotting them to Brahmin and Chhetri castes, when
international and national non-government job advertisements announce
that priority will be given to Dalits, Janajatis, Madhesis,
underprivileged and the marginalized, when scholars discourse,
sometimes on shaky foundations and flabby logic, against Brahmins, I
as a Brahmin, feel utterly discriminated. I, as a Brahmin (spare me
this repetition for I must confess that I am one), feel more inclined
to exploring factors that made my caste seem so powerful and
indefatigable to castes of other people, and politics that has made it
seem such a deplorable appellation of our times.

In Nepal, Brahmin or Bahun for that matter, is an imported idea or
personality. It is hard to tell who the first Brahmins were and when
exactly they came to Kathmandu valley. Their emergence had begun in
India as early as 2000-1500 BC along with Aryan invasion. They could
have entered this land in different phases of history thereafter. But
they first came to Nepal in significant numbers in the 5th century.
Then they were welcomed and given privileged positions.

The Lichchhavis and the Guptas maintained them as their personal
priests. This enabled them to upgrade the upper class Khas, Magars,
and Newars as Chhetris, which they did by constantly demanding a high
fee from them. Influx of Brahmins in Nepal began again at the end of
the 12th century propelled by Muslim conquests in Northern India. As a
result, many of them found refuge in the Kathmandu valley. As if to
encourage them into permanent settlements here, King Jayasthiti Malla,
who ruled between 1380 and 1394, introduced a definite Brahmin
predominance. He formulated rules of caste system including the ones
related with wearing of clothing and ornamentation which, according to
the chronicles, he had accomplished under the guidance of five Indian

Towards the 19th century, they became instrumental in establishing the
legitimacy of contemporary regimes. They could change positions and
status of kings and maharajas. They changed the caste of Junga
Bahadur. He was a Khas, a Kunwar but they had him, perhaps on his will
and behest, adopt the title of Rana by developing a fictitious
ancestry of Rajput origin from the southern plains of India. Perhaps
for this favor, Jung endorsed their privilege in Muluki Ain (Legal
Code) of 1854, which was strictly enforced during the Rana era and on
which most of the present legal system of Nepal is based.

But there were also some prescriptions he had set for Brahmins to keep
the purity of their caste. For example, the Muluki Ain decreed that
any Brahmin belonging to Upadhayay class could not consume onion,
garlic, mushroom, tomato, rice cooked in the kitchen defiled by birds
or animals and from the hands of anyone other than Upadhaya Brahmins,
among others. If a Brahmin did so, he would be deemed to have
committed an impure act and would be punished. Likewise, he was
strictly forbidden to indulge in sexual liaison below his caste. With
'untouchables', it was much more blasphemous and would entail serious
punishments. These prohibitory orders, however, applied on him only if
his wrongs were known.

Brahmins of today are not to blame for what they are today. Brahmins
of Nepal are the result of the historical wrongs and the ruling
classes' whims and interests.I remember the story of Dalan, a serial
that is being retelecast on Nepal Television every Thursday night at
10. I have found it to be an eye-opener to history. The story begins
sometime before 1950 in a certain western district of Nepal. Anti-Rana
revolution is gaining momentum in the capital and its waves are
penetrating even the remote villages. Hari, a Brahmin youth, falls in
love with Tulki, a Damini girl. The liaison becomes public and a local
talukdar and Hari's father send him to Benaras to avoid further
scandal. But Hari, being passionately in love with her, returns. Then
the pancha banishes him from the village in charge of polluting the
caste. They have his head shaved on all four sides, take his janai
(sacred thread) off, made to shoulder a piglet in a basket and then
finally sent across the Bheri river with Tulki. From this point on, he
and his descendants become Damai.

Notwithstanding this historical reality, Brahmins have served as
political elites of this country. They functioned as sacred elites and
also had a monopoly of the legislative and judicial functions for
long. After the political changes of the 1950s, the "ever-resourceful
Brahmins", who traditionally performed the intellectual functions in
the Hindu social system, lost no time in becoming the avid patrons of
the secular liberal Western style educational system in Nepal. And it
is a reality that this legacy has continued to this day. Even today,
they enjoy liberties and privileges because of their caste. Being a
Brahmin allows you to indulgences, which the caste unjustifiably
justifies. He can marry a Chhetri girl or a Matwali but he will still
be Bahun. In death, birth and wedding rituals, his words become law.
Here I am talking about purohit bahun. He may declare the wedding over
or he may call it not to have begun yet.

The people belonging to lower castes put so much of trust upon him
that he can mould their innocence into anything. He is the sole
authority in declaring an ominous/propitious time. In villages, a
literate Brahmin, the one who can recite verses, rules over the people
of other castes. They throng to his house to ask for a propitious time
before they begin any work of great significance. He might, then,
order his client or yajaman to perform certain rituals whose
facilitator and beneficiary he will be.

But history is eternal witness. A great deal of historical, political
and legal factors account for their present status. Therefore,
Brahmins of today are not to blame for what they are today. Brahmins
of Nepal are the result of the historical wrongs, they are products of
the ruling classes' whims and interests, they are the manifestation of
privileges bestowed on them, perhaps despite their wishes, or the
advantages of the kindness rendered to them for their helpless
situations. They could have been anybody like Damai or Kami if their
indulgences, which could have been many, with the people of lower
caste were revealed to the authority. Brahmanism is not the choice of
any Brahmin. I was not born a Brahmin; I knew that I was one much

Published on 2010-02-10 00:40:39


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