Brahmins on margins remain outside widening welfare net
B Sivakumar, TNN, Aug 28, 2010, 01.14am IST
CHENNAI: A group of men, both young and old, some even close to 80,
huddle in a corner of a street leading to the ancient Kapaleeswarar
temple in Mylapore on a rainy evening. They are waiting for a senior
priest (purohit) to hand out assignments for the next day.
These may vary from assisting in a marriage ritual to chanting funeral
prayers. Most of them eventually will come away with a couple of token
payments of Rs 200-300 made by householders for such poojas or
ceremonies. Given the irregular nature of their income, not many earn
more than Rs 2,000 to 3,000 per month.
Traditionally associated with learning and education, the Brahmins of
Tamil Nadu, who constitute roughly 4-5% of the six-crore population,
are perceived to be a socially and economically advanced elite, but
not many realise that today a large section of the community lives
precariously close to the poverty line.
According to the Tamil Nadu Brahmin Association (Tambras), about 30%
of Brahmins in the state can be described as economically backward and
they number close to 10 lakh. However, they are denied aid by the
government as they are seen to belong to a traditionally affluent
Efforts by legislators such as S Ve Shekher to have them included in
welfare schemes for housing and education have not succeeded so far.
Their only source of income is what senior priests part with from
their share of offerings made by householders and devotees during
Ravi Sastrigal, a purohit in Mylapore, says, "The chief priest gets Rs
2,000-3,000 for a marriage. His juniors get Rs 500-600, plus free
food, for reciting mantras. And then there are those who accompany
them as mere helpers they get about Rs 150-200."
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