Are We Seeing an Evolutionary Shift in the Outlook Tamil Brahmins?

Seeing Devi, our servant maid, brew a cup of scorching filter espresso for my mom, completely shook me up. Devi? Having fun with free entry to that sacrosanct location in a Tamil Brahmin dwelling, its kitchen? Free to mild the range, boil the milk, put together a south Indian decoction, make a steaming scorching cup of filter espresso? That too, for my nonagenarian mom?

Evidently, Devi has free entry to each a part of the home, together with the kitchen, as soon as thought-about inviolable by Brahmins. 4 or 5 a long time in the past, an act like this is able to have been totally inconceivable. Rising up, I keep in mind servant maids barely had permission to stroll inside our dwelling, not to mention get pleasure from unfettered entry to the kitchen. After they did come inside, it was solely to brush and mop the ground, spending the minimal period of time mandatory to perform these chores.

Feminism in India Can’t Survive With out Empowering the Decrease Castes


The remainder of their duties, corresponding to cleansing the vessels, washing the garments and drying them on a clothesline, can be accomplished within the yard. Taking their sense of cleanliness to a brand new top, vessels cleaned by the servant maid can be rinsed as soon as once more with water untouched by the servant earlier than they finally discovered their means into the kitchen.

I couldn’t assist however replicate on the dramatic shift in perspective I noticed in my household, belonging to the elite Tamil Brahmin higher caste, towards Devi, belonging to one of many decrease castes. Is that this expertise distinctive to me and my household? Or is it one thing that could be a reflection of the altering occasions within the historically conservative Tamil Brahmin neighborhood?

I knew scientific proof primarily based on details concerning the social change I used to be ruminating on can be onerous to return by. However I used to be satisfied that if I attempted, I’d discover anecdotal proof of this shift towards a extra liberal lifestyle amongst different Tamil Brahmin — or colloquially, Tam Brahm — households.

A Liberal Infusion

Each mum or dad needs upward mobility and higher high quality of life for his or her offspring. Not surprisingly, Tam Brahms additionally subscribed to the identical sentiment. This quest for upward mobility amongst Tam Brahms resulted in a generational shift in the kind of profession they aimed for. Gone was their need to safe a gentle job in a financial institution, central authorities group or, as a distant comfort prize, in a state authorities group. As a substitute, they set their eyes on skilled careers, armed with levels in engineering or medication. Some sought to grow to be entrepreneurs, a rarity previously.

Securing skilled levels didn’t come straightforward for Tam Brahm kids. The Tamil Nadu state’s 69% caste-based reservation system in increased academic establishments meant many needed to depart the consolation of their dwelling and their dwelling state in pursuit of these credentials. They could have left with apprehension, however that offered them an publicity to the skin world that was erstwhile inconceivable within the cocooned Tam Brahm lifestyle.

At a current highschool reunion, I had the chance to satisfy a number of of my childhood mates after a niche of greater than 30 years. Whereas many had unfold their wings and flown far and huge, there have been few who had stayed their whole life in Madurai, the city the place I spent the majority of my childhood. Conversations hardly ever went past the pleasant banter befitting a reunion amongst childhood mates, however there have been clear indications on the place one stood on the conservative-liberal divide.

 A scientific survey, had one been accomplished, would have corroborated the next speculation: Those that had the chance to discover the skin world, particularly on the defining second instantly following highschool, usually subscribed to extra liberal views.

Growing old and Necessity

Many years in the past, dwelling within the rural cities of Tamil Nadu, my dad and mom had been steeped in caste-based hierarchical distinctions. Being younger, that they had little motive to query their perception system or modify their core values. Absolutely, views and beliefs handed down via generations wouldn’t crumble with the nascent liberal perceptions of their youngest youngsters? They didn’t.

In the course of the part once they had been nonetheless robust and ready, and I used to be behaving like an unbearable know-it-all, there have been many events we merely needed to comply with disagree. The shift I allude to began occurring solely as my dad and mom began growing older and creating a dependency on others. That shift accelerated when their major caregivers, my older brother and sister-in-law, additionally entered the post-retirement part of their life.

Most curiously, the interactions I shared with my dad and mom performed out in a barely modified type amongst my brother’s family. Dispelling my doubts that this could possibly be distinctive to my rapid circle, Purushothaman and Sathesh, two Tam Brahm mates of mine, corroborated very comparable developments of their respective households.

Sathesh remarked that his mother began yielding gracefully as soon as she realized that resistance was futile. Puru concurred, albeit, in a much less colourful, non-Star Trek language, saying that his mother will not be the place he’s (on the conservative-liberal social spectrum), however that she is much extra tolerant in comparison with her previous self.

As my mom entered her 90s, the calls for on the care she wanted elevated. This set the proper situation for Devi to start out taking part in an more and more distinguished function within the family work as a way to ease the stress on my brother and sister-in-law. It was not earlier than the sexagenarian couple began embracing the assistance from their servant maid from a completely completely different angle, whereas the nonagenarian matriarch was compelled to let go of her deeply entrenched hierarchical distinctions.

Removed from reluctant tolerance, Devi’s presence has discovered grateful acceptance amongst my members of the family.


Up to now, Brahmins asserted their superiority by using quite a lot of oppressive strategies. Whereas a lot of them concerned dehumanizing and stripping away the company of these beneath them, withholding data was by far the best approach they employed to remain on prime of the caste totem pole. It’s no shock that the caste-based reservation system targets this very side in increased academic establishments, providing preferential therapy to a staggering variety of non-Brahmin caste and communities.

This isn’t an article on the caste system in India, however I’d unequivocally advocate “Annihilation of Caste,” a speech Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote in 1936, as a must-read for anybody interested by understanding this woeful observe.

In a dramatic U-turn from the conduct of withholding data, it’s now commonplace to see Tam Brahm households sponsoring the training of their servant maid’s youngsters. Not solely does this act assure upward mobility for these youngsters, however it additionally successfully reduces the provision of future maids.

I requested Puru if this isn’t akin to taking pictures your self within the foot. Puru, who had sponsored the varsity training not simply of his servant maid’s youngsters but in addition that of his neighborhood vegetable vendor’s son, commented succinctly, “It is the right thing to do.”

A Glimpse Into the Future?

If I assumed I’m liberal in my outlook, my youngsters effortlessly put me to disgrace. The extent to which their concepts problem the social established order is greater than evolutionary. They’re downright revolutionary. However that could be a matter for one more article.

What’s vital right here is the idea of id. Whereas I nonetheless acknowledge and settle for my Tam Brahm id, to my youngsters, it will hardly be a matter of significance. Sathesh wholeheartedly agreed, remarking that, whereas rising up, and even now, he was happy with his Tamil Brahmin heritage, however he sees that it makes completely no distinction to his youngsters. Fascinated by his older son who’s a educated classical Carnatic musician, Puru chimed in, saying that regardless of the rigorous conventional gurukul training, his son espouses much more liberal views than him.

The reshaping of this id has many ramifications, essentially the most distinguished one being the variety of inter-cultural and inter-caste marriages involving Tam Brahms. Within the final decade, we’ve got welcomed Gujarati, Malayalam and Punjabi grooms into our household. What was as soon as unthinkable is now so commonplace that it has discovered broad social acceptance.

Tamil Brahmins, who account for lower than 3% of the state’s inhabitants, could already be an endangered species because the pendulum of poetic justice swings onerous to the opposite facet. The menace to their id from inside and with out causes many to lament about the way forward for Tam Brahms as a neighborhood. Significantly regarding is the plight of the discovered clergymen, whose career it’s to manage and uphold the rituals and practices in Tamil Brahmin properties, temples and elsewhere.

Me? I’m merely glad that my household has embraced humanity over conservative traditionalism — and hope that the anecdotal proof I’ve noticed in my small circle of family and friends is a harbinger of issues to return.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.

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