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Tamil Nadu brahmins are at cross roads, their future scenario remains uncertain

By NS Venkataraman* 

For over 70 years now, brahmin community in Tamil Nadu have been abused, insulted and even physically attacked on some occasions by those who claimed that they were part of the so called dravidian movement. However, brahmin community silently and helplessly ducked under pressure and showed no signs of resistance or fight back.
Of course, in the recent past, the intensity of the hate campaign against brahmin community reduced somewhat in Tamil Nadu, though it has not been stopped. This has been so, probably due to the fact that there have been no resistance from the brahmins and the hate campaigners derived vicarious satisfaction that further whipping the brahmins would be like “whipping the dead snake”.

Migration from rural areas

The net result of such situation is that brahmins have largely vacated from villages and rural areas of Tamil Nadu and have moved to the big towns and cities, where they thought that their presence would not be noticed and they would be lost in the crowd. Further, the size of the brahmin families have also shrunk and brahmin population have been steadily declining over the years.
The overwhelming view of the brahmin community is that Tamil Nadu is no place for brahmins and steadily, they are seeking pastures elsewhere and are moving to other states in India and abroad. Perhaps, those who still live in Tamil Nadu are senior people who cannot move away due to age and being at the retirement stage and those who could not move out of Tamil Nadu in spite of their efforts or due to other reasons.

Reservation policy

Today, due to the reservation policy of the Government of Tamil Nadu, the so called forward class brahmins have been eliminated in calculated manner in the reservation quota, which is more than 65% for government jobs and educational institutions run by the government. Such reservation policy is now in force even in Indian Institute of Technology, which are supposed to be elite technical institutions offering high standards. Therefore, brahmins have to seek admission in the unreserved quota which are small percentage in open category. Due to this restrictions, many brahmins are unable to get admission in these institutions. Brahmins have now become conspicuous by near absence in government departments in Tamil Nadu and in educational institutions run by government of Tamil Nadu.
Of course, there are still some miniscule number of brahmins in high and middle level positions due to their success in competitive examinations conducted by central government departments and central government run public sector organisations. Today, brahmins are mostly employed in the private sector units. Some brahmins still remain as owners of medium and large scale industries in Tamil Nadu. This is due to the fact that such units were set up long back and they are still in top position due to succession based on hierarchy.

Changing lifestyle

Due to such climate of hate, there have been considerable pressure on the brahmin community that have been steadily built up over the years. Such pressure have resulted in considerable changes in the social structure and life style of brahmins. Perhaps, the situation is developing where some of the brahmin youth, both boys and girls have become self critical of their lineage. Such ongoing changes have resulted in conditions where the brahmin community could be diluted in the coming years due to frequent occurrence of inter caste marriages by brahmin boys and girls not only with Indians but also with foreigners.
The traditional religious practices of brahmins are getting diluted or even given up in some cases. With number of Tamil brahmins going out of the country and settling abroad as citizens with no plans to come back to India, they inevitably get themselves absorbed in overseas culture.

Changing historical role

Historically and traditionally, the brahmin community has been entrusted with the duty and responsibility to preserve the vedic knowledge, which are accompanied by various mantras ( hyms ) and other procedures. The number of brahmins who still learn, understand and try to preserve such holy hyms are declining rapidly. Of course, special tuition centres ( known as vedhapatasala ) are being organized by individual groups but most of these tuition centres do not get enough students in spite of free stay and boarding and stipend facilities offered. Obviously, this means that brahmin families and brahmin youth are looking for their future elsewhere and not in traditional brahmin life pattern.
Like adding fuel to fire, the present Tamil Nadu government is interfering in the management of Hindu temples and is taking steps to appoint priests who are not brahmins. In such condition, the position and job prospects of brahmins as priest in the temples are rapidly getting eroded.

Economic disparity

Today, there is considerable economic disparity between the brahmins themselves. While some of the brahmins have reasonably educated themselves and have managed to remain in middle class at economic level, there are section of brahmins who largely make their living by working in temples as priests and by offering their services during religious ceremonies. Most of such brahmins are in distress due to financial issues. As a result, most of them would like to move away from their present avocation and ensure that their children do not follow the practice of their parents.
Such poor brahmins desperately want to educate their sons and daughters to improve their financial status in life. However, with government educational institutions largely being denied to them due to reservation policy, they have to necessarily admit their children in private educational institutions, where fees are exhorbitant. Having no other way, they take the risk of admitting the children in private educational institutions and run from pillar to post to get donation from trusts and kind hearted individuals. Often they find that some donations are hard to get adequately, since the fees in the private educational institutions are exhorbitant.

At the crossroads

Certainly, brahmins in Tamil Nadu are at the cross roads and the future scenario for Tamil speaking brahmins remain uncertain. It appears the brahmin community in Tamil Nadu is in a state of crisis.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice of the Deprived, Chennai

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