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

Seeing Devi, our servant maid, brew a cup of sizzling filter espresso for my mom, completely shook me up. Devi? Having fun with free entry to that sacrosanct location in a Tamil Brahmin residence, its kitchen? Free to mild the range, boil the milk, put together a south Indian decoction, make a steaming sizzling 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 of inviolable by Brahmins. 4 or 5 many years in the past, an act like this may have been totally inconceivable. Rising up, I keep in mind servant maids barely had permission to stroll inside our residence, not to mention get pleasure from unfettered entry to the kitchen. After they did come inside, it was solely to comb and mop the ground, spending the minimal period of time vital to perform these chores.

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

I couldn’t assist however mirror on the dramatic shift in angle 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 may be a reflection of the altering occasions within the historically conservative Tamil Brahmin group?

I knew scientific proof primarily based on information relating to the social change I used to be ruminating on could be arduous 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.

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A Liberal Infusion

Each mother or father 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 gradual job in a financial institution, central authorities group or, as a distant comfort prize, in a state authorities group. As an alternative, 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 larger instructional establishments meant many needed to go away the consolation of their residence and their residence state in pursuit of these credentials. They might have left with apprehension, however that offered them an publicity to the skin world that was erstwhile unimaginable within the cocooned Tam Brahm lifestyle.

At a latest highschool reunion, I had the chance to satisfy a number of of my childhood mates after a spot of greater than 30 years. Whereas many had unfold their wings and flown far and vast, there have been few who had stayed their complete life in Madurai, the city the place I spent the majority of my childhood. Conversations not often 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.

Ageing and Necessity

A long time 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.

Throughout 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 conform to disagree. The shift I allude to began occurring solely as my dad and mom began getting older and creating a dependency on others. That shift accelerated when their main caregivers, my older brother and sister-in-law, additionally entered the post-retirement part of their life.

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Most apparently, the interactions I shared with my dad and mom performed out in a barely modified type amongst my brother’s circle of relatives. Dispelling my doubts that this might be distinctive to my quick circle, Purushothaman and Sathesh, two Tam Brahm mates of mine, corroborated very related 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 just isn’t the place he’s (on the conservative-liberal social spectrum), however that she is way 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 enjoying an more and more outstanding position within the family work to be able 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 wholly totally 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.


Previously, Brahmins asserted their superiority by using a wide range of oppressive strategies. Whereas a lot of them concerned dehumanizing and stripping away the company of these beneath them, withholding information was by far the best method they employed to remain on high of the caste totem pole. It’s no shock that the caste-based reservation system targets this very side in larger instructional establishments, providing preferential remedy 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 enthusiastic about understanding this woeful observe.

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

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I requested Puru if this isn’t akin to taking pictures your self within the foot. Puru, who had sponsored the college schooling not simply of his servant maid’s youngsters but in addition that of his neighborhood vegetable vendor’s son, commented succinctly, “It’s the proper factor 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 establishment is greater than evolutionary. They’re downright revolutionary. However that may be a matter for an additional 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 could 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. Enthusiastic about his older son who’s a skilled classical Carnatic musician, Puru chimed in, saying that regardless of the rigorous conventional gurukul schooling, his son espouses way more liberal views than him.

The reshaping of this id has many ramifications, probably the most outstanding 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, might already be an endangered species because the pendulum of poetic justice swings arduous 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 group. Significantly regarding is the plight of the discovered clergymen, whose career it’s to manage and uphold the rituals and practices in Tamil Brahmin houses, 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 mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.