Brahmin groups lead movements against English education – but they have benefitted the most from it
by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
Published 23.09.2016 · 07:00 am. Updated · 06:14 pm.
The class that learnt to speak, read and write in English from Christian schools is also the most anti-Christian, anti-Dalit, anti-Muslim and anti-reservation.
The opposition by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-led front to English-medium schools in Goa run by the Catholic church serves as a good occasion to examine the role of such schools in Brahmin life. The Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch has been demanding that regional languages be made the medium of instruction in Goa’s primary schools.
The first question that may arise is: what is the relationship between Brahmins and the RSS? Brahmins not only started the RSS but are also responsible for its ideology.
But the Brahmins don’t just control the RSS. They control all the institutions in India today with their familiarity with English that is so powerful that in comparison, their hegemony in the country in ancient and medieval times, with their monopoly over Sanskrit, was nothing
Had the Brahmins only been educated in their ancient mother tongue, Sanskrit, what status would they have enjoyed in India and abroad?
Let’s just look at their role in the spread of English education.
Monopolising English education
In 1817, English education, predominantly for Brahmin children, was introduced at what is now known as Presidency College – then the Presidency School. In Kerala, it began with the first Reform Bill of 1832. The first English medium schools were started in the Travancore region in 1934. Interestingly, the first learners in these schools were Brahmins, who left their Sanskrit- and Malayalam-medium education behind. The Nairs and Menons joined the English-education system much later.
Even in the contemporary context, Brahmins are the ones who benefitted the most from the education imparted at institutions such as the St Stephen’s College in Delhi, the St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, the St Joseph’s College in Bangalore, the Loyola chain of institutions in Tamil Nadu and the Catholic grammar schools in various Indian cities.
Except for the initial few who had converted to Christianity when missionaries first arrived, Brahmins, for the most part, stopped converting when the movement for freedom from British rule started taking root. The freedom movement injected a Hindu pride – which was essentially Brahmin pride.
The upper-caste realised that once the British leave India, power will automatically come to Brahmins, because they were the most educated people in India. What Sanskrit once was, English became for them, offering global connectivity.
Even the Shudra upper castes (except Kerala Nairs and Menons) largely did not receive the benefits of formal education – English education in particular.
Even today, most Jatts, Patels, Gujjars, Marathas, Reddys and Kammas, who are spread across several states, have been deprived of English education. They not only came into the vernacular education system much later, but are also not present in large numbers in the country’s best Catholic schools, that created a globally connected English-educated Brahmin (and to some extent, business) class.
A tight rein
But these very English-educated Brahmins are now leading anti-English education movements across several states – including Goa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and the Hindi heartland of North-Central India. And why is that? Because they do not want others to partake of the benefits of English education that they enjoy.
If Shudras and Dalits also become highly educated in the English medium, Brahmins will lose their hegemony over the language. They will also be vastly outnumbered. This is the thinking of all Brahmin intellectuals, irrespective of their ideological leanings. I come across them in every state. They see me as a dangerous person because I speak English and write in English as they do.
Ironically, thus, the English-educated Brahmins are leading movements for regional-language education and cow protection as well as anti-Christian and anti-Muslim campaigns. Shudras follow them as musclemen (these include Shudra upper castes and the Other Backward Castes), without understanding the true motive of the mission.
Such an exclusion has been aided by the functioning of these schools. Why did Catholics start English-medium schools and colleges? That is because, more than any other social movement, they consider teaching as a service to the god.
And this education, though cheap, was never free. It was not available to lower castes. As an unwritten rule of sorts, many of these schools prefer would only educate children of educated parents in the urban areas, where the best schools are not yet accessible to the Dalit-bahujans. That makes all the difference.
In such a way, Christian schools – particularly, Catholic schools – created a class of Brahmins who could read and write in English. This class is also the most anti-Christian, anti-Dalit, anti-Muslim and also anti-reservation.
What service did this Catholic Christian education provide to India – in particular, to the poor and illiterate masses who were denied this education? Do Catholics still think that this was a humanitarian service? Do they think that by creating a social force that hates equality in all spheres of life – including in learning the English language – they served the purpose of god?
The opposition of Goa’s RSS unit to English education is only the tip of the iceberg. The Bengali communist and secular Brahmins benefited from the English education throughout the history of English education in the Bengal region from 1817 onwards. This does not mean no English was available for others at all. But Bengal has not produced English-educated intellectuals from the lower castes who matched the Bengali Brahminic forces. They themselves should explain why.
This is not an ideological issue. This is an issue of Dalit-bahujan nationalism versus Brahminic nationalism.