I have been following the news about the presidential election and I must admit among all the names floated around I would have preferred the name of the metro man who symbolized modernity, communication and effectiveness among others. These are perhaps the virtues that India needs to swim in the 21 st century. However, it was not to be. That did not send me into despair though. When I read about the candidate who is set to win the election for the coveted post of the President of India I could not help but think that it is yet another triumph card of the ruling party.
The candidate’s Dalit background came up for discussion and within a few hours the opposing candidate was another Dalit. The politics for the election of the most coveted ceremonial position in the Indian democracy cannot escape the political drama. However, the selection of the candidates by both the ruling and the opposition parties in this huge democracy suggests a lot. That Dalits have become visible as a power to reckon with. That, this is perhaps, the final death knell on Brahmanism. Or maybe, it symbolizes equality across different sections of the Indian society bringing an end to segregation. Finally has India got rid of the inherent inequality persistent for decades if not centuries?
I was taken back to my Delhi School days in the 80s when I came across Professor Srinivas who wrote in the late 1950s that Indian society is constantly changing and this change is more cultural than structural. Indian society has definitely gone beyond the cultural changes of brahminisation and sanskritisation.
Although the present government is often accused of brahminisation by focusing on the leaders’ and their supporters’ penchant for vegetarianism, brahminisation with its focus on vegetarianism and forbiddance of drinking alcohol has been abandoned by most Indians. Indians are influenced by political and economic agendas which drive the cultural change in Indian society today.
There was a time when Brahmins controlled the right to knowledge through their acquaintance with Sanskrit language. Growing up as the daughter of a Sanskrit professor who was not a Brahmin by birth, I have seen my father, a Fulbright scholar from Harvard University fighting till his last day, trying to establish the fact the Sanskrit is a secular language in which some Hindu religious texts are written. It is not the prerogative of the Brahmins alone to study this language and the texts written in the language.
Thankfully these modern thoughts are now accepted without any pretentions in present day India. Moreover, another facet of Brahmanism, which is reflected through ban on alcohol has been promoted by leaders like Nitish Kumar as a political move with cultural underpinnings. In a similar vein perhaps the choice of the Presidential candidates is a reaction to the political climate. However, it is also a reflection of the cultural changes that Indian society has lately embraced.
It is worth noting that, finally, we have not one but two worthy Dalit candidates who are educated and cultured enough to be the first citizen of this huge democracy where social stratification traditionally happened on the basis of birth. The selection of these candidates may be criticized as an example of tokenism towards the most backward sections of Indian society. However the fact remains that these sections of the society can no more be ignored by politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties.
The next President of India will reflect the ethos of the changing Indian society. A society which finally feels the urgency to cater to the needs of everyone and desires to meet the demands of all. Equal opportunity for everyone is the premise on which the election of the next President of India will be finally settled.