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Tamil Brahmin’s transformation to urban middle class

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By- M R Narayan Swamy

Title: Tamil Brahmans, The Making of a Middle Class Caste, Authors: CJ Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan, Publisher: Social Science Press.

This is a fascinating, scholarly work, yet eminently readable, on how Tamil Brahmans, who for centuries were a traditional, mainly rural, caste elite, occupying the throne of a caste order, transformed over time into a modern, urban, middle-class community.

In this clearly first exhaustive book on the subject, CJ Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan combine original research and extensive study to explain how Tamil Brahmans embraced education and job opportunities during the British Raj to become the middle class they are today, with a strong presence particularly in the booming private sector.

In this they were “an unusual social group” which knew how to remain in touch with the past even as it climbed the ladder of economic success – something that, the authors point out, the Telugu Brahmans or the Kerala Namboodiris failed to do. The Tamil Brahmans are a good example of “how and why privileged status within a hierarchical society can be perpetuated in the face of major social, cultural, economic, political, and ideological changes”.

The number of Brahmans in Tamil Nadu, according to the 2011 Census, is about 1.78 million, of whom Tamil Brahmans account for 1.40 million. Overall, in India and abroad, this must be 1.85 million. Today, the vast majority of them have been drawn into the urban middle class, leaving behind their once exclusive quarters in villages known as “agraharams”.

The Brahmans’ role as the custodian of Sanskritic Hinduism has always been salient for their caste status. This eventually pitted them against the Dravidian mass in Tamil Nadu, rapidly reducing the Tamil Brahmans’ once influential hold over politics into a virtual zero. But instead of going into a shell, the Tamil Brahmans adapted more easily to newer opportunities and saw modernity as less threatening to their social and cultural traditions. In the process, an old caste elite got transformed into a modern middle-class group.

Among the Tamil Brahmans who rose to prominence in both an early era and later included T Muthusamy Iyer, the first Indian judge in the Madras High Court, lawyers V Bhashyam Iyengar, S Subramania Iyer and CP Ramaswamy Aiyar, engineers SA Subrahmanyar Aiyar and V Ganesh Iyer, mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, scientists and Nobel laureates CV.Raman (1930), his nephew Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1983) and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009). That Tamil Brahmans bagged three Nobel prices should not be surprising because the community took to law, science and civil service in a big way – and then made its mark in many other professions.

The Tamil Brahmans have also changed in many other ways. Although they tend to marry within the community, Iyers (or Shaivites) are seen as less conservative than Iyengars (or Vaishnavites). Their family sizes have shrunk, and parents rarely worry if both their children are daughters. Young Tamil Brahman women have more control over their matrimonial affairs. And today, Tamil Brahmans are dispersed across India and abroad, mainly in urban centres, and rural Tamil Naduis no longer their homeland in any meaningful sense.

The majority of Tamil Brahmans see themselves as both fully modern and authentically traditional, the authors say. Dislocation and disorientation are actually remarkably absent from the Tamil Brahman’s certain sense of themselves as both modern and traditional. But, then, this book is mainly about the Tamil Brahman upper middle class.

(IANS) (pic courtesy: amazon.in)

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Most Urban Indians Worry About Getting Jobs: Ipsos

More urban Indians worried about jobs, still back govt

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Indians jobs
Employment generation needs to be the top priority of the government, as it is reaching alarming proportions, among worry levels of urban Indians. (Representational Image). Pixabay

For the BJP-led Central government battling opposition criticism over a sluggish economy, the latest report of the Ipsos ‘What Worries the World’ monthly survey has good news as well as bad. 58 per cent of urban Indian respondents, in January, believed that India is heading in the right direction, unlike global citizens, of whom at least 61 per cent believe their country is on the wrong track.

However the bad news for the BJP is that the survey results for January show an 11 percent drop in optimism levels from December, when no less than 69 percent of urban Indians polled believed that India is moving in the right direction.

Indians jobs
Urban Indians continue to list joblessness or unemployment, crime and violence, and financial and political corruption as their top concerns. Pixabay

“Employment generation needs to be the top priority of the government, as it is reaching alarming proportions, among worry levels of urban Indians. Likewise, law & order and incidents of violence need to be tackled with a firm hand,” said Amit Adarkar, CEO, Ipsos India.

Urban Indians continue to list joblessness or unemployment, crime and violence, and financial and political corruption as their top concerns. In January, worries centred around financial and political corruption saw a slight dip of 2 per cent over the previous month, while concerns over joblessness, and crime and violence zoomed up by 11 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

“Urban Indians continue to be optimistic and have faith in the abilities of the administrators, steering the country. Government should allay their worries by taking concrete steps. Some of the initiatives announced in the Union Budget, around Education & Skills under ‘Aspirational India’ theme, are likely to a have a positive impact, in the long term. However, we need some immediate term measures, to improve outlook,” Adarkar added.

Also Read- Here’s How the Youth is Helping Politics Grow in India

In all, 19,508 interviews were conducted for the January survey, between December 20, 2019 and January 3, 2020 in 28 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. (IANS)