Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expanded his Cabinet to include a few new ministers. Two among them — Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu — happen to come from the Goud Saraswat Brahmin (GSB) community, a caste of fish-eating Brahmins from India’s west coast. The GSB community is a small community that has done disproportionately well in all fields of endeavour in comparison with its size.
Would it then be right to celebrate the induction of two GSBs as a matter of GSB or Saraswat pride? This question was triggered by a tweet from a prominent journalist regarding the above. Coming from Goa and being intimately connected with the political and social happenings in Goa, made me ponder over this tricky, nevertheless important question.
I have grown up in the midst of various movements for Goa’s identity. The only identity that concerned all of us was the Goan identity. Goans of all castes and creeds and religions fought hand-in-hand and neither did a caste identity emerge nor were we separated.
To assert yourself as a GSB is to assert your superiority subtly. A caste comes to you by birth and no matter how bright you are or what you do, you cannot change it. And if that caste happens to be Dalit, heaven alone save you in India.
In the Goan context, two successive chief ministers coming from the GSB community — Digambar Kamat of Congress and Manohar Parrikar of BJP — have suppressed peoples’ movements and ensured that a major part of the profits from Goa’s destruction remains with a few elite businessmen. Incidentally, many of these elite businessmen are from the GSB community.
There is one argument which is used by those who try to use a caste-based identity to put forward their point of view. It is that if the backward castes assert their caste identity, why not the forward castes? Isn’t it reverse discrimination otherwise?
The answer lies in the fact that the rigid caste system and the discrimination that it brings about have thousands of years of history. It is not going to go away so soon. So, if a backward caste asserts its identity, it cannot still become a forward or a superior caste. Some of these combinations such as, say, the Dalit movement have formed due to the need for solidarity among victims of caste discrimination. If a GSB makes common cause with the Dalit movement, he could easily join or participate in it, but the reverse is not possible.
The only way to bring about an egalitarian society would be to ban mention of caste itself. This is not going to be easy. One way could be to ban surnames as they are used as indicators of caste. And this has to start with the forward or higher castes first.
Samir Kelekar is an activist and an IT professional
The views expressed by the author are personal