Karnataka's Brahmin board to start calls for intra-caste unions soon
- Incentivising of intra-community marriage goes against govt’s goals of social equality, say experts
The Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board (KSBDB) is all set to open its online portal and other modes to invite applications for its contentious Maitreyi and Arundhathi schemes, which incentivise and promote marriages within the community.
“We will call for applications from March 2,” HS Sachindananda Murthy, the chairman of the board, said.
He said the board has just initiated systems through which tehisldars will visit the homes of applicants to verify their eligibility and economic credentials.
Under the Arundhati scheme, around 550 poor women from the Brahmin community will be given ₹25,000 each for their marriage. Similarly, under the Maitreyi scheme, a financial bond of ₹3 lakh (over three years) will be created for about 25 women who marry Brahmin priests from poor backgrounds.
Aditya Bhat, a resident of Adangadur village in Chikmagalur district, about 320 km from Bengaluru, is likely to be the first beneficiary of the Maitreyi scheme.
“I had heard about the scheme and applied for it. The board took my wedding invite and asked me to apply for the grant after my marriage,” the 26-year-old, who has been practising priesthood for the last 10 years, said.
He said his earnings fluctuate between ₹15,000- ₹20,000 per month to as low as ₹5,000 in lean and inauspicious periods. Bhat, who is part of a large joint family, owns about an acre of land where they grow areca nut, but the crop hasn’t fared too well due to diseases. He said the scheme would help with financial security for his future.
So far, the government has identified two priests in the state.
Both schemes, launched in January, have come under significant criticism from various quarters.
The board was established as per the budget announcement of 2018-19 by the then HD Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S)-Congress coalition government with an outlay of ₹25 crore for both schemes and capital expenditure. It was registered on March 1, 2019 as a move to help the community, which accounts for about 4% of the state’s population.
While the setting up of the board itself has been challenged in various forums, including the courts, the two schemes, in particular, have attracted criticism for re-engraving the idea and need for castes.
“As the chairman of such a board, I have made schemes that incentivise and promote the development of the Brahmins as well as those who safeguard Brahminism and cannot push for inter-caste marriages and ask them to leave the community,” Murthy said. He reasoned that if the government promoted such a scheme, it would be wrong, adding that the sole purpose of creating such a board was for the promotion of a particular community.
Karnataka’s caste-centric society is no different from the rest of the country, but the incentivising of intra-community marriage, experts say, goes against the stated goals of the governments—both state and Union—that boast about bringing in more social equality.
The KSBDB has so far introduced five schemes, including providing competitive exam training to youths and cash incentives for higher education. Murthy said a total of ₹21.5 crore out of the total ₹25 crore has been earmarked for various schemes of the board so far.
The initiation of systems and processes for the scheme comes at a time when there have been growing calls for reservation-related demands, including increasing allocations and change of categories by dominant and politically influential caste groups like Panchamasalis, Vokkaligas, Kurubas and Valmikis, among others.
“The constitutional validity of the caste-wise development corporations, which are promoted by this government, and the very policy is under challenge,” Professor Ravivarma Kumar, former advocate general of Karnataka and senior counsel, said.
The case against the formation of these caste-wise boards was filed in December and the government is yet to file its objections despite being granted four opportunities, Kumar said. The case was listed for Monday, but the government has sought more time and is expected to come for a hearing in mid-March.
The BS Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has established a board for Brahmins, Marathas and a corporation for the Veerashaiva-Lingayats with an allocation of ₹500 crore.
A report by Kumar, who served as chairman of the backward classes commission, in 2000 to incentivise promotion of inter-caste marriages, is yet to be implemented even though a survey was conducted in 2015 based on the commission’s recommendations, he said.
Kumar also referred to the socio-economic survey — better known as ‘caste census, the first anywhere in the country since 1931 — which was carried out by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2015. The survey was seen as a move to challenge the dominant caste theory in Karnataka by the then chief minister, who had stormed to power with the support of AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits). But the findings are yet to be made public by Siddaramaiah or the two governments since then.
Kumar said the government has access to actual and in-depth economic and social conditions on each and every caste group in the state but has “buried it” and pursued pushing its own agenda.
Political analysts and experts on caste said the releasing of the report would antagonise dominant communities like Lingayats and Vokkaligas, who play central roles in the state’s politics with their close affiliations to all three major parties of the state—BJP, Congress and JD(S).