REPLAYING THE BRAHMIN-KSHATRIYA CONFLICT? : Teachers and lawyers fight bureaucrats
A NEW semester has begun at my university and I suppose I am more excited about it than my students are. A fresh batch that is ready to come to class and hopefully learn is here. But mostly they try to come to terms with a future that is insecure and they will try to negotiate through that by getting a degree. This is true for teachers too who spend a life immersed in education. They also make a living from education the same way, let’s say, a banker does. Education with the sole purpose of learning has almost never been in history. The purpose has always been to produce better professionals, in whichever sector that is. And in this world of professionals, there are others too, particularly those who do the hiring.
In ancient societies, particularly in South Asia, learning was caste based. The Brahmin was the teacher and even the king learnt from him. But it didn’t necessarily imply his superiority and we know that in the earliest period, there were two castes — Rajanya (chiefs) and Brahmanya (learned) — and they ruled in some degree of harmony. However, as the Aryan society began to settle down and economic activities multiplied, the relationship began to change.
But it was the usurpation of the traditional Brahmin’s role as the sole producer of learning that faced the biggest threats in the shape of the rise of Jainism and Buddhism. Both Mahavira, who founded Jainism, and Gautam Buddha, who established Buddhism, were non-Brahmins. Both were Kshatriyas or the warrior caste and both came from the ruling families of north India. These two great streams of religious learning and practice were not from the traditional learned groups but rulers and many think as a rebellion against the Brahmin orthodoxy. It took a long time before the Brahmins gained some power in the form of Shankaracharya later. But within a few hundred years after that the traditional Hindu kingdom of India was to end as we know it, overwhelmed by the Turko-Afghans of Central Asia.
Teachers and judges versus bureaucrats
THE struggle today is different but with some similarities as the public university teachers face off the bureaucrats and politicians over pay and status. The teachers are not led by anti-Awami League groups but one of the staunchest loyalist groups they have. Like them the BNP too has their supporters and panels. In other words, it’s a reflection of the fight being waged in the bigger political space. Will the Brahmins win or the Kshatriyas?
The learned caste has tended to accept the supremacy of the warriors willingly and that is why they have gone to them to realise their demands. But the chief ruler/warrior prime minister Sheikh Hasina has not taken their protests too kindly.
Sheikh Hasina has said that the teachers are ‘lowering themselves by comparing themselves with others’. The teachers of public universities are saying that their status has been lowered through the new pay scale which puts a bit less than that of the senior most bureaucrats. Hasina added that the Awami League government raised salaries twice after it had come to power in 2009. ‘I don’t understand why some groups are still not satisfied. There are small groups everywhere now.’
She has urged everyone to follow the rules of their organisations. ‘There has to be discipline in everything. People are satisfied with little in times of hunger. When hunger is gone and they get affluent, things like prestige, justice, honour and deputation come to their minds.’
It seems the for now, the Kshatriyas have the upper hand as the Brahmins have always had to depend on them for their living. In an interesting new twist, the learned caste’s rebellion against their own ruling clan has created a situation of conflict that puts the unity of the people in power in a different shade. It seems that winners always don’t agree.
But it’s not limited to the university teachers alone. In a recent statement, the chief justice has said that the judiciary must step forward to stop the executive from usurping all the powers. ‘“Beware of the executive. It is trying to take away all our powers,’ Justice Sinha said at a meeting of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
‘The judiciary and the legal profession have always raised the voice whenever such tendencies surfaced in the past. If they don’t step forward to stop the executive’s bid to usurp all powers, who will? I appeal to all lawyers, especially the seniors, to step forward.’
It’s an unusual call for resistance against a brother branch of the government. So if teachers and lawyers are together in the fight against the bureaucrats with many claiming that the politicians are over dependent on the babus, one should also look at the composition of the ruling class itself and if that is a healthy state or not.
But it’s not the first time in history that Brahmins and the Kshatriyas have fought each other but in the end, the Kshatriyas prevailed. In Bangladesh, in what seems to be getting ready for an asymmetric battle, the outcome may determine how the relationship between the various organs of the government will look like for some time to come. But history says, the bureaucrats have usually won.
Let’s wait and see if a Shankaracharya emerges and if so can make a difference.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.