Thoughts & Ideas

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Fifth Columnists

If there is something more than culture, and music, and Bhakti, and Sufism, and food, and Urdu / Hindustani etc. etc. linking the Hindu / Muslim identities, it is the caste group of Kayasthas. Something which seems to be get habitually missed out by people ranging from Girish Karnard to Sir Vidia and of course our very own argumentative Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen. Though this is also something my ex-boss and continuing good friend Sachidanand Singh never misses an opportunity to remind me of – kayastha tho adha mussalman hote hain

M N Srinivas in discussing social change in India enlightens us that there has been a regular churning of various communities moving up and down the caste hierarchy. One of the examples he uses is that of the Kayasthas. Sometime in the not too distant past it seems (with fairly good evidence) that they were part of the Untouchables caste groups (Harijan to be politically correct – but that word was not coined in the epoch when the changes being discussed happened). Now the Muslim rulers of the country needed indigenous help to run their administrations. This raised both a problem and an opportunity. The problem being that caste Hindus would loose their caste and position in society (both in this world and all subsequent worlds) if they came into contact with the Muslims, and so they largely stayed away. The opportunity came to those who did not have any caste to loose – the Untouchables. So sprang up the Kayasth castes (with its 13 sub-castes) formed out of the Untouchables who associated and helped the Muslim rulers run their administrations. Their long association with the Muslims gave them education, power and social prestige. And in the process they moved up the social hierarchy, but with a difference. They fall neither in the Brahman, nor the Kshatriya, nor the Vaishya, nor the Shudra caste brackets! They are a special caste group in themselves and bracketed under the Upper Castes.  

While, the community continues to be largely Hindu (Wiki tells me that there also a lot of Muslim Kayasthas!), very many of their living practices, especially food habits, dress codes, and language continued to have Muslim flavour. Even today, members of this are found at nearly all places which had Muslim rulers, not only in North India, but also deep South in the Deccan such as Aurangabad, and Hyderabad.

Harivansh Rai Bachchan (a Srivastava Kayastha) mentions in his autobiography of a family heirloom by way of a hand written copy of the Ramcharitmanas in the Persian script. Babu Rajendra Prasad, mentions in his Autobiography that he got his primary education from a Maulvi at home in Persian. Then he studied in the English medium at school and college. Though he had a working knowledge of the Kaithi script, he learnt Hindi only after starting his law practise, at the age of 25-26! In the early sixties, yours truly’s introduction to formal education was through the alif, bey, they of the Urdu alphabets written in chalk on a wooden slate in front of Goddess Saraswati! 

Family lore mentions that immediately after Independence – when reservations were made for scheduled castes / tribes in Government jobs - the Kayastha community had made a spirited attempt for their inclusion among the untouchables. Unfortunately for themselves and (fortunately for the scheduled castes) they lost!

I also wonder why in the writing of the Constitution of India, only Dr. Ambedkar’s name is remembered by way of contribution of the Depressed Classes to this hallowed document? We should include at least two persons for this honour. Both were Kayasthas (read as from one of the untouchable castes) involved in this monumental national task. Dr. Rajendra Prasad the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly (a Srivastava Kayastha from Bihar), and Prem Behari Narain Raizada, the person who can be held responsible for literally writing the constitution in a flowing italic style in the best calligraphic tradition of our country (a Saxena Kayastha from Delhi). 

Would this background in any way indicate that the likes of Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad et al are Behen Mayawati’s Fifth Columnists in the BJP?


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