ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Brahmanism, Liberalism and the Postcolonial Theory

Indian academic scholarship and politics have remained caught between the triangulate frames of Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial theory, papering over the commonalities between the three in their "politics of accommodation," and the fact that they cumulatively privilege similar bhadralok scholarship. Indian politics today is witnessing an implosion of intra-subaltern conflicts which cannot be captured either through East versus West or subaltern versus elite kind of frames.

It is common belief that Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial interventions are not only mutually exclusive frames, but that they were inaugurated to displace one another. In India, Western liberalism was a response to undo the social hierarchies put in place by Brahmanical proclivities, including those of purity and pollution and gender discrimination closely linked to caste, all found in a programmatic form in Manusmriti. In turn, postcolonial theory was inaugurated to displace the “imperialism of categories” introduced by Western modernity in our society which was originally communitarian, religious, and traditional. However, a closer look at Brahmanism, liberalism and postcolonial theory, and the way this triangular entanglement works itself offers us a possibility to read all the three frames as belonging to the same “epistemic community.” The social and political effects of the three frames operate within the limits of a “politics of accommodation,” and of incremental and additive change.

Brahmanism’s core philosophical propensity is not only to justify social hierarchy and untouchability but also to allow porous changes that will disallow the building of contradictions. Brahmanism is a philosophical system that co-opts and accommodates moments that emerge in opposition to it and tones them in its own colour. This is how Buddhism and innumerable other reform movements within Hinduism came to be co-opted into the Hindu fold as “dissents” internal to Hinduism. Thus, even though core practices have a certain fixity, “truth” becomes contextual here. Gandhian praxis is symptomatic of this practice, oscillating between claims that are non-negotiable and the idea that truth (god) itself needs to be unearthed through an ethical praxis, such as that of a satyagrahi. If seen in a deeper sense, liberalism reflects a similar kind of propensity to accommodate and arrive at consensus and dialogue without radically altering the structural power relations, or the equation between the hegemonic practices of the dominant over the dominated.

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