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Understanding Brahminical Patriarchy & Why Smashing It Isn’t Bad

“Brahminical patriarchy.” But what do these two words mean? Who wants to smash it? And why is everyone angry?

Updated
India
2 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Preetam

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Brahminical patriarchy.

Two words which sparked a huge debate everywhere, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was seen holding a placard with the words "Smash Brahminical Patriarchy" in a photo posted on – yes, you guessed it – Twitter. But what do these two words mean? Who wants to smash it? And why is everyone angry?

What Is Brahminical Patriarchy?

Take these two words separately. Brahminical and patriarchy. One means a need to maintain caste purity in society. The other, a need to control women. Combine these two and you get a basic understanding of the term. According to a 1993 essay by Uma Chakravarti, the term means "the need for effective sexual control over women to maintain not only patrilineal succession but also caste purity."

One term which seeks to maintain both the oppressive caste system and the oppressive patriarchal system. Got it.

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Wait, Where Do We See It?

Everywhere, really. On 2 November 2018, a 45-year-old Dalit woman in Rajkot was slapped by an upper caste man when she went to fetch water at a borewell. The upper caste man wanted to wash his jeep, the woman told him to wait his turn, and she got assaulted. That's brahminical patriarchy in action. It's even worse, when you hear cases of Dalit women being raped or killed. According to this system, you're liable to violence because you're a Dalit, and you're a woman. And keeping you in place is the way the caste system and patriarchy will live on.

So, Who Wants to Smash It & How?

Well, yes. Brahminical patriarchy is not a new term in Dalit or feminist literature. It's been researched, written about and protested against for years. Most notably by BR Ambedkar. In ‘Against the Madness of Manu: BR Ambedkar’s writings on Brahminical Patriarchy,’ Sharmila Rege writes that "Ambedkar saw caste’s exclusionary violence and subjugation of women inherent in the very processes that lead to caste formation." And the most powerful way BR Ambedkar proposed that Brahminical patriarchy can be smashed is inter-caste marriage. Yes, a woman's freedom to marry outside her caste ends the power wielded by the upper-castes to oppress and further maintain the caste system.

This is why most reports of caste-based violence are centred around inter-caste marriages where a Dalit man marries an upper-caste woman.

That's brahminical patriarchy for you. So, if you now see “boycott Twitter” calls or just general outrage, pause and explain to them what brahminical patriarchy means. It's not just an academic term, it's all around us. And maybe it is indeed high time to smash it.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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