Vantage point

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pop-Sociology I

Everyone knows and indulged in pop-psychological analysis. But what sort of a PhD student would I be if I didn't indulge in some pop-sociology? No references, no theoretical foundation, no empirical justification. Just conjecture, anecdotal evidence and quasi-hypothesis. Hey, that's what best-sellers are made of!

For my first pop-sociology post, I will pay attention to the Tamilian Brahmins, or the TamBrams. More specifically, their food habits. I have observed that a large number of Brahmins, especially in cities, have given up vegetarianism, most TamBrams are still zealously vegetarian. Why is that, I wonder? Even Gujaratis are largely vegetarian, but that's a topic for another post.

A few decades ago, I am sure most Brahmins from any region in India were vegetarian. A non-vegetarian brahmin was a rarity. Yet, almost everywhere else, Brahmins started eating meat in large numbers. Even specifically in South India, brahmins from Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala are not that zealously vegetarian anymore. Yet TamBrams, even in my generation, cling on to vegetarianism.

My explanation is Periyar. Several decades ago, Periyar lead an anti-Brahmin movement which was very popular, successful, and to this day, dictates politics in Tamil Nadu. This movement lead to large scale migration of Brahmins, and even the ones who stayed behind, couldn't help but feel a bit targeted.

Whenever a community is under attack, it closes itself up, and is less likely to be open to change. Which is why the "non-veg" influence, which is clearly an outsider influence for Brahmins, was avoided with religious zeal. To a community under attack, clinging on to what separates it from the rampaging majority, becomes very important. In other states, kids in Brahmin household eating meat might have been frowned upon, but the act itself didn't raise as many angry eyebrows. Because no one was attacking them too much, their Brahminism wasn't under attack, and hence their protective instincts about their traditions weren't as elevated.

TamBrams however, in a higher state of alert about defending their traditional identity, were more hyper about things. So while a "rebel" brahmin from other states could get away with eating non-Brahmin food with just some annoyed tongue-clucking from the family elders, a "rebel" tambram would have the kitchen sink thrown at him.

And that is the reason why TamBrams are more vegetarian than most other Brams.