Life is a dream
An article published in Times of India, Chennai Edition on August 28th, 2010
IGNORED BY POLITICAL PARTIES AND DENIED WELFARE,LARGE SECTIONS OF A TRADITIONALLY ELITE CLASS LIVE IN POVERTY
B Sivakumar | TNN
Chennai: V Subramaniam,65,has been a priest for over three decades,assisting in Hindu rituals and ceremonies for most of his life.He is treated with respect by the community when he steps into a house to perform a puja or solemnize a marriage.
There is little else to show for it though.His monthly income of Rs 1,000 is below the poverty line.He lives in a dilapidated house,his wife works as a domestic help,and his sons have dropped out of school.The future is clearly bleak.
Such is the plight of a large section of Tamil Nadus Brahmin community,often regarded to be at the top of the discriminatory caste order and therefore denied welfare benefits by a government intent on social justice.
The daily income of Subramaniam and other Brahmins like him in Chennai,who make a living merely by assisting at Hindu ceremonies and rituals,tend to vary a great deal.
There are seasons when marriages are not conducted at all or pujas may be few.
In several cases,such families get by with the wives working as cooks.Most save on rent by living in decrepit houses in the older quarters like Triplicane or Mylapore where they share rooms with other families.
Although perceived as a community that places a premium on education,many are often unable to afford hefty school or college fees.N Ravi,who works as an accountant with a private firm,recently pulled his son out of an engineering college as he could not afford the fees.
He shifted him to an arts college.As students from the forward community largely comprising Brahmins,a section of Pillais,Chettiars and Mudaliars are ineligible for fee concessions,many poor Brahmins like Ravi struggle to educate their wards.
Most poor Brahmins in and around Mylapore and Mambalam are not even aware of the state governments old age pension scheme nor do they get the free colour televisions being distributed by the administration.The only government benefit they avail of is the purchase of essential commodities in the public distribution system at a subsidized rate.
Mylapore MLA S Ve Shekher says,More than 50% of the Brahmins live a hand-to-mouth existence.It is a myth that all Brahmins lead a comfortable life.There are Brahmins who drive autos,carry bodies and take care of cremation and serve as waiters in restaurants.When those from other communities doing similar jobs enjoy government benefits like education grants,why not poor Brahmins
Some months back,Shekher,who has also stared a forum for the community,presented a memorandum to chief minister M Karunanidhi seeking extension of benefits to poor Brahmins,but there has been no response so far.
Tamil Nadu Brahmins Association (*******) secretary V Jagannathan notes that Brahmins hardly enter government service now since reservations are heavily weighed against them;most are either employed in the private sector or run their own enterprises.The more professionally qualified end up migrating to other states.
None of the government schemes applies to the poor in forward communities.Even the free cycles given to girl students was made universal only after the association made a representation,he says.
S Chellappa,a marriage caterer says many poor Brahmins in the city have now moved to the suburbs beyond Tambaram as they can no more afford rent here.The general view is that Brahmins have been marginalised by successive governments on the basis of historical reasons,many of which may no longer be relevant.
Some also feel Brahmins are not as assertive as other communities,and their associations have little political clout or support even within the community.Political commentator Cho Ramaswamy summed it up with a brief opinion.
Brahmins are not wanted in Tamil Nadu,beyond that I do not want to comment.