In the wake of the release of her new book ‘Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction.’, Booker Prize-winning author and activist has been facing flak from anti-caste scholars after she made a remark on Brahminism and her own Brahmin heritage.
In a video interview with Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico Nick Etze, Roy was asked if she found a parallel between India’s caste system and the racial hierarchy in the United States.
Roy in her previous works has been known to be vocal about ‘Brahmanism’ and the ‘re-Brahmanisation’ of certain sections of India as one of the central pegs of India’s caste hierarchy.
Etze wanted to find out if Roy was herself a Brahmin, as is often believed.
To that question, Roy replies that she is not a Brahmin. “My mother is Christian and my father was a member of the Brahmo Samaj, which is not Brahmin," she said, adding that he also became a Christian later.
Speaking further on the matter of Brahminism, Roy said,
“The anti-caste movement has traditionally used this word ‘Brahminism’…It isn’t about Brahmins but the idea of this kind of caste hierarchy. So, it isn’t just Brahmins that practice Brahminism".
She went on to point out that the fundamental difference between racism and caste was that “caste had also given itself religious sanction".
Roy, who has written a number of essays books on the caste system - an important element in all her works of fiction as well as non-fiction, has since faced flak from anti-caste and Dalit scholars.
Anti-caste scholar and activist Tejas Harad took to Twitter and wrote, “Arundhati Roy says Brahminism isn’t about Brahmins. What is it about then?"
Arundhati Roy says Brahminism isn't about Brahmins. What is it about then? https://t.co/LOfJKNjS3l— Tejas Harad (@h_tejas) September 3, 2020
Many also posed questions on her alleged Brahmin ancestry. Keen followers also pointed out that though Roy was not Brahmin, her mother belonged to the Syrian Christian community, which is known to be an elite, conservative community.
Arundhati Roy is bluntly lying that she is not a brahmin. Anyone can notice a hesitation in her voice and expression.
Hypocrisy at its peak.
brahmanism as it's best. #ArundhatiRoy pic.twitter.com/UFwxyykn6c
— Dalit Chef (@DalitChef) September 3, 2020
Arundhati Roy says she's not a Brahmin cuz she's Christian.10 seconds later says well, caste exists in other religions like Christianity, Sikhism etc..
What is this new level of whatbouttery??Theek se bolo, what is ur caste! That was the question. https://t.co/7ITKPDB6GM
— Buffalo Intellectual 🐃 (@BuffaloSpeaks) September 3, 2020
So for those interested, Arundhati Roy's mother is Syrian Christian, which are upper caste Christians in Kerala are similar to Brahmins. https://t.co/5ogfxFRvgF— Hari Prasad/ ഹരി/ हरि / هري (@HariPrasad91) September 3, 2020
Harad Pointed out that “by making Brahminism about a set of behavioral practices, you de-historicise caste. No other caste group can match with Brahmins in terms of continuity, privilege and general assholery. If you want a relatively neutral term, you can go for caste system".
So is Arundhati Roy Brahmin?
The answer is no, she is not. She even reiterated the same in 2019 interview with Asia News Network in which she had said that her father was a Brahmo Samaji while her mother was a member of the Malayali Syrian Christian which in her own words was a " very closed elite community and very conservative".
Many have found parallels between upper castes in Hindu and the Syrian Christian (or Saint Thomas Christians) who were traditionally known to practice several upper-caste Hindu traditions and perform activities with them in Kerala in order to achieve soci0-religious stratification.
Roy, nevertheless, is not a Hindu Brahmin herself and there is no such thing as a ‘Brahmin’ in Christianity.
This, however, is not the first time that Roy has faced flak from anti-caste scholars and activists. In 2014, Roy wrote an introduction to the Annihilation of Caste, a seminal critique on India’s caste system and Hindusim by Dr BR Ambedkar in which she criticised the latter as anti-Adivasi (tribal). Her non-Dalit origin had been a talking point even then.
“We object to Roy’s text not because of her non-Dalit origin but due to her poor grasp of the seminal text and even shallower and sensational out-of-context introduction to the original text at risk of maligning Ambedkar” Anu Ramdas, Editor of an online Dalit media platform Round Table of India (RTI) had said at the time.
Popular social media portal ‘Dalit Camera’ dedicated to Dalit consciousness and issues had also slammed Roy’s views.
Roy has nevertheless maintained that her caste identity was not reason enough to deny her the right to write about the caste system.
“That argument that only Dalits can write about Ambedkar or one shouldn’t write about Gandhi—that’s an opinion, but I don’t agree with it at all. My caste identity is totally muddled; I don’t fit in anywhere," she had said in an interview.
Roy won the Booker Prize for her novel ‘The God of Small Things’ and has since written a large volume of books and essays that highlight the issues and discrimination faced by minorities and the ‘voiceless’ in India. She is often attacked by the Indian right-wing which regularly tags her as an ‘urban naxal’ and ‘antinational’.