In the tweet that follows, take a close look at the illustration accompanying the tweet by Harvard University Press announcing the Bangalore International Centre event. There is a white, fat man, with a shikhā — the tuft of hair at the back of his head — sitting at a grindstone, and guided by the hand of the Devil to pour some offering to the grindstone that has black men and women as the grain that is being ground at this Devil’s Mill. As the grindstone churns these black men and women are falling crushed into some fiery hell. The Brahmin priest has some palm-leaf manuscript in his hand from which he is reciting his Vedic mantras. This illustration, we can surmise, is all about a Brahmin or Brahminism crushing all others while pursuing their devilish Brahminical supremacist agenda.
This mischievous illustration has the Brahmin sitting at a grindstone and not at the fire altar or in front of a temple altar with Hindu deities where he usually sits and performs his pujas and offers the oblations to the Gods or to the sacred fire. It is not the sacred deities that the Brahmin pays obeisance to, but it is a version of the Christian or Semitic Devil he is subservient to in this provocative illustration. Imagine Harvard University Press tweeting about an event with an illustration that shows the Pope standing at a guillotine, with Bible in hand and the Devil hovering over him, and Catholic paedophile priests looking on with glee, lined up behind the Pope, as children, women, Blacks, people of the world waiting to have their heads chopped off. Or imagine another event tweeted by Harvard University Press where, in an illustration, you have an Imam with a sword in hand, and his hand is held by the Devil in a public square, where women in veils are lined up to be beheaded. Would they? Then how dare they get away with this Brahmin hatred? What kind of arrogance, what kind of bloodlust, and what kind of vulgar excess is Harvard University willing to exercise as its well-paid professoriate go hunting for the poor Brahmin priest?
Ajantha Subramanian teaches at Harvard University, and is in fact the Chair of the Department of Anthropology. A chair of the department at Harvard earns between $234,000 and $350,000 a year, and even at the lower end of the scale this purveyor of pfaff would be earning about $250,000 a year at this university which has an endowment of more than $40 billion. Harvard University’s 6,400 undergraduate students are not only selected from the cream of high school graduates in the US and around the world, but are also children of alumni, donors, and faculty. This is the university that Ajantha Subramanian works for, but her complaint is not about Harvard but about the IITs in India where, she claims, merit-based admission to engineering programs allow mostly Brahmin boys and girls to prosper from such an education! Interviewing this esteemed professor is who else but the poster boy of egalitarianism and Magsaysay Award winner, T.M. Krishna, the otherwise talented Carnatic classical musician who seems to also be on a mission to destroy what the Brahmins built, learned and earned.
The IITs have maintained some level of excellence because the rather demanding entrance tests ensure that students who enter the portals of these centres of excellence are indeed intelligent, bright, hardworking, and disciplined enough to become excellent engineers. However, it is not as if these centres of excellence have shut their doors to those who are otherwise handicapped by caste and class backgrounds and who may, therefore, have not been able to score those high marks in the entrance exams: there is the reservation of seats for various caste groups at IITs unlike at Harvard where affirmative action does not ensure the level of diversity reflecting American society, though they have begun to make up for their past racism with a new kind of anti-Asian racism. At the IITs 15% of the seats are reserved for students of Scheduled Caste communities, 7.5% of seats are reserved for students from the Scheduled Tribes, and 27% of the seats are reserved for students from the Other Backward Castes (OBCs).
Literally, 50% of the seats are reserved, and therefore those “bad” Brahmin boys and girls, who would have otherwise made it to the IITs, based on their performance in the entrance tests, now have to go looking for engineering training at other universities where there are even higher%ages of seats reserved for the SC, ST, and OBC students!
An even more interesting fact about the reservation system at IITs for the three categories of students is that if there are not enough students meeting the minimum qualifying criteria for admission, the standards are lowered by 50%! But what if students do not meet even that criterion, and there are still seats left under these three categories? Students get deferred admission, are offered instruction in special physics, chemistry, and math classes for one year, and then tested again, at the lowered levels of qualification, and those who then pass those exams are streamed back in to complete their engineering training. None of these matter to Ajantha Subramanian and T.M. Krishna, it seems, because they fear the IITs are the new temples where Brahmin boys and girls and their Brahmin professors are the new priests grinding other castes into dust.
In this excerpt from her book on IITs, we therefore read the following:
“The Indian state underwrote the exceptionalism of the IITs in many ways. First, it did so through their founding as institutions distinct from the existing educational ecosystem. Second, the patronage of foreign partners set them apart as ‘world-class’ institutions that would act as forerunners in developing India. The state indexed its intimate association with this class of institutions through routine rituals of recognition. The presence of prime ministers, presidents, ministers, and foreign diplomats at IIT convocation ceremonies was commonplace, putting on visual display the institutes’ standing at the highest echelon of Indian education. This did not go unnoticed by the institutions’ students. As one 1963 alumnus of IIT Madras put it, ‘Within a couple of days of our joining, IITM held its first convocation with President S. Radhakrishnan as the chief guest. For many of us, I think that the grand ceremony was a momentous introduction to the status of our new home for the next five years’.”
But wait! Harvard is known to invite not only the top American political leaders and the well-known and well-to-do but also presidents and prime ministers of other countries to address Harvard students not only at commencement ceremonies but all through the year at a variety of events. What is this well-paid provocateur trying to dismantle in India that she does not mind prospering from in America? The IITs are Indian government-funded and supported institutions, seeking to offer some level of engineering excellence in a country where the race to the bottom, driven by political gamesmanship, has made any attempt at excellence a fool’s errand. It seems as if Ajantha Subramanian’s grouse is that not only that these young men and women who have sweated and toiled to graduate from these institutions not be feted for their work and for succeeding in life but they should be castigated and tarred because many of them come from Brahmin families and have converted their caste privilege into economic privilege!
Let us look at how many Black students Harvard University, the oldest university in the United States, admitted as freshmen last year: about 14.3% of the 2009 students. That is quite impressive. The%age of African Americans in the US is 13.4%, and you would think that Harvard is doing more than its share, as an elite institution, to make up for past mistakes. But before you run to the store to cash-in on this information, think about this: the majority of Black students admitted to Harvard are from middle and upper-middle-class backgrounds, a large majority of them are actually from Africa and the Caribbean, and maybe from elite, rich, well-to-do families!
One cannot figure out what Ajantha Subramanian’s social engineering project is, and beyond her Harvard University profile, which does not even indicate where she earned her education credentials from, we do not know what her family background is, what her political affiliations are, and what specifically she wants for the world. That she calls herself an anthropologist is itself interesting because anthropology these days is whatever you do to unearth some pieces of data to fit your theoretical dog to chase and run with.
And then there is TM Krishna, the grandnephew of TT Krishnamachari, Finance Minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet, and a scion of a Chennai Brahmin family. He was supposed to interview Ajantha Subramanian at the Bangalore International Centre — which itself has become a haven for the left, Marxist, feminist and progressive groups — about her book on the IITs and what she claims is the “leveraging of merit as an upper-caste identity”. If not for the pandemic and the countrywide lockdown there would have been a whole line of young Brahmin boys and girls lined up to listen to these two pompous, self-aggrandising, preening TamBram neo-Brahmins paradoxically occupying centre stage.
Meanwhile, do not let that odious illustration that Harvard University Press peddled be erased from memory.