Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey with Indian female journalists and the offending placard.
Photo: Twitter/@annavetticad
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey with Indian female journalists and the offending placard. Photo: Twitter/@annavetticad

Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey found himself mired in a controversy during his recent visit to India.

Dorsey met a group of female journalists for an off-the-record conversation, but a photograph from the session went viral after it  showed him holding a placard saying, in English, Smash Brahminical Patriarchy!”.

The photograph was posted to Twitter by film critic and outspoken feminist Anna M.M. Vetticad:

This immediately drew ire from the upper caste Brahmin community, who lashed out at the Twitter CEO, accusing him of spreading hatred and hurting religious sentiments.

Vipra Foundation’s youth wing Vice President Rajkumar Sharma even filed a defamation case against Dorsey and called the post “anti-Brahmin”. He claimed that Brahmins were hurt and that the post was humiliating and intolerable to the community.

Trolls attacked Dorsey on Twitter, many even calling his actions “hatred towards minorities” and claiming that they could potentially trigger conflict among castes at a time when the nation is about to go to the polls.

Facing constant attacks and outrage over the post, Twitter issued an apology saying the poster was “not reflective” of their views and admitting they should have been more thoughtful.

While many advised Jack Dorsey to familiarize himself with the rigid caste system prevalent in Indian society, others criticized the social networking site for disassociating with the issue altogether.

Wrong to end Brahminical Patriarchy?

The Indian caste system divides Hindus into four main categories – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras, with the Brahmins traditionally being most respected and Shudras, the least.

The outrage over the use of the word “Brahmin” has shifted focus from a conversation which was about ending patriarchy but the relationship between Brahminism and the patriarchy cannot be overlooked.

“The purity of women has a centrality in Brahminical patriarchy, as we shall see, because the purity of caste is contingent upon it,” wrote historian Uma Chakravarti in 1993, one of the first academics to explore the concept of how social order and patriarchy are linked.

She also pointed out that social organisation in India consists largely of a “closed structure to preserve land, women, and ritual quality within it” and it is “impossible to maintain all three without stringently organizing female sexuality”, reported Scroll.

Perception that the caste system holds the society together as a functioning unit has not changed over the years. In reality it poses a threat to the freedom of the people, especially women.

In a recent case a couple from Telangana faced dire consequences of marrying outside their caste. The husband was a lower caste Christian and was allegedly killed by his father-in-law. The wife was pregnant at the time of her husband’s murder.

Brahmanism or Hinduism

Although people angrily object to the use of “Brahminical” to describe the Hindu caste system, Hinduism has often been equated with Brahmanism.

In a famous 1938 speech in Maharashtra’s Mahad, BR Ambedkar, Chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution and caste reformer said, “There are in my view two enemies which the workers of this country have to deal with. The two enemies are Brahmanism and Capitalism…By Brahmanism I do not mean the power, privileges and interests of the Brahmans as a community. By Brahmanism I mean the negation of the spirit of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In that sense it is rampant in all classes and is not confined to the Brahmans alone, though they have been the originators of it.”

Taking cue from the speech one can say that the word “Brahmanism” in the poster may not have been used to focus on that particular community but it may have been a call to end patriarchy in general.