Building Blocks of Brahmanical Patriarchy

Building Blocks of Brahmanical Patriarchy: An Interactive

What was the manner in which gender relations were historically organised in India?

Uma Chakravarti argues that caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy have together helped build a Brahmanical social order in ancient India.

She called this social structure Brahmanical Patriarchy.

Imagine this Brahmanical, patriarchal social structure as a house

Each element listed on the panel represents a part of this structure.

Click on each word and build this house.

You will understand how this structure was designed to keep women and lower castes in a subordinate position.

Patrilineal succession

Wealth

Marriage

Restricted female mobility

Gender hierarchy

Female Sexuality

Female Reproductive labour

Merit

Lower-caste Manual Labour

Ritual/Caste purity

Women’s economic dependence

Force

Female Purity (Streedharma)

Social Respectability

Caste hierarchy

Patrilineal succession

The practice through which only the male descendants inherit wealth and social status within a caste.

Wealth

An accumulation of material resources that accompanies one’s caste privilege.

Marriage

An institution which enables upper caste men to control the reproductive capacity of women so lower-caste men cannot have sexual access to these women.

Restricted female mobility

The structures which keep women within the domestic sphere.

Gender hierarchy

The unequal relationship between men and women that results in the subordination of women.

Female Sexuality

The means by which to produce children to retain familial hold over resources.

Female Reproductive labour

Work associated with reproduction—that is, bearing children, raising children, and allied tasks within the household— that is performed by women to ensure patrilineal succession.

Merit

The spiritual favour/karma one earns by “controlling” one’s wife by whatever means necessary and maintaining the caste status-quo. .

Lower-caste Manual Labour

Manual labour, especially “polluting” labour, that is only done by lower castes on a socially mandated hereditary basis. This keeps them away from both reproductive and material resources.

Ritual/Caste purity

An elevated spiritual state of being that is achieved as a reward for following social norms (these norms oppress women and lower-caste people).

Women’s economic dependence

The effect of restricting women to the domestic sphere, where their labour is not recognised or paid, and can be controlled.

Force

Violence that is actively authorised and recommended in texts to control women who are deemed to have an essentially “lascivious” nature.

Female Purity (Streedharma)

The idea that women should strive to be desirable, which actually ensures women’s participation in their own subordination.

Social Respectability

The idea that adhering to certain caste and gender norms will help maintain one’s place in society.

Caste hierarchy

The unequal relationship between different caste groups as per the Varna system, because of which wealth and resources remain concentrated with the upper-castes.

You have successfully constructed Brahmanical Patriarchy.

The foundation of Brahmanical Patriarchy lay in the collective subordination of women and lower-castes so that upper-caste men could control both wealth and labour.

This control was ensured through a number of texts that were written by men, where women were instructed to be obedient and chaste, in return for which they would be venerated.

Women, along with lower-caste men, were also kept away from material wealth and resources, which made them dependent on upper-caste men.

In this manner, by strictly controlling reproduction, upper-caste men could retain their social dominance for generations.

This interactive is based on Uma Chakravarti’s article, “Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State,” which was published in EPW in 1993.

Curated by: Titash Sen [titash@epw.in]

Design: Gulal Salil [gulal@epw.in]

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