Let's talk about casual casteism, shall we? Discrimination is not perpetuated and practiced only by vocally putting one caste down, it is also propagated by identifying success, desirability and cultural superiority with one specific caste.
That's the kind of casual casteism that a new video is being accused of.
'Tam-Brahm Boy' features Sofia Ashraf, who rose to fame with her protest video 'Kodaikanal Won't'. The video has a woman singing a song which revolves around her fantasies about a Tamil Brahmin boy. The intent of the video is clear--to reclaim the space for women's desire in the popular narratives around sex and sexuality. However, to articulate the same, the makers of the video chose a Tamil Brahmin boy as the subject. Note, not just any Tamil boy, but a Tamil 'Brahmin' boy. Now, it is kind of easy to see how the content makers may have gotten carried away--in most situations 'Tam Brahm' is a word uttered with the same kind of adoration as 'red velvet cupcake' is. But that doesn't change the fact that it still ties desirability to a privileged upper caste identity and that's exactly what casteism is.
The Newsminute explained in an article why the video, despite its concern for gender parity, has fallen into the casteism trap.
"Here are the assumptions that the video makes--that TamBrahm men have beautiful hot bods, that they are simple and gentle, and that they are really intelligent because they have high GPAs. All of that is patently, demonstrably false and specifically misleading in a casteist way," Ramanathan S writes for The Newsminute.
"As for their super-intelligence. Sigh, I don't know where to begin. Suffice to say these are the exact kind of caste generalizations that we need to get rid of," he adds.
Apart from talking about the 'tan brown' bod of the 'Tam Brahm' boy, the song talks about grabbing him by his poonal, drawing him close. The poonal is the thread that Brahmin men wear around their upper body as a caste marker. Commenters on social media pointed out that the poonal, therefore, is nothing one should either love or lust.
The comments section of the YouTube video, as a result, was also flooded with criticism for the alleged casteist slant of the video.
Ram Narayan wrote on the comments section: "Absolutely Disgusting. Not funny. Not enjoyable. And we are stuck with Caste System for another 100 years."
Another said: "Such a casteist video in this day and age! That too from Sofia! I had great respect for her after that kodaikanal video. Only Tambrahm boys are "simple and gentle"? Only Tambrahm boys have "high GPA"? And seriously, you're glamorizing a casteist symbol like Poonool? Cringing really hard. Disgusting."
A lot of the criticism was directed at Ashraf. It's a dampener for the rapper-activist, whose previous outings had a major impact. Her rap song 'Kodaikanal Won't' was aimed at making multinational giant Unilever accountable for dumping nuclear waste in the forests of Kodaikanal. The company agreed to compensate the affected shortly after the video became a viral sensation. She had also recently come up with another video that spoke about the Bhopal gas leak victims. Ashraf's work is known for its intelligence, courage and appeal among the social media savvy youngsters.
Ashraf issued a responded to the criticism with the following Facebook post:
"Normally, I NEVER address haters. But, this needs to be said. Before we brush aside the haters for the Tam Brahm video as people who didn't get the sarcasm behind it, we need to listen to what they are saying. A lot of their reasons for taking offence may sound silly, but the fight is real. My video is in no way meant to be casteist or supremist and everyone who knows me knows that I am neither. That much is true. But these people are trying to fight a bigger battle against decades of culture washing and I don't blame them for getting their pitchforks out everytime someone says the words Brahmin in a non-privilege-checking scenario. It doesn't validate some of their hateful comments against an entire community, but, I think their agenda isn't entirely misplaced and I understand where they're coming from, is what I'm saying."
You can watch the video here: