On behalf of Intellectual Shudras


I  understand Rajiv Malhotra has coined a term called “Intellectual Kshtriya” presumably to describe himself and to inspire his supporters to fight for certain ideas. The term made me think of applicability of Varnashram categories to the intellectual community. The more I thought about it, the more sense it seemed to make. Most of the intellectuals that I have come across seem to fit into three main categories- Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishyas. Each of these groups has its own orientations and predispositions.Needless to say, I am using the Varnashram categories in a symbolic sense and not as social categories of belonging.

There are intellectuals who value knowledge for its own sake, pursue it with complete dedication and are regarded as the final say on what constitutes valid knowledge.We can call these people  Brahmins of the intellectual community. They know their discipline inside-out and focus on maintaining its purity, rigour and quality standards. . They love delving into nuances, finer points and complexities of their area of study and are generally suspicious of simple straight forward formulations.Consequently they become the gate -keepers of “acceptable knowledge” in their respective areas and any new idea or perspective must gain the stamp of their approval before becoming credible. However dialogue with them presupposes a high degree of erudition and familiarity with their language. This in effect means that over a period of time they become an elite club into which only a select few can be admitted.   Application of knowledge to living reality is relatively less important to them and consequently they are some times seen as living in ivory towers which further reinforces their elite-status. Like all elite groups they have their share of internal politicking, but show remarkable degree of solidarity when their collective privileges and entitlements are under attack.

Then there are intellectuals who take up the role of protecting the knowledge system from external attacks and internal chaos. They  provide the necessary muscle power to the intellectual community and can be regarded as its “Kshatriyas”. For them intellect is a resource to be deployed in service of their “ideology”i.e. the set of beliefs that they hold.. They generally have strong convictions and clear positions about what they stand “for” and what they stand “against”. Most of their formulations generate mutually exclusive categories such as true/false, good/bad, right/wrong etc. They recognise that knowledge and intellect are significant factors in power dynamics and hence  spend considerable time and effort in sharpening their intellectual sword. Also they take the trouble of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the other side before taking them on in an intellectual combat. Their unambiguous stances help them to communicate more effectively (as compared to intellectual brahmins) with people at large. They  become extremely active in situations which are emotionally charged and polarised for example (a)when their is a conflict within the Brahmin community or (b) when there is a significant challenge to the prevalent belief systems.  In such situations their role as representatives of the ideological group to which they belong comes to the fore.

Then there are intellectuals who link the knowledge system with the day to day living process of the community. They are the technologists and traders of the intellectual community and can be called the “Vaishyas”.  For them knowledge and intellect are “means” for betterment of life. This “betterment” is generally defined in terms of material conditions and social efficacy. They strive to become the link between Intellectual Brahmins and people at large. They try to take the essence of the “learnings” from the Brahmins and then translate them in a language which can be understood by people and hence becomes usable in day to day living. Consequently they are extremely popular amongst general public and their “self-help” books often  figure in the best-seller lists.They are actively engaged with the day to day living process and make themselves available as problem solvers/consultants.  With the growing influence of the corporate sector, the stock of these intellectuals is at a high and seems to be rising exponentially. Simultaneously, they are often accused of oversimplification, corrupting the essence of the “learnings” which they claim to rely upon and even down right manipulation.

What have been described above are broad prototypes. Each person will be a unique configuration of all three. Also each of these play a crucial role and all  of them have their own down sides. Whether or not they are able to play their respective roles effectively depends upon the hygiene of the eco-system in which they operate. It is in this respect that the fourth category namely the Intellectual “Shudra” becomes important, whose primary concern is with maintaining this hygiene and enabling life to blossom.

If the term intellectual is used only in a limited rational/theoretical sense then it may not seem applicable to this group, as they are not very erudite or learned people. They have no great theories to propound or any quick -fix solutions to offer. Their contribution is essentially of providing necessary service to the context so that healthy and meaningful intellectual endeavour can flourish. Thus they focus more on  the “process” aspect of the intellectual endeavour. In their scheme of things, intellect is not divorced from emotion and/or action. They believe that what one thinks, how one feels and the way one behaves are all inter-related and parts of an integrated “eco-system”. It is the hygiene of this eco-system which is most precious to them. They pay special attention to the fact that their “mind” responds differentially to different ideas. Some ideas find ready acceptance whereas others are strongly resisted. Similarly how they feel towards the “other” has a significant impact on the way they listen and impacts the quality of their dialogue with the other. Much of their effort and energy is spent on creating ground conditions and fostering a healthy ambience for meaningful intellectual endeavour.

The best example of an Intellectual Shudra that I can think of comes from an old story which made a very deep impact on me. The story is of a cobbler Ramdaas who lived in a town with his family and earned a living through repairing the foot-wear of his clients. One day the queen of the town dreamt of a beautiful pair of bracelets. She was so enamoured by them that she insisted upon having them. The king summoned all the reputed jewellers of the town and ordered them to produce the pair of bracelets which the queen desired. The jewellers tried their best to figure out what the queen desired but repeatedly failed in their endeavour. The king was exasperated and ordered that if the jewellers failed to produce the bracelets within a specific time period all of them will be be-headed. As the time given by the king  was coming to the end and the jewellers were not making any head way, they came across a wise man. The wise man told them that such a pair of bracelets can only be obtained from Ganga (one of the most pious rivers in the country) He also told them that the only person who “knew” how to communicate with river Ganga is the cobbler Ramdaas. The jewellers were highly sceptical about it, but since they had no other choice they approached Ramdaas and requested him to accompany them to the banks of the river and convey their request. Ramdaas expressed his inability to do as he was tied up with some work assigned to him by his client. When the jewellers told him about their predicament and the urgency of their need, Ramdaas agreed to help them. However instead of accompanying them, he merely closed his eyes and put his hand into his Katauthi (the earthen pot of water which he used for his work) and took out the pair of bracelets which the jewellers were looking for. The jewellers were overjoyed and wanted to know how Ramdaas managed to get them without going to the river. Ramdaas smiled and replied “Man changa to Katauthi mien Ganga ” ( If you are in sync with your being then the holy river is an integral part of your life)

What strikes me as most significant about this story is that for Ramdaas, his knowledge is neither an end in itself nor an instrument for betterment. In fact his knowledge is so integral to him that one can not segregate them from each other. It resides in his mundane day to day living. One can look down upon him for being too caught up with the mundane aspects of living or one can marvel at his ability to experience the divine in his engagement with the mundane.

Being  a Ramdaas is neither easy nor particularly rewarding and yet it has a strong emotive appeal for me. I think there is part in each one of us which is like Ramdaas who silently works behind the scene to ensure that our feelings, thoughts and action remain integrated and interact with each other in a reasonably healthy manner. It is the efficacy of work done by Ramdaas which determines the hygiene of the eco-system both within ourselves and in our engagement with the external world. It is the health of this eco-system which determines the quality of the intellectual endeavour which can flourish. Thus like in all other spheres of life the Intellectual Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishyas within us  can play their part meaningfully only if the Intellectual Shudra within us provides with the necessary ground conditions to do so.However if we carry the hierarchy associated with Varnashram in our mind then  the Intellectual Shudra within us is  likely to be neglected or oppressed and  we will only see the most negative side of the Brahmin, the Kshtriya and the Vaishya.

Look forward to your sharing of how you see intellectual endeavour within your self and in the world that we live in.








One thought on “On behalf of Intellectual Shudras

Comments are closed.