Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

From Landlords to Software Engineers: Migration and Urbanization among Tamil Brahmans

C. J. Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhana1

a1 London School of Economics and Political Science

In south India's rapidly expanding information technology (IT) industry, the small, traditional elite of Tamil Brahmans is disproportionately well represented. Actually, no figures to confirm this assertion exist, but all the circumstantial evidence suggests that it is true, especially among the IT professionals and software engineers employed by the leading software and services companies in Chennai (Madras).1 Since the nineteenth century, Tamil Brahmans have successfully entered several new fields of modern professional employment, particularly administration, law, and teaching, but also engineering, banking, and accountancy. Hence the movement into IT, despite some novel features, has clear precedents. All these professional fields require academic qualifications, mostly at a higher level, and the Brahmans' success is seemingly explained by their standards of modern education, which reflect their caste traditions of learning.2


Acknowledgments: Research was carried out in Chennai for about twelve months in total between August 2003 and February 2005, and among Vattima Brahmans in Tippirajapuram between September 2005 and March 2006, in the United States in September 2006, and in Chennai and other Indian cities between January and April 2007. Most of the research was done by Haripriya Narasimhan, although Chris Fuller was with her for part of the time. The text of this article was written by Fuller, although we have discussed it together extensively and it represents our joint views. We thank the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council, which has supported all the research. For useful comments on earlier drafts of this article, we thank John Harriss, Johnny Parry, Tom Trautmann, and two anonymous CSSH readers, as well as participants at seminars in the London School of Economics and the University of Amsterdam.