Caste in the United States


Thursday, March 22, 2018 (All day)


11 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

Equality Labs conducted the first comprehensive survey that details the extent to which Caste has embedded itself in the United States. Our results point to the fact that increasingly, Caste has become a matter of considerable weight in South Asian diasporic communities.

A better understanding of the full spectrum of Caste experience in the South Asian American immigrant community is crucial to the understanding of our internal hegemonies and how it maps on to the ways in which South Asians manage the frictions of living in a white supremacy while replicating Caste hegemonies, anti-Dalitness, and anti-Blackness. We believe this report will be a milestone on the path towards equity, both within and outside our communities. Come join us this March 22 when Dr. Cornel West and the authors of the report. Dr.Maari Zwick-Maitreyi and Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs detail the results, conclusions, and the ways to keep marching forward together! RSVP: EQUALITY LABS Equality Labs works at the intersection of education, art, and technology to support South Asian religious, ethnic, and cultural minority movements dealing with intractable systems of oppression. Equality Labs is the first South Asian American human rights and technology start-up whose leadership is centered around women, gender non-conforming, trans, and queer people. Pluralism Project Summary: On a cold evening in late March 2018 over one hundred people gathered in the First Church Cambridge for the official release of the Equality Labs survey on caste discrimination in South Asian communities in the United States. Dr. Cornel West opened the event with a speech on the importance of adopting an intersectional approach when fighting oppression. He was followed by Karlene Griffiths, a representative from Black Lives Matter, who spoke about the need for radical solidarity between oppressed peoples in order to combat global anti-blackness. Griffiths introduced the two Dalit women leading the Equality Labs project, Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Dr. Maari Zwick-Maitreyi. Dalit is a term referring to people who have been classed as being beneath and outside of the caste system. In the past Dalits were referred to as untouchables. Soundararajan thanked Griffiths for her introduction and noted the historical and contemporary connections between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Dalit movement, including the brief correspondence between W.E.B Du Bois and legendary Dalit rights activist Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and the modeling of the Dalit Panthers in India after the Black Panthers in the United States. Soundararajan gave an overview of the caste system and then shared her personal story with the audience: as a young immigrant in the United States, she and her family hid their caste status out of fear of being excluded from South Asian diasporic networks that were critical to their livelihood. In the early 2000s a controversy erupted in California over the presentation of Hinduism in textbooks. According to Soundararajan, pressure from Hindu nationalist groups and affiliates led to textbooks in California erasing the damaging legacy of caste and framing Hinduism as a perfect and peaceful faith while painting other religions, particularly Islam, as advancing through aggression and war. Historically the majority of Muslims in South Asia converted to Islam in order to escape caste oppression. Equality Labs was first formed in response to the textbook controversy in order to quantify the issue of caste discrimination. Dr. Maari Zwick-Maitreyi reviewed the findings of the report, which found that sixty percent of Dalits in the United States report having experienced caste-based discrimination in some form, and one in two Dalit respondents and one in four of Shudra respondents (Shudras are the lowest of the four castes, Dalits are considered to be outside of the caste system all together and were once referred to as “untouchables”) fear their caste being “outed.” According to the survey, caste discrimination most commonly occurs in the workplace and in places of worship, especially Hindu temples, gurdwaras, and churches. Soundararajan and Dr. Zwick-Maitreyi then proposed a number of measures to combat caste discrimination including creating balanced educational resources for teachers and training Human Resource departments in industries with large South Asian populations such as the tech and restaurant industries. The event ended with a lively question and answer session, where most questions involved audience members asking how they could address caste inequity within their own communities. This summary was written by a Pluralism Project staff member who attended the event.