Why We Must End Caste Oppression

By: Thenmozhi Soundararajan

Last year I was ejected four times from the California Board of Education building. My crime was being Dalit American.

I was part of hundreds of caste-oppressed South Asian American families who came out to testify at the Board of Education’s hearings hearings about textbook descriptions of caste discrimination. The protest I attended was organized by the South Asian History For All Coalition. We were fighting a Hindu American foundation that had thrown millions of dollars into this textbook battle, hoping to erase discussions of caste from  California textbooks and replace it with a sanitized version of South Asian American history. The threat of Dalits breaking the silence on caste was so disturbing that upper-caste Hindus called the police on Dalit families, and disrupted and heckled us as we testified.

We had the historical record and our personal stories on our side, and we were fighting to support an evidence-based curriculum recommended by hundreds of academics. Yet, the California Board of Education allowed fundamentalist dollars to override the facts. With that, they allowed alternative history into textbooks in a decision that will impact millions of children across California.

This is experience is at the heart of why I worked with my co-author Maari Zwick Maitreyi to create the first survey on caste in the United States. Our historic report, Caste in the United States, provides some of the first data on caste discrimination in the US. The report confirmed that caste discrimination exists in the United States, that it is a significant problem, and that for South Asian Americans it is as crucial for us to tackle this violence as it is to confront white supremacy.

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