The following testimonies were received in response to Ambedkar King Study Circle’s call to record and share individuals’ experiences of casteist practices. They document the feelings of discomfort, exclusion, shock, pain, and humiliation experienced by those that are subjected to various casteist practices at school, at the workplace, in their neighborhood, at social gatherings, and in their lives as parents.
These anecdotes offer snapshots of the lives of Indian immigrants in American society, a context where the markers of caste and class might be less obvious than in India where the ways in which caste identity shapes people’s social and cultural lives are easy to spot and read. What this relative invisibility in the US context leads to, however, is what we see in these stories: the narrators are repeatedly, openly and incessantly prodded and interrogated by their Savarna co-workers, neighbors, classmates, friends, etc. about what they eat, what they cook at home, what they wear, what dialect they speak, where they come from, where they went to school, who and how they worship, and so on. These efforts stop only after the narrator’s caste identity has been established, and the stories then go on to illustrate the changes in Savarna behavior once caste identity is decoded as being so-called “lower caste”- the segregation, exclusion and discrimination that result as the so-called “upper castes” close ranks and assert their privilege.
What these stories offer to Dalit and Bahujan readers are perhaps moments of recognition, understanding, and of solidarity with others that are also subjected to casteist practices. What this set of stories offers its Savarna readers is an accidental self-portrait, a document of one’s own participation in all the ugliness of casteist discrimination and inequality. For everyone, we hope that these stories become a point of departure in practicing solidarity with those that are oppressed by caste, and a commitment to allyship in dismantling caste.
This is a first set of testimonies and more are to be published. We will publish in multiple rounds owing to resources required to edit and format the testimonies.