Social isolation as a result of caste in the diaspora

Nov 12, 2020, 12:30 PM
Thenmozhi Soundarajan is back with a new episode of 'Caste In The USA', which focuses on social isolation as a result of entrenched caste networks in the diaspora.

Speaking to Thenmozhi is Priyanka, a Dalit professional who has lived in the US for many years. Priyanka has witnessed conversations around caste being silenced since she immigrated there as a high school student.

"My first interactions with the diaspora was with Indians who were in the foreign service. And down south it became very clear to me how the Indian state plays a very key role in crafting the narrative around caste, in that it doesn’t just make it invisible, [but also] pushes a narrative of this diverse democracy with a rich flourishing culture, so these were some of the first conversations and gathering," says Priyanka of her early years in the US.

Through the course of the conversation, the two highlight several instances where their identities were invisibilised in the diaspora. Questioning this was met with gaslighting and gatekeeping across the community, including academia that attempted to silence the oppressed.

"There were no overt discussions on caste, you could see how it shapes social dynamics, you could see the segregation. My parents would only feel safe socialising or confiding in others who were Dalits or lower castes and of course, there weren’t many to begin with and these institutions are hierarchical to begin with," Priyanka added.

The roots of the matter are deeply entrenched, further highlighted by the obstacles Priyanka faced while working on a dissertation around caste bias.

"I chose to write a thesis on caste in India especially looking at reservation quotas, a very exploratory project...When I did try to reach out to an Indian professor [who] taught South Asian history he got very antagonistic and told something like ‘I am attacking the hand that fed me’ with regards to me asking for more than just quotas for Dalits. So you know, these were the types of instances that told me how silencing of people happens when they want to speak up about Dalit identity, rights or simply just ask for more," said Priyanka. Tune in to listen to her journey of navigating caste bias as well as reaching self-acceptance despite of it.